Leighton Middle Odyssey: Episode Three
The wind rushing around and even through her knocks the breath right out of Suzy’s chest. She falls forward and out of the tree trunk and into … somewhere completely different than the moonlit trees she’s left behind.
Suzy’s standing in the middle of a field, on a slight slope, leading down and towards a country road. The sun is shining. It’s not too hot, or too cold. It’s like a perfect Spring day. Come to think of it, Suzy can even smell the spring, as she catches her breath again. The air is full of possibilities. The earth feels like it’s changing shape around her.
But there’s something not quite right, here, too. There’s something bad coming, and Suzy can feel it. It’s almost as if she has been here before, seen this place before …. in a dream or in a picture perhaps. The angle of this slope leading down to the road. That big tree, just there. And most of all, that road. That road looks very familiar indeed, in a nightmare kind of way. Suzy can hardly bear to look at it.
Suzy’s heart leaps in her chest. It’s the road. The road where her parents crashed. Right on that corner, in fact. Why has the portal brought her here?
Before she can even think about it, Suzy can hear them. Two cars, one coming in each direction, still a long way off. Standing on the slope, she stares into the distance, into the place where the road meets the horizon. She stares just long enough to be sure, sure that the car in the distance is bright blue, the colour of her parents’ car. She doesn’t even need to look in the other direction to know that the other car is green. Words from the police report flash through her head. It’s a blind corner. Each car is traveling at around 50 miles per hour. There’s going to be a head on collision.
Suzy starts to run, falling over herself and rolling, back onto her feet again, and running, running down the hill and towards the road where her beloved parents are about to be smashed to pieces and gone forever.
* * * * * *
The old man stands in the darkness, scared and confused. He tried to grab hold of that girl before she came through, tried to stop her, but he couldn’t. He simply couldn’t. She was too quick for his old bones. And then something - or someone - slammed into him and before he knew what was what, he was inside the tree trunk himself. And a girl was screaming something into his ear and then all was a rush of air like they were in some long dark tunnel and now he can feel he’s all alone again. What happened?
When he stumbles out, for a moment he thinks that he is back where he started, back in that strange dark woodland, behind the school gates. Only it’s daylight, now. It takes him a few seconds to realise that it’s not just the daylight that’s different, he’s in a completely different place. He’s standing in a small copse of trees, that’s true, but out beyond the trees he can see a wide open space, stretching for miles around. He’s certainly not in the town centre any more.
Off to the side, there’s a collection of gravestones, although there’s no church anywhere in sight. He knows these stones, even though they didn’t look like this, not the last time he saw them. He recognises the angel, on the grave next to … well, next door to Lily’s grave, of course. The last time he saw Lily’s grave, the grass hadn’t grown over the bare earth, yet. There was no moss on the headstone, no ivy strangling up and around it. Now, in this place, her grave looks like it’s been here years and years. Centuries, even. And there’s a kind of justice about it, isn’t there, when you think on it? He comes all this way, thinking to save some slip of a girl from …. Well, from who knows what? He doesn’t care, anymore. He can’t believe he ever spared a thought for that girl, that bright young thing. Not when his Lily was here and waiting for him all along. How could he?
The old man stumbles forward and stretches himself across Lily’s grave, face down on the hard ground. As his chest heaves and sobs, and the earth fills his mouth, he feels like his sad old heart is breaking, all over again.
* * * * * *
Jane didn’t mean to do it. As she snuck forward, trying to see what the old man was up to, she stumbled over something on the ground and crashed into him. The both of them went flying forward and into that swirling silver purple light in the trees.
And now here she is, in this weird place. She’s standing on a sunny hill, in the middle of green fields. To one side of her she can see the market girl - she’d recognise that coat anywhere - and she’s acting as weird as ever, running down a slope and yelling her head off. Running towards nothing at all, as far as Jane can make out. There’s nothing much here except green grass and blue sky, and trees, trees and more trees. On the other side of her there’s the old man. He flung himself down on the ground and hasn’t moved since. Perhaps he’s dying, or dead already, most likely. Maybe she should go and check it out?
Jane looks all around again. She’s most comfortable standing on the sidelines, watching. It’s not normally her who has to make the decisions, let alone go and talk to someone, maybe help someone, even. She’s not at all sure she’s up to it. But there’s no-one else, is there? So what’s she going to do about it, then?
* * * * * *
“Don’t stop reading!” Timothy Johnson’s voice sounds like he’s choking down a layer of dust that’s centuries old. That’s of little surprise to him, since the only person he’s spoken to for as long as he can remember is the ghost of his great great grandfather.
￼“Oh please don’t stop reading! Wonderful things were happening. Such wonderful things. Keep going, please.”
The girl stands, as if she’s a little stunned for a moment. Then she steps into the road, picks up her book, and begins to read: “The next day when she had seated herself at table with the king and all the courtiers, and was eating from her little golden plate, something came creeping splish splash, splish splash, up the marble staircase …”
A little way into the distance, Timothy Johnson watches the castle rise up as if it’s growing from the ground. A real castle, with turrets, and a moat, and a flag flying from the tallest tower. Inside that castle, he is sure of it, is a table, and a king, and courtiers, and everything else in the story. And, since every king’s castle needs beautiful grounds, and a gateway, and an enchanted forest surrounding it, Timothy watches as these things appear, too. He watches as a pathway grows out from between the castle gates, and becomes a road, and the road rises and falls around hill and through dale, through the enchanted forest, past a magical waterfall and all the way along, wider and wider, to the little girl’s feet, where she sits at the edge of the forest reading from her book. The fresh dew sparkles around her like stars.
* * * * * *
Mary never even glances up from her book, not once. She doesn’t think about the strange little boy behind the iron grate, she doesn’t think about Grandfather, or where she’s going to sleep tonight. She just carries on reading. “He had been so unhappy that he had caused three iron bands to be laid round his heart, lest it should burst with grief and sadness.”
As Mary reads, there is a huge cracking noise, as if something very old, and very heavy, is breaking. When Mary spins around, she sees that the iron grating has clattered to the ground, and the little boy is crawling into the light.
His clothes, now that he’s stepped out and into the sunlight, don’t look nearly so ragged and bedraggled as they did before. His face is certainly dirty, but friendly looking, and kind too. There’s a sapphire sparkle in his eyes that Mary hadn’t noticed before. It had been so hard to see him clearly when he was in the shadows.
He steps towards her, and holds out his hand. “Shall we go?” he asks.
* * * * * *
The girl with purple skin is falling through the clouds. She spins round and around, and she doesn’t know anymore which way is up, and which is down. It doesn’t seem to make any difference, anyway. The clouds are cold, and wet, but when she falls through them she slows down, just a little, as if they are trying hard to hold her up and keep her safe.
She sees strange figures in amongst the clouds. She falls past machines, and animals, and bizarre shapes that she can’t even put a name to. She sees a huge, gentle-looking beast, like a boulder on stumpy legs, with a very long, curved neck. It turns its snubby nose towards her as she falls, but looks placid, and unsurprised, as if it has seen people like her falling through the clouds, again and again, a million, billion times over.
She has plenty of time to look all about her as she falls. There’s a beautiful land, spread out below her like an intricate carpet. There’s forests, and rivers, and even a castle, away in the distance. She can see people, too, other people. It’s been such a long time since she’s seen any other people. There’s someone over there, lying on the ground, and nearby another small figure walking towards him. Far, far across the forest are two smaller figures, holding hands. Away on the other side someone is running down a slope, they seem in a terrible hurry.
But as for herself, well, she has all the time in the world, and she can see, so very clearly, for miles and miles in every direction. She’s near the ground, now, but she doesn’t fall. Suddenly she knows with a wonderful certainty that she won’t fall. She can’t ever fall. Because she is flying, now.