School: Balwearie High School, Fife
The old yew tree’s branches spread through the darkening night like blood through water. The sky was a celestial canvas, speckled with the evening’s first stars and stained at the far corner with gold and pink light, thrown across the heavens by the dying sun. The tree stood regally at the top of the gentle incline, silhouetted against the horizon. A young boy lay slumped across the roots, tear marks gouged down his face. He was framed inside the deafening near-silence, the only sound his crying and sobbing. Alone in his despondence, the air was filled with an emptiness so powerful it felt as though it would implode his eardrums. He sighed and leaned his head back against the thick, resolute trunk of the tree, casting his mind back to that morning, although it seemed years ago.
The letter had been like a bomb. Spiralling down onto the doormat and destroying the lives of the innocent family. It had been a grey, drab morning, contrasting so deeply with the beauty of the evening. His mother had made her normal procession along the corridor, took the letter, all their post that day, and returned to their normal breakfast. She stood, normally, at the Aga, and fried, normally, the family’s eggs. She opened the letter, giving little more than a glance to the official blue typing on the front, and moved her hand slowly, to cover her mouth. She walked, dazed, towards her seat and leaned on the backrest before dropping heavily onto the cold floor. Tears rolled down her face, hardened from working on the family’s small farm, but still pretty in a quiet, sensible way. She took a long, shaky breath and sobbed again. The boy and his two siblings ran from the other end of the polished hardwood table to comfort her. His older brother gently removed the letter from his mother’s shaking hand as he and his younger sister clung to their mother. No-one really needed to ask what was wrong. Only one thing could have upset their mother, usually so robust and tough, this much. No-one really needed to say what it was. His brother slowly put the letter down on the table and embraced her.
The trench has only just been dug, the sandbags freshly placed. It’s the first night they had spent here, and most are trying to snatch some sleep during the early hours of the morning. The sentries are leaning on their posts, vigilant in a lethargic way. A sharp, shrill whining cuts through the still air. The soldiers scurry into life, rejuvenated by the droning whistle of the shell. Some try to climb over the top of the trench, but the freshly dug earth slides under their fingers, rushes between their clammy digits as they struggle in a panicked frenzy to get out of their earthen coffin. Others bolt along the trench to put sufficient distance between them and the inevitable crater. As they run, other soldiers join them from their posts, creating an embarrassing glut of disorganized soldiers. Then the shell hits. For a momentous, vibrating second, everything is eerily muted and hangs for a moment in time. The brief moment flies by, and the dugout, trench and dozen or so soldiers still too close to the epicentre of the blast, are reduced to a muddied, charred quagmire of debris and destruction. The stars reflect in the eyes of all the soldiers, the living grimly surveying the dead before them.
The rest of the day was a blur of teardrops, falling like rain, masking the raw emotion in them all by drowning themselves in the torrent of menial tasks, cleaning out animals, tending to rows of carrots and potatoes and pretending not to listen as their mother wailed and cried as she wrote letters to their family at the desk in the corner of the living room. The room was modest and cosy, with a wood-burning stove in the middle of a loose ring of tasteful but slightly tatty embroidered armchairs and sofas. The room was always warm, smelling gently of scented candles and wood smoke. He remembered when his whole family would sit around and play a game together.
He choked back tears. The night was getting colder. He let his head roll back and rest against the rough bark, before moving his aching, tired body on its side and curling his frail self in between two of the yew’s roots. He embraced the wave of drowsiness that washed over him. The tree’s omniscient aura seeped out, flowing out and gently liberating the boy from his pain. It knew this boy’s pain. It knew his father’s pain, and his grandfather’s, and his great-grandfather’s. The boy’s family had farmed this land for generations. The tree took the hurt, the pain, the injustice, and let it flow away, dissipating into nothingness.
In the crisp, sharp morning’s light the majestic blue expanse of the ocean lay below the rugged headland like a carpet of sapphires, shining vibrantly and glittering in the swell of the tide. Tiny ivory-crested peaks rolled in onto the shore at the base of the dramatic slope, and receded back into the depths, leaving the sand like gold dust. Atop a hill, rising from one end of the beach, was a luscious pasture, clear and fresh in the stark morning. The high stalks of fresh green grass glimmered with early morning dew like tiny gems hanging from the pointed needles, yearning for the refuge of the earth. At the other end of the field, at the top of a gentle incline, stands a yew tree, benign and gentle. Its bark is smooth and worn, varnished by decades of the chill wind blowing against the contours of the trunk. The boy stretched, yawned and awoke. He opened his eyes and, in a detached, unfocused way, looked at the morning. He felt better now, like the rift in him had closed during the night. He gazed about for a moment with glazed eyes, but then realized where he was. He squinted at the little white box of his home, nestled happily among the scruffy fields and moorlands, away from the rest of the village. He loved that place. He loved his home, and so had his father. He scrambled up the indent he’d made in the deep grass and stumbled off down the hill towards the little white box, with the animals who always needed cleaning out, and the cosy living-room with the wood-burning stove.