The Wings of Embra – Chapter 1 – The Ivitonians
Ethan Finch hated the taste of tinned food. It was all he could have, since he hadn’t done the food shop. That wasn’t to say the kitchen didn’t havefood, but he knew the loaf of bread, the cheese, the biscuits and of course the beer, all belonged to his father, and he didn’t dare touch any of that.
Ethan had just returned from a run. He enjoyed running, and it was only recently had he expanded his interest to the Iviton town rooftops, where the obstacles were plentiful, and the people were removed from his path.
He’d start with an alley, leap onto a wall, propel himself up onto the top of a kebab shop, and with the help of a drain pipe, he’d ascend even higher, where he’d find the various rooftop clutter: ladders, railings, ventilation pipes, of which he’d slide under or leap over just for the fun of it, the grey cube-like view of Iviton, like a sea of capitalistic slums.
But there was something about it all; how he was able to see over the town, watch it without them knowing. He’d hang over the edge of each and every building, and like a gargoyle he’d watch and watch, killing the time, giving him something to do, now school was no longer a weight.
It was better than having a job, and it was better than being at home with him.
When back at his house, with the heat of the baked beans in his hands, Ethan sighed and looked to the television. The news replayed its current story of the disappearances of several people in the last month. He blinked, tossed his food aside, leant in, and turned up the volume.
“Police have confirmed another twelve incidences from the London area,” spoke the reporter,“though as of yet, are unable to clarify whether these disappearances are absconding or kidnap related.”
Another twelve, thought Ethan? He scoffed. Well good on them. Wherever they were had to be better than his hometown of Iviton. He leant in closer to hear the rest of the story, only to have it interrupted by the call of his father.
“Turn that off please…now,” said Malcolm Finch, in his usual calm but brutish voice. “Then bugger off upstairs, she’ll be here in a bit.”
With a frown, Ethan cranked his neck to the direction of the kitchen.
“I’m just watching this, hang on a second.” But before Ethan could investigate further, the familiar slap of a launched newspaper hit him in the side of the face.
“Turn it off. I ain’t gonna tell you again.”
With the television off, Ethan massaged his cheek. It didn’t hurt really; it was only a newspaper, but still he snatched it up, twisted it, gritted his teeth…but calmed himself as the doorbell rang.
“If you ain’t going to bed, at least let her in, yeah?” said Malcolm, who’d now slumped back into the kitchen to grab his cigarettes.
Ethan rose, went for the door and opened it, not at all looking forward to who was on the other side. He’ll open the door, say hello, then leave. Easy.
“Ah, there he is,” said the gangly face of Beverly Porcher, Malcolm’s latest madam. She pushed the door open all the way, grabbed Ethan by the neck and planted a very smoky, perfumed kiss on his cheek, a half empty bottle of wine in one fist.
Eyes on the floor, Ethan wiped his face with the back of his hand. He never liked his father’s girlfriends. They were always mouldy, dishevelled and brittle, like hairless cats with lipstick that had been set on fire and thrown in a puddle, or something overly absurd like that.
He winced as Beverly stumbled through the doorway and banged into the walls, until she fell into Ethan’s chair, where Malcolm flirtatiously held her head, and placed a cigarette between her lips.
Malcolm looked up to Ethan. “I told you to go to bed.”
Ethan leant against the wall and shrugged. “Why? S’not like I go to school anymore.”
Malcolm looked down at Beverly to light her cigarette.
“You hearing this one? Says he wants to go to college.” He turned back to Ethan. “But you’re too bloody thick, ain’t ya’?”
Ethan swallowed and stared at the floor. He tried to think of a fitting retaliation, but the fact was his dad was right. He wastoo stupid. If only he were a little older and had a little more money, and he could move out. Get away from Moorbin Lane and Iviton and move to London. But it was a pipe dream. Something only rich kids ever had the chance of.
Ethan gathered another run would be a good start – to clear his head at least – and he made for the front door, until his father spoke up.
“When you gonna get a job?” said Malcolm, who took a seat by Beverly and slammed his feet onto the coffee table.
Ethan had only just polished the table that morning.
Beverly jumped up and smiled at Ethan, her teeth yellow and blackened.
“Oh, I know,” she sloshed, “why don’t ya’ get a job with me at Muffinwigs?” She turned to Malcolm. “Yeah, he’d be good at that. They need someone on the bed linens.”
Ethan pulled at his sleeve, his nerves awry at Beverly’s recommendation. The last thing he wanted was to get a job in a department store. He’d be around all those customers and all those miserable staff members. He’d heard horror stories of staff so unhappy they’d gone mad and trashed the store during the service hours.
Ethan looked to his dad. He thought he’d better answer his question. “I’ll get a job soon.”
Malcolm lit up his own cigarette and jeered. “Yeah, course you will. You see that–” He pointed to the rusty-hinged fridge. “–Empty. Now with you not going to work, it’ll still beempty, you hear me?”
Ethan looked at his shoes, his fingers bent here and there behind his back, the inside of his lip crushed between his teeth. No, that was it; he’d had enough.
“Well,” said Ethan, “if you didn’t hog all the food, and if you gave me some money for once, then–”
But before Ethan could finish, his father grabbed Beverly’s ashtray and launched it straight at him.
Used to this sort of thing, Ethan ducked just in time as the glass shattered where his head had been.
“Go to bed and cry about it! Go on; get out of my sight, you little pansy. And I swear to god, Ethan, you go out that front door and I’ll run your arse down.”
Still knelt to the floor, Ethan leered at his father, Beverly too with her burning cigarette poked through her lips.
He said nothing, got up, and headed for his sad little bedroom in the attic. He panted hard, unsure whether to punch the ceiling or hide beneath the duvet. Instead he grabbed and fumbled for his old brick of a mobile phone and bashed in a number.
“Dan? Yeah it’s Ethan. Um…I, I’ll do it then…yeah, yeah let’s do this…by the Iviton Green, yeah? Three in the morning…got it. Bye then.” And he hung up, his fingers wobbly.
Sat on his damp mattress, his knees into his chest, Ethan waited out the hours, his eyes on his laptop, an internet video of himself, chased down a dirt path by a mob of other school boys, until Tyrone Hopkinson, the biggest, stupidest one of all of them, grabbed Ethan by the hair and threw him into the River Wey.
Ethan’s eyes welled up, but more so from a lack of blinking. He knew it was stupid digging up the past, but he had to pass the time and keep the fire of his anger stoked. Three in the morning was pretty close, and Ethan was grateful the vulgar heaving drone of his father and Beverly had finally turned to snores. If he wanted to be on time, he knew he’d better run fast.
Ethan could have used the stairs and the front door, though he didn’t want to risk knocking over any of the beer cans scattered on the landing. Not to mention accidentally seeing the naked pair with a whisky bottle sandwiched between them.
Ethan looked up at the skylight, pulled open the window, hoisted himself up onto the roof, and closed it behind him ever so gently.
He was grateful it was summer. The roof wasn’t as slippery as usual, and he slid down it with ease, his fingers brushing the tiles for balance. He latched onto the metal drainpipe, slid down it half way, jumped onto the neighbour’s brick wall, ran along it’s narrowness, kicked off onto the wooden shed and dropped into the alleyway behind the garden.
Right, to the Iviton Green, thought Ethan, though he had to be quick if he wanted to make the three a.m. pick up.
He burst into a run down the alley, the summer night air clear in his lungs. He made round the corner…when he collided with someone…an oddly dressed, stumpy woman.
Ethan gasped, bounced off the lady and almost lost his footing.
“Oh my god, sorry,” said Ethan. But he couldn’t stop, though he guessed by the smoky smell and the searing pain down the front of his hoody, meant the lady had dropped her cigarette ash down his top.
He ran back around the corner, but the short lady scurried off down the other end of the lane and shimmied out of sight.
It wouldn’t have bothered Ethan, this sort of thing, but the fact it was almost three o’clock in the morning, made him question who she was and what she was doing. Not to mention her luminous yellow raincoat, bright orange stockings, and feet, the size of flippers, in chunky high heels no less.
Ethan tried to understand who she was. He looked around in case anybody had seen, and he scratched his head. She wasn’t one of his neighbours. Maybe she was lost and was embarrassed after bumping into him?
But Ethan couldn’t think any longer. He had to keep on moving. He sprinted for Iviton’s Green, only to see the black van pull away without him.
Ethan wasn’t going to let tonight be ruined. He launched off the pavement, only just managed to catch up with the vehicle, and banged the back of its doors with his fist.
As though they were there to kidnap him, the van stopped, and pulled Ethan inside.
“Ah, mate, cutting it a bit fine, eh?” said Daniel Dickinson, a rather round orange haired boy Ethan knew from Iviton Comprehensive, but had never spoken to until recently.
Daniel waddled to the front of the van and threw an apology to the others, his large bottom knocking them one by one.
At that point Ethan wished he was anywhere but. The stares of others made him feel guilty, and he sat on the bench closest to the door, his eyes on the floor.
“All right, everyone, we all good?” said Daniel, plastered with a rosy excited expression. “You okay Ethan, you ready to do this, mate?” He held up two thumbs, as though they were best friends. “Remember, tonight’s the night we stick it to that git Tyrone Hopkinson. And I got these so we don’t get caught.” Daniel leant down under the bench that lined the side of the van and pulled out an old gym bag, unzipped it, and showed off a dozen or so animal masks, all of them different. He passed the bag of masks around the van, which made its way to Ethan, who had the choice between a toad, a hairy chimp, or a white-feathered hawk.
Ethan reached in for the hawk mask.
It was a no brainer. For some reason since he could remember, Ethan always had a very specific dream, one that never changed, and one he could always picture long after he’d woken from; a dream where he stood in a giant white space with nothing around him, other than an enormous white bird. The dreams always came to him from anger or fear the night before, especially when his father would crash into the house in a drunken rage and throw beer cans at Ethan’s attic door.
The bird always loomed over Ethan like a feathered giant, its dagger-like beak feet away from his face, like it would spear him if it wanted. The bird would stare at him, and Ethan would lose himself in its black eyes, which would well with floods of fire and engulf the pair of them, sending an intense pain through his body, catapulting him from his dreams, and back into reality.
But just before Ethan tried the mask on for size, Daniel threw him a pillowcase, filled with stuff like super glue, hammers, nails, silly string, spray paint, permanent markers and even a balaclava.
“For your hair, mate,” said Daniel, passing more around before he slid one over his own fluffy ginger head.
Hair was another thing Ethan hated about himself. Ever since one fateful day when he cut his head open, his hair had never grown back the same, and now he had what his father called, his poof streak,yet was just an irregular light blonde splash of hair, running a few inches from the base of his forehead.
Ethan pulled the balaclava on at once.
“We’re gonna park just behind some trees, and cut through the grounds,” said Daniel, now in a lion mask. He stood by the back doors of the van, and peered over his flabby shoulder at the rest of them. “Masks all on, yeah? Great, remember, no stealing, but you can mess up as much crap as you like. We don’t want anything to lead back to us, all right?”
Ethan nodded, and the anticipation boiled inside him.
The van parked up and the engine switched off. They waited a few more seconds, before the driver knocked the side of the van.
“Let’s go!” whispered Daniel, and he ushered them all out the back and onto the summer-baked ground.
A short distance away, the mansion glittered in the night. It was huge and pretentious, and Ethan could almost smell the money leaking out of it.
Once they reached it, a boy in a ghost mask picked the lock on the patio doors, until after a few seconds, managed to click them open, like a vault full of gold.
Plush furniture, giant vases, enormous paintings, towering ceilings, chandeliers and even flat screen televisions.
“Total twat,” hissed Daniel.
The lock picker in the group closed the door behind them and everyone turned to Daniel for the next order.
“Ok guys, well, go nuts I guess.”
With their cans of silly string, the group descended on the mansion. They kicked in backs of sofas, knocked over ornaments, pulled up the carpets, chipped off floor tiles, blocked chimneys with cushions, tore down bookcases, toilet papered the chandeliers, unhinged doors, poured paint into the pool, filled toilets with light bulbs, filled the fridges with bricks and even threw fish under the floorboards.
But Ethan couldn’t do it. He stood in the corner of the room and observed the madness. He hated Tyrone Hopkinson as much as all of them, but every time Ethan attempted to pull a few books out from the shelves, another member pushed him aside. “Go and trash another room, we’ve got this one.”
Ethan stepped away embarrassed. “Oh, right, sure.” Truth was, he didn’t fancy wandering off on his own, the fear the others would forget and leave him. And when he moved aside for someone to hurl a coffee table into the fireplace, he fell back and knocked a vase over, before he launched forward to catch it from shattering.
“Um, you know we’re here to trash the place, right?” said Daniel through his lion mask. “Don’t feel guilty, watch this.” And he took the vase from Ethan and threw it against a wall.
Ethan inhaled deep. What was he doing, hanging out with people like this?
“Oh,” said Ethan, “yeah I know, I just, I just wanna do something really, reallymental, you know.” He hoped that sounded convincing.
Ethan couldn’t see Daniel’s face, but he gathered by the tilt of the boy’s head he must have seen right through him.
Daniel put an arm around Ethan’s shoulder and led him to the staircase. “Tell you what, why don’t you find the git’s bedroom. Go and spray a filthy word on his door or something? Remember though we’re gonna leave in about fifteen minutes, all right?”
Ethan nodded, and with a slap on his back he was left alone. With his breathing very hard, he made his way upstairs, before he plunged into his rucksack and pulled out a can of black spray paint. He held it like someone holding a gun for the first time, which he dropped after pushing down on the nozzle and creating a splodge on the carpet, but it felt good, pretty good in fact, and he found himself squiggling here and there until he found Hopkinson’s bedroom, filled with dirty clothes strewn out on the unmade bed, and its walls adorned with posters of football players, naked woman, and car and beer adverts of all things.
A large trophy cabinet stood in the corner, filled with tarnished cups and photos of Hopkinson holding dead pheasants, sporting air rifles, scoring football goals, or with his face bloodied from a boxing match. But the photo that got Ethan’s attention the most had to be the one of Hopkinson with his arms crossed, leant against a car, a blue 1960s Ford Mustang no less.
How fun would it be to have a quick drive through the flowerbeds? He wouldn’t have to steal it or anything; just a little drive? No, thought Ethan. Don’t be so stupid. He was way in over his head. What was he thinking? This was the stupidest thing he’d ever done. He’d be found out, he knew he would.
But just as Ethan thought enough was enough and turned to run home, a strange sound stopped him in his tracks. He made his way down the staircase. The sound wasn’t the others still trashing the place, nor a television or a stereo. It sounded more…real than that, and before Ethan knew it, he’d found himself in the mansion’s basement.
The sound came from the last room at the end of the hallway. He peered over his shoulder, thinking about what to do, and he hoped he’d have enough time to investigate before the others made a move to leave.
As motion sensors sparked on the lights of the room, the strangest of sights met him and Ethan’s face dropped.
Right ahead of him, in a cage on a table, and perched within it, sat a dishevelled white bird. Its only movement came from its bill and its cry so prominent it left Ethan with an icy shiver.
In fact there were many cages in the room, stacked atop one another, all with birds of different sizes and colours and shapes, all crammed into their cells, none of which were the right size. It looked as though they hadn’t been cleaned for weeks, as old food and droppings had accumulated and caked the cages’ bases, much like the birds, with their ruffled encrusted feathers.
Ethan removed his mask and balaclava to make sure what he saw was genuine.
He’d never taken the Hopkinsons as exotic bird lovers, and he knew he couldn’t just leave them like this.
He approached the first cage, ready to unlatch it, when his phone rang. It was Daniel on the other end.
“Ethan,” whispered Daniel, “get out now, we’ve been heard, there’s police here, RUN!” He hung up straight away.
Ethan’s guts twisted. He couldn’t leave the birds as they were.
He dashed about the room to throw open every cage, the scuff of feathers against his face from their escape.
The birds swarmed out of their cells and circled the room, and Ethan ran back to the double doors, threw them open, and watched them flee into the hallway and up the stairs, clearly remembering how their captor had brought them there. But the sound, the cry, there was one left.
It had to be the most expensive bird Hopkinson had imprisoned, and with a million things at once running amuck in his mind, Ethan couldn’t help but wonder how much of a coincidence it was seeing this feathered beauty behind bars.
Ethan fumbled for the cage latch, but it was stiffer than the others. He tugged at it, but the sounds of shouts and booms from above grew louder. He’d be caught if he didn’t hurry.
He searched through his bag to pull out the small crowbar, which he lodged into the cage latch. He pushed and pulled, jumped up and down, until at last, it clanged open, the bird’s wings outstretched further than the cage ever allowed. It headed for the exit of the room, and its song faded away in thanks.
Ethan’s heart raced and he felt the sweat run from his nose. He tiptoe sprinted from the room, but kept a watchful eye on every corner. He ran up the stairs, back up to the ground floor of the mansion, his head poked over the last few steps, but from what he could see, Police were everywhere, clearly not convinced the entire group had either been caught or escaped.
Ethan turned around to see an expensive looking ornament on a small table; surprised no one in the gang had smashed it yet.
Fumbling, he picked it up, and launched it as far as he could at an opposite window, before he ran in the other direction. But instead of finding a suitable exit for the house, he ended up staring at Hopkinson’s very own blue 1960’s Ford Mustang, pristinely parked in the garage against an array of other beautiful vehicles.
Ethan swallowed what felt like a pinecone. Would he really consider it? In the precious seconds he had, Ethan ran over the options. He would never get this chance again. He would never drive anything more awesome ever in his life, and if Hopkinson couldn’t bare the thought Ethan had sat in it, then so be it. It wasn’t as if the boy couldn’t just buy another one?
Screw it. Ethan spun around against the wall, spotted a small cabinet and flung it open to see the arrangement of hooked car keys. He could take which ever one he wanted, there were so many gorgeous cars worth using to get away, but the Mustang was what he needed, and he grabbed the set with the key ring in the shape of a lady’s breasts.
He ran to the blue car, unlocked it, and just for a moment he imagined it belonged to him. He threw himself in, and brushed the plush seats, and as though the garage knew, it flung open its doors and permitted him his escape.
Already Ethan could see the police combing the mansion grounds with their torches.
What the hell was he doing? What had he got himself into? And as his head and chest pounded and heaved, the Mustang ignited into life, and a blast of loud music exploded from the speakers.
Unable to breath with nerves and excitement, Ethan floored the acceleration, and like a rocket he flew out the garage, ploughing through the flowerbeds.
Ethan dropped a gear and propelled the car forward. If he were going to do this, he may as well do it properly. He approached a long hedge, hoping there wasn’t a brick wall behind it, and to his joy, the Mustang tore through it like a pencil through paper.
Ethan’s adrenaline gathered, and things just weren’t fast enough. He needed more speed, more power! It was as though someone more confident, more devious had taken over him.
The car rocketed along the back road of the estate, passed the point where their van had been parked, until he escaped the pristine lawns of St Albert’s Hill, making it to the main roads of Iviton.
Unable to control the power of the vehicle, Ethan accidentally exploded through a bus stop, the police cars hot on his tail, the blue flash of their lights in the mirrors. He only just managed to swerve in and out of the early morning traffic, the odd dustbin sent up into the air, almost knocking over a group of chavs on a bench. He even managed to dodge an old lady who hadn’t seemed to notice him, until his pursuers blocked the end of each street, sending him down road after road, until the only option was the direction of the Iviton Lake.
His speed was so intense he thought he might just propel into space, and he skidded onto the path between darkened trees.
This was his moment, and no one was going to ruin it for him. This was revenge at its greatest! Screw you Tyrone Hopkinson, screw you dad, screw you coppers.
The lake pier neared, and before Ethan knew it, the Mustang’s wheels thudded along the wooden deck, the water seconds away, his heart ping-ponging against his ribcage and his eyes gulping in the inevitable. This was it.