Based around Macbeth, The Invisible Hand is first in the Shakespeare´s Moon series, set in a boarding school and focused on different Shakespeare plays.
I´m sending you both the same letter, I hope you don´t mind.
Dad, I hope this gets to you and that you´re safe and not caught up in any trouble out there. Uncle Quentin says he knows someone who told him exactly where you are so I hope you are reading this safe and sound. And, Mum, I hope there is someone there that can read this letter to you. Are you feeling better? More like yourself, I hope. I miss you both a lot but I want you to know that I´m well and happy and I totally understand what you´ve done and why you sent me here.
Please write to me if you get the chance, or send me a number or address where I can reach you. It would be nice to talk to you both.
So I´ve been here at St Francis´s for almost a month now and I think I´m starting to get the hang of things. I´m in a boarding house called St Nicholas, which is built in the shape of a cross. Some of the boys say that´s because it´s on the site of an old graveyard but who knows? There are stories about everything here and I don´t know what to believe yet. The school is ancient – just like half the teachers and most of the people in the village.
There are five other boys in my dorm (that´s where I´m writing this, on my bed, bottom bunk, on the left as you walk in the door) and we all get on. Four have been here since the first year and the other one, Walter, started this year with me. He´s cool and we hang about together trying not to annoy the House Quaestors.
Every morning a bell rings at seven and we have to go outside and run around the block in a pair of shorts even when it´s freezing. I don´t mind it as it wakes you up but most of the others complain. After the run we shower up and breakfast is at eight. The day bugs start arriving for Assembly at half past and school starts at nine. The food´s OK. It´s normal school food – big silver trays and soggy veg and all that.
The actual schoolwork is fine too, not much different from Ras Al-Hambra to be honest. We have classes in a place called the Quad and during the boring lessons I read the graffiti on the desks. There´s loads of it. People use the desks as a kind of messaging service, which is dead interesting, especially as we´re not allowed phones during the week. (Joke, Mum.)
In science we´re studying the weather, which is great as the stations are dotted around the edges of the school grounds so it´s like exercise too. In English we´re reading Macbeth and in biology we´re doing plant reproduction. Do you think everyone, everywhere in the world, does plant reproduction in biology? Is there anything else to it?
I play football or rugby twice a week and in the afternoons we have activities like Orientation, which basically means a teacher drops us in the middle of nowhere and we walk around in the woods until the minibus comes back and picks us up.
I want to write more but it´s impossible as it´s `lights out´ in five minutes. There´s so many weird things I want to tell you about. I´ve learnt loads of new words in these last few weeks, like Exeat, matron, eczema, The Eleusinian Room, Number One Uniform, The Magistrate, tuck, jiving and Prep – this place is like its own world with its own language.
I´m going to sign off now as I can hear the housemaster turning off the lights. He´s weird. The boys call him Cyclops because he has a staring eye. His real name´s Mr Dahl. He smells weird and looks nasty but he´s been fine with me so far.
I miss you both.
Lots of love,
It was icy, cold, dark and wet. People were shouting.
Sam thought he´d been carried outside as a joke. Or perhaps it was a fire alarm?
Lifting his head from the cold mud he saw shadows flickering against a pale grey sky. There were stars twinkling through billowing clouds of black smoke. A shadow was moving towards him: a stocky man in a helmet, carrying a sword. “Are ye hurt? Can ye move?”
“Aye, I´m hurt,” Sam replied, surprised to hear how deep his own voice sounded.
“The leg. Below the knee, there.”
A moment later Sam felt the pressure against his back and legs ease. “This wan was laying dead astride ye, Rab,” grunted the shadowy man, already moving off through the squelching mud. “Move ahn. Move ahn!”
Now that he was able to lift himself, Sam saw he was on a hillside and there were figures carrying scythes and axes moving over the dark ground. A dark, tattered flag was fluttering against the night sky not far ahead of him. He also saw what was pressing down on his legs: a fallen soldier.
It was the first dead body Sam had ever seen: a young man of about sixteen with bits of a beard, closed eyes and an open mouth. His body was dressed in battle armour and blood had dribbled from the corner of his mouth and dried black in his prickly chin hair. Sam stood up and moved off, his boots sinking and sticking in the mud.
This is some kind of battlefield, Sam thought. I´m dreaming. That´s all it is. I´m dreaming.
In the spells when the smoke cleared, Sam noticed the sky lightening, turning purple where it bowed to the earth. There was a twinkling stretch of dark water ahead of him upon which thirty warships floated in three rows, their masts and angry figureheads rocking to and fro on the waves.
“Help me!” came a voice from the darkness to Sam´s left. “Somebody, help me!”
“Where are ye?” Sam was too concerned with the search to wonder why he was speaking with a Scottish accent in someone else´s voice. Having accepted he was dreaming, nothing seemed strange.
“Here! Over here!”
Sam found the owner of the voice buried beneath two dead soldiers. The survivor was an old man with perfectly white hair, despite the mud and dirt. “Hold tight an´ I´ll have ye oot in no time,” Sam told him.
“This one on top´s got his pike jabbed right through mah leg,” the man replied, gritting his yellow teeth in pain.
Sam took the news coolly, pulling the first heavy body away before kneeling to examine how he could do the same with the other. As the man had said, the second soldier´s weapon had pierced the old man´s thigh and the long blade was pinning him fast to the hillside. Sam was about to try and yank out the pike when the old man waved his hands.
“Nay, nay, nay, lad! Snap it, boy, snap it! Snap it and I´ll do the rest.”
Sam did as he was told, ignoring the man´s horrible cries as the wood splintered. After watching him pull the rest of the blade from his leg, Sam hauled the old man up onto his shoulders and started again down the hill. He looked up as the grass and mud turned orange and saw the flotilla of warships alight on the water. Timber cracked as the vessels broke up. Some exploded and one by one they slid beneath the fiery waves.
“Good riddance,” growled the old man on Sam´s back.
At the foot of the hill Sam was stopped by a captain and directed to a long line of carts roped to mules. Loud groans and cries emanated through the carts´ dirty canvass covers as Sam rounded the last in the line. Piled inside were wounded and dying soldiers, some looking sad and tired, others missing arms, legs, eyes or faces.
“Oh, dinnae put me in there,” groaned the old man sadly. “I beg ye.”
And so Sam limped along behind the carts as they moved off with the old man on his back. If this is a dream it´s a wee bit too realistic, he was thinking, feeling his twisted ankle and bruised legs throb with each step. The steady weight of the man pressing on his shoulders made his back ache and as the day rose grey and bright, Sam marched with his head bent down to the tyre ruts, thinking of nothing but putting one foot in front of the other.
When he did look up it was to barren countryside: grey-green hills covered with heather and thistle. From gravel slopes rose granite mountains bobble-hatted with mist.
Occasionally they passed through small villages where people in shawls with bad teeth and worse skin came out and offered food or drink or tried to barter. At a busy crossroads a one-eyed farmhand offered to carry the old man for Sam´s breastplate and Sam couldn´t resist the offer. He climbed up into the wagon of the dead and dying and collapsed on the wooden tailgate.
The path was bumpy, the smell horrendous and the groaning within nightmarish but Sam was so exhausted that within seconds he fell into a profound sleep.
Time travel, Scotland and Macbeth? Oooh…yes please! I love all three to tiny pieces and was totally interested when I started reading this book.
The story takes place at a boarding school in Britain where the main character, Sam, has basically been dumped as his parents are either too busy working or too ill to look after him. One night, Sam awakes to find himself in another person’s body and in the middle of a Scottish battlefield. Is it a dream? Will what happens in the past affect the future?
~ Jacquie Atamanuk | Rattle The Stars