Arch is the prompt for #writephoto this week. It’s a lovely photo by KL Caley, and gave me several ideas, but only one that persisted.
I’m having trouble fitting everything in at present. Editing Zanzibar’s Rings is competing now with assembling and editing the next flash fiction collection, which needs to be ready for publication in late September. And before that, I have to have all the paraphernalia ready for my first Craft Fair stall in mid September. Bookmarks and banners are still outstanding, according to my lists! I’ll get there. Perhaps if I concentrated on one thing at a time it would help.
But now… some more flash fiction; 954 words featuring my Princelings heroes, Fred & Kira, with this lovely photo in mind:
The Forgotten Arch
“I’ve never been through here before, Fred,” Kira said as she followed her husband down the narrow track.
They had squeezed through some bushes that lined the main track past the lightning tree, and Fred had shown her George’s hidden workshop, just a shed in the woods, safe from prying eyes.
But beyond the shed, the path continued. And Fred had found, further on, way further, something so strange it felt like magic.
The forest wasn’t much; straggly hazels and young beeches sprang from a deep leaf litter than suggested old trees long fallen. It was hemmed in by thick bushes, a mixture of hazel, hawthorn, ash, bramble, and with wild honeysuckle tying it all together.
“It looks like it ends, you see, but it’s just overgrown. Here.” He held up a branch and Kira ducked underneath. “Thanks,” he added, as Kira returned the favour. “Watch yourself now, there are nettles and all sorts.”
They swished through an overgrown path through an abandoned meadow, through another hedge and into a ruined building. Rough stonework hinted at walls long crumbled, although only a few steps further the ground turned sandy, and the walls rose upwards to form a gable end, with steps down to a pointed arch.
And through the arch…
“Oh Fred, how wonderful!”
“I thought so. It’s really pretty isn’t it?”
“I love the view of our pond from the side tower, but this, well, this was designed to be admired, wasn’t it?”
Kira stepped forward, and Fred joined her, looking out. “Would you call it a sunken garden? I presume the hedge continues below this bank. It’s so steep you can’t see it from here.”
“What really surprises me,” Fred said, “is how well kept it is. I mean, I know the pond has reeds, but they’re good for ponds anyway. But the hedge—is so well kept, not like those we’ve come through.”
“I wonder…” Kira said, as she stepped forward.
The pond vanished. In its place was a garden, a vegetable garden, divided up into square and oblong beds, separated from each other by low hedges of rosemary, and lavender, and bay. Hooded figures bent over several beds, tending the plants, scratching out weeds, or harvesting flowers or seeds.
“How strange. What do you think, Fred? Fred?” He wasn’t behind her. The building was there, but it had walls all round, and a roof, and a small belltower directly above the arch.
Kira opened her mouth and closed it again. Who were these people? Where had they come from, and where had the pond gone? She stepped sideways, torn between walking around the garden, and returning through the arch. Surely Fred would be there, waiting for her? But… where was she now?
She took a deep breath, calming the fizzing feeling inside her. However tempted she was to talk to these people, discuss all the herbs and their uses, she ought to simply step back. Who knows what would happen if she didn’t.
She stepped through the arch.
The ruins surrounded her.
Fred was nowhere to be seen. Oh no. Where had he gone?
“Fred!” she called. The pond and its surrounding hedge and bank looked so innocent behind her. But it was some sort of trap. Had Fred gone through? Why hadn’t she seen him?
All the stories about magic places flooded her brain. Had he found a world on the other side of the arch that fascinated him, as she was fascinated by healing herbs? She stood at the very edge of the arch, and called to Fred again. And again. “Come back through the arch, dear heart.”
What if it was a spinning time portal. What if it moved on, and he couldn’t get back? “Fred, please come back—now!” Be calm. Don’t panic.
That was easy to say.
A shadow appeared in front of the arch.
A small girl came through. She stopped, staring at Kira. And turned, ran back—and disappeared. What world was she from? She was dressed differently from the people she’d seen.
Where was Fred? Why hadn’t he returned? Surely he’d be sensible enough to just come back? Sensible.
Fred was sensible but curious. He’d want to investigate. He’d probably be looking for her, wherever he was. He certainly hadn’t come through to the garden she’d been in. Could she go back to it?
This wasn’t right. It wasn’t safe. And she certainly should not go through the portal a second time. She could only wait.
She called again.
And she waited.
As darkness came, she slept.
She jerked awake to the sound of her name. “Fred?”
“Am I close?” The relief in his voice suggested he’d been calling for ages.
“You must be, dear heart. Can you not see the archway?”
“No, there’s just a line of stones here. It’s a strange world full of huge people, and machines. George would love it, but I… I got lost. And I’m still stuck here.”
“I’ll stand right at the edge of the arch. Talk to me and I’ll talk to you—and remember to smell for each other too.”
“What shall I say?”
“Oh Fred… anything, dear heart, it doesn’t matt”—
Fred stepped through and into her arms.
“It’s dark,” he said as he partly released her.
“It’s been a long time.”
She looked up, guessing from the state of the moon. “Maybe half the night.”
“I was there for days. Let’s go home. I’ll tell you what happened when we’re safely home, with a nice cup of cocoa and all our friends nearby.”
“Yes. And then we can forget all about this arch.”
Fred nodded. Maybe someone should knock it down for good. But maybe…
© J M Pett 2021