Chapter 1: Meshak
They screamed at him.
Children of the woods, children of the ditches and darkness and filthy earth, children whose eyes were nothing but darkness and children whose skin was torn and rotting, screamed at him.
And he screamed back, huge hands over his ears, eyes squeezed shut and great gangly legs leaping over the ground in desperation to get away from their accusing gazes and screaming maws, his own cries adding to theirs. Trees flashed and curled around him, snarling his feet and hair with tangled and twisted roots.
And then they stopped, and Meshak stumbled out into glistening green grass and carefully controlled trees. He began to run again, and this time he was much faster across the smooth surface.
Up, up, up he ran, up the hill, up to where music swam and danced about grey bricks and flew down to greet him with feathers of notes brushing his cheeks, the sweet vibration of the melody filling his bones and pulling him closer, closer like a hook on a fish, and within the sweet rhythm he heard his angel’s voice, his angels, Aaron and Melissa and Toby all singing together and their song mixed with that of the angels above and his eyes rolled back as he saw the stars and the planets and within it all there was his mother’s face, her hands reaching out with silver tipped fingers, and as the music reached its crescendo he reached out and grasped her hand…
But Meshak never answered.
Chapter 2: Alexander
Trees shivered in the icy breeze. Moss lay shrivelled and dying against frozen bark, puddles were silent under their blankets of ice, and dew lay steady and still, clinging to frost-tipped grass like crystals that sparkled and shimmered in the muted sunlight. The old man’s breath coiled in the air as clouds of warm steam, vanishing in seconds like some sort of winter spirit.
Winter was drawing closer, and the trees were already shedding their leaves in preparation.
And yet they still cried.
The children, perching upon glittering branches, crouching among muddy moss, entangled within shimmering roots, always watching, crying, dying again and again before his eyes as they reached out with accusing hands and gnarled fingers. Their skin was bark, faces wood, hair moss, features scraped out of the trees and mud and mulch. Their eyes were empty sockets of anger, of fear, of hatred and of eternal suffering- and they tore at his coat and scraped at his skin in fitful attempts to force their burdens onto him.
But within their cries and their glares and their screams there was laughter of a young man, the giggles of joyous children.
The old man sped up, pushing through the children’s hateful hands and the trees’ protective clutches, looking for the man who laughed, the man who joked, the man who sang songs so sweet blackbirds had swooped from the skies to listen. His pace quickened and quickened until the old man was running, the children’s gazes turning from hateful to curious as he sprinted through entangled roots and twisted branches, looking, searching, following the voice he knew so well until suddenly the trees were gone and he skidded to a stop on the edge of a cliff. Alexander Ashbrook stood panting, yet as he looked up into the sky his breath was snatched once again as amazement filled him.
Thomas Ledbury stood within the clouds, conducting a group of young children whose voices, as they reached Alexander’s ears, were sweeter than any birds and purer than any crystal. Heavenly song swam around the old man, the music sinking into his very bones and through his soul, filling his heart and his blood, and he didn’t know when he stepped forward but he did, walking towards Thomas in a daze, then his pace grew hasty and he ran, and Thomas turned to him and smiled and extended his hand and-
Alexander’s body fell to the ground, dead.
Later they would say it was old age, heart failure. Melissa would pass soon after, leaving the estate in the hands of Aaron and Toby. People forgot about the kindly old man and his gentle wife within a few years, and so the story of the Coram Children was lost to time.
And yet some say if you go to that cliff today, you can hear the angels sing.