Flash, Bang, Whistle, Boom


From Blood Fable. Published by Book*hug in 2017. Oisín Curran was named a “Writer to Watch” by CBC: Canada Writes. He is the author of Mopus, published by Counterpath (2007). He lives in Cape Breton.

It’s late afternoon when we see an island on the horizon over our port bows. It’s off our course but not by much. City pulls me straight ahead, but the crew is tired. They want land under their feet. I can’t force them on.

After I saved everybody from Nolan, Rook started talking to me. But after Lutra came he whispered that it was my fault. My fault she’d turned into a giant and almost killed us. My fault we’d lost Chisolm and half the crew. What he really means, I know, is that it’s my fault Quill and Severn are together. Now he says we have to go ashore. He says we need water, we need supplies, we need a rest.

Okay, I say, For one night.

Severn points to the boat at the island. It gets bigger, and the bigger it gets, the stranger it looks.

It’s a fortress, says Severn.

He’s right. The whole island has a big wall all around it made of dark red stone, and high on top of the wall there are crowds of people.

We see a bright flash at the top of the wall, and a few seconds later we hear a bang, followed by a strange whistling sound. Then the water explodes near us. Waves throw the boat up, up, over. No, not quite over. We’re back down, full of water. We’re bailing, we’re yelling.

Another flash, another bang, more whistling, exploding water. Flash, bang, whistle, boom. Flash, bang, whistle, boom.

They’re shooting at us! says Captain Severn, and he slams the rudder starboard. We come about and head away from the island. In a few minutes we’re out of range of their cannonballs, or whatever they’re shooting.

Why? Everybody on the boat wants to know why. Who cares? They don’t like strangers. Or they don’t like our boat. Or they’re in a bad mood today. We have to go on. There’s a thing coming. My Follower is still after me. I can feel it back there but can’t see it. Night falls.

Captain Severn is in the stern getting ready to drop anchor when I crawl back to talk to him.

We have to sail all night, I say.

He looks at me and it’s too dark to tell if he’s smiling or angry.

Can’t do it, says Severn, No light. No stars.

I have a candle I’ve been keeping in my pocket. I hand it to him.

Use your compass, I say. We keep moving.


We’re being followed.

He stops what he’s doing and stares at me. At least, I think he does. I can’t see his eyes, just black shadows. What’s following us? How do I know?

I know, I say. Also, we’re nearly out of drinking water.


We have to keep going, I say.

And so that’s what we do. In the stern, Captain Severn sticks the candle on the seat in front of him to light his compass and keeps his hand on the tiller while Quill shifts the sails to catch the night winds.

We sail like that for three days and nights, switching hands at the tiller and sail. Whoever’s off-duty naps if they can in the light, in the dark. I sleep sometimes, but wake up again and again, feeling my Follower somewhere behind us. Closer? Maybe. Bit by bit.

But the lack of rest dulls our senses, and more than once I catch myself nodding off and see whoever’s at the rudder doing the same. And that’s how and why we run aground on an unforeseen beach one night. There’s a soft scraping sound and then the boat jolts to a stop and we’re suddenly wide awake. Severn was sleeping with his hand on the tiller but he jumps up, as do we all, up and out, and minutes later we’ve hauled the boat out of the water and anchored it to a rock we find by the light of the candle. Then we lump together some bedding on the sand, schedule people for watch, and black out. I wake up with first light and get close to Rook, who’s morning lookout. He wraps a blanket around me, although he doesn’t need to. It’s warm. It’s always warm down here.

Slow light leaks out of hidden pockets like it’s been hiding in the water, in sand, rocks, and grass all night. We’re in a lagoon. One side is a high, long cliff topped with pearl-grey scrub, and the other a low, curving spit of dark orange sand. Behind us there are hills covered with trees. More orange sand under our feet and all along the long beach. Every growing thing is pale. Pale grass, pale trees, pale bushes. Paler even than the water, which is bright green.

No direct sun, says Rook. Little chlorophyll.

After days at sea, any leaves are good to see. To our right, at the base of the spit, a loud splashing comes from a geyser blowing water a hundred feet in the air. The water is burning hot, says Rook, he investigated last night. There’s a loud sound in the bushes above the beach. For a second, I think my pursuer has finally caught me. I grab Rook. Then we laugh. The thing making the sound comes out of the bushes and it’s nothing but a huge bird.

It’s as tall as me. Huge, lumpy beak and pale grey feathers.

The bird doesn’t look at us. It waddles away down the beach and then disappears into the bushes again. It almost seems as though the bird’s walk is some kind of signal, because as soon as it disappears, the island wakes up with birdcalls, howls, chattering.

Amazing! says Rook. I wonder…

But he trails off as Quill wakes, stands, and stretches, looks around and smiles vaguely at us. Since the battle between Lutra and Severn, Rook and I seem to have faded into her background and she appears not to notice that Rook avoids speaking to her.

Eden, says Quill, it seems we’ve stumbled on paradise.

That’s what it feels like for the next few days. We find bright blue pools so full of fish we can pull them out with our hands. There are wide, low, sprawling trees heavy with white apples, not very sweet but crisp. We eat and sleep and swim. Even I, who must go on, am tempted to stay. But I have to go, I have to go—every time I lie down to sleep and collect my images, I can feel the gap where yet another one has disappeared. And out there, over the water, back the way we came, my Follower is closing in. I can almost smell the foul hot odour of its wings beating the breeze.

But the others might stay here forever. I must do something to shake them free of this place.

I didn’t realize I’d fallen asleep on Jack and Simone’s couch until Iris woke me at dawn and shuffled me out to the car, where I conked out again, half-slumped in the front passenger seat, for Iris took the back, lying down with her head propped on pillows, staring out at the unfurling miles, the ocean constricted by appearing and disappearing bays.

They had talked all night and now Iris was anxious to be home, so Myles drove, drove, coffee, coffee, tea, coffee. And was the soup from the lobster pound halfway home more flavourful for her pain? Or was it much the same as the previous trip and all the ones that would follow? Let’s say she enjoyed it and I think she did. Of sensory pleasures, of thick stews and small flowers and noisy crickets, of clear mornings or swollen tides or sudden rains, she is an enthusiast, and so, dim as my memory is, I will choose to believe that the delight she took in the material world was only sharpened by her illness.

There were, on the other hand, many elements of the world that did not please her. The unexpected arrival of Pierce Jones shortly after our return home was one such. Pierce materialized, as he would at random intervals throughout my childhood, as though he were an emanation of the road in his uniform of scuffed denim. An olive-green army surplus sack was always slung insouciantly over his back. Pockmarked, handsome face slender from low rations, knife sheath at his hip threaded through a wide leather belt with a buckle depicting Mr. Natural urging all to Keep on Truckin’. Always too, in my memory, a hand-rolled cigarette dangles from the corner of his sly mouth. He would step down from a passing transport truck, or saunter up the drive, the precise image of a charming drifter. Too precise, according to Iris who was as aggravated by Pierce as she was fond of him. She was scornful of his pose, for he lived in a city where he worked as a garbageman and he was in the union, made more money than Iris and Myles combined, and owned his own art deco house, which he had meticulously restored. None of this mattered to me. If he was playing dress-up, his costume was convincing, although perhaps the aura of wandering romance with which I have imbued him in my memory is influenced by the gifts of exotic comic books that he always had for me, stashed somewhere carefully in the interior of his sack, from which they would emerge crisp and miraculously undamaged, and I, thanking him shyly, would retreat to my bedroom to read in full colour of the further exploits of Asterix and Obelix or of yet another incarnation of Siddhartha, the future Buddha, in which he was invariably the king of some species for whom he would martyr himself in yet another act of selflessness to save his people.

Such afternoons remain carefully shelved in my memory, to be pulled down and opened when under duress—they emit a long glow of comfort. In the memory I half sit, half lie in my bed, Shadow curled behind my knees; through the window, dusk creeps out from the forest and settles on the vegetable garden—on the dying tomato plants, on the low-lying sprawl of the pumpkin plant, the lettuce withstanding the frost; crows cry hoarse elegies to summer (Gone! Gone!); smoke from the chimney whips down the roof, eddies briefly on the windowsill before scattering with the last light. Wood-stove heat is particularly well-suited to this vignette—intense and friendly, it cooks the chill from a body inside out. And it saturated the interior of my room with an invisible colour that glowed against the blue frost on the grass outdoors. So, wrapped in this warmth, made warmer by my peripheral awareness of the cold outside, I read my comic book while the murmur of adult voices rose with the scent of cooking.

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Oisín Curran was named a “Writer to Watch” by CBC: Canada Writes. He is the author of Mopus, published by Counterpath (2007). He lives in Cape Breton.



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