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gerkintrigg
February 22nd, 2012, 04:30 PM
Chapter 1 – A Peppering of Paper

The old crone limped with fragile legs to the silvery edge of a weird, unearthly lake. Ratty bushes of dead looking stalks lay around the edge of the giant hole in the earth through which could be seen the mist of the clouds, waving and stirring, below. The gnarled hunch of the woman approached with a haphazard limp and stopped a few feet from a cloaked man standing at the precipice, wearing a deep purple robe which flapped in the storm. His face was shielded from the icy wind of the night by a dark hood. He did not turn to face her, but kept staring into the mists.

The man nudged the lake with a long, white staff of carved bone. Large sheets of mist tumbled over each other and gathered into a small mound. Chunks of it fell off, as an invisible craftsman carved a tower out of the haze.

“It’s always you!” The woman shouted. “What made you chose Mercury lake?”she asked. A chunk of mist flew at her and she was forced to jump back as a transparent serpent flew straight at her. Its wide wingspan showed itself as a perfect miniature of a huge dragon. The woman tripped and stumbled on a large, loose rock, and a hand flung quickly from inside her robes. She was holding a short stick, which protruded from her bony fingers. The end of it glowed white, like a metal rod from a blacksmith’s furnace. She stopped falling with a judder. Hovering in mid air, the woman waved her hand again and came to her feet gracefully, hunched over a walking stick that looked like it was taken from an ancient tree; as old and gnarled as she was.

“I thought that the dragon was taken care of” the woman stated, importantly.

“It is mortal now. Disposing of it will be easy.” The man replied in a careless drawl. “You have it, then?” he continued in a voice that crackled with anger and longing.

“Things are not as simple as that” the woman replied. “I know how you may retrieve it.” The man bustled angrily and drew his shoulders back to make himself look more imposing.

“Do not push me old woman!” He whispered these words menacingly. “You owe me your life! You said you could get it!”
“I said I knew how to get it, Weyland.” The woman replied in a croak. “We will need to be careful. You know how delicate these matters can be. It is heavily guarded.”

“As you designed the chamber, I see no reason why you cannot retrieve it” said the man lazily.

“There are a few things we will need.”

“Like what?” The man asked.

“I should think that a man of your many connections would be able to find them all.” The old woman replied, handing over a dirty scrub of coarse, brown paper. The man read the list slowly; a white finger scraping the letters as he considered them.

“Why do we need...” he started but stopped himself as he kept reading. “Ah ha!” a wide grin cracked his face in two. “Clever...” The man tossed the brown paper into the mist and the cloudy tower burst into flames. Things stirred in the gaseous lake. The fish that swam in the cloud leapt at the new fire, trying to pick off a morsel of light to consume it. One got too close and as the fire touched it, it fell through the floor of the lake and it was gone.

“They are always so baffled by the rains of fish” said the man as he laughed. “Little humans... will they never work it out?”

“Well?”the woman asked, carefully, attempting to bring the conversation back to the subject at hand.

“It will be difficult.” The man replied.

“Come now, my dear. I’m sure you can think of something!” The old woman grinned and a bolt of lightning hit the mist, illuminating the scene with a terrifying blue glow. The long shadows of the trees grabbed at the hills and the light hit the old woman’s face, crags showed in the bright blue of her skin. For the first time the old skin that draped off the ancient bones could be recognised It was Mrs Etherington-Strange!

Bethany Rider screamed as she recognised the face and quickly opened her blue eyes, widely. Her father was sat on the side of her bed; a worried look in his eyes. A distant roll of thunder growled outside the dark bedroom window. The light flicked on and Dad gazed at her.

“You okay?” He asked as Bethany panted.

“It was horrible” Bethany replied, trying to be sure that he would not ask what the nightmare was about. “They have never been this real before.” She explained. Her eyes drifted to the storm that raged through the window. It was being tortured by the whipping of the wind, throwing fistfuls of rain at the glass.

“Look, I’ll stay here until you go to sleep.” He said gently and she lay her head back onto her pink pillow and closed her eyes again.

Dreams came quickly. She was flying. The feeling of the chilled wind on her face was exhilarating. She recognised the feeling. She had flown before, but last time she was not dreaming. She was on a broomstick high above the belching, black chimneys of the magical city in the clouds. As the smoking pots thinned, she could see the flat black of the runway to the broomstick flying school. She was rippling reflectively in the water that angrily pounded the floor. On approach, she could see the faint outline of her drenched robes flapping painfully against her legs. The as she came to land and looked down, she felt the horror as she awoke. The reflection was not hers, but that of the same old woman again, the witch!

The light leaked through the wooden blinds and poured onto the bedroom floor. It was morning.

~*~

It happened very quickly in just a single night. Hundreds, if not thousands of posters, leaflets and flyers littered the town advertising a travelling circus. It wasn’t just any old circus, but a themed “Mobile Monster Zoo”. The posters bore a colourful design with two puppet monsters on it, giving directions to the large village green ahead of which stood the magnificent falls for which Windy Falls was so-named.

As she walked to school with Mum for the first day of the new term, Bethany saw at least twenty posters jammed into a single window of the newsagent on the corner of Foss drive, blocking the entire window display from view.
“That’s terrible timing” said Mum “just as everyone goes back to school... I’m not surprised they’re advertising it so hard.”

The shopkeeper, Ajay Kahn, was trying to scrape the posters off his windows with the side of a credit card, but they had been stuck to the inside. It appeared to Bethany that Mr. Kahn was swearing, and did not seem to know who had authorised the posters to have been stuck up in his shop. He was waving his hands at the shop assistant and wagging his accusing finger in her face.

As Bethany passed street lights, telephone boxes and houses, every spare space was covered with the puppet monster-pictures. Even car windows bore the flyers, which were stuck to every spare inch of the inside of the glass, just as tightly as the ones in the newsagent. Bethany marvelled at the ability to stick so many posters up in a single night... especially to the inside of the cars.

Perhaps they were using magic, but then, Bethany could not see how they could. They were only advertising a puppet-themed circus. There was nothing magical about it. Why would anyone magical use puppets?

“Good marketing” Mum said seeing how many cars bore the posters. Perhaps the car owners were given discounts if they put up the posters. That was it... but... that wasn’t it. As they rounded the corner to McCloud walk, they saw three people dressed in suits. They were all busy with ice-scrapers and kettles as-if they were de-icing their cars in the middle of winter. But this was September, and morning was warm. As they got closer, Bethany realised that the business men were all de-icing the inside of their cars. The steaming kettles were trying to steam off the mobile monster zoo posters from wind screens and drivers’ side windows. Well, that settled it. The car owners were certainly not paid for their help in advertising the attraction. Perhaps a cheeky poster boy decided to use unlocked cars to advertise, but it was strange that three cars could have all been unlocked in the same street on the same night.
When Bethany got to school, the teachers were in an unusual disarray. Posters lined every window of every room, both classrooms and staff rooms alike. Bethany’s classroom was so smothered in paper that Miss Phipps had to turn on the lights. After quite some time, they proceeded as normal, with morning registration. The teacher called a list of names and each child responded by wishing the teacher a good morning. When the time came for Bethany’s name to be called, she was still thinking of the mobile monster zoo. How interesting it would be to see a zoo containing monsters?
“I said, ‘good morning Bethany’” the teacher repeated loudly. Bethany jumped and the visions of Monster-filled cages faded from her thoughts.

“Oh, good morning Miss Phipps.” Bethany replied instinctively.

“Are you okay?” asked Miss Phipps

“Yes, fine. I was just thinking.” Bethany said.

“That’s new!” whispered a ginger haired boy called Henry, whom Bethany had never liked much. Miss Phipps did not seem to hear him and was already racing through the other names.

“Good morning Caitlin” she said. Bethany jumped. There was no Caitlin in her class... There was never a Caitlin in her class. “Good morning Miss Phipps” came the reply.

Bethany could not believe the sound. It was Caitlin. It was the same Caitlin she got to know so well. But how could this be? Caitlin was sat at the next table over, wearing the same school uniform as the rest of the class. Perhaps that was why Bethany had not recognised her. As Bethany looked up, she saw Caitlin wearing a wide smile as Caitlin winked at her. Bethany grinned back and she knew that Caitlin remembered everything that had not happened in the cloud-city.
It was not until break time that Bethany and Caitlin had a chance to catch up and talk properly.

“Is it really you!?” Bethany whispered as they hid behind the classroom door, waiting for the rest of the class to leave.
“Yep. I was hoping you’d recognise me” Caitlin replied with a toothy smile. Her front tooth was missing again. “I suppose I have a lot to explain. Basically, when you made that deal with Mr Midnight, I could pick where I ended up. I figured that it’s been such a long time since I had seen my own family, I should come back here and try for a normal childhood. I miss not having had one. Being in charge of the flying school was such a hassle and responsibility. I’m really looking forward to taking it easy. For a few years. School’s not going to be hard for me. I’m over one hundred years old, after all.” It was hard to think of Caitlin as so old. Her body was that of a seven year old... Possibly eight by now. It did look like she was a little older than she had been. Perhaps she was now allowed to grow up... Now that the spell that stopped time had been broken.

“Yeah it’s going to be so easy for you!” Bethany replied. “You know everything.”

“Well, I need to make sure that I write with my left hand, because otherwise my hand writing would look far too neat.” Caitlin said.

Caitlin was a genius and it was awesome having her as a classmate! When Bethany asked to borrow a pen, Caitlin gave her a beautiful fountain pen cased in a stunning, deep purple metal.

“Mink” she whispered with a smile. Bethany gasped but Caitlin merely grinned in reply and winked at her. Bethany knew what mink was. She had seen it a few times before on the magical cloud where she had met Caitlin. Mink was magical ink and it appeared differently to each person. It changed depending on the will of the person observing it.
Writing with mink was amazingly easy and great fun. The spelling mistakes would correct themselves and the little ‘I love magic’ messages that Bethany wrote would look differently to each person that saw the note. Bethany wondered whether Miss Phipps would see anything other than extraordinary homework. Bethany and Caitlin spent most of the lesson writing secret notes to each other in their work books. Miss Phipps came over to them several times because of the giggling coming from their table. When she glanced at the long written conversation about cheese breathing dragons and broomstick flying schools, Bethany was sure they would be told off for not concentrating, or scorned for not being sensible. Instead, Miss Phipps gave a surprised smile and nodded approvingly saying “excellent work girls”. Then, finding it hard not to say something about the giggling, added “try to keep the laughing down a little, others might not be as far ahead as you are.”

Eventually, the day came to an unfortunate end. Bethany had wanted to stay at school for the first time ever but the clock hit 3:30 and the class gathered their things and left. Bethany was so eager to talk to Caitlin outside of the confines of the school, she asked her if she wanted to meet up afterward “Yes, I’m available” Caitlin said enthusiastically. “I didn’t mention that bit...”

“What bit?”Bethany replied.

“Well, I live kind of on my own.” Caitlin looked up to see Bethany’s mouth fall open in a perfect letter O. “Not exactly on my own” Caitlin continued. “I live with a few other Stratatonians who wanted to come down here when Midnight gave them the chance.” Strataton was the magical city that sat on a candyfloss cloud above Windy Falls. The town below was always a little gloomy because the sun was usually blocked by clouds. They did drift every now and then, but it was normally overcast. On the cloud however, the sun always shone because there were no clouds above it. Bethany longed to go back with all her heart.

“There are other Stratatonians down in Windy Falls?” Bethany asked.

“Oh yes, there are quite a few. Jake lives with us... Well he couldn’t live in a tree that hasn’t even been planted yet, can he?” Caitlin asked. Jake was boy who was half-rattlesnake and used to live in a magical tree that now did not exist. “Derek’s here too. He’s grown up a little since you remember him. He was a bit tired of being seen as a young boy...”
“...better than a dragon!” Bethany interrupted, remembering Derek when he was in his full-size, cheese-breathing dragon form. An evil witch had turned him into a dragon during a terrible magical war. Only a month ago, Bethany, Caitlin and Jake had taken Derek’s advice and gone back in time to prevent the war from ever happening and to stop the witch from ever existing. Now that everything seemed so peacefully normal, it was weird to think that there were still Stratatonians wandering around with ordinary people. Nobody knew who they were or what they did to save the world that they all lived in from the evil influences of bad magic.

“So, Derek decided to grow up?” Bethany repeated.

“Yes, he plays the part of our father. It’s weird having to call him dad. But it will make it easier during parent-teacher meetings, I suppose. There are quite a few of us... Mainly boys unfortunately. There’s the ones you know; Derek, Jake and me. Then there’s Jimmy Bones and Latch-Top Ebb.”

“Latch-Top?” Bethany asked, certain she had misheard.

“Err, yeah, but he doesn’t come to school. He found it hard living down here. He’s been back to Strataton a couple of times since he decided to move. He’s only come back again in the last few days. He’s... Umm... Slightly different.” Caitlin said delicately.

“Different? Is he... Not human?” Bethany asked, without any subtlety.

“Not exactly.” Caitlin said. “He is kind of human... Well, he was, but his parents were pretty rubbish at spells. When he was born, he kept on crying (as babies do) and so they cast a spell on him. The problem was that his Mum cast a harmless spell to put a temporary latch on his mouth so they could open and close it as they wanted to. That would have been fine, but his Dad cast a spell at the same time to change his sad thoughts to happy ones. Unfortunately, both spells collided and formed a new, stronger spell...”

“...and?” Bethany asked, sure there was more to the story.

“Well, the stronger spell mutated a little. It became permanent and didn’t quite do what either parent wanted it to.”
“What happened?” Bethany asked, afraid of the answer.

“Latch-Top’s brain was removed.” Caitlin said simply. Bethany gasped as Caitlin continued.

“I think that bit was his dad’s doing. The latch to open and close his empty head was his Mum’s fault I think.”

“Wow! Oh my goodness!” Bethany exclaimed.

“Oh no, he’s okay though.” Caitlin continued. “Pretty soon after the accident, Latch-Top’s parents were running out of space in their house. (You know how babies use a lot of space, with toys and stuff?)” Bethany Nodded, remembering Daniel, her baby brother and the amount of space his things took up at home. “Well his parents decided to use his head as extra storage. It’s quite funny really.” Caitlin continued.

Bethany’s face showed a horrified expression and the grin Caitlin wore soon fell into a serious scowl.

“So anyway, Latch-Top now keeps stuff in his head and whatever his head holds effects his intelligence. Most of the time, he uses it to store a small owl. You’ll find him very interesting and clever to talk to when he has an owl in his head. But when time comes to clean out the owl, he often forgets what he’s doing and fills his head back up with jelly beans or the contents of a vacuum cleaner bag. He’s fine most of the time, but occasionally needs a bit of help. If he fills his head with Jelly beans, he’ll act a bit daft... very sweet, but daft. He once used it to store a pet goldfish. He became quite a liar when he did that... well not exactly lies as such, but everything he said was a bit fishy. Same thing as when he filled his head with tequila. You needed to take everything he said with a pinch of salt and a little bit of lemon. Derek’s taken it upon himself to clean out the owl. It just makes everything so much simpler.”

“You’re kidding!” Bethany said loudly and a young mother holding a little boy walked past giving the two girls quite a funny look. “Come on Joe-Joe” she said and bustled past.

“We’ve been laying low for a while to let you settle in. It would have been very disruptive if we all just turned up on your first day in town. It would have raised serious suspicion and we don’t want that.”

“Oh come on, it would have been so COOL!!” Bethany replied enthusiastically. “It’s been really boring since I came here. Mr Midnight took my wand and all my powers and now I’m not able to do anything fun.” Mr Midnight was a fearsome character who owned a magical shop guarded by a lion-shaped, brass door knocker. The shop can only be found if the seeker looks at it through a teardrop or if someone else tells them about it. Midnight himself was made of smoke and fiery eyes and could sell anything... literally anything, but he always made a profit. He always traded up and he always wanted to trade something that his customers where never very willing to part with.

“The mink is the most fun I’ve had all day, all week, no, actually, all month! I wish I had my wand back.” Bethany continued.

“Well we might be able to do something about that too.” Caitlin replied with a smirk.

“What do you mean?” Bethany asked.

“Well, you were an absolute natural at magic. I think it would be a shame for you to not have some kind of outlet for it. I don’t think you should do too much down in Windy Falls, but maybe we could take the occasional trip up to Strataton every now and then to... you know... practice? “ Caitlin ended the sentence with a question. Bethany leaped high and punched the air with an audible “WOOHOO!”

“Oh, right!” Caitlin replied. “This Saturday? If you’re free...”

“I’ll be free.” Bethany replied hurriedly and tore a sheet of paper from her work book, splodged some mink from her pen onto the paper. “Do you mind if I keep this pen?” Bethany asked. “I think it could come in REALLY handy.”
“Oh, okay, yeah.” Caitlin replied as she watched the paper. The mink had instantly formed into letters.

Dear Bethany’s Dad,
Would it be okay if Bethany went to my house on Saturday so that she and Caitlin could play together? We will be going to the new mobile monster zoo show and she can stay for dinner. I will drop her back about 7, if this suits your plans.
All the best,
Derek Regan
(Caitlin’s Dad)

“I think I’d call him Mr Rider... It sounds more like something Derek would say.” Caitlin said, pointing out the error. The opening line popped and fizzed as the ink moved to read correctly.

“Perfect!” Caitlin said “and are we really going to the mobile monster zoo?”

“Nah.” Bethany replied shortly “Strataton’s way too cool to hang around in Windy Falls and go to a puppet show.”
“Oh, come off it, I’ve lived in Strataton for years and years and years and nothing like a puppet show ever tours around up there. I’d like to go.” Caitlin said enthusiastically.

“But you have magic and everything!” Bethany said, pining. She was so keen to get back onto the cloud that she could think of nothing else. Caitlin looked deflated, and so Bethany kept talking.

“Oh, okay, we can go, but we’ll go in the morning and then we can go straight up to Strataton, okay?”

“Deal!” Caitlin said and she thrust out her hand which Bethany shook enthusiastically.

~*~

Bethany got home and thrust the paper at Dad almost as quickly as the door had slammed.

“What’s this?” Dad asked, cautiously. His eyes scanned the paper. “Yeah, I suppose so.” He said. “What time did you need dropping off? It doesn’t say anything on the note.” Suddenly, the letters “P.T.O” appeared on the bottom of the page and Bethany knew that this meant “Please turn over.” Dad hadn’t noticed.

“It says that on the back” she replied and as Dad read he raised his eyebrows.

“Nine in the morning? That’s quite early!” Dad exclaimed.

Bethany shrugged.

“Okay, I suppose it’s okay with me, but I don’t know if Mum’s planned anything so we need to check with her.” Mum nodded silently, screamed and ran to catch Daniel (Bethany’s baby brother) who had managed to climb the stairs and was teetering at the top, threatening to fall.

“How did you get up there?” She asked as she placed him on the floor in the kitchen and started dishing out dinner.

“Good day at school, Beth’?” said Mum.

“It was the best day ever!” Bethany grinned.

Sparx
February 22nd, 2012, 05:44 PM
I really wont to read this but you need to put spaces between the paragraphs so its easier to read. Once you've done that, expect a comment from me.

gerkintrigg
February 22nd, 2012, 05:51 PM
Sorry, the formatting got lost in the import. (I'm new here). I'm going to try to edit it. If not... I might re-post.

Sparx
February 22nd, 2012, 05:55 PM
Oh ok, that's fine. Just edit the post and manually put spaces between the paragraphs. I know its a little daunting but it makes it much easier to read. For some reason if you post from Word, the forums messes up the original format.

gerkintrigg
February 22nd, 2012, 06:08 PM
All done now. Thanks.

gerkintrigg
June 12th, 2012, 10:46 PM
Hey Sparx... Where's that comment? ;o)