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Ebooks   ➡  Fiction  ➡  Young adult or teen  ➡  Fantasy

Musty digs too Deep

 

 

 

 

Musty Digs Too Deep

Bob Cregan

Cover and text is Copyright © 2016 Bob Cregan

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other non-commercial uses permitted by copyright law.

 

 

 

 

 

 

For Linda, Anna and Jenny

 

Ros – the bottle is in the post.

Musty Digs Too Deep

 

There was bare patch in the forest. No trees grew there, no plants larger than a blade of grass found a foothold. The grass was short; you would think it was grazed, but no farmer dared send his animals to feed upon this wild hillside, for grass was not the only thing which rose up from the earth in this special place.

In the centre of the clearing a number of massive stones stood in a circle. In the middle of this ring rose one more stone; a single monolith which, unlike the others, lay on its side like an altar. The rocks looked like they had been either thrust bodily into the ground by a giant hand, or had erupted from below, like a rejection by the earth itself. It did not matter which of these impressions an observer was left with, for neither looked natural; none of these stones belonged amongst the surrounding woods and fields. And it was this sense of something alien, together with the absence of wild vegetation, which gave the local farmers pause when it came to committing their herds to the spot.

The grass was kept short by visiting rabbits, and indeed the wild creatures of the wood seemed not to mind the place at all; deer helped the rabbits to keep down the grass, and on a steep slope, just outside the edge of the stones, a series of ten or so earthen holes indicated the presence of a group of badgers.

This story concerns one of these creatures; one of the youngest. His name could translate as “Musty’ for his unusual odour was how his family identified him and how they referred to him when communicating with the other badgers. He was a curious badger, wild and adventurous, always digging – forever extending the sett though it was not really needed as it was already very large. His mother would lay her ears back in disapproval as he came back, fur hazy with dust, having expanded a chamber or created a new passage. Such efforts in her view just increased the risk of collapse or of one of the youngsters getting lost. To Musty they were a fascinating distraction.

The sett was unusual. People left it alone, because of their fear of the stones, and as a result the passages were long and very old, its chambers high and airy. It was extensive enough to include in its boundaries three of the largest stones; they jutted into the set like vast alien statues and their bulk gave stability to some of the largest chambers.

 

 

It was one day in early Autumn when Musty woke to three stabbing pains. Each originated from a different part of his body, but they all had the same cause. Three cubs – the sett was full of them at this time of year – had made their way to where he was sleeping and were nibbling him, his tail and back feet being the target.

Musty shook them off, gave a growl and lunged menacingly to make sure they were sufficiently alarmed so they might run away and leave him alone, at least for a while. When the sound of paws had disappeared around the corner, Musty sat, licked his wounds and considered what he should do about these little menaces. In characteristic fashion he decided that a new chamber must be built. One sufficiently away from the centre of the sett to make unwelcome visits, such as the one he had just received, unlikely.

Whilst cleaning his tail he considered where he should start his new construction. The shape of the set below ground roughly followed the arc of the stone circle above. Anywhere along that line would not do thought Musty; it was where the sows raised their cubs.

To dig out, away from the centre of the stone circle, would not be practical. The ground dropped away sharply on that side, and expansion that way would mean a lot of work digging downwards.

So Musty decided to dig inwards. There was more space that way as none of his ancestors had chosen to expand the sett in that direction. Indeed no tunnels went that way at all, except one – the mysterious one called “The long Way”. As its name implied it was a long straight tunnel, or at least that is what the echoes told any badger who pointed their head down its length. No one knew for certain however, for neither Musty, nor any living badger, had passed into its depths for generations. Older badgers snuffled and shook their heads in agitation when cubs showed interest in The Long Way. Any illicit wanderings were discouraged with a sharp nip, and so the tradition grew – you did not go down that tunnel.

Musty had long harboured a desire to explore it, though the atmosphere of fear surrounding the path made his fur stand on end. And so, with his tail and feet still stinging from the teeth of the cubs, and with the confidence of youth, he decided that a small burrow down there would be ideal. He would at least be be undisturbed for the winter sleep; no cubs would dare explore in that direction. He need not go far down to achieve this, just far enough so any badgers nearby could not smell him and go to investigate.

 

 

He approached the entrance to The Long Way with some trepidation. It lay at the end of a little-used side tunnel, which was itself tucked away in an isolated part of the sett. He crouched by the entrance and reached out with his senses to see what they told him about the space in front of him. The little noises he made – the rustles and scratches of his body and claws – were not echoed back. They disappeared forever into the darkness and told Musty that the tunnel was indeed long and straight.

It had not been cleaned for years. There was a thick layer of light soil on the floor, an accumulation of many years Musty realised. There was no smell of badger though; any mess came from wear and tear, not use and neglect.

Musty gave a little snort as he made his decision, and set off.

 

 

After just a few yards the nature of the tunnel altered. The floor changed from the dry, hard earth of the main sett to a different construction. Flat stones appeared, lining the floor in a regular pattern. It did not seem natural to Musty, like the stones had been placed there deliberately. He thought of the rumours of how humans sometimes did that when they made their paths down in the valley. He slowed, nervous of this change, but at the same time curious.

He inched forward in a stop-start manner for some time and he became increasingly flighty as he left the sounds and smells of the main set far behind him. It was not long before he decided he had gone far enough, and should stop so he could start on his winter chamber.

He examined the side-wall and gave a tentative scratch with his claw to test the texture. The surface gave way quite easily and in a short time Musty had dug the beginnings of the short tunnel which would lead to into his new chamber.

He had dug about the length of his body, with only his tail still sticking out into the main passage behind, when the floor suddenly gave way. One of the stones – the paving of the Long Way had continued under Musty’s feet as he dug into the wall – collapsed as he dropped down to all fours after a strong digging stoke.

As one fell, the others surrounding it followed, and Musty found himself tumbling through the air surrounded by a tangle of stones, earth and roots. He fell quite a distance, at least the height of a small tree Musty reckoned, before he landed on his back into what he quickly realised was a large open space.

Shaking the dust off his back Musty sat up and looked about him. He had landed in a large tunnel and to his surprise he could see. The walls gave of a very faint green glow, enough for badger eyes to see quite clearly. He sniffed the wall and smelled a fungus similar to one he had seen give off light in the woods above.

Those woods seemed very far off now, and it was plain he was now quite stuck. The tunnel walls were lined with stones in exactly the same way as the floor of The Long Way. It must have been dug so it followed the roof of the passage beneath, so the the floor of one was also the ceiling of the other. Looking up, he could see the hole in the stone lining though which he had fallen; a small trickle of dry soil still fell from the gap.

The tunnel was large. A horse could walk through it quite easily Musty thought. It extended in both directions as far as he could see, but one direction – the one which led out of the circle – had some sort of obstruction; Musty could hear echoes quite plainly. The other direction appeared endless just like The Long Way above.

Musty decided he had had quite enough of this adventure, and headed out of the circle, hoping that he could find a break in the stone walls somewhere. Any exposed soft earth would mean he could dig and escape his unpleasant situation.

He was disappointed. When he reached the obstruction he discovered a wall, built of stone exactly like the sides of the tunnel. Musty had hoped that the tunnel had just collapsed, leaving a pile of earth, but he could not dig through stone. Musty looked at the wall, gave it a little dig with his claws, and wondered why someone had built this obstruction across what was plainly the way out of the hill. After a while, he turned and started to walk in the only direction available to him, inwards, towards the centre of the circle.

 

 

The passage continued towards the centre unchanged, the stone walls rising high and unnatural; the roof an undamaged expanse of stone. To be trapped in a structure obviously made by human beings made Musty jumpy and he made his way forward at crawl, starting at every sound, real or imagined.

After he had progressed a good distance he noticed something different about the passage ahead. He tensed as he saw what looked like two human figures standing on either side of the stone corridor. He nearly fled, half turning in panic, but two thing made him stop. Firstly he knew he really had nowhere to run to; he would be retreating to a dead end and his best bet would be to stand his ground if there were humans ahead. Legend had it that humans, for all their size and fearsome weaponry, did not like direct fights and a few sharp bites might make it possible for him to sneak past. Secondly, something about the figures did not look quite right to Musty. They were too small and did not move.

So controlling his instinct to run, Musty crept forward his eyes straining to see what lurked ahead. After a few feet he relaxed somewhat. His nose told him that these figure were not human. In fact they smelled of very little; no different to the walls of the passage.

As he approached he realised they were just images of humans somehow carved from two large stones. These had the been placed on either side of the passage like sentries.

Close examination showed the likeness to be not good. The arms, legs, bodies and faces were all there in the correct places, but everything was crudely fashioned and out of proportion They stood on low plinths which were strangely carved. There were groups of straight and curves lines joined together in a manner most mysterious to Musty’s eyes, though he knew that these things were to be seen wherever humans gathered; their meaning unknowable.

He turned his head from the statues, dismissed now as unthreatening, and brought his attention once more to the passage ahead. His ears and nose sensed a change ahead. He could sense an echoing quality to the sounds reflecting back, and his nose felt that the air currents had changed a little. He thought there was even a little more light now, the quality of which was different from the greenish tinge given off from the walls; more golden he decided.

All these small changes told him that ahead was a chamber and it was a large one. One which perhaps opened out to the outside world, for how else could he explain the extra light so deep in the earth below the stone circle.

A few steps forward confirmed both his impressions of the space ahead, and the light coming from it. The latter grew in intensity as he approached, much faster than he expected, almost as if it knew he was coming and brightened as he approached. Musty moved into the chamber, which was now quite well lit, and the badger stopped by the entrance astonished.

He realised that the chamber must lie directly beneath the centre of the stone circle for embedded in the roof of the chamber was a massive rock whose shape, texture and size mirrored that of the huge monolith which lay on its side above. The vast rock acted as a ceiling, seeming to float in the roof despite its weight, but Musty noticed that this impression was just an illusion for it was actually supported at one end. Part of the monolith moved down in a smooth arc and rested a foot-like lump on the floor of the chamber. Musty eyed it suspiciously, realising that it was only this support, aided by the manner in which the stone was wedged into the earth, which stopped the whole thing from crashing down and filling the chamber.

The rest of the ceiling was plain earth which just gave emphasis to the strangeness of the underside of the monolith. Musty’s ears flattened as he thought of the weight of the massive stone which sat balanced in this precarious manner. The other walls of the chamber were, like the passage which led to it, stone-built.

All of this was unusual enough for the simple mind of a badger, but it was something else which made Musty shuffle his feet and shake his head in agitation. Something which lay on the floor of the chamber directly under the main mass of the monolith.

A series of unnaturally smooth white rocks were laid out in a circle on the floor of the chamber, like a tiny mirror of the massive circle which lay meters above his head sparkling in the dew. It was these rocks which were the source of the yellowish glow which filled the chamber. Shaped roughly like pears, they each pulsed faintly at the speed of a slowly beating heart. A small object lay in the centre of this glowing circle. It lay in a depression, and was half hidden by the surrounding earth. It seemed to be made of stone or something similar.

Musty shuffled closer, intrigued by the arrangement. He sat up on his haunches to get a better view into the hole and he saw that the item placed there was a small statue, painted black and white. He swayed on his back legs trying to see the details but as he did so one of his feet knocked into one of the glowing rocks. It over-balanced, fell over and turned over three or four times before it ended up rocking on the earth some distance from the edge of the circle.

Nothing happened for a second or so but then all the rocks simultaneously stopped glowing, and the whole of the chamber was pitched into utter blackness. Musty started in surprise and one of his back feet kicked another of the rocks sending it skidding into a distant corner. Musty crouched down terrified, his muzzle pushed flat against the earth, and waited for his eyes to become used to the darkness.

Slowly the glow from the fungus in the walls returned to illuminate the scene once more, and as if mirroring the rise of that eerie green glow, Musty started to feel that he was no longer alone in that chamber. He could feel a growing pressure on his mind, the sort that came when he knew he was being watched. This pressure had a quality to it; a personality even. It felt like exultation and malice.

Just as Musty wondered what this new development could possibly mean, something stuck at his mind. A sharp pain flashed in his head. It faded quickly and was replaced by a numbing of sensation and thought, as a new consciousness flooded through his brain; a consciousness utterly alien and malevolent. Musty’s mind withdrew in panic, as this invader steamrollered all opposition, until he found himself cornered; trapped in a tiny part of his head. Musty was effectively a prisoner in his own body.

The invader ignored the badger’s mind as inconsequential, and seeing this Musty dug down even further, hoping that by doing so he would remain unnoticed; that the presence would not wipe him away completely.

The new owner of Musty’s body tested it out, moving forward at a shuffle. It advanced clumsily at first, but then with more confidence as it – without even being aware of it – started to use some of Musty’s mind to work the unfamiliar body. Musty considered resisting, not allowing the invader use him in this way, but then decided that such action could just make his presence obvious; at this time he decided that it was best to stay quiet, so he allowed his body to do as instructed by the alien presence. As he did so he became aware of strange thoughts and realised that by cooperating he had come closer to the interloper to the extent he could read its mind.

 

I am free! At least for a while. I cannot escape in this body though, not without taking the statue, with me. This creature – a badger I believe – is too alien for me to survive without being close to that channel of my power. If I can somehow get the statue out of this cursed chamber then I can take it somewhere closer to people, and then I can get to work. I can use this little freedom to eventually gain true liberty from the real prison down there in the valley.

 

At these words Musty sensed memories flowing through the presence in his mind, and as delicately as he could – to avoid detection – he drifted in to eavesdrop, to learn about his enemy.

 

 

He saw the interior of a human house. Not one of now, but from long ago. There was just one round room with a fire in the centre. The smoke from the fire rose up high and disappeared through a hole in the roof, which he could see now was made of some kind of turf. There was a door to the outside though which lightning occasionally illuminated a woodland scene filled with torrential rain.

In the corner of the room a human – a female Musty thought as it had long hair – knelt before a small pottery statue. It was finely made and was of a human woman, but not the one in the room Musty thought. It showed someone tall, and the face was painted white, the hair black, whereas the woman was quite short and her hair was golden. She bowed down in front of the effigy, occasionally looking behind her, like she was afraid of being caught.

Her fears were realised; a group of three male humans burst in as she was prostrate on the ground. Dressed all in white they appeared angry. They shouted at the female and pointed at the statue on the ground. The scene faded …

Next there was a procession going along the tunnel though which Musty had just passed. It looked the same as now, except the stone walls were freshly dressed and looked newly built. The male humans dressed in white were there, as well a several others. There was no sign of the woman. The men in white carried a rough wooden platform at waist-height, on which was placed the statue the woman had been worshipping. They all looked serious, worried almost, and they chanted some words as they marched along the corridor.

When they arrived in the chamber beneath the centre of the stone circle they stopped and lowered the wooden platform to the floor. The white stones had already been placed in a circle on the floor, except for one which had been move to one side so as to create kind of doorway. One of the men in white moved towards the wooden platform and gingerly pushed the statue with his toe so it dropped to the floor; it was as if he wanted minimal physical contact with the object. He continued in this manner until he had inched the statue to the centre of the white stones. The other men chanted louder and faster as he did this, reaching a crescendo as their friend eased the statue into a small hole which had been dug to receive it.

He retreated, moved out of the circle, and placed the last white stone in its place in the ring. The men stopped their chanting and moved around outside edge of the circle. When they were spread evenly around the circumference, the oldest of them gave a nod, at which signal they all moved in and placed their hand on one of the stones and spoke a single word.

At the sound of that word the stones started to glow and the memory faded to nothing.

 

 

Musty felt presence inside him look around the chamber, searching for a way of escape. It started to probe his memories trying to find how Musty had made his way there in the first place. Its sped through his fall from The Long Way and his discovery of the stone wall which blocked the tunnel’s exit. Frustrated it left his memories and returned to examining the ceiling of the chamber. It looked at the underside of the monolith, and that piqued its interest. Again Musty went for a ride with the intruder’s consciousness as it used his eyes to scan the whole rock; from stone foot to the where it joined the ceiling.

It was Musty who saw that there was a small protuberance which arched up from the narrow base of the rock and reached as far as the top where it joined the earth of the ceiling. It could be called a ledge , but only just, as it was narrow and uneven. The sight of this gave Musty an idea - risky and unlikely to work- but could just provide both escape from the chamber and a way out of his current predicament.

The presence in his mind did not notice the ledge , and its attention had moved from the stone, and was now passing over the walls, looking for some weakness ; a place where Musty could start dig. Gently as he could Musty tried to guide its attention back to the stone and at the same time to suggest his idea – not his complete idea of course – to the presence.

There was some resistance at first, but eventually his eyes flitted back to the massive stone with its ledge, and the idea planted by Musty took hold. Musty’s body moved over to the statue which still lay in the centre of the circle. There was an anxious moment when Musty though that the presence was going to move the statue – his plan depended upon it staying exactly where it was, directly beneath the monolith – but the creature was just measuring it to see if was too big for what it had in mind.

Satisfied, the badger moved over to the monolith. A small hop and a scramble and he stood on the rock ledge. He moved forward and upward until he reached the roof, his nose touching the loose earth of the ceiling. He balanced himself briefly, bracing his back legs, and then he started to dig.

He dug straight upward so that one side of his tunnel was formed by the rock of the monolith. His luck held, for the ledge in the rock continued upwards beyond the ceiling; broken and uneven sometimes, but giving enough purchase when he wedged his body in the tunnel to continue his progress upwards.

There was an awkward moment when the stone bulged outwards and a tunnel had to be dug out sideways so he could make his way around the obstruction, but for Musty’s plan to work he had to do this anyway and so he just worked away until he had a small horizontal tunnel in the earth and could turn around to face the rock of the monolith.

The creature that possessed his body seemed to be happy to let Musty have a considerable amount of control when it came to digging of the escape tunnel. And so Musty dug. He dug a wide – very wide – tunnel which wormed its way up the side of the monolith. He made the tunnel slope upward gradually – very gradually – so that the there were many twists and turns before his nose detected the moistening of the soil which indicated that he must be near the surface.

With one last push he burst through the turf and burst out into a clear night. He had come out within inches of the monolith, which stood black against the starry sky, massive and eternal. It was hard to imagine the chamber, the evil which lay beneath, and the taste of freedom made Musty just want to run around in the grass before going to his burrow so he could sleep amongst his family.

But he knew what was coming, and it was no surprise when the presence in his mind ordered him to go back down the tunnel, back to collect the statue which seemed somehow to be source of its power. He had no choice but to obey.

As he went down he used his whiskers and ears to try and find any signs that his plan had a chance of success, but he felt nothing and was despairing until he came near the place where his new set of tunnels broke through the ceiling into the chamber. He could just see the green glow of the chamber ahead when the earth gave a tiny heave.

Knowing the meaning of this Musty dug deep and overthrew the invader. He took over his body and made a dash for the chamber. The presence within, taken by surprise, could only watch as Musty dashed forward. The tunnel shook, earth fell all around and a deep rumbling echoed around the tunnels.

He did not bother trying to scramble down the rock face of the monolith, but just dropped down to the earth. As his paws slammed into the ground he dashed to the wall and turned around just as the presence in his mind crushed his resistance and pushed him back into the small dark recess in his consciousness.

The badger that was once Musty looked back at the stone. It shook, causing earth to rain down from the ceiling, and the creature in Musty’s mind saw now what Musty had achieved.

Musty had dug and wormed through the soil much more than was needed to just escape to the surface. The earth in the ceiling at far end of the monolith – the end most distant from the supporting foot – was a now a sponge; a swiss-cheese, more air than earth. And now it was collapsing in on itself as the unstoppable weight of the rock pushed into it.

It toppled, falling away from the supporting foot of stone, which in turn started to slide along the floor in the opposite direction. It gathered speed as the delicate balance which had kept the structure stable for centuries was smashed, disturbed by Musty’s excavations. It did not fall far, for the foot sliding across the floor was destined to eventually hit the wall of the chamber. But Musty did not intend it to collapse completely. All that was necessary was for the ledge of stone to come crashing to the floor exactly at the point where the statue lay hidden in its niche.

Musty felt wild dread rise in his unwelcome visitor as, seemingly in slow motion, the unstoppable momentum of the rock crushed the feeble poetry figure into the finest dust. The panic in his mind shut off suddenly, and Musty felt a sharp pain flood his mind as the interloper was forced out, driven out by the destruction of its conduit into this world. The pain increased in intensity until it was too much and Musty’s mind shut down and he fell into unconsciousness.

 

 

When he opened his eyes the pain was gone. Musty sat up and shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts. He looked around the chamber, trying to remember. The monolith lay at an angle stretched from the floor on one side of the chamber to the ceiling on the other.

Where was this? Musty remembered falling through the hole in The Long Way but nothing more that this. He looked around and noticed the passage into the chamber. This prodded his memory and he remembered its exploration and coming into the chamber, but after that his mind refused.

After a few minutes Musty gave up trying, sat up and moved over to the rock and saw that its angle of lean made for an easy path up to the ceiling. He walked up sniffed the roof decided that he had had enough adventure for that night . And so for the second time, though the first one he would remember, Musty started to dig himself out the chamber.

Once on the surface he could see that something dramatic had happened to the stone in the centre of the circle. It had dropped dramatically at one end; the other had risen up leaving a just wedge shaped lump of rock sticking out of the moonlit turf instead of the flat table which had existed before.

“Something defiantly happened down in that hole which I can’t remember,” thought Musty reflectively. “Probably a good thing I can’t as well. Adventures are dangerous and it is best if I avoid them in the future.”

 

If you enjoyed these adventures of Musty, then you can have some more.

 

Read

 

The Venomous Knife of Iona Skane

 

By

 

Bob Cregan

 

 

 

 

Available for the kindle and kobo e-readers. The first chapter follows.

 

Chapter 1

 

 

Rosetta Clarence has a surprising encounter whilst lying on the roof of a playhouse.

Rosetta Clarence waited, hidden in the dappled shadows, for the badgers to come. It was on her very first day at the Clarence family’s new cottage that she noticed the badger trail which was just visible through the long grass of the overgrown lawn. There was an old playhouse, half obscured in the lush foliage of a plum tree, which stood close to the trail.

The playhouse roof, she thought, would make an ideal place to watch for any badgers using the trail; the leaves of the plum tree formed a thick screen that enveloped the top of the building and the structure was built on stilts so that anyone who lay on the roof was raised well above the height of a man … and conveniently above any sensitive noses that might be nosing for food below.

This was a likely occurrence for, as well as providing a hiding place, the tree was fruiting and had dropped a generous scatter of red, juicy plums.  The fruit nestled invitingly in the grass and might tempt the badgers to linger whilst Rosetta watched them unseen from amongst the leaves, or at least that was her idea.

Looking out from between the branches Rosetta noticed that, as well as having a bird’s eye view of the badger trail, she also had an excellent view of the area where she now lived, as the family cottage clung high on the steep slopes of the river valley.

Looking out from her hiding place behind the branches, she saw the valley expand out from a cramped darkness in the southwest, into the broad open shape of the Vale of Oldmere.

Even in this wide part of the valley its sides were steep – an impression that was lessened by thick woods which sprouted on the upper slopes – but they were spread far enough apart for sunlight to enter and illuminate the small and pretty village of Oldmere.

The buildings of the village clung to the Northern part of the valley. They spread down from high up the valley until they encroached onto the flat fields near the road. There were no buildings on the other side of the road, which effectively marked the southern boundary of Oldmere. The village was constructed of solid red stone and had perhaps thirty houses.

 At the far end of the valley – to the east – the sides steepened further and turned to cliffs, which crowded in close to the river and formed a narrow gorge into which the river gushed. It disappeared from sight, eventually reappearing upon distant plains, which had a grey smudge smeared across them indicating a nearby town. Upstream and towards the southwest the river weaved through tightly packed hills towards its source in distant mountains.

Rosetta found her eyes drawn back to the valley, for in the centre of this wooded amphitheatre, enclosed by a loop of the river and dominating the whole area, was the impressive mass of Oldmere Knoll; a rocky outcrop which rose seemingly magically from the otherwise flat, featureless fields of the valley floor. By the river bank it consisted of cliffs, which rose to such a height that even Oldmere church, tucked into the valley wall opposite, became tiny in comparison. On its other side, the knoll fell away more gradually before rising steeply again to form the valley side.

Such an eruption would be expected to have a large mediaeval castle perched on top, and at first glance it looked like this was what had been placed there.

However closer examination showed that, though there were ancient buildings placed on the summit, there were no battlements or fortifications, and instead the structures had the look of an ancient monastery or university. The scatter of modern buildings that sprawled below the old stone lessened this effect and the car park that had been built at the foot of the knoll finished it off completely. The playing fields which rolled out over the nearby valley floor would finally make it absolutely clear to an inquiring mind that what sat on Oldmere Knoll was most a likely school, or at least it was nowadays.

However Rosetta Clarence would not be going to Oldmere School. It was a private school, famous, and its students came from the richest, or the cleverest, children in the world. Scattered amongst its old pupils there were five prime ministers, tens of government ministers from multiple nations and even one American president. Rosetta’s family could not afford the fees that the school demanded. Her mother only had a small income since her father died, and even if the money was available Rosetta secretly feared she would not be able to pass the entrance exams.

No, Rosetta was due to get on a bus at the stop, situated by Oldmere School gates, and make the five mile journey to the secondary school in a nearby town, and it was there where she would have to face the fears and worries that come with being the unknown face in a class of old friends.

Rosetta dismissed that unpleasant thought and settled down once more to wait for the badgers, taking a book from her bag as she did; there were several hours to wait before dusk and she understood that badgers rarely moved from their sett in daylight.

 

Rosetta awoke with a twitch, and realised it was nearly dark. At first she thought her mother must be calling, and it was that which had woken her, but then she remembered that her mother and Aimee, her sister, were probably still at the doctor’s. Aimee, who was three, was different from other children her age. She could not yet speak and found it quite difficult to understand even the simplest things. Her enthusiasm and good nature more than made up for that in Rosetta’s eyes, and she loved her sister fiercely. However, because the doctors had not yet worked out what was the matter with her, there were still lots of visits to hospital for tests. Her mother, who knew that Rosetta hated the endless trips to London, no longer insisted that everyone went.

So what had woken her? Rosetta pushed up on her elbows to look around, but before she could complete the movement, a loud rustle made her freeze. It sounded like it came from the bottom of one of the hedges, and looking closely she thought she could see a slight movement in the prickly darkness, where the badger trail left the garden and disappeared into the undergrowth.

A nose poked out, twitching. Then a bit more came and Rosetta saw a flash of white. Soon the face of a badger became clearly visible. Its nose wrinkled and it made as if to pull back, but then it was slid bodily forward as if it had been pushed from behind. There was a scrabble and then another face appeared alongside the first one, showing where the push had come from.

Rosetta sat up slowly to get a good view, and as she did so she heard a gasp coming from over the top of the hedge – from the garden next door. Reluctantly taking her eyes off the emerging badgers – a third one was now following the first two – she looked over towards this second noise and saw a boy perched in the branches of an apple tree peering over the hedge at the animals. Excitement showed all over his face, and he had plainly not seen Rosetta, screened as she was by the branches of the plum tree.

There were now five badgers moving hesitantly across the lawn, snuffling through the grass for fallen plums, and Rosetta turned her attention away from the boy to watch them. After a few minutes, when they had satisfied their first hunger, the animals started to play; snapping at each other and growling in a good humoured way.

Except for one that is. A large badger – a male from its size Rosetta thought – took no part in the play and instead ran around in an agitated manner, every now and again stopping to rub its head against the base of the plum tree.

Rosetta glanced back across at the boy. She could tell he was short, even though his position in the tree gave no proper sense of scale, and he had black hair, worn long for a boy his age. His face was pale and was starting to show the first sign of adolescent spots.

He started to wave, having caught sight of her through the branches of the plum tree. Rosetta in turn glared back at him, and signalled that he should be still and quiet by lowering her hands as if she were closing an invisible window. Having got her message across, or so she thought, she turned back to watch the badgers who were still rolling around in the grass oblivious to all.

The peace of the scene was disturbed when a small apple struck Rosetta on the shoulder and dropped with a loud thud onto the roof of the playhouse. At the noise the badgers froze, looked around, and then made a dash for the hole in the garden hedge from which they had come.

Well not all of them, for one of the five – the large one who had behaved so oddly – seemed at the last minute reluctant to leave and hesitated by the hole in the hedge. Rosetta, who had jumped up into a crouch so she could catch one last look, found herself looking directly into the eyes of that last badger.

As she did so a most peculiar sensation overcame her and she noticed that the eyes of the badger, which one would expect to be unfocussed and blank (badgers have very poor eyesight), were sharp and concentrated. And then, as she looked into those eyes, her heart leapt and she felt a bond form; a bond that she knew that badger also felt, because those eyes suddenly blinked as if in surprise. Then to her utter bewilderment, the badger stopped, pulled itself up onto on its hind legs, and clearly said;

“Who are you humangirl? And what do you think you are looking at?”

And with that it dropped to all fours and dashed through the hole in the hedge.

 

 

The boy, whose name was Karl, sat with Rosetta cross legged on the grass and they chatted to each other about what had just happened. The shared experience had been very effective in breaking the ice and they spoke like they had known each other for years.

“I mean, you did see what I just saw … and also heard,” said Karl who was very excited. “That badger definitely spoke, didn’t it?”

“Yes it did, and it also looked strange … did you see. Its eyes were almost human. Not the same as ours to look at … but when it looked at you, you would guess that they see the world much as we see it,” said Rosetta, not mentioning the strange feeling which had overcome her. “They were not like a normal animal’s eyes”

“Hmm” said Karl looking pensive. “But it was only that last one that was odd. The rest seemed to be plain old badgers ….”

“Yes but it was the eyes that got to me … Have you seen them do anything like that before? I’m guessing you have seen them before today. You looked like you were waiting for them; like you knew they were coming.”

Karl considered for a few seconds and said, “I have been watching them on and off since next door – your house I mean – became empty, but I have never seen anything odd. I mean they would come and play, like they did tonight, and then once they had eaten some plums they would go. I’ve never seen anything unusual before.”

Then they both fell silent for, strange as it seemed, they could not find anything more to say about the talking badger; the event was so bizarre that it needed more time to think about before you felt like you could say anything about it. After a few seconds Rosetta asked Karl if he would be going to her school.

Karl it seemed went to Oldmere School; or he would be, starting from this year. This seemed odd to Rosetta; Karl’s cottage was not much larger than hers and Rosetta had the definite impression that the school was very expensive. The parents of Oldmere School children were bankers or international businessmen, not people from the village.

“Oh … Well yes you’re right normally,” said Karl when she asked him about it. “But the school is very old and has some very strange traditions. It was founded in 1280 by Edward I, just about the same time he conquered Wales, and written into its founding charter are lots of unusual rules that still apply even now.

“One of these is that every five years the school is required to take a child from Oldmere village on a free scholarship. The teachers come into the primary school here, and choose one of the kids. It is quite an event in the village. They hold an entrance exam in the primary school. The adults go quite stupid about it as you can imagine. Some families even move to the village just so their kids get a chance at the exam. Anyway last year they chose me.”

“Wow. So you start this year?”

“Yes, but it’s definitely not all it is made out to be. I’m the only child in the village who goes to the “Posh Knoll” as the school is known here, and some of the local kids hold it against you. And in the school the “Outside Scholar” can also get it in the neck. You don’t sleep in the school, as your house is in the village anyway, and you come from a different background. You are kind of neither one thing or another … you fall between the village and the school.

“Anyway after I got the scholarship, I spent a couple of weeks at the school. Just to see if I’d like it and it wasn’t too bad to be honest, nothing like I’d feared, but it might be different when I start full time. Last year was just a couple of days a week for half a term.”

 And with that Karl fell suddenly silent pulling at the grass between his legs.

Rosetta started to say something when a voice came from over the hedge – “Karl! Kaaarl!”

“It’s Mum. I’d better go,” said Karl rising to his feet.

“We should meet again tomorrow,” said Rosetta quickly. “I mean … I’ll dig out my camera and we can see if we can’t catch that badger.”

Karl smiled and said, “Yes let’s do that,” and with that he climbed onto the roof of the playhouse and hopped over the hedge into his garden.

 

 

Rosetta sat for a moment thinking, and then went inside where she found her mum curled up in a wide armchair, an empty bottle of wine on the table, and Aimee cuddled up beside her. Her sister’s honey hair was spread in a circle on her mother’s shoulder; she was also asleep.

About the Author

 

Bob Cregan lives in the county of Somerset, UK with his wife and two daughters. He likes cycling and guinea pigs.

 

Check out his webpage

 

If you are interested in new work, updates and random chat then you can join his mailing list at this page.


Musty digs too Deep

  • Author: Bob Cregan
  • Published: 2016-11-25 10:35:11
  • Words: 7912
Musty digs too Deep Musty digs too Deep