School: North Berwick High School, East Lothian
Aya heard the sea before she saw it, like she always did. She headed down the well worn path that so many took, young children went to play by the water, everyone else to collect useful materials. That was what Aya should have been doing, she hadn’t wanted to though… She could still feel the soft fur of Rune, ever so shockingly cold, how her hands had shaken as she stroked his still side. It was just a cat, she told herself. You shouldn’t feel like this. Aya felt the worn red string round her wrist. It didn’t belong with her; she should have left it round Rune’s neck. But she had wanted something to remind her of him. She continued down the path, buckthorn crisscrossing thickly above as it always had done. Aya ducked her head to avoid catching her hair on its spiny branches. The amount of times she’d got it tangled was something people always laughed about, she didn’t mind them laughing, but it did hurt.
As the buckthorn fell back, overrun by the sand, Aya breathed a sigh of relief, she stared across the familiar sight of the sea, and the rocks before it. Feathers! she thought. She’d always liked collecting them, so headed to the rocks were birds were always sat. As she neared them a small group of gulls fluttered into the sky and scattered, noisily screeching to each other. All that was left was the dark shape of a cormorant further down the coast, wings half spread as it dried them.
So Aya scrambled onto the rocks and began to search for feathers. Though it was mainly the grey and black ones of seagulls, she would smile if she saw one of a curlew or perhaps a crow. She continued with her search, until slowly she began to feel uneasy, like someone was watching her. She turned around, her bouquet of feathers gripped tightly in her hands. She had been about to call out, but she stopped as she saw the person behind her. Aya wasn’t scared, only curious as she looked at the small boy. His clothes were ragged, the sleeves on his shirt so large you could barely see his hands, and as he stepped backwards the shells he wore chinked gently against each other. Aya could see barely any expression on his face, for he wore a large beak over most of it, leaving only his glinting eyes, shadowed by his dark hair. The cormorant that had been sitting on the rocks was now by the boy, and they both looked at her in the same way. Warily.
‘Hello…’ she said softly and smiled. But the boy had clambered onto another rock, a few shells from his hand scattering as he did so. The cormorant fluttered clumsily up to him.
Silently they wandered about the beach, searching for feathers and shells. The boy never came too close, merely stopping and staring now and then as Aya picked up any particularly nice feathers. It must have been at least an hour before Aya noticed him much closer than before, a pretty white feather in his hand. Aya opened her mouth to try speaking to him again, but he was gone once more. She went over to where he had been standing to see that he had left the feather. It was a perfect pale colour. Aya carefully picked the thing up and tucked into her hair.
A while later Aya saw a striking yellow and black shell. She picked it up, and then saw the strange boy, standing near her. He was coming closer, so she held out her free hand, the shell resting on her palm. Slowly he reached out, arm shaking, and quickly grabbed it. He didn’t hurry away like before, but stood and stared. More feathers were in his other hand and he carefully held them out to Aya. She took them and smiled, and she felt that under his bird beak, he must have smiled too.
They continued in silent companionship till the sun began to set, exchanging shells and feathers, the cormorant pottering around by them, still watching Aya carefully. Aya felt happy in the boy’s company, it felt nice to have someone who didn’t want to talk. He seemed almost like Rune. Rune! she said to herself, for had all but forgotten about him. Oh Rune, why?
As it got dark, she had tears in her eyes as she stared one last time at her friend. The boy stood silently and watched her go back up the path, the cormorant at his side. Neither had spoken goodbye and Aya looked back to the beach as she headed up the path, hoping to see her friend one last time, but he had gone.
The warm light from her home glowed as Aya approached it. She wiped the tears that stained her face away. The moment she stepped through that door she knew she wouldn’t have time to think about the day anymore, not Rune, and not the boy and his cormorant. Her siblings would want her to help with something or another, or her mother would have something to make her mend. You can think about it tomorrow, you can head to the beach again.
Before anyone else was awake, Aya slowly crept out of the house, knowing no one would be pleased to be woken. Instead of going to the beach, she went round the back of her home. Her family had fenced off a small area of grass for growing potatoes, but behind it a small wood had been left. Aya climbed over the fence and into the cool darkness of the leaves. She would have often found Rune here, hunting for mice and other small creatures. So this was the place she had buried him. A large rowan had long ago taken its chance to grow in the middle of a small clearing. That was where Rune was. Aya reached for the string round her wrist. And froze. It wasn’t there. Where is it? Where is it?! She felt awash with sadness, it must have fallen off while she was at the beach. The tide would have swept it away. How could I lose it? She put her head in her hands and stood by the tree. It’s the only thing I had to remind me! Distraught, she began to cry, until she heard something. Instantly, she was alert. She heard it again. A meow. Slowly she turned her head to the sound.
‘Rune!’ The cat flicked its tail as she shouted, but continued to slowly saunter over to her. ‘Rune,’ she said again as she knelt and felt his fur once more. ‘How…?’ She saw around his neck the red string collar. ‘I thought you were gone… I thought I was alone.’ As the cat rubbed his head against her and purred softly, she saw a feather stuck in his collar.
A black feather.
A cormorant’s feather.