Chapter One: A Hut in the Woods
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A large spiked club, twice the length of Jason’s arm, flew over his head, creating a gush of wind that 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, causing a short, blinding cloud, which restricted the vision of both Jason and his attacker. The dust settled and Jason was now inches away from what looked like an ugly, grey skinned, pig-like creature that snorted and growled with every breath. The creature looked at Jason, raised its club, opened his 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 your own personal farm yard roaster, expecting me to wake you up every morning. Well I will tell you one thing, and that’s for sure, the next time that teacher of yours wants words with me for you being late, you will be in the firing line.” The voice quietened to a soft mutter, voicing distaste and other vulgarities that Jason couldn’t quite make out. Then to finish off what was started 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. This 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 possibly reading far too many fantasy novels. Rubbing his eyes, he rolled 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 was displayed in the middle of the shield. He could just about make out its red glow, seven forty-five, he watched as the numbers blinked, seven forty-six.
He groaned and closed his eyes pretending to himself that he could just lie in bed for another five minutes and maybe that would be enough to shake off his tiredness. Jason was not a morning person. However he knew, much like his aunt had said; all hell would break loose if he wasn’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 very useful 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. However with the way things were going in his life at the moment, Jason felt that anywhere would be better than here, living in this house.
School didn’t start until nine, which Jason thought was still far too early for anybody to be up, out of bed and doing anything constructive, by any standards.
Regardless of his own opinions his aunt had a very different view. In fact she felt it was her duty of care to wake Jason up ridiculously early each and every morning, without exception.
She had made the point very clear to Jason, that it was an added hassle to her seemingly indolent lifestyle waking him up every morning; it meant that she too had to get up five minutes earlier, just so she could still make her fresh coffee and read the share index on page 36 of the newspaper. Jason knew that his mean and overbearing aunt gained a rather exorbitant amount of pleasure having the task of disturbing his slumber every morning. Having said that, there was an occasion, a “one-off” at that, 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 however had made prior arrangements for this, and a phone call in the morning at exactly seven forty-five hindered all aspects of Jason’s plans.
With a huge struggle Jason managed to pull himself out of bed. Pointing his big toes to the ground he began to search for his slippers. Each toe edged across the floor until their short explorations led them to the soft furry surface of his burgundy slippers. With each foot firmly secure in his slippers he walked towards the bathroom.
Jason Greaves was fifteen, slim, not too tall, but not small either. He had brown eyes, which he had always been told were a strange shade of brown; looking chocolaty on several occasions, and hazel at others. Once or twice he had even been told there was an odd glimmer of green in there too.
His body glowed with a slight tan from the numerous days that he had been sitting outside in the garden, and he had freckles across his nose and some scattered on his cheeks.
Jason lived with his Aunt Florence, Jason’s late father’s older sister. She was a brawny woman who could have easy acquired and maintained any military position without hassle. Along with her muscular appearance, her voice had developed a strident, controlling tone. This was something that she had mastered from the many years she had spent as an executive of an averagely medium sized PR company in the city centre. It was a strange situation as it would not be expected that her voice would help in selling anything to anyone using charm.
All of Jason’s friends, a group that was not numerous, had an immediate fear of Ms Greaves, with her booming voice and the permanent absence of a smile. It was a wonder to many people how she actually managed to maintain her position in the PR company.
After all, it did have a very strong focus on positive attitude and charisma. All of these attributes and her towering muscular figure led his friends to avoid her without exception.
Aunt Florence didn’t have any children of her own, mainly due to the fact that she never married. 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. Even if there ever was a chance of a marriage proposal to come her way, Jason privately believed that the “other half” would soon find some “irreconcilable differences” after a short period of actually living with her.
Jason had never known his father but was told that he had 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 brief memories of his mother, who had seemingly vanished a few weeks after the funeral. When Jason tried, he could almost recall images of his mother. They were vague, perhaps they weren’t even real, but Jason held onto them.
Aunt Florence became Jason’s legal guardian following the eventful day when social services took him into care. The same day his mother had disappeared Jason was left unattended. 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 phoned a report in. Social Services immediately sent out a search for the boy’s closest relative, finding only his aunt, she of course was only delighted at this prospect. She purposefully hid those feelings however. 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 business women, 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 really seem like care at all now that he had experienced thirteen years of her business-like methods. Where everything had a time and a place and life was built around a set schedule of activities.
Therefore, Jason had no other choice, but to live everyday 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 tided and the cleaning done.”
“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 simpler approach and face Miss Thornbottle. He 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, 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 3 story houses. Every 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 day dream 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 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.
Half way 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 board bearing, in clear 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 on. The curiosity, however, would remain imbedded 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 that was not an alternative that Jason looked forward to. 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 thought 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 that he would tell them when the class was dismissed. 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 sort of storage shed for one of his neighbours; perhaps 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 the 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 displaying a glamorous amount of emerald green leaves.
“How did I ever manage to see the hut in the first place,” Jason wondered, “it’s so well camouflaged by all these plants?”
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. He pushed back a large branch that blocked his path. The voices in his head were arguing whether he 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 seemed like an adventure that could not be missed. Especially when it said “do not enter” that was an obvious 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 rich redwood door which stood in front of him.
Gingerly, he pushed on the door, expecting it to be firmly closed. The door moved slightly, letting out a gush of old air that smelt of damp, yet carried a hint of something that smelt rather pleasing, and inviting. It was a very unusual smell. Jason pushed further as the door swung open, and coughed at the growing intensity of the smell. Inside the hut was dark. 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 short period, he 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 down 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 wasn’t harmed 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 stay away!” Shaking these thoughts off, Jason acknowledged a sense of fear, and the thought 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 half way down a lane that hardly anyone uses,” Jason muttered under his breath. Looking around frantically, his eyes caught a bluish glimmer from a gap just big enough for a medium sized youth 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. It was almost as if 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 was indeed sealed, 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 again 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 deeper 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 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 appeared to be made out of smoothed grey stone; it was rectangular in shape, and had 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 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, large 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 stone 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 earth, in a neglected building on a lane that people seldom walked.
He thought about his aunt and his friends and started to think 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 stone 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 on it; he remembered watching a documentary on ancient writing in school. Jason had been particularly interested in the Egyptian hieroglyphics that were shown, but what he saw on this stone was definitely 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. No scenes of forests, valleys, towns or people. He looked back at the pedestal and saw that the groove on top was almost the exact same size as the mysterious stone. He moved to the pedestal and gently placed the stone 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 pedestal. Jason felt a strange sensation…
Then there was nothing.