by Graham Cotter
Brian noticed the trail of smoke, tiny as it was, at a distance, and at once associated it with the smell of gunpowder. He dropped the dynamite wrappings where he had picked them up, and started running towards the smoke. He didn’t know why he was running: it just seemed urgent.
He stumbled over clods and boulders turned up by bulldozers, circled around one of the abortive drill holes for water, and then round the ruts made by the jeeps. Towards the edge of the fieldstone the jeep track faintly left the main rut: it broke above ground. By now he was about a hundred yards from the spot where yesterday he had left the stream bed and come into the open. Just beyond the opening in the fence was the slight hole which later developed into the stream bed, and beyond, another hundred yards, was the ridging of the hillside as the ground moved upwards again. It was on this ridging that the clump of trees stood, with the boulder, hidden from Brian, in the middle, and the wisp of smoke curling through the tallest tree.
He could see beyond the clump into the field beyond, and there, running drunkenly and shouting, was his brother Kevin. He increased his own pace, and began to cut up across the ridging embankment to meet Kevin, if he could. He was quite sure even at this distance, that Kevin was quite out of his mind.
From the moment Kevin noticed the putrid, animal, decaying smell he hardly knew what he was doing. He was in fact, running down through the grasses, along much the same path his sisters had taken the day before, after finishing the ice cream course of their picnic lunch. But it did not seem so to him.
The first thing that Kevin saw with his eyes was the huge wall of the glacier. Its base was far away, at least a quarter of a mile, but instead of a gradual slope of ice moving backward from the rubble and the mud of the lake it had formed, there was a huge blue-green cliff of ice. As he looked at it, it seemed to hang over him, and he heard the great clashes like thunder, as great cracks came in the ice. It was hundreds of feet high, and as the sun at high noon, was dazzling and blinding. Below him and around him were low woods, and from somewhere ahead of him there was an appalling shriek.
He was crashing, fast as he could, through the jungle-like bush and the trees. As he ran he seemed to grow larger, or the trees smaller, and again he was aware that the smell came, not from the tall tree ahead of him, but from himself. There was also another odour, that of burning which he recognized as separate from this strange body stench. He was again as he had been, coming out of the glacier with Brian, and even as he had seen the family of huge creatures on that beach, he seemed to be one himself: hairy, flat-footed, squeaking rather than speaking.
And there was Brian, or rather, that other Brian, beast-like as he was himself, running along the beach, shouting and squealing at him. But he was paying no attention to Brian, but to a great rock by the tall tree, and to the shrieks he heard coming from there. Someone very dear to him was there, someone he must rescue. Someone only he could find and help. He rushed on. As he rushed he realized that the tree was not as tall as he thought but the rock was larger than he thought.
Then there was a huge noise, as though the whole cliff face of the glacier far away as it was, was breaking off and crashing down, and going to fall on top of him and the precious person he was rescuing. But instead of ice falling, although the thunder from side to side was like a glacial boom, the beach rose up before him in a huge spout, trees and water and rocks were flung in the air. The mass of ice and pebbles and mud was upon him, but the explosion continued far above his head. Yet he kept running, knowing he must break through to whoever was waiting for him.
Debbie had been dancing through the lovely bushes with her big sister in tow, for it seemed an age, but they could not get behind the mountain. They were hardly touching the ground, and seemed to be travelling very fast, but making little progress. It was exasperating, but the only frustration in an otherwise delightful frolic. The sky was very bright, the mountain shone gold and silver and diamond, even its deep scar lit up by the overhead sun. The sun itself seemed twice as large as unusual, so that the light itself was a steady worth. The parts of her body that were for even a moment shaded by her flying arms or the shadow of her head were suddenly chilled even in fleeting shade.
And at that point she noticed that neither she nor Lindy had any clothes on, but were covered with a soft yellow down. She felt as she remembered feeling when she was very little, and Mummy had put everyone in the bath together, and she felt the lovely warmth of the water and its softness on her skin, and wondered at the bigness of her brothers and sisters as they splashed the water at each other.
In spite of the heat, the air was crisp and fragrant, there was still a burning smell, but it was like incense, a burning before the fireplace of old flowers and cedar bark. Then she saw the fire. It was like a circle or a globe, quite small at first, and still on the other side of the mountain, it’s outer tongues were tangerine leaping and criss-crossing; but not just leaping up like a log fire, but leaping in all directions around the central ball. Closer in the glow was a deep red, redder than any toy fire truck, redder than blood she had seem coming from a dead animal and moving like liquid. In the very centre of that was a silvery white star with four points which shrunk and grew again like the beating of a heart.
And the whole fire grew larger and larger, till it was the size of the mountain itself, through which she was seeing it, as if through a crystal. Then as the tongues of orange leaped out beyond the mountain’s back into the blue sky, everything moved, the whole world was shaking, back and forth in and out, and rising up. They were rising up higher, far above the ground themselves. She knew now that at any moment everything would turn like the page of a book, when Linda pulled her hand.
She looked at her sister. All of a sudden all the beauty had left her as fear and pain distorted her face. Linda’s eyes opened wide, she threw back her head, and screamed. Debbie clutched her to herself, hugging her, trying to tell her everything was alright, but she screamed again, and they were both lifted, not floating, but with a great jolt, and where everything beautiful had been silent, noise was everywhere.
Skip Martin and Charles Hagerman had soon found out that the radio news flash was false, but there was no assurance to be had of the little girls’ safety in the village. They had gone their separate ways very shortly: Charles Hagerman to witness the Council session – and to make an appearance for the sake of his voters; Skip to find some of the saner heads in the community and to try to discover what might be known about the girls’ disappearance.
Tom Byrd at the BeeHive grocery was his best source of information. Tom was a bright, cheerful man who had brought his family up from the city trying his fortune as a country store-keeper, and had soon won his way among conservative country folk by his good manners and his willingness to go out of his way to help.
“We first heard about it early yesterday afternoon. Miz Scace the Mayor’s wife, called around everywhere asking about the girls, and we sent our youngster off looking for them. By suppertime it began to look pretty serious, and the police and the whole countryside were turning out to look.
“Seems the girls took a picnic lunch down the hill, down the Scace’s hill that is, and just disappeared.”
“Which way down Scace’s Hill?”
“Oh, this way, towards the village. Or, at least, not on the direct route to Norham. They went into some field near a spring the Scace kids all play around.”
“Has there been anyone there today at all”
“Not really. And all these visitors have kept us all busy – it’s been hard to pay attention.”
“Triple O lot, eh? Have they been helping in the search?”
“As far as I know, nobody’s even told them about the girls.”
“How come the Triple O people aren’t at the Triple O site?”
“Not ready. They’ve been digging for weeks, but can’t get any water, just dried up.”
“Just how do you get to the lot, anyway?”
“They’ve built a road, but they keep the gate locked. On #25 bypass. If you’re driving you go in by the farm road this side of the slaughter-house.”
“Yeah, ” said little Sam, Tom’s boy, “right across from Hell’s Door!”
“Sam, don’t call it that!”
“What’s it mean, Hell’s Door?”
“He means the mausoleum let into the hillside at the cemetery, where they keep the coffins in winter until the ground can be opened.”
Skip laughed, “He has a dim view of where Warkworth people will wake up!”
“I think he kinda likes the idea. Kids are always interested in things like that.”
“Tom, do you know if the Triple O site was searched?”
“I’m sure they were told about it. I don’t know whether the foreman did a search. Round here, people get up and look for lost kids without being asked much. Neighbourly.”
“Is there anyone up there now, do you s’pose?”
“Saturday. Not likely. And the brass will all be trying to deal with the mob.”
Outside, the march to lunch had begun, and Skip had come out of the Bee Hive in time to see the Minister bringing up the rear, beaming and waving. Skip didn’t have much time for that; he decided to take a look for himself at the Triple O sight. He could check up on what Albert had told him about the outfit at the same time.
Reaching what Sam Byrd had called Hell’s Door, he turned left along the farm road. At the house he paused for a few words with the owner, a friendly widow and her son.
“Anyone been along here searchin’ for those girls?”
“We did a search ourselves, but only on our own land.”
“What about the Triple O land?”
Mrs. Jacques’ brow darkened,
“Those people? I wouldn’t expect nothing from them. Ignorant lot. Don’t suppose they gave it a thought.”
“Did you see any sign of a search party over there?”
“Not at all. Honk your horn three times if you need some help.”
“Will do. Okay, thanks.”
Skip jumped in his car and drove furiously down the cattle track. Once he reached the woods he got out and began a painstaking search, moving back and forth across the grounds and through the trees in sweeping lines, prying under piled leaves and branches checking out every hole. Thus it was nearly noon when he began to smell the faint aroma of gunpowder in the air, and by that time he was on the edge of the cleared site of the Triple O Lodge.
It was at this very moment that Kevin was plunging down the field, shouting crazily, and Brian decided to take a short cut to him. Skip did not see either child at this point, but he heard the children shouting, and ran in the direction of the sound, jumping over piles of earth and scrambling to the edge of the clearing and to the treed field boundary. He had just crossed this, and located the shouting boys when the explosion took place, so he was the only adult eye witness who could later tell of the subsequent events. The clump of pines concealing the large rock was about a quarter of a mile from where Skip Martin had broken through the fence. It was just far away enough for there to be a split second between what he saw and the noise he heard. The noise, coming just a little later, helped imprint the extraordinary sight on his memory. He had seen explosions before, in his war service, but this it turned out, was not solely an explosion of dynamite.
As his memory recorded it, there was a stillness, in which everything was etched in his mind.
The clump of trees was located on the ridging of the lower hillside, just above the ridge, and more than a hundred yards from this side of the clump, the small figure of a running boy. To the west of the ridge, and up the field towards Scace’s Hill, a movement in the field as of someone running, and shouts coming from that direction; the shouts were those which attracted his attention.
There was shift of the whole scene, as if he had been looking through an old, hand-made window pane with a flaw, or as if he had touched the side of his eye and made the whole retinal picture move. The movement was a shift to the left, away from Scace’s Hill, partly towards himself; thinking about it later, he could not get away from the idea that everything had moved about twenty-five feet in that direction.
However, that was the first and general movement he saw. The second was more specific: the clump of trees moved straight up into the air, and there was a stir of rocks and earth along the ridging on each side of the clump, a stir which ended in a mushroom of smoke and debris, which moved laterally and horizontally, east from the explosion, while the trees flew apart vertically.
Then he heard the noise. First there was a thump, and then the reverberations and echoes began. That should have been the end of it, but a new roar began coming from inside the earth, and Martin recognized the sound of water.
At the moment of the explosion, Brian was flat on his face. He had just stumbled over a fallen branch, and was momentarily winded. So he thought the noise was an illusion from the thump of his fall. Then he realized that the noise was continuing, and that the trees in that clump were blowing straight into the air. By now he was much closer to Kevin, but Kevin was nearly at the trees. He looked sharp to see any sign of Kevin but could only see smoke and dust, curling from the ground. He was not even sure where the tree clump had been, except that it seemed to be the centre of the continuing noise.
The ground was trembling under his feet; if he had stood still, instead of running, he could have known it was heaving. Certainly, as each foot landed the earth seemed to push back, so that his strides became like moon steps – huge. He ran to the centre of the confusion. To his left, there were greater noises and more smoke, before him, he could just make out some shrubs and small trees, the foliage ripped from them. Kevin must be in there somewhere.
Then he saw the rock. He remembered it. Always a lover of cool enclosed spaces, he had spent many an hour sitting near it, with the trees overhead, and wondering at the strange deep claw marks on its side. To him they were claw marks, made by some rock mauling creature of another age. It was a beautiful rock, moss on its north side, and some of the granite sufficiently rough and unweathered to sparkle with little crystals. It had been one of his favorite sights, but he had hardly ever associated it with Kevin and Bart’s story of the jeep and the men they attacked.
Now it was quite different. The trees around it were gone, and it towered over the edge of the field, with a grim greyness which made it almost unrecognizable. Behind it on the down side, there seemed to be a continuing explosion, and amid the dust and smoke he recognized a more solid matter – swirling water with mud and gravel; the ridging of the field had become the shore, for beyond was a flood of waters. There was still too much smoke to notice how far it extended; anyway his attention was on what was between the rock and himself.
The force of the explosion had all been on the east side of the rock; the big trees, with their roots north and south of the rock, had been blown up. But in the shelter of the rock, even shoulder high bushes were undisturbed, except for a coating of dust. And there lying still peacefully asleep were his two sisters. But not for long. For, to his right, crawling through bushes and thorns which had felt the blast of the dynamite, covered with mud and blood on his face, came Kevin, still shouting with a hoarse croak, indistinguishable words. As the girls stirred, Brian ran to his brother and called his name, shaking him and raising him to his feet.
“Kev! You found the girls. They’re Okay..”
“Whata-a-t?” human consciousness returned to the boy’s eyes.
“Help me with them quick!”
“What happened to you, Kevin?”
It was Linda’s voice, as she sat up. Apart from the coating of dust, she looked as though she had just finished a nice snooze in the shade.
Kevin staggered over to her.
“What happened to you, you mean! Everybody’s been looking for you for two days, and we thought you were kidnapped or dead!”
“The mountain!” shouted Debbie, waking, singing: “we’re coming round the mountain!”
“Shh, Debbie, you’re asleep,” said Linda, very much the older sister.
“What do you mean two days? What day is it?”
“It’s Saturday, Lindy,” said Brian. “Nobody’s seen you since you went for your picnic lunch!”
“It couldn’t be Saturday. We just lay down for a nap. Hey! What’s all that noise?”
By now she was on her feet, and could see the destruction around her.
“But Lindy! we were dancing around the mountain!” Debbie insisted.
“You were dreaming. Let’s see what happened.”
“Let’s get out of here before we get drowned. Look at the flood!”
The children edged around to one side of the rock. The dust and smoke were settling but the water was rising, and it stretched as far as the eye could see. It filled all the area between the ridging in the field and the rise where the orchard had been destroyed by the Triple O. The excavations and the piles of building blocks, were disappearing. Where Brian had sat in a tree, eavesdropping on Bondworthy, only the top of the tree showed. Some of the drill holes from the abortive wells were spouting water with artesian force.
“Wow! said Brian, let’s get home quick!”
“Brian!” said Kevin, “It’s just like what we saw the night of the fog!”
“C’mon, you guys,” said Linda, or we’ll have to rescue you, ‘stead of you rescuing us!”
The Scaces, having started the morning late, and spent a tearful hour with Mrs. Yurychuk, then divided their duties. Albert spent his time on the phone, frantically trying to reach his brother, who was unreachable, and the police, who knew nothing, and his various neighbours, who were either out on the search, or doing farm work, or carting in rummage for the upcoming Donnybrook sale. The women got the houses in order and prepared food; for, whatever the outcome, happy or tragic, there would be people around to feed. So all were unaware that noon hour had struck.
But they heard the explosion. The whole hill seemed to rock beneath them, and they all, from their various parts of the house, rushed outside.
“Albert, there’s flooding, down by Letcherly’s north field!”
“Flooding!” Albert rushed back into the kitchen for his binoculars.
“It’s a big flood. Where could all that water have come from?”
“Vat aboud dose letel girls, d’ere not in dat vater?” said her mother.
Albert was running at the thought, and called over his shoulder.
“I’m going to the other side of the track. You can see better from there.”
A few minutes later, the two women caught up with him. He was beyond the trees of the road allowance, where the edge of the escarpment continued. Not far below were the trees and bushes around the toy village and its spring.
“There they are!” said Albert, “All four children!”
“No! darling! Where? Give me the glasses!”
She took the binoculars and looked. Coming across the field were her four children. Debbie, as usual, was dancing along in front. But both Linda and Brian seemed to have to help Kevin. He was a mess, and apparently had hurt himself. Then as she adjusted the lens further, and the picture waved around, she saw a man running towards them.
“Who’s that?” She handed the glasses back to Albert.
“It’s Skip Martin. That’s who it is.”