“Fuck!” says Mhairie and ceases to exist. That sort of thing happens a lot here.
I’m in the crowded place which paradoxically means I’m surprised to see two people – you are only visible if you don’t mind or haven’t learned to be secret. Most children can be seen when they come. They’re too busy learning to fly and rarely think of anything else.
I don’t mind who sees me. The remaining figure turns. She’s a schoolgirl, by her uniform, albeit rebelliously dressed with buttons open, blouse untucked. I suppose this is why she has a school tie around her head like a tiara or a warrior. Up here, of course, people don’t need phones and she’s actually looking at the world. This is a place of awe and wonder.
Above the high street, some thirty metres below us, the girl stops to wait for me. We’ve never met but know each other. That’s the way it is up here.
“Hi,” she says, “You just missed Mhairie. Her alarm clock must have gone off.” Scanning me for a moment, she adds, “You’re old, really old.”
“Yes, Elanor,” I reply, “though all people are the same age. So why are you still here? Aren’t you supposed to be going to school too?”
She shrugs and smiles, a tiny gem glittering in her nose. “I suppose. Sometimes I think I’m here even when I’m awake.”
“That is how it is for some people.” I look at the street below. “What do you see down there?”
She holds her hair back either side to look. “Cars, lorries, a bus. There’s Mrs. Fergusson taking her twins to nursery or shopping or something; why?”
“I see different scenes nearly every time. Right now it’s all horses and carts. I like that; it’s a lot quieter, though just as smelly on a hot day.”
Elanor sniggers. “That’s why I never wear perfume in the summer. Get three women together and you can choke to death on it even at this height.” She gasps. “Oh, I see what you mean! Carts … the road is all mud. Am I in your dream now or something? Weird … I sort of remember this.” Shaking her head, she adds, “A long long…”
“Or I’m in your dream. Do you ever speak to the people down there?”
“Not if I’m wearing a skirt. I know they can’t see me but if they look up I feel weird.” Elanor snorts. “Unless it’s someone I like.” She flies backwards around me, laughing. We often do this when needing comfort; it’s like being wrapped in a blanket of wind.
I spin to face her. “If we’re in the same place, and you haven’t been here before, there’s something amazing I can show you.” I point and move west and slightly south.
“What, Ulzieside Farm? That’s always been there.”
“A bit further on.”
“Nearer than that. Go higher. Stay with me. I hope they’re still there. Generally things exist if you just believe they do.”
“Although that’s much more true of people who are awake.” I pause and reach out. “If you’ve never been this high before, take my hand; it’s easier.”
“It’s … difficult.” She grabs me. “You’re good. How did you get this good?”
“This is my home. I don’t go back to being human these days. I reckon there comes a time when we don’t need it so much, or at all. There’s something here I need to do and I’ve yet to discover what.”
“You mean that?” Elanor nods to a pattern of ruins covered in trees. “Is that what you wanted to … oh my god!”
“Higher still, and you can see how huge it is. I don’t know what all those walls and wide areas … courtyards? were for, though. I’ve never been inside. Well, I did once but only through one window in the outer wall. Ivy nearly filled the room. There was some ancient furniture but too old to recognise what it had been.” Funny, the ruins seem higher this time, with buttresses and a solitary arch standing. Ancient still, but not anything like as much as I saw before.
“Whoa!” says Elanor, “What is it?” She squeezes my hand. “Can we go down a bit? It’s scary. You know that feeling when you fall in a dream and wake up screaming? I hate that.”
“Yes, let’s go right down.”
“Not all the way. I don’t like to touch things down there: it wakes me up. But…” she pauses for a moment, “but, are you real or am I dreaming you?”
“It’s all dreams, Elanor. You’re dreaming me so I must be real. Even when you wake up it’s still dreaming, just a different sort. You’re half way to realising that or you wouldn’t be so in control of your mind right now. You’re a human waking up from the sleep that you were told was all that exists.”
“Just keep getting us down and stop talking shite.”
There’s a fierce edge to her voice now. I think she’s frightened by our height and fear makes her angry. Somehow Elanor’s guard drops as she splits into both emotions. She doesn’t blur as such but there seem to be two of her overlapping and not quite in synch. Although she’s probably unconscious of it happening, I’m able to see into her, everything she’s ever thought and experienced.
Coupled with that is a change in the ruins. What had been a small paved dais, or raised arena, grows and begins to dominate the centre. Trees shrink back as if time has reversed, leaving the stones bare. No, it’s not paved … but a mosaic of dark and light in a spiral: dynamic patterns with splashes of red. Elanor is the key; the closer I take her, the more the ruins alter. She’s so powerful, but then humans are: especially when out of their bodies – she’s already half awake and into this world.
I thought I could show and teach her some things; now I wonder if it’s the other way around. Elanor radiates intelligence and may be a genius of some sort. She’s a bit unnerving and that intrigues me. We’re headed for the arch. I think it’s drawing us, or has she taken control? The stone smells sharp, like it’s been warmed in sunlight. Elanor’s pulling me and we swoop into a lofty vaulted room. Now the smells are musty and old. Everything is shades of sepia cut with sunlight in bars from arched windows.
She releases my hand and drifts away, the slight breeze creasing her blouse and skirt. In the beams of light she shines like a jewel. “Hey, you can see all sorts of stuff through these windows. Things that weren’t there outside. What was that you said about people being the same age?”
“We’re all the same person.”
“You’re weird.” She drifts down to the floor. Noises rise, metal and wood clattering.
I descend too. “I thought you said you didn’t touch things.”
“I dunno, I feel more confident. It’s because you’re here … or because Mhairie’s not.” She pulls something from a rack. “What the fuck is this?”
“A pollaxe, used for smashing through plate armour.”
“It’s heavy. Why are all these weapons here?” Elanor leans the axe against a rail and pulls out a smallsword. “This is like a toy.”
“It’s a serious weapon, used for duelling: quick and light.”
“How do you know all this stuff?”
“It was part of my life. It’s a part of all our lives.”
“What were you, some sort of gladiator?” She points the sword at me and places its tip on my neck. “Tell me the truth.”
“Ah, the truth. The truth is it doesn’t matter. Nothing actually matters – in a good way. You have to work it out yourself though.”
“You’re fucking nuts; do you know that?” She turns away and says, “What’s that? Look, there’s another archway.” Marching towards it Elanor stops, frozen. “It’s a bloody arena. Am I supposed to fight you or something? That’s not fair, you know about this stuff.”
I stop behind and put my hands on her shoulders. “That … may be an arena. What makes you suppose it is?”
“It looks like one; can’t you see?”
“I see a circle of flat stones. It could be anything. I think all these weapons have only suggested some sort of combat and you fell for it.” She falls silent, probably because our vulnerability to suggestion always comes as a shock. I add, “I doesn’t matter, though: nothing matters, remember?”
“Why do you keep saying things like that? You don’t make sense.”
“I’m trying to get you to think the way you need to in this place … everywhere actually. I want you to cope here rather than just dream it. In dreams things only happen to you: you can’t happen to them.”
“What do you mean when you say suggestion anyway?”
“It’s one of many tools that can be used to control what you think and your subsequent actions.”
She’s still looking out at the arena. “Sounds scary: actually really scary. People can control my mind?” Elanor points over the stones. “I can’t really see the other side. Shit, what weapon should I use?”
I lift my hands from her shoulders. “Here, let me take the sword. You sit down and we’ll find out what it is you have to face.”
“I have too many enemies. I don’t want to fight them all.” She sinks to the dusty floor.
I sit opposite. “List them.”
Scraping patterns in the dust with her fingernails, Elanor glances up at me, then down again. Her face creases into a frown and pursed lips. Tilting her head back she sighs. “You know already. It’s the group of friends I’m in.”
“You noticed me looking into you back then? That’s amazing; how do you feel?”
She wiggles her shoulders. “Kind of like … it doesn’t matter.”
I smile and reply, “You understand that?”
“Not very much but I’ll get there: I’m really good with puzzles and mysteries. Um … it’s Mhairie. She’s the most popular girl – the one I would have to fight.”
“She’s like the leader…”
“And could turn everyone against you on a whim, if you said something wrong, if you did something she was jealous of. You have to be careful around her.”
Elanor doesn’t answer at first but, after a moment, says, “Fuck.”
“And you’re growing up faster than her and she seems increasingly stupid and maybe stuck for ever being head cat until she realises everyone’s moved on.” I pause to let that echo around her mind. “So why haven’t you fought her already?”
Her shoulders slump a little. “I’m a coward. I should have smacked her gob ages ago.”
“Maybe you’re not a coward. Maybe you’re following suggestion once more and choosing conflict as a resolution because that’s what other people do.”
“What?” She looks at me directly, face screwed up again.
“Perhaps you’re not a fighter. If you really want to leave that group, are there other people whom you find interesting? are you realising you prefer your own company? or maybe that of one or two good friends rather than a tyrant-dominated gang?”
Elanor rises and turns away, walking towards the racks of weapons. “That is actually interesting … interesting.” She pauses, looking from side to side. “You are interesting.”
Drawing a bronze khopesh, she asks, “What the fuck is this? No way is that a weapon, I mean seriously? Is it used for cooking or what?” She looks at me. “You know about this stuff, don’t you?”
“Show me how to use it all then. Get off your arse and come into the arena … whatever it is. Come on.”
“At this very moment when I’m all relaxed and happy?”
“Yes, I’ve got no one to fight now and I’m looking for someone interesting to be a friend. While you’re at it you can tell me how to deal with this suggestion thing.”
“You dealt with it perfectly when you picked up that khopesh from a rack of swords. I’m going to use you as a role model.”
“Now what are you on about?”
“Every time I enter a room with what seems a purpose, hear to somebody telling me something, read the news or listen to a politician, I’m going to ask ‘should it be used for cooking?’ before I believe anything. It’s called Elanor’s sheer genius critical thinking recipe.”
“You’re fucking nuts, you are. Come outside and fight me.”
©Gary Bonn, 2021