In my dream I heard the slavers coming. I heard the clatter of their horses’ hooves and the rattle of the slave cages’ wheels, along the coast road to Blackpool. I saw a great bird perched on top of the tower. It spread its wings and soared. I looked down through the bird’s eyes and saw the slavers. The people tried to flee. I saw Nanna. She waved goodbye to me. I flew across the sea, across the land that lies to the west, and across a vast ocean to an unknown continent where the people have red-brown skin and wear feathers in their long, black hair. Good people, who will offer a hand of friendship to a migrant bird.
The slavers took my mother when I was a baby. She hid me under a mound of pillows and Nanna found me, called me Christina, and took care of me.
She told me that the pillow on my bed was one of those that had hidden me. I snuggled into it at night, feeling as safe as if I were in the arms of a friend.
One night, when I was about six years old, I felt something sharp sticking through my pillowcase. I pulled it out. It was a perfect, white feather. I thought it was beautiful. Next morning I showed it Nanna. “Can I keep it?” I said.
“If you wish, Tina, but if you cast it into the wind a bird will find it and use it to line its nest.”
I liked that idea better. It came from a bird so they should have it back. I set it free and let the wind carry it away.
My pillow was full of feathers, imprisoned like slaves, trying to fight their way out. Every night, for the rest of my childhood, I freed one of them and every morning I let the wind take it.
Those were happy days. My friends and I treated the ruined building at the base of Blackpool tower as an adventure playground. We bounded among the crumbling walls, playing ‘Tick’ and risking broken bones. Five hundred and sixty-three steps led from what was left of the base building’s roof to the top of the tower. We’d counted them and we dared each other to climb them, but none of us were brave enough.
The tower stood near the beach road. Nanna told me that it was a thousand years old. It was built long before the Death. I knew about the Death. My schoolteacher called it a pandemic. All but a remnant of the human race had died.
I asked Nanna, “Did the Death take the bad people?”
“Some good, some bad, most a bit of both,” she said.
“I wish it had killed the slavers, Nanna. Will they ever come back?”
“I don’t know, Tina, but if they do you must run away and hide.”
“Only if you come with me. I won’t leave you.”
She shook her head. “I’m too old to run. I’d hold you back, but I’d be no use to them as a slave. The worst they could do to me is to kill me.”
“Then they’ll have to kill me, too.”
She squeezed my hands so tight it hurt. “Listen to me, girl. They wouldn’t kill you. They’d do far worse. You’d fetch a good price in the slave markets. Don’t let that happen. Run and hide. You hear me?”
I nodded. The slavers scared me so I made myself forget about them.
I was no longer a child but not yet a woman when I began to have the dream. I told Nanna about it. “You must try to understand what it’s telling you, Tina.”
“It isn’t telling me anything,” I said. “Dreams are just a muddle of thoughts floating around in our heads when we’re asleep.”
“Some are more than that.”
I laughed, but my spine tingled. “That’s silly. Of course they’re not.”
“Then why did you tell me about it?” I had no answer.
One morning I awoke clutching a tiny brown feather that I’d plucked from my pillow the previous night. I opened my window and waited for the sea breeze to take it from my palm. A sudden gust blew it back into my face. It brushed my lips before a second gust carried it away.
I stood at the window, still feeling the touch of the feather’s kiss, when Nanna called me. “Tina, get dressed, quickly. The slavers are coming.”
I pulled on my clothes and ran outside. She followed me. In the distance we saw the slavers approaching along the coast road. “Run and hide, Tina,” she said.
I wasn’t afraid. My dream was coming true and I knew what it was telling me to do. I clung to Nanna, fought back my tears, and then ran to the tower. I clambered onto the derelict building’s roof and climbed the steps.
I reached the top and looked down. The people were fleeing. The slavers rode them down and dragged them into the cages. I turned my eyes away and looked to the sky. A dark cloudbank was approaching. When it drew nearer I saw that it was not clouds. It was a mass of feathers stretching to the horizon. I held out my arms and the feathers encased them until they resembled great wings. I looked down again and saw a mountain of feathers descend upon the slavers, entering their noses and mouths, choking and smothering them.
My wings carried me on the wind, across the sea, across the land that lies to the west, and across a vast ocean to an unknown continent where the people have red-brown skin and wear feathers in their long, black hair. Good people, who will offer a hand of friendship to a homeless girl.