Monday, October 19, 2009

A(nother) Death In The Family

It seems to have been a year for it.
Our ancient and much-loved Granny Cat died in Jenny's arms at 12.37 this morning. Sometimes I think she's psychic. Well, I would if I thought that there was even the slightest possibility that anybody ever has been / will be psychic, which I don't.
Yesterday morning I realised that Granny Cat had had a stroke: she'd lost control of her rear legs, and was in a rare state. We settled her down, and pretty well waited for her to die. We had to work, and spent the day fretting about her. She could drink - she didn't want any food - if we held a dish near her face.
We spent the night with her, comforting her, and letting her know we were close. We went to bed at around 11, and immediately slept. Jenny woke suddenly, just after 12, and went out and held Granny, who sighed, purred, and died.
Jenny cried. I cried.

LISTENING TO: Claire Martin, "Perfect Alibi". Seriously smooth jazz.
WORD OF THE DAY: Remember.
READING: Still on the Cameron book, which is brilliant. Also reading the final of the Arthur C Clarke / Stephen Baxter trilogy: the last thing Clarke wrote before he died. It is, obviously, brilliant: more Clarke than Baxter.


But first: please accept that this is a work in progress: second draft only, so it's as rough as guts, and nothinglike the final. I'm still getting the story in the right order. Still, it may help you understand what I'm about.


November 11, 1913: Fyfe's Gully, 2 miles north-east of Northbridge.

The grass was sweet, soft with Spring’s warm blessings, and black under the three-quarter moon. Arthur Tomlinson breathed in the scent deeply, and smiled with pleasure, being careful to not show his teeth. He breathed in deeply again, and warmed to the rich and plummy earth-tones, and the succulent, fat-grass odours of ripening clover. He breathed out through his hand, careful to hide the white vapour of his breath, and, equally importantly, to capture and contain the scent of his breath.
It was a crisp November morning, in the hills just two miles south of Northridge, and Arthur’s smile was the first movement he had made in two hours. He had walked here overnight, arriving at a little past three in the morning, his rifle heavy on the sling over his shoulder. Where he lay, his feet slightly higher than his head, was as near as dammit to 407 yards from where his quarry would appear. He was quietly confident that he could bring Old Tom down with just one shot. He knew the land, and he knew his quarry, better than anyone else.
A slight breeze came from the Southwest, as it usually did at this time of year, and caressed his left cheek. The sun, when it rose, would be behind his right shoulder. Cunning and long-lived though Tom was, Arthur knew that today he would put the wily old bugger down. He had the range perfectly: he had been here two days ago, and had zeroed in his Mauser bolt-action rifle on the beech tree where he expected Old Tom to make his appearance shortly after first light.

Grampa Smith had put a rifle into Arthur’s hands when he’d been seven years old, and had been surprised at the child’s natural skill. The rifle was a Winchester .22 which threw a tiny slug very quickly, and, in Arthur’s hands on a calm day, was accurate out to 200 yards. A small range was built behind the workshop, and Arthur practised daily, putting at least twenty rounds through the barrel of the little rifle, which he would then carefully clean. Look after your rifle, boy, and it’ll look after you. How many times had he heard that? He smiled again, and looked down into the gully. The eastern horizon was showing the slightest grey stain, which Arthur felt more than saw.
Arthur Tomlinson still had that little .22: he’d used it to teach young Tim Copthorne to shoot. Now, there was a fine shot for you. Just a few weeks ago Tim had brought down a Mallard drake on the wing with the little lever-action popgun. Like Arthur, Tim had looked after the rifle carefully. With a little luck, it would have enough left in it to teach a third generation from the village.
Grampa Smith had been strict with his ward, and spoke to Arthur often about respect for the rifle, and respect for the prey. “The Good Lord gave us dominion over the beasts of the field, and the fowls of the air, my boy,” he said, over and over. “Dominion. D’you know what dominion means, Arthur? It means we have a responsibility for them, lad. We must care for them, as we care for ourselves. Even more so. And in return, they give themselves to us, to use as we must. They are ours to take, as need arises. The horse carries our weight, and the donkey carries our freight. And they will carry us and our wares further if we give them respect, and love. It is the same with our lovely land here, Arthur. Our Queen in England has dominion over us, and when needs rise, as they must, she will take from us as she needs. But she must also care for us, and defend us, and see to our needs. And so she, does, my boy. So she does.”
A soft grey light was now ghosting over the Eastern horizon, and a million stars faded. In the West, the sky was still as black as pitch, and supported the fire of an uncountable number of stars. Arthur slowly rolled over, to take the rifle from its waterproof canvas cover. He froze as a pair of bats flit-flitted overhead, on their way home. There had been a time that Arthur had been able to hear their guiding squeaks, but too many rifle-shots had dulled his hearing. Not enough, though, that he'd miss the sounds coming from the undergrowth nearby. Kiwi, probably, or Weka.
Arthur hadn’t bathed for three days now. Miss Francis would have had a fit, but that was the way of it. He couldn’t allow Old Tom to catch any human-whiff, otherwise he would simply melt back into the bush. Arthur couldn’t allow that, not today. This would be the day Old Tom died, and Arthur would be the man to kill him. His love for his old adversary wouldn’t allow any other outcome.
Dew had plastered Arthur’s hair to his scalp, and he combed it away from his eyes with his fingers, careful not to let the white of his palms flash toward where he knew old Tom would be waiting and watching. Even in this dim light the old devil would see that tiny pale flash, and would be even more wary.

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