The Golden Boy in Atlantis by John Ross by John Ross - Read Online

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The Golden Boy in Atlantis - John Ross

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Book One

The Golden Boy In Atlantis

Introduction

Scotland December 24th 2014

It was Christmas Eve and outside a storm was brewing. Torrential rain lashed at the windows and the roar of thunder cracked in the heavens. C.J buried himself under the covers and tried to concentrate on the presents he hoped would be under the tree. His parents had been extremely angry at him; he had been rather naughty at school and had been given a hundred page essay on Atlantis to complete during the Christmas holidays.

Unable to sleep he crept downstairs to check out the gift situation. From the look of things Santa Claus had indeed been there.

The Xmas tree lights cast an eerie glow to the room. C.J rummaged through the nicely wrapped boxes in dismay till he spotted the slim gold package tucked away behind the tree. Without hesitation he ripped off the foil and his heart raced… there it was, his very own tablet.

It hadn’t been charged properly and he was dying to try it. Frustrated he shook the android tablet and to his astonishment it lit up and a thousand stars swirled round it.

C.J dropped the tablet to the ground and with a roar even louder than the thunder peals outside an eight foot hologram emerged from the tablet.

C.J rubbed his eyes in shock thinking that he was dreaming. ‘Holy Smoke!’ he exclaimed as he peered up at the towering entity that hovered above him.

‘Hi Mate, I am Telephone Tommy the smart phone Genie’ the larger than life figure crooned.

C.J stood gaping at the robot-like creature which was made entirely of telephones both ancient and new.

The creature moved clumsily around the room looking for a charger point. ‘Been asleep for a thousand years mate, need rebootedʼ he groaned as he plugged himself into a socket.

‘Just like Aladdin I can grant you three wishes, three APPS you can download that will change your life.’

Playing along C.J rubbed the touch screen and wished for chocolate. With a clumsy robotic wave of his arm Telephone Tommy turned the Xmas tree into a magnificent solid chocolate sculpture.

C.J gaped in awe at the mouthwatering milk, dark and white chocolate branches with candy-covered baubles.

C.J didn’t want to waste any more wishes; he confided to his new friend that he was concerned that he had a hundred page essay to create on Atlantis for his battle-axe teacher Mrs Milligan.

‘No problem, download an app and make a wish’ the Genie suggested as all the smart screens on his chest started flashing and phones started ringing, a sign that he had been successfully recharged.

C.Jʼs fingers danced across the touch screens looking for an app.

Medieval Knight Guide service through time… this looks interesting, C.J mused as he clicked on the app. ‘OH NO! Not grouchy old Marlon’ Telephone Tommy whined as the hologram of the ancient knight on a horse materialized, his rusty armour rattling as he galloped around the room.

The bearded knight introduced himself as Marlon whilst his rickety horse ate several of the chocolate branches from the tree.

C.J closed his eyes and wished that they could all go on a trip that would inspire him to write an essay about Atlantis with a new fresh slant.

‘Fiddlesticks and USB sticks, your wish is my command,’ Telephone Tommy exclaimed sprinkling fairy dust, as like a genie from a bottle he went back inside the tablet.

Marlon was in charge now; he gave C.J a cloak that would render him invisible and invited him to join him on his steed. Both suddenly shrank; they were reduced to the size of an egg. With a sweeping motion of the invisible cloak C.J with his genie and the ancient knight all leapt into the tablet to commence their journey through time and space.

Suddenly C.J. found himself floating through a sea of stars. ‘Awesome’ he exclaimed as they drifted past the moon and Mars. A trillion stars danced in the heavens as they drifted through time across the universe. Suddenly they disappeared through a black hole spinning so fast, C.J screamed as they spiralled through space.

Moments later they emerged in a new dimension. Marlon ground to a halt and landed on a fluffy white cloud above the earth.

Telephone Tommy emerged and all the screens on his body started flashing and popping. ‘Here we are Master, back on earth thousands of years in the past and just floating above Atlantis.’ The genie materialized a notepad and quill and tossed them at C.J. ‘From this vantage point you can observe and write your essay on Atlantis. When you finish we can return using your last wish.’ With that Telephone Tommy’s lights turned green; he hated heights and was airsick; in seconds he retreated back into the tablet.

C.J grabbed his pen and pad and Marlon galloped though the clouds heading for the long-lost city.

The Adventure is now just about to begin…

1

The Early Years on Blackbird Island

Blackbird Island was a paradise, set in a tranquil Southern Ocean surrounded by sparkling crystal clear waters; the Island was lush and tropical. Its favourable climate had created acres of gardens and foliage that climbed from the coast up the hillside in a rainbow of vivid colours. The island enjoyed a sunny disposition and the gentle rainfall had blessed the inhabitants with a fertile and prosperous environment. The coastline was framed by white sandy beaches which were lined with a sweeping vista of sub-tropical shady forests that stretched up the mountain side. The centrepiece of the island was the towering flat table-top mountain that seemed to disappear into the fluffy white clouds that dotted the azure sky. For as long as they could remember, the inhabitants of the island had always lived in harmony. There had never been war or unrest in their history which dated back hundreds of years.

Legend said that for centuries Blackbird Island was completely uninhabited till a ship of refugees from a distant land had discovered the paradise and settled. They had named the island after the thousands of black birds that lived high in the craggy mountains’ peaks that dominated the Island. The first settlers had been lost at sea when their primitive craft had drifted in a blanket of mist towards the shore. Captivated by the coast line they had decided to make the island their home. The first one hundred inhabitants had set foot on the glistening white sands generations ago. Now there were almost a thousand families who cherished the island as their home.

Life was lazy on the sleepy Blackbird Island. Everyone lived in peace and took pride in building their homes, which speckled the landscape as high as the Emerald Forest.

The Emerald Forest was a stretch of thick foliage that disappeared up the mountain side. No one ever dared to cross the border of the forest. This sacred sanctuary was the terrain of the huge black birds which were the original inhabitants of the Island.

Legends warned of the peril of the Emerald Forest. A group of the first settlers had foolishly dared to venture into the forbidden wooded terrain and were eaten alive.

Since these unwelcome visitors had broken the treaty, the birds frequently terrorized the inhabitants of Blackbird Island. The villagers were superstitious and paid homage to several Gods whose images were carved in the caves that had served as homes to the first generation of travellers.

The people strongly believed that it was these Gods who had protected them from the great black birds for over a century. Several times a year the birds would venture into the safe haven of the islanders creating panic and terror. In the winter months they migrated leaving the population in peace for six glorious months.

On the shady west side of the island Neung and his family had a home that was shaded by a maze of towering palms; from its elevated position up the hillside they could enjoy a breathtaking view of the ocean and adjacent mountain villages. Surrounded by mango and coconut trees Neungʼs family enjoyed a healthy diet. They had fresh fruit, fish, wild boar aplenty and the stream at the edge of their home provided a constant supply of crystal clear mountain spring water. Neung had three sisters and lived with his mother and father in tranquillity and harmony. He was only eight years old but took pride in catching fish every day for his family and the two elderly friends of his grandmother.

He had been called Neung which meant First One because he was the only one on the Island born with a shock of golden blonde hair and bright blue eyes. He was often teased and nicknamed Neung the Golden Boy. His friends teased him wickedly about his golden locks, so much so he had reverted to wearing a turban to disguise his crowning glory. The first time he realized that he was different from everyone else was when they were catching tadpoles in the stream near their house. Neung and three of his friends were crouching by the stream attempting to catch frogs when he glimpsed his reflection in the water. So shocked by the image he had seen in the water, he had thrown his tadpoles back in the pond and raced to his home. As he had bounded towards his house the chants of his playmates echoed in his ear Golden Boy, Golden Boy! they had taunted before bursting into fits of hysterical laughter.

Neung almost knocked his sister down as he raced to the kitchen and seized a sharp knife that his mother used to gut fish. Dropping the chicken she was plucking she just managed to stop him cutting off his golden locks. Like any other child he didn’t want to be different, he wanted to fit in. To everyone else he was a freak; his blonde hair and blue eyes were a great source of amusement. He could not remember a single day when he was free from cutting comments and bullying. Each day at sunrise Neung would leap from his bed with the slash of red light that drifted into his room through a slit in the bamboo roof. Taking care not to wake any of his family he would wrap his cloth around him and steal out of the house to go fishing. He always took a bag of food with him to feed the squirrels that greeted him on the way down the mountainside. The animals waited faithfully at the footpath every morning at sunrise.

Life on the island was simple. Each day he woke at dawn and would take his spear down to the ocean to catch some fish for his mother. The clear sea that surrounded the island was full of all sorts of fish, it was their main source of food. They lived on a healthy balanced diet of fresh fruit, vegetables and fish. Goats were rare on the island and creamy goats’ milk was considered a delicacy and cherished treat. Preferring seafood to wild boar and chicken, meat was eaten only as a last resort. The bright sunny climate made it possible for them to grow ripe juicy oranges, lemons, coconuts and grapes.

Many years ago a distant traveller had been rescued by Neungʼs grandfather. As a token of gratitude the stranger had planted mangoes on the land adjacent to Neungʼs home. Long after the stranger had left the Island the inhabitants were fascinated by the new ripe sweet fruit that he had planted. Only on this island were mangoes grown and they were regarded as a delicacy. Neungʼs father gathered these mangoes when they were ripe and took them on his canoe to a distant land. Sable would travel for thirty moons to the secret city of Atlantis and sell the juicy succulent fruit returning thirty moons later with chickens and goats and fine fabrics for his mother to make clothes. Only a handful of men dared brave the ocean in their primitive vessels to travel to the legendary Atlantis, the secret route to Atlantis being handed down from generation to generation. Most men who attempted the trip never returned. Neung was proud of his father. Sable braved the seas and travelled frequently to the secret land.

The people in Atlantis enjoyed the mangoes which fetched a high price at the market. The greatest proportion of the fruit went to the Royal household. The first time his father had gone they had feared that he would never return. Neung had cried for weeks, he was sure that his father would be swallowed up by the sea. They were ecstatic however when some 60 moons later they seen his craft drift into the port. Neung had been catching fish, when he stared out to sea. Dropping his spear in disbelief, he had screamed with joy when he spotted his father’s raft on the horizon.

The excitement was overwhelming; his father had been away for two months and his bamboo raft was laden with goods. Neighbours had raced to the coastline to help him to unload his cargo. Bales of cotton and silk in a rainbow of colours, caskets of raisins and nuts, baskets of fish and a purse of strange gold coins that sparkled in the sunlight. Neung examined the coins, they were pretty but he had no conception of their value. These coins were useless on Blackbird Island but his father had told him that in the secret city you could buy anything with them.

When Sable returned he and his wife Zandra would host a party for their neighbours, family and friends. The villagers sat wide-eyed as they listened to the wonderful tales of Atlantis and Neung would be proud of his father. Deep into the night they would sit round a campfire drinking lemon wine whilst Sable told fascinating stories of the dangers he had encountered on the way to the secret city. The only route to reach the destination was past Death Island and the Peninsula of the Beasts. Death Island was inhabited by thousands of dead souls. Legend stated that all the drowned people for the last thousand years were trapped on the craggy island, their spirits doomed forever. The Peninsula of the Beasts was so horrific his father actually trembled as he spoke. There were beasts there as large as mountains, flying beasts with heads like crocodiles and reptiles that were so large they could swallow a boat of one hundred people in one gulp. The islanders had never seen a boat big enough to carry one hundred people. Sable had told them that in Atlantis they had galleons as big as mountains that were manned by more than a hundred oarsmen. They would sit round the fire till daybreak listening to the tales of a magical city that had been built by the Gods themselves.

Neung had been so carried away with his father’s tales that he was too excited to sleep! He had dreamt one day of accompanying him to Atlantis; if his father would not permit him to go he would hide in a trunk under the mangoes. As a child at an early age Neung had learned to climb and cut the coconuts and mangoes from the tall trees that lined the hillside; he could climb faster than the monkeys that often stole fruit from the wicker basket his mother had made him. The first time he had climbed a tree he had shocked his parents. They had never seen any child climb so high or so swiftly. After the daily ritual of catching fish he would skip to the wild orchard and collect fruit with his only friend Moss who lived on the lower perimeter of the village. Shorter than Neung, Moss had a shock of wiry uncontrollable hair that always seemed unkempt. He frequently was teased by others for being too portly and having a squint in his left eye. Moss lived with his mother and three sisters. His father had gone to Atlantis three years ago and had never returned, leaving him at the tender age of seven to provide for his family. They had grown up together and like brothers were inseparable. Neung seemed fearless and would race up even the tallest palm without batting an eyelid. Brave as he was he did however fear the animals that combed the forest at night. Often he would wake from his sleep and cower deep under his blanket when he heard the cry of the wild tigers that roamed the mountains. The tigers were as long as a grown man and were particularly fond of the giant long-toothed monkeys that lived on the fringe of the Emerald Forest.

Unlike the friendly playful chimps that climbed the trees with Neung the larger wild monkeys were aggressive and destructive. Sometimes they would stray into the vineyards and steal fruit and berries. On other days they would break into their homes and cause chaos. Most of all Neung feared the large black carnivorous birds that plagued the island. These predators with their razor sharp beaks were everyone’s worst enemy. Feared by everyone on the island, the Celions would sporadically attack villagers and animals as they went about their daily routine. One breezy afternoon in early spring Neung and his best friend Moss were gathering lemons for his mother. Every harvest she would make lemon wine using only the ripest baby lemons. The heady wine lasted the family all through the summer into the winter months.

Perched on twin lemon trees Neung and his friend were filling their bamboo baskets with tiny sweet lemons. There were two lemon trees on his mother’s land and on the adjacent apple tree sat a stray long-toothed monkey. Moss hurtled a lemon at the creature striking it on the head. The creature shrieked and bared its long sharp teeth in protest. The long-tooths were lazy, they would sit and watch the lads pluck the fruit then steal it from their baskets on the way home. A few moments later the grey hairy animal threw a large apple at Neung in protest. The piece of fruit struck the boy on the forehead almost dazing him and Moss roared with laughter at the animal’s prudence. Before Neung could retaliate, their laughter was interrupted by an unfamiliar sound that came from above.

It was as if darkness had fallen! The sun disappeared and a shadow darkened the gardens. The boys sat motionless in the branches of the trees. Hearts thumping they realized that the birds had returned months earlier than anticipated from their migration. Neung and Moss had almost filled the baskets with ripe juicy lemons when suddenly the sun was masked by thousands of birds. Neung heard the roar of the fluttering wings. Looking upwards he was shocked to see the sky had filled with birds; they had travelled for many months and were ravenous. Neung hid behind the foliage of the lemon tree and remained as still as he could be.

The skies seemed filled with birds, they crooned and shrieked as they swept down on the tree where the long- toothed monkey had been perched. Fighting amongst themselves the birds plucked away at the monkey for what seemed an eternity. Moss trembled so much that he let his basket of lemons fall. Fortunately the birds did not notice the boys hiding in the lemon trees; the black winged beasts had a strong sense of smell but hated the aroma of lemons. The tangy citrus fragrance had saved the boys’ lives. Having devoured the poor monkey the flock of birds flew west towards their mountain lair.

Long after they drifted out of sight the boys sat frozen in shock, clinging to the leafy branches for grim death trying to digest the horror of what had happened.

They waited silently till they were sure that the last of the birds had gone before climbing down from the trees. Trembling Neung and Moss raced towards their family homes gripping their half-filled baskets of lemons. As he raced towards the wooden house, his mother and father came rushing to greet him. They too had heard the sound of the birds and had feared the worst. With tears of joy in her eyes Zandra hugged her only son so tight that he thought she was going to crush him.

It was a common thing to be killed by the birds on Blackbird Island; the inhabitants dreaded the creatures’ return every season. His father had told him that’s why no one had wanted to stay on this island. Centuries before, all the original inhabitants had left when the birds with the bat-like wings and long sharp beaks had taken over the territory, claiming the island as their own. Ancient drawings on the cave walls depicted scenes of horror; primitive sketches of the carnivorous birds were etched in the stone, drawn by the early settlers whose race had been driven to extinction because of the greedy blackbirds. In the winter months the birds would migrate to far-off lands and for up to six months the islanders could relax. At the first signs of spring when the blossoms and fruits flourished the skies would be black as the thousands of hungry birds returned to plague the villagers. Sometimes the locals would hunt wild dogs or monkeys and hang them on the trees as peace offerings to the birds. The birds however enjoyed the sweet taste of human flesh, babies were their prey; they could smell the sweet fragrance of babies from miles away. During the season, when the birds were on the island, mothers hid their babies in baskets in their musty homes keeping the shutters closed and hanging garlands of lemons over the doors till the beasts migrated. Each season when the birds left the locals would have a feast to celebrate their departure. They would roast the traditional pig and build fires around the island. This was known as the feast of the black wings. They would rejoice and drink the sweet lemon wine cup that they fermented. The powerful liquid was potent: after a few mouthfuls most were inebriated. After the yearly celebration the men would usually take to the seas to sell their fruits. The journey to the secret city of Atlantis was a hazardous one. It took thirty moons to get there if the winds were right and the current was good and up to forty moons to return. Sometimes the men did not return, some would perish in the sea, others would be eaten alive by the beasts they encountered on the way.

Some would stay in Atlantis to work in the quarries or fall in love with one of the beautiful women, forgetting their families on Blackbird Island.

2

Neung’s Secret

Neung had nightmares about the birds for many months after they migrated. At night he would wake up in a cold sweat, the image of the birds imprinted in his mind’s eye. The birds had been particularly devious this season, they had multiplied and had made nests in the Emerald Forest that bordered their homes. The mangoes were ripe and Sable had decided to take them to Atlantis before the birds destroyed all of the fruit. On the eve of his departure he had been particularly sombre informing Neung that in his absence he would have to take responsibility to look after his sisters and mother. The golden- haired boy had sat on the shore and watched till his father’s canoe disappeared into the distant haze of the sea. There had been something in his father’s gaze that chilled him. He had not even waved goodbye or looked over his shoulder.

Three hundred moons passed and Sable never returned. It saddened Neung to watch his mother mourn. Each night she sat at the edge of the sea waiting for a ship that never appeared on the horizon. Life was hard; by the time Neung was eight he was man of the household, taller than all the young boys on the island. His body had developed into that of a young man’s. He was as strong as an ox and could lift a goat with little effort. His strength elevated him to a new level on the island; the villagers grew to rely on him. When heavy lifting was needed they asked Neung, when roofs needed repair or rafts were broken it was the golden- haired boy who fixed them.

His days were full of chores and he helped everyone who asked. In return for the help he gave others, people shared food with him and his mother. No one knew the secret of Neungʼs birth. He was different from all the other islanders, taller than most of them and sharper than all. Even at five he had been a head and shoulder taller than all of the other children. Because his father had never returned Neung was forced to grow up quickly. There was no time for idle play with Moss and the other local children, his days consisted of constant hard work from dawn till dusk. It pained his mother to observe how her son’s youth had been stolen by the pressure of hard work.

He was perched on top of their roof mending a gap. Zandra gazed at him proudly, the mop of golden curls shining in the late afternoon sun. He was so different from everyone else; he had never been to school but possessed so many skills. He had grown to be very handsome with his pale skin and clear eyes that seemed more blue than the sky itself. Smiling she cast her mind back to the strange events that had taken place before Neung arrived. It was after the oranges and lemons harvested when it had happened. It had been a wonderful season and the crops were abundant. Sable had set off in his small boat for the first time since they married to sell his wares in the secret city leaving his new wife to tend to the small home that he had built for them. He had only been gone for two weeks when Zandra was awakened by the sound of a commotion near her home. Their dwelling was the only one on the hill; the nearest neighbour was two miles away.

It was early morning but in the bay below she could see a vessel. Filled with curiosity she stole through the thickets and from behind some foliage observed the scene. The strange ship, bigger than any she had ever seen was docked in the bay. There were at least a hundred men on board, most of the men were dark-skinned like the black birds themselves; other pale- skinned men wore red capes. Some men had disembarked and were heading in the direction of her home. As fast as a gazelle she raced back and hid in the kitchen. Shortly afterwards an army of men arrived at her doorstep. Frightened of the tall strangers she had tried to hide herself behind the baskets of lemons; cowering behind the wicker caskets she watched the sandals of the men who brazenly entered her humble abode. The men in the long red cloaks had pale white skin, the men in the orange robes had skin as black as blackbirds. To her alarm they were taking all the baskets of fruit. The tallest man was instructing the big dark-skinned men to carry her whole supply back to the ship. They spoke in a tongue that she didn’t understand. By the time they had taken away all but the last basket her heart was beating like thunder and she was trembling uncontrollably. Noticing her for the first time behind the large casket the men circled round her and laughed. Zandra looked at them in fear. She had never seen such tall people before. The commander was over six feet tall and seemed like a giant. He had bright blue eyes as cold as ice and hair the colour of gold. She closed her eyes thinking that perhaps this man was some kind of evil spirit and if she looked at him she would turn to stone. His pale white skin was unlike the rest of the people she had ever seen. Realizing she was alone she decided to be brave, no one would hear her screams if she rebelled. Smiling at the strangers with a bravado that took them by surprise she offered them chickens and what little food that she had stored.

Zandra prayed to the Gods for mercy, she cursed the man with the eyes the colour of the sea as she watched him take the last of their supplies outside and had them stacked on a strange vessel with wheels. The tall man smiled and spoke to her in a strange tongue. With a crack of his silver cane he ordered his men to take the woman to the harbour. The black-skinned giants with teeth as white as the clouds lifted her and headed down the hillside towards their galleon. Two men held Zandra captive on the shore whilst the Captain went to his ship. Some half hour later he returned alone with a basket tucked under his arm. Too filled with fear to move Zandra gazed at the sand beneath her. The tall man approached and sent his men away, addressing her in a soft tone with a foreign tongue that she had never heard before. She was astonished that she understood what he was saying. It was as if his words entered her very head. The tall stranger with the piercing turquoise pupils handed her an amulet on a string as payment for the supplies. Before he disappeared up the gangplank he dropped the basket at her feet. The craft disappeared into the horizon leaving the young woman distressed.

Her heart was heavy. How would she survive the winter without the lemon crops, with no food? When the tall stranger had entered her mind he had promised her one wish for her kindness; she was confused. Her thoughts were interrupted by a muffled sound from the basket. She unwrapped the linen and was overcome to find a tiny baby boy. The infant had a shock of golden hair and when he opened his eyes she noticed that his eyes were even bluer than those of the stranger. She looked again, there was no ship on the horizon; it had disappeared behind a thick veil of mist that had spread over the sea like a cloak. The skies darkened with rain clouds and the wind seemed to whisper: Look after this child! He is a son of the Gods.

Zandra woke an hour later huddled in the corner. At first she was convinced she had been dreaming, however the absence of all the lemons and the vision of the little boy in the basket convinced her that the unexpected visitors had indeed been real. She decided to tell no one of the visitors. She didn’t want the villagers to think she had turned crazy. The Sea God had granted her one wish; she wished for Sable her husband to return. When her husband did return he was not surprised to find the infant tucked away in a corner of their humble dwelling. He had indeed dreamt that on his return a son would be waiting. On the long journey back he had woven a basket for the child. They named the child Neung, which meant The First One. He was indeed the first and only person on the island with a mane of golden locks and bright blue eyes as deep as the sea. Because no one looked like him he was treated somewhat as an outcast and freak.

No one had seen a pale-skinned, blonde, blue-eyed child before except for Zandra who had been given one wish by the Sea God. Their son was perhaps a son of the Gods; if so why would they be so poor? She had tied the simple amulet round her child’s neck the first day he was placed in her care, truly believing that this simple charm would protect him. Sable loved his son and treated him as his own.

After the ship of strangers left Blackbird Island the skies had filled with storm clouds. The men had dropped anchor to avoid the turbulent stretch of sea and retired to their bunks to enjoy the heady lemon wine that they had taken from Zandra. Some were sitting on the deck drinking the lemon wine and feasting on the last of Zandra’s chicken and fruit. After a few glasses the sailors had become drunk, the seas had been rough and a thick mist had fallen over the ship.

The men had been in good spirits and had been joking. Their bellies full of chicken, they greedily finished off the last of the wine. They had sailed for years and even Gods needed food. Whilst the mates sat drinking, the golden-haired Sea God slept in his berth. His men had laughed wondering why their master had left a peasant wench to care for his son. Their laughter was interrupted by the sound of a loud thrashing noise coming from the sky. At first they thought it was the roar of thunder. Above the blanket of mist the sound got louder and louder. Through the layer of fog suddenly the skies seemed black. A dark shadow cast over the ship and within the space of a minute the deck was in darkness. The birds were migrating back to Blackbird Island; they had flown thousands of miles and were ravenous. The inebriated crew had no time to defend themselves. First they were deafened by the sound of the flapping of wings and the cries of the hundred thousand hungry birds that attacked their vessel. The ship’s deck and sails were black and moving. The shrill of the birds was unbearable as they targeted their prey. A flock of ravenous birds flew through the open window in the Captain’s quarters and attacked the golden-haired God. An obvious prize, the birds plucked out his blue eyes and ripped off his head.

Thousands of excited birds went below to the galleys where the slaves were chained to their oars. The screams of the oarsmen made the mast tremble and their anchor snap. The crew screamed as the carnivorous birds feasted on their flesh, plucking their bones dry. Almost as fast as they had arrived, after feasting on the sailors on the deck, in their cabins and in the galleys the birds took off into the thick mist and disappeared into the clouds. The tall black ship with its skeleton crew drifted aimlessly towards the horizon in the direction of the Island of the Dead. Black sails billowing in the winds the unmanned ghost ship drifted aimlessly out to sea, the skeletons of the dead oarsmen still chained to their oars.

That night Blackbird Island had seen the mother of all storms as winds of a hundred miles an hour swept over the landscape, ripping trees from their roots and homes from the hillside. Alone in her little hillside home Zandra had prayed to the Gods to save her from the violent storm. As she peered into the dark clouds above she swore that she saw the face of the God with golden hair who had just granted her a second wish.

Her humble home had been miraculously spared from the wrath of the storm. As the golden-haired God’s spirit drifted up to the heavens he cast a powerful spell on Blackbird Island. All would perish on the island except for his son, the golden offspring son of the Sea God.

Since the day that the strange ship had docked near her home everything on Blackbird Island changed. The island that had once enjoyed a warm climate was now subjected to monsoons and storms that lasted for months at a time. The summers became shorter and the tranquil waters that once caressed the sandy beaches were turbulent. One morning they awoke to find all of the marine life washed up on the sands, the beaches were covered with dead rotting fish and that very month the crops failed.

Life on the island became harder and harder. There was little to eat and the people became despondent. Even the birds behaved differently. A sickness swept over the whole island taking the life of animals, children and even the black birds. One morning they awoke to the sound of thump after thump on their roof. Peering outside they were shocked to behold the bat- winged black creatures dropping from the heavens. It was as if it was raining dead birds. The hillside was strewn with rotting dead birds as they dropped in their thousands from the stormy skies. The stench of dead, decomposing celions filled their lungs as the evil black birds’ carcasses rained on the island.

Neung would sit at the seafront for hours staring into the void looking for a glimmer of hope. He imagined that one day he would spot his father’s boat as it made its way back to Blackbird Island but it never did. He was a young man when he lost his father and like most of the children in the village he had only his mother left. The women missed the men and had all the heavy work to do. The villagers locked themselves in their homes as winds thrashed across the island, torrential rain lashed from the heavens and some of the cliffside homes were flooded. Everything about Blackbird Island changed: the hours of light became shorter and night became longer. After months of drought and blistering heat that killed the crops and dried the coconut trees there followed weeks of torrential rains and dark grey storms.

One morning the inhabitants awoke to a strange phenomenon. The heavens had opened and there were white cold particles descending from the clouds. The islanders huddled in their homes as the snow fell, mesmerized and confused at the icy white substance. A metre of snow fell overnight killing what was left of their animals and crops. The locals thought that the snow was the tears of the Gods that had been sent to punish them. The surviving great black birds had migrated and never returned. The villagers were convinced that the absence of the birds that they had once feared was linked to the misfortune of the island. For years they had prayed to the Gods for the birds never to return. Now they had disappeared they prayed for the