It starts and ends with the knife. I find it in the garden. I'm with Max Woods. We're messing about, digging for treasure, like we did when we were little kids. As always there's nothing but stones and roots and dust and worms. Then there it is, just below the surface, a knife with a wooden handle in a leather sheath. I lever it out of the earth. The curved blade's all tarnished, the handle's filthy, the sheath's blackened and stiff and starting to rot away.
I laugh in triumph.
"Treasure at last!"
"Huh!" says Max. "It's just an old pruning knife."
"Course it's not! It's from the ancient Romans or the reivers. It's a weapon of war!"
I hold it up towards the sun.
"I name thee... Death Dealer!" I say.
Max mutters under his breath and rolls his eyes. I stab the knife into the earth to clean. I wipe it on the grass. I spit on it and rub it. I pick up a stone and try to sharpen it.
Then a bird flutters onto the grass six feet away.
"Hello, crow," I say.
"It's a raven, townie," says Max. He imitates its call. "Jak jak! Jak! Jak jak!"
The raven bounces, croaks back at him.
Jak jak! Jak jak!
"It's after the worms," says Max.
"No. It's seen something shiny! It's seen Roman gold! There, look!"
I dig like a maniac for a few daft moments. I stab the earth, plunge the knife deeper. Then my hand slips and blood's pouring out from my wrist. I scream, then laugh at myself and press my finger to the little wound.
Max mutters again.
"Sometimes I think you're crackers," he says.
"Me too," I say.
We lie in the grass and stare at the sky. It's early summer, hardly more than spring, but the sun's been pouring down for weeks. The ground's baked hard, the grass is already getting scorched. It'll be the hottest summer ever, and the story is they'll keep on getting hotter. The dust and soil's like a crust on my hands and arms. It mingles on my wrist with the dark red of drying blood, just like a painting or a map.
A low-flying jet thunders over us, then another, then another.
"Begone, you beasts!" I call.
I flourish the knife at them as they streak away southwards over Hadrian's Wall, over the chapel of St. Michael and All Angels and out of sight.
Then my wound's bleeding again. I'll need a plaster. We get up and head for the house.
"It's all yours, Jack," I say.
I expect the bird to hop into the hole, but it doesn't. It flies over us and lands again six feet in front of us, looks at us, then flies a bit further on, lands, and looks at us again.
"You can tame them, you know," says Max.
"Aye. We had one when I was a squirt. It was great-lived on the back path, begged for food at the door, perched on your wrist. Jak jak! Funnily enough, we called it Jack."
"What happened to it?"
"Joe Bolton shot it." He holds the air like he's holding a gun. "Kapow! He said it was trying to nest in his chimney. But I think he just wanted to kill something. Kapow!"
He waves his arms and runs at it and it flaps up into the sky.
"Go on! Get lost! Shoo!"
Inside the house, I find the plasters. I rub some of the dirt off the wound with a bit of kitchen towel, blot the trickling blood, then stick the plaster on. I clean more dirt off the knife blade. I wash it with soap. I sharpen it on the knife sharpener on the kitchen wall. I spray furniture polish on the handle and wipe it. I spray the sheath as well, and I bend it and run it between my fingers and straightaway it starts softening. I smile.
"Very nice," I say.
I loop my belt through the sheath and the knife sits there at my hip.
"What d'you think?" I say.
"I think you'll get arrested," he says. "It's against the law."
"A pruning knife? Against the law?"
I tug my T-shirt over it, hiding it.
"OK now?" I say.
Excerpted from Raven Summer by David Almond Copyright © 2009 by David Almond. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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