The boys fall quiet for a while, occupied by the simple task of sorting out wood. They discard ruined, shattered pieces of timber and form a pile of material that can be re-used. The sun moves slowly down through the sky, tracing the journey of day towards early evening. The sky seems to shimmer above the scene, like the underside of a distant body of water.
Brendan stops for a rest. He walks across to the nearest tree and sits down at the base of its trunk, retrieving a can of pop from his jacket, which lies creased on the ground nearby. He opens the tab and drinks deeply, his eyes closed and his head tilted upwards. His fringe falls back to reveal a forehead pocked with livid acne and absently he scratches his thigh with his free hand.
Brendan opens his eyes as he lowers the drink can, scanning the green expanse of Beacon Green beyond the line of the trees. He narrows his eyes, leaning forward with an intent look on his face. He licks his lips; stray droplets of pop making them sticky.
His eyes widen. He has seen something; an image that he believes does not belong here. He begins to stand but pauses part way to his feet, staring at a point beyond the trees.
Staring in wonder, he watches a tall, dark figure as it passes between the final row of trees, taking short, dainty strides – almost skipping along – and facing forward. The figure is wearing a long black overcoat that reaches down to its ankles. On its head is perched a strange black cap – like a flattened top hat, but with a wider brim. Beneath the hat there is a sort of black snood or cowl that falls down the back of the head, protecting the neck.
Brendan wants to call out to his friends, but something has robbed him of his voice. He crouches there, with one hand pressed flat against the base of the tree, supporting him, and the other still gripping the empty pop can, He watches the figure as it passes from tree to tree, visible for seconds at a time as it dances gaily between the broad trunks.
The figure is either hideously deformed or wearing some kind of mask. The bone-white face is pinched forward and outward to form a long beak with a sharpened end. The large, bulbous eyes look like swimming goggles, but with black frames and lenses.
The figure is terrifying. Fear has taken Brendan’s voice, and only when he realises this does he rediscover the ability to communicate.
(Silent Voices. Copyright Gary McMahon 2011)