Authors: John Wilson
ACROSS FROZEN SEAS
BY JOHN WILSON
Copyright Â© 1997 John Wilson
Third Printing: 2003
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or any information storage, retrieval and transmission systems now known or to be invented, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.
This book is published by Beach Holme Publishing, #226â2040 West 12th Ave., Vancouver, BC, V6J 2G2. This is a Sandcastle Book. A teacher's guide is also available from Beach Holme Publishing at 1-888-551-6655.
The author and publisher acknowledge the generous assistance of The Canada Council and the BC Ministry of Small Business, Tourism and Culture.
Editor: Joy Gugeler
Cover Art: Barbara Munzar
Production and Design: Teresa Bubela
Printed and bound in Canada by Webcom
Canadian Cataloguing in Publication Data:
Wilson, John (John Alexander), 1951-
Â Â Â Across frozen seas
(A sandcastle book)
Â Â Â 1. Northwest Passage-Juvenile fiction. I. Title. II. Series.
PS8595.15834A721997Â Â Â Â Â jC813',54Â Â Â Â Â C97-900649-X PZ7Â Â Â . W6959A371997
FOR EEUN, WHO TOLD ME STORIES.
In the first dream that I remember I am sitting at a long, rough-hewn table with about forty other boys. The table is set in a narrow, dark hall and there are cobwebs hanging from the blackened wooden rafters. At one end, in front of a vast, empty fireplace, sits a large man in a grey uniform of coarse cloth. On the mantle above his head are carved the words, “Work boy or out.”
We range in age from five or six (down at the far end of the table) to twelve or fourteen (where I sit). We are all dressed in heavy, woollen clothes that are ragged and often patched at the elbow and the knee. Several boys have flat caps sitting on the table beside them. In front of each boy, including me, is a bowl of thin vegetable soup. We are eating in silence. In fact, there is no sound at all in my dream; I cannot hear or smell, and the soup I am passing up to my mouth has no taste. My only sensations are sight and touch.
The table feels uneven beneath my arm and the soup spoon cold in my hand. I can also feel, clenched in my fist in the warm darkness of my pocket, the small lead figure of a sailor, Jack Tar. He is the only thing I have from my parents and, as long as he is with me, I am certain nothing will go wrong. More acutely, I notice that my backside is extremely tender where it comes in contact with the hard wooden bench.
The whole experience is like watching an old movie, except that I am
in the movie. I
have the distance of a member of the audience and yet I am much more than a passive observer. I am one of the actors. At least I can see through the eyes of one of the actors and feel his pain. I know what he knows, and his past is my past. Although I have never seen this hall or met these children, in my dream everything is very familiar. This place is my home and I feel as if I have been here forever.
I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the man in uniform is called Mister Marback and that, in addition to the large set of brass keys hanging from his belt, he also owns a cane switch he uses on anyone who has broken his rules. This explains the pain in my backside.
The scruffy-looking boy across the table from me is the reason I have felt the brunt of the switch, but I don't seem to mind. He is teaching me to read and write. In fact, it was after candles-out last night, when we were illicitly reading my friend's stolen copy of Mister Dickens' new book A Christmas Carol, that Mister Marback caught us. My friend heard him coming an instant before the door opened and slid under the bed,
keeping silent while I was beaten. But this injustice doesn't matter; he is my only friend in the world and I would gladly endure this, and more, for him.
My friend is taller than I am and has a mop of sandy-coloured hair that looks as though it has never seen a brush. His face is thin, narrow and unremarkable, except for his eyes. They are deep brown, large and have a droop to the edges, giving his face a sad expression. As I look at him across the table, he lifts his head and smiles at me. Instantly, his eyes come alive and sparkle with mischief. The name
flashes through my mind and I think,
tonight we will escape.
That was the first dream. Not really anything too unusual, except that I could remember it very vividly the next day. I could even explain it. Two days before, I had been watching the movie
Obviously, the workhouse scene where Oliver asks for a second bowl of gruel had stayed with me and crept into my thoughts that night. There was no hint of the adventure and tragedy that would soon unfold and consume both myself and my dream-friend George.
For a week, I lived my “normal” life. I went to school, played hockey, hung out, got bored and listened to my parents argue. Then I had the second dream.
I am standing in a dark, narrow alley, shivering uncontrollably. It is raining steadily and on either side of me are stained, damp walls. Below my feet are uneven cobblestones that slope toward an open drain. The drain is clogged with garbage and there are puddles of scummy water around it, making me grateful my dream allows no sense of smell. George is about thirty feet ahead of me peering around a corner into a busy roadway. From what little I can see, there appear to be stalls lining both sides of the street and a crush of people dressed in the same old-fashioned clothes as the boys in my first dream. I want to go closer and look, but George has told me to stay back. Without hesitation, he slips around the corner and out of sight.
In a moment he returns, running as fast as he can. In each hand he holds a coarse, brown loaf of bread. As he runs past he laughs and tosses me one of the loaves. In that instant, an older boy rounds the corner into the alley and begins running towards us. He is not much taller than I am but he looks angry. Frightened, I turn to follow George, but my foot slips on the slick cobblestones and I fall. The loaf of bread slides from my grasp into a foul black puddle. Before I can get up the boy is on me, holding my collar and hitting the back of my head with his other fist. I try to put my hands behind my head to protect myself, but he keeps on hitting. His blows hurt and I am crying. Without warning, the awful smell coming from the filthy water only a couple of inches from my nose wells up and overwhelms me. It is like nothing I have ever smelled
before and it makes my empty stomach heave.
Abruptly, the hitting stops, the hand lets go of my collar, and I fall to the ground and scramble away from the disgusting drain. When I turn over, I see George. He is tearing into the bigger boy like a whirlwind, punching and kicking furiously. The boy is trying to hit back, but George's head is down and the blows bounce harmlessly off his back. George's punches, on the other hand, are finding their mark and the boy is being steadily forced back toward the street. Eventually, he gives up and runs around the corner. George turns back toward me. He is out of breath, but grinning as if he has enjoyed every minute. His loaf of bread is still clutched protectively under one arm. I pull myself up and look disconsolately at the soggy, inedible mass that used to be my loaf. As George draws level, he breaks off a piece of his loaf and passes it to me. We turn and walk off down the alley, George talking happily while I munch hungrily on the bread. It tastes bitter, but it is the only food I have had in days and I wolf it down.
I awoke puzzled. This dream was obviously related to the one I had had a week before. It had the same vividness and the same feeling of being trapped inside someone else's head. I had heard of people having the same dream repeated over and over again, but the idea of having a sequence of dreams, where each continues the action from the one before (like a television series),
was bizarre. Even stranger, I felt as if I were being drawn more and more deeply into the dream world, whatever, and whenever, that was. Now that I could smell and taste, the only missing sense was hearing.