On Heath’s seventeenth birthday he had just returned to the country of his childhood after finishing another term at boarding school. Birthdays were of no special interest to Heath who always saw them as a rather pedestrian exercise in counting. And when the total was never likely to go much past eighty or ninety if you were lucky there wasn’t much challenge in prospect for his numbering brain. But it was his birthday so he’d added another unit to the slowly climbing edifice that was his life. He’d gone with his mother to pick up the mail from their city post office box and they were sitting in the little Fiat in the shade of a mango tree as his mother tore open an unusual looking yellow envelope. “It’s a telegram. From Australia.” The cloth roof of the tiny car was rolled down and he could see the big old shade tree was full of green mangoes. Heath lay back in the seat and started counting, following first the major arms of the massive tree's system out to where the stringy, turpentine-flavoured green fruit hung in easily identified clumps... “Oh no! God. No! No…” The ache and urgency in his mother’s voice drew him back from the numbers. As he turned to look at her he could see streams of shining tears rolling out of her eyes and down her lightly freckled face. “It’s Uncle Ken. He’s died!" Aside from his dog dying Heath had had no experience of death. He’d wept hot tears of grief for his dog – dead while he was away at school, but here was his uncle, a human being, his dad’s brother, dead. Fallen from the sky in his plane she said. The emotions flooding out of his mother stirred strange and embarrassing feelings of his own, nothing like the feelings he’d experienced with his dog’s death. An entirely unwelcome grin was rising up from around his neck threatening to rip right across his hairless, uncamouflaged face. Fortunately his mother seemed too distracted to notice the struggle as he clamped down hard on those delinquent muscles apparently determined to expose him and his inappropriate response to this bad news. He had to assume it was bad news. Death was always bad news wasn’t it? He didn’t really know this uncle. He’d met the man a few times. All he knew about Uncle Ken was he was something of an artist. And a pilot too. But now no more. No more an artist. No more a pilot. No more a brother, father, uncle without the added adjective ‘dead’ or ‘late’. Late for what? Heath wondered as his mother tried to pull herself together. His late uncle. Did that English euphemism try to suggest, ever-so politely, hopefully, that at some point he’d be on time? And maybe live again? But so far as Heath understood death, Uncle Ken had moved on into the memosphere and the winds of time would slowly flatten the tracks of his passing as those winds had calmed the turbulent emotions of his dog's death. As his mum drove them home in silence Heath closed his eyes and began one of his favourite counting exercises: a simultaneous count in both directions. On this occasion the event was themed - from birth to death, counting started at zero, climbing to one hundred - and from death, a rear vision countback, one hundred to zero, to birth. He decided a generous allocation of one hundred years was most suitable for the exercise. A nice round number. He’d heard people say you’re dead for a very long time so he thought a big round number best to go for. Using his inner ear he counted the years from birth: zero, one, two, three while his inner eye watched the numbers decline from one hundred till eventually the zero of birth matched death’s final 100 year ascendancy…This was a surprisingly satisfying activity for the boy. A sense of completion at the end left Heath in a buoyant frame of mind. His mother however was so preoccupied with her grief and, he presumed, the terrible task of having to deliver the news to her husband she hardly noticed her seventeen-year-old son or the effects of his existential counting on his mood. When they arrived home he walked into his bedroom and began absently to look through his drawers his mind distracted and a little numb. The interweaving of the fine patterns of double counting had plaited something of a cord-like impression in his mind. As he followed the abstract cord he found himself exploring the dusty recesses of his room he’d not thought about since he spent his holidays all those years ago with Kejebba and Babu. The dust mites in the drawers did not appreciate being disturbed and attacked Heath’s sensitive nasal membranes causing his body to erupt in a cascade of white, blinding sneezes. He loved these dusty sneezes which would start by tickling his nose and then as he drew in a full breath the sneeze impulse would curl around his diaphragm before bursting madly out into the air in a spasm of sweet pleasure. Sometimes as many as eight or nine detonations would wrack his body before it came to some arrangement with the mites and everybody settled down allowing him to continue, here, with his exploration. Next door in their bedroom he could hear his mother and father talking quietly. Mostly his mother’s voice, occasionally a conciliatory tone from his dad as he tried to comfort his stricken wife. Each item Heath picked out from the drawer produced its own fragment of memory, a picture or a series of pictures, faint but pleasurable nostalgia as he mined the reservoir of his past. He noticed an intriguing smell coming from the drawer. Very subtle, hardly there at all and at first he thought it was his nasal membrane tricking him after its recent exercise. But the aroma was persistent and seemed to be coming from a sock jammed into the corner. Not a particularly sock- like smell he thought. As he pulled the sock out its weight instantly reminded him of the marble thing. The 'seed' Babu had called it. The attractive smell and the memory of Babu’s warning flooded his mind confusing him with their contradictory signals. Slowly he inverted the sock and there it was. In his emotionally charged state the marble, stone-like orb seemed to throb and glow in spite of the midday sun burning through his bedroom window and saturating all before it. Heath lifted it to his nose and sure enough there was that smell, like a flower’s promise of nourishment, a smell with a distinct colour. Was it red? The too-bright sunshine flooding the room was interfering with his senses. Clutching, but not too tightly, the gift he’d received all those years ago and making sure some of the sock was between it and his hand, he went over to the window and closed the curtains. The room fell into shade. He could feel the heat of the thing through the sock. Heath imagined it must have picked up some of the sun’s heat before he closed the curtains. He sat down on his bed, reached over and pulled out a thick old hard-cover anthology of gothic tales from the bookshelf, rested it on his lap and continued disentangling the Seed from its old sock, carefully avoiding any direct contact. The heat coming from it seemed to be intensifying. He decided its heat had nothing to do with the sun. Its outer circumference appeared to pulse and glow - from the inside. As though it was minutely expanding and contracting. He had the bizarre thought that the thing was breathing as it sat on the leather binding of the book. The curtained room now revealed the self-generating colour of the seed to be a variable indigo, cycling between red and violet, as though undecided, seeking comfort. Heath was captivated by the display. All sounds from the house faded; finally all he could hear was a vast and distant echoed space as though he stood in a great cave or an empty cathedral, his own scale shrank to the size of an ant. His peripheral sight began to close in. He tried to turn his head to the window to see whether it was getting dark outside but he seemed to have lost control of his neck muscles. His will. The seed continued to pulse. He felt drawn in as though by a magnet. His self a tiny slither of iron filing sucked in deep by the gravity of a gigantic, irresistible force. His head began to spin. For a brief second he felt a wave of panic stir in his gut, like the sensation he’d had when the stranger, what had Babu called him? the Ngede something, had confronted him and Kejebba with his gaze before handing over this weirdly animate object now gripping his mind. A fragment of the Bible’s New Testament drifted into his head. Something about rocks and stones singing. Maybe the thing really was breathing. It was. Pulsing at the same rate as his breathing. In, out, in, out. Heath’s heart beat responded to the realisation that he and the stone were somehow connected and began to gallop uncomfortably fast. He applied the total power of his will, now only accessible through the thinnest of channels, to slow his breathing. The pulsing in the seed slowed. After a few moments his breathing relaxed and the light within the stone cycled its colours through cooler tones, still holding true to their indigo essence and now unmistakeably in rhythm with his own breathing. He could taste something in the air. Aniseed. Purple black. A wave of pleasure rolled through him as his mouth filled with memories of all-day suckers, saturating his head. Burying his mind.
Chapter Two
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