A short novel.
Inspired by four unconnected but true stories.
Two families fifty years apart: in 1926 in the political uncertainty of the general strike, and 1976 in the heat of the great drought. Each live at Townend Farm, isolated at the edge of a small village, surrounded by a disputed woodland and a bog full of secrets. Alternating chapters mirror and echo as one family uncover the secrets of the other.
At first, he could not understand what was happening, and then the piles of plaster and broken lath, and short lengths of joist appeared by that makeshift fence in the vegetable plot.
‘For the love of God, Davey,’ he yelled and stepped over the fence to go see what his insane brother was at.
Davey appeared in the yard with a raised hammer. ‘Off,’ he said swinging the hammer.
‘What are you doing?’ Jonathan pleaded ‘– are you taking the blasted house apart?’
‘I’m putting in a new staircase.’
Jonathan took a step back, and then, ‘Do you know what you are doing?’ he asked. ‘Will it be safe?’
‘What’s this? Brotherly concern?’
Jonathan raised a fist, then lowered it again carefully. ‘The house is half mine, that includes the joists, and the floors they are holding up.’
‘Your floors are fine,’ Davey said. ‘Get out of my yard.’
They trundled along contentedly for a while, talking about the school they would soon be attending, two villages away, and the one they had left behind; JJ scanning the fields for sheep and cows, and Marlie scanning the woods for birds and flowers, when something caught Marlie’s eye.
‘Look!’ she said, clambering down the embankment and scrambling up through the saplings and brambles. Above them, in a clearing, was a huge rather flat boulder; lit by the sun, it shone like quartz. Marlie reached it with difficulty, and placed an eager hand on the warm stone. JJ walked around, so that she was above the boulder and climbed cautiously on top.
‘I’m the king of the castle!’ she yelled. And then, ‘I can see a horse!’ Marlie turned to look where she was pointing, but couldn’t see without the extra height. As she hauled herself up beside JJ, scraping a knee as she went, she noticed that the boulder jutted out and was hollowed out underneath – but that could wait. There was, indeed, a horse. Small, brown and dejected, it stood against the far side of the fence, in a scrubby waterlogged field.
‘Hello horse,’ JJ yelled, and immediately made to slide off the boulder feet first, back towards the track.
‘No!’ Marlie yelled, grabbing her sister’s jumper just in time. ‘JJ, there’s an overhang, you saw it! You’ll hurt yourself.’
JJ writhed out of her grasp and straightened her clothes crossly. Marlie stepped easily from the top of the boulder back to safe ground above, and held out her hand for JJ. JJ took it, and jumped. Her fingers shot out of Marlie’s, and she vanished.
‘What?!’ Marlie shrieked, overwhelmed for a moment. Then she heard her sister laughing, and a hand appeared by her leg, waving vigorously.
‘You can go under it! Marlie! It’s like a – a gate or something, or a house! Come down!’