It’s an X meets Y random title mash-up this week. Once upon a time this gave me Paradisio, and look where that took me! Chuck wants 2000 words, and I’ve come in at around 1950. I drew Terminator meets Snow White, and I’ve added a touch of Downton Abbey and Weird. Well, it’s certainly weird, and possibly incoherent. I think I’ve done better.
Crystal and the seven miners
Crystal ran on, tearing her skirt on the brambles underneath the trees, stumbling on roots, until she fell to her knees, sobbing for breath. This was not her destiny. A privileged life, swept away by an alien race, alien to her, at any rate, although not to her mother, it seemed. Her hands gripped the leaves on the ground in front of her, and they crumbled into the earthy forest litter. It all smelled of earth, and damp, and decay. Winter would be here soon, and she had nowhere to go. Why had she run away? How could she have stayed?
Her muddled thoughts crowded in on her and the light through the spidery network of branches grew dim. Twilight would be on her soon. She couldn’t be out here in the woods all night. She couldn’t! She dragged herself back to her feet and continued on the narrow track. It was definitely a track, so it must lead somewhere.
She staggered forward and clambered into the opening. Toes smashed against boulders, but there was soft sand as well. She felt for a dry patch big enough to lie down in, and slept.
Deep under the cave, nobody slept. Day and night meant nothing to the miners who worked the rocks, searching for silver that ran like glistening threads through the rock. Sometimes they found a thread that became a brook, then turned into a river. A river of silver, easy pickings for patient men, bowed by years of crouching in the narrow tunnels of the underworld. Their bent legs and bowed backs were topped by massive shoulders, used to hewing the rock at close quarters. None of them would win a beauty pageant, had anyone dared to suggest one. They said little, and thought less, all ideas gone, just focusing on the silver, and the rock.
At last one rang a hammer on a spade in just the sort of artificial pattern that seeped into a miner brain dulled by hours of hard repetitive slog.
“Hi, mates,” he called. “Time for tonight.”
Each tidied up his part of the work face, brought his tools back to their central cavern, and waited till all were assembled. Then they started the long walk home, through the old mine workings, winding up to the surface. A routine they’d done hundreds of times.
There had never been a body in the entrance to the cave before. A female body. Sleeping.
At Blackeggar Hall, the servants scuttled and scurried to keep out of the way of the Duchess and her strange guests.
In the library, the Duchess stamped and stomped, and rang for the butler. A silver-clad figure lounged in a new Edwardian armchair, his weapon casually discarded on the floor at his feet, and his ammobelt slung over the chairback. Since the Duchess recognised neither for what they were, she ignored them.
“Where is she?” she demanded as the butler opened the double doors. “How did she escape? You said she was secure!”
“Indeed, madam.” The butler, Barnes, knew only to answer the last question or statement. Always the best policy when dealing with aristocratic employers.
“Roust out the countryside! Bring her back!”
Barnes made to go, but the visitor cleared his throat in a languid way, and the Duchess told him to wait.
“Not roust out the countryside?” she asked him.
“Well, ma’am, you could do that. Then everyone will be scurrying around, getting in the way, trampling over the crops, gossiping over what’s happening at the Hall…”
“Ah. We don’t want that.”
The visitor nodded.
“What, then? I’m not having her threaten my reign!”
Standing in the doorway, out of line of sight, Barnes raised an eyebrow at the word ‘reign’. But then the Duchess did seem to queen it over the county.
“She is friendless, in open country, how will she survive?”
“There are always traitors, sympathisers with radicals and Chartists.”
“You could leave it in my hands, ma’am.”
“As long as you are in favour of antidisestablishmentarianism.”
“Of course, ma’am.”
“I see. Your insights have been most illuminating. I could have nurtured a cuckoo in my nest, a viper to stab me in the breast and overthrow me. Me!”
“Indeed, ma’am,” the visitor said, with a glance at the butler, still hovering, pending a dismissal.
“Go, then. But report back as soon as your mission is successful. Barnes, bring me my breakfast. And send some bread and dripping to the Duke. I suppose I’d better keep him alive, for now.”
Barnes murmured assent and withdrew, closing the doors behind him.
The Duchess moved calmly to the visitor’s side, straightening his ammobelt which he’d slung over his chest. “I do love a man of action,” she cooed.
“Yes, ma’am,” he replied, with a gesture that in another time might have passed for a salute, and he turned on his heels and went through the French windows onto the terrace outside.
The Duchess turned to a mirror over a small desk, checked her facial lines and straightened her pearls, sure that he would be back to pay her close attention. Such muscles!
In a one-roomed shack, six men of short stature, due to age, posture or simply genes, stood around watching the sleeping form on the bed.
“Now what?” asked one, grey-bearded with a deeply lined forehead.
“We wait till she wakes, I s’pose.” The foreman who had rung the end of the shift.
The sleeping form stirred, waving an arm to one side, revealing more than she should due to the damage to her dress from the brambles. Two men giggled, the youngest asked “what’s that?” and another lifted the cover and carefully adjusted it over her body. An older man took the youngest outside for a lesson on the facts of life as he knew them, namely there were boy creatures and girl creatures, and that one was a girl. A long conversation ensued, using the habits of squirrels and frogs as examples.
“Come on lads, let’s leave it to sleep,” said the foreman. “Anyone for breakfast?”
Having successfully turned their minds to immediate gratification, they joined the last of their party outside at the long table where he served up the breakfast he’d been making while the others ogled.
“What is it?” the cook asked his neighbour once all were seated.
“A girl,” said the foreman, between mouthfuls. “And what we have to decide is… after we’ve finished… breakfast, that is, … is what we are going to do with her.”
“Do with who?” asked a sweet voice from the doorway. “And excuse me for asking, but who are you and what am I doing here?”
Silence. All eyes turned to her, some goggling, some smiling, some with hostility.
“With you, miss,” answered the foreman. “Are you hungry? Would you like some breakfast? Shove up there, Storey, let her sit down. Chokey, is there any more?”
Chokey got up and fetched her a plate of fried bread, mushrooms and tomatoes.
“Thank you. Do you have any muesli?” she asked as she poked the bread with her finger, recoiling from the fat oozing out.
Everyone just looked at her.
“Eat up, miss,” encouraged the foreman. “That’s all there is till sundown.”
Crystal considered the contents of the plate, considered the emptiness of her stomach, and tried a tomato. It was sweet and plump and the juice only ran down her fingers a little. Mushrooms were better. She piled some tomatoes on the bread and sank her teeth in. It was very tasty. Shame about the grease.
She was three-quarters of the way through when she became aware of the absolute silence as the men watched her every move. “Is there something wrong?”
“No, miss. We aren’t used to, er, guests.”
“I’m very grateful to you,” she said, remembering her manners, and starting to remember other things too.
“Why did you bring me here? How did you find me in the cave?”
“Well, we fell over you, you being in our road, like. And we decided the best thing was to bring your somewhere safe. Here.”
“Safe from what?”
“The Grim…” one of the smilers chipped in.
“Moose-man..” another supplied.
“Now, men, shh… and safe from whatever you were running from, miss.”
She looked at them looking eagerly at her and waiting for her next word.
“I’m not sure what I was running from. These things arrived and my mother welcomed them. She put my father in the cellar, told him she was running things now. They helped her. Then they locked me in a room in the west wing. Told me I was to be sold to a rich prince in a far-off land who would make me his slave. They were horrible.”
“What sort of things, miss?”
“An alien race from the stars, dressed all in silver.”
The men muttered at this. “You can’t dress in silver.” “How can you dress in silver?” “What’s an alien?” were mumbled and repeated as nobody could make sense of her talk. They looked at each other, uncertain of what to do next, seeking confirmation of their own reactions, and finding agreement without needing to discuss anything.
“That’s very strange, miss. We’ve never heard of such a thing.”
“I have, though!” A loud, firm voice interrupted them. “Don’t move, I can kill you all with one shot.”
Standing at the corner of the shack, holding a large shiny tube directed towards the table, was a man in a shiny suit. Crystal gave a little scream, or more of a yelp. “It’s him!”
“We’ve finished breakfast, sir, but you’re in time for a drink, or a brew if you’d prefer.” The foreman fell back on his routine to make sense of it all.
“That’s very kind, but I’ll just take Miss Crystal and go, if you don’t mind. Thank you for giving me such a clear trail to follow from the mine.”
“You’re welcome, sir. Okay, missy? Refreshed and ready to leave? There you go then, it was nice meeting you.” The foreman stood up, helped her to her feet and pushed her towards the stranger.
“No! I mean… NO!” Crystal screamed, struggling to get away from both the foreman and the stranger, who simply held her arm with one large gauntleted hand, and let her fret away like a bird caught in a net.
“Right then, men, the bed’s free now, so let’s get some rest. Good-bye, strangers.”
The men filed into the shack behind the foreman. The last in, the youngest, turned and smiled sadly at her, before he licked his lips and went in. The sounds of the door being barred from the inside followed him.
“Come on, for goodness sake, Crystal. Stop play-acting and let’s get home. I’ve seen to your great-great grandmother and she won’t be sending your dad off to fight in the next war, so you’ll be safely born and you needn’t worry about the past any more. What more do you want?”
Crystal shook herself free. “Oh, all right. She’s a silly bitch anyway. The old cow deserves everything she gets. Locking me in a turret, for pete’s sake. Can’t we torch the Hall on the way out?”
“No. It’s supposed to last through to the twenty-first century.”
“Then what happens?”
“Some unfortunate event where a thing called a helicopter crashes and sets the place on fire.”
“Oh, good.” Crystal held onto her companion as he pressed the device to take them back to their own time. He didn’t hear her as they flew over the Hall on their way out of this dimension.
“I’ll be back!” she whispered.
© J M Pett 2015