Bethany rubbed her ankle, although the soft moss beneath her had cushioned her fall, she’d still landed awkwardly; she stared wide-eyed at her surroundings: a swathe of swaying bluebells within a woodland glade, each painted with glassy dew; one thing was certain, she was no longer in the London garden where she and her sister, Bryony had been looking for the little folk.
Hearing voices, Bethany looked around to see two small figures, clad entirely in green, approaching – ‘look, brother,’ one said, ‘the golden-haired child, after all this time’ – the other replied, so quietly that Bethany could barely hear him, ‘hush, sister, wait until we’re sure what we’re dealing with.’
Bethany slowly rose to her feet, thankful that her injured ankle was stable, and took a few steps towards them, ‘I think I’m lost, can you help me please?’
The green-clad man glanced up at her and murmured, ‘if she’s come from Other World, we must tell the Owl-King.’
‘Other World? Owl-King? I don’t understand,’ Bethany held up her hands in confusion; she frowned, seeing them staring at them, ‘what’s wrong?’
‘She can’t be, brother,’ the green-clad woman’s face fell, ‘she isn’t wearing the travelling bracelet we left for her.’
‘Really, Bryony, people don’t just disappear into buddleia bushes,’ Bryony’s papa frowned his irritation, ‘I always thought you were the sensible one,’ he tapped his cane on the floor, something he did when he was unimpressed, ‘stop playing games and tell Bethany to come out from wherever she’s hiding.’
‘You believe me, don’t you, Mr Eyre,’ pleaded Bryony, watching Papa glare at her tutor. Mr Eyre was about to speak when Papa, Donald Goodwin of HMDS*, cut in: ‘and I’d thank you not to encourage such nebulous ideas in the girls, Eyre,’ he growled, stalking into the hallway.
‘Come, Bryony, if we’re going to search for young Bethany, we should start from where you last saw her,’ Mr Eyre extended an arm to shepherd his charge out into the garden, grabbing a cane from his employer’s collection, which was stored in an elephant foot stand, a souvenir from Goodwin’s service in India.
Mr Eyre advanced across the lawn and began to poke about in the buddleia bush; the cane snagged something in the undergrowth and he crouched down, reaching into the foliage. ‘Aha, what have we here?’ he swiveled round and proffered the object to her.
Bryony eyes lit up.
*His Majesty’s Diplomatic Service (the year is 1912).
Bryony, Bethany and their wonderful tutor, Mr Eyre first appeared in my historical fantasy fiction novel, Following the Green Rabbit. They’ve been begging to go on another adventure and it looks like they’ve got their wish!
Your portal to more Six Sentence Stories awaits you here!
‘It’s probably too noisy here in London,’ Bryony whispered,straining her eyes in the pre-dawn darkness to see deeper into the shrubbery, ‘it’s not as if this is Bluebell Woods where we used to live.
Bethany shivered slightly, the early spring frost was creeping through her sandals and pricking at her toes, as she crouched beside her elder sister, peering into the flower bed; nevertheless, she was determined not to give up yet.
‘Just because you read about them in your new poetry book, doesn’t mean they exist, especially at the bottom of our garden,’ Bryony hissed, ‘and I really don’t imagine it’s going to be like last summer after we read ‘Alice in Wonderland’ together.’
Undeterred, Bethany crept a little closer trying to avoid trampling the pretty patch of primroses which lay in her path, ‘look,’ she exclaimed delightedly, ‘here’s a perfect little glade for them to skip about in… oh! oh! oh!..’ she cried out, losing her balance and tumbling into the arching foliage of an unruly butterfly bush.
Puzzled by the sudden silence, Bryony rose to her feet and stepped into the shrubbery, parting the waving fronds of the foliage.
Some of you will remember these two plucky young heroines from my historical fantasy fiction novel, ‘Following the Green Rabbit’, which celebrates its second book birthday today. To celebrate, and in a shameless bit of book promotion, I’m offering the Kindle version at the special price of $2.99 (or your local currency equivalent) until the end of August. You can find it here: mybook.to/GreenRabbit
Great Being Five had been practicing mindfulness while idly airbrushing some of the scenery on Orea, her second favourite planet, when a Thought Bubble popped up in the corner of her monitor. It was her friend and protégé, Great Being Nineteen. His Bubble glowed amber with agitation.
‘It’s Planet Earth. Something’s wrong!’
Five flicked a switch and focused her Third Eye on the spiral galaxy that contained her most beloved planet. Nineteen was right. Planet Earth was behaving very oddly. The whole world was flickering, like one of the earthlings’ little light bulbs when it was about to go out. Her Eye roamed around the screen. The stars in the Milky Way were shifting and shimmering ominously.
‘I think it’s the Time Grid,’ Nineteen yelled. ‘Something has gone wrong with the reset on Planet Earth1. Do something, Five!’
On the far side of her screen, a large chunk of the Milky Way blinked off and on.
A bolt of alarm shot through her. What had gone wrong? All she’d done was turn back Time a little bit in that small corner of the galaxy, so that the little humans could have a major re-think and cease their wanton destruction her lovely blue planet.
And it had all been going so well. The little earthlings had emerged from their planetary pandemic a reformed race. They’d been caring for the planet so well.
‘Shut the planet down!’ bellowed Nineteen. ‘Earth is compromising the whole galaxy!’
‘I can’t do that after all we’ve done,’ snapped Five, anxious to protect her little humans. She took a moment to focus. ‘There’s no need to panic.’
Nineteen’s Thought Bubble eye-rolled.
Five started scrabbling at the keys. She’d just have to reset the Timer again. Go back to the previous setting. Switch it off and switch it on again. Wasn’t that the mantra of every Techbot?
A sudden thought occurred to her. ‘What about your Mind-Set Program, Nineteen? Can you replicate that?’
Nineteen’s Thought Bubble made a thumbs up sign.
Five aligned the Time-Grid counter to its previous setting: 01.01.2020. She took a deep breath and pressed the reset button. At least the little earthlings wouldn’t know they’d already been through Nineteen’s Mind-Set Program, and after all, it had only taken a year for the scourge to die down. They’d be fine.
The screen went blue.
Five held her breath.
The image reappeared. Planet Earth and the Milky Way were stable. The Space-Time Balance had been restored.
The Thought Bubble made an apologetic pop.
‘What’s wrong, Nineteen?’
‘Sorry, Five. Planet Earth’s Virus-Settings wouldn’t accept the same program again. I had to opt for a Mutation.’
Five clutched the edge of her keyboard. ‘What do you mean?’
‘The pandemic is going to take a little longer to play out this time.’
‘Well, there’ll be at least a second and a third wave before it’s over.’
‘You’ll have your beautiful blue planet back again.’
‘But what about the little humans?’
‘Those who survive: never better.’
It’s been more than a year since we last caught up with Great Being Five in a story I wrote1 shortly after South Africa and many other countries first went into hard lockdown in March 2020. I wrote the story you’ve just read in January 2021, when South Africa went into the second wave of the pandemic but never got around to posting it. Reading it again this week, as the country teeters on the brink of the third wave, it seems even more apt than it did when I penned it.
The heavy door clanged shut behind her. Sinead wheeled around, drawing the Sword of Elshain for protection. The weapon glowed only dimly: no threat was apparent.
Sinead advanced through a lofty hallway, which opened into a still larger, circular atrium. Double doors swung open at the far side and a warm, fragrant breeze wafted in. Sinead hastened forward, filling her lungs with the scents of fruits and flowers, and tasting the honey-dewed air.
She stepped out into patchwork of verdant greenery, laid out in manicured magnificence. Was this really the place where Mother Earth was being held?
‘We’ve been waiting for you.’
A woman, neither young nor old, dressed in flowing emerald robes emerged from a blossom-filled orange grove. Moonsprite was at her side, whinnying gently. Sinead dropped her sword and ran towards them, burying her face in Moonsprite’s mane.
In that moment, their reunion was all that seemed important.
Image credit: ‘Alley Of Roses’ by Leonid Afremov on Deviant Art
Alys was studying the store guide at the entrance to the Magical Mall of All, where she and her diminutive dragon had just arrived by doormat. It was incredibly busy and Alys, as a first time visitor, was finding it hard to get her bearings.
‘Wow! This is massive!’ exclaimed Sparky through a shower of excited purple sparks, as he flew to the top of the lofty atrium and stared about. He returned to Alys’s shoulder. ‘Second floor, World of Wands.’
The wand-maker, who was leaning on the old-fashioned shop counter reading a hefty tome, smiled as they entered. Behind him were row upon row of little wooden drawers, each labelled in a neat cursive script. All the ingredients for wand-making! It was all Sparky could do to restrain himself from flying over and taking a look.
Alys placed her damaged wand on the counter. Under the stress of performing FBB Agent Mickey’s transformation, the poor thing had unraveled at the tip, revealing its shiny unicorn hair core. Alys was well aware of the dire consequences of using a damaged wand so they’d hastened to the biggest mall in the magical world to find his famous shop.
The wand-maker blew out his cheeks as he examined Alys’s wand. ‘What’s happened here then?’ He sucked in a breath. ‘Looks like you over-loaded it with a particularly high-grade spell.’
Sparky puffed a plume of concerned crimson smoke across the counter. Alys hesitated. Mickey had sworn them to secrecy.
‘Top secret, was it?’ the wand-maker, touching the side of his nose.
‘Something like that,’ agreed Alys.
‘You sure you don’t want a new wand? More powerful, with a double core, perhaps?
Alys shook her head. ‘She’s like an old friend,’ replied Alys running a gentle finger down the wand. ‘I’d rather have her mended if that’s possible.’
The wand-maker squinted at the damaged end. ‘She’ll need restringing and the point needs a meld-weld but I can have her as good as new within the hour.’ He rubbed his hands together. ‘Two hundred witch-gilders to you, my dear.’
Alys let out a sigh of relief. ‘Thank you.’
At that moment, shop door opened. Alys turned around to see Agatha of Agador’s big beaming, green-tinged face. ‘I thought it was you, Alys.’ Agatha grinned as she entered. ‘Come and help me choose a new set of dress robes.’
Alys grinned back but Sparky face fell. The wand-maker caught his expression. ‘If you’d rather leave the ladies to it, there’s a very interesting book store just around the corner.’
Sparky looked at Alys, a trickle of hopeful steam dribbling from his snout.
‘Of course, Sparky!’ Alys said eagerly. In truth, Alys would rather visit the book store too, but Agatha was her best customer.
The wand-maker waved them off, grinning to himself as the older witch took Alys’s arm and propelled her along the walkway with the tiny dragon rapidly flapping his little purple wings behind them.
Sparky hovered in front of the brightly-painted sign. ‘A Wizard of a Welcome to the Biggest Book Store’, it sang as he entered.
The diminutive dragon’s jaw dropped. He had never seen so many books. Everywhere he flew there were rooms, all packed with books. Potions and poultices, charms and curses, transport and transformation, fight and flight, and finally, a massive, towering room containing works on mystical and mythical creatures, with a whole wall devoted to dragons.
Sparky was in his element. He decided to start with the dragon wall.
Sparky looked around. The other customers were all busy browsing
‘Psst! Sparky! Up here.’
Sparky looked up. A pair of brown whiskers twitched between two large, leather-bound tomes. It was a small brown mouse with unusual, bright yellow eyes.
‘Mickey?’ Sparky let out a shower of surprised sparks. ‘Mickey from the FBB?’ One of the other customers muttered and glared over at him.
‘Not so loud,’ hissed Mickey through the side of his mouth. ‘Remember, I’m deep undercover.’
Sparky raised his eyebrows. ‘In here?’
‘Listen, kid,’ whispered Mickey confidentially. ‘We’ve had a tip off.’
Sparky’s eyes widened.
Mickey’s whiskers twitched for a moment. ‘Maybe you can help.’
Sparky nodded eagerly, his golden eyes shining.
Meanwhile Alys and Agatha had traipsed around a plethora of fancy robe shops and engaged a myriad of anxious assistants as Agatha tried on her umpteenth combination of gown, jacket and pointy hat. Alys smiled at each selection, wondering if Agatha would ever make up her mind, but finally she did. A voluminous set of royal-blue robes and a tall sage-green hat. She’d also insisted on buying Alys a pretty purple cashmere shawl. Alys was delighted.
The two witches bustled back towards the book store. As they approached they heard angry shouts and running footsteps. Something was clearly amiss.
A man, dressed in a tightly buckled raincoat with a felt hat pulled down over his ears, came running around the corner. Agatha stepped in front of Alys and whipped out her wand. The man wheeled around and headed back the way he’d come.
‘Come on, Alys, that’s Shylock the Spiv. Nasty piece of work!’ Agatha marched onwards with a determined expression on her face, Alys hurrying worriedly in her wake.
There was a small explosion and the shouting ahead intensified. As they rounded the corner, a huge plume of purple smoke filled the air.
As the smoke cleared Alys saw that Shylock the Spiv was face down on the floor clutching his hat. A burly security elf stood over him with Sparky perched on his shoulder. Sparky grinned and waved a proud purple paw in Alys’s direction.
Once all the excitement had died down and Shylock the Spiv had been taken away in wand-cuffs, Alys and Sparky returned to the wand-maker’s shop. Alys took out her purse, but the wand-maker shook his head. ‘On the house,’ he said, handing her the mended wand and looking at Sparky. ‘Your little dragon catching Shylock the Spiv like that? It’s the least I can do.’
‘What actually did happen,’ asked Alys, as she headed for the exit with Sparky on her shoulder.
Sparky giggled in her ear. ‘If I told you, I’d have to kill you.’
The sweet scent of meadow flowers filled the air. From her vantage point, mounted on Moonsprite’s back, Sinead allowed her eyes to wander over the welcoming landscape. Her unicorn stepped softly now, filling her nostrils with the captivating fragrance and shaking her silver mane.
Floral notes from a lute and a pipe filled the warm, scented air and suddenly the woodland came alive. Birds swooped among the trees and small furry creatures scampered over the forest floor. Sinead longed to cast off her boots and run barefoot with them.
She leant over Moonsprite’s neck indicating that they should stop. The unicorn came to a halt, turning her head towards the far edge of the clearing where a magnificent centaur, with the upper body of a beautiful bronzed youth, appeared.
Following her gaze, Sinead slid from Moonsprite’s back. The bronzed youth raised his hand in greeting as he advanced towards them.
‘What is it, Sparky?’ Alys asked her diminutive dragon, whose yellow eyes were fixed on something outside the kitchen window. The end of his tail twitched, rattling the rack of Special Stirring Spoons that Alys stored by the sink.
Alys counted under her breath as she stirred crocodile tears and tincture of unicorn hair into her bubbling cauldron. She turned the cauldron down before joining Sparky at the window.
A huge bird was perching on top of the garden shed. The little building looked none too pleased as her roof creaked under the weight of the great big bird.
‘Oh,’ exclaimed Alys. ‘Whatever is that?’
‘I thought it might be an owl with a message for us, only I’m afraid to go out in case it gobbles me up!’ said Sparky.
‘Owl’s don’t deliver messages except in story books, Sparky. In any case, I don’t think it is an owl. It’s much too large. It could an eagle of some sort.’
‘Or an eagle owl, perhaps?’ suggested Sparky.
‘Well, whatever it is, we’d better find out what it’s doing here, if only for the sake of our poor shed!’
Alys poked her heard around the door. Much to the shed’s relief, the bird flapped its huge wings and flew to the ground. It was as tall as Alys, and twice as wide. The bird took a step towards her and opened its great curved beak. Alys clutched the edge of the door. The bird hesitated then uttered a high pitched peep. Alys was taken aback. Its voice didn’t match its owner at all.
‘Can I help you?’ She looked the bird up and down. Its feet were enormous, ending in evil-looking talons. ‘I’m Alys,’ she added politely.
The huge bird hunched its shoulders. Its eyes darted around the garden, before fixing Alys with a big beady stare. The edges of its beak curved upward into a kind of smile. ‘I’m Mickey,’ he chirped in a very un-eagle-like voice. He looked around again. ‘You wouldn’t be a witch by any chance?’
Alys nodded uncertainly.
Mickey reached beneath his left wing with his beak and flashed a blurry I.D. badge at her. ‘I’m with the FBB.’
‘The Fabulous Beasts’ Bureau!’ Sparky shouted excitedly, appearing from behind the door. ‘Wow! Let him in.’
‘Not so loud,’ hissed Mickey, as he squeezed through the door
‘You’re actually an agent with the FBB?’ said Sparky through a puff of admiring amber smoke. ‘What’s your mission?’
‘That’s confidential. If I told you, I’d have to kill you.’
Sparky’s eyes grew even rounder.
‘Okay, Alys. The FBB is going to have to trust you on this.’ Mickey glanced around. ‘I need to go deep undercover.’
Alys nodded uncertainly.
Mickey fished beneath his right wing and tossed a small roll of spell-parchment to Alys. ‘Don’t ask questions, just do it.’
Alys unrolled the parchment and read the scratchy silver writing. ‘But this…’
Mickey hushed her with a shake of his head. ‘Do it.’
Alys shrugged and picked up her wand. Silently she mouthed the words, casting the wand in a wide circle.
There was a blinding flash of silver light, then everything went black. Alys heard something small scurry across the kitchen floor.
When the room returned to normal there was no sign of Mickey.
‘What did you do, Alys?’
Alys pointed at the tiny tail which was disappearing under the kitchen door. They hurried to the window to see a small brown mouse shoot across the garden and slip under the gate.
A moment later there was a thud on the doormat. Sparky sped across the room. A pristine piece of parchment stood to attention then spoke. ‘The FBB thanks you for your assistance. Be prepared. You may be called on again in the future.’ The message sizzled into self-destruction.
Little puffs of pleased purple smoke sprang from Sparky’s nostrils. ‘Secret Agent Sparky!’ he whispered.
Sinead wrapped her arms around Moonsprite’s neck, resting her cheek on her unicorn’s silver mane. Moonsprite cantered swiftly through thick shrouds of morning mist. Beneath her hooves was the shimmering Bridge to the End of the World, suspended in a ghostly void.
Images tugged and twisted in Sinead’s mind as Moonsprite pressed onward. Ghostly faces formed from the fog. She cowered beneath a vision of Last of the Oppressors. It reached for her and she tried to scream, but no sound came. Its huge arm swiped at her. Moonsprite veered, breaking into a gallop, sparks flying from her hooves. The monster Sinead had once destroyed melted into the mist.
The day wore on. Beams of sunlight pooled around them. Green tendrils sprouted along their path, flowers bloomed and sweet perfume filled the air. A lush woodland paradise unfurled beside the bridge; temptation beyond the imagination. Moonsprite slowed to a walk.
Sinead shivered in the pre-dawn blackness. Moonsprite stamped her hooves on the cold stone of the castle battlements. They waited, as Tarron had commanded.
As the lip of the sun appeared on the horizon, Tarron raised his staff. Out of the darkness, a golden pathway shimmered into view. The eyes of the elderly elf fixed unwaveringly on the pathway as he spoke. ‘The Bridge to the Edge of the World appears only on this, the longest day of the year. You must travel swiftly. Do not look over the edge. Do not stop for anything.’
Tarron whispered in Moonsprite’s ear and the silver unicorn lowered her neck. She whinnied gently, encouraging her mistress to mount.
‘Go now,’ Tarron commanded. ‘Remember, you have only until nightfall.’
Moonsprite sprang onto the Bridge and set off at a canter. Sinead glanced over her shoulder. Tarron stood, staff raised, a ghostly Hound beside him.