WFR is proud to serialize The Lost Machine in support of its author and illustrator, Richard A. Kirk. We will be reprinting the entire novel with its illustrations over the course of five weeks with a new chapter every Monday and Wednesday. Wherever possible, formatting has been made to match that available in the e-book. This part of the serialization covers Chapter Three. To read past chapters, click here. – The Editors
Chapter Three: Lolly’s Gang
After Moss and Irridis had been walking north for three days, the weather turned balmy. They discovered a path that wound through sweet smelling grassland. By mid-morning they had followed it to the coast. They walked against a steady breeze, along the top of a ragged cliff. Hundreds of feet below, large blocks of stone and mounds of gravel changed to a stony tidal flat filled with pools and heaped kelp. The sea was the colour of gunmetal. Moss wanted to wash, but as there was no immediate way to descend the cliff face he had to be content with a view of the watery expanse.
They walked in silence as the wind and surf made talking all but impossible. Eventually they came to a break in the cliff top. The path led into a mossy ravine where a large beech tree presided and the walls provided shelter. Moss dropped onto a flat boulder warmed by the sun. Nearby, Irridis kneeled and pulled the wrapped remnants of the previous evening’s meal from a pack – an unlucky wild goose roasted with found herbs and garlic. He also had some black tea, which he brewed in a small pot over a fire made from deadfall and lichen. He sweetened the tea with a sugar stick and brought it to Moss. After eating, Moss, lulled by the sound of the waves, fell asleep with an arm over his face.
He awoke in the tree’s shadow. His muscles ached as he sat up and looked around. An unseen bird chirped in the tree. Nearby, water trickled from melting snow and formed a stream that ran parallel to the path. Irridis slept with his back to the tree, head bowed and hands composed in his lap. The collar of floating glass hung in space around him. Picking up the satchel of notebooks, Moss decided to follow the melt-water to see if it led to the beach.
As he descended the stream-bed his thoughts turned to his strange companion. In three days Irridis had not eaten or drunk in Moss’s presence, nor had he revealed his face. Asked about this, the man had simply said that religious practice forbade the display of either. Irridis’s reluctance to elaborate was palpable, and Moss dropped the subject. He assumed that questions about the floating glass objects would not be well received, either.
Moss slid down the last part of the trail in a cascade of wet stones to a spot where the rock walls opened suddenly onto the beach. He scrambled across the stream-bed onto an expanse of white sand. The sea was some distance away from the cliff, and the wind here was much brisker than on the trail. Energized by the salt air, he crossed the dunes to the tidal flats. With firmer ground underfoot he jogged to the water’s edge, skirting the tide pools’ barnacle-crusted rocks.
Almost laughing at the sheer joy of the salty water on the wind, he set the satchel on a sizeable mound of dead coral, then stripped until he stood in only pants and boots. The water was cold, causing him to suck in his breath as he rubbed it over his torso and neck. As he stood dripping and shaking, he could not help whoop at the open water. After the air became too cold, he dressed again, pulling on his t-shirt, old army sweater and greatcoat. The rough clothing felt comfortable against his raw skin. It was not until he reached for the satchel that he realized it was missing, and the smile left his face.
A boy covered in grime pointed an automatic weapon at him. The satchel was lying on its side in the sand beside him. The boy’s stare conveyed an unmistakable message: he would use the gun with little provocation. Several yards behind the boy, a group of children stood around two dilapidated motorbikes. Moss did not have time to figure out how the children had gotten so close without his noticing.
“There’s nothing in there you’d want,” he said.
The boy, no older than ten and clearly malnourished, stepped away from Moss and lowered the gun slightly as he freed up a hand to feel for the satchel.
“Please, it contains some old papers, nothing more.” Moss stepped forward. The crack of the gun at close range deafened him. He felt the bullet tear through his coat. It had missed killing him only because the boy had lost his footing in the sand.”
“Okay, okay, take it,” shouted Moss.
Suddenly the boy turned and ran toward his companions with satchel in hand. Taking their cue, the children jumped on the motorbikes. The machines roared to life in a cloud of exhaust. The boy leapt into the seat of the nearest motorbike, clutching his rifle and the satchel. He nearly lurched off the back as the driver throttled the machine forward.
With his arms at his sides Moss watched the party speed off across the strand. They headed toward the stream bed in the face of the cliff. As they disappeared up the steep incline, the rock walls echoed the sound of their engines.
“Hey!” He ran across the uneven ground toward the cliff. “Just leave me the goddamned books,” he shouted. “Fuck.” By now the motorbikes would be almost to the clearing where his companion rested. The line of tire marks through the sand was already disappearing beneath the sea wind. He shouted to Irridis as he ran.
Inside the ravine, blue exhaust still hung over the trail. The motorbikes had left knobbed ruts in the track. Halfway to the clearing, Moss came across his exercise books scattered over several yards. With relief he quickly gathered them into his arms. Around the next bend the satchel hung open in the branches of a leafless bush. Heedless of the thorns scratching his hands and face, he retrieved the satchel and returned the books to their enclosure.
The whine of engines came from further up the trail. The children would encounter Irridis at any moment, if they had not already. Moss was trying to gauge how far away they were when suddenly the engine noise stopped. Clutching the satchel, he ran up the trail. Shouting erupted ahead of him.
He arrived at the clearing winded and nursing a stitch under his ribs. The two motorbikes were lying on their sides. Irridis stood on the rock that Moss had earlier used to sun himself. His arms were folded behind his back. The glass disks raced around him like angry hornets. The boy that had robbed Moss lay moaning on the ground covered with bleeding wounds. The gun was several feet away, its grip covered in bloody fingerprints. Two other boys stood their ground, holding rocks.
“Yeah, come on you devil. Try this on for size.” A boy with a missing baby finger threw a sizeable piece of limestone at Irridis, narrowly missing his head. Irridis stood, unperturbed.
“Come on, Lolly,” shouted the other boy. “Don’t be a pussy, get up.”
“Your friend has an epidural haemorrhage,” said Irridis. “If he gets up at all, he will more than likely die before nightfall.”
“Shut up, tinker,” said the boy with the missing digit. “Don’t let him talk to you. That’s how these fucking tinkers mesmerize you.” With that, another piece of limestone left his hand. This time, the boy’s aim was better. The rock hurtled toward Irridis’s head. Before it could reach him, one of the glass objects shot forward and disintegrated it in mid-air. The dust drifted across the clearing.
“See, see,” sneered the boy, with less certainty in his voice. “That’s magic right there. Tinker magic.”
The other boy took his arm. “Let’s go.”
“We can’t leave Lolly. Lolly, get up, let’s go.”
To the surprise of all, he got to his feet. Moss watched Lolly walk away from him towards his friends. Suddenly, the boy with the missing finger grinned wickedly.
“Irridis, look out!” yelled Moss.
Lolly whirled around and trained a tiny revolver at Irridis. Without hesitation he fired. Although the gun was small, the crack of the shot echoed off the rock walls of the ravine. Moss watched in horror as a plume of dust exploded up from Irridis’s shoulder. Incredibly, the shot did not seem to faze him. The three boys stood, mouths agape, as Irridis lowered his eyes. The glass objects whirled in a circle around his covered head like a deadly crown. Somehow Moss knew what was to follow. On impulse, he leaped forward and put himself between the boys and Irridis.
“Leave them,” he shouted. Then, turning to the boys, “Go and get out of here.” The boys raced off down the trail, but Moss heard the ripping of sticks as Irridis’s glass disks flew after them. Within seconds the disks returned and resumed their positions. Speechless, Moss could only stare down the empty, quiet trail.
Moss could not bring himself to look at the boy’s face. Leaving Irridis in the clearing, he carried the child to the beach and buried him. Afterwards, he rolled the motorbikes into the deep brush of the ravine. Although they would have made the journey easier, he could not bear to benefit from such a death.
When he got back to the clearing, Irridis was not there. He scanned the area for the other two boys, but saw only a few flitting songbirds. Apparently the boys had escaped. Moss picked up the gun by its heavy strap and hurled it into the densest area of brush. He was sitting beneath the beech tree, attempting to record the incident in his notebook, when Irridis returned. Irridis offered no explanation or apology for what had happened. Instead he gathered up his pack and placed it on the back of the donkey, then began the trek up the stony tail. Moss closed his notebook, stowed it in the satchel and followed.