A Bridge to the Stars.
by Henning Mankell.
The dog.That was what started it all.If he hadn't seen that solitary dog, nothing might have happened. Nothing of what later became so important that it changed everything. Nothing of what was so exciting at first, but became so horrible.It all started with the dog. The solitary dog he'd seen that night last winter when he'd suddenly woken up, got out of bed, tiptoed out to the window seat in the hall and sat down.He had no idea why he'd woken up in the middle of the night.Maybe he'd had a dream?A nightmare that he couldn't recall when he woke up. Or maybe his dad had been snoring in the bedroom next to his own? His dad didn't often snore, but sometimes there might be an occasional one, a bit like a roar, and then it would be all quiet again.Like a lion roaring in the winter's night.But it was when he was sitting by the window in the hall that he saw the solitary dog.The window had been covered in ice crystals, and he'd breathed onto the glass so that he could see out. The thermometer showed nearly thirty degrees below zero. And it was then, as he sat looking out of the window, that he'd caught sight of the dog. It ran out into the road, all on its own.It stopped underneath the streetlamp, looked and sniffed in all directions, and set off running again. Then it vanished.It was a familiar kind of dog, common in northern Sweden. A Norwegian elkhound. He'd managed to see that much. But why was it running around just there, all alone in the wintry night and the cold? Where was it heading for? And why? And why did it look and sniff in all directions?He'd had the impression that the dog was frightened of something.He'd started to feel cold, but he stayed in the window, waiting for the dog to come back. But nothing happened.There was nothing out there, only the cold, empty winter's night. And stars glittering in the far distance.He couldn't get that solitary dog out of his mind.Lots of times that winter he'd woken up without knowing why. Every time, he got out of bed, tiptoed over the cold cork tiles and sat down on the window seat, waiting for the dog to come back.Once he fell asleep on the window seat. He was still there at five in the morning when his dad got up to make coffee.'What are you doing here?' his father asked after shaking him and waking him up.His father was called Samuel, and he was a lumberjack. Early every morning he would go out into the forest to work. He chopped trees down for a big timber company with an unusual name. Marma Long Tubes.He didn't know what to say when his dad found him asleep on the window seat. He couldn't very well say he'd been waiting for a dog. Dad might think he was telling lies, and Dad didn't like people who didn't tell the truth.'I don't know,' he said. 'Maybe I was sleepwalking again?'That was something he could claim. It wasn't absolutely true, but it wasn't a lie either.He used to sleepwalk when he was little. Not that he remembered anything about it. It was something his dad had told him about. How he'd come walking out of his bedroom in his nightshirt, into the room where his father was listening to the radio or studying some of his old sea charts. Dad had taken him back to bed, but in the morning he couldn't explain why he'd been wandering around in his sleep.That was ages ago. Five years ago. Nearly half of his life. He was eleven now.'Go back to bed,' said his dad. 'You mustn't sit here and catch your death of cold.'He snuggled back into bed and listened to his dad making coffee, preparing the sandwiches he would take into the forest with him, and eventually he heard the front door closing.Then everything was quiet.He checked the alarm clock by his bed, on a stool he'd been given as a present for his seventh birthday.He hated that stool. It was his birthday present, but he'd really wanted a kite.He felt angry every time he saw it.How could anybody give a stool to somebody who wanted a kite?He could sleep for two more hours before he'd have to get up and go to school. He pulled the blanket up to his chin, curled up and closed his eyes, and the first thing he saw was that dog running towards him. It was running silently through the winter's night, and perhaps it was on its way to a distant star?But now he was sure that he was going to catch that dog. He would entice it into his dream. They could be friends there, and it wouldn't be as cold as it was outside in the wintry night.He soon fell asleep, the lumberjack's son, whose name was Joel Gustafson.It was in the winter of 1956 that he saw that solitary dog for the first time.And that was the winter when it all happened.All that stuff that started with the dog . . .
The house where Joel lived with his father, Samuel, was by the river.The spring floods would come surging and thundering down from the distant mountains beyond the dark forests. The house was where the river curved round before continuing on its long journey to the sea.But now it was winter, and the river was asleep under its white blanket of snow and ice. Ski tracks scratched stripes into the white snow.Down by the river Joel had a secret.Close by the stone b.u.t.tresses supporting the big iron bridge where trains shuddered past several times a day was a big rock that had split into two.Once upon a time the rock had been completely round. The crack had divided it into two halves, and Joel used to pretend that it was the earth. Whenever he crawled into the crack, where it smelt of damp moss, he would imagine being deep down inside the earth that he actually lived on.A secret was being able to see what other people didn't see.When he lay inside the crack, he used to think that he could change reality into whatever he liked.Dancing around in the furious eddies and whirlpools caused by the spring floods were not logs, but dolphins.The old uprooted tree that had stuck fast on the sandbank where Mr Under, the horse dealer, used to moor his rowing boat was a hippopotamus sticking its enormous head out of the water. And there were crocodiles under the surface of the water. Lying there, waiting to pounce on their prey.Inside the crack in the rock Joel used to embark on his long journeys. In fact Joel had never been beyond the dark forests. He had never seen the sea. But that didn't matter. He would go there one of these days. When his dad had finally decided to stop working as a lumberjack. Then they'd go off travelling together.In the meantime he could lie in the crack in the rock and go off on journeys of his own. He could imagine that the river was the strait between Mauritius and Reunion, the two islands off Madagascar. He knew what it was like there. His dad had explained how careful you had to be when sailing through that channel. There were dangerous sandbanks hidden just beneath the surface, and if your ship capsized it would sink four thousand metres to the bottom.Joel's dad used to be a sailor. He knew what he was talking about.When Joel saw dolphins and hippos in the river, it was his father's stories coming to life in his mind's eye. Sometimes he would take one or two of his father's sea charts down to the rock with him, to make it easier to transform the river into the other world.Now that Joel was eleven years old, he knew that it was all make-believe. But it was important to take it seriously. If he didn't, he'd be betraying his own secret world.In winter the enormous lump of rock would be covered in snow. He didn't go there so often then. Just occasionally he'd ski down the slope to the river, to make sure that the rock was still there. He'd establish a ski track round the rock, and think that it looked a bit like a fence. n.o.body would be able to cross it and take possession of his rock.It was in winter when they used to sit in the kitchen, Joel and his dad, and Joel would listen to all the stories.In a glass case over the stove was a model ship. She was called Celestine Celestine, and his father had bought her from a poor Indian hawker in Mombasa. When his dad hung up his wet woollen socks to dry underneath her, the glass would mist over and Joel would imagine Celestine Celestine adrift in a thick cloud of fog, waiting for a wind to blow up. adrift in a thick cloud of fog, waiting for a wind to blow up.He used to think something similar about the house they lived in. That it wasn't really a house but a ship that was riding at anchor by the river, waiting for a favourable wind. A wind that would blow them down to the sea. The rickety fence was in fact a ship's rail, and the attic flat they lived in was really the captain's cabin. The rusty old plough half buried in the abandoned potato patch was the ship's anchor.One of these days the house they lived in would be set free. The anchor would be hauled aboard and then they would start gliding down the river, past the headland with the old dance pavilion. Just past the church they would be swallowed up by the endless forest . . .'Tell me about the sea,' Joel used to beg.Dad would switch on the radio and twiddle a k.n.o.b until there was nothing to be heard but a murmuring sound.'That's what the sea sounds like,' he would say. 'Close your eyes and imagine it. The sea that goes on and on for ever.'They used to cuddle up on the kitchen bench when his dad felt like talking about all the remarkable things he'd experienced as a sailor. But sometimes he didn't feel like talking about it. Joel never knew when that would happen. Sometimes his dad came home from work with his nose frozen stiff and his socks wet through. But he was humming a tune and stamping his feet and snorting like a horse feeling pleased with itself as he shook off all the snow in the entrance hall, then sat down at the table and asked Joel to help him pull his boots off.Joel would have boiled some potatoes when he got back from school, and if his dad was in the right mood he might well start talking about his adventures, once they'd finished eating and doing the washing up.But sometimes there would be the sound of heavy steps on the stairs, a deep sigh as he pulled off his thick jacket; his face would be grim, his eyes averted.Then Joel knew that he needed to be careful. Mustn't make a noise, mustn't ask about anything that he didn't need to know. Just set the table, serve up the potatoes, eat in silence the food his father prepared in the frying pan, then withdraw to his room at the earliest opportunity.Two things were hard to cope with.Not knowing why, and not being able to do anything about it.Joel suspected that it must have something to do with his mother, and with the sea. The sea his father had abandoned, and the mother that had abandoned him. He'd often sat in the cleft in the rock and wondered about that. He always started by thinking about what was least difficult to face up to.The sea.If his father had been forced to abandon ship, how come that he was washed up in this little town in the north of Sweden where there wasn't even any sea? And how could he find any satisfaction in going into the forest every day to chop down trees when he'd never succeed in felling enough for him to be able to glimpse the open sea beyond?How can you be washed up in a place where there isn't even any sea?How can you drift ash.o.r.e in the middle of a vast, dark forest?What had really happened? Why did they have to live here, in the middle of this vast, dark forest, so far away from the sea?Samuel, his father, was born in Bohuslan in the south-west of Sweden, he knew that. Right next to the sea, in a fisherman's cottage to the north of Marstrand. But why had Joel been born in Sundsvall, in the northeast of Sweden?Mum, he thought. She's at the bottom of it all. The woman who didn't want to stay with them. The woman who one day packed a suitcase and took a train heading south when his dad was out in the forest, working.Joel didn't know how old he was at the time. All he knew was that he'd been too young to remember anything.But old Mrs Westman on the ground floor had told him. One day he'd managed to lock himself out and it was twenty degrees below freezing and his dad wouldn't be back home for several hours. She'd invited him into her flat to wait. It was dark there, and smelt of winter apples and acrid candles.Mrs Westman was old and hunchbacked. He'd once seen her lose her false teeth when she had a sneezing fit in the garden. The whole of her dingy flat was full of pictures of God. There was even a picture of Jesus on the doormat. The first time he'd been there, or at least the first time he could remember, he didn't know where to put his boots to dry they were covered in dirty snow.'Stand them on the doormat,' said Mrs Westman. 'He knows what you're thinking and He's watching you wherever you go. So why shouldn't He be on a doormat?'She let Joel sit on a reindeer pelt she'd spread out in front of the open fire in the kitchen. He couldn't remember how old he was then, but suddenly she'd bent down over him with her hunched back.'There were no evil intentions in your mum,' she said. 'But she had a restlessness inside her. I could see that as soon as they moved here, Samuel and your mum. She was always itching to be somewhere else. She came down with you one day and asked if you could stay with me until your dad came home. She had an errand to see to, she said. But I could see she was restless, and I'd noticed the suitcase she'd left outside the door. But I don't think there were any evil intentions in her. It was just the itch inside her, whether she liked it or not . . . 'Joel can sit in the crack in his rock down by the river and carefully join together one thought after another until suddenly everything becomes clear.He has a father called Samuel who longs for the sea.He has a mother who had something called an Itch.Sometimes when his dad looks at him and his eyes seem especially gloomy, Joel lies in bed worrying, waiting for the clinking of a bottle in the kitchen when Samuel thinks he's fallen asleep. He tiptoes to the door and looks through the keyhole into the kitchen. His dad sits on the kitchen bench mumbling away, stroking his hand through his s.h.a.ggy hair over and over again. He keeps taking deep swigs from the bottle, as if he'd prefer not to, but he can't help it.Why doesn't he pour some into a glass? Joel wonders.Why does he drink something that seems to taste so awful?One morning when Joel wakes up, his dad has fallen asleep at the kitchen table. His head is slumped down on the table top, and his clenched fist is resting on a sea chart.But there's something else on the blue oilcloth table cover.A photograph, creased and well-thumbed, with one corner torn off. It's a photograph of a woman. A woman with brown hair, looking straight at Joel.He knows immediately that it's his mother gazing at him.She's not smiling nor scowling. Just looking at him, and he thinks that is what somebody with an Itch looks like.It says Jenny on the back. And there's the name of a photo studio in Sundsvall.Jenny. Samuel and Jenny and Joel Gustafson. If they'd been a family, that's what they'd have been called.Now they are just names that don't fit together. Joel thinks he must ask his father what really happened.Not now, not today, but some other day when there isn't an empty bottle on the kitchen table when he gets up to go to school. Not until his dad has given the kitchen a good scrubbing and everything has settled down. One of these nights when the kitchen has been cleaned up he'll be able to start talking to his father again.It always happens at night.He's woken up by the noise coming from the kitchen. There is a clanging and clanking of pots and pans. His father is muttering and hissing and roaring with laughter, much too loudly. That tells Joel he's started scrubbing down the kitchen.He gets out of bed and watches him through the half-open kitchen door.Samuel is splattering water all over the floor and the walls. Steam is rising from the glowing stove and his face is sweaty and shiny. He's scrubbing away like mad at stains and specks of dirt that only he can see. He throws a whole bucketful of sizzling water into the hood over the stove. He squelches around the floor in his soaking wet woollen socks and scrubs so hard, it seems that doing so relieves him of a great pain.Joel can't make up his mind if his dad is scared or if he's angry.What kind of dirt is it that he can see, but n.o.body else can?He can hear Samuel muttering and chuntering about spiders' webs and clusters of snakes. But surely there aren't any spiders making webs in the kitchen in the middle of winter? And how could there be a cluster of snakes in the hood over the stove? There aren't any snakes at all in this part of northern Sweden.Joel watches him through the half-open door and realises that his father is scrubbing away something that only he can see. Something that makes him both scared and angry.When Samuel has finished, he lies on his bed without moving. He groans and doesn't open the curtains even though it's broad daylight. He's still on the bed when Joel goes to school, and he's still there when Joel comes back home in the afternoon.When Joel has boiled the potatoes and asks his father if he wants to eat, he just groans and shakes his head. A few days later everything is back to normal, as if it had simply been a dream. His father gets up at five o'clock again, has his coffee and goes off into the forest. Joel can breathe freely again. It will be a long time before he's woken up by his father sitting at the kitchen table muttering away to himself.It's easiest to think about all the things that happen and make him wonder what's going on when he's sitting in the crack in his rock down by the river.One day he sits down at the kitchen table with a pen and some paper and writes down all the things he thinks about. He lists the questions he's going to ask his father. Questions he wants answering before the first snow has fallen in the autumn. When he writes down his questions it's still the middle of winter. There are big mounds of snow thrown up by the ploughs at street corners and by the wall of the church. It's bitterly cold when he goes to school in the morning. But spring will come one of these days.His first question will be why they don't live by the sea. That might not be the most important question, but he wants to start with something that isn't too hard.For every question he writes down, he also tries to work out what possible answers there might be, and what answer he would most like to hear.Then he wants to know why he was born in Sundsvall.And why Jenny, his mother, went off in a train and left him with Mrs Westman.That's also difficult because he never knows what to say whenever anybody asks him why he doesn't have a mother.He's the only one. The only person he knows who doesn't have a mother.Being the only one can often be a good thing.Being the only one with a model aeroplane made of balsa wood, or having a bike with a steel-studded tyre on the back wheel.But being the only one without a mother is a bad thing.It's worse than wearing glasses.It's even worse than stuttering.Being without a mother is the worst thing there is.The only mum allowed not to be there is a mum who's died.He sometimes thinks he will give that answer when somebody asks, or is taunting him. He's tested it to hear what it sounds like.'My mum died.'But there are lots of ways of saying that. You can say it to make it sound as if she died in a dramatic plane crash in some far distant country, when she was on some urgent mission. Or you can say it to suggest that she was attacked by a lion.'My mother's dead' is another way he could say it.That makes it sound as if he doesn't really care.But when he finds the photograph that morning, when his dad's asleep with his head on the kitchen table, he knows that his mother isn't dead. And he knows that he has to find out what happened.Every night before he goes to sleep he thinks up a story with her in it, something he can lie and fantasise about before he dozes off. The one he likes best is when he imagines she is a figurehead on the bows of a ship with three tall masts and lots of billowing sails.Sometimes he's the captain of the ship, sometimes it's his father. They always very nearly capsize but manage to make their way through the submerged rocks and sandbanks in the end. It's a good dream because he can think up lots of different endings.But sometimes when he's in a bad mood he allows the ship to sink and the figurehead is buried two thousand fathoms deep. The exhausted crew manage to scramble onto a desert island, but he lets Jenny, his mother, disappear for ever at the bottom of the sea.Samuel Island or Joel Island. The desert island they eventually land on is never called Jenny Island.It's usually when he's been annoyed by Otto that he lets the ship sink.Even if he's generally on his guard, always ready for somebody in the school playground to start asking awkward questions, Otto has a way of creeping up on him on the sly and catching him out when he's forgotten to have an answer ready.Otto is older than Joel and is repeating a year because he has some illness or other and n.o.body understands what it is. Sometimes he's off school for months on end, and if he misses any more this year he'll have to repeat the year yet again. Otto's father is a fireman with the railway, and if you're lucky you can go with Otto and see what goes on in the engine sheds.But Joel isn't one of those allowed to go along. He and Otto are usually at each other's throats.'If I'd have been a mum and had a son like you, I'd have run away as well,' says Otto out of the blue, loud enough for everybody in the school yard to hear.Joel doesn't know what to say.'My mum's a figurehead,' he says. 'But I don't suppose you know what that is.'The answer he hasn't prepared at all seems to be a good one, because Otto doesn't respond.The next time I'll hold my tongue and just thump him one, Joel thinks. I'm bound to get beaten up because he's older and bigger than me. But maybe I'll be able to bite him. . .The next class is geography. Miss Nederstrom emerges from the staff room where she makes tea and solves crossword puzzles during the lesson breaks. She has a club foot and she's been Joel's teacher ever since he started school.Once he put on an act to amuse the rest of the pupils by walking behind her, imitating her limp.She suddenly turned round and smiled.'You're very good,' she said. 'That's exactly how I walk.'If she hadn't had a club foot Joel could well imagine having her as a mum. But Miss Nederstrom is in fact a Mrs and has children of her own with the surveyor she's married to.Geography is Joel's best subject. He never forgets what his father tells him, and he has a diary with maps of all the countries of the world in it. He knows where Pamplemousse and Bogamaio are, although he's not at all sure how to p.r.o.nounce them.n.o.body else in the class knows as much about the world as Joel. Perhaps he doesn't know all that much about Sweden, but he knows more than anybody else about what lies beyond the dark forests and over the sea.No sooner have they sat down than Otto puts his hand up. Joel doesn't realise he's done so because Otto sits in the row behind him.Miss Nederstrom nods at him.'Do you want to go home?' she asks. 'Don't you feel well?'Otto rarely puts his hand up unless he's feeling ill. But this time he has a question.'What is a figural head?' he asks.Joel gives a start and feels his heart beginning to pound. He might have known. That b.a.s.t.a.r.d Otto! He's going to be shown up now. Everybody heard what he said about his mother being a figurehead.'Come again,' said Miss Nederstrom. 'What did you say it was?''A figural head,' said Otto again.'No, it's called a figurehead,' said Miss Nederstrom.Don't tell him, thought Joel. Don't tell him. . .And she doesn't.'Is there anybody in the class who knows what a figurehead is?' she asks.n.o.body answers, least of all Joel, the only one who knows.Then Otto puts his hand up again.'Joel knows,' he said. 'His mum is a figural . . . one of those things . . . 'Miss Nederstrom looks at Joel.'Where on earth did you get that from?' she said. 'A figurehead is a wooden carving attached to the bows of a ship. Not nowadays, but in the old days when they had sailing ships. n.o.body can have a mum made of wood.'Joel has time to swear that he hates both Miss Nederstrom and Otto before the whole class bursts into cruel laughter.'You know a lot about all kinds of unusual things,' says Miss Nederstrom, 'but I must say you sometimes get carried away by your imagination.'Joel stares down at his desk lid, feels his face turning red, and he hates and hates as hard as he can.'Joel,' says Miss Nederstrom. 'Look at me!'He slowly raises his head that feels as heavy as a block of stone,'There's nothing wrong with having imagination and making things up,' she says, 'but you must distinguish between what is fantasy and what is real. You remember that time about the water-lilies?'The water lilies! Of course he remembers, even though he's been trying to forget. The outsize water lilies on Mauritius that his father had once told him about. As big as the centre circle of the ice-hockey pitch they create every winter on the flat, sandy s.p.a.ce outside the school by spraying water onto it and allowing it to freeze the temperature never rises above zero, and they can play on it for months.One day everybody in the class was asked to talk about something exciting they'd read about or heard somebody talking about.Joel had told the story of the water lilies on Mauritius.'I don't suppose they are really as big as that,' Miss Nederstrom had said when he'd finished his piece.He had been silly enough to insist he was right.'They are as big as that,' he said. 'Maybe even bigger.''Who told you that?' asked Miss Nederstrom.'My dad saw them when he was a sailor,' said Joel, 'and he b.l.o.o.d.y well knows what he's talking about.'He didn't know where the swearword had come from. But Miss Nederstrom was angry and sent him out of the classroom.After that he'd made up his mind never to say anything about far-distant lands again in class. How are they supposed to know what reality looks like? All they've ever seen is snow and the endless forests.He trudges home from school through the snow flurries. It's started to get dark already even though it's only early afternoon.I'm eleven years old now, he thought. One of these days I'll be an old man, and eventually I shall die. But by then I'll be a long way away from here, a long way away from all this snow and that Otto who can never keep his mouth shut.His nose is running, and he hurries on home.He collects a kilo of potatoes from Svenson's, the grocer's; a pack of b.u.t.ter and a loaf of bread. Svenson, who's never fully sober and has grease stains on his jacket, notes the items down in his notebook.I go shopping like a b.l.o.o.d.y mum, he thought angrily. First I buy the goods on tick, then I boil the potatoes. I'm like a mother to myself.As he passes through the garden gate, hanging skewwhiff from its hinges, it dawns on him that this house will never float away down the river. There will never be a suitable wind. It might have been better to smash the house up, like his dad had told him they did to old tubs past their sell-by date.He runs up the dark, creaking staircase, opens the door to their flat and lights a fire in the stove before he's even started to take his boots off.Something has to happen, he thinks. I don't want to wait any longer.While the potatoes are boiling he searches tentatively through his dad's room for the photograph of his mum, Jenny. He sifts through books and clothes, and all the rolled-up sea charts, but he doesn't find anything.Has he taken the photo into the forest with him? he wonders. Why is he keeping it from me?He decides to ask his father that the moment he comes home, before he's even had time to take off his woolly hat.It's my mum after all, he thinks. Why is he keeping her from me?But when he hears his father's footsteps coming up the stairs, he knows he isn't going to ask him anything.He daren't. Instead he asks his dad to repeat the story about the enormous water lilies that only exist in the botanical gardens in Mauritius.Samuel sits down on the edge of Joel's bed.'Wouldn't you rather hear about something else?' he asks. 'I've told you about the water lilies so many times.''Not tonight,' Joel tells him. 'Tonight I want to hear something I've heard about before.'Afterwards he lies down in the dark, listening to the beams twisting and creaking.Something's got to happen, he tells himself before he dozes off with the sheets pulled up to his chin.He suddenly wakes up in the middle of the night. And that's when, as he gets out of bed and tiptoes over to the window, he sees that solitary dog running off towards the stars.
There are two things Joel Gustafson wants.A new stove and a bicycle.He can't quite make up his mind which of those is the more important. He realises that two things can never be equally important at the same time, but he's unsure when it comes to choosing between the stove and the bicycle.He knows of n.o.body apart from himself and his father who cook food on an old iron, wood-burning stove.Everybody has an electric cooker nowadays. n.o.body but him has to chop up kindling, carry in firewood and wait for ever and a day until the so-called hotplates have heated up sufficiently to boil the water for the potatoes.It is a real pain, having to stand by the stove every day after school, making sure the fire doesn't go out. That's the kind of thing people used to have to do. Not now, though, not in the spring of 1956.One day he plucks up enough courage to ask his father.The wood had been damp and wouldn't ignite. In addition, he'd burnt himself on the pan when the potatoes were finally ready.'Don't you think we should get rid of this old stove?' he says.Samuel looks up from the kitchen bench, where he's lying down and thumbing through a newspaper.'What's wrong with the stove?' he asks. 'Has it cracked?'What's wrong with it? Joel asks himself. Everything is wrong with it. The biggest thing wrong with it is that it's not an electric cooker.'Everybody has an electric cooker,' he says. 'Everybody but us.'His father peers at him over his reading glasses.'How many people do you think have a model ship called Celestine Celestine?' he asks. 'How many apart from us? Should we get rid of that as well? So that we are like everybody else?'Joel doesn't like it when his dad answers a question by asking another one. That makes it hard to stick to the point that really matters. But this time he's going to be insistent.'If I'm going to have to carry on boiling potatoes, I want an electric cooker,' he says.Then he says something he hadn't intended to say at all.'If I'm the mother in this household.'His father turns serious, and looks at him long and hard without responding.Joel wishes he could read his father's thoughts.'An electric cooker is quite expensive,' says Samuel in the end. 'But we'll buy one as soon as I've saved up enough money. I promise. If that's how you feel.'At that moment Joel loves his father. Only somebody who's been a sailor understands immediately what you mean, he thinks. Only somebody who's learnt how to make important decisions while terrible storms are raging on the seven seas understands when it's time to throw out an old wood-burning stove.At the same time he's a bit sorry he didn't start by mentioning the bicycle. Now it's too late. Now he'll have to wait with that for a few weeks at least. You can't ask for two things at the same time, that's one thing too many.He works it out in his head.Today is March 3rd. He won't be able to get a bike for at least a month. But there will still be snow everywhere and it would be impossible to ride it. That's good. That means he wouldn't need to be the last boy in the school with no bicycle. But he ought to have mentioned the electric cooker much earlier. I must remember that in future, he thinks. Never wait too long before asking for something.But more important than both the cooker and the bike is the dog.The night Joel asked his dad about the electric cooker, he lies in bed unable to sleep. He can hear the radio that Samuel is listening to through the wall. There's still music playing. If he's still awake when the pips sound before the news, he'll be very tired when he has to get up for school tomorrow morning.He listens to the cold that is making the walls creak. The rafters are groaning and sighing. Soon the days will grow longer and lighter. The snowdrifts will melt away, just as they always do. The first cowslips will eventually appear, glowing yellow by the side of the road.Joel decides to go looking for the dog.If it hasn't yet reached a star, I shall find it, he thinks.He decides to go looking for the dog during the night. Night after night when his dad has fallen asleep, he'll get up, get dressed and sneak out into the darkness.Perhaps everything is different at night-time. Perhaps the dog is only visible at night. Just think, there might be Day People and Night People. People who are only visible at night. Children who go to school at night. Parents who chop down trees in the forest or go out shopping. Night People and Night Schools, Night Cars and Night Houses, Night Churches and a Night Sun. Not the moon, but a real sun that is only visible to the people who live during the night.He can hear that the late news has started on the radio. Samuel has turned up the volume because he no doubt thinks Joel will be asleep now. In fact Joel is wide awake, lying in his bed and waiting for his dad to drop off to sleep before getting up and going out into the night.This is how an adventure ought to start. An adventure you create for yourself, that you are the only person involved in . . .The news comes to an end and Joel hears his dad switch off the radio and go out into the kitchen to get washed.Joel knows exactly what his dad does. First he washes his face, then he brushes his teeth, and then he gargles. When he switches the light off in the kitchen he usually clears his throat.Joel waits impatiently for everything to go quiet. But before he realises what's happening he falls asleep, and when he wakes up it's morning and his father has already disappeared into the forest.Joel is tired and annoyed when he forces himself to get out of bed. The cork floor tiles never feel as cold as they do when he hasn't had enough sleep. Moreover his b.u.t.tonholes are too small and his socks too tight, and he hits his head on the hood over the stove when he tries to warm his hands.He has often wondered what actually happens when he falls asleep. He's tried imagining a little creature wandering about inside him, snuffing out a series of wax candles, and when it's completely dark, he's asleep. It will be one of those Night People, he thinks.They want to be left in peace during the night. They want us to sleep.He doesn't really want to go to school today. He would prefer to creep back into bed and go back to sleep, so that he's properly rested when night comes. He doesn't want to miss out on his newly thought-up adventure yet again.But he puts on his rubber boots and clears the stairs in four jumps. He's made up his mind that before his twelfth birthday he will get to the bottom in three hops.When he turns off by the church he starts running so as not to be late. Miss Nederstrom doesn't like her pupils arriving late. If you do, you have to stand up and explain why. And then there's the risk of Otto marching up to you at break asking why your mother didn't wake you up in time.He takes a short cut along the white paths through the churchyard, taking a quick look round to see if there are any new graves. As usual he jumps over a black headstone where it says 'The Family Grave of Nils Wiberg, Farmer of this Parish', but it's icy underneath the snow today and he slips and hurts his bottom.Ghosts exist even though he doesn't believe in them. Perhaps it's Nils Wiberg who doesn't like the idea of Joel jumping over his grave?He races over the schoolyard and gets to the top of the stairs just in time. The school bell is ringing and he imagines that it is the captain of the barque Celestine Celestine summoning his crew to their stations. This very day in 1956 they will set sail from Bristol and head for Biscay with a cargo of live horses and some cloth from a textile mill in Manchester. summoning his crew to their stations. This very day in 1956 they will set sail from Bristol and head for Biscay with a cargo of live horses and some cloth from a textile mill in Manchester.Just like his father had told him about. Heading for Biscay with horses and fabrics.On the way home from school Joel calls in at the bookshop and buys a little notebook for two kronor. He has nineteen kronor stashed away in a tin under his bed. He uses two of those coins to buy a book in which he can write down all the things he is sure are going to happen.Logbook, he knows that's what it's called. Every ship has a logbook. Every day the skipper notes down what winds are blowing, the location of the vessel and anything unusual that has happened. If a ship gets into difficulties, the logbook always has to be rescued.'It's the ship's Bible,' his dad told him. 'It tells the history of the vessel.'While he's waiting for the potatoes to boil, he sits down at the kitchen table with his notebook and a pencil in front of him.'The Search For The Dog That Headed For A Star', he writes on the cover. He underlines the first letter of every word and inserts a few vowels so that he can p.r.o.nounce it. THESEFOTHEDOTHFAS.That's the code for a secret society of course, he thinks. A secret society whose name n.o.body will be able to guess. He starts writing on the first page.'The search for the dog that headed for a star began on March 8, 1956. The weather was fine. Clear sky, plus four degrees, colder towards evening.' He reads what he has written and has the feeling that the adventure is now under way. It's already there inside him. When you have an adventure inside you the only thing that matters is what happens next. Just as on a ship like the Celestine Celestine.The figurehead on the bows always looks ahead. Never backwards.He suddenly has an idea.He will hide the logbook in the Celestine Celestine's display case. If he lifts the model up carefully he can put the book underneath her so that n.o.body can see it. Of course that's where the logbook ought to be!The evening passes so unbearably slowly. Joel lies down on his bed and tries to read a book, but he can't concentrate. He fetches a needle and thread and tries to darn a hole in his sock. He can usually do this rather well, but tonight the thread gets tangled and he has to cut it away. He goes into his father's room and sits with him, listening to the radio.A man with a high-pitched voice is going on about how important it is for cows to have enough s.p.a.ce in their stalls.He glances at Samuel, who is sitting in his worn-out armchair with his eyes closed.Is he really listening to this? Joel wonders. Surely he's not interested in cows?Suddenly it seems as if his dad has read Joel's thoughts.'You forgot to buy milk from Mr Svenson today,' he said. 'Don't forget tomorrow.'If the adventure and the secret society are not going to be exposed, it's important that he doesn't forget anything. Everything has to be exactly the same as usual.'I won't forget tomorrow,' he says. 'I'll get some milk tomorrow.''It's getting late,' says his dad. 'Time to go to bed.'Joel creeps into bed and lies waiting.When the news has finished, Joel can hear his father gargling. He can see through the crack in the door when the light goes out. There are some creaking noises from the bed, then all is quiet. He waits for a bit longer before getting dressed. He knows there is a loose floorboard in the kitchen but even so he treads in the wrong place and makes a creaking noise.He holds his breath and listens hard in the darkness.Samuel hasn't heard anything.Joel carefully opens the front door with his boots and jacket in his hand, and sneaks out into the vestibule. He laces up his boots, b.u.t.tons up his jacket and pulls his woolly hat down over his ears. He's ready now. The secret society THESEFOTHEDOTHFAS has embarked on its journey out into the unknown . . .When he emerges into the open it's cold and totally still. The weak streetlamps cast a yellow glow over the piled-up snow. He cautiously makes his way out through the gate and looks round. He can hear a car in the distance. He stands absolutely still until the engine noise has died away.Then he starts walking through the deserted little town. For no special reason he finds himself taking the route he usually follows when going to school. But everything is different at night.He has the feeling that the black houses, the shuttered windows, are looking at him, not the other way round. And his boots are making a very loud crunching noise in the cold snow. He stops outside the Grand Hotel and watches a cat climbing over the fence to Franzen's garage. But there is no sign of any people. Not until he's passing Hultman's shoe shop does he hear some people laughing from behind a lit-up window on the second floor.It feels comforting to know that he's not entirely on his own.He allows the laughing people to become members of his secret society.They'll never know anything about it, but they can't stop me letting them join it.He walks back through the town, down towards the river and the railway bridge with its enormous iron arches. He walks along one of the rails until he's in the middle of the bridge. He leans over the parapet and looks down at the ice below. Then he looks up at the sky. There are no clouds and he can see the stars glimmering like candles up above him.If I were to climb up one of the arches, I'd get closer to them, he thinks.He decides to introduce a hero's rule. n.o.body can be a full member of the secret society, not even he, until they've climbed over one of the arches.He's starting to feel cold and tired. He hasn't even thought about looking for the dog. But he has plenty of nights ahead of him. Besides, it will soon be spring, and the nights will get warmer and lighter.He finds a stone by the railway track and throws it over the parapet and onto the ice down below. Then he goes home.This first night he's only done a bit of reconnoitring. Tomorrow night is when he'll start looking for the dog, start out on the great adventure.He tiptoes up the stairs, unlaces his boots and carefully opens the flat door. If Samuel has woken up, Joel has no idea how he's going to explain away his nocturnal wandering.He listens outside the door, but all is quiet. Dad's asleep.He quickly gets undressed, creeps into bed and curls up in order to get warm. He thinks about what to write in the logbook tomorrow. 'The first night Joel Gustafson completed his reconnaissance mission to everyone's complete satisfaction. The adventure has begun. The dog has not yet been tracked down.'Then he falls asleep and when he wakes up next morning he doesn't feel tired at all. Hurrying to school and thinking about how he'd gone the same way in the middle of the night is really a big deal.Tonight, he thinks. Tonight I shall find the dog that's heading for a star . . .*The next night when Joel sets off on his adventure, everything starts to go wrong. In the dark kitchen he trips up over his own boots and knocks a saucepan off the stove as he falls. He thinks it sounds as if the ceiling had come crashing down when the saucepan hits the floor. He rushes back into his room and jumps into bed with all his clothes still on and pulls the cover up to his chin.That must have woken his father up, he thinks. n.o.body could have slept through that row. Least of all a sailor. But not a sound comes from his dad's room. He's still asleep. He hasn't heard a thing. Joel gets up once more.Back in the kitchen he gropes around for the saucepan. It's ended up in a corner, between the sofa and the firewood bin. Joel places it carefully on the table, then goes out into the hall carrying his boots and jacket.When he's outside in the street, listening to the silence, it occurs to him that there's something badly wrong with the secret society he's founded.The word society means that there's more than one person involved. Joel on his own can't be a society.But who can he ask to join? Who could he possibly share his secret with?Joel has a lot of friends, but none of them is sufficiently close for him to share his secret with him.If only I had a brother, he thinks. If Mum was determined to run away, the least she could have done would have been to leave me a brother.He suddenly felt sad.'Why should I go running around on my own in the middle of the night, looking for a dog that might not exist?' he asks himself aloud.Just as he says that it starts snowing. A few snowflakes dance around under the streetlight. Then there are more and more, and he thinks crossly that spring is going to be delayed this year as well. The only good thing about it starting to snow is that he might be able to get a bicycle before everybody else has started cycling around.He decides to take a look at the new bikes on display in the cycle shop window, before starting to look for the dog. There's a particular one he wants to see. It has a red frame and there's a logo with a flying horse just above the pump holder.He hears a car coming and sees its headlights in the distance. He stands in the shadow cast by the tall gatepost next to the chemist's. When the vehicle passes he sees that it is in fact the rusty old lorry belonging to The Old Bricklayer.He has an odd name, Joel remembers that. Simon Windstorm. But he's never referred to as anything but The Old Bricklayer. Everybody is a bit scared of him. He was once locked up in a home for madmen. Joel knows he was in there for nearly ten years. n.o.body thought he would ever get out, but one day he jumped off the train at the local station and explained that he'd been released because he was fit again.But why is he driving his lorry around in the middle of the night?Joel presses on and thinks he must make a note of The Old Bricklayer in his logbook. It's something special that has to be recorded.Anton Wiberg's bicycle shop is on the corner of Norra Vagen and Kyrkogatan. Joel pauses in the shadows before approaching the display window. There are a lot of streetlamps and illuminated shop windows just there. If he stands in front of the window anybody could see him. He checks the blocks of flats on all sides, but it's dark in all those windows.He runs quickly over the street, jumps over the heaped-up snow left in the gutter by the snow plough, and there's the red bike. The Flying Horse.There are a lot of bicycles in the window, but it's only the red one that interests Joel. That's the one he wants to be riding this spring.He's been into the shop several times and asked about the price, and he knows it is only slightly more expensive than the rest of the bikes. The hard part won't be persuading his father to buy him that particular one, but getting a bicycle at all. It takes his father a long time to make up his mind about things, but once he's decided, fifty kronor is neither here nor there.But there is another danger as well.Anton Wiberg has only one red bicycle. There are several of all the other models. He must make sure n.o.body gets there before him and buys the red bike.Joel pictures Otto in his mind's eye, coming towards him on the red bike. It's a horrible thought he would rather not entertain.The trouble is that Samuel always takes such a long time to make up his mind. When there is only one red bicycle, he has to get a move on.Joel takes one last look at the bike, then goes round to the back of the building for a pee.A single bulb in a broken shade is shining over the back door. Joel pees into the snow and tries to write his name. It's not hard to write Joel, but he never has enough for more than half the surname. He kicks some snow over the yellow letters and refastens his fly. Without really knowing why, he walks up to the back door and tries it. Perhaps he's afraid that somebody might try to steal The Flying Horse.To his astonishment he discovers that the door is unlocked. He can see right into the shop. See the bikes in the illuminated display window. The counter and the cash register.His heart is pounding as Joel does what he really doesn't dare to do.He closes the door behind him, tiptoes past the counter and goes to the bike that one day will be his.There's a nice smell of oil and rubber. The saddle is wrapped up in paper. To keep it clean.I'm not going to think at all, he tells himself. I'm simply going to do what I want to do but don't really dare.He slowly removes the bicycle from its place in the window display and wheels it towards the back door. He cautiously opens the door and peers out. It's almost stopped snowing. He carries the bike down the steps, switches on the dynamo on the front wheel, then pedals off. He turns into Norra Vagen, where the sanded road surface hasn't yet been covered in newly-fallen snow. And he keeps on going.When he gets to the Hedevagen crossroads he stops and listens for traffic, but all is quiet and he sets off again. It's hard not to think. Not to be scared stiff of what he's doing.I've become a Petty Thief, he thinks as he climbs the hill leading to the railway station. A Petty Thief who can't keep his hands off what isn't his.He tries to calm himself down with the thought that he had no intention of stealing the bicycle, merely of trying it out.Maybe he ought to write a note to Anton Wiberg and pin it to the door? Saying that The Secret Society's night patrol has discovered a back door unlocked and been keeping a lookout for Petty Thieves all night long . . .He climbs up the hill to the railway station and is concentrating so hard on not falling over and damaging the bike that he forgets to listen out for cars.Suddenly, out of nowhere, two headlights are coming straight at him. He gives a start and swerves towards the side of the road.Now I'm done for, he thinks in desperation. I've nowhere to hide.The front wheel skids into the snow piled up in the gutter and before he knows where he is, he falls over and the bike lands on top of him in the snow. He can hear the car pulling up behind him, a door opening, then winter boots squelching in the snow.It's Dad, he thinks. I didn't mean it. I wasn't going to steal it, I was just going to . . .'Are you all right?' he hears a voice saying.When he looks up he sees The Old Bricklayer standing over him, his woolly hat pulled down over his ears.'Have you hurt yourself?' he asks. 'What on earth are you doing at this time of night, cycling around town?'Joel feels a strong arm pulling him up out of the snowdrift.Simon Windstorm is mad, he thinks. He's going to kill me.'You seem to be OK,' says Windstorm. 'Go back home to bed now! I won't insist on knowing what you're doing out here at this time. That's none of my business. Me, I drive around at night in my lorry because I can't get to sleep. Off you go now!'The Old Bricklayer mutters something to himself then goes back to his lorry and drives away. Joel wheels the bike back to the shop as quickly as he can. He carries it up the steps, opens the back door and puts it back in the display window. He tries to wipe it clean with his woolly hat, but the frame is scratched in one place and he can't do anything about that. He expects Anton Wiberg to appear beside him at any moment.I'm out of my mind, he thinks and can feel himself starting to cry with fear. He rubs and rubs. The bike will never be clean and dry again.Just at that very moment he looks out of the window, into the deserted street.There comes the dog!The solitary dog heading for a star.Joel knows right away that it's the very same dog. There's no other dog like it, even if it seems to be just an ordinary Norwegian elkhound.Suddenly it stops and looks round.Just for a moment Joel thinks it's looking straight at him, through the shop window.Then it sets off running again.Joel rushes out through the back door, trips up on the steps and falls headfirst.When he gets to the street the dog has disappeared. The street is deserted. He goes to the streetlight, but there's no sign of any pawprints. No sign of any dog.Joel sets off running through the night, and it's started snowing again.Back in bed he thinks about the dog he's seen. The dog really was there, he'd seen it. Perhaps a dog heading for a star doesn't leave any tracks behind it.His fear gradually fades away. The Old Bricklayer can't know that the bike Joel had ridden into the snow had been pinched. And n.o.body will be able to find his name peed into the snow. By the time he wakes up the yellow marks will have been covered over. I'll get away with it, he thinks.But the dog does exist. And the adventure, the great adventure has begun . . .
A few days later Joel fell asleep at his desk in school.He had no idea how it came about. All of a sudden he was just sitting there with his mouth open, fast asleep.It was an RE class, and Miss Nederstrom was red in the face with anger when she shook him by the shoulder to wake him up.She had a patch of eczema on her forehead, just under her hair line. When her face turned red and the spots became white, everybody knew that she was furious.'Joel,' she bellowed. 'Joel Gustafson! How dare you sleep through my lesson!'He woke up with a start. He'd been dreaming something that vanished the moment he woke up. Something about his father. In the dream Joel had been in a vast forest, looking for him, but that was all he could remember.When he woke up he couldn't believe that he'd been asleep. Asleep at his desk?'No,' he said. 'I wasn't asleep.''Don't sit there telling me barefaced lies. You were asleep. The whole class could see that.'Joel looked round. He was surrounded by embarrassed faces, grinning faces, curious faces.Faces that told him Miss Nederstrom was telling the truth. He had fallen asleep.He was ordered to leave the room, and Miss Nederstrom said she would be phoning his father.Joel didn't respond.She could find out for herself that they didn't have a telephone.He sat on the floor in the empty corridor, eyeing all the shoes lined up against the wall. He thought he might get his own back on all those grinning faces by mixing the shoes up. Or throwing them out into the yard. But he decided not to.Instead he took The Secret Society logbook out of his pocket. He'd forgotten to put it in Celestine Celestine's glass case that morning.He searched through the jackets hanging in the corridor until he found a pen, then started writing.'The lookout on the mizzen mast, Joel Gustafson, was so exhausted that he fell out of his crow's nest, but survived without serious injury. After resting for merely a couple of hours, he was ready to climb up the mast once more.'What he writes is almost word-for-word something he'd read in a book his dad keeps in his little bookcase, and often thumbs through. That's the kind of thing you put in a secret logbook, Joel thinks.Only somebody with inside information can know that it's really about him being thrown out of the classroom.It's not good, being sent out like that. Better than wearing glasses or stuttering, but not good whichever way you look at it.Joel can put up with his classmates grinning at him. So long as you don't start blushing or crying when you're sent out of the room, you are an important person.What is not so good is that Miss Nederstrom might come and visit them once she discovers that the Gustafsons don't have a telephone. If that happens, Joel might have a lot of awkward questions to answer. His father might start to suspect that Joel goes out at night. He tries to think of a good way of solving the problem, but he can't. There are only bad solutions. Like staying behind after school and knocking on the staffroom door and asking to speak to Miss Nederstrom, and then apologising and explaining that he'd been awake all night with toothache. It's a bad solution because it's a cowardly way out.Joel keeps on thinking.Maybe he ought to take the cowardly way out after all. The main thing is that his father shouldn't start getting suspicious.When the bell rings and the lesson is over, Joel decides to take the cowardly way out. He is responsible for the secret society, and he doesn't want to run the risk of not being able to find that solitary dog.When he knocks on the staffroom door after school, Miss Nederstrom believes every word he tells her. Instead of saying he had toothache, he says he had stomach ache. If you have toothache there is a risk that you might end up having to go to the dentist.'It's good that you have come to explain,' she says. 'Now we can forget all about it. But you do understand that I was very cross when I noticed that you were asleep, don't you?''Yes, Miss,' says Joel.Slush is sloshing all round his boots as he walks home.One day it snows, the next day it thaws.Joel hopes that spring will soon be here, but he knows it could just as easily turn very wintry again. The first year he started school, it snowed on the last day of term at the beginning of June. He remembered having holes in his shoes and snow melted inside them, and he burst out sneezing when Miss Nederstrom asked him a question.Joel is not sure whether or not he dares to walk past the cycle shop. Maybe it will be obvious from looking at him that he'd been out that night with The Flying Horse? Or perhaps he might faint as he walks past?He's scared of fainting, even though he's never done it. But he often imagines collapsing in a heap when he's said something that isn't true, or done something he ought not to do.What frightens him most of all, though, is that he might give himself away. That he might stop outside the shop and shout that he was the one who borrowed the red bike one night when he discovered that the back door was unlocked. There's nothing that scares Joel more that him being unable to stop himself doing something. Not being responsible for his own actions.He stops outside Leander Nilson's bakery and looks at the window. It's not the cakes he's examining, but his own reflection. In amongst all the buns and cakes is a mirror, and he can see his face in it.Not that there's all that much to see. He has his woolly hat pulled well down over his forehead, and his scarf above his chin. But although he can only see his eyes, his nose and his mouth, he feels he can see his whole face even so.He's not pleased with what he sees.What is worst is that he thinks he looks like a girl.He can't make up his mind why. Besides, n.o.body has ever told him he looks like a girl. He's the only one who thinks he has a face like a girl's.The only bit he thinks is good is his nose. It's not too big and not too small. It's straight, doesn't have any lumps and it's not turned up. There's no chance of it snowing into Joel Gustafson's nose.He'd prefer to exchange the rest of his face. Green eyes are nothing worth having. His mouth is too thin and his left ear juts out. His hair is black but it ought to have been fair, or at least brown.He also has a crown over his forehead which makes his hair stand up like a fan after it's been cut. His father cuts his hair, and he always clips it too short.You ought to be able to choose for yourself what you look like, he thinks. Go through some photographs and say: 'That's how I want to be!'What annoys him most of all is that he doesn't look like his dad at all. That must mean that he takes after Jenny, his mother.It's not good, looking like somebody you've never met, because that means you can't work out what you're going to look like when you grow up. He pulls his hat still further down over his forehead, so that he can only see with one eye.If we lived by the sea I'd be able to go down to the sh.o.r.e and look out for ships, he thinks.A year ago, when he was ten, it was never difficult to go down to the river and pretend it was the sea. Now that he's eleven, that's only occasionally possible. It gets more and more difficult to imagine things.He pulls his hat down over the other eye as well. Now he can only see out through the gaps between the threads. He's caught his face like a fish in a net.He decides to go down to the riverbank and see if the snow has melted around his rock. He pulls his hat back up and breaks into a run.He tries to think about why it's getting more and more difficult to imagine that the river is really the sea, but it's not easy to think when you're running.He takes a short cut through Bodin's timber yard, and hears all the squeaking and whistling from the saws. Then he slides along the ice that always forms in the spring on the hill down towards the bakery. Once he's passed the bakery there's only the long slope down to the riverbank left. The snow is deep there, and he has to trudge through it. Once he's come that far, he suddenly finds it easier to use his imagination. It's not so difficult once all the buildings and people have been left behind.The snow he is trudging through is a desert. Vultures are circling over his head, waiting for him to collapse with exhaustion and be unable to get up again. He's all alone in the desert, and in the far distance is his rock. If only he can struggle as far as that, he'll be able to survive . . .Suddenly, he stops dead.There's a boy he's never seen before sitting on his rock.He's completely motionless, and he's looking through a telescope.Joel crouches down in the snow.This is the first time anybody has ever encroached on Joel's rock.Who is he?Joel is quite sure he's never set eyes on him before. He's a stranger, unknown.Why is he sitting here by the river? What is he looking at through the telescope? Where has he come from?Joel cowers down in the snow like a scared rabbit, not taking his eyes off the unknown boy for a moment.There is a clattering noise from up on the bridge. The gates close and a goods train comes chugging along through the trees. The smoke from the engine's chimney puffs up into the sky, as if it's the trees that are breathing. The unknown boy aims his telescope at the train.Joel can see that he's about his own age. Possibly slightly older. Instead of a woolly hat he's wearing a peaked cap with ear flaps.But what has he got on his feet? They look like tennis rackets. Snowshoes!The stranger is wearing snowshoes!Joel has never seen any snowshoes before, only read about them in one of his father's books.He presses himself down deeper into the snow, even though he's starting to feel cold.Who is that boy sitting on his rock?At that very moment the stranger turns round and looks straight at Joel.'What are you lying there for?' he asks? 'Did you think I hadn't seen you?'Joel couldn't think of anything sensible to say. He'd thought he was invisible, lying there in the snow. The boy on his rock has been looking through his telescope all the time, after all. How could he possibly have seen Joel?The unknown boy jumps down from the rock and starts walking towards Joel on his snowshoes. Joel notes that what he has read in his father's books is true: when you are wearing snowshoes, your feet don't sink into the snow.The boy stops in front of Joel.'Are you thinking of staying there for good?' he says.Joel still couldn't think of anything to say. Besides, the unknown boy is speaking with a peculiar accent. And he's smirking. Smirking non-stop.'Who are you?' Joel asks eventually, standing up.Although they are the same height, Joel looks like a dwarf, up to his knees in snow.'I moved here today,' says the boy. 'I didn't want to, but I was forced to.'Joel brushes himself down as he thinks.'Where do you come from?' he asks.'That doesn't matter,' the boy answers. 'I shan't be staying here anyway.'Joel notices that the boy with the snowshoes is red-eyed, as if he'd been crying.Joel suddenly loses control over himself. He says something he hadn't intended to say at all.When he hears the words spurting out of his mouth, he regrets them right away: but it's too late by then.'Those of us who live here don't sit down by the river and start blubbering,' he says.The unknown boy looks at him in surprise. Joel wonders if he might be about to get beaten up. The boy in the snowshoes looks strong.'I haven't been sitting here crying,' says the boy. 'I rubbed my face with my glove. I forgot that I am allergic to wool. That's why my eyes are red.'Joel thinks he understands. There is a girl in his class who starts sneezing whenever anybody smelling of dog comes into the room. It must be the same thing.'My name's Ture,' says the boy with the snowshoes.Then he walks off, as if he's not the slightest bit interested in knowing that Joel is called Joel.Joel watches him go, walking straggle-legged over the snow.Whoever he is, he can keep away from my rock, he thinks. If he comes back here again I shall have to think up some way of scaring him off.He trudges up the slope, stepping in his old foo