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.

 

 

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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.

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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.

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

Treasure Hunters – Part Three

Jane and I pushed past Rimath and tried to open the sitting-room door. The handle refused to budge.

Jane kicked while I shoved and then she pushed me out of the way, and in desperation, started to pull at the handle even though it would never work.

Rimath reached our side, put his paws over our hands and stopped our feet from kicking with his tail. His eyes were wide and he mouthed the words ‘be quiet.’

From inside the room, we could hear our parents’ voices. Mum seemed to be threatening through gritted teeth: ‘as soon as I can get my hands on you, you’ll be so sorry…’ It was something she said to us all the time but this time she sounded like she meant it and also as if she were in pain. Dad’s words were just a muffled mumble. He must have been gagged but it wasn’t stopping him try to talk anyway. 

Then there was another voice. It reminded me of corners and unseen cobwebs; of slippery stone and murky water.

‘Silence!’ it growled.

Rimath tapped our hands until we looked at him and touched his mouth with his tail. Shh.

The voice came again. ‘The door was rattling. Is there someone else in the house with you?’

Dad’s mumble became more frenzied. I could hear the tears in Mum’s voice as she said ‘n-no. We’re here alone. It was just the storm. Let us go!’

‘Stop struggling or it’ll be worse for both of you,’ said the voice. ‘I am Noggler and I want my treasure.’

‘What treasure?’ Dad’s voice was a little clearer. He must have squirmed the gag away.

‘Don’t give me that,’ said Noggler. ‘The owners of this house have hidden it for centuries and so far, no matter what we do to them, they’ve never told us where it is. Well, this time, things are going to be different. Let’s go.’

‘Go where?’ Mum’s voice was shaking.

‘You’ll soon find out.’

‘But…’

She gave another scream and Dad’s words were muffled again. Jane was now kicking at Rimath but he shook his head. Her furious eyes were full of tears. There was a sensation as if all the air was being sucked from around us and a deafening noise like a firework exploding as it spiralled down a drain. Then everything was quiet apart from the sound of rain against windows and the wind in the tiles above. The sitting-room door popped open.

Jane and I went to rush inside, but Rimath slipped in front of us, barring our way for a second before letting us through.

The room was much as it had been earlier. The overhead lamp cast a pale, sickly glow onto a table where a blackened but half-cooked Spanish omelette congealed. The front of the cassette player had been ripped off and mangled tape spilled out over the edge of the sideboard. Something dropped onto my head and this time I grabbed it. In my palm a creature like an inch-long woodlouse with uncountable legs, long antennae and a long forked tail squirmed. Trying not to be sick, I stared into its face. Bulbous red eyes blinked and a mouth full of fangs opened silently. I loosened my grip as I screamed and before it hit the floor, the creature sprouted wings and flew to the ceiling to bury itself in the beam.

‘Don’t be scared,’ said Rimath, putting an arm round my shoulder. ‘The fork-beetles are harmless. They’re just not pretty.’ 

I shrugged him away. ‘Where’s Mum and Dad, Rimath? Why did you stop us from getting in here?’

‘It’s not that simple. I -’

‘Where’s Mum and Dad?’ Jane’s voice wobbled as she pulled chairs over and dragged the sofa round. I stared into the corners and prodded the ashy fire-place with the poker. There was nothing to see but cobwebs and I could just make out red blinking dots under the mantlepiece. I assumed there was a cluster of fork-beetles watching me and felt sick again.

There was no sign that anyone had ever been in here. Outside the grimy window, the rain still poured in a thick curtain. We were miles from anywhere, all alone, with no-one to help. I shook the tears from my eyes. I turned on the dragon. ‘Why wouldn’t you let us come in and rescue our parents?

‘There were too many of them inside,’ said Rimath. ‘And they’d sealed the door just in case…’

‘In case of us?’

‘In case of me.’

‘You?’ Jane went to kick him again. Rimath’s tail curled round her waist, lifted her and put her in a musty armchair. He pointed at me and at one of the few dining chairs still upright. I sat down. 

‘Who are you to boss us about?’ I shouted. ‘You’re no use. You’re a dragon. Why didn’t you just burnt the door down?’

‘Do you want to rescue your parents?’ said Rimath. We nodded. ‘Then you need to listen to me. Really carefully. It’s quite a story. I’m not sure where to start.’

‘Who’s Noggler?’ I said. ‘And where has he taken Mum and Dad?’

‘He’s a… I don’t know how to describe Noggler and his crew. I don’t want to frighten you.’

‘I’m not scared of anything,’ snarled Jane.

‘Nor me,’ I added, hoping he wouldn’t start describing large dogs, long-legged spiders, dark corridors or great-aunts.

‘Well,’ Rimath scratched his nose. ‘They’re krakenmen. Half human, half sea-monster. It’s very complicated. I won’t know which of his lairs Noggler has taken your parents to till we’ve worked out which way they went. Now what we’re looking for is a square of floor or wall which is a different colour to the rest.’ He peered up at the light-bulb. ‘That’s going to be hard in this light. I’d throw a very bright flame but there’s a risk Noggler has posted a guard and we might be seen.’

‘I’ve got a better idea,’ I said. I didn’t really want to leave the room, unnerving as it was, but there was nothing for it. I ran into the hall where our luggage was and rummaged in my bag. Buried at the bottom was the flash-light I had hidden for late-night reading under the covers. Every squeak and bang of the old house made my heart beat faster. I rushed back into the sitting-room and shone it round, shading the light from spilling beyond precisely where I pointed. 

‘There!’ said Jane. The rug near the sofa was askew and we could just make out a scorch mark. It wasn’t the usual sort of shapeless burn, but was geometric and neat. We dragged the rug back and revealed a large square on the floor-boards. 

‘That’s it,’ said Rimath. ‘If we hadn’t found it within half an hour, it would have faded back to normal. They have powerful magic, the krakenmen. On my own, I couldn’t have done anything but put you into danger too if I’d gone inside. Now I know which way they’ve gone, I know which lair they’ll have gone to and what to do.’

‘So we need to lift the planks and chase after them.’ Jane knelt on the floor and started stabbing at the edges of the square with the poker.

‘No!’ said Rimath. ‘That won’t work. It’s completely sealed again and only they know the spell to open it. We need to follow them a different way. My way. I’ll explain the rest as we go. You have to trust me. But you have to be quiet and…’ he prodded Jane with his tail, ‘not argue back. Promise?’

‘Huh,’ said Jane. ‘If you think – ’ 

‘Oh stop it Jane!’ I said. ‘We’ve got to rescue them. Goodness knows what mess Dad will get us into if he starts talking. He never knows when it’s time to joke and when it’s time to be serious. I trust you, Rimath. Which way now? 

I thought Rimath would take us outside into the rain but instead he headed straight into the kitchen. In the space where the cooker or fridge should have been there was – now I looked closer – another small pointless cupboard door embedded into the wall near the stone floor.

Rimath muttered under his breath. A tiny flicker of flame licked round his mouth and then disappeared. The cupboard door opened to reveal a dark space. 

‘You’d best go first Laura,’ he said. ‘You’ve got a flashlight and you might need it. Jane can go in the middle. I’ll be at the back. We’ll just have to trust each other. Come on, what are you waiting for? We need to get to your parents as soon as possible.’

I crawled forward and shone the flashlight upwards. Above was the shaft leading to the cupboard on the landing. I redirected the light forwards and could see nothing but rock. I had thought maybe there would be a tunnel heading out from the house but I was wrong. With a trembling hand, I pointed the flashlight down and felt over the edge. The shaft continued deep into the ground. My terrified imagination made me think I could hear echoes and crashes. All I knew for certain was that the rungs were slippery and the beam of light was swallowed by the depth of the shaft. I had no idea how deep it was or what waited at the bottom.

But there was nothing for it. Someone had to rescue Mum and Dad and we were the only ones who could.

I turned the flashlight off and pushed it deep into my pocket. Then I slipped over the edge of the shaft until my feet made contact with a rung.

I took a breath and met my sister’s eyes. ‘Let’s go.’ I said.

‘Yes,’ said Jane. ‘Let’s go.’

gold spiral

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 Two

All my life I’d longed to meet a dragon and here one was. I couldn’t think of anything to say.

He was a soft brownish green like a leaf that was about to change in autumn. His snout was long and narrow with an upturned tip. His eyes, wide and hopeful, changed from brown to grey to green as he emerged from the cupboard onto the landing. His mouth was stretched into a slightly daft smile. His skin looked soft as a ballet shoe and his claws were barely visible. He was beautiful.

‘How do we know you won’t eat us?’ said Jane, crossing her arms as if to make herself hard to swallow.

The dragon paused three-quarters of the way onto the threadbare carpet. A mixture of hurt and puzzlement crossed his face. 

‘Oh no,’ he said. ‘I’m not that sort at all. And besides…’ he scanned Jane from head to toe and settled his gaze on her feet, ‘you’re almost as big as me and your feet look a bit grubby.’

Jane gave a proud grin. ‘I haven’t changed my socks for three days,’ she said. ‘It’s an experiment. I want to see how stiff I can get them.’

The dragon said ‘yeuch’, stuck out a yellow tongue then oozed out of the cupboard to sit on his haunches in front of us. His tail had a life of its own. It scratched the dragon behind the ear and then flicked at the spider which was trying to build web to block the open cupboard.

I peered inside the cavity. There was a narrow shaft within the wall of the cottage. Rungs were embedded in one side or at least they were at the top. The shaft was so dark, there was no way of telling how deep it went or whether the rungs went all the way down. It was strange how I could hear the sound of the sea more clearly through the shaft than through the inadequate window.

‘I’m Jane,’ said Jane. ‘This is Laura. She’s not normally this quiet.’

‘I’m Rimath,’ said the dragon. ‘Pleased to meet you.’

We stood and stared at each other in silence. Outside the wind changed direction and rain crashed against the window with enough force to make pop the catch open. It was barely possible to see the beach now, the downpour looked thick enough to slice.

‘Wrecking weather,’ said Rimath and shivered.

Where do you start with a dragon? He wasn’t very large, perhaps as tall as Mum who said she was five feet high. His skin looked soft and the nobbles on his spine were small. Perhaps he wasn’t fully grown, maybe a child like us, and yet he’d said he hadn’t seen anyone for decades. On the other hand if you lived for hundreds of years, then maybe… my mind spun.

‘Do you live in the cupboard?’ said Jane. She lay down on the carpet, stuck her head inside and yelled ‘hellooooooo.’

Another plate or something smashed in the kitchen and this time, the sound of bickering parents and rude words were clearly audible. Only they were coming up the shaft.

‘No of course I don’t,’ said Rimath. ‘I live in a cave. But there’s a tunnel all the way from my cave into this house. Sometimes, when there’s nothing going on, I come in here and pretend I’m human. Although – ’ his tail reached to scratch his head again, ‘it’s a bit boring. What do you do all day?’

‘I play with my toys,’ said Jane. ‘And I put spiders and beetles in Laura’s room when she’s not looking. Then she screams.’

I glared at her. This wasn’t the sophisticated image I wanted to portray to a dragon. I put on what I hoped was a mature and intellectual face. ‘I read and write stories,’ I said.

‘Are they exciting?’

‘They’re ok,’ said Jane. ‘But they haven’t got enough blood.’

‘I’ll give you blood…’ I started.

The smell of burning wafted up the stairs. 

‘Oh no,’ I groaned. ‘Dad’s making dinner after all.’ 

Rimath wrinkled his nose. ‘That’ll bring them out.’

I remembered the mousetrap. ‘Are there lots of mice? I hope they keep out of sight. We’ve brought our cat.’

‘Mice won’t eat Dad’s cooking,’ said Jane. ‘But you should try it, Rimath. Dragons might like the taste of the burnt bits.’

Rimath stood on all fours and started towards the stairs. His tail was flicking. 

Strains of classic music drifted. Dad must have brought the cassette player. Rimath’s tail relaxed and started to wave. He sat down again.

‘Ah, music,’ he said. ‘I like music. They don’t. That might do the trick.’

‘Mice don’t like music?’ Well this was new. Our family had sat through hundreds of wildlife programmes but no-one had mentioned this.

The rhythm of the music altered and the melody distorted into a high pitched wibble. Rimath’s tail tried to plug both his ears at once.

‘What was that?!’ 

‘The tape’s bust,’ I said. ‘I think Dad got a really cheap player. It’ll be all tangled up inside.’

‘Yes but that noise!’

‘I know,’ said Jane. ‘It’s worse than Laura screaming when I drop a worm on her head.’

‘That’s not what I mean, the burning, the noise… they’ll come out. I know they will. Who are the idiots downstairs?’

Jane and I exchanged glances and with a shamed sigh admitted: ‘It’s our parents.’

‘We need to stop them.’ Rimath made for the steps. ‘We need to get to them before they do. They’ll be all right as long as they stay in the kitchen.’

‘Mum’s not scared of mice,’ argued Jane. ‘And Dad’ll probably make friends with them and want to take them home afterwards.’

‘Mice?’ said Rimath, pausing to turn and look up at us. ‘Who said anything about mice?’

The mangled music screeched to a halt and Dad’s voice bellowed up the stairs.

‘Come on down girls! Dinner’s ready. Mum’s laying the table in the sitting-room and I’m going to see if the TV works.’

‘No!’ gasped Rimath. ‘They mustn’t go in there.’

‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘Things will drop on our heads and in our food.’

‘That will just be the start,’ said Rimath. ‘Come on!’ 

We rushed down after him just as Dad crossed the hall and went into the sitting-room. The door slammed shut behind him. 

There was a muffled scream then silence.

‘Too late,’ said Rimath. ‘We’re too late. They’ve got your parents.’

‘The mice?’

‘Why do you keep on about mice?’ shouted Rimath. ‘It’s not the mice who are the problem. It’s the monsters!’

dragon eye

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 One

1975

Jane and I were enduring our homework. I chewed my tongue as I worked my way down a page of decimals but Jane’s struggles with history were beyond tongue-chewing. Mum came and peered over her shoulder.  

It looked simple enough.

Queen Elizabeth I was portrayed standing smugly before two windows, outside one of which the Armada stormed towards England in anticipated victory and outside the other the Armada foundered in an actual storm. Various symbols of Elizabeth’s reign, ambitions, superiority and personality were placed about the Queen herself who was stiff with brocade, jewellery and cosmetics.  

The teacher had drawn arrows pointing at various things in the picture and the aim of the homework was for Jane to complete labels to explain what they represented. So far, she had written Armada arrives,  Armada sinks and was staring at the ceiling for inspiration. Mum told Jane to stop dawdling. She only gave a cursory look at mine, having less idea where the decimal point should go than I did before she went into the kitchen to start dinner.

Jane sighed. History she could get, just about. Symbolic art she couldn’t. And if she didn’t finish soon, the cartoons on children’s TV would be replaced by something boring. Pushing the homework as far across the table as possible and laying her head on her arm, she scrawled a thought next to one of the arrows and then gave up.

Mum returned to examine progress, preparing her ‘in my day we had proper homework’ speech and looked down at the label pointing at good Queen Bess with her hand on a globe. Jane had written ‘she liked jography’.

We could almost feel the seismic response working its way through our mother’s system. The only thing stopping her from yelling immediately was the fact that she didn’t know whether to start on history, laziness or spelling. She had just worked up enough steam to open her mouth when Dad came home early from work.

‘I’ve bought another house,’ he said.

Mum’s mouth shut, opened again, shut again. After a pause she choked out, ‘what do you mean you bought another house?’

‘Well, it’s more of a holiday cottage,’ said Dad. ‘It needs a bit of doing up.’

Mum peered round at the ancient anaglypta that Dad had tried to remove and then painted over in two shades of blue (going round the furniture rather than moving it) and the bit of plastering he’d started but not quite finished and finally in the general direction of the lean-to which was leaking yet again, despite all Dad’s attempts to fix the roof. If that moment had been frozen as a picture with arrows and labels explaining things, I suspect all the comments would have been very rude.

‘Everything will be fine,’ Dad said. ‘It’ll be an investment. We can let the cottage out. Besides, it’ll be good for the girls. Fresh air, countryside, wildlife, history and -’ he added as an aside to us, ‘pirate gold.’

‘Pirate gold?’ Jane and I breathed.

‘It’s right by the beach. There are caves. It’s Cornwall. Bound to be pirate gold.’

I often wonder how my mother’s eyes never got worn out from all the rolling.

A month later, we went to Cornwall.

By the time we got there, our senses were on overload. Four hours of trailing through country lanes had made us stiff. We had taken Harlequin the cat with us and she sat on our laps in turn. When Dad cornered too sharply, she anchored herself with her claws. Dad’s efforts to install a radio meant there was a hole with a draught and lots of dodgy loose wires in the dashboard. We were thus reduced to making our own entertainment. Dad had sung his way through the entire contents of the 1956 Youth Hostellers’ Association song book about three times. We joined in to start with and then simply sat back and suffered. Dad, I should point out, was tone deaf. 

Jane and I discussed the cottage. We decided it would be white, with a thatched roof and roses round the door. The sea would be just a few yards away and when it stopped raining, we’d go down to our own private beach and swim before treasure-hunting in the caves. The sitting room would have window seats. We would each have our own bedroom with a sloping ceiling where we could pretend to be Anne of Green Gables.

Mum broke into our thoughts as the car splashed through another huge puddle. ‘It does have a functioning kitchen and bathroom, doesn’t it?’ she said as if that sort of thing was important.

Dad, as perhaps you can tell, had never got round to showing us any details.

‘Oh, it’ll be fine,’ said Dad, backing up a lane to let someone else go through for the four millionth time.

It was early evening and still pouring, when half an hour after that, we met the cottage.

‘I thought you said it needed just a bit of doing up,’ said Mum.

‘It’ll look better in the sunshine,’ said Dad.

‘Will it really?’

There are some things that whitewash can’t cover up and this was one of them. The cottage looked as if had been thrown together from grey lumps of rock without the use of a plumb line and each stone was fighting to escape back to the quarry. The windows were grimy. The roses round the door looked diseased and overgrown. They were whipping round in the wind and rain on a loose trellis as if they wanted to pull the house down on purpose. The gables were green. Or perhaps more accurately, they were mossy.

‘Chop chop,’ said Dad, handing us stuff to take inside. Jane and I exchanged glances. Most of it seemed to be camping equipment. Juggling a large box and a struggling cat, Dad unlocked the door and let us in. Harlequin jumped down and vomited on the cracked lino. 

It improved the smell of damp.

‘Right,’ said Dad, ‘this way.’ He led us into a small bright room. It had a table. Otherwise, there were just spaces where a cooker and fridge should have been. He rummaged in the box for a camping stove, a kettle and a container of water. ‘While we’re waiting for that to boil, we’ll have a look around.’

‘You said this place had a functioning kitchen,’ said Mum.

‘What’s wrong with this? It’s got a roof and walls. Don’t you remember all the fun we’ve had cooking on camp stoves? It’ll be fine.’

‘Bathroom?’

‘Weeeelll,’ he indicated my box. I opened it to find the dreaded camping bucket with the loo seat.

My mother was not a swearing woman, but I thought she might finally break her rule at that point.

We started the tour.

What seemed to be the sitting room was large but very dark: overhead lights producing less illumination than a birthday cake candle. The grubby ceiling’s black rafters seemed to get lower the longer we stayed under them. Things dropped onto our heads.

‘We’ll just pop back to the kitchen and make something to eat,’ said Dad. ‘You girls go and explore upstairs. Maybe we’ll have a nice Spanish omelette.’

Jane and I exchanged a glance. Our friends said Spain was wonderful but we’d been put off by the thought that Dad’s Spanish omelette, which comprised undercooked potato, onion with bits of peel on, eggs burnt on one side and raw on the other with the occasional bit of shell for extra crunch summed up Spanish cuisine. 

I’ll make something to eat,’ said Mum. ‘You find something to drink.’

With some foreboding, Jane and I went upstairs. A creaky flight of steps led up to four bedrooms. Sloping ceilings abounded, so did peeling floral wall paper and threadbare curtains. From the biggest room, we looked down onto the sea which crashed and slammed against the beach as if it was trying to eat its way towards us. 

We went back out onto the landing. There was some sort of pointless cupboard with a warped, vomit green door between two of the bedrooms and opposite, a much smaller, even more pointless cupboard embedded in the thick wall of the house itself. Masses of cobweb stretched right across its small brown door. A large spider sat in the middle. It was hard to be sure if the web was trembling from the draught or the spider was stamping its feet in warning.

Above us tiles rattled and a steady drip had made a puddle on the thin carpet. 

At the end of the landing was another door. Varnish had been applied in streaks and lumps, congealing as it ran down in dark trickles. As Jane reached to open the door, Harlequin, whom I’d been carrying, hissed, squirmed out of my arms and shot downstairs.

‘Shall I get Dad?’ I suggested but Jane was made of sterner stuff. She pushed at the door. Nothing happened. 

‘Come on Laura,’ she said. ‘Help me.’ She grabbed my hand and forced it onto the handle.

‘You don’t want to go in there,’ said a deep, warm voice behind us.

We both jumped and spun round. There was no-one there. 

‘Perhaps we should go back downstairs,’ whispered Jane.

A plate smashed in the kitchen followed by a muffled exchange. It sounded bad-tempered.

‘Oh don’t leave me,’ said the voice.

A breath of warm air wafting round our ankles made us look down. Out of the small, pointless, cobwebby cupboard poked a dark green snout.

‘Don’t go away just yet,’ said a dragon. ‘I haven’t had anyone to talk to for decades. Come and make friends.’

 

END OF PART ONE

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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 Two

 

 

Murder Britannica – Book Launch

‘I’ve written up everything that just happened.’

Anguis scratched a long fingernail down the shorthand.

‘I think you may have misspelled that bit,’ he said, handing over two denarii. ‘I think you should have written “Today we saw a wonderful classical Greek tragedy in one act”.’

‘But I want my art to reflect truth.’

‘Very noble,’ said Anguis, ‘but I think you’ll find fiction pays better. Have another denarius.’”

OK so the ebook went live yesterday and the paperback a week ago, but as I have been away on a training course, I wasn’t able to update this website.

Murder Britannica started as a paragraph and over a couple of years and with a few rethinks turned into a book.

This could be the book for you if

  1. you like murder mysteries that don’t take themselves too seriously.
  2. want a book to make you laugh, make you gasp and make you say ‘ahh’ at the odd bit of romance (‘odd’ being the operative word).
  3. you like old-fashioned murder mysteries where there are lots of bodies but justice is done (sort of).
  4. you like a historical setting with a modern take.
  5. you like to think the Ancient Britons got more out of Rome than the Romans got out of Ancient Britain.
  6. you like strong female characters who aren’t content just to be there to support the male characters.
  7. you wonder what the area North of Cardiff just might have been like in AD190 (it probably wasn’t, so any scholars out there might need to take a deep breath and suspend their disbelief – go on – read it – it’ll be fun anyway).
  8. You want to know who Anguis is.

Why Roman Britain? Actually originally it was supposed to take place in Rome, but as the story grew, I realised it would be more fun to set it somewhere I knew, among Britons trying to eke the most benefit from being part of the Roman Empire without necessarily giving away anything of their Britishness they didn’t want to. I have always loved history in general and, perhaps because of my own heritage, the interplay of invasion and empire that is part of my own culture. But…. Murder Britannica is neither serious nor literal. If you want to know what’s recorded about life in Roman Britain don’t look at my book. If you want to imagine what could have happened if someone hadn’t tidied up the records to make them politically correct (as in the quotation above), then read my book!

For reasons which have long since escaped me, I took Latin A level (at 18 years old) when I probably should have taken History or Spanish. The actual option to do so was fairly rare in a comprehensive even then so I grabbed the chance. I was in a class of three and just about scraped a pass. My A Level Latin teacher (easily side-tracked into talking about current affairs as the two of us who were less conscientious frantically finished our homework) used to despair at my ability to have two choices in translation and unerringly pick the wrong one. (I thought of this when I sat a multiple choice paper this morning in which I had four things to choose from. Fortunately none of them were in Latin, and I managed to pass with a bit more than a scrape.)

My O Level (taken at 16 years old) Latin teacher was impossible to side-track. She once threw me out of the lesson for coughing too much and I ended up standing outside the class room in what was effectively a covered walkway looking into an open courtyard as the ‘old block’ was built in the same shape as a cathedral cloister without the charm or antiquity. All along the walkways were various ne’er-do-wells, disobedient, insolent malcontents, chucked out of English or Maths or Geography or whatever for being rude or noisy or obstructive or disruptive. They were known faces, boys (mostly) whom you avoided at all costs because it was safer that way in case they thought you were ‘looking at them funny’. (Actually the girls were more frightening.) And then there was me, one of the swots chucked out of the Latin class for coughing. Mortifying. I was especially annoyed because we had got to an interesting part of the life of a fictional man called Caecillius (I think), the son of a freed man living in Pompeii just before it erupted and I missed it.

Perhaps the roots of this story go back that far. Perhaps they don’t. At heart, Murder Britannica is about a family and I’ve got one of a family. Mine is a lot more functional than the family in Murder Britannica perhaps, but Murder Britannica has, among other characters, a mother-in-law (tick), a rather dippy sister (tick), a couple of teenagers (double tick) and a gladiator (well OK I haven’t got one of those). What’s not to like?

Check it out. See what you think. Just don’t tell my Latin teachers.

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Words and photograph (book cover created using Photoshop Elements, Natanael Game Cinzo font from Fontsquirrel and Image ‘Ancient Roman Mosaic of Young Woman’ courtesy of Dreamstime Neil Harrison ) copyright 2018 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the authors and material may not be copied without the authors’ express permission.

Click here to buy Murder Britannica