Splinters

My great uncle Reginald was killed less than two months before the end of the first world war. 

His father Frederick – my great-grandfather – was his mid seventies when my own father was born. Dad told me that he remembered Frederick sitting in his study turning over a piece of propeller, the only thing he had left of the young man who had died. 

I could never quite work this out because I couldn’t imagine how he’d have any part of an aeroplane shot down in Flanders. I knew my father must have been quite small when he saw it and wondered if it had all become muddled.

And then when my daughter had some homework about the First World War, I started doing some digging. 

I discovered that my great-uncle was not killed in Flanders. He was second lieutenant in No. 39 Squadron of the Royal Air Force defending London against zeppelins and day time bombing raids. He died in England when the plane in which he was navigator crashed on 25th September 1918. I don’t know yet what circumstances led to his death. He was just twenty-one, the second of four children. My grandmother was the youngest child. When he died, she would have been about nine or ten. The pilot of the plane was just nineteen. 

A few years ago, I took the opportunity to go to the Royal Air Force Museum in Hendon and looked at the kind of plane he’d have been flying in, a Bristol F.2 fighter. The plane was fundamentally wooden and the crew sat in leather slings. I can’t imagine wanting to go for a leisurely drive in it, let alone fly and engage in battle, and that’s nowadays when aeroplanes are a normal part of everyday life and not brand new, terrifyingly implausible technology.

My great-grandfather would have been around fifty-one and my great-grandmother forty-two when they lost their eldest son, younger than I am now. I can’t imagine the struggle they and their eldest daughter must have borne keeping a brave face for the youngest children. They were patriotic people, themselves born when the British Empire was at its height. They were sustained by their faiths. But they probably could not conceive in 1914 what the realities of that terrible war would be or what might happen and by 1918, must have been horrified. I’m sure they were proud of Reginald but I know that this was a loving family and any pride they must have forever jarred with grief and pain.

A hundred years ago today, the armistice came. How hard it must have been for that family, as for so many others, not to think that if it had only come six weeks, six months, four years earlier, they would not have an empty place at the table.

My parents’ families were more fortunate than many. My great-uncle was the only close relation who did not survive the two world wars. 

But another thought struck me today. I don’t know why, because it’s not based on much, but I have always imagined my father as a five year old boy, peeking round the door of my great-grandfather’s study, watching the old man fiddling with a piece of wood in a shaft of sunlight. I imagine Frederick’s kindly face sad with memories. I imagine that this man so full of stories and poetry, wordless in his grief. And then it occurred to me. When my father was five, it was 1943. What must Frederick have thought?

There he was, turning over a piece of propeller from the ‘War to end all Wars’. 

But all around, the Second World War raged and the London he knew and loved was devastated.

How much he must have hoped that this time, people would learn their lesson; that the futility of war would not be repeated and that his descendants would live in peace.

Bristol F2

 

Words and photograph copyright 2018 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.

A Cigar Box

Memorial Page

No 39 Squadron

Bristol F2

 

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A Magical Day in an Author’s Life

The Purple Pen

Hello everyone,

Today is a magical day in Paula Harmon’s life. Get ready to get immersed into her personal and writer’s life.

Here we go:

1. Can you please tells us about yourself?

I’m Paula Harmon. I live in the UK, south-west England in Dorset which is one of the loveliest places in the world: sea, ancient hill-forts, castles, beautiful countryside, pretty towns. I am married with two children aged 19 and 17. Although I have written stories for as long as I can remember, I only started to do it seriously from about 2015.

2. What was your favourite book from childhood?

I’m not sure I could pick one! My father read us the Narnia books and I so wanted to go there. In fact I still do really. I also loved the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, historical fiction by Henry Treece and Geoffrey Trease and fantasy works by…

View original post 2,174 more words

A Staircase

The old court building stands on a corner in Victorian elegance. Although relatively small for a civic building, from outside it is rather grand. Once, it must have been modern. No doubt, it was there were complaints in 1882 when it was built in the midst of the surrounding Georgian splendour. 

I started working there in 1989, an incomer with no connection – or so I thought – to the town or county. I was startled to discover many later that one of my great-grandfathers had been born maybe a hundred yards away and the office was probably being built just as he was setting out into the wide world beyond his little country town.

I met my husband in that office and worked there on and off for ten years.

On hot summer days, diagonal shafts of sun could just about reach through the railings on the pavement to slant into the staff-room in the front part of the basement. Little light could penetrate into the ground floor office where we actually worked. High filing cabinets ganged up in lumpy, grey, bureaucratic hostility to block the peeling cobwebbed frosted Victorian windows, and in a pre-clear-desk-policy, pre-digital era, on top of the cabinets was filing. There was filing everywhere: under desks, on shelves and piles of out-of-target work toppled from towers of files inside the walk-in safe. I swear we spent more time rifling through them looking for things and getting filthy in the process than actually working.

On wet winter days, the paper curled up in the photocopier.

There was a small door for staff at the side of the building and a grand set of double doors up a wide staircase at the front for the public and professionals. It took them into a tiled foyer from where they could go straight ahead to powder their noses or, if they had the means to open it, access the stationery cupboard. More normally, they would turn right to hassle us at the public counter or turn left and ascend a wide, sweeping staircase to the courtroom upstairs. 

Everything was solid and oaken. The Victorian office keys were heavy enough to kill someone with. 

Inside our filing cupboards there was a ledger going back to 1882. Other old ledgers were in the basement archives but this one was still in use, commencing in perfect elegant copper-plate and ending with my best efforts in biro and my colleague’s felt-tip scrawl.

The interior of the building was grubby and tired. The oak finishings were dusty and dented, the coloured floor tiles chipped and dull. The beige carpet in the office was unimproved by spilt tea and we sat on unergonomic chairs covered in flowered nylon.

Then there was the basement. 

We got there down a twisty narrow staircase near the staff entrance. It was so awkward that when it was your turn to make tea, you carried the mugs in a basin rather than on a tray because you were less likely to spill anything. The staff-room and kitchen had windows from which you could look up onto the pavement. There was a filing room across the corridor with windows onto a pointless sort of courtyard.

But the back part of the basement had no windows.

Another door off the corridor opened into a sort of cave in which the archived filing and ledgers dwelt. Public sector spending did not extend to adequate lighting for it. A couple of spider encrusted 40 watt bulbs cast circles of yellow gloom. Right at the back of the cave lurked a locked room in which the really, really confidential files were kept. That was even darker and danker. Fungi grew on ledgers in the corners. I have never smelled as bad as when three of us had to do a file audit in that room, breathing in goodness knows what spores and miasma.

The staff was divided about the basement. Half of us thought it was dark, horrible and damp. The other half thought it was dark, horrible, damp and haunted. Despite the fact that my husband is sensible and cynical and I write stories about the fairy who mangles my laundry, I was in the ‘don’t be silly’ camp and he in the ‘haunted’ camp. Some people refused point blank to go down for an old file unless someone went with them. One or two wouldn’t even go into the staff-room kitchen on their own. A story circulated that when it had been refitted, one of the workmen walked off site when he left it neat and tidy for five minutes one evening and came back in to find all the cupboard doors and drawers open. Even I, who didn’t think it was haunted, propped the door of that dark room open, telling myself it let in more light and I don’t think I ever went into the cupboard at the back alone, on the grounds that the main door might slam and lock me inside.

Although the basement had once been the home of a series of caretakers, as far as we know none of them had died there. It wasn’t the kind of court which had ever had cells. There were no old legends about it. So who was supposed to be haunting it, no-one knew. 

It just, in the words of Terry Pratchett, ‘boded’.

Eventually, long after my husband and I had moved elsewhere, the staff and the work were moved out to merge with another, more modern court. I have no idea what happened to the mouldy files from the lurking cupboard but hope if they weren’t burned, they were put in some kind of bio hazard facility. 

The beautiful if neglected old building lay empty. And then it was bought up, refurbished completely and turned into a restaurant. My husband and I went to a small reunion there a month ago with a few of our old colleagues. It was quite jaw-dropping. All the oak was polished and gleaming, the rooms were full of soft light, the tiles on the floors shone. The courtroom, which had been dull and cold, was glorious, almost golden. It was all beautiful.

We walked around pointing at things, to the bafflement of the other diners.

‘Wasn’t that where you used to sit?’ 

‘Did this room really have a fireplace in it?’ 

‘I hear the restaurant workers think the kitchen’s haunted.’

‘Honestly?’

‘Who knew the windows were that big?’ 

‘Shame it didn’t have a bar in it when we were here.’

‘Where was the counter/little interview room/safe?’ 

‘Have you seen the other staircase?’

‘What other staircase?’

‘The other staircase to the basement.’

It was true. In the foyer, where the public loos and stationary cupboard had once been, builders had uncovered a long forgotten staircase. It followed the curve of the one leading to the courtroom and descended into the basement – into the dark part of the basement. But it was no longer gloomy and creepy. Instead there were modern restrooms: clean, airy and stylish. There was no trace of that dimly remembered archive room whatsoever.

My husband and I took photos galore and reminisced with our friends over an excellent meal in Victorian opulence. The old building seemed to be saying ‘see what I look like when someone loves me?’

A few weeks later, he and I were still arguing over what the basement had looked like back when the two of us were working there. Eventually the other Sunday afternoon, we sketched it out on a piece of paper.

‘Here was the staff staircase.’

‘Yes.’

‘And this is where the staff loos were.’

‘Yes.’

‘And this was the staff-room and the kitchen bit was round here.’

‘Yes.’

‘And then there was a sort of side corridor that went to the filing room with the window.’

‘Was it like that? Wasn’t it like this?’

‘Not sure. Was it? Anyway, what about the other room? The haunted one.’

We drew and redrew and bickered for a bit and then when we thought it was just about right, tried to work out where the ‘new’ staircase came down and how the refurbished layout related to what had been there before. This discussion (argument) lasted quite a while. In the end, we both got our phones out to compare photographs.

Neither of us had any.

‘But that’s ridiculous,’ I said. ‘I’m sure I took some.’

‘So did I,’ said my husband.

We scrolled through and compared photos we’d taken of the staircase itself, the courtroom, our colleagues, paintings on the walls. But there were none of the basement. Not one.

So the question is, did we think we’d taken photos which we hadn’t, busy catching up with old friends or did the ghost of the basement wipe them from our phones?

And if so – what, after all this time, is he hiding?

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Words and photograph copyright 2018 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.

Interview With Val Portelli

Welcome to the first interview with a fellow author. This will be an occasional series and today, I’m really happy to welcome Val Portelli.

Hi Val. 

Let’s find out a bit more about you.

Introduce yourself in no more than 20 words.
I am a young, ravishingly beautiful author who breeds unicorns. Whoops, I forgot you’ve met me. At least the unicorn bit is true.

What could you not live without?
Coffee, chocolate, unicorn sparkles, readers and Google for research.

How do you keep yourself motivated when your writing doesn’t flow?
Browse Facebook, whinge to friends, and threaten to kill off my characters until they learn to behave. Using Find for their name and hovering a finger over the delete button usually does the trick.

How much of yourself is in your stories?
I would have said not much, but people who know me disagree. Being an author involves putting your soul up for public view, which can be difficult for an introvert. Okay. You can stop having hysterics now, or I’ll have to run away and hide.

Why did you pick your genre?
In a way the genres picked me. I started off with romance, then realised fantasy was taking over and gradually extended my range to include mystery and murder. When I asked my late mother about my style, she thought for a moment, then responded ‘Quirky,’ which is probably the most accurate.

If you had to pick five pieces of music to sum you and/or your life up – what would they be and why?
Great question. When I think music, I think Elvis. My usual ‘Go-to’ music would be Rock and Roll to get me bouncing and put a smile on my face, but some more relative to my life would be –
Memories,’ for a wonderful man who died of cancer at a very young age.
‘Clean up your own backyard,’ for the people who love to throw stones before they look in the mirror.
Rainbow,’ for the freak accident which changed my whole life, but opened up an entirely new authorish one, which I love.
‘Walk a mile in my shoes, as a tribute to both people I know personally, and cyber friends from social media. Recently they’ve revealed manic lives with no time to think, mental breakdowns, struggles with cancer, existing daily with Fibromyalgia, homelessness and a myriad of other problems which are hidden behind a brave face. It makes me realise how unimportant my personal little inconveniences are in comparison.
‘Follow that Dream. This one is self-explanatory.
And finally, (yes, I know that’s six, but I came across this one when I was browsing and couldn’t resist,) ‘The Title will tell. 

Author Bio
A few years ago a freak accident left me hospitalised, housebound, gazing at the ceiling and going stir crazy after being accustomed to a hectic lifestyle.
Unable to pursue my 9-5 job, I resumed writing which I had always loved, but which had been on the back burner while I earned a normal living.

Where can we find out more about you and your writing?

Facebook: Voinks Writer Author Page
Website: https://Voinks.Wordpress.com
Goodreads: you can find me via this link or under Val Portelli.
 UK Readers click here for my amazon.co.uk book links
 US Readers click here for my Amazon.com book links

Weird and Peculiar Tales – co-written with Paula Harmon

Left Luggage

Memory is a funny thing.

I’m just back from my silver wedding anniversary trip to an island we visited on our honeymoon, Kefalonia (Κεφαλονιά).

Work, not to mention life in general, had been pretty hectic for both of us on the run up to our break, so it wasn’t until we were flying out that we realised we should have looked at our honeymoon snaps to see what had changed since we couldn’t remember very much of how the Ionian Islands had been back then. We also realised we’d forgotten any Greek we might have known with the exception of a few words kalimera, kalispera, oxi, thalassa (καλημέρα, καλησπέρα, όχι, θάλασσα e.g. good morning, good evening, no, sea) a combination of which isn’t likely to lead to much of a conversation. Thank goodness for smart phones, 3G and translation websites.

I’m glad to say that despite our forward planning, we had a really lovely time on an island which is breathtakingly beautiful and full of the friendliest people. But memory, as I say, is a funny thing. A visit to Fiskardo where we had definitely been twenty-five years ago, didn’t ring any bells. ‘I sort of remember that bit of the quay’ I said. ‘That restaurant was definitely there,’ said my husband. But it was impossible to work out what had changed. I’ve since come home, looked at the honeymoon photos and it’s all still a blank. Back in 1993, we didn’t actually take photographs of ‘that bit of quay’ or ‘that restaurant’ so we have nothing to compare. 

Memory is like a suitcase we carry around with us, discarding and adding things as time passes, losing things, sometimes even accidentally packing other people’s things and thinking they’re ours.  We so often get all the priorities wrong: it’s like leaving a flattering shirt behind, yet for no good reason keeping the shoes that rub your feet raw.

I’m as bad as anyone. The things that hurt, wounded and damaged in my life embedded themselves deeper in my memory than many moments of love or laughter. I don’t know why that is, or why I let them. Some memories can still make me cry if I’m in the wrong frame of mind. Worse still, focussing on the bad memories can obliterate the good ones. Words from the reading at our wedding ‘love keeps no record of wrongs’ is something which should be tattooed to my eyeballs so I remember them.

One of the revelations I had when I started writing seriously again was mentally revisiting my childhood in South Wales. We moved there when I was eight and I was deeply unhappy about the whole thing. I remained deeply unhappy about it until I went to university. In the years after that, the negative impression grew into something monstrous. I focussed entirely on how I’d missed my grandparents whom I was used to seeing every weekend; missed the kind of school I’d wanted to go to; missed the soft rolling pasturelands and pretty villages of Berkshire; missed the friends I’d left behind and would never see again and having them replaced by bullies worse than any I’d encountered before. And then one day in 2015, I saw a writing prompt about a walk in a wood at midnight. I hadn’t long received an email from an old school friend. She’d revisited the South Welsh village where we’d lived on a whim, perused both our houses as much as she could without getting arrested and had a look around our old haunts. ‘Whatever you do,’ she said. ‘Don’t go back. It’ll ruin all your memories.’ But I’d forgotten my memories. The prompt changed everything. I recalled walking by the river, playing on a sandbank, observing wildlife, talking to the trees, imagining in the dell. Most often I used to do this alone (especially the talking to trees part) but I had drawn a detailed map showing where all the magic places were. My friend was the only one I had ever shown it to. Writing a story about that feeling of connection with the beautiful Welsh countryside and the friend who had been the only person who understood, somehow unlocked all lovely things I’d packed up, the way my map must have been packed up with my discarded belongings by my parents after I left home. For the first time, I started to forget the sense of loss for a place which had never been as perfect as I’d remembered and for things that might never have been, I forgot the loneliness and the bullying. I remembered the wild mountains and mysterious streams, the heathery slopes and the wild seas. A great many of the stories in Kindling came from that unlocked suitcase of memories, even more went into The Cluttering Discombobulator.

I know that I’m fortunate in that the bad memories I have are very much what a great many people, if not the majority suffer at some point or other, even though it didn’t seem so at the time. I was bullied, I had my heart broken, I broke a heart, I’ve been so lonely I thought I would shatter into pieces and dissolve into dust, I’ve been betrayed and lied about, I’ve been bereaved. At the time those seemed too enormous to bear. And I still don’t know why I let those memories haunt me rather than remember why a smell or an expression makes me laugh when it must connect to something lovely. 

I haven’t suffered the appalling abuse mental and physical of many I know and grieve for. They have much more to forgive, much more to forget. I hope I don’t underestimate that. But I also hope that one day each of them will be able to forgive and move on since forgiveness is not for the person forgiven but for the forgiver. It’s their chance to say – no matter what you did, I will not let you ruin my life any more.

Yes memory is a funny thing. Painful remembrances can make that suitcase heavy with anguish whereas happy ones can make feel as if it’s full of feathers. It doesn’t hurt to go through our luggage from time to time and chuck out the things we don’t need so that we can travel light with joy, leaving behind the people who don’t and never did deserve our attention and concentrating instead on those who do; including ourselves.

So much for the introspection. Going back to trying to remember our honeymoon. Now of course, as well as being a long time ago, we were sailing from island to island. Most of our photographs are of harbours, sea, other boats, the life-long friends we made and of course each other looking young, thin and nimble. We can recall eating in tavernas under starlit skies, walking through wild thyme on the abandoned island of Kalamos, feeding the fish with bits of tiropitakia (τυροπιτακια – a kind of pastry filled with feta cheese), the phosphorescence in the sea when we swam at night and my husband’s somewhat frenzied (and ultimately futile) battles with mosquitoes. 

Obviously we were too busy being romantic to notice much. Or something.

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Words and photograph copyright 2018 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.

An Interview with the Laundry Fairy

I am sitting opposite Paula’s laundry fairy and she..

Excuse me, I’m not her fairy. She is my person.

Aw that’s sweet, you look on her as family.

No, I mean she belongs to me not the other way around.

A bit like a pet?

More like an experimental subject to be honest.

Ah. Well to continue. You… may I know your name?

Only if you want to die horribly.

Oh. Ahem. Well may I say you’re looking resplendent in an outfit which … may I call it unique?

Call it what you like. It’s the best I can do using the stuff I find in Paula’s cupboards. Some of her clothes are that old they need carbon dating.

You mean you’ve woven it yourself out of her cast-offs?

Ha! Me? Weave? Nah, I got someone to do it for me. And they’re not exactly cast-offs, more stuff she didn’t keep an eye on.

Things she’d put in storage?

Where would be the fun in that? No. Things she put down for five minutes. Watching her pull her hair out thinking she’s gone doollally and trying to find stuff I’ve magicked off when she’s in a hurry is almost as much of a laugh as moving her keys.

I see. Anyway, I must say you look a little more robust than I thought a fairy would.

Are you saying I look fat?

No, no – you can put the sink plunger down – not fat at all, far from it. More… athletic. You must work out a lot. And those tattoos, dead impressive. What are they again?

Crossed odd socks on one arm and a mangle-in-a-tangle on the other. Do you want to see the one on my…

Er, another time perhaps. Shall we get on with the questions sent in by our readers? 

If you must.

Do you do your own dishes after meals?

What sort of question is that? What do you think dishwasher fairies are for?

There are dishwasher fairies?

Of course there are. It’s a modern thing. They’re sort of a cross between a brownie-gone-bad mixed with a laundry fairy. Brill combination. They’re either so efficient they dissolve the pattern off the plates or they save up the gunk in the filter and spew it out over everything and then break the machine. If they time it right, they can do it just before a public holiday or when guests are coming. It’s ace.

Apart from the humans, are you all alone here? Well obviously not, you’ve already mentioned the dishwasher fairy.

She’s a sort of second cousin. If you think my tattoos are impressive, you should see her piercings. Then there’s the garden gnomes. They’re sort of relations on the other side. They lie in the grass and shove things in the lawnmower. They also go slug-racing, stamp on flowers and encourage the weeds. Or at least they do in this garden. The only thing they won’t mess with is Paula’s husband’s chilli plants. My word. Uncle Joe took a bite out of one and burst into flames. Had to tip a pint of milk over his head to put him out. I suppose I ought to mention the book imps. They’re a bit useless as they tend to get sidetracked with reading things, but they erase things from diaries and calendars, and they move books, office projects and homework about when they’re bored. Usually on Sunday night or before a deadline. And then there’s the goodie two-shoe brownies. Well there used to be. Now there’s only one brownie left. He’s called Aelfnod and I had him nicely under control till she met him and gave him a home in the attic. The others moved out in disgust. This is one terribly untidy family. Even the spiders don’t think this house is much of a challenge.

Do you put both socks on first, or one sock, one shoe?

What kind of weirdo puts on one sock, one shoe? And you’re talking like you only need two socks. I put all the socks on at the same time. And they’re all odd.

Do you have any pets?

I’ve got Aelfnod. Or I will when I can work out how to get in the attic.

Who does your laundry?

Paula does of course. And then I nabs it after. Just when she thinks she’s found the missing socks and goes to find their partners, I nips in and grabs them. And anything else I fancy the look of.

Are those your real teeth?

Excuse me? What sort of people are your readers? Of course they’re not my own teeth. That would be weird. They’re dentures made from the ones the tooth fairy gets. Not that the tooth fairy’s been round for a few years. And I never did get a full set of 56, cos the littlest human went all cynical on the tooth-fairy and tried to trick her. Never saw another penny for her teeth after that. Hah. But then I didn’t get the teeth either.

Do you recycle?

Well here I am wearing an outfit made from odd socks. And you won’t believe what the dishwasher fairy can make with the odd teaspoons, apart from use them as earrings that is. Mind blowing, I’m telling ya. Last time we managed to break both the washing machine and dishwasher at the same time, we took a weekend break sailing in a boat made from odd bits of plastic container, odd socks and odd teaspoons. Lost them afterwards but hey.

Would you take chicken soup to your neighbour if he was sick?

Aelfnod the brownie? Huh. Only so I could dunk him in it.

If you could go back in time, where would you go?

Two Saturdays ago when I managed to sneak a ball point pen into the shirt wash. Oh the wailing when the washing machine stopped working as the pen disembowelled itself and bit of it slipped into the drum and oh you should have seen the pretty blue patterns on those lovely cotton garments! Lovely splodges just where they could be seen by everyone! And then the arguing over who’d put the pen in the washing machine and whose fault it was and the researching for stain removers and the soakings in vinegar and bicarbonate of soda and all in vain. Oh that was a happy day.

If you could get rid of one disease, what would it be?

Lady writers. Paula put me in a book she wrote with Val Portelli called Weird and Peculiar Tales.

Did she write libellous things about you?

Oh no, it was all true. But she made it look like I was the bad guy. Me? I just like a bit of a laugh. Anyway, gotta go, I’ve got a tissue to put in the pocket of some black trousers before the dark wash is put in. And I’m feeding up one of the spiders so he can chew his way into the attic. I’m sure Aelfnod must be all lonely up there. See ya round. Nice socks by the way. I’d keep an eye on them if I were you.  I likes them.

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Book by Paula Harmon & Val Portelli

Breaking News: a new book with Val Portelli

(c) Paula Harmon 2018.  Words and photograph copywrite Paula Harmon and not to be reproduced without her express permission or without credit given.

 

 

Sail Away…

My husband doesn’t believe me, but I like the idea of sailing. It’s just that I’m not sure sailing likes the idea of me.

I loved books about sea voyages. Voyage of the Dawn Treader was one of my favourites. My uncle had a painting with a sea-scape so real I used to stare at it in the hope I would somehow be transported through it to Narnia. I imagined myself like brave Lucy, kitted out in cabin boy garb, standing on deck watching mermaids and dolphins, soaking up the sun and never wanting land to be found.

This is how my husband feels I think, although he’d probably refuse to wear the cabin-boy outfit. 

Sailing is where he feels utterly at peace (apart from when something crucial jams in which case he turns the air blue). He was introduced to it as a child and never looked back. But all his attempts to make me and sailing to get along haven’t quite worked.

He started with taking me to watch him dinghy sailing in Llangorse Lake when we were dating. There are several activities I can’t understand as spectator sports, golf is one and sailing is another. My experience of these days can be summed up thus: 

  • Preparing to sail and packing up after sailing took three times as long as the sailing itself and was even duller to watch.
  • It was quite entertaining watching someone get into a wetsuit. 
  • The skies were generally grey.
  • It was usually cold.
  • It was often raining.
  • The tea on offer in the little tea-shack was very weak.
  • It proved possible to read the whole of a very odd science fiction book while sitting in the car over a series of weekends, bored and with insufficient good tea but afterwards I couldn’t remember the plot or even the title.
  • It was even more entertaining watching someone get out of a wetsuit but not quite enough to make me want to watch it every Saturday.

Naturally, after a few months he then decided that I might be more enthusiastic if I joined him. We finally found a wetsuit that was short enough and small enough for most of my body yet still zipped up across a bust that hadn’t got the instructions about being in proportion to everything else. It was the only time I’d been flat chested since the aged of nine. That was the best bit. 

My in-laws still recall with sniggers the day when they sat inside a nice warm café overlooking a lake in North Wales watching him teach me how to dinghy sail. He had me on trapeze. This wasn’t as exciting as it sounds. I was not flying through the air in a sparkly costume. I was standing on the edge of the dinghy in a yellow and black wetsuit holding a line and counterbalancing the angle of the dinghy to stop us from capsizing. The difficulties with this were: at the time I was very light so it was quite an effort; my right knee kept locking and then suddenly unlocking; sometimes the boat would stop tilting and dip my backside in the water and despite my grim-faced best efforts we quite often capsized anyway. And even then – to this day I don’t know how he managed it – my husband would barely touch the water and would be sitting atop the upturned hull while I was floundering about underneath the dinghy. My mother-in-law says she’s never seen anyone look as cold and murderous as I did that day as I was finally allowed to return to dry land.

You may think it odd that less than a year later I married this aquatic maniac and agreed to a honeymoon sailing in the Ionian. It was lovely however, largely because I didn’t have to wear a wetsuit or go on a trapeze and it was warm enough to clamber about the boat in shorts pretending I knew what I was doing. I did feel vaguely queasy most of the time but wasn’t sure if this was sea-sickness, the retsina we were consuming or the realisation that I’d married someone I’d only known for eighteen months. 

Ah yes, sea-sickness. My beloved is convinced it’s is all in one’s head. As one’s inner ear – which is the key body part – is in one’s head, he’s technically correct. My only conclusion is that his inner ear must be highly insensitive or superglued because while his can cope with any amount of lolloping and bouncing about mine feels as if it’s in a concrete mixer. 

A year or so after the wedding, my husband’s friend borrowed a yacht and asked us to sail with him from Lymington to Dartmouth and back. My husband agreed with alacrity and grew positively lyrical as he described how wonderful it would be. ‘But,’ he added nonchalantly as an aside, ‘it may be a little chilly, so you’d best buy some thermal underwear. Including long-johns.’ Long-johns? Up until that point I didn’t even know you could still buy then. Well dear reader, suffice to say, that April weekend was the first warm sunny one for about six months. Warm that is, if you were doing something nice like amble on land. We rounded St Aldhelm’s head in blazing sunshine, bouncing against the current (or something) like ping-pong balls in a washing machine. Along the cliffs, people walked in t-shirts and shorts. From the cockpit, dressed in four layers of clothes including the loathed long-johns, I glared at them until nausea got the better of me and I went below to lie down in the dark and pretend I was somewhere else until we got to Dartmouth. For technical nautical reasons which I can’t recall but included questionable forward planning, ‘we’ll be there for dinner’ turned into ‘we might just about arrive in time to get something to eat’. We finally staggered into a dining room at ten p.m. overheating in our thermals and looking as if we’d been keelhauled. I’m surprised they served us. If I had had any money I’d have got a train home the following day. Sadly I didn’t.

Some more years passed. My husband had always wanted a small yacht of his own and when shortly after we’d moved to the south coast something happened to a friend that made him realise life was short, he bought one. Summer Saturdays often involved short sails, picnics, the occasional night on board. In general, these are happy days, although don’t talk to me about tacking – a zigzagging form of forward motion which makes me think of Alice in Through the Looking Glass when she can see where she’s heading but never seems to get there.

And then there was the weekend of the picnic off the Arne Peninsula. 

‘We’ll anchor up and stay over,’ said my husband. ‘We’ll leave early in the morning and be home by ten, have a lazy Sunday at home.’

My life being fairly ruled by laundry, I asked if it was safe to do the washing and leave it out till we got back.

‘Of course,’ he assured me. ‘The bad weather’s not forecast till the afternoon.’

Well, you can guess the rest. We had a lovely evening, warm and sultry. We went to bed in dead calm. 

The force seven storm hit at six a.m.

The trip back to the boat’s usual mooring gave us an insight into how fruit feels in a blender when they’re turning into a smoothie. My husband pretty much lashed himself to the tiller while the children and I stayed below, our legs hooked round anything that might stop us from being flung about. Unfortunately our mooring when we got there, was a long way from actual land. We had to get out of the boat into a dinghy and motor to shore. I seem to have obliterated the memory of how we managed the first part without falling into the sea. The second part felt as if it would never be over. The children (then 10 and 12 years old) and I sat in the bottom of the dinghy, up to our hips in rain and seawater. When my daughter said she was scared, my son suggested singing a song. The trouble was that the only one which came to mind was something she’d been learning at school for the performance of Wind in the Willows. The song was … ‘Messing About in Boats’. Oh the irony. When we finally reached land, drenched to the skin, we found that the bag we’d put dry clothes in wasn’t quite closed and most of the clothes were soaked. Half an hour later I went into a shop to get bacon and bread wearing my husband’s track suit bottoms and one of his t-shirts, my hair in rats-tails. I felt even less glamorous than the day I’d worn long-johns.

And then I had to go home and retrieve the washing from the line… or rather from various parts of the garden.

Yes, sailing. I love the idea but it never seems to be like The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. 

My poor husband, he does so want me and the boat to be friends. He was quite pleased when I asked him lots of questions about tides and sailing for a book I’m writing and then he grew suspicious.

‘Can I ask what happens to the boat?’ He said.

‘Er… it sinks.’ I replied.

‘Murderer,’ he said in disgust. ‘Boat-killer.’

I haven’t yet told him what I do to the sailor.

 

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Words and photograph copyright 2018 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.

Treasure Hunters – Part Five (final part)

Don’t move, said Rimath’s voice in our heads. I need to think quickly.

There were twelve krakenmen. They were the same height and shape as humans, wearing ragged pirates’ clothing. But their eyes glowed red. Sharp teeth snarled behind immense dark, tangled beards. Shaggy hair was pulled back into greasy braids under battered hats and faded kerchiefs. Their coarse shirts and brocade waistcoats were frayed. Torn trousers revealed green feet with red veins, webbed toes and toenails like talons. Ancient cotton sleeves, some with lace cuffs, rotted on wrists. 

But there weren’t enough sleeves for the number of arms the krakenmen had. Or rather, in addition to the arms, each creature had four tentacles which squirmed and twisted through rips in the seams of the shirts and waistcoats. Hands and suckers alike waved weapons: swords, daggers, antique pistols…

One, who wore the biggest hat and carried the largest sword, had bent down to be nose to nose with Dad. His voice was a slow, angry growl.

‘No-one defies Noggler. For the last time: tell…me…where…the…treasure…is.’

Dad squirmed in his bonds and made noises through the gag. Mum was trying to kick him with her foot. Her eyes scanned the room as if trying to catch a krakenmen off-guard and plead for mercy. For one brief second, her glance fell on me as I peeked from behind the detritus. She blinked, swallowed and turned her head in the opposite direction, following the slow lope of a smaller krakenman as it crisscrossed the floor of the cave.

‘I said,’ bellowed Noggler, ‘where… is…the…treasure?’ Another monster leaned in and whispered something. Noggler slapped it and grunted. ‘Well, what are you waiting for, fool? Remove his gag!’

The krakenman did as he was told.

Jane nudged me and whispered ‘oh dear.’ We both recognised the look on Dad’s face. 

‘My dear sir,’ he snapped. ‘Where did you learn your manners? Untie us, go to your room and don’t come back until you’re sorry.’

Noggler recovered himself and said with a sneer. ‘Where is the treasure please?’ 

‘I really have no idea what you’re talking about,’ said Dad. ‘Do I look like a pirate? Although actually, I have to say, I do like your costumes. Where did you get them? We’ve got a fancy dress party coming up haven’t we Bella?’

Mum’s eyes rolled.

Noggler blinked. 

Jenith whispered, ‘is your father an idiot?’

Jane and I nodded silently.

‘He who owned the cottage took the treasure and hid it two hundred and fifty years ago!’ 

‘Do we look that old?’ argued Dad.

‘You own the cottage!’ screamed Noggler. ‘The treasure is rightfully mine!’ There was a grumble from the other krakenmen. ‘I mean ours! You have five minutes to tell us where it is, or you will become one of us: cursed to lurk in these loathsome caves; trying to outwit the dragons; living on nothing but cuttlefish and seaweed; unable to bear full daylight; needing to spend half your time under the waves until eventually the call of the sea drags you out into the westward currents and far, far away to an unknown dooooom.’

‘I think you’ve just used half of my five minutes with that speech,’ said Dad. ‘It was very good though. Have you a piece of paper I could write it down on? Laura would like the bit about dragons.’

‘Where is the treasure?!’ Noggler waved one of his pistols aloft followed by the others. They all shot into the air at the same time and a small shower of rock fell down. Jenith sneezed. The monsters looked wildly round to locate the noise. Mum faked a loud sneeze to draw their attention back to her.

‘We’ve run out of time,’ whispered Rimath. ‘Jenith and I will distract the krakenmen. You untie your parents.’

‘How will we all get out?’ I said.

‘We’ll have to use magic. Now watch out. The pistols can’t be fired again until they’ve been primed and the swords are rusty, but you can still be hurt and the krakenmen’s magic is recharging. We need to move… Now!’

The dragons flew out from our hiding place in opposite directions, firing jets fire onto the krakenmen below. Two hats caught light and the wearers whipped them off to stamp out the flames. Jenith’s tail whisked weapons from the monsters’ clutches and Rimath tipped a bucket into a barrel marked gunpowder.  The dragons sang a high-pitched song that echoed and whirled around us. The krakenmen stared up, tried to protect their ears and at the same time flail their limbs to counter the aerial assault. Jane and I ran between them, as they staggered in confusion, picked up a dagger each and rushed to free our parents.

‘Quick,’ I said, ‘we’ve got to go back to the pool.’

Dad was mesmerised and didn’t move. ‘But Laura, look! Dragons! And pirates.’

‘It’s not a play, Dad. It’s real. Come on!’

I dragged him with one arm and Mum dragged him with the other.

As we ran to the pool, the battle wore on. From nowhere, fork beetles came to bombard heads, tangle in braids and fly into furious krakenmen eyes. Beards were on fire, and sparks flew off rusty swords. But fork beetles were crushed underfoot and blood trickled from cuts on the dragons’ flanks. Two krakenmen caught one of Jenith’s legs with their tentacles and started to drag her to the ground. She lashed out with her tail and blew fire in their faces, but the flame was as weak as a candle’s. The pressure in the air was increasing. I caught Rimath’s eye in the second before he went to his sister’s aid. The krakenmen’s magic was nearly at full strength but the dragons’ was nearly exhausted. I scanned the cave. Maybe if Mum and Dad could go back through the tunnel wearing the diving gear to warn Rimath’s father, Jane and I could escape another way. Rain was coming through a small crack in the rocks half way up the cliff wall. Before I explain my plan our shelter blew apart and Noggler stood before us flanked by two of his henchmen. Behind him, I could see that Jenith was nearly on the floor of the cave and Rimath’s tail had been injured. There as no escape.

‘Where…is…my…treasure?’ shrieked Noggler. 

‘We don’t have any!’ I shouted. ‘The only treasure we’ve got is each other!’

‘And books,’ said Dad. ‘Don’t forget books. That’s what’s wrong old chap. You haven’t any books. I can recommend some.’

‘I don’t want wormy old books that turn into mulch!’ growled Noggler. ‘I want gold and silver and jewels. I want what’s mine!’

‘It was never yours!’ shouted Jane. ‘You stole it. You were pirates and wreckers. You’re thieves.’

‘You are going to make a wonderful krakenman, little girl,’ Noggler snarled. He raised his hand and started to whisper under his breath. There was a shimmer in the air and Jane’s outline grew fuzzy and started to change and then… and then… the wall of the cave exploded and Rimath’s father stood over us all. He leaned down and stared into Noggler’s face for one second and then from his mouth came a flame of ice-cold pure translucent gold. It engulfed the krakenmen but they didn’t burn. Instead they squirmed and writhed and shrunk until there was nothing but a pile of rags and rust on the floor where they had stood. 

‘That was surprisingly satisfying,’ said Rimath’s father. ‘Should have done it years ago.’ Rimath and Jenith limped over. Jane kicked at the rags and they turned to dust in the air. In a shallow rock pool beneath were twelve sea-anemones, clustered together and quivering. 

‘They’re not going anywhere now,’ said Rimath’s father and burst into deep, echoing laughter.

Dad was, for once, speechless. 

‘Thank you all,’ said Mum. ‘Without you…’

‘Well, I have to say,’ said the dragon. ‘I felt a little ashamed. The human children seemed very honest, even though the slightly cleaner one definitely craves pretty things and the grubby one is definitely naughty. Still, at the end of the day, I suppose it was my fault all these kidnappings have happened over the years.’

‘Wh-what?’ I said.

‘The thing is,’ Rimath’s father scratched his ear with his tail. His expression was a mixture of pride and contrition. ‘That night all those years ago, when the krakenmen battled with the wreckers, in the er… confusion… I … er… borrowed the treasure. After all, it didn’t belong to any of them. It was ours as much as anyone’s. And humans never appreciate treasure. They just want it to become powerful and lord it over each other. Dragons just like sleeping on it.’

‘So how do we get home?’ asked Jane. She was back to her normal self, no sign of a beard or tentacle. 

‘Don’t worry,’ said Rimath’s father. ‘I am full of magic. You can depend on me to get you back to normal.’

***

The next day we woke up to blazing sunshine. The smell of slightly burnt bacon wafted upstairs. 

I rubbed my eyes and got up to look outside. It might have been a different place. The luscious green grass rolled under blue skies up onto cliffs and down towards the beach, where lacy waves tickled the sand and then retreated. 

I caught sight of myself in the mirror and wondered how my hair had got into such a dusty tangle. I must have been tossing and turning all night with that awful dream. 

Jane was apparently asleep in her own room. Her socks, black on the soles and stiff as cardboard were discarded on the floorboards. She stirred as I prodded her.

‘Come on girls!’ Dad’s voice boomed from the kitchen. ‘I’ve made some bacon and fried egg sandwiches. Someone’s come to put a cooker in.’

Jane opened the other eye and we looked at each other. 

Without speaking she got out of bed and together we went onto the landing. The door to the end room was slightly ajar and through it came the sweet smell of the sea and a golden light. The two pointless cupboards faced each other. The small one in the wall was criss-crossed with an enormous web and in the middle a spider more or less shook its fist at us as we wrenched the door open. Inside was a small square whitewashed cupboard with a stone back and a wooden base.

‘I had the weirdest dream’ whispered Jane. She went back to her bedroom, picked up the socks and contemplated them. ‘One more day? What do you reckon?’ 

‘No,’ said Mum, coming in and whisking them away. ‘You’re disgusting. Now get washed and dressed and come downstairs.’

In the kitchen workmen were sweeping out the space for the cooker. There were cobwebs staining the plaster on the wall which almost looked like the outline of a square, but as they brushed the mark faded to nearly nothing. 

***

We had breakfast on the beach. Above us, the cliffs loomed in an absent minded sort of way, sea-heather sparkling in the sun and wafting in the breeze.

‘There was a village up there once apparently,’ said Dad. ‘I wonder what happened.’

‘Dragons,’ said Jane.

‘Ha ha!’ said Dad. ‘Plague more likely. Although funny you should mention dragons, I had a bit of a nightmare.’ He frowned. ‘Anyway, I’m sure you’ll be disappointed but we’ve decided too much work is needed on this cottage. I’m going sell it and get a caravan. Use the spare money for books.’ He lay back on the blanket and closed his eyes. Within seconds he was snoring. Mum packed away the picnic, settled against a rock and started to read. 

Jane and I walked barefoot along the beach until we found a cave entrance and clambered through.

We found ourselves in a huge, gloomy space like the inside of a stone tent. At one side there might have been a fissure. The lower half was blocked with boulders and when we climbed to the top, there was no entrance for anyone bigger than a cat. What might have been a gap on the other side, too narrow for anything bigger than a mouse, seemed to glow a little.

‘Was it a dream?’ said Jane.

I shrugged.

‘Wait!’ she said and bent to delve in the pebbles at our feet. 

She pulled out a slender pendant with a tiny emerald drop and a small bangle, studded with garnets. 

‘Our birthstones,’ whispered Jane as I slid the bangle onto my wrist.

‘Yes.’

‘You don’t think we should people tell there might be treasure in another cave?’ whispered Jane. 

But she already knew my answer. 

 ‘Don’t worry, Rimath,’ I whispered. ‘Your secret is safe with us. I promise.’ 

I traced my hand over the rock face. It seemed to sparkle as if the quartz and fossils came to life under my fingers and for a moment, through a translucent doorway, I thought I saw a smiling autumn green dragon with trusting topaz eyes wave before it faded away.

blue blur

Words and photograph copyright 2018 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.

If you enjoyed this story you might be interested to know that Laura & Jane are main characters in ‘The Cluttering Discombobulator’ (some of which is true) and turn up in ‘Kindling’ (in a true story) and in ‘The Advent Calendar’ (in a story which is half true – you’ll just have to guess which half.)

 

 

Treasure Hunters – Part Four

I slipped on a wet rung and stopped. I clung to the ladder as invisible things fell past me to bounce and clatter into the darkness below.

Jane stepped on my head.

‘Ow!’ 

‘Shh!’ hissed Jane.

Rimath’s voice echoed down to us. ‘What’s the matter?’

It was really eerie when I looked up. Far above was a dim line of light which showed where the edges of the kitchen cupboard was and the just beyond where I presumed Jane’s head must be were two glowing green eyes. While Jane and I had to go down the steps feet-first, Rimath was coming down head-first, his tail flicking somewhere behind him. He’d said it was the way he always came and also because that way he could see downwards. I was starting to wonder if I’d been right to trust him. The walls were damp and the shaft seemed never-ending. 

As if reading my thoughts, Jane whispered, ‘how do we know what’s at the bottom of this thing? For all we know he’s leading us to the krakenmen. We should have gone for the police.’

‘Don’t be stupid,’ I whispered back. ‘Even if we could find a phone-box what would they do when two kids say “we don’t actually know where we are but our parents have disappeared and a dragon says they’ve been kidnapped by monsters”?’ 

Jane grunted.

‘Trust me,’ said Rimath. ‘Keep going. I can climb over you and go ahead if you like. I don’t think anyone has followed us.’

‘No-one’s leaving me at the back,’ said Jane. ‘And you still haven’t explained what this was all about.’

‘I’m sorry, I forgot’ said Rimath. ‘Well, this coast was notorious for wreckers.’

‘Wreckers?’ I felt my way with my foot.

‘Wreckers were people who, in bad weather, lured ships deliberately onto the rocks with lamps. When the ships started to sink, the wreckers looted them, letting the sailors drown. Or worse. This village was notorious.’

‘What village?’ said Jane.

‘It’s been destroyed.’ Rimath’s voice was solemn. ‘Only the cottage you were in is left. It’s built on top of a natural tunnel which leads down to a cave. Very convenient for the wreckers and for smugglers. They put the rungs in so they could bring things straight from the beach to the house without being arrested.’

‘How…’ before I could finish, I realised I’d reached the bottom of the ladder. I could barely hear myself think. Somewhere nearby echoed sounds of destruction: crashes and thuds, a sucking intake of rattling breath and a groan of fury. In the seconds it took me to realise it was the sea rolling into a cave and out again, I had opened my mouth ready to scream.

‘Use your flashlight if you like and follow me,’ said Rimath, slipping around us to stand in front. ‘Don’t bang your heads. You need to duck down, turn left, then we’re nearly there. We need the others to help.’

‘Others?’ said Jane. 

Her hand slipped into mine as we followed Rimath, slipping into a hollow space which felt like a huge stone tent. Through a low opening, I could just see dull daylight and hear the sucking and crashing of the sea so terrifyingly close. 

‘This was the way the wreckers and smugglers came,’ said Rimath. 

‘I thought your cave would be a bit more cosy,’ said Jane. 

‘This isn’t my cave. This cave is where it all went wrong.’

‘What went wrong?’

Rimath stepped sure-footed over the tumbled stones and Jane and I scrambled after him. ‘One night the wreckers lured a pirate ship onto the rocks,’ he said. ‘That was dangerous enough. Pirates are not easy prey. But they didn’t know that this particular ship had been overwhelmed by creatures from the deep far out to sea and those on board were no longer human. The villagers dragged the treasure into this cave, thinking the pirates were drowned, but before they could take it any further the crew of the ship came after them – not men but monsters. In the battle, the wreckers were either killed or transformed. They became half-human, half-sea-monster, boiling with magic but burning with one unending desire which they’ve passed through the generations – to get their hands on the treasure they lost that night.’

‘How did they lose it? Surely if they weren’t dead, they could have just taken it.’

Rimath cleared his throat. ‘I imagine there was a lot of smoke and confusion. Come this way, quickly.’

He led us to another fissure too narrow for even the smallest child to get through. Jane held my hand again and we both peered around wondering if we had time to escape.

But as Rimath muttered, the fissure opened into a smooth doorway lined with quartz. After one final look at each other, Jane and I followed him through. 

Beyond the doorway was another cave, this one like a smooth upturned bowl. In the middle there was a pool, deep and sparkling. It moved as if the water ebbed and flowed from underneath and its glow filled the space with light. Around the pool were slabs and pebbles laid in an intricate grey and purple pattern and the walls were studded with designs in amethyst and fossils. On the opposite side of the cave was a platform made of treasure: coins, jewels, caskets and goblets. Sitting on this were two more dragons. Their eyes stared as Rimath motioned us forward. One was about the same size as him, skin as soft, eyes a deeper brown, wings and tail tipped with dark blue. The other dragon was twice as tall, skin the dark green of water under trees, eyes flecked with orange, arms crossed and tail pointing at us. 

‘Rimath!’ bellowed the larger dragon. ‘Why have you brought humans here?’

‘Laura and Jane need our help Father,’ said Rimath.

‘We do not help humans. They are traitors.’

Jane put her hands on her hips and small as she was, glared. The large dragon recoiled a little but the blue one grinned.

Rimath whispered, ‘my little sister Jenith recognises a kindred spirit, Jane. She’ll talk Father round.’

Out of the corner of her mouth Jane murmured to me ‘what’s a kindled split?’

‘Father, please listen,’ said Rimath, ‘these children’s parents brought them to the house…’

‘Are the parents spies or fools?’

‘Fools,’ I said, finding my voice. ‘Definitely fools.’

‘Fools,’ concurred Rimath. ‘I couldn’t warn them in time and the krakenmen came and captured them.’

‘And why should we care?’ said Rimath’s father. He turned his gaze on me. ‘All humans crave wealth don’t they? What does your father yearn for child?’

‘Books,’ I answered. ‘Dad just yearns for books. The older the better.’

‘And your mother? What does she desire?’

Jane intervened. ‘All Mum wants is some peace and quiet.’

Rimath gestured wildly with his tail. ‘We have to rescue them from the krakenmen. You know what they will do otherwise. This time, we must intervene.’

‘It is always too late,’ said Jenith. There was pity in her eyes. ’We never know which of their caves they take their captives to and by the time we find them…’

‘If they kill Mum and Dad…’ there was a sob in Jane’s furious voice. I rubbed my own eyes. The thought of finding a skeleton was no longer an adventure. 

‘Oh!’ Jenith flew over and put her arms round Jane. ‘They won’t kill them. They… they will recruit them – turn them into more krakenmen. They never grasp that nowadays humans know nothing about the treasure or where it is. Father, Rimath is right, we must stop them.’

‘This time, I know which cave the krakenmen are in,’ said Rimath. ‘It’s the ammonite chamber. It’s not far, and we can get there the last way the krakenmen expect.’

Rimath’s father flexed his wings and scratched his chin with his tail. ‘I am not sure I trust these children. The grubby one -’ he pointed at Jane, ‘looks belligerent and that one -’ he pointed at me, ‘looks desperate for pretty things.’ 

‘It’s true I haven’t changed my socks for three days and if I want a necklace I’ll make one out of chewing gum again, but I’m not a thief’ said Jane. ‘And Laura’s soppy but she’s not a thief either.’ 

‘And you’re not leaving us behind,’ I argued. I’d deal with Jane for calling me soppy later.

‘But how will you manage?’ said Jenith. ‘The way we need to go…’ She shuddered.

‘I’m not frightened,’ I said. 

‘Nor me,’ said Jane. ‘Laura may look soppy but she can climb a tree in a skirt faster than the boys can in jeans. And sometimes I let her beat me at arm wrestling. We’re not scared of anything.’ 

‘It’s not that,’ said Rimath, his wings slumping. He pointed at the sparkling pool. ‘The only way to go without using up too much magic is underwater. It’s too dangerous for you. You might not be able to hold your breath for long enough. We’ll have to leave you behind.’

‘No!’ said Jane and I together.

‘Wait!’ bellowed Rimath’s father. He started poking about in the pile of treasure. ‘There may be another way. Let me think…’

He pulled out two tarnished copper and glass globes attached to dirty rubber overalls. They looked a little like space suits. 

‘These fell off a boat a hundred or so years ago,’ he said. ‘Humans used them underwater. They seemed to survive. It was entertaining watching them when the air started to run out and the pump stopped working. The pump is long gone, but then the tunnel’s short. It’s on your head Rimath. I’m having nothing to do with it.’

***

If climbing down the shaft had been bad, travelling through an water-filled tunnel in an ancient diving suit, hoping that there was enough oxygen in the heavy copper helmet, felt like the longest five minutes of my life. I was terrified that when … if… we reached the krakenmen’s cave not only would they see us but they’d hear my thumping heart. But I needn’t have worried. The noise of waves crashing the outer walls and someone shouting was so loud I could hear it even while underwater.

As Rimath had promised, we emerged into a pool at the edge of the cave and hid behind some tumbled flotsam and jetsam as Jane and I clambered out of the ancient diving gear and found our bearings. 

The cave was a bad imitation of the dragons’. It was domed, with a soaring ceiling, but in between rock pools, the floor was laid unevenly with a combination of pebbles and what looked suspiciously like bones. The walls, on which swirling fossils had been picked out in luminous green, dripped with a reddish ooze and yellow candles flickered from small niches. Chairs and tables made of driftwood were dotted around and hammocks were slung from structures made from more driftwood and whale carcasses. 

In the middle of the room were two stools and on them were our parents, bound and gagged. 

Circling them, brandishing various weapons were twelve hideous creatures.

twirl

Words and photograph copyright 2018 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.

Treasure Hunters – Part One

Treasure Hunters – Part Two

Treasure Hunters – Part 3