The spaniel flew across the open, marshy grass, the scent of wildlife in the trees beyond reeling it in on an invisible thread. Leaves flew up under its eager paws and pigeons burst from their scratching among the leaves to wheel around in the air above as it passed. Plunging into the undergrowth it raced on, twigs and creepers grabbing unnoticed at its fur. The smell of a squirrel grew stronger as it came closer to a dark hollow in a huge gnarled and spreading oak tree. The dog slowed, panting and keen-eyed as it peered closer, wet fallen leaves dampening the sound of its paws on the soggy ground. It poked its nose around the edge of the hollow, and saw only blackness, its eyes not yet accustomed to the dark. Its nose, however, knew the way, and the spaniel padded into the darkness, its feet finding moss-covered rock and the edges of creepers that extended their fingers out from the sides of the cavernous space. The dog knew from the sensations on its feet, the smells and the faint details appearing in the filtered light, that the ground formed uncomfortable, curving steps, extending downward, moss covering the joins and cracks. It padded slowly on, eagerness curbed by the difficulty of descending stairs and confusion at finding this kind of landscape where it expected some kind of shallow, flat hollow space. The steps descended in a spiral, each one wide and carved from stone that seemed to emerge from the ground below. To the sides, thick moss grew on wood-smelling walls, interspersed with creepers that slowly gave way to more and more varying types of fungus as the staircase went lower. Finally the dog’s feet found flat ground, and the space opened into a cavern filled with the sound of running water. The stone walls formed nooks and raised, flat surfaces, smooth as though they had been carved by water, not by humans, but shaped to work as places to rest, or put something down. At several places on the walls, tiny waterfalls descended, falling into small streams which ran into a central pool. The surface of the pool glinted with rays of sunlight let through from far above by gaps in gently shifting leaves. There was no sign of the squirrel, but the voices of many tiny birds chirruped and whistled like a natural orchestra.The dog sniffed its way around the floor of the space, and its nose led it to an old book, smelling faintly of cheese, which it gave an investigative lick, and decided to bring back as a present for Tom. Book in mouth, it trotted a full lap of the gently trickling, chirping space, and lay down for a moment, eyes on what could be fish in the depths of the pool in the centre. Hopes of a squirrel to chase dashed, eventually the spaniel retraced its steps up the stone stairs, and out into the blinding sunlight, where it heard the sound of Tom calling.Tom had stopped at a park bench, leaning on his stick. The spaniel barrelled towards him, diverting its course at the last minute to avoid knocking him over, and sat looking up, book in jaws.‘Wherever have you been Flossy?’ Scolded Tom, shaking his head. ‘What is this now?’ He prised the leather-bound tome away and inspected it. The pages were aged and hand-drawn fairytale figures were dotted between the paragraphs. Tom shrugged, flummoxed, and looked at the dog.‘What a strange thing to find, Flossy! I hope you didn’t steal it from a child!’ He dabbed at the damp covers with his scarf, and placed the book into a worn backpack which he slung over his shoulder.‘Come on, now, we mustn’t miss the ducks.’ Flossy immediately charged ahead, strange cavern forgotten, eyes on the reeds that concealed the lake.
Ripples in Time 30/03/16
Samuel lifted the bow again with a sigh. The other squires shifted about impatiently, tired of training and thinking of their dinner. Master Duncan tapped on the top of the target with his cane.
‘Come on, again. This time don’t watch the arrow. Everyone will have one more attempt.’ He stepped back to stand in line with them and motioned Samuel forward. Setting his feet apart, Samuel pressed his shoulders down and drew the bow, bringing the string to rest on his lips. As he loosed the string, his fingers whispered past his cheek and back behind his ear. The shot felt perfect, but the arrow landed a little low of centre.
‘You lower your bow arm as you release the string.’ Called Master Duncan. ‘You will never shoot high enough.’ He strode forward and took Samuel by the arm, and drew him to the side to stand before a large mirror propped up on a table. ‘Draw again and watch. Aim for the tree behind. Let down if you’re unsure.’ Samuel took a deep breath and drew, looking down the arrow’s shaft into the mirror. He could see his right eye beside the arrow, glaring back at him with sharp focus. There was something disquieting about it, and he drew a sharp breath and released the string without thinking.
Samuel thought he heard Master Duncan’s shout and the clanging of the arrow hitting the mirror at the same time, and they echoed as though he was in some great hallway. Where the arrow hit, the glass seemed to ripple like water, great pulsing waves washing outwards from the point of impact like a stone hitting a lake, and Samuel felt a great rush of air like a receding wave pull him forwards and into a whirling, blinding brightness. For a time he was tumbled and buffeted around and all he could see was rippling light and shadow. Then, his vision cleared and he saw the castle green once more, only there were no other squires around him and no Master Duncan. The hedges and garden beds looked strange somehow too. Looking closer, he realised there were different plants and the borders had shifted. There was even a different tree where the one he was supposed to have aimed at would have stood a few seconds before. That tree had been a solid-trunked oak, but this one was some kind of strange, thin cone-shaped pine. People were milling around on the grass and were dressed in all manner of strange garments, as though someone had invited everyone from the King to the girls from Johnson’s Bar to strange fairy tale characters Samuel had seen painted in books the prince was reading. A girl who seemed to have the ears of a cat bounded over with a strange, lighted square object in one hand and a drink full of fruits Samuel didn’t recognise in the other.
‘Hey, peasant! Let’s have a picture!’ She squeezed up beside him in a way Samuel considered highly inappropriate and stretched out the arm holding the little lit-up box.
‘I’m not a peasant mistress, and I must say…’ Samuel broke off, realising he could see his face reflected in the object’s surface. ‘Oh no! No, no more mirrors!’ He tried to turn his head away but the girl hung on tight and did something with the object in her hand that made it flash, then turned away giggling as she looked down at a picture of Samuel looking wide-eyed and alarmed. Samuel swayed, a clanging in his ears, and suddenly felt the tug of the tide again as the scene blew out into brightness once more.
He opened his eyes to Master Duncan standing over him bellowing.
‘We’ll have seven years’ bad luck for your stupidity young man! Starting with the King having my guts for garters for bad training!’ Samuel just blinked at him.
‘More like seven hundred…’ He muttered to himself.
‘What did you say boy?’ Demanded Duncan.
‘Nothing Master.’ Said Samuel. ‘I’m ever so sorry, I must have…. Lost myself.’ He got carefully to his feet and squared his shoulders. ‘I will apologise to the King in person.’
Looking back over his shoulder, Samuel saw that the mirror had shattered out from the arrow’s strike in a pattern not unlike ripples on water, but deep spiders-web cracks ran out from the central point, cutting through the waves to the mirror’s edges.
Heart Notes 31/03/16
The four friends sat in a circle, just like in high school, except now they sat in special chairs with high arms and no one was wearing lip gloss. None of them could really clearly recall the moments that had made them close, the things that had made them laugh those days on the school green. But they must have happened, for here they were, having chosen the same place to retire to, still sitting in their circle.
‘All the old times are in here somewhere.’ Mel would say, beating her fist on her chest. ‘Hearts are treasure chests for memories.’ The things they shared the longest ago were the strongest points any of them could recall of their lives; the counsellor Jan said it was because they had been teenagers, which apparently made for strong memories, and because they were still together, keeping the connections real. But Lara didn’t want to remember the bitchy days of sixteen when boys flirted by stealing their erasers and keeping them until the girls had to approach and ask for them. She wanted to remember the times when they had prepared for one another’s weddings, helped one another raise their children, and gone on treks in the wilderness, failing together at erecting the tent. And these things she didn’t always remember now. She just knew they had happened because sometimes they talked about them. She remembered more than Amita, who remembered more than Ellie. They knew this because they compared notes after the nurses went away, but really they were never sure what they remembered and didn’t and which memories were real and which ones were there because someone told them. Visitors were recognised some days and not others, and sometimes by some of them and not by others. They always knew each other, because they were always together and always on at each other about something. Amita would always complain about the staff, and Lara would try to defend them, and then Amita would say she was letting people walk all over her. If somebody failed to recognise a relative or a younger friend the others would give them a hard time. It wasn’t because they wanted to be mean, but because they didn’t want anyone to forget the things that made life real and important, and sometimes it was easy to imagine that if you told one another off enough for forgetting it might stop.
Today Ellie was staring into space. The others talked around her and tried to include her but she didn’t seem much up to chatting. Lara was running out of easy things to talk about and feeling sad, when she saw Ellie’s grand-niece Sophie approaching. This made her feel anxious, because she didn’t think Ellie would know who it was. Mel waved her cane around and called hello to Sophie, and Sophie beamed and swung a little case off her shoulder. When she reached them she just sat down in the circle without further ado and smiled up at everyone from the grass.
‘Uncle Matt found a video of you guys!’ She announced. ‘It was from Mel’s wedding and you were singing a song. I looked it up and I learnt how to play it; listen!’ She pulled a little ukulele out of the case she’d been carrying and began to strum and sing the first few lines. Amita joined in straight away, and Lara remembered. They’d learnt it especially and argued for ages over what key to sing it in because nothing seemed to suit everybody. She cleared her throat and joined the chorus, and then everyone sang, even Ellie. After they finished the song, Ellie started telling the story of the argument and how it had originally been settled by Mel insisting that they sing in the key of the hurdy-gurdy that one of the groomsmen knew how to play, but which changed the rhythm of the piece entirely and had them all rushing to fit in the ends of lines. On the day, it had turned out that the groomsman concerned had a sprained wrist and couldn’t play his instrument at all, so a last minute change back to guitar had produced the much nicer version that Sophie had seen. Then they did a mock-hurdy-gurdy rendition for Sophie which had her in stitches.
When Sophie went to leave, Ellie demanded that she bring the video next time for them to see, and bring Ellie her guitar too so she could try to play. Mel looked at Lara and Amita and smiled, and did the chest-beating thing she always did when she said all the memories were in there somewhere, and Lara knew what she meant.