Monday, 19 December 2016

Mamelon 2 - Chapter One

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in any retrieval systems or transmitted in any form or by any means without prior (written) permission of the author.

This is a work of fiction. Names,, characters, places and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.


The Purple Mountains


Bethany Martin rose from her bed after a restless night, went to the window, and flung open the curtains. As she watched the sunrise restore the garden below to life, a lone blackbird burst into song, filling her with an infinite sadness she could not begin to explain. Her gaze wandered beyond gleaming rooftops and hedgerows to the tall, leafy, guardians of Beeches Wood. She began to cry, at which point she lost patience with herself, resolving with a surge of fierce determination to get dressed and put aside once and for all this foolish melancholy that had dogged her for days.  “I’ll go for a walk.” She told her reflection in the dressing table mirror, but it gave no sign that it was impressed. Are you mad? It’s barely dawn for Ri’s sake? it seemed to say.  
For Ri’s sake…? Why had she thought that? Who or what was Ri? It made no sense. I’d put it down to spring fever if it wasn’t midsummer,’ she reproached herself with a laugh that even to her own ears sounded hollow. Even so, she decided, a brisk walk and some fresh air would be sure to help her feel…What?  Better? But I don’t feel ill, just…Quite unable to put her feelings into words, she gave up, sat down, and proceeded to brush her hair with increasing vigour.
Half an hour later found Bethany ready to face the world. She was not, however, prepared for what confronted her on the doorstep as she opened the door with an enthusiasm that was still more make-believe than reality. “Mick..!”
“Hi,” her next door neighbour and boyfriend greeted her with a lazy grin, “Great minds think alike, yeah?” Michael Wright could feel himself blushing, knew he must look as uncomfortable as he felt, but could only stand there, like an idiot, lost for words to explain his presence on Beth’s doorstep at the crack of dawn. Typically, she did not press him but slipped a hand in his and they began walking, the silence between them increasingly relaxed. Without discussing where they might go, their feet seem to have ideas of their own and took them to the edge of Beeches Wood.
They stopped.
“The wood is so beautiful at this time of year,” said Bethany for the sake of something to say, her feet stubbornly refusing to move another step.
“Yes,” Mick agreed, wondering why his legs had suddenly turned to jelly.
“I suppose we should go back,” Bethany murmured half-heartedly.
“I suppose so,” Mick muttered, and then seemed to find another, stronger voice. “This is ridiculous!” he exclaimed, “What on earth is there to be scared of?” Scared…? Now, why did I say that? He looked at Beth as if expecting an answer.
Beth, though, said nothing. Instead, she continued to stare at the trees as if concentrating on…something they were saying? Talking trees now, whatever next? We need to get out of here before something really weird happens. Mick took her arm, but she pulled away. She had not meant to resist Mick’s gentle tug. On the contrary, she welcomed it, and would gladly have gone with him just about anywhere if only to be somewhere else. At the same time, she felt all but overwhelmed by an absurd notion that she was needed.  It was then that very, very faintly, she heard someone calling her name. The voice was not unfamiliar, yet she could not place it.  Moreover, its very sound sent her senses reeling in a way that both baffled and excited her.
Mick struggled manfully with mixed feelings. Only mildly irritated by Beth’s lack of response to his trying to get her attention, he had the sense that she was somewhere else and that he, too, was close behind, neither of them from choice while neither quite wanting to resist some quirk of time and space taking them…wherever. He shook his head. This is mad, mad, mad…. Yet, he could feel himself becoming increasingly acquiescent to the strangest forces that were not altogether unfamiliar.
Out of nowhere, a frantic yapping went up and a little white dog dashed past them into the trees. Hot on his heels was a boy with red hair who paused, panting, beside them. “Ace, he came back!” Pete Wright, Mick’s younger brother, gasped. He got into the house somehow and came and woke me up. Then he ran off again. I suppose it had to happen,” he added, but was not sure why. “I mean, here we are, aren’t we?’ he went on, again without the slightest idea what he meant, only that it made sense…of sorts. “We must go after him before it’s too late…”His voice trailed away into an early morning mist.
“Yes, we must,” Beth agreed, every instinct assuring her it was the right thing to say and do.
Pete ran on into the trees. Beth followed. Mick stood quite still, watching them as if in a dream. No, no, NO, he screamed after the retreating figures, but only on his tongue since his lips adamantly refused to let any sound out.  As he finally drew breath, a sense of resignation coursed through his veins. At the same time, he felt his feet and legs take on a new lease of life, and he ran after the others.
The woods oozed a morning freshness that was invigorating to mind, body and spirit. In no time, the three companions were completely relaxed and glad they had come. They stumbled into a small glade where Ace was lying down and watching out for them with a look that plainly said. About time, too…Nor did the little dog make any attempt to run off again but rolled over on its back for several minutes to let Pete tickle its belly, making little whimpering sounds of obvious delight. Suddenly, it jumped up and trotted to the edge of the glad where the branches of two trees formed a natural arch that none of the three had noticed before.
Ace vanished under the arch.
Pete did not hesitate, but ran after his pet. He thought of the dog as a pet even though it had appeared out of nowhere only weeks earlier and would disappear for days at a time. Beth made as if to follow them. Again, Mick took hold of her arm. “Are you sure about this?” he wanted to know.
Beth shook her head, “No, but we have to go back. You know we do.’
“Back…?  Back where?”
Beth met his puzzled gaze with one of her own. “I don’t know, but we do, you know we do if only for Pete’s sake.”
Mick nodded. Hand in hand, without another word to each other, the pair crossed to the arch and passed through it.
All three considered the tawny light and misty surrounds that greeted them without a tremor of surprise. “Mamelon…” they said in unison, taking considerable comfort from the sound of each other’s voices. 
Beth was the first to realize the light and mist thickening even as they spoke. “We need to find shelter,” she declared. ‘There is a storm coming,” she added with a confidence that came out of nowhere.
Mick peered through the mist where mountains - the nearest one in particular - rose like watchful giants. What might have been an eye but was probably a cave caught his attention. Absurd though the metaphor struck him, he could manage no more than a nervous laugh. ‘Here, this way…” He began to walk slowly towards the eye, his concentration so intense that it was a while before he became aware of Beth tugging at his arm.
“I don’t like it, Mick,” she whispered. “The mountain doesn’t want us here, none of them do.”
“Don’t be daft,” he retorted, unreasonably irritated by the suggestion although unable to refute it completely. He sensed a hostile presence, yes, but put it down to the approaching storm. An inner sense of urgency demanded he break into a run. He barely hesitated before it began to rain heavily.
Beth grabbed Pete’s hand  and they chased after Mick, struggling at times to keep him in their sights through sheets of icy, sleet-like, rain drenching them and making them run all the faster for the sheer cold. “Don’t you dare let go!” she yelled above the clamour of the rain.
Pete had no intention of letting go as memories of how he had become separated from the others once before returned to haunt him. As he ran, struggling at times to keep up, Pete found himself recalling more and more of his previous visit to Mamelon…
At last they reached the cave in what appeared to be the largest mountain in the range. It proved to be a lot further away than Mick had estimated. All three were soaked to the skin and shivering violently. “We need to make as fire,” Mick announced emphatically, “before we all die of hypothermia.”
“Oh, yes?  And just how do you suggest we do that with neither firewood nor matches?” Beth demanded testily.
Before Mick could answer, a strange squawking sound erupted, its shrill echo bouncing around the cave like a rubber ball. “What on earth is that?”
“An animal of some kind obviously,” said Beth, “and whatever it is, it sounds as if it’s in some distress. But where…?”
“A mountain lion…?” Mick suggested
“That’s no mountain lion,” Pete scoffed and let go of Beth’s hand, “that’s a gluck!” He immediately dashed the full length of the vast cave where its rock ceiling sank so low it was impossible even for him to stand. Pete sank to his knees. “There’s some sort of tunnel here,” he called to the others.
“Don’t move, Pete. Stay put!” Mick yelled, his voice promptly drowned by another bout of furious squawking. “I can see something!” Pete cried excitedly and started to crawl through the narrow passage.
“Listen!” Beth grabbed Mick’s arm.
“What do you mean, listen?” Mick shouted, “They can probably hear it in Tonbridge Wells…”
“No, it’s something else. Listen,” she said again.
A note of rising panic in Beth’s voice forced Mick to try and think through a barrage of echoes. At first, his senses acknowledged nothing other than the noise hurting his ears. Then he felt rather than heard it; a distant rumbling not unlike the sound of an approaching express train.
The squawking noises had ceased but for a faint, dying echo. For an instant Mick imagined himself on the platform at Tonbridge Wells station waiting for the Charing Cross train, and almost laughed, but the train was already thundering into the station, and it wasn’t going to stop.
 “Avalanche..!” Mick yelled. “Run!” He pushed Beth away and waited only long enough to be sure she was heading for the cave entrance before heading in the opposite direction. At the spot where he had last seen a pair of blue jeans disappearing into the rock face, he knelt down and yelled, “Pete, get out of there fast!”
Seconds later, the train crashed. The entire mountain shook, gave a thunderous roar that seemed to last forever, and then went absolutely still.
To Mick, sprawled on the floor of the cave, the subsequent silence seemed even more deafening than the roar of the express train. His ears hurt and a cloud of dust was stinging his eyes as well as giving him a rasping cough. At least there was some light although it took a few moments for his eyes to adjust to a dull, fluorescence issuing from the walls of the cave.
As the dust began to settle, so breathing became easier. At the same time, Mick’s alertness to the situation in which he found himself began to reassert itself. “Pete!” he gasped, unable to manage a yell. But the hole through which he had last seen his brother crawling was gone, in its place, nothing but a pile of huge boulders. He struggled to his knees and looked round. “Beth?” There was no reassuring answer. “Beth?” he managed to shout this time.
“Mick…?” At the sound of her voice, faint though it was, his heart leapt until he realized it came from the other side of another towering pile of rocks. There was no way he could reach her. He tried to take some comfort from the fact she was alive, but it only served to drive home the prospect that Pete was almost certainly dead.
“Mick..?” Beth’s thin wail somehow managed to penetrate the fallen rocks. “Can you hear me? I’m going for help.”
Mick gave a huge sigh of relief. Beth, at least, was safe. Since it was a certainty the cave entrance was completely blocked, she must have managed to get clear in time. Help? It was too late for that. He was trapped. Even if any help was on hand to be called upon, which he doubted, by the time the rubble had been cleared he would most likely be dead.
Beth’s earlier comment returned to haunt him, and he was now inclined to agree. “The mountain does not want us here,” he conceded aloud.
“That is certainly true,” an unfamiliar voice tossed back at him.
Mick swung round to find himself confronted by a cone-headed little man wearing a bright red bobble hat much like one his father kept for fishing trips. He instantly reminded Mick of someone. Now, who? Why, Ricci, of course. An image came into his head of himself, Beth and Pete encountering Ricci in Beeches Wood where they, unknowingly, had followed him through a Time Gate into Mamelon that first time. How could I have forgotten? Trust Ricci not to be around now when we need him. Mick shook his head and the image duly vanished. This was no time to be speculating on the accident-prone magician’s fate or anyone else’s, for that matter, other than his own.
“Who are you? Where the devil did you come from? How did you get here? It must be lack of oxygen, that’s it, it has to be. I’m hallucinating already! I am, aren’t I?  I must be. You can’t possibly be real.”
“I am Foss,” responded the little man indignantly, “and I am as real as you are, young Michal.”
“You know who I am?”
“Of course I do. You are expected.”
“Expected by whom?”
“By the Foss, at least, although I suspect there may be others.”
“The Foss…?”
“The Foss, yes, they are my people, we who live under the mountains. I must say, young Michal,” he added with more than a shade of admiration, “You certainly know how to make an entrance.”
“You are Foss of the Foss?” Mick could not decide whether to laugh or cry.
“To be precise, I am Foss 1789632. But you can call me G, everyone else does.”
“I am Foss G as opposed to, say, Foss K.”
“So how many of you are there?”
“Oh, hundreds, I imagine. We were thousands once, but that was a good few lifetimes ago.”
“But there are only twenty-six letters in the alphabet,” Mick pointed out.
“In your alphabet, perhaps, but a good few more in ours I can tell you.”
“Hang on, I can’t call you G. It sounds…Well, odd, to say the least. You look more like a Fred to me. Yes, that’s it. I’ll call you Fred.”
“What is a Fred?”
Mick scratched his head, and then inspiration dawned. “Fred is a nice person, a friend.”
G’s face lit up approvingly. “Then I shall be honoured to be called a Fred. Now, young Michal, shall we get out of this horrid little hole?”
“The same way I came in, by the door, of course. You must focus, young Michal. Focus is everything.”
“My name is Mick,” he insisted.
“If you say so, young Michal,” The dwarf responded absently.
Mick sensed it would be useless to insist. Even so, names were important. I am Mick Wright. Whatever happens, I must never forget that. “Anyway, what door? What are you talking about?” I am hallucinating, I must be.
“That door, of course.” Fred pointed at the north wall of the cave. “Oh, sorry, you probably can’t see it. Well, trust me, it’s there. Just follow me…” Fred swung neatly on his heels, strode to the wall and disappeared through it.
At first, Mick could only stare in blank disbelief. Then a distant memory began to stir in him, recalling a time he had walked through another wall with Mulac, the Nu-gen, in Nul-y-Gray, Place of the Undead. (Whatever happened to Mulac?) Mulac had insisted the wall was an illusion, and been proven right.
“No wall. No wall. Think ‘door’.” Mick muttered over and over before following Fred through the rock face and deeper into the mountain, Beth’s words still ringing ominously in his ears.
The mountain does not want us here.