A large spiked club, which was twice the length of Jason’s arm, flew over his head. The movement caused a gush of wind which ruffled his dark brown hair. Jason ducked to dodge another swing and scrambled to a nearby rock, hoping for any chance of escape. The club came crashing down beside him. A spray of dust burst into the air, creating a blinding cloud. When the dust settled, Jason could see that he was inches away from an ugly, grey-skinned, pig-like creature. It snorted and growled with every breath. The creature looked at Jason, raised its club, opened its mouth and let out a growl.
“Jason! Wake up, this very minute! I am sick to the back teeth with you, young man. I was good enough to buy you that bloody alarm clock for your birthday last year, and this is how you repay me? Treating me like a farmyard roaster, expecting me to wake you up every morning. The next time that teacher of yours wants words with me for you being late, you will be in for a world of trouble.” The voice quietened to a soft mutter. Jason couldn’t quite make out the other vulgarities. Then like a wave crashing back on the calm beach, the voice boomed up the stairs again, “and I mean it when I say that. I don’t want to have to listen to that Miss Thornbottle again if you’re late for school!”
Jason stirred in his bed, covered in a cold, damp sweat from his dream. It had been the third time this week he’d had a nightmare like that one. The thought rolled idly through his head that he was reading far too many fantasy novels. He turned over in bed to face the alarm clock that his aunt had bought him for his fourteenth birthday. It was a knight holding a sword and shield, the time displayed in the middle of the shield. He squinted so that he could see the red glow of the numbers. Seven forty-five, he watched as the numbers blinked, seven forty-six.
He let ou a stretching groan. Closing his eyes, he thought five minutes more, enough to shake off his tiredness. Jason was not a morning person. Yet, he knew, much like his aunt had said; all hell would break loose if he weren’t up and out of bed within the next few moments. That was it. He was going to make a start on this battle. He looked at his little calendar that sat on the pine bedside table. It was one of those handy calendars that offered a very useless phrase or piece of advice each day. He ripped off yesterdays and read the one for today: be careful of what you dream; it may come true. He wouldn’t have much luck, then, if his dreams did come true, as there was no such thing as the creatures he saw in his dreams. With the way things were in his life, Jason felt that anywhere would be better than here, living in this house.
Jason’s school didn’t start until nine. Jason thought this to be far too early for anybody to be up, out of bed and doing anything by any standards.
Regardless of his own opinions, his aunt had a very different view. She felt it was her duty of care to wake Jason up ridiculously early each morning, without exception.
She had made the point very clear to Jason. It was an added hassle to her seemingly indolent lifestyle to wake him every morning. It meant that she too had to get up five minutes earlier. Time enough to make fresh coffee and read the share index on page 36 of the newspaper. Jason knew his mean and overbearing aunt gained extreme pleasure, disturbing his slumber. There was once an occasion, which was a ‘one-off’ when Jason had thought his aunt would let him have somewhat of a lie-in. His aunt had left him alone in the house for a week, as she was off on vacation with her friends Doris and Myrtle. Naturally, Jason had thought that he could finally have a lie-in before getting up for school. His aunt had made prior arrangements. A phone call in the morning at precisely seven forty-five hindered all aspects of Jason’s plans.
With a colossal struggle, Jason managed to pull himself out of bed. Pointing his big toes to the ground, he began to search for his slippers. His toes edged across the floor on short explorations for his burgundy slippers. With each foot secure in his slippers, he walked towards the bathroom.
Jason Greaves was fifteen, slim, not too tall, but not small either. His eyes were brown, which looked chocolaty on several occasions, and hazel at others. Once or twice there was an odd glimmer of green in there too. His body glowed with a slight tan, with freckles across his nose and cheeks.
Jason lived with his Aunt Florence, Jason’s late father’s older sister. A sturdy woman who could quickly get and maintain any military position without hassle. Along with her muscular appearance, her voice had developed a strident, controlling tone. Something Aunt Florence had mastered while being employed for many years at a medium-sized public relations company. It was a strange situation. It was unbelievable that her tone and manner would help in selling anything to anyone.
All Jason’s friends, a group that was few, had an immediate fear of Ms Greaves. Especially with her booming voice and the permanent absence of a smile. It was a wonder to many people how she managed to maintain her position in the PR company.
After all, it did have an extreme focus on positive attitude and charisma. These attributes and because Aunt Florence had a towering, muscular figure led Jason’s friends to avoid her. Without exception.
Aunt Florence didn’t have any children of her own, because she was never married, nor had she ever dated. Jason wasn’t at all surprised at this. He even found it hard to imagine anyone suitable or even willing enough to be her husband. Jason believed if his aunt lived with someone, even the shortest length of time, they would find irreconcilable differences.
Jason had never known his father but heard that his father died when Jason was only two years old. His father had been a sergeant in the army, which seemed rather fitting for that side of the Greaves family. He had only vague memories of his mother, who had vanished a few weeks after the funeral. When Jason tried, he could almost recall images of his mother. They were vague, possibly not even real, but Jason held onto them.
Aunt Florence became Jason’s legal guardian after social services took him into care. The same day his mother had disappeared. Following a day spent listening to non-stop crying, concern and curiosity arouse with neighbours, who in turn took it upon themselves to investigate the Greaves home. As one neighbour had seen no sign of the “young widow from next door”, she immediately phoned Social Services and reported the incident. They immediately sent out a search for the boy’s closest relative. Sadly for Jason, they only found Aunt Florence, who was delighted at this prospect, however purposefully hid these feelings. The fact that his aunt was granted the deeds to the Greaves house had nothing whatsoever to do with her decision, which she had often been heard to remark, quite vehemently, to her friends. This group consisted mainly of old businesswomen, who seemed more stuck-up than business-like and eccentric young men eager to get a foothold onto the executive ladder.
And so, here he was, in the care of his Aunt Florence. This, in Jason’s opinion, didn’t seem like care at all now that he had experienced thirteen years of her business-like methods. Where everything had time, and a place and were life was built around a set schedule of activities.
Therefore, Jason had no other choice, but to live every day trying to make the most of it and always trying to find the best side of everything, even if it did seem his aunt wanted otherwise.
Jason wasn’t the least popular of kids, nor did he find himself in the more popular “in” crowd at school, in fact, most of his free time at school and at home was spent daydreaming in fantasy worlds. He often hoped for an escape from the hectic life of a fourth-year student. Jason probably spent more time thinking about escaping to these dream worlds than doing anything else that he supposed a normal fifteen-year-old should be doing.
While trying to wash his face with his old, tatty facecloth, Jason heard his aunt shout up,
“I’m going to work now. And remember Jason, do not be late for school, and when you get home, you’d better have your room tidied, and the cleaning finished.”
“Okay, Aunt Florence,” Jason shouted back, as he tried to rearrange his hair into some form of hairstyle, without any luck.
The front door slammed, and it was quiet.
It would soon be eight-thirty, and Jason knew he had to leave. He wasn’t too sure if he could face another day of Miss Thornbottle bellowing at him from behind her desk, but the thought of having to listen to his aunt’s ranting and raving when she found out that he had missed school that day persuaded him to take the more straightforward approach and face Miss Thornbottle. Jason headed towards the front door, lifting his house keys and lunch money on the way out, almost knocking over one of his Aunt Florence’s precious porcelain dolls. Thankfully he was able to rescue it just in time before it had a chance to tip over onto the varnished wood floor.
It was now close to the time that Jason should be leaving, and if he left it any later, he’d have to start thinking of excuses for arriving late. Jason stepped out onto the porch, locking the front door behind him.
He paused for a moment to look around at the suburban part of Belfast, Northern Ireland that he called home, with its rustic tree-lined streets and three-story houses. Now and then a woman or man would walk past being trailed along by their dogs. Jason was always amused by this, thinking about how these small creatures could lead their masters in the directions they wanted to go rather than the other way around.
He had always wanted a pet, something to keep him company during the lonely days spent at home, but his aunt had always said, ‘Animals just take up too much time, besides you have enough cleaning to do, without having to look after a pest.’
He knew he would never get her to change her mind unless there was a pet that washed dishes or vacuumed.
It was mid-spring and unusually hot for the time of year. Everything looked so colourful, fresh, and bright. Jason smiled as he thought about the Easter holidays fast approaching, which led him on to think about the open countryside and how great it would be to run freely through fields and forests. It often amazed him how he could fall into a daydream like this, which often caused more than enough trouble.
Looking at his watch, he noticed that it was now ten minutes to nine. “Where did the time go?” He wondered.
A surge of panic began to spread throughout his body, realising he had less than ten minutes to arrive at his school and be sitting in his seat in the class. Running and thinking at the same time, Jason decided to take a shortcut down the lane that linked two streets together, which also ran adjacent to the Cavehill Forest Park.
He had heard many tales about that forest when he was younger, but now at the mature age of fifteen, he believed these stories were just told by nervous parents (and strict aunts) to keep their children away from the forest and any dangers that might lie within. The lane entrance lay just in front of him. In the last year or so, the city council had erected a metal gate at both ends of the lane to prevent cars using it as a shortcut. As Jason leant against the metal gate, he had time to process his next course of actions, should he attempt going down the shortcut or stick to the familiar footpath? A second glance at his watch made the decision an easy one to make.
Boldly Jason made his way down the lane at a brisk-but-sensible pace. If he walked too slowly, he would be late, but he didn’t want to run, as Miss Thornbottle would find some other reason to pick on him, perhaps for his heavy breathing.
Halfway down the lane, he noticed a small derelict building nestled a few metres into the forest. On closer examination, Jason saw that it was locked up rather well, or at least, it seemed to be. The wooden door at the front had a few loose chains hanging from the handle, and a nail in the wood held up a large, white plastic sign, bearing in bright red lettering, the words:
DANGER! DO NOT ENTER!
Of course, his curiosity was no match for his fear of Miss Thornbottle, so he decided to continue. The curiosity, however, would remain embedded deep within him for the rest of the day.
Jason arrived a few seconds after nine, opened the door and just managed to get to his seat without Miss Thornbottle noticing. Miss Thornbottle was Jason’s maths teacher, and for some strange reason his timetable was arranged so that he had maths first period every day of the week except Friday, on which he had History, but for Jason that was not an exciting alternative. Both classes always started almost immediately with a test on the areas they had covered in the previous lesson. What seemed like hours passed as Jason sat at his desk chewing on the end of his pencil. Minutes passed as he sat staring at the test, trying in vain to answer any of the questions. He was hoping that he could chance his arm with a few of his answers and get some ‘pity marks’. It was hopeless. The thought of the hut in the forest kept coming back into his mind, making concentrating on the test more than impossible. Who would think that a fourth-year maths test could be so mentally consuming? Half an hour passed, and Jason was jolted from his reverie by the screech of Miss Thornbottle,
“Pencils down! Stop writing. The test is now over!” Miss Thornbottle pushed her seat back scraping the legs against the floor. “Make sure your names are on them this time” she wailed as she started her walk past each desk, collecting the test papers.
As Jason passed his paper, he knew he wasn’t going to be sitting at the top of the class in this particular test. The bell rang, and Jason walked out, heading down the corridor to his next class, English, expressing a sigh of relief that maths was over for another day.
The rest of the day passed by at a snail’s pace. Each period witnessed the same turn of events: Jason walked into class, sat down and tried to concentrate on the teacher’s lesson, but of course it was all going in one ear and out the other. Even in English, his favourite subject, he found it hard to concentrate. At long last, the final bell rang, and everyone stampeded towards their lockers to gather their books before they went home to a hot dinner and a night of homework. Jason’s class was still sitting at the final bell; their science teacher believed that the bell was for him. It was a signal for him to know that he should stop teaching and then he would dismiss the class. He finally nodded the scraping of chairs echoed throughout the classroom as the pupils made a hasty exit. On the way out Jason noticed Miss Thornbottle in the corridor, he spun round to head in the opposite direction but heard her shout,
“Jason, I wouldn’t be late tomorrow again if I were you. Don’t think for one second that I didn’t see you come in late today.”
Jason shivered as though in the presence of evil, and walked towards his locker.
It was three twenty when he left school.
On his way home, Jason approached the lane he had used as a short cut earlier. Without fighting his curiosity, his feet led him towards the odd hut. The suspense was pure agony as he thought up all the possible uses for the hut in the past, and maybe also the future. It could be the perfect den, where he could hang with his friends. Perhaps it was some storage shed for one of his neighbours; maybe a rundown council building; or perhaps it had been used by the old woodsman who used to take care of the grounds. Jason remembered that he had passed away a few years ago.
As he walked closer, he could feel the goose pimples rising in his arms as the excitement and curiosity overcame him. Finally, he was standing in front of the worn-down building, the “Danger” sign still visible, and somehow highlighted by the evening sun. With more time to investigate this strange building, he noticed that it was built using what looked like sturdy stone with wooden beams for support. Over the years it had also gathered a rather impressive amount of moss. Vines and various other wall-climbing plants had started to spread across the hut’s many facades, making the stone walls their home, engulfing the hut with ever-growing forest. Within a few years, the hut would be completely hidden. Jason thought it a perfect place for a den. There were no windows in the building, and a wooden door occupied the front wall, in a similar style although on a much smaller scale of those seen in castles in the old medieval films. Several odd-looking trees grew on either side, a branch of one of these had grown over the top of the hut, and there were a few medium-sized bushes in front as well. Each hosted a glamorous amount of emerald green leaves.
“How did I ever manage to see the hut in the first place,” Jason wondered, “all these plants so well camouflage it.”
Jason looked again at the sign. He knew that these signs were put up for a reason, but still, he walked closer, passing a few of the bushes, pushing back a large branch that blocked his path. The voices in his head were arguing whether Jason should feed his curiosity or head home, having realised how late it was getting. On this occasion, the adventurous voice seemed to be louder than the rest of the more morally-suited ones, investigating the building looked like an adventure that he should not miss. Especially when it said “do not enter” that was a blatant invitation to do the opposite.
Jason walked closer to the door, and placed his hands on the wooden surface, gasping as a cold shiver travelled through him. For a moment, he stood there looking at the vibrant redwood door which stood in front of him.
Gingerly, he pushed on the door, expecting it to be firmly shut. The door moved slightly, letting out a gush of old air that smelt of damp, yet carried a hint of something that had a rather pleasing, and inviting smell. It was a very unfamiliar and unusual smell. Jason pushed further as the door swung open and coughed at the growing intensity of the scent. It was inky black inside the hut, and it took Jason several moments to adjust to the darkness. The fading sunlight lit the entrance of the building but no more.
Jason took a step forward, then another, stopping to allow his eyes to focus. After a few blinks and about 30 seconds for his eyes to readjust, Jason could make out various markings on the wall. He took a step forward to examine these more closely. They were pictures, with strange symbols intermixed. Jason let his eyes pass over them, trying to gauge a meaning or work out a pattern within them. He found his gaze kept returning to one picture in particular, which showed a group of people with pointed ears. He laughed inwardly as the thought occurred to him that some other young people just like him had already made this their den, and had decorated it with symbols from their favourite books or movies. “Now then,” he thought, “Elves, or Vulcans?” Squinting, he took a step closer to the wall, stumbling as the floor seemed to give a little under him. Suddenly, his foot slipped, and he felt himself falling into the darkness. He barely had time to scream before he landed with a thud, winded and shaking.
Jason shook his head to try and stabilise the spinning sensation and painfully sucked air into his lungs a few times before attempting to assess the situation. He was lying on what felt like soft, damp ground. It could have perhaps been leaves.
He felt rather pleased that he hadn’t seriously hurt himself on the fall in any way except for a few small bumps and bruises that time would heal. Looking up, he could see sunlight coming from the hole through which he had fallen. He looked around for a way out, now clearly hearing the moral voices in his head, “I told you that ‘Danger’ meant to stay away!” Shaking these thoughts off, Jason acknowledged a sense of fear, and the idea of not being able to escape passed his mind. He remembered the story of “The Boy who fell down the Well” that his aunt had told him.
“But a well is slightly different from a hole in an abandoned building that says, ‘do not enter’ on it, which is located halfway down a lane that hardly anyone uses,” Jason muttered under his breath. Looking around frantically, he darted his eyes from side to side, until they caught a bluish glimmer from a gap just big enough for a medium-sized teenager to pass through. Marvelling at the weird quality of the light, it took Jason a moment or two to realise that the hole into which he had fallen had grown darker. Puzzled, he looked around and discovered the reason. The hole through which he had fallen was no longer there. Somehow, for some unknown reason to Jason, the ground had grown back to conceal the hole.
He jumped a few times, trying to touch the roof of the chamber, hoping that maybe his eyes were playing cruel tricks on him, but there was no such luck.
He was barely able to reach the roof, but a sickening certainty in his stomach told him that the hole had sealed over and that his jumping was not going to ease the situation in any way. Panic started to set in; terrible, claustrophobic thoughts of being trapped forever in this cold, damp, dark place. He tried to hold them back, but they flooded his mind, speeding his heartbeat and stealing his breath. Unbidden, tears began to course down his cheeks, and he began to feel light-headed. He had read of panic attacks, of course, but somehow, he had always thought they only happened to girls. Sinking back onto the floor of his prison, not prison, not prison, I am NOT TRAPPED!! He thought as he put his head between his knees and concentrated on taking one breath at a time, slowing them until his heartbeat seemed to be almost normal again. Exhausted, he sat for a moment, looking back at the eerie blue light that served as his only illumination. Jason knew he couldn’t sit there waiting for something (quite possibly unpleasant) to happen. Deciding that his only option was to follow the blue glimmer, Jason rose unsteadily to his feet and began to walk toward the gap, hoping it would lead outside. He reached for the wall and started to make his way through. His breathing got more profound as he tried to fill his lungs with extra air, and he felt slightly dizzy from the panic he was still fighting to control, as well as the shock from having fallen down the hole in the first place. The gap led into a tunnel that wound left and right for what seemed like several metres, the blue glimmer gaining strength with every step Jason took. Finally, he turned the last corner, stumbling into a sizeable chamber; and was confronted by the oddest of objects.
The chamber was lit with four blue-flamed torches, one in each corner, increasing the effects which appeared to make the chamber resemble a medieval tomb. Each of the walls bore some form of engraved writing. Of course, Jason had no idea of what these engravings meant. In the middle of the room, a small stone pillar stood drawing all attention towards it. It was a smooth grey stone and rectangular with several engravings on each side.
As Jason took a closer look, he noticed that the top was sloped, creating a bowl-like shape in the centre. Several engraved lines emerged from the central bowl and cut through the stone down each side to the base of the pillar. It appeared to be a pedestal, perhaps for some strange ceremony or something. Jason walked around the pedestal, tracing his fingers along the grooves.
As he touched it, a cold shiver descended his back, which caused him to shiver. He felt nervous and afraid, but at the same time, he was also excited. This experience was something that had never happened to him before, and he was sure that no one else had been in this room for a very long time. As Jason was walking around the chamber, something caught his eye. Behind the central pedestal lay another smoothed stone. In sharp contrast to the dull grey of the central stone, however, this was a large gem, of brilliant and fathomless blue. Jason was mesmerised by its appearance. Throughout his entire life, he had never seen anything as beautiful as this. That stone must be worth a fortune, he thought. Eagerly he picked it up. The cold touch of the surface caused him to shudder.
Scenes flashed through his mind in rapid succession, a dizzying montage of blue oceans, green valleys, towering snow-peaked mountains, gleaming forests and a beautiful white city. He watched as four robed men placed what seemed to be the stone, he had picked up, on top of a rectangular stone object.
The image blurred and was replaced by that of a young woman. She was dress in clothes that looked much like those that people in the United Kingdom would wear.
She too was placing the stone on the pedestal. Then there was a flash of light. Startled, Jason dropped the gem, and the flow of images stopped. The scenes he had witnessed were of immaculate beauty, but the last scenes made him curious. He struggled to make sense of what he had seen. Were those men, and that woman, placing the stone he had been holding on the central pedestal in this room? Jason couldn’t think straight and was unsure of what he should do. This strange new puzzle had made him forget he was trapped.
Scratching at his arm Jason noticed the time on his watch, six twenty-three, his aunt would be home in seven minutes. She would be furious if she got home and he wasn’t there, never mind that he hadn’t cleaned his room or tidied the house. He ran back through the winding tunnel to the pit into which he had fallen as quickly as he could, although it seemed much more difficult to race away from the light than to travel towards it. A brief inspection revealed only the dark earth above him. Even as he started screaming for help, he knew it was useless. No one could hear him so far down, covered by soil, in a neglected building on a lane that people seldom walked.
He thought about his aunt and his friends and started to believe that he would never get out of this hole. Even going back to his aunt wouldn’t be as bad as being stuck down here forever!
A few brief and morose thoughts passed, and he found himself remembering the image of the robed men and the stone. This time he couldn’t shake it off. It seemed so clear! Over and over, he saw the men placing the crystal on top of the rectangular alter, the images playing faster and faster like a kaleidoscope of urgency and meaning. There was a flash, and they stopped.
Driven by his curiosity and the sense of need in the vision, Jason ran back to the lit chamber and stared hard at the stone pedestal in the centre of the room.
Carefully he looked at the markings around it. He remembered watching a documentary on ancient writing in school. Jason had been particularly interested in the Egyptian hieroglyphics that were engraved in the tombs and on the sarcophagus in the TV documentary, but what he saw on this stone was not Egyptian, and he was almost positive that the Egyptians were never in Ireland.
Again the image of the robed men came into his thoughts. Jason looked to the right and found the gem-like stone glistening in the position he had dropped it.
He bent down, picking it up, he took a deep and shaking breath in preparation, but this time no images flashed into his mind. There were no scenes of forests, valleys, towns or people. He looked back at the pedestal and saw that the groove on top was almost the same size as the mysterious stone. He moved to the pedestal and gently placed the crystal on top. Nothing happened.
Jason stood there, looking at the pedestal, half-disappointed at the lack of activity. Without warning, a brilliant white flash emerged from the centre of the crystal. Jason felt a strange sensation
Then there was nothing.