• Norma Hughes


In a small tin house, rusted raw by the wind, lived two young brothers. Each morning the boys would shovel the red dust that blew upon their porch and rattle it from the windowpanes. They would blow out their bowls before their breakfast and wipe the cutlery and cups on their dirty shirts, but still the dust persisted. Their father worked away for long stretches of time in the last remaining arable mines, occasionally sending them money. Although they did their best to look after the place while their father worked, it was a lonely, hollow place and the boys grew restless in their small tin shell. The eldest brother, Bipin, was particularly prone to the whispered fancies of the wind and emptiness, and it would often make him stir-crazy and cruel towards his younger brother, Orin. Bipin would break Orin’s toys or steal his blanket, eat all the sweets that their father sent. He did not like looking after Orin, and when Orin was asleep, he would sneak into his parents’ bed and cry. Orin, on the other hand, did not listen to the wind, and Bipin sometimes wondered enviously whether their mothers’ spirit had imbued him with a strength that he, himself, appeared not to have. Against Bipin’s angst, there was not much that little Orin could do.

That was until a particularly cool afternoon, when the brothers sat basking on the porch in the afternoon sun. The light glowed golden upon their skin as it drooped closer and closer to the horizon and great white masses of clouds swirled and eddied across the bruised pink and purple sky, shapeshifting into the long-forgotten creatures that used to roam the lands. Bipin had been pulling splinters of wood from the porch, occasionally poking Orin in the arm. Orin, meanwhile, stared at the large white masses above, their cumulous forms reflected in his wide eyes. After a particularly hard jab, Orin knocked Bipin’s hand away and stormed into the house, disappearing into its darkness.

“What are you doing?” Bipin yelled lazily from the porch, now poking his own finger, as he heard Orin rustling around inside.

“I’m leaving” he shouted back. Bipin sat up quickly and glared towards the front door as Orin stepped out with a small satchel around his shoulders and a look of determination on his pale, round face.

“No, you are not” said Bipin. Orin shrugged, “I’ve got a juice popper, a torch, some pencils, blankey… I think I’ll be fine” he said as he patted the little satchel and bounced down the porch steps onto the dusty footpath.

“Where are you going?” Bipin asked, worry flushing his cheeks.

“I’m going to follow the clouds” said Orin, raising his face towards the large clouds above, “I’m going to discover where they come from.” Bipin stared at him in consternation, but before he could say anything, Orin turned around and began walking. As Orin walked further away, the quiet of the house began to envelop Bipin and, with his hair on end, he hurriedly grabbed his backpack and ran after Orin, the wind biting at his heels.

The brothers walked for some time without talking to one another. Little creatures scuttled beneath rocks in wake of their footsteps, and the whole plain was quiet and still. It was not long however, before the scenery around them began to transform. Small tufts made way for long silver reeds and just as the sky was becoming dark, they saw a large, protruding rock formation along the horizon. “Look!” shouted Orin. After hours of walking, Bipin looked up from his shoes and saw the clouds disappearing into the mouth of a cave, high up on the arkose mountain. The brothers scrambled up the rocks and peered over the cave’s lip. A light flickered throughout, lighting up thin veins of quartz and gems within the craggy walls. Orin stepped forward, tip-toeing his way deeper inside the caves mouth, and quietly, hesitantly, Bipin followed. They followed the thinning stream of clouds above their heads till they came across a large cavern. Before them was an enormous giant, with an equally large machine that clicked and tacked, and sucked all the clouds inside of it. The giant’s great hairy hands turned the toggles and pulled on steaming valves, so that plumes of purple smoke mingled with the clouds above. Orin’s eyes widened with anger and before Bipin could grab his shirt, he ran out to face the giant.

“Stop eating those clouds!” he shouted. The giant recoiled in shock, knocking his machine and sending clouds puffing in all directions as he tried to hide and cover his eyes.

“You scared him Orin” Bipin said, coming out from behind the cavern wall. “We won’t hurt you” Bipin said quietly. The giant tentatively peeked through his fingers.

“What are you doing with the clouds?” Bipin asked, pulling Orin a little closer to himself as the giant sat back up to a tremendous height.

“I fix them” he said in a low, rumbling voice that shook the walls around them and sounded like two boulders grating against each other. The giant turned his machine back on, and showed them how the clouds moved through it, and the different tools and tapes he used to bind them back together. Once they came out of the machine, the giant placed them on his worktable and began speaking to them in an old language. As he raised his hands, a golden light emanated from the clouds filling the room with the smell of petrichor.

“But why are they broken?” asked Orin after some time.

“Because of what they’ve seen” grumbled the giant, and a great heavy sigh drew out the last syllables of his words. “These clouds have travelled across different countryside’s and cities and have observed mankind in all their ways. While there is some beauty, there are also acts of the most horrific kind; humans turning against each other or nature to fill that eternal void within their hearts. At times the acts are so hurtful, that the cloud’s souls break, and they drift apart from one another.”

The giant spoke very slowly, as if he’d learnt how to speak from the spirits of ancient mountains, and the two boys sat listening to his stories till the light of the sun was no more, and the moon had pulled across an inky, starry sky.

“Small ones, it is getting late” grumbled the giant, as Orin’s eyes were beginning to close and his head nodded. Bipin had been holding him close, allowing his small head to rest upon his shoulder. The giant turned around and reached into his workshop, retrieving a fragile, wispy cloud. “You can use this to guide you back home” he said, gently lowering the cloud towards them, “but I ask that you tell no one of this cave, especially the elder ones. They do not like seeing that which challenges their understandings of the world.”

Thanking the giant, the two boys left, following the small cloud as it led them back through the fields and roads. As they drew closer to home the little cloud dissipated into the early morning mist, causing dew to bead upon the grass and the strands of their hair.

“Where have you been?” shouted their Dad from the porch, and the two boys jumped in shock. He had returned during the night to find them gone, and his heart had been sick with worry. Orin hid behind Bipin’s legs as their Dad yelled, and soon Bipin’s back was damp with Orin’s tears. Finally, the two boys were banished to their bedrooms, but Bipin stayed up, watching the clouds whirl and twist outside his window. As their Dad’s snores permeated the silent house, Bipin sneaked into Orin’s room and saw him still looking pale, his lip trembling. Bipin went and sat next to Orin on his bed as his tears began anew and his little bony shoulders shook.

“I’m sorry for everything that I’ve done Orin. I love you very much” Bipin said and gave Orin a hug so big that even the clouds could see.

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