Daddy Grew Wings in Spring
Keväällä isä sai siivet, Tammi, 2000
Tom and Tim Eagle are twins who live a quiet life in a peaceful suburb. One sunny May morning changes their whole life. The earth begins to tremble and the sky turns red. Their father grows huge wings and disappears into the sky that opens in a hole in the ground! The hole closes and the old yard looks as if nothing had happened. Of course, no-one believes the boys’ story, and they soon begin to feel that they can no longer trust anyone. Even the police officers begin to look like crooks.
After trying to escape, Tom and Tim are taken to Custodium, which is run by a fiendish woman, Claudia Clovenhoof. The boys make friends with the other children, who all have strange skills or experiences. But nobody has ever managed to escape over the walls of Custodium…
Daddy Grew Wings in Spring is the first book of Tomi Kontio’s Austrasia trilogy.
A Disappearing Act
Strange things have happened to me in my life. I would go as far as to claim that these things have not happened to all that many children, let alone adults. Some might wish to call my experiences supernatural. To this, I will say nothing, as I have always found it most difficult to draw a line between natural and supernatural. Particularly because many things that used to be strange to me have later become everyday occurrences, hardly noticeable as such. Yet, be that as it may, everything that I am going to tell you now is true and nothing but true.
Now that I have a bit of time to think and remember, I cannot but wonder how everything has changed in just a few years. I myself am not really a child any more, nor quite yet an adult. In fact, I do not suppose I ever will become an adult, because in some way I am a different person now, one that does not get old in the usual way… Oh, I am rambling. I was going to tell you how it all began, how my world changed and how I changed with it. I was twelve at the time and that is now… mmm… how many years ago? I cannot say, a year or ten years perhaps, a day or a week, or the cuticle of a second. Everything seems to be present, right here, very near. Like that sunny morning in spring, when our family’s life took a completely new turn.
I will now tell you everything as well as I can. I have usually been praised for my memory. My aunt Pearl, now dead, used to say: that boy’s memory is as sharp as the nightingale’s wooing. So you can trust me. I would not be telling these things if they were not true, and I would not be telling them if they were not as incredible and unbelievable as they are. And if you still have doubts, I recommend you talk to my brother Tim, who was with me for most of my adventures. He will be more than willing to assure you that everything I am saying is true.
Ah yes, I almost forgot. My name is Tom Eagle. And my brother is Tim, like I said. The similarity of our names speaks of our father’s sense of humour.
My childhood home was in a peaceful suburb on the outskirts of Helsinki. Let us call it Thrushill, because there were lots of blackbirds living there at the time, and their sweet singing turned the summer evenings and the misty early mornings into a kind of concert hall. We lived, I will soon tell you who we, in an old wooden house, painted pale yellow and, I admit, rather in disrepair. The house had two floors and a funny mansard roof. You know, the kind with slopes. I would draw it for you if I could, but perhaps you can ask your mum or dad to do it for me. On top of the roof stood a weather vane, which was in the shape of an eagle.
Now you are going to ask, why an eagle. The reason is simple. The roots of my family name go back to the Finnish word “kokko” which means first of all a large pile of twigs and other wood, which is then lit on fire. In Midsummer, people gather around these bonfires and perform some sort of rites and rituals. Grown-ups drink hard liquor and howl like monkeys, while children throw cones in the flames and get their fringes burnt. So this is the sense of “kokko” that everybody knows, but not everybody knows that “kokko” also means something else. Just like a “trunk” is a trunk and a trunk. A “kokko” is also a bird, and not just any bird, but the king of birds, the eagle. There is a verse in the Kalevala about the great Kokko eagle flapping about. In other words, I am of the family of eagles. And this I came to fully understand in the course of events that I will soon tell you about.
There were four apple trees, one spruce and one skinny rowan tree in our yard. And no end of flowers in summer. I myself was a keen botanist, the scholarly type, you know, a bookworm, and one who loves to classify things. I would read anything on botany and I enjoyed drying flowers between thick books. I also used to draw small signs, on which I wrote the plant’s name in both Finnish and Latin. Then I would stick the sign in front of the appropriate plant. I still remember some funny plant names: Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon, germander speedwell, hoary alison and shepherd’s pouch. And Venus’ flytrap still makes me smile. For some reason.
Our backyard was left to grow wild, uncared for. It was a paradise for butterflies. The front yard had huge flowerbeds that rose like steps at both ends of the house. They were lined with round stones which we had picked ourselves on the beach and on ditch banks.
We were three children. In addition to the twin brother I mentioned earlier, I have a big sister, Marjo. Those who believe in horoscopes will find support in their faith in Marjo. She was a true Aries, pure fire and brimstones, full of energy and enthusiasm, laughter and tears, and when she got mad, the doors would bang. That was why my father, after picking up the broken glass from the floor one more time, decided to change our front door from one that had a window to one without.
But now I really do have to get down to the story itself.
It was the twelfth of May, a sunny Saturday morning. That morning my father disappeared. It all happened so quickly. The day before had been just an ordinary school day and the evening had been as ordinary a Friday evening as can be. But there was nothing ordinary about what happened at seven o’clock that Saturday morning when I heard a deep, howling sound, a kind of singing, and my quilt was suddenly ripped off.
– In the morning when we rise…
It was father, singing.
Tim yelled “close that window!” from the upper bed and I pulled the quilt back and hid myself under it. The great tit was singing in the tree, throwing its “twit twit twit” notes like rings round the branch.
– Rise and shine, boys! father shouted and pulled the quilt off me again and then off Tim. I did not manage to pull it back, but Tim had grabbed a corner with both hands and teeth: he was clinging to it growling like a terrier with a sore throat.
Tim had rather prominent front teeth at the time, and wavy fair hair. He had a round face and a merry twinkle in his eyes. When he grinned, and he grinned often, he rested his big front teeth against his lower lip. When we quarrelled, I used to call him a beaver. I was a bit darker than Tim, my hair was straight and fell over my ears like an ironed handkerchief. My mother used to cut my fringe in a straight line with the help of masking tape. She would stick the tape in my hair and then cut along its upper edge. There was no mess, because the cut hair stayed glued to the tape. But Tim called me pothead. I was ashamed of my hair and started to be ashamed of my nose, too, after I saw it from the profile in a mirror for the first time. It seemed to continue in a straight line up my foreheard. I thought I looked like the Greek in Asterix. And they looked like idiots to me, with their faces beaten flat.
My father was a circus manager by profession. Which was strange, because I never actually saw him in a circus. He did have a circus manager’s uniform, though. It was kept in the attic, in a brown trunk: a dark red tailcoat, grey trousers and a yellow waistcoat. And a top hat, of course. But father never wore those clothes, nor did he ever wear the parachuter’s uniform which was also in the truck, folded under the tailcoat. And though father did not go to work in the circus, but somewhere quite else, people would greet him by saying “Good morning, Circus Manager!” and his mail was always addressed to “Mr Teddy Eagle, Circus Manager, 3 Thrushill Road, Helsinki”. I thought that was strange, but father would just laugh, if we tried to probe him about his career in the circus.
My father was a hunched man, who had a cunning twinkle in his eye and a big belly. When Ellie from next door asked him why his belly was so round, father said it was because he had swallowed a football. Then he laughed as he always did when he thought he had told a good story, and scratched the top of his head; there was a round bald spot there which my brother and I used to call the landing site of dragonflies. And when Ellie from next door stared at him with her mouth wide open, he pulled off his thumb. A trick, of course, but impressive when you see it for the first time. Actually, I would have thought a circus manager to have had more tricks in store than that, perhaps some more mysterious ones, too. But father only had one or two, and then of course the last one. The disappearing act.
When father finally got us out of bed, he made us follow him to the yard. It was cool outside. The sun was like a yellow cough drop which the green birch trees were licking at will. Coltsfoots shone like buttons in the faded lawn and a rich belch produced by the awakening earth hung in the air. Tim rubbed his eyes and kicked the grass tufts angrily with his feet. I walked behind my father like a somnambulist. When we came to the middle of the yard, under the old apple tree, father turned to us and said:
– Today, I’m going to Austrasia.
– Australia, I corrected.
– No, Austrasia, father said with emphasis.
– Where’s Austrasia supposed to be? I asked, curious.
– It’s not on the map, father said.
– Why not? asked Tim.
– There are those who would prefer to deny the very existence of Austrasia, father said, bending over us and whispering, – A conspiracy. The Government denies everything.
I was confused. A country that was not on the map. How could that be? As I said earlier, I was sort of meticulous by nature. Some might have called it precocity. I thought father’s words were in conflict with what I had seen in the world atlas with my own eyes.
– There’s no Austrasia in Marjo’s atlas, I said defiantly. – I know at least a hundred countries, but I’ve never heard of Austrasia.
– Neither have I, said Tim and knocked his head with his hand.
– Of course not, hissed father, mysterious and a bit irritated at the same time. – Do you have any idea who makes those maps?
– Someone wise, I should think, someone who’s seen the earth from above, I said.
– Some astronaut or helicopter pilot has taken pictures of the earth and then someone else has drawn the maps from the pictures, Tim continued.
– No, boys, no! The maps are the work of a conspiracy. They are fooling us all. Are you telling me that you actually believe that we live on top of a globe?
– Of course, Tim and I said with one voice.
– But that would mean that all Australians would drop into space, father said. – The world is as flat as a pizza bottom and it balances on a great pizzaman’s finger tip. Australia does not exist. But Austrasia does, though nobody knows anything about it.
– Why doesn’t anyone know? I asked, curious.
– Because down there people can… father began, and then thought for a moment. – Because down there people can fly by flapping their arms. Like this.
Father started flapping his arms like a tired old griffin. At the same time, he closed his eyes, pinched his mouth shut and started to leap around the apple tree. Tim looked at me and knocked on his forehead again. Then he whispered:
– I think father’s gone bonkers.
It really seemed he had. A big, round-bellied man jumping around an apple tree like a chicken run wild, flapping his arms.
– Cleee! Cleee! Cleee-eee-eee! he shrieked.
Just think. What would you say if your father suddenly one morning began to behave like a madman, claiming that the earth was flat and howling like an animal? Would you be jumping with joy all around him, saying yippee, at last father’s playing with us and forgetting his morning paper and cup of tea? Would you happily grab his hands and start a wild round dance on the dewy lawn? Would you be taking chicken’s steps and going pot potty pot, waving your arms in an imitation of wings? I doubt it. I think you would be afraid. I was.
But then something even more curious happened. It began with a tremble of the earth. Just a light vibration at first, the kind you would feel when a large lorry drives by very close. But the vibration grew stronger. The flowerbed lined with cobblestones next to the wall of our house began to collapse. The windows rattled. The apple tree shook as if shaken by three strong men. But the most awesome rattle came from my brother’s teeth.
– The world is coming apart, Tim said grabbing me hard.
The sky turned blood red, the sun jumped up and down like a huge yo-yo. Father continued to jump round the apple tree, flapping his arms.
– It’s the sign of the pizzaman! he shouted. – I’ll have to be going soon, boys!
I was terrified. My legs were trembling. Tim was breathing hard in my ear, puffing like an old locomotive. I felt his nails sink into the skin under my shoulder blades. I think I myself was clinging to his hair. Then I saw something grey around my father’s arms. I rubbed my eyes against the back of my brother’s nightgown. True it was. Grey feathers were bursting out of my father’s arms. At first there were only a few around the shoulders. But soon, perhaps after two or three agonising minutes, his arms were full of tattered, dirty grey feathers, all down to his wrists. Suddenly, the earth’s tremble began to damp out. One more cobblestone rolled down the flowerbed. The coltsfoots straightened their stems. The sky became bright blue again, just like a huge red eyelid had opened from in front of it. Father had stopped flapping his arms. He was walking towards us. He had wings.
– You must be totally amazed, he said. – But I assure you, this is not a dream.
Father pinched us with his fingers under the wings, first me and then Tim. We yelped with pain. Father’s nails resembled the claws of a bird.
– As you noticed, father said in a teacher’s voice, – you felt pain. All this is true, as serious as it can be. A lot truer than saying that the earth is a globe.
– But father, I began, staring at his grey feathers, – if this is true, what are the things that they teach us at school? Lies?
– They are true, too, my son, it’s just that things are more complicated than you realise. I admit of course that the earth is a globe, if looked at from a certain point of view. But right now its flatness is just as true as these wings in my back.
– Why haven’t you told us about all this before? Tim asked.
– I have been waiting for this moment, father said and suddenly looked sad. – I’m sorry this had to happen so quickly. But that wasn’t for me to decide. Things have come up, boys, that need my immediate attention. I am needed in Austrasia and you are needed here.
– Needed for what? I asked.
– I can’t tell you much, father said in a whisper. – But it is a question of saving the children and opening a passage.
– Do we have to… I mean we can’t… Tim began.
– Tusk, tusk! father said soothingly, – don’t worry, boys. Everything’s going to be all right, and we shall see each other again.
– When? we asked with one voice.
– The time will come, I promise you that. I would never leave you, would I? I love you kids, and I want to be with you.
– Then why are you going? Tim said with tears in his voice.
My jaw had begun to shake, too.
– As I said, I have to go, father said lowering his voice: – There are big things at stake. Nothing less than overcoming evil itself.
Some oily goo was dripping on my neck from my father’s ragged wings.
– You have an important task here. We can only meet after that. You will be in many dangers, and that breaks my heart. But you’ll be all right. Won’t you, boys?
– I don’t know, I said, sobbing.
I thought I saw a tear in the corner of my father’s eye when he went on:
– Just do as your heart tells you to do. Then everything will be all right. Be brave.
My nose caught a smell like when you light all the matches in a matchbox at once and then close the box. When the matches have gone out and you open the box again, you get that smell in your nostrils. We call it an old woman’s fart.
Father walked towards the unkempt vegetable garden. There was an ornamental pool there, or actually just a hole in the ground, as there was no water. Summer was only just about to start and the garden had been left very much as it was. We followed our father, and when we got to the empty ornamental pool we could not help shouting with amazement. The hole was bottomless. We saw blue skies under us, with big fluffy clouds that looked as lazy as unshorn sheep on a hot summer day. And somewhere deep down there was a gently rolling valley that glittered blue and misty green.
– That is Austrasia, father said. – That’s where I’m going, but don’t jump in after me. I’ll see you again as soon as possible and teach you a couple of tricks that have to do with flying. And perhaps some aerodynamics.
Father spread his enormous, oil-dropping wings. He shook them a little, to straighten the feathers. With every swing there came this squeaking and creaking sound and it was hard to believe that father could stay up in the air with those threadbare, tacky, squeaking wings. Then he jumped in the hole. He cast one last look at us and shouted his last words.
– You two take care of each other, I’ll send someone to mother and Marjo. And be ready, when the one that is missing comes…
We heard no more. We stared with our mouths gaping at father, who was fluttering his wings in the blue sky below us. He looked like a huge old crow that is left at the mercy of air currents and tries bravely to hold its course. When there was nothing left of him but a small ragged spot, we heard a shout behind us.
– Tim and Tom! What are you doing out there in your pyjamas?
It was mother. She was standing at the front door in her negligee. We must have been as white as sheets and you could have played marbles with our wide, round eyes.
– Father flew in there, we stammered, pointing at the empty ornamental pool. But when we looked into the hole we saw that it had closed again. There were no skies in sight. Just a black pool bottom.
– What nonsense is that? mother asked.
We told her everything exactly as it had happened. How the earth had begun to tremble and the sky had turned red, how father grew feathers in his arms and how he finally jumped into the sky that opened at the bottom of the hole. Then we told her about the conspiracy, Austrasia, the pizzaman and the flat earth.
– Boys, boys, wherever did you get that into your heads? Your father’s just gone for a walk, he’ll be back soon.
But father did not come back. And from that day on, that twelfth of May on, I myself and my brother Tim have come to realise that what we saw with our own eyes is considered a lie by many others. But I assure you one more time that all this was true, and so is everything that follows. And though my eyes sometimes go dim and I hear noises like the screeching of brakes inside my head, I remember clearly and lucidly everything that I am now about to tell you.