Calan Mai

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Gall pechod mawr ddyfod trwy ddrws bychan.
A great sin can enter through a small door
~Welsh proverb

“What’s your name then?”

The girl’s broad Welsh accent sounded lilted and strange.

“May.”

“Like the month?”

“No, like the day.”

The other girl, Beth, looked confused.

May sighed inwardly: “A bunch of anarchists got killed back in the Nineteenth Century after being framed for killing some cops in America.”

“Is your Dad an anarchist, like?”

“Dunno. But my Mum is. Don’t know my Dad.”

“Oh.” She looked thoughtful. “So, what’s an anarchist? I think I’ve seen them on T.V. They smash things up yeah?”

“My Mum says they’re kinda like communists but not dick heads. Do you want to go somewhere?”

“OK. So does your Mum smash things like on the telly?”

“No. She’s pretty boring really. Do you live round here?”

“Uhuh. Just over on Willowtrees.” She pointed to the corner at the far end of the quiet tree lined street. “Have you just moved here then? Do you go to Saint David’s?”

“Yeah. Is that the school? I’m starting next week. What’s it like?”

“Boring. Well. It can be fun. Some of the teachers are massive dicks like.” Beth used the word ‘like’ as punctuation.

“Yeah, St Julian’s, my old school, was the same. Except all the teachers were massive dicks.”

Beth laughed as they turned down a narrow leaf strewn lane between the backs of two terraced rows of red brick houses. The sky overhead was grey and puffy, shot through with flashes of pale midday blue –a light breeze stirred the russet leaves carrying the scent of autumnal rot and, puzzlingly, something like candyfloss.

They made their way through back lanes and side streets to the park and all the way Beth talking nearly non-stop; giving May a rather thorough who’s who of the local neighbourhood and school and who to avoid. Michelle Hughes and Bethan Carstairs should be avoided at all costs on account of being “utter cunts” as well as Daffyd Lewis who was “just weird and once wet himself in front of all the kids at his old school” despite his big sister, Katie, being really cool and liking a whole list of bands May had only vaguely heard of.

“This way now. If we go through that hedge and through the trees it takes us right into the park where everyone hangs out.”

May followed her new friend of the last ten minutes through a small gap in the long hedge and into a dense thicket of gnarled and unhealthy looking trees set atop a gold, red and brown carpet of their own shed leaves. Thick black roots jutted knee and elbow like from the leaf litter while the branches overhead turned the day gloomier than it already was.

“Come on, this way.”

Beth led May through the trees and out into the expanse of the park. It wasn’t a park like May was used to. Back home, well, back where home used to be, the park was a small place with swings and a roundabout. With that soft rubbery flooring that was supposed to stop the littler kids from hurting themselves and that was sometimes covered in broken beer bottles and cigarette ends on a Saturday and Sunday morning. Leftovers from the kids who were a bit bigger than May hanging out at night time. This park was massive and was, so far as she could see, completely devoid of the facilities she associated with a park. Here there was a huge green field of sharp looking knee high grass bristling in the wind and encircled by a wide dark ring of naked trees. There wasn’t so much as a bench let alone swings or a slide. She said as much to Beth.

“Oh, aye. This is, like, the ‘Country Park’ rather than a play park.” She made quotation marks in the air with her fingers. “It used to be owned by some rich old lord or something.” She pointed to a low hillock sitting across the field before another stretch of dark woodland. “That’s where kids usually hang out but I can’t see anyone like.”

They made their way towards the mini-hill. The long grass made May’s trousers damp up to her knees. The smell of seasonal rot was stronger here, as was the odd hint of candyfloss.

“That’s called King’s Hill”, Beth gestured towards their destination. “Not totally sure why but I figure it has something to do with the old lord and lady who owned the park before the town did.”

“It’s a bit small to be called a hill. Unless it was a very small king I suppose.”

Beth laughed. “My dad says it is something to do with cavemen from the Stone Age and the name comes from an old superstition about fairies. Which doesn’t make much sense to me. I thought that cavemen lived in caves and this is too small to have any caves in it.”

King’s Hill grew larger as they approached but still seemed rather too small to be called a hill. It was maybe as tall as a double-decker bus with steep sides and a flat top as wide as a bus is long. The grass grew thinner on the hill than it did elsewhere and it looked like it would make it quite a slippery climb to the top.

“Some of the boys like to throw themselves off the top and roll down the side. Kids!” Beth rolled her eyes at the thought of such infantile behaviour. May did likewise even though the thought of jumping from the top and rolling down the steep slope in wild abandon did actually seem quite appealing.

“When we get to the top I can show you where my house is. You can see the school from there too.”

The girls climbed the hill, its steepness causing them to scramble up using their hands to steady themselves. Beth reached the summit before May who accepted her hand to help her stand.

“So where is everyone else? I thought that there would be other kids here.”

“Well, normally there is. It’s Sunday, like, and there should be a bunch of people here. Normally the older kids from fifth and sixth form like. Sometimes some even older kids too –like Tommo Jenkins– he’s not in school any more.”

“Look.” Beth pointed back the way they had come. The land sloped gently down away from the King’s Hill to the tree line and from this elevated position they could see the small town stretching out before them. Matte grey roof tiles and redundant redbrick chimney stacks topped with, now equally redundant, television aerials like grim waves frozen in place as they flowed towards the park and the King’s Hill. Beyond the town the land gradually rose again in a patchwork of fields until they reached the steep slopes of the Clwydian Range.

“See the long black square roof there? That’s Saint David’s”

“The school?” May strained to see where she was pointing but couldn’t make it out amidst the densely packed rooftops and the jagged television antennae –she nodded anyway.

“So where is everyone?” She was secretly relieved that there hadn’t been a bunch of new kids to meet. May hadn’t even really wanted to meet Beth but her mother had insisted. They had been in the new house in the new town for a fortnight, she said, and May had hardly left her room and so Tessa, her mum, had arranged for her to meet Beth; the daughter of one of the people she worked with. It was enough to have to move to a new town in a new country without the added pressure of having to try to make new friends too. That had seemed difficult enough back in Bristol and she had lived there for her entire life.

“I don’t know. There should be a load of people here already. I told my Mum that we would be late if we didn’t set off earlier.”

“I’m sorry.”

“That’s ok, it’s my Mum’s fault for not listening to me.”

“What do you want to do then?”

“Well, we should probably wait here for a bit to see who turns up, someone’s bound to. Normally at least Davey Sims and Leigh Parry would be here by now smoking and trying to look hard. They’re not hard though; they just like heavy metal music but I know Davey Sims used to play violin in the school orchestra which isn’t very heavy metal, like.”

Something glinted across the field, away from where Beth had been pointing out the various notable locations of the town.

“What’s that?”

“Heavy metal?”

“No.” May shook her head. “That!” She pointed away from the view of the town across the field at a large jagged grey rock glistening in the soft light the way stone does when wet.

“I don’t know.” Beth cocked her head slightly, “It wasn’t here last time I came down here.”

“Shall we go see?” May didn’t wait for Beth’s response and, stroding to the lip of the small hill, began her careful descent down the slippery slope. A moment later she heard Beth make a strange squeaking sound which turned instantly into a scream as she rolled head over heels into May’s legs sending them both tumbling over one another to the bottom of the hill where they were received, surprisingly gently, by the soft and damp ground.

The girls lay in the long grass until they recovered their wind and untangled themselves from one another.

“My fucking hair!” Beth pulled a clump of grass and mud from her hair. “Fucking bollocks! I’m going to have to go home before anyone else comes out now. Fuck fuck fuck fucking bastarding bollocks!” With each curse she pulled another clump of mud from her hair. Something that caused May to try, and fail, to stifle a giggle which drew her an angry glare from Beth.

“Fucking funny is it?”

May straightened her face. “Well, yeah, it is.” At which Beth flung the most recently freed clump of mud at May’s head –scoring a direct hit above her ear. This caused May to laugh even harder. “Look, it isn’t that bad. Let’s go look at that thing over there then we can go to my house, it’s closer than yours, and you can wash it out.”

“But.”

“Oh, come on. We’ll only be a minute. I promise.”

“But…”

“Come oooooon.”

Beth sighed dramatically. “Ok, but only if we’re quick.”

“I promise.”

May climbed to her feet and offered Beth her hand. As she pulled Beth to her feet she reached down and, giggling, pulled another clump of mud from Beth’s hair. Together they walked towards the strange stone which seemed to be glistening with a greater intensity despite the light being dimmer now as the clouds overhead grew thicker and darker.

“It wasn’t here last weekend?”

“It wasn’t here on Thursday, I was at King’s Hill with Angharad and Lisa, some of the girls from my year at school, and it wasn’t there then.”

“Why’s it there now then?”

“Probably the council. My Mam says they’re always wasting money on stupid stuff like that. They built a stone circle in the town centre, have you seen it yet? My Mam said that when they built it they had some druids do a ceremony when it was unveiled and some people from the Chapel came down to do a protest and there was a big to do. My Mam said it was a disgrace but it sounds sort of funny to me.”

As they drew nearer the stone, and the dark woods behind it, the smell of rot again filled the air with the odd hint of candyfloss.

“Can you smell that?” May turned to look at Beth who was still pulling increasingly small bits of mud from her hair.

“The leaves? Like, the dead ones?”

“Yeah, that and; does it smell like candyfloss to you?”

“What are you…?” Beth stopped and took a deep breath through her nose. “You’re right too. It does smell like candyfloss, that’s well strange.”

“I could smell it before we came into the park, on the wind, it must have been coming from here. Is there anything on the other side of the woods that smells like that?”

“There’s nothing past the woods; just more houses and fields.”

As the girls drew closer to the stone the true size of the thing became apparent. It was so tall that had May stood on Beth’s shoulders then, even reaching as high as she could, she still wouldn’t have been able to reach the top. The stone was deep grey, almost black in places, and was spotted all over with rough circles of orange and yellow lichen which were what was responsible for the odd glistening May had seen from the top of King’s Hill. The scent of candyfloss was stronger now; distinct from the mulchy smell of autumn.

“Do you think it’s the stone that smells?” Beth asked as they stopped near the stone. “And why is that moss glowing like that?”

“Lichen.”

“What?”

“It’s lichen, not moss. Moss is furry and that doesn’t look furry.”

“Well, whatever it is. Should it be doing that?”

“I don’t know.”

Now that they were closer they could see that the lichen, if that was what it was, was shimmering as though it was covered in multicoloured glitter. Reds and greens and blues glinted softly against the earthy hardness of the orange and yellow substance clinging to the cold grey stone. Beth walked towards the stone as May began to circle around it, content to keep her distance for now, to see if the lichen was on all sides of the huge slab. There was something unsettling about being this close to the stone and now she wished she hadn’t insisted on seeing it.

“I don’t think that you should go any closer Beth.”

“Why not?”

May was at a loss as to how to explain the unease she felt in the immediate presence of the looming rock.

“What if it falls?” Was the best she could think of.

“It won’t fall, look,” Beth pointed at the base of the rock, “It’s dug in really deep by the looks of it.”

It was true, around the base of the stone the earth was piled high but as though it had been pushed up and out; rather than packed in to keep the stone in place. It looked as though the stone had pushed its way out of the ground rather than having been placed there by the town council.

“But, it, it just doesn’t feel right?”

Beth rolled her eyes. “It’s just a bloody stone May!” Beth leaned in towards one of the spots of lichen. “It’s so pretty, May,” Beth looked away to find her friend’s eyes, “look at it, it’s like there are all these tiny, tiny stars sat on top of the moss, the lichen.” Beth brought her hand up to the stone’s surface and brushed her finger tips along the rough crust of the lichen. As she did so there was a soft popping sound and the lichen shot forth a small plume of black, glittering powder into Beth’s face.

“Urrrrrgh!” Beth waved her hand at the air in front of her face and staggered back away from the stone.

“Are you alright? What happened?”

Beth stood for a moment swaying gently before looking at May with a confused look on her face, “It smells of candyfloss.”, and collapsing on the ground. May ran to her new friend and dropped to the ground beside her. Beth’s eyes were closed and she was breathing in short sharp gasps, her chest heaving up and down with each intake of breath.

“Beth, Beth, are you ok?” She reached out and took her new friend’s shoulder in her hand and shook her gently. May started to panic. She reached into her coat pocket and pulled out her mobile phone unsure of whether to call an ambulance or her Mum. She opted to call her Mum and was about to hit the green dial button when Beth began to mumble.

“Beth? What did you say?” May leaned in to hear. As she did so Beth coughed and from her mouth came a plume of black glittering powder that smelled sickly sweet. May thought of the seaside as she collapsed over the prone body of her friend.

-:-

May sat up alone in the field, the stone gone and the sky dark. Very dark. Looking around she could make out the mass of King’s Hill which was darker even than the night around her. Its bulk seemingly pulling the darkness in towards itself. The sickly sweet smell of candyfloss was stronger now than before she passed out. She searched for any sign of her friend.

“…”

She tried to call Beth’s name but no sound came.

“…”

She tried again –trying to shout as loud as she could– but still nothing. She could hear other noises like the trees rustling in the wind and thought that she could hear cars in the distance too –the sound of tyres hissing on wet tarmac.

May reached into her jacket for her phone to call her Mum, tapped the power button and the screen sprang to life. No signal. She couldn’t even text anyone. No Beth, no signal, no Mum. May took a deep breath of the sickly air and climbed to her feet looking around as she did so. With Beth nowhere to be seen May decided to walk back to the road and to find a grown up, or go home to her Mum, and to fetch help.

Walking back towards the woods and the road, the dark of King’s Hill looming over her, she became aware that the darkness of the hill wasn’t the hill at all. It was more the lack of the hill. Where the hill had been there was now just a black space in the shape of the hill. She couldn’t see through to the field beyond but as she moved around it the field behind emerged as it would had the hill been there. May walked closer to the hill; its strangeness drawing her forward til she was nearly at the base of where it should have been.

The nothingness loomed above as she looked at and into the space. She looked down as though she were staring through the hill, through the ground. May’s stomach lurched. She felt as though she was falling forwards into the void before her whilst also being pulled upwards and away. In that moment of nausea what she was seeing became monstrously clear; the hill that wasn’t the hill was a gigantic semi-opaque bubble encasing a seething blue black whirlpool of what looked to her like molten ice, like volcanic lava –were it as cold as space. The sound of cars on wet tarmac, she realised was the sound of this freezing tempest muted by the membrane of the hill.

May lay her hand on the surface of the bubble, it felt soft to the touch but hard below -like velvet stretched across rock. She pushed at it gently and it rippled, turning purple and black in the dimness as it did so. Ripples sluggishly fanning outwards from her hand, growing in depth and height the farther out they spread and slowing as they did so until they came to a halt; leaving the membrane warped and stained with iridescent purple streaks.

She pulled her hand away and felt the surface resist –clinging to her palm. Leaning backwards her hand came away with a soft hiss like paper being torn. Where her hand had lay a tiny sliver in the shape of a crescent moon had opened in the membrane: dark blue against the shadowed black surface. The membrane around the fracture bulged outwards for a moment before collapsing inwards and, with the gentlest of pops, it ruptured. As it did so the noise contained within punched outwards, filling the world with screaming wind and the booming, crashing roar of the ice within.

Amidst the chaos of shattered silence May heard voices; voices speaking a language she didn’t understand. They sounded like the Welsh she had heard on the radio when her Mum was making attempts to learn the language. Like Welsh but different –harder, scratchier– and the voices sounded like stones, unimaginably massive stones, ground together -the words forming of the dust and rubble falling away from the slow violence of grinding rock.

Erioed buom ni

Yn crafangu, clatsho, chwalu

Byddwn yma am byth

Yn rhuo, rheibio, dychwelyd

Sibrydiwn ym meddyliau

Beirdd a ffyliaid

Tywyswn dwylo gwaedllyd

Unbenwyr, brenhinoedd a bechgyn

Erioed buom ni,

Ym man cyniwar, casineb,

Byddwn yma am byth,

Yn rhuo, rheibio, rheoli.

“…”

May screamed but even had she been able to make a sound she would not have been able to hear herself over the tumultuous roar from within the hill. She approached the tear in the membrane of the hill -the skin hanging limp as a torn sail in becalmed water- and peered at the chaos below.

The ice, she had decided that was what it was, was deep black and shot through with luminescent blues that were almost neon in places. It swirled around and around in a dreadfully slow tempest. It was then that May saw them; creatures crawling and creeping across the surface of the storm threwn icebergs –like spiders with too many legs and not enough eyes. It was then that they too saw her.

CLYWCH!

The heavy booming voices called in terrifying unison.

CLYWCH! Plant i fenywod. Rydym yn rhydd!

Again May tried to scream as she backed away from the mound -the surface of which was now rippling like a bubble wanting to burst. As the ripples grew in intensity May turned and ran towards the woods and the road beyond. Glancing back as she ran she saw the hill tear itself apart and the molten ice erupt from within the earth; carried forth on enormous black waves. May ran as fast as she could but her young legs couldn’t match the speed of the coming flood. May was overtaken and overcome by the waves and the world went black. Fraught moments later she emerged into the dim half light of the world as it filled with crashing waves. Within seconds the black water and its cargo of molten ice had risen to such an extent that it covered the trees. May fought to stay afloat as she saw the tops of the houses swallowed by the darkness. The world drowned.

May struggled to stay afloat. She remembered, from swimming classes, to kick her shoes off and fought her way through the surging black water. Huge blue-black boulders of ice and rock tumbling about her, she was carried aloft on the raging sea. She could see the creatures scuttling all over the floating bergs as they smashed together and sunk under the waves, re-emerging moments later. Their cold stone voices called out across the roar of the water and crashing of rock.

Rho’r gorau iddom ni plentyn menyw. Gad i’m dyfroedd dy lenwi

May kicked as hard as she could to swim away from the rocks, the creatures, from their voices. Time after time the waves pushed her upwards only to pull her down once more. Time after time she pushed her head back above the waves coughing up blue-black brine and redoubling her efforts to stay afloat and away from the rocks with their hideous passengers.

Ufuddha i’m gorchmynion blentyn. Ufuddha i’n gorchmynion a fyddwn yn dangos i ti y fath olygfeydd ac rhyfeddodau yn dy enciliad.

Her arms and legs burned with the effort of fighting, her lungs burned from the water she breathed. Each time the waves dragged her down it got harder and harder push her head up, to seize and gasp at the air. Again the waves pushed her upwards and pulled her down into the darkness, the cold voice booming in her ears.

Ufuddha!

She sank into the dark, exhausted and afraid, the strange voice in the strange language echoing in her mind. She began to dream. She dreamed of her mother –so tall and full of smiles– sitting her down when she was small and talking with her about sharing her toys. She dreamed of the time, back home, when men had come and tried to take Marian, her next door neighbour, had tried to take Marian’s television because she owed them money and everyone on the street had come and shouted at them until they went away. She dreamed of that time, last year, when she had punched Debbie Andrews in the nose for calling her friend Martin a faggot. She dreamed of when Martin and his big brother Jacob had tripped up the security guard in town when she and Trisha had been caught stealing CDs. She dreamed of, of the people she loved and dreamed of them swimming with her in the darkness.

Swimming! May kicked and thrashed and pushed herself upwards once more. Doing so she felt the dreams of her friends, of her Mum, lifting her upwards, giving her legs the strength to kick and her arms the power to pull herself up. Her head broke the surface and she filled her screaming, burning lungs with air.

The water seemed calmer now, though the waves still heaved and tossed. Lifted upwards by a surge she saw a tiny island of black pebbles a small distance away. The waves were pushing her towards it so all she had to do was stay afloat and allow herself to be carried there. The huge lumps of ice and rock were spread far apart now or were sinking below the waves.

May allowed herself, exhausted, to be carried on the swell towards the small island as she tried to understand what was happening to her. Aside from the island which drew ever nearer she could see nothing but the dark water all around. No sign of the submerged town, no other people trying to survive the waves, no Beth, no nothing. Just darkness all around her.

As she neared the island she began again to kick against the water and, with what little strength she had left, drew herself towards the island until she felt solid ground below her feet and was able to stand. The ground beneath her feet was cold, hard, and felt like it was made up of the same pebbles that formed the island before her. May walked out of the water and sank slowly, carefully lest she hurt herself on the stones, to the ground.

May lay very still, and very quiet, listening to the waves lapping at the dim, dark, shore. She lay there and stared at the smooth black pebbles seeming larger than they were by their nearness to her face. They were uniform in shape and dimension, uniform in their blackness. They were also, May realised, dry as a bone. She brought her hand close to her face and lifted the pebble directly before her, turning it around in her hand and rubbing the tips of her fingers along its glassy surface.

Noise! May started at the sound of splashing and clattering pebbles. Sitting up she turned towards the noise and saw Beth clambering on her hands and knees out of the water.

[…]

She tried to call out but still no sound would pass her lips. May stood and began to run towards her friend; stopping short when she saw why Beth was on her hands and knees and struggling to free herself from the water. Thin, nearly transparent, tendrils dripping wet were wrapped around her friend and every time she gained some ground onto the beach they tautened and pulled her back again.

[…]

Trying again to scream her friend’s name May ran towards Beth but was betrayed by the uneven and perilous surface. Tumbling forwards she looked at Beth and, as she hit the floor, saw her new friend pulled, with terrible force, back into and below the dark waves.

Blackness.

-:-

May came to as Beth was pushing her off herself and rolling her onto her back in the grass.

“Gerroff me.” Beth sat up. “What the actual fuck just ‘appened?”

May lay in the long grass looking up at blackening clouds overhead, sharp and pointed blades of grass swaying in the gentle breeze. She felt strange, her mouth and nose tingled with pins and needles, and her tongue felt dry, coarse against the soft flesh of her palette.

“May?” Beth’s head appeared above her blocking out the sky “Are you ok? I don’t feel well. What happened?”

May tried to sit up but in doing so her head swam and coloured lights flashed before her eyes. She lay back into the cold grass.

“I don’t feel good either. My face itches and my mouth, and my stomach…” May’s stomach heaved and she rolled onto her side to be sick. She felt Beth pull her hair out of the way of the foul tasting lumpy fluid which gushed from the pits of her stomach into the long grass. Once the heaving had stopped May opened her eyes and looked at the viscous puddle of bile shot through with black powder. She watched as the black flecks moved through bile and the remains of her Sunday lunch -coloured sparks leaping between them as they drew near one another. She recoiled from the smell and the strangeness, bumping into Beth as she did so.

Sitting in the damp grass the girls stared at one another in both bewilderment and the first blush of fear. Beth looked flushed, as though she had been running and the whites of her eyes were a sickly grey rather than white as they should have been.

“Are you ok?” May leaned over to pull away the hair that was stuck to Beth’s face.

“I, I don’t know. I feel funny. I’m scared, May, I want to go home.” Beth’s eyes began to fill with tears, but before she could cry May climbed to her feet and pulled Beth up by her hands.

“OK, we’ll go home now. Do you want to go to my house first? My Mum can call yours to come get you.”

Beth nodded, stifling tears. “Thanks.”

Taking Beth’s hand and giving it a squeeze, she began to leading the way back towards King’s Hill and beyond to the path through the woods. Beth’s steps were faltering, looking to May as though it was taking great effort for her to lift her feet and walk away from the strange sparkling stone.

They were back at the base of King’s Hill, May guiding Beth around the base of the towering mound with her arm wrapped gently around her friend’s shoulders, when the air was filled with a loud deep resonating bass. As though, May thought, a car not so far away was playing dance music too loudly at night. Beth stopped dead in her tracks –her left foot still slightly raised as though she meant to continue walking. May looked at Beth, she was sweating and her bottom lip was shivering. She looked back at May; her eyes were wide and frightened, her face still flushed as though she had been running, and the grey in her eyes seeming to swell and move like the clouds in the sky above them. She felt Beth tense under her arms as she tried to move forward but something was holding her back. May glanced back towards the stone, which was now glistening with greater vigour than before. The lights shimmering in time with the rhythm of the bass that was growing so loud May could feel it in her chest. It was then that she saw it –a thin, almost imperceptible, strand stretching from the back of Beth’s neck straight to the stone. It vibrated as Beth tried to pull away. May pulled the hair away from Beth’s neck and saw there a spot of sharp, hard looking orange lichen from which the thread –thin as fishing line– emerged.

“Fucking hell Beth, there’s something on your neck. Don’t worry, I’ll get it off you, it’s going to be ok.”

Beth made no sound as May reached into her jacket and pulled out her pocket make-up kit. Removing the tweezers she gingerly poked at the lichen which reacted by spewing forth tiny gelatinous orange tendrils. Sinking into the skin of Beth’s neck they pulled tight causing her to whimper. All the while the repetitive reverberating bass was increasing in volume and intensity.

“Fuck it.” May reached back into her pocket and swapped the tweezers for a small pair of scissors. “Right, Beth, there’s something coming from the back of your neck and going back to that fucking stone. I’m going to cut it off in one, two…” and she snipped cleanly through the line before reaching three -a trick she had picked up from her mother when it came to squeezing spots and removing splinters.

As she severed the line the rhythm of reverberating bass faltered becoming a loud, slow booming. The nearly invisible line whipped away from Beth’s neck vomiting forth a thin spray of the black glistening powder, thrashing around wildly like an injured beast –now clearly visible as it moved. The tendril thrashed in the air covering both May and Beth in powder before lunging back towards Beth’s neck, missing her by mere inches and, ploughed through the air, shooting straight for King’s Hill and into the mound.

“Beth?” May looked at her friend. Her cheeks had cleared and her eyes were the right shade of white once more.

“What the fuck May?”

“Beth, I think we need to run. Can you run?”

“I think so.”

A piercing scream cut through the din of the bass and King’s Hill began to shake. The short grass on its flanks and the long grass at its base shuddered unnaturally.

“Run!” May grabbed Beth’s hand; taking off towards the trees and, beyond them, home. Hand in hand they ran away from the hill and straight towards the path through the woods. Before they were halfway to the tree line the ground lurched. May lost her grip on Beth’s hand as they were thrown to the ground. Climbing back to her feet May looked back towards the hill. The tendril that stretched between the stone and the hill had grown to the thickness of a tree trunk. Orange, black, and neon blue; it was pulsing in time with the deep booming of the air. Would this have happened had May left it attached to Beth’s neck? The top of the hill began to shimmer and glisten with all the colours of the rainbow and more. The flanks of the hill blurred. May thought at first it was because of the way that the ground was shaking but as the blur of the hill deepened she saw that it was wave upon wave of black powder spilling down the sides of the hill and amassing at its base. By the time May and Beth were on their feet it was a huge roiling cloud that chopped and churned before, as if an invisible dam had burst, the cloud spilled forth racing outwards and away from the hill in all directions.

“Run!” It was Beth who screamed this time and both turned to flee as fast as their legs would carry them. May quickly overtook Beth but she could hear her friend just behind her sobbing and cursing.

The black powdery wave accelerated behind them as they neared the tree line. May was the first to reach it and sprang towards the nearest low branch pulling herself out of the way of the oncoming tide. She climbed clumsily but quickly and glanced back to see Beth had now fallen way behind and the wave was nearly upon her.

“Beth! Run!” May screamed, her voice whipped away by the growing wind.

Beth, wide eyed and terrified, her feet pounding, was running with every ounce of her strength, but to no avail. The wave caught her, enveloped her, but seemed at first to have no effect. It coalesced and thickened about her stomach. She faltered; lurching forward as though thumped in the small of her back. She tried again to run but lurched once more –again, and again– until she was lifted from her feet and propelled forwards as though mighty hands lifted her and plunged onwards with Beth held aloft like a rag doll.

With Beth in its grasp; the neared the tree line and now May could see that Beth’s head was flung back, her mouth agape. May clung to the branch with all her strength as the wave surged forward and broke around the tree carrying on at speed through the woods beyond. Despite the speed and seeming fury of the wave’s passage it made no sound, or if it did that sound was drowned out by the booming of the air. Beth was swept along with the front of the wave between the trees and out of sight. The wave dissipated as it passed and within seconds no sign of its passing remained below.

Time passed slowly. May continued to cling to the branches; not daring to climb down. Slowly the spaces between the booming became greater and greater, their volume decreasing. May began to count the time between the booms. Once five minutes had passed since the last, and after staring intently back at the stone and King’s Hill, she climbed back down to the ground. The tendril that had stretched between stone and hill was crumbling: flakes of it drifting on the breeze were carried away like dry autumn leaves. The air was still here in the trees though she could see the long grass being brushed by a gentle breeze. Aside from the last pieces of the strange tendril floating through the air everything seemed quite normal.

“Beth!”

May turned away from the field, away from the mound and the stone, and ran into the woods in the direction that the wave had carried Beth. The strip of trees was thin and so it took her less than a minute to reach the hedgerow dividing the park from the road, there she found her friend lying in the leaf litter.

“Beth!” May slid through the mulch to Beth’s side and looked at her helplessly. Beth’s skin was now shot through with veins of glittering black; her eyes flickered restlessly behind closed lids and when she breathed out minuscule sparks of gold, green, red, and blue were carried on her breath.

“Don’t worry Beth, I’m going to call my Mum, and an ambulance, and, and, and it’s, it’s going to be ok Beth, it’s going to be ok.” May rummaged through her jacket pockets for her phone but her hands came out empty. Her phone, along with everything else she had had in her pockets, had vanished; probably lying in the field between the hill and the woods. She daren’t go back to find them and so began to rummage through Beth’s pockets until she found her friend’s phone. She clicked the button on the top and it sprang to life –a picture of Beth and another girl that May did not know on the screen. Locked. She tried punching random sets of numbers in but only managed to annoy the phone to the point that it refused to allow her to enter any more numbers for another five minutes.

May rocked backwards and sat down in the mud and dead leaves. She felt like she might cry but fought back the panic and the fear, swallowed it down into her guts –she could deal with it later but now she had to help Beth, her friend of not even a couple of hours.

“Beth, Beth. I don’t know if you can hear me.” May leaned in towards her friend -not wanting to get too close lest she come into contact with the strange glitter floating on her breath. “I’m going to go and find someone Beth, I’m going to go and get some help. I won’t go far. I won’t be long. There are houses over the road. Someone will help.”

Climbing to her feet May pushed through the hedgerow and emerged onto the road. A car shot past, then another in the opposite direction. She tried to flag down the next car that approached but it didn’t even slow. May waited for a gap in the traffic and dashed across. It was beginning to get dark now and some of the windows in the houses opposite were illuminated. May ran through the nearest gate –black iron between high manicured hedges– and crashed into the bright red door of the large detached house. She began banging on the door and calling for help. After a moment the door was opened by a woman with grey hair and an angry face.

“What on earth is the matter?” She looked for a moment as though she was about to scold May before noticing the state May was in –her hair dishevelled and covered in mud, her clothes filthy and her eyes wide and full of fear. “Oh my, what happened to you?” She looked back over her shoulder and shouted “Ieuan”.” The woman reached out and took May by the shoulder ushering her into the house.

“My friend, please, she’s hurt.”

“There there dear, it’s ok.” She called back into the house again, “Ieuan bloody Griffiths get out of that chair and come here this bloody instant or so help me I’ll…” an old looking man in slippers appeared from a door leading off the hallway.

“What’s all the bloody… oh, who’s this then? You alright love?”

“Of course she’s not alright, look at the state of her, she says her friend’s hurt.” The woman placed a hand on each of May’s shoulders and looked her in the eyes. “You said your friend was hurt dear, where is she?”

May looked behind her out into the darkness, a darkness deepened by the light of the hallway, “She’s in the park behind the bushes over the road.” May pointed to the gap in the hedge. “Just through there.”

“Let me get my shoes on and I’ll go and look for her.”

“It’s going to be alright dear, my Ieuan will find her. Let’s go into the kitchen and get you sat down then I’ll call someone, and you can have a nice cup of tea, would you like that dear? A cup of tea?”

May nodded. After all that had happened in the park the normality of a cup of tea seemed the strangest of things to her.

“My friend…”

“It’s ok dear, Ieuan will find her, he used to be a policeman, didn’t you Ieuan?”

“I did indeed. Thirty years in Gwent Police, so don’t you worry. I’ll find your friend and my Margaret will look after you”

“Th-thank you.” May whispered, her throat now starting to hurt from the vomiting and the screaming.

“What’s your name dear?” Margaret ushered May towards the kitchen as Ieuan sat on the stairs in the hall pulling his shoes on.

“Thank you” May said again, not listening to what was being said.

“Now, I don’t think that your name is thank you, but you’re most welcome –Ieuan take the torch from the cupboard under the stairs love, it’s dark out there– and we really will need to know your name if we’re going to get in touch with your Mam aren’t we?”

“May.”

“Oh, there’s pretty. Like the month?” She sat May down at a small square table in the centre of a large kitchen.

“No, like the day.”

“Oh, now you just sit there dear and I’ll make a cup of tea.” As Margaret busied herself putting the kettle on she dialled 999. May was dimly aware of a short conversation as Margaret explained what had happened and then gave her name, address, and telephone number and hung up the phone.

“There you go dear.” She placed a mug of steaming milky tea in front of May. “I put some sugar in it too, that’ll have you right as rain in no time. Now, why don’t you tell me what happened whilst Ieuan goes and finds your friend. Was it boys?”

“N, no. It wasn’t boys. There wasn’t anyone else there, just me and Beth and…” the whole story came flooding out and Margaret sat there listening, her face expressionless. Just as May had finished telling the story, the front door opened and Ieuan’s voice sounded from the hallway.

“Buggered if I can see anyone over there. She must have wandered off, we’ll have to wait til the boys get here and we can go and look properly.”

“You wait here dear, I just need to go and talk to Ieuan, and then we’ll see about calling your Mam alright?”

Margaret stood and walked quickly out into the hall. May sipped at the tea and strained to hear what was being said. She couldn’t hear much but she did hear Margaret say the word “drugs.”. At this May slammed down her mug and strode into the hallway.

“I’m not on drugs! It’s true, I’m not lying and I’m not high, I’ve never even drank cider, I’m not on drugs!” Her voice was shaking and she felt now that she may cry but with indignation and rage rather than fear. “My friend’s fucking hurt and you think I’m on drugs? I’m going to get her, then you’ll see!”

May dashed past the old couple, through the still open front door, down the short path and ran across the road towards the woods. A hideous screeching noise again filled the air and everything went black.

-:-

When May opened her eyes everything seemed blurred. She could see Margaret and Ieuan leaning over her with another woman who she didn’t recognise –the new woman looked as though she was going to be sick, May hoped that she wasn’t going to be sick on her. Her legs hurt, and her arms, she moaned and her mouth hurt too and then everything went black again.

She opened her eyes again when the pretty boy with the bright green coat was kneeling over her asking her name. “Beth.” Beth wasn’t her name, why did she say Beth? Beth was… “Beth!” She tried to shout her friend’s name but it hurt to speak, and then it all went black.

The next time that May remembered waking up she was laying in a bed in the hospital and her Mum was sat in a chair beside her bed.

“Mum.”

May’s mother looked up from the book she was reading, eyes widening as she saw that May was awake. She jumped to her feet –her book forgotten fell to the floor. “May, oh bloody hell thank God you’re awake.” Her mum’s broad West Country accent made May feel as though she was being hugged by her voice. Her mum leaned in and gave her the gentlest hug that her mum had ever given her. Normally her mum’s hugs were full of strength and love, this felt as though she was afraid that she may break her.

“I’m sorry Mum.”

“Oh shush.” Her mum lay her cheek softly against May’s face. “You’re awake my sweet, sweet darling love. You have nothing to be sorry for, nothing.”

Memories of the afternoon with Beth, of Margaret and Ieuan, came rushing to the front of her mind. “I wasn’t on drugs Mum, they said I was on drugs but I wasn’t on drugs, ask Beth. Where’s Beth? Is she ok? Did they find Beth Mum? She’ll tell you, I wasn’t on drugs.”

“Beth’s fine honey, Beth’s fine. You don’t worry about a thing, it’s all going to be just fine, you’re going to be just fine.”

After that May had to see the doctors who looked at her arms and her legs. They told her that she had been hit by a car when she ran into the road. There was one doctor who didn’t look at her broken arms, or her broken leg, or her back, who just asked questions. He asked about what happened in the park, about Beth, he told her that Beth said she hadn’t been with May at all that day, that they were supposed to meet but that May didn’t turn up. May had gotten really upset by that and had started swearing at the doctor and had tried so hard to move that she hurt her back again and they had to give her painkillers that made her sleep.

She was asleep a lot after that. Her mum was always there when she was awake and sometimes she would hear her talking with the doctors, hear words like psychiatric evaluation and mental break. Her mum would cry then and May would sleep before she could tell her not to.

-:-

May likes the Day Room at St Cadoc’s Psychiatric Unit. It’s big and airy and has tall windows that reach nearly to the ceiling, through them she can see across the staff car park to the dark fir trees that surround the grounds. She has to take a lot of pills now, some of them for the pain that still plagues her back and legs –she can walk again now but it hurts to do so after a little while– and some pills to keep her calm. The pills make her head feel fuzzy Sometimes she can’t think properly but she isn’t sure which of the pills are responsible for that.

Her mum comes to visit every day after work and she brings sweets and books for her to read. She has trouble reading when her head is fuzzy. She can see the words, and she knows what they mean, but she can’t make them fit into shapes that make sense in her head. She doesn’t tell her mum this when she comes to visit and when her mum asks her about the books she just makes things up about them. It would make her mum sad to think that she couldn’t read any more and she looks sad every time she visits anyway.

Sometimes Margaret and Ieuan come to visit too, they bring sweets and magazines, and they talk about lots of little nothings. She thinks that they feel guilty, that they feel they could have stopped her running past them, stopped her running into the road.

Beth comes to visit too, but not when her Mum, or Margaret and Ieuan, are visiting. Sometimes, when it’s late, May sneaks out of her room and sits in the Day Room. She sits there in the darkness watching the even deeper darkness of the woods beyond the car park and sometimes, just sometimes, she smells candyfloss and sees glittering black dust swirling through the trees. It is then that she knows Beth has come to see her; to dance in the trees for her. That’s when she knows that everything will be alright even though nothing is going to be right again.

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