Leighton Middle Odyssey, final episode
You can read the previous episode here
Timothy is frightened. “Who … what are you?” He’s pointing at the girl with purple skin. “What kind of creature are you? You’re not human, that’s for certain. And what kind of name is Ecall-Quella-Bella?”
“You can call me Bella, if it pleases you more.” Bella tries to keep her voice calm. “But there is no time for this. You are in grave danger. All my life I have watched o’er you. Alone, I have been, for all these long years and now I have come to find you. To save you. For you are in grave danger. The gravest danger of all.”
Timothy interrupts: “What do you mean you have watched over us? That’s not possible …”
But Mary steps forward. “Don’t be frightened,” she says to Timothy. “I know all about this. I know all about her. I’ve read about her, in my stories. I’ve read about this place too. These woods, this castle, and those trees. Those terrible trees most of all. She’s been here before. She knows. Everything that has happened to us has happened to her too, and will happen to those that come after us. She knows it all. We need to go with her.”
Bella bows her head towards Mary. “You are wise beyond your years, little one, and you speak truly. Time does not play true within these walls and centuries might have passed in the last few moments alone. There is no way of knowing how long we have left. So now, we must fly. We must fly far, far away from here and into the wide blue beyond.”
“Away from here?” Timothy sounds incredulous. “Why should we leave this beautiful place? These beautiful trees? It’s fabulous here. For as long as I can remember I’ve been stuck down in the cold wet stinking dark, and now we’re here, and I’ve found you” he turns to Mary … “and now you want us to leave? Where should we go?”
“We are trespassing here.” Bella bangs her broom on the floor. “You need to listen. You need to hear. We are all trespassers here, and you trespass most of all” - she looks at Timothy - “and if you want to escape with your life then we must be away before …”
“Before the walls come crashing down and the world comes to an end.” Mary finishes for her. She turns to Timothy. “It’s true, all of it is true. I’ve read all about this. If you trust me, if you trust me at all then you will come with me, you will come with her.” Mary puts out her hand. Timothy hesitates, but then reaches out to hold onto it.
The children climb onto Bella’s broom behind her. As they soar into the air something falls, and flutters down from Timothy’s pocket. It’s the photo, the photo of his great great great grandfather, but none of them notice it. A gust of wind carries it into the fountain, where the water soaks into it until nothing is left of it but the slightest of grey smudges on a soggy scrap of paper.
“Where are we going?” Timothy shouts into Mary’s ear against the rushing of the wind.
“We’re going up there!” Mary points up at the clouds drifting lazily high above them. “We’re going into the Wide Blue Beyond!”
* * * * * *
The old man is staring at the girl. For one moment there - just for a moment - he recognised something in her face. And now he’s seen it he can’t shake the thought free of his head again. Even though it’s impossible, it’s an impossible thought, for it cannot be. It’s just his foolish old mind thinking foolish old things and they are nothing more than the sad wishes of a tired old man. Aren’t they? The thought wriggles and jiggles in his mind like there’s something he ought to know but can’t quite grasp hold of.
“What is it? Why are you staring at me like that?” the girl asks him.
“Oh, it’s nothing. For a moment there you looked a bit like my Lily. But of course you can’t possibly be and I know that really.”
The girl stares back at him in amazement. “But I am Lily. How did you know? Even I didn’t know it, not until just now. My name is Lily, and I’ve been lost for a long long time. But who are you?”
And then realisation dawns. The old man’s got it at last. She’s has Lily’s nose, but his own eyes. Not Lily, his wife. But Little Lily, Little Lily his daughter. Lost, but never forgotten.
He fumbles in his pocket for his wallet. There’s the photographs, of course, maybe they will help explain it. His family have a tradition of carrying photographs with them, from generations back. Never thought it would come in useful, but it seems they’re going to come in handy now, right enough. He clears his throat. Now it’s come right down to it he’s not sure where to start this story.
“There have been two Lilys in my life.” The old man says, carefully. “There was Lily my wife, oh how I loved my Lily. And then when we had a baby, a little daughter, what better name to give her? So our baby was our Little Lily. And we loved our Little Lily, so very, very much. She was everything we’d ever wanted.”
The dark trees shift and sway around them. The wind is howling, from a distance, but neither of them notice. Tears are streaming down the old man’s cheeks as he talks. “Maybe we loved our Little Lily too much, for one day she was taken from us. She was taken right out from under our noses from her pram, while we shopped on a Saturday morning at the market. There was not a sign of her, not anywhere. It was in all the papers, the police looked for her up and down the country but we never saw our Little Lily again. Lily - my wife Lily, I mean of course - she was never quite the same, afterwards. We never quite did get over it. How could you, though? How could you get over a terrible thing like that?”
Jane - no, not Jane, Lily now, and that’s going to take a bit of getting used to - Lily feels the old man’s words tremble through her whole body. She feels the truth of it before her mind has even put all the pieces together. She was lost, and then she was found again. But they never did find her parents.
“We moved away, in the end,” the old man explains. “Couldn’t bear to live around there, not after that. But then we found we couldn’t bear to live anywhere else, after all, and we moved back again. And although my Lily tried to pretend everything was alright it wasn’t, not really. And it was never going to be alright again, and we both knew that.”
“What happened to my … I mean, your … wife?” Lily asks.
“She died.” The old man says, simply. But then his tears turn to sobs and his chest heaves. “No, she didn’t just die,” he gasps out. “I killed her. I was driving too fast - I just didn’t really care anymore, you see - I was driving far too fast and we crashed. The other people - those poor, poor people - were killed outright, but Lily hung on a few more days. She waited until I woke up and could sit beside her bed and then she died. She died holding onto my hand for dear life. It was all my fault, I know it was. I didn’t take enough care. They cleared me of it all, at the inquest, they couldn’t find me guilty but I was guilty, and I have been guilty my whole life since.”
Lily takes a step towards him, and lays her hand on his arm. “We’ll work it out,” she says. “Somehow we’ll work it all out, together.”
A giant crack of thunder echoes out across the valley.
* * * * *
As Suzy turns to get back in the car, she hears Dad talking to the hurt girl on the ground.
“What’s your name, darling? Can you tell me your name?”
“It’s Suzy …” gasps the girl on the ground, and just saying it takes the last of her strength. A little blood seeps from her lips.
Suzy’s back in the car now and she stares out through the window at the girl on the ground. There’s a connection between them like a thin thread of light, that only the two Suzys can see. Suzy in the car puts her hand to the window and presses her fingertips against the glass. Waving goodbye, thank you and goodbye.
There’s a crack of thunder from above.
“The storm’s going to break,” says Suzy’s Mum. “Do you think we should move her?”
High heels tip tap across the road. It’s the passenger from the other car, a lady, quite an old lady. “No, don’t move her,” she says to Suzy’s Mum. “Best not to move her. I’m calling for an ambulance. It won’t be long.” The lady turns away and speaks urgently into the phone. “Yes, it’s an emergency. We need an ambulance. There’s a girl, I think she’s …” her voice drops to a whisper “I think she might be dying. And my husband’s hurt too.” She listens to the phone a moment. “Yes, of course. My name’s Lily … I live at Apartment 13F, on the High Street. But come quickly, please come quickly.”
Suzy opens her eyes just one last time. Mum is standing over her, one hand cradling her stomach, as if protecting something. Then Suzy understands what she had never realised before. Mum being sick in the bathroom every morning. That sense that Mum and Dad were hiding something, something good, something exciting. Mum’s pregnant, again. Of course she is, how could Suzy have missed it? Behind Suzy’s eyes the big blackness comes another step closer, but that’s O.K. that’s alright. Everything is O.K now and just as it should be and Suzy and her little brother - yes, it’s a boy she can sense that too - Suzy and her little brother and Mum, and Dad are all going to live happily ever after, just as it should be.
Suzy smiles as the light fades from her eyes. Suzy’s Dad feels for the girl’s pulse and then lets her hand drop, back down onto the tarmac. He stands up and shakes his head at his wife. “She’s gone,” he says. “She’s gone.” He grabs hold of his wife’s arm and holds onto her, as she starts to cry. The old lady from the other car turns away, sobbing gently.
Dark shadows chase through the trees on either side of the road. There’s another crack of thunder, even louder than the last one. Lightning forks across the sky as if the very horizon is breaking open. As if the world is coming to an end.