Three Blue Moons

There once was a rich man with three sons and three daughters.

Now the lads were all much of a muchness being young and puppylike – each competing to gain their father’s approval; but the girls were quite distinct. The youngest was pretty as a wildflower and rather spoilt, the middle one was so merry, she could make a corpse laugh and the eldest was serious and wise.

Well you know how it goes, men came from far and near to court the pretty daughter and the merry one but all were unnerved by the serious, quiet eldest girl and in her turn, she couldn’t think of anything to say for all she knew so much. Once she fell in love with a likely young man, but he soon tired of her. Even if he was interested in the wonder she felt at the unfurling of a leaf or her love of music, it all tangled into dull nonsense when she spoke. And the young man turned away to laugh at her younger sister’s jokes and flirt with her littlest sister before leaving for another place and break the hearts of other girls.

Alas, at that time and in that place, it was the custom that the younger girls could not marry until the eldest married and the boys could not bring home a wife until their sisters were gone. The family chivvied the oldest girl but she grew quieter and duller and more serious by the day until the youngest sister declared she might as well be dead and the oldest brother persuaded their father that the girl must marry the first man who asked, whether he be beggar or prince.

You’d think of course that this would bring forth any number of suitors but in truth, as soon as any drew near, their heads were turned by one or other of the younger girls and the older sister grew yet quieter and more serious and more tongue tied.

Still it came to pass after many months, on the night of a blue moon, that a wealthy stranger came by and asked for shelter for himself and his retinue. The rich man welcomed him in, gave him a place of honour at his table and in exchange for hospitality demanded the stranger’s story. For surely the man was from afar, his clothes strange and bright, his hair silver as starlight, his accents smooth and rolling as the sea, and surely he had a tale to tell, for his face though young was scarred with many wounds and his left hand ever wore a fine leather glove even as he ate. 

The stranger looked round the table and perceived a rich man and his wife and three ruddy, handsome sons, and a girl pretty as a wildflower with a pout and a sidelong glance, and a girl merry as a lark, with eyes that sparkled like crystal and a girl with a serious mouth and downcast face, and a hand that crumbled her bread into her dish. 

And the stranger said. ‘I fear to disappoint you, for all that I have done for seven years is search high and low, over mountain and sea and through forest and river, for a wife who could live on a lonely hill in a quiet house and sleep beside a man who never sleeps. I have climbed towers in deserts and hacked through thorns and wrestled dragons and yet I have not found her.’ 

‘And what dowry do you demand?’ demanded the middle girl.

‘Why,’ said the stranger, ‘no dowry do I require but the girl’s own tender heart.’

‘And what riches do you offer her?’ cried the youngest girl, her head on one side.

‘Why,’ said the stranger, ‘she shall wear the finest clothes and eat the best food for as long as she stays with me. And should she ask to return to her parents, I will send her home with a casket of jewels as heavy as her tears.’

‘And why can you not sleep?’ whispered the eldest girl.

The stranger looked on her and said, ‘because I am under a spell and until it is broken, I must live on a lonely hill in a quiet house. If I marry, until she chooses otherwise, my bride will be forever bride but not wife. But if before that time she wants to go home, she will be free to do so and I will see her safely on her way with the treasure I promised.’

The two younger girls shook their heads in disdain but the eldest brother said. ‘Will you take our eldest sister? She’s quiet. A lonely house should suit her.’

And the eldest girl sighed and gazed into her wine and foresaw nothing but sadness if she remained at home and perhaps some peace if she went away and nodded.

The stranger looked kindly on her and said. ‘Will you give me your hand? If we marry tomorrow that will be the first blue moon and it is seven days travel to my house. You need then only stay two more blue moons and then you may choose whether to go or stay. And from the moment I put the ring on your finger, I vow never to touch you again until you ask me to.’

So the stranger and the eldest daughter married the next day and good to his word, from the moment he put the ring on his finger, he did not touch her. Servants helped her mount a horse behind a groom and she waved goodbye to her family and for seven days and seven nights they travelled until they reached a lonely hill and a quiet house inside a walled garden.

This was her new home. That night, she was dressed in her finest linen and laid in the bridal bed and after a while, the stranger came to lie along side her. 

Sure that he must break his promise, she lay awake as long as possible, bedclothes held tight around her. She could hear his breathing, feel the warmth of his body, knew that he was not sleeping. They did not speak. 

Yes, she lay awake as long as she could, but in the early hours her treacherous body gave into exhaustion. Yet he did not touch her and when she finally opened her eyes in the morning, still cocooned in bedclothes, he had gone.

Every night she did the same but eventually, beyond weary, she allowed herself to drift off earlier and earlier. Soon after midnight on the sixth night, she woke to find herself cold and her husband’s side of the bed already empty. She rolled herself more tightly in the covers and drifted back off into dreamless slumber.

During the daytime, they spoke politely whenever they were together. He asked about her ideas and home life but never about her hopes and dreams. She pushed the food around her plate and take tiny sips of wine, aware when his glance fell on her and when it did not. Once she looked up and saw he was hunched within himself, staring down on his uneaten food. When his eyes lifted to meet her gaze, she thought there tears in his eyes reflected hers, but perhaps it was just the candlelight sparkling. 

On the seventh night, she dreamed of wild dances and climbing trees and setting sail on silent seas. She awoke, chilled. Beyond imagining, it was another blue moon. It streamed through the window, illuminating the room and casting a broad stripe across the bed, over the slopes of her body and into the valley of the empty space where her husband should have been. After a moment, she rose and putting on a wrap, went to the window.

Below, on the garden wall, some creature, a cat or fox perhaps, sat hunched and still. She had never thought that an animal could look sad but this one did. Its head was lowered as if it didn’t care who might attack, did not care if there was prey to be caught. She leaned out and whispered to it and the creature stirred and looked up. Its face was indistinct, silver in the moonlight, its size and exact shape somehow ungaugable. Perhaps its fur was striped or perhaps it had been attacked with razor sharp claws. But its eyes, dark and unblinking gazed up at her and the starlight made them seem wet. 

‘Are you lonely?’ she whispered. 

And she heard her husband’s voice say ‘yes.’

Startled, she turned. But he was not there. She was quite alone. There was a cry from the garden and she gazed again, looking for the creature until she saw it slink over the wall, limping a little, to disappear into the lonely hills and whispering forest.

When she asked her husband of it the next day, he said nothing for a moment before telling her that the whole land was under a spell and he with it. 

‘Is it that you’d like to go home?’ he asked. 

And the girl thought of her quiet room and the fragrant garden and shook her head. ‘Not yet,’ she replied. ‘But will you not tell me why the spell was cast?’

Her husband sighed and ran his left hand over his right as if to ease its ache and then he said, ‘my father stole my mother from the forest folk. He treated her most cruelly for she wept for home and for the sweetheart she had lost and she never gave him one babe but me. When I was seven years old, he said I looked too unlike him and he treated my mother so ill she died and her people came and cursed him, casting a spell that he would be forever alone. He laughed in their faces and held up a knife of iron to deflect the curse onto me, child as I was, even as he lunged to kill me. But the spell rebounded through a shaft of strange moonlight and the knife turned in his hand and killed him and my mother’s people brought me up in their quiet ways until I was a man and they told me that the spell could only be lifted when all the hate I’d inherited had been wept away. And I have wept and wept and I been lonely and yet the spell still binds me.’

The girl sat for a moment in silence and said, ‘Let me see those scars husband, and the hand you keep covered, for I think there are herbs in the garden from which I could make a salve and ease your suffering.’

And so the days and nights passed. The girl slept, lying in the bed with him awake beside her and no longer feared that he would break his promise. She picked herbs and made salves and his wounds became less angry, his hand stronger.

On the seventh night of the second month, she saw again the strange sad creature in the garden, its markings even less distinct but its eyes still full of tears and its paw still tender. She spoke to it without hearing a reply. 

Time went by. The girl worked in the garden, nurturing herbs and flowers. She ventured into the edges of the forest and sought mushrooms and bark and spoke with respect to the listening creatures that hid from her and then she returned to the quiet house and went to work with her salves and medicines, not noticing that she sang, not noticing the paintings on the walls and the figures in the dull tapestries brighten as she did so. 

When the third month started, she was teaching the maids to read and polishing a lute to play in the evening, and the silverware sparkled and the paintings and the tapestries almost danced to the music in the air and her husband’s wounds began to heal.

On the sixth night of the third month, she stayed awake until he slipped out of bed and then followed him on tiptoe, her feet chilled by the stone floor. He paced the house for a while and finally stepped out into the garden. She lost sight of him in the shadows, distracted when the strange creature leapt onto the wall and away. Quietly she crept to the place where it had been and saw a single silver hair glisten on a leaf. And she pondered.

On the seventh evening of the third month, there was another blue moon. 

She said at supper, ‘Husband. I have stayed with you for the time you said I must and tomorrow I will decide. But I beg that you will understand if I spent tonight alone in another room.’

For a wonder, his wounds seemed to deepen again as if freshly cut and his eyes filled with tears but he nodded and said no more.

Now the girl made to yawn and casting off her maids, went to bed in another room alone and locked the door. Yet it was from the outside she locked it. And she went out into the moonlit garden and hid behind the tree where the silver hair still sparkled on a low hanging leaf. It was cold in the garden and strange voices came from beyond the wall but yet she stayed.

When the moon was at its highest, she saw her husband come into the garden and walk towards her. She tucked herself deeper into the shadow and watched his approach. He stood for a while bathed in light and then with a sob, he changed from man to a silvery creature a little like a fox or a cat or a wolf with stripes like scars. With eyes full of grief, he lifted his front right paw a little and whispered ‘so lonely’ hunching down as if he wished something might attack him and end his misery forever.

And the girl slipped out from behind the tree and put her arms around him and kissed his fur and wept and her tears and his mingled in the moonlight and as they flowed along the scars on his face, they dissolved away and the creature’s form changed again until he was a man, tall and strong and whole. Yet still he wept as his bride held him close for he dare not break his promise by putting a hand on her.

Until in wonder she reached up and wiped his eyes and said, ‘Cry no longer, my love. The spell has been wept away and soon it will be time for sleep.’

‘Soon?’ he whispered.

And then she kissed his lips and held his hands and said, ‘Yes, soon. I have made my choice. I am yours and you are mine and now I long for you to touch and hold me. We will sleep, my darling but not until the moon sets and we are one and worn out by love.’ 


blue moon

Words and photograph copyright 2019 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.


‘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.


‘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.


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.’


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


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.’


‘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.’




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