Monday, 14 January 2013

Mamelon - Chapter 2

CHAPTER TWO


“Mamelon…?” Mick was incredulous.  Beth and Pete, too, stared at the cone headed man in yellow, their eyes wide and mouths open, “What and where the devil is this Mamelon?”     
“It was once a territory of your Earth,” Ricci tried to explain. “When a meteor struck long ago, Mamelon broke away and slipped into a parallel time zone. Or so the story goes.” He shrugged. “The Nu-gen embroider it every chance they get. But they love a tall tale, my goodness, yes. It also conveniently explains away their shortcomings as descendants of the original earth folk. They are not very pretty and not very bright, Nu-gen.”
“Never mind all that. Who cares about…Nu-gen.? Get us out of here NOW,” Mick demanded and hoped  an aggressive stance might conceal the fact that he was growing more scared by the second.  “We want to go home.”
“Yes please,” Beth agreed with feeling. The air was hot and clammy, the terrain swamp-like. She did not like this place at all. Pete crouched next to Ace, put an arm around the dog’s neck for comfort’s sake and stared, fascinated, at the twin moons.
“First things first,” said Ricci neatly sidestepping the issue. “I have created an oasis of civilization in this awful swamp. It is just beyond those trees…” He pointed airily in what could have been one direction or another. “It’s a hovel, I grant you. But we can bathe and eat there. Oh, and those clothes really won’t do. They won’t do at all. Be sure I’ll find you something far more suitable. Much better to talk about things when food in the belly and we’re feeling comfortable. Am I right? Of course I’m right. So just follow me and don’t stray from the path. There are bog folk, Ri and only knows what else about. This is not Mamelon at its best, I’m afraid. Dear me, no.” He rubbed his chin and added under his breath, “nor its worst, I fear...”
“We’re not going anywhere except home,” Mick insisted.
Ricci sighed. He had expected this. “I’ll explain later, I promise. I know it must be a shock. I’m sorry, I truly am. But things are as they are and do any of us have a choice? I’ll say not. So climb off that high horse of yours, young Michal and let’s get on with what has to be done.”
Mick stood his ground. “My name is Mick and we are not going anywhere until you take us home. Then we might listen to what you have to say. There again, we might not,” he added belligerently.
“You can’t go home yet,” Ricci declared emphatically. “As I said, there are things to do. Besides, the Time Gates are only accessible every hundred years or so and I’m sure none of us want to hang around that long. Not here, at any rate.” He grimaced. “Bog country doesn’t exactly invite one to put down roots. Huh, I’ll say not!”
A weird, awesome shriek above made them all start. They looked up and saw a shadowy kite-like creature glide into view, blocking out the light of both moons with its huge wingspan. It hovered directly above them before gathering speed and swooped beyond some tall, silvery trees.
Aryds, ugh..!” For all that he despised vulgar habits, Ricci was sorely tempted to spit out a foul taste the aryd had left on his tongue. He instantly remonstrated with himself. It would not do to set his young charges a bad example. “Come on,” he said impatiently. “I can think of better places to spend the night than inside an aryd!” He scurried away and assumed, correctly as it happened, that the others were close behind.
Beth grabbed Mick’s hand and gave it a tug. “He’s righ. We have no choice. Not for now, anyway. Maybe when we find out what’s going on…” Her voice trailed away nervously.
“Ace isn’t scared, are you boy?” Pete kept a reassuring hold on the dog’s neck even though it meant having to stoop slightly. Ace gave a cheerful bark and chased after Ricci, wagging his tail and dragging Pete along with him. 
Pete kept glancing anxiously back at his brother and Beth, but once reassured they were following, began to relax and enjoy the adventure.  True, it was all a bit scary. But it was more exciting than anything he could have imagined. Even so, there were moments when tall, silvery trees swaying and moaning all around like ghosts made even a trip to the supermarket seem almost a good idea.
Ricci’s ‘hovel’ turned out to be a sumptuous marquee with all mod cons. It looked incongruous, surreal even, in that grim place. Its black and silvery covering, however, provided excellent camouflage.  Inside, a number of units sectioned off with satin flaps provided three en suite bedrooms with hot and cold running water. There was also a dining area that housed a polished table and chairs.  A crystal chandelier sent out a tidal wave of light and nimble shadows. Silver plates, bowls and cutlery shimmered.
“Wow!” was Pete’s immediate reaction.
“Where’s the kitchen?” Beth wanted to know, amazed at how quickly found herself accepting all this. At the same time, she reasoned with the practical side of her nature, what else van I do?  But Ricci merely flung her a despairing glance and made no reply.
In spite of feeling more than slightly overawed, Mick refused to be intimidated by their new surroundings. “Not bad,” he growled ungraciously and was annoyed to see his host nod and grin.
“Not bad,” Ricci agreed. It will do for now anyway, he told himself. Camping was not his style. But he had stuck it out for a good cause, hadn’t he? He regarded Michal, called Mick, with scepticism. Is the lad up to it, he wondered? There is only one way to find out, of course. He sighed again, stoically put his misgivings to one side and showed his guests to their bedrooms. Beth had her own. The two brothers would have to share. He hadn’t bargained on the red haired boy’s arrival, after all. “Come through whenever you’re ready and we’ll eat. You’ll find some clothes in each wardrobe. I’m sure you’ll find something to your taste. They will fit, naturally.”
“Naturally,” Mick muttered. “Anyone would think we were expected.”  Beth glared at him and glanced apologetically at their host. But if Mick’s sarcasm was not entirely lost on Ricci, the odd little man gave no sign.
“Time is short,” said Ricci cryptically, “so don’t take too long.”  He then gave a polite little bow and left them to it.
Beth sat on a bed in the boys’ room, Mick next to her with an arm around her shoulders. Tremors passed through her whole body and into his own.
Pete had already opened the flap of one closet and was rummaging through an assortment of clothes. “Wow!” was his verdict again, this time on an array of brightly coloured shirts and trousers of a tough but light material not unlike denim.
“This is plain daft,” Mick declared, “We can’t stay here. Who knows what that fool may be up to? For all we know, he could be planning to murder us all in our beds!”
“Somehow, I don’t think so,” said Beth, “But, yes, I agree it would be nice to know what he has in mind for us. We’ll just have to wait and see, I suppose. Unless you have a better idea?” she challenged Mick.
“We could try and escape.” suggested Mick without conviction.
“Oh, yes, and then what…? We don’t have a clue where we are except that if Ricci is telling the truth we’re in some kind of time shift. Dctor Who, Mick darling, you are not.”  Beth attempted a wry smile that was met with a scowl. She sighed resignedly. Mick could be as frustrating as he was predictable at times.
Beth’s teasing tone sent Mick’s hackles flying. “Where there’s a will there’s a way,” he declared, digging into a pocket to produce his mobile phone.
“And you think that’s going to work here?” Beth giggled. “Give me strength!”
Ignoring her, Mick tried in vain to switch on his mobile phone. “It’s as dead as a doornail,” he was forced to admit.
“So what so we do now?” Pete wanted to know. “Beth’s right. How can we escape when we haven’t a clue where we are?  The chances are we’ll just end up in a worse mess than we’re in already,” he added scathingly while trying on yet another gaudy top.  “We haven’t a clue where were are,” he repeated, “and who says we’re prisoners anyway?”
“You think we aren’t?”  Mick retorted. “
“Ricci said we’re in Mamelon,” Beth reminded them somewhat absently. “Why, exactly, is anyone’s guess…”
“Well, I trust him,” Pete announced with a self-confidence hr owed more to Ace’s fond licking at the back of one hand than any sound belief. “Ricci’s okay, you’ll see.” He glared provocatively at his brother. But Mick refused to rise to the bait and lapsed into a morose silence.
“I’m for a bath, snd then something to eat. Whatever happens or doesn’t, I don’t intend to stay cold, dirty, and hungry for much longer,” Beth suddenly announced and jumped up from the bed to show willing. “This place may not be real, but I am. I’m real,” she repeated. “We are real. So let’s not forget it, okay?” she declared with a spirited humour that put them all on a near normal footing again. Without thinking, she kissed Mick on the lips and left the room.
“You can take a bath if you want,  just don’t ask me to!” Pete cheerfully remarked to his brother as he regarded himself in a tall mirror wearing a multicoloured shirt and russet jeans almost the same shade as his hair.
“I’m not asking, I’m telling,” Mick growled, “Look at you, you’re as covered in mud as the rest of us if not more so.”
“You can’t boss me around. We’re not at home now!” came the swift reply.
Home….
The word hung over them like fruit on a tree, tantalisingly out of reach. Pete did not attempt to fight off the tears that pricked his eyes. He went to sit next to Mick and was grateful for a hug. 
“Everything will be okay, you’ll see,” said Mick. and could but wish he meant it.
His brother’s gruff reassurance, filtering through the noise of his own sobbing, sounded hollow even to Pete’s undiscriminating ears. It came as no small shock to realise that Mick, too, was scared.  He began to feel better. It’s not half so bad, being scared, when you’re not the only one. “If you say so,” he muttered, conceding that, “I suppose a bath won’t kill me.” It was his way of acknowledging that mixed blessing called brotherly love and recognizing a hand gently tweaking his ear lobe for Mick’s expression of the same. While each tacitly accepted it as his due, neither would have  dreamed of trying to put such feelings into words.
Beth felt guilty. She was glad to be on her own and able to try collecting her thoughts without having to worry how it might look to the others. She was confused, yes, scared even. But neither confusion nor fear could compete with the weirdest sense of déjà vu. There was something about this place, Mamelon.  True, she did not want to be here and certainly would not have chosen to come of her own accord. Yet it was not entirely alien to her. A sense of familiarity had struck her like a blow to the head as soon as she saw the twin moons. The unlikely sight had made her senses reel, certainly, but not with amazement or fear.  Rather, it had felt like a meeting with old friends after years apart. 
She stood in front of a mirror and slipped out of her clothes. “I know this place,” Beth told the young woman confronting her with a grave expression, “Only, that isn’t possible…is it” But no answer came and her lips pouted angrily as she struggled to make sense of the absurd. Why couldn’t they have left me alone? her alter ego demanded.  It did not occur to her, until she was soaking in a gloriously hot bath, to wonder just who ‘they’ might be or how she knew they meant no harm. So of what, exactly, am I so afraid?  Beth closed her mind to it all and resolved to enjoy a good soak.
Ricci was already seated when the trio converged on the handsome table, now piled high with assorted meats, fish, vegetables and fruit. Elegant silver goblets were filled to the brim with what looked like red wine and tasted like apple juice.
“Wow!” exclaimed Pete and proceeded to tuck in with relish.
“So what’s your game?” Mick asked Ricci with a directness that brought an approving smile to their host’s face.
“No game, young Michal, I’ll say not!” The cat-like eyes outshone even the chandelier’s exquisite crystal.  But first may I say again, welcome to Mamelon. True, you find us in a sorry state. But be sure of our love and gratitude always.”
“Gratitude…?” Beth felt her scalp prickle.
“Oh, yes. Whatever happens,” said their host and waved a hand airily, “we are in your debt.”  His demeanour suddenly assumed a new intensity. “Believe me. No one will blame you if you fail.”
“Fail?” Pete was miffed, “We don’t have to pass some rotten test, do we?  I’m never any good at them.  We have them all the time at school. If you ask me, they are a waste of time.  Oh, but that’s because they always ask the wrong questions,” he added hastily, “not because I’m stupid.”
“No?” Mick could not resist a gentle jibe across the table.
“No!” Pete poked out his tongue.
“Alright, shut up the pair of you and let the man speak.” Beth turned to Ricci. “Tell us about Mamelon,” she said, surprising her companions by not asking why they had been brought here in the first place. Everyone noticed, including Pete  who was immediately distracted by the dog, Ace, nudging at his knee for a doggy share of the magnificent spread.
Ricci nodded. He had not been briefed on the girl’s role in events, only that her presence was of vital importance. Certainly, she appeared to have a keener grasp of their situation than the others.  Of the red haired boy, he knew nothing and suspected he was merely an irritating fait accompli. But what of Michal, called Mick, he fretted?  Is the lad up to the task facing him, facing all of us? Observing the youth’s mop of blond curls and full, feminine mouth, he found himself doubting it.
Ricci sighed and reprimanded himself for nursing such misgivings so soon. Needs must as the Beasts of the World drive us, he silently acknowledged and proceeded to tell them all he thought they should know, for the time being at least.
One by one, Ricci’s gentle singsong voice lulled the three visitors to Mamelon into a gentle trance that not only enabled them to participate in but also tempered the full horror of his revelations. Ricci glanced from one to the other. Bethany and the red haired boy succumbed easily. It simultaneously pleased yet troubled him that Michal, called Mick, put up a stubborn resistance. 
True enough, Mick held out for some time before finally submitting to the talents of Mamelon’s most renowned teller of tales.

To be continued.