Time and reality meet - and entangle
I hold all rights to this book.
Lifelines started out as a novel set in eight different time periods and countries, and it seemed fine to me, but after a while I realised that it would be far too complicated a read for anyone but the writer, and broke it up into three separate (if vaguely linked) stories. The longest - The Cloak - is set in just three centuries and bookended by a fourth. Here are the first few pages of The Cloak.
My sister disappeared ten years ago. Went missing among these ruins. No clues as to what happened to her, no evidence of foul play, nothing. It was like she was never here.
Every year since then my dad has come back and stayed for a week, hoping she'll turn up. She hasn't turned up. She never will turn up. I know it, Mum knows it. Only Dad refuses to accept it.
I think Annie's disappearance made him a little crazy.
But this year, this autumn, the tenth anniversary of Annie's vanishing act, we're all here, all three of us. It's more than an anniversary though. It's also the last time we'll go anywhere as a family. Mum and Dad are splitting up after this. Mum says she can't take any more of Dad's moping and living in the past.
They've rented a caravan, not a big one, so it's pretty damn claustrophobic when we're all in it. The tension is unbelievable. So I go out as much as possible.
Out here, strolling through the ruined buildings and along what's left of the old wall, I feel almost in touch with Annie. If she was still alive she'd be seventeen now.
Seventeen. I doubt that I'd recognise her if she walked right up to me..
But she can't be alive after all this time. If she was, where would she have been?
Where could she possibly have been?
1967 / 334 AD
The old work truck growled and lurched its way up the rocky road to the Golan Heights. Its passengers, crammed together in the back, coughed and cursed amid the waves of dust kicked up by the spinning wheels.
Leah Golden and Canadian Joe sat up front, in the cab, in relative luxury. Joe was driving. Joe was the worst driver since Ben-Hur's blind granny. To make matters worse he had a new toy, a hand mike, through which he insisted on commenting on anything that looked remotely like a relic of the recent, short-lived war.
Maya and Dan didn't listen to much of this. Every now and then their eyes met, and when they met each knew that the other's mind was back there, in last night's dream.
The dreams had started immediately after the worst time of their lives: planes ripping out of perfect blue skies, mortar fire, deafening explosions, shrieks, black smoke climbing, Rik brought home in a curiously flat body bag, the devastating funeral, the wailing and howling and gnashing of teeth. When, one day towards the end of the first week, they realised they'd been having similar dreams, they thought little of it. Such dreams after such a loss? Hardly surprising. But then the others started, small ones at first, sneaking in like shrouded waifs seeking shelter. The first few had been about childhood; growing up on an unfamiliar shore with different friends. Rik was in some of these, alive and well, with long hair, bit of a beard. Separate dreams, these, kept to themselves, until a chance remark, and:
'But that's exactly what I…'
After that they conferred each morning, checked remembered details, found them to be identical. Soon, the early ones gave way to others, with a different mood. In these they stood or sat on the deck of a primitive vessel cruising a broad river between banks of forest watched by horsebacked men with spears. Then, a few nights on, they sat in a high-ceilinged room with rowdy men at long tables served by young women. Rik was in these dreams, but not always a prominent figure. Sometimes it was as if he was just outside, moving away from them.
During the previous week the dreams had again changed. There were no friends in these. The night before last they'd been in a wood in which bodies lay all about. Rik was there, a strong presence now, but speaking a tongue they could not understand. And in another scene, they'd been alone, just the two of them, high up, outside, just before an icy dawn, and there was something red, some material, shivering, and –
Groans. Fresh curses. Joe had driven too fast over a shell crater. Amid the protests in the back of the truck the remnants of last night's dream dissolved into a shared memory of the Rik they'd known, doubled over with tears of helpless laughter at some silly joke. Their brother, their big brother, who'd died up here, so close to the place they were heading to, as sightseers.
It was four months since the handful of days that had broken so many families. Four long months. But now, back on the kibbutz, people had begun to laugh again, just a little, share the odd joke. The dead had become framed photographs on the mantelpiece or piano, smiled at sadly in passing. Maya had made a determined effort to accept Rik's death. Adjust to it anyway.
But not Dan.
Dan's anger wouldn't leave him. But it was a cold simmering anger these days. A kind of progress perhaps, Maya thought, if not a very healthy kind. She understood, though. One day in June, Rik had gone out and not come back, and that was it. A blankness. She could almost see into Dan's mind. He more than half expected, any minute, any time, their brother to come swinging through the door in his uniform and whirl him round the room, shrieking, as he used to.
The truck was no longer climbing. Was bumping over more or less flat ground now. Maya stared bleakly over the tailgate at the featureless, basalt-strewn plateau. It was like the end of the world out there. Your heart sank just to look at it. She didn't want to be here. Would have stayed home today if not for Dan. But he'd insisted on going, and Mum had asked her to accompany him, keep an eye on him.
Hardly her idea of a nice day out, going to the place Rik's tank had been hit: the precise reason Dan wanted to go. She wanted to take him by the shoulders and shake sense into him.
'Seeing where he died won't bring him back!' she wanted to scream. 'He's gone! Get used to it!'
But she didn't shake him, didn't scream at him. She left him alone, sticking close to him but not so close as to annoy him. Mostly he sat sunk into himself in the back of the truck, snapping a retort when spoken to. Even Shimon Vilnay, quick to punch shoulders and bend fingers back, even thicko Vilnay had the sense to keep his distance from Dan today.
When Canadian Joe suddenly put the brake through the floor everyone tumbled onto everyone else, yelling. Joe's amplified voice nearly deafened them.
'OK, people – out! Out!'
Before anyone could make a move he was out of the cab and back there, unhooking the tailgate, bawling them down, poised to clip the ears of malingerers. If in return they swore at him Joe let it go. Joe was a bit of a joke with his funny accent and his roar, his pot belly, horn-rimmed glasses on the end of his doughy nose; yet the kids liked him.
You could say anything to Joe.
They stood raggedly around the back end of the truck, squinting in the harsh sunlight. When someone said that there was nothing to see, Joe raised his eyes to heaven, hands to shoulder height, palms up.
'This is history you're standing in! History! What's the matter with you guys?'
They looked about them, kicking dust, muttering.
In early June, with Israeli aircraft and infantry coming at them simultaneously from land and sky, the Syrian soldiers, outnumbered and outclassed, had dropped everything and fled.
In the weeks following that briefest of conflicts the dead of both sides had been removed, along with anything of practical use or interest. The odd gun-emplacement and disarmed tank was left, plus a scattering of pots and pans, bits and pieces of army clothing (combat fatigues, woollen hats, belts, gloves) – and shoes, scores and scores of shoes, sticking up out of the dust like alien plants struggling for life on the surface of the moon.
Some of the kids' eyes focussed.
'Jeez! Over there!'
And they were off, yelling at the top of their voices, the boys especially, swarming over the burned-out tank, jumping on banks of sandbags, tumbling into bunkers. Some of them started flinging shoes about. One whizzed past Joe's ear and he told them to pack it in.They ignored him.
'Joe, are these safe?'
Zev Gordon held out a green hand grenade.
'Sure. Everything's been checked out. Just as well or you'd be short of a hand right now.'
'Can we keep them?'
'If you must.'
There were even more dead shells than there were shoes, there for the picking. Soon, pockets and bags bulged with them, and grenades, and anything else portable they came across, trophies all.
Only Maya and Dan didn't join the rush for mementos.
They stood apart from the others, numbed by the sheer hopelessness of the place. There wasn't a bush or tree or blade of grass in all that parched landscape. Everything was so still, so screamingly silent, as though under some malignant centuries-old spell.
If everyone had suddenly stopped moving and shut their traps it would have felt like Judgement Day.
'Seen pleasanter places, haven't you?'
Leah Golden, standing some distance away, alone.
They didn't need to reply, or want to. They hadn't spoken of it much to Leah, or she to them, but she shared their loss. She and Rik had grown up together, always been close. Lately they'd been talking about getting married. Married, they would have been entitled to a place of their own on the kibbutz. Young as they were, only just out of their teens, they'd both wanted that.
It had seemed to fit somehow.
FROM THE GOLAN HEIGHTS OF 1967 WE GO TO 4TH CENTURY HADRIAN'S WALL - BUT THAT'S ANOTHER CHAPTER.
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