Atlantis Rose

by Lauchlan Fraser

The following excerpt is the complete first chapter of Lauchlan Fraser's novel, Atlantis Rose.

CHAPTER ONE – School Closed

Jamie awoke and opened his eyes. It was dark. He lay quietly,
embracing the moment. Jamie was safe and warm wrapped up
tight in bed with his head buried under the blankets. He loved
the warmth, the darkness, and the quiet that his undercover environment
provided. This was how he slept since he was two years old, when Molly
came to share his room. Ten years later Jamie was now twelve and he still
buried his head under the covers.

This particular morning something was missing. Molly should be
teasing him right now, like she always did, with something like, “Ooooh,
the corpse is stirring, rising from the dead,” but there were no taunts.
Jamie threw his blanket off his head. The dull morning light hit his wide
green-speckled aquamarine eyes, eyes the color of the sea; not the surface
waters, but a little deeper. No sign of Molly.

While still in bed, Jamie rooted about to find yesterday’s clothes,
the ones he had placed under the covers the night before to keep warm.
He pulled them on and rolled out of bed. Grabbing a piece of ribbon
from his bedside table he tied his long golden hair into a ponytail, and
thumped down the stairs.

Molly crouched in her chair close to the hot stove with her arms
wrapped around her legs and her chin on her knees. She nibbled on a
scone cupped in her hands, then stopped to pick at it with her fingers to
reveal a raisin. She flicked it into the fire where it danced in the flames
before erupting into a mini fireball. Her eyes twinkled, reflecting the mini
pyrotechnic show.

Another raisin scone waited for Jamie on the kitchen table. He
wolfed it down with a few gulps of lukewarm tea and dragged his fingers
across his lips.

Molly looked at Jamie with a smirk on her face. “Is that in your lungs
or tummy?” she said, with a slight lisp. She talked so fast she tripped over
her words, often biting the tip of her tongue.

“What?” Jamie mumbled, catching a crumb from the corner of his
mouth with his tongue.

“Did you chew that? Or, breathe it in? I could sell tickets to people
just to watch you eat,” teased Molly. “Here, catch,” she flicked another
raisin, hitting Jamie right between the eyes.
Jamie lunged but Molly was quicker. She escaped his grasp with a
stifled shriek.

“Morning, children,” sang their mum, Charlotte, from upstairs.

“I’ll be down in a minute. I’m just getting Bee ready.” Jamie could hear
Bartholomew, Bee, cooing and squealing in delight.
Jamie shouted up the stairs, “We’ve got to go, Mum.” He gestured
towards his sister to come along.
Jamie opened the kitchen door and was instantly met with the
familiar smell of cured leather and shoe polish. “We’re off to school,
Dad”.

His dad, Jacob, sat behind a cluttered work bench wearing an old
apron that could have been green at some point but was now a frayed
and mottled collection of black and grey splotches. Jamie’s upper lip
involuntarily twitched in distaste.
Jacob lifted his head from his work, “Just help me remove the molds
from these boots, Jamie, there’s a good lad,” he said wearily, with a small
wave of one hairy eyebrow.

Jacob was a gentle man, unless he was pushed too far; and Jamie
knew the telltale signs. The first thing to look for was the eyebrows.
Normally they stood straight up, like two hairy hands in surrender. But
when he was mad they pointed right at you with a sort of wag of the
finger, ‘watch yourself young man’, gesture. The next level of anger was
the red earlobes. Finally, there was the bull-like shake of the head from
side-to-side. Only once had Jamie witnessed the combination of all three.
His backside tingled as the memory of the pain crossed his mind. It was
always a balance how far Jamie could push his father’s patience.
Jamie turned halfway towards his father, maintaining a tight grip on
the door handle. “We don’t have time,” he whined.

“It won’t take a minute. My arms are bone tired from stretching
and stitching leather all night,” replied Jacob. Now both eyebrows were
wagging at Jamie. “Besides, it’s good practice for you. Best you start
perfecting the trade sooner rather than later.”

“Practice? More like prison.”

“Not that again,” sighed Jacob. “Hurry up, boy or you’ll really be late.”
Jamie grumbled but did as he was told. No point in pushing to the
red earlobes stage, he knew he wasn’t going to win this battle. One thing
he did know though: he hated the shoe-making business.

“Don’t you get tired of this, Dad?” said Jamie as he yanked the molds.

“I can’t wait to see the world with my own eyes, not the dirt of distant
places on the soles of someone else’s shoes.” Jamie looked at the boot he
was holding with contempt before dropping it on the floor.
Jacob sighed. “You say that now, Jamie, but you’re too young to
understand. The world is bigger than you can imagine and there are many
places you don’t want to see; many bad places, many bad people.”

Oh no, here we go, Jamie thought as he anticipated the next words to
follow.

“Listen to your heart,” Jacob added with feeling. He pointed his
finger at Jamie’s breast and said, “your heart is telling you to stay close to
home and work with me in the family business.”
“Right, Dad,” said Jamie with a sigh, picking up his pace to finish the
task.

Jamie had heard this speech many times before. He thought it funny
his heart had the answer and was capable of communicating it. And
downright uproarious, if it weren’t so sad, that Dad knew what his heart
was saying. Is he fluent in heart?

“Blasted boots,” Jamie mumbled as he yanked out a tight mold. “If
you knew what’s good for you, you’d run away,” he whispered to it before
plunking it beside its mate.

Jamie raced through his chore. “I’m done,” he yelled.

“This is an important order, Jamie,” Jacob replied. “It’s for a captain of
a galleon and his officers. There should be twenty-five pairs plus a single.
Did you get them all?”

Jamie did a quick count, “They’re all here,” he confirmed. Then it hit
him, “Why the single?”

“Maybe the captain lost an argument with a cannonball,” laughed
Molly, popping out of the shadows.

Jamie raised an eyebrow. “Very funny,” he said dryly. “And where were
you when there was work to be done?”

Molly laughed. “We’d best leg it ourselves,” she shouted as she
hopped out the door on one foot.

“Thank you, son,” Jacob sighed, clearly not in the mood for jokes. “I
won’t be able to walk with you two today. Just go up New Gravel Lane,
stick to the High Street and do not linger. There’s a soldier on every
corner. You’ll be safe if you stay on High Street. And one more thing,”
Jacob shouted as they were running down the path to the street, “Jamie,
look after your sister!”

“Hurry up, Molly!” Jamie urged, half running and half walking down
High Street. “I don’t want to be late.” He darted through the crowd. As
usual, his younger sister lagged behind.

“How can you be so sluggish for someone as quick and fidgety as a
rabbit?” he complained more to himself than to his sister.
The cobblestone street bustled with horse-drawn carriages and people
of all ages blowing steamy clouds from their mouths and noses as they
rushed to their various destinations. A damp chill over the foggy streets
of London threatened an October snow.

“If we didn’t have to take the long way I wouldn’t be tired and we
wouldn’t be late would we?” Molly complained, dragging her satchel
on the ground. She took a particularly big breath and then blew a long
plume of steam. After watching it hang for an instant she thrust her face
through the cloud.

Jamie reached back and grabbed Molly’s satchel, throwing it over his
broad shoulder. “You know it’s safer this way.” He quickly glanced around.
A brief wrinkle flashed across his brow.

Jamie wasn’t really afraid; he was more worried that they would
be late for school. After all, they were on High Street, a main road, in
amongst a crowd of people. What could possibly go wrong? But he
recalled the last time they took the shortcut to school through Wapping
Alley – or Weeping Alley as it was now known by the locals. Three men
had emerged from the shadows ahead of them and thrown a black cloth
over Billy Thompson, a thirteen year old boy who lived down the street
from Jamie and Molly. By the time anyone could respond to their cries
for help the men and Billy were gone. Billy had not been seen since that
day, three weeks ago. Jamie’s dad thought it was kidnappers, maybe even
pirates. It was a bad sign indeed that pirates might be wandering the
streets of London but these were not good times in England.

Jamie wouldn’t admit it but he liked school, despite the pack of nasty
pit bulls and lazy hound dogs that called themselves teachers. On a daily
basis at least one of the children got caned for some minor or perceived
misdemeanor. Just the other day Jamie was brought back to earth by a
box to his ears because his mind was drifting to all the exotic faraway
places he’d rather be.

His friends joked that Jamie could tame a hurricane with his
mysterious powers. Maybe it was those wide, green speckled aquamarine
eyes that drew people in. It couldn’t have been his large proboscis called
a nose, which was more like an elephant’s trunk. His mum always said
“it’s just like your grandpa’s – very noble. Don’t worry, you’ll grow into
it.” From his tall, broad-shouldered frame to his thick golden hair Jamie
radiated health. He was out of place in the dirty city streets of London.
He stood out like a sail in the wind.

Jamie kicked in frustration at a loose stone. “Why are you such a
slug?” he muttered. “What’s in your bag anyway, rocks?”
Molly gasped in horror, her wide eyes bulged as she pointed her
trembling finger, “Oh no! Jamie, a pirate with a big sword is right over
there by the doorway!”

“Where?” Jamie shouted, practically tripping over his feet while
spinning around to look.

“Ha Ha! Fooled you!” Molly hollered hysterically with a big toothy
grin on her face.

“I swear, Molly, next time I’ll just leave you to find your own way to
school,” Jamie grumbled as they continued up the road.

Molly, two years younger than Jamie, resembled her brother in many
ways, the color of her eyes and hair and the shape of her face. But Molly
was extroverted, the joker of the family. Their mum would say “Molly’s
not a ham, she’s the whole pig!”

Molly chased a few dry leaves that were swirling through the cold air.
Though freed from the burden of her satchel, her new-found energy did
not motivate her to reach school any quicker.

She stopped to catch her breath. “Hey, I thought Daddy said there’d
be a soldier on every corner. Where are they? Weren’t they were here
yesterday…? That’s right, I remember one chap right over there doing
a superb job of keeping the wall upright…,” Molly added sarcastically
while mimicking a snoring guard.

“Hmmm… you may be right,” agreed Jamie, and thought with
apprehension that the guard they saw yesterday may have been sleeping
but at least he was there. Jamie quickened his pace. “Just stay close, Molly.
We’ve only got one street to go.”

Nearing the school they approached a large group of people around
the entrance gate. The gate was closed.

Jamie frowned. That’s unusual, he thought. They wriggled their way
through the crowd until they were close to the gate. A thick padlocked
chain fastened the wrought iron gate. A large notice read:

SCHOOL CLOSED
BY ORDER OF KING KENNETH
NO LOITERING

Emblazed on the notice were two fierce bulls, one white and the
other black, staring each other down across a turbulent sea, water the
color of blood, and two stars hanging side by side in an inky night sky.

“Woo hoo!” Molly skipped on the spot, quite oblivious to the
somber mood of the crowd. It would be an understatement to say that
Molly lacked the same enthusiasm about school as Jamie. “Don’t know
what ‘lot-ring’ means but do know what ‘closed’ means,” she sang as she
skipped.

Jamie reached out and gave Molly’s coat a firm tug. “Follow me. We
need to get out of here.”

“You’re not my master,” Molly replied breezily while skipping. “This
is the best thing since the Royal sweets wagon spilled its load outside our
house last week.”

“Don’t be stupid,” muttered Jamie as he pulled her from the crowd.

“Who is King Kenneth? King George III is our king. This isn’t right. Stay
close.”

Before they could go more than a few paces, a large man on a
gigantic black mare burst through the swirling fog into the square
and came to a halt, sparks flying from his horse’s hooves striking the
cobblestones. Trailing tendrils of mist, he reached into his heavy cloak
and pulled forth a scroll.

“Hear ye! Hear ye!!” shouted the horseman. “The King is dead!
Long-live the King! All subjects residing in the East Smithfield region
of London must report to the Tower of London within the next twentyfour
hours. Those who refuse are guilty by law and will be punished.”

“What happened to King George?” yelled a man close to Jamie. “And
what sort of name is Kenneth for a King?” he snorted contemptuously.
The horseman whirled to face the man who spoke and Jamie caught
a look of brutal coldness in the man’s eye that made him wish he were
invisible. “Seize him!” the horseman shouted to a group of foot soldiers
that had caught up to their leader. “Courageous King Kenneth is the new
and rightful monarch of Great Britain,” continued the horseman to the
crowd. “There will be no dissent!” he shrieked, spittle flying from his lips.
The foot soldiers roughly grabbed the man, jostling Jamie aside in the
process. The crowd shrank away from the soldiers.

“Does anybody else wish to see the dungeons of our new monarch
and your new ruler?” the horseman hissed. He stepped off his horse and
strode up to a King George banner, ripped it from its hanger, tore it in
half and threw it down, grinding it with his heel. “He was a fool in life
and the sooner you all forget him now that he is dead the better!”
Jamie cast his gaze down to the cobblestones so as not to make eye
contact with the enraged horseman – a tactic he learned while avoiding
trouble at school. “Follow me! Now!” Jamie insisted through gritted teeth
as he grabbed Molly’s hand. They broke through the cowering crowd and
rushed down the street.

After several paces Jamie realized it would be slow and dangerous to
run back home on High Street, but there was another way home… Jamie
pulled his sister off the street toward Wapping Alley. As soon as they
stepped a few feet into the alley the noises of the square faded away.
“Why are we going this way?” cried Molly in a squeaky voice.
The walls closed in around them like a python squeezing its prey.
While the alley muffled sound from the square, the echoes from their
footsteps reverberated off the dark walls. Molly squeezed Jamie’s hand
tightly.

Jamie didn’t want to be anywhere near Weeping Alley either but the
alternative seemed more dangerous. “Don’t talk now! Run!” he panted as
he scanned the corners and shadows.

They made rapid progress down the deserted alley towards their
home.

“Why did you have to ruin such a good moment?” Molly complained,
letting go of Jamie’s hand. “School Closed! No more homework! No
more boring long hours in the classroom!”

“Come to think of it,” Molly said as she hurried after her brother,
“you tried to stop me from taking any of those sweets that fell from the
Royal wagon, too. Who were you trying to protect again? Oh yes, it was
the Prince’s birthday party wasn’t it?” she smirked.

“Princess,” Jamie said curtly, picking up his pace.

“Oh yes, of course, how could I have forgotten,” Molly mocked
with her hand to her cheek. “Priiinceeeess Catherine! Or is it Cathy to
you? Couldn’t steal your princesses’ sweets, could you? Sweets for your
sweetie,” Molly teased.

Jamie was too far away to hear her. He could see the end of the alley.
He quickened his pace causing his ponytail to sway. He squinted as a
shaft of cold sunlight streaming from a gap in the buildings caught him
in the eye. By now, Jamie was a full forty paces ahead of Molly, the gap
widening with each step. “Hurry up!” Jamie shouted over his shoulder.
Just as Molly reached the gap between the buildings, a lonely,
plaintive melody issued from down the narrow, dirty corridor. Molly
stopped to hear. What’s she doing now? thought Jamie. The music, too
distant for him to make out, took a hold of Molly. She slipped out of
sight without a backward glance.

Jamie gritted his teeth trudging back to fetch her. “When I get my
hands on her,” he muttered, “I’ll make her face the music all right.”
Returning to the mouth of the gap, he could see Molly. She was far
down the lane, which ended at the Thames River. A glimmer of light
reflected off the smoky river so that Molly’s form created a dark contrast
to the pale glow from the Thames. No one or nothing else could be seen,
but the unearthly music was louder now and Molly continued her urgent
and magnetic walk towards the river.

Jamie stood mesmerized… by the vision… the cold… the music. And
then, a massive, ghostly-white bull’s head with lurid red-tipped horns and
bloodshot eyes glided into view in front of Molly, rendering the mists
from the river. The bull drifted by to reveal the bow of a huge sailing
ship moving slowly up the Thames. From Jamie’s point of view, the bull
devoured Molly.

A lone old man sat cross-legged directly behind the bull. The man
wore a blue and white striped tunic, with a red bandana wrapped around
his head and large silver hoops in his ears. He played a thin tin whistle,
the origin of the haunting music. From the corner of his eye he noticed
Molly and turned his head to face her. Molly came to a standstill about
a half dozen paces from the water’s edge. The old man looked directly at
Molly and winked, still playing his whistle.

As the ship slipped by, the old man disappeared from Jamie’s view
behind the corner of the building. Another man came into Jamie’s line
of vision in the narrow space between the two buildings. He stood on
the gunwale, legs braced wide apart, as large, fierce and hairy-looking as
a bear, with a great black beard and a long black-haired coat. When he
saw Molly he slowly raised his arm and pointed a short-barreled musket
directly between her petrified eyes.

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