Everything hurt. The sight stunned the boy and almost knocked him senseless. His bones shook and his head span; his eyes watered and his skin flushed beneath the sudden flare-up of heat, then shrank under the icy blast of cold that immediately followed. He stammered out incoherent words in an unending stream – was he trying to apologise for intruding? He hadn’t meant to intrude. Was he asking for help? He wasn’t sure if he needed help. Or was he trying to express wonder and welcome?
The angels watched him with unblinking eyes. Their taloned hands clutched the branches of the trees and they hung there, gazing down. The boy stared up at them and scanned their faces – he saw smiles and he saw frowns. He wanted to run.
With an effort, the boy stopped himself from speaking that incoherent language he’d never heard in his life before. At once, he regretted it; the silence that closed in around him felt fathomless and eerie. Turning, cautiously, he made to go. Home was nearby and he needed to get back there, but all the while his teary eyes stayed glued on the towering angels, searching for any hint of what to expect.
Seeing the boy’s intention to leave the angels launched into the sky, wings howling with every beat. All the fields of Peckham Rye shimmered beneath their bright wings, bespangling the clouds like stars. Dazed, the boy tripped and fell; scrambling along on his hands and knees, eyes clamped shut, he hurried on with his escape.
An oppressive burning smell choked the boy and brought him to a stop. Sounds of scraping metal clanged heavily about. Flinching, expecting some impact to come clattering down on his head, the boy’s eyes peeped open, anxiously. Thick reams of smoke drifted across a landscape he didn’t recognise anymore. Dense and tangled foliage blocked his path wherever he looked. The air was cloying in his lungs, tasting sickly and decayed. He gagged and, with an effort, found his feet again.
Bewildered, he pushed his way through the forest with difficulty. The angels who had first awed him, then spooked him, were nowhere to be seen. He scanned the sky for any sign of their blistering wings but it was still now, silent, and suddenly night. The shadows engulfed the boy’s senses and swallowed him whole. Arching above him, the symmetry of the bleached tree trunks formed a ribcage that locked him in; the black and orange leaves rustling as they knitted together, tighter and tighter, like a skin.
The boy ran wildly in circles, searching after an exit. In his panic he tripped and fell over the dreadful heart that lay shrivelled and dormant on the forest floor. At the impact a spark fizzed across its surface and made the blackened flesh glow red. Thunderously, it started to beat.
From the dark sky spears of torrential rain flooded down. The sound of roars filled the forest. Blinded by confusion, tears streaming down his face, the boy turned and ran directly towards the source of the roaring and there found the only exit before it snapped shut at his heels. Looking back over his shoulder as he sprinted towards safety he saw nothing but ravaging fires and teeth and claws.
But it was over – the fields of Peckham Rye loomed about him again, sedate and unchanged and welcoming him back. Returning home with a dazed expression and blood caked on his hands and knees, his parents scolded him for the mess he’d gotten into. The boy stammered as he tried to explain, tried reporting the tremendous vision he’d seen of bizarre flocks of angels that roosted in every bough. At that his mother shook her head, sadly, while his father swore and grabbed the boy by the collar. Angrily, the old man said it was too much to stand and listen to those excuses, and it was only through his mother’s desperate intervention that he escaped being thrashed for telling lies. He didn’t tell about the tyger yet.
This story was written in response to the yeah write challenge #176 – The following sentence must be the FIRST line in your submission: “Everything hurt.” You must also include a reference to the media prompt.
The other stories in the link-up can be read by clicking on the image below.