Billy Part 22 - Hades Hill

1887

“Mind you stay together, you lot! Make sure you’re back before it gets dark and don’t go far! You hear?”

“Yes, Mam,” echoed the trio of children huddled around the door of the small terraced house before setting off down the street and making their way to the lane leading up to Sky Pond, their tongues wagging and jam jars clanging when their clogs made contact with the cobblestones.

Half way up the lane, the mood changed as the rules for the afternoon were laid down. “We don’t want any whinging from you, our Gracie!” the tallest boy snapped, pointing a bony finger into the chest of the frail-looking girl in front of him. His other arm lay limply by his side. “If me and our Bunny find a docker and want to share it, we will. If you go telling our mam, we’ll have yer guts fer garters!”

“I know better than to tell me mam, Alan,” Gracie snapped back at him. “I’ve still got the bruises from last time!”

“Right then. Don’t say I haven’t warned yer.“

“Don’t think Gracie should be going up Hades on her own. It might rain,” the younger boy quipped hesitantly.

“It might rain? It might bloody rain? Listen, soft lad, it might rain every blinking day! Like our dad says, if it ain’t raining it’s just about to!”

The face of the younger brother flashed as red as his hair and Gracie came to his aid. “Don’t worry about me, Bunny. I’ll be fine. I only want to go up t’stones and dance with the fairies fer a few minutes. I’ll be straight back down,” she bent down to his level and gave him a reassuring smile. Bunny gave her a reluctant one in return.

“Yer can come with me, if yer want?” Gracie added, wide-eyed.

“He's not going chasing fairies,” proclaimed Alan sarcastically. “He’ll turn into one -– he’s already half way there! He’s coming with me -– I need him ter help me catch the taddies.”

Bunny’s face crumpled when he heard Alan’s words. He wiped his nose across the sleeve of his threadbare jumper several times and then hitched up his short patched trousers.

“Right, make yersel’ scarce, Gracie,” ordered Alan, walking on and dragging Bunny by his clean sleeve. “Up ter top, five minutes and straight back down to meet us by t’pond.”

“Righty ho,” said Gracie, breaking away from them and giving Bunny a wave.

“An’ don’t be late!” shouted Alan. “Or I’ll...”

“Have me guts fer garters!” shouted Gracie, pulling a funny face that only Bunny caught sight of. She started running, laughing with excitement as she did so and occasionally turned around to watch the minute figures of Alan and Bunny trotting off in the opposite direction towards the deep black sparkle of Sky Pond.

Part way up, Gracie lost sight of her brothers and sat down on the gorse and heather-clad hillside and surveyed the mill town at its foot. The crowd of smoking giant chimneys of the cotton mills below reminded her of the dragon that St. George must have fought in the pace egg play. She shuddered. It was no secret how hard it was in those mills.

Her older sister Katie had aged years since she’d started work there. And now that Gracie was ten, she only had a couple of months to go before she would join her, as Alan’s gammy arm had prevented him from taking his turn first.

She wished she could be like Miss Annabella Templeton and go to school until she was grown up, or be a doll like Lady Caroline Theawicke! Mind you, she didn’t want the curse that Lady Caroline had to live with, no way! She would rather be friends with fairies than devils!

Perhaps Ma Crabtree was right when she’d read her mam’s tea leaves last week. “There will be no mill for Gracie!” Maybe she would be lucky and fall for a job as a servant instead?

A dark cloud passed overhead and Gracie looked up. Bunny was right, it looked like rain. She smiled when she noticed the full moon in the afternoon light -– there would be fairies today -– definitely! She ran on gaily.

***

Panic swept the whole street. Men stood on the corners talking earnestly, women sobbed silently so as to not scare the children. They were all scared though. Every last one of them. Young Grace Regan had gone missing up on Hades Hill and her brothers claimed she was away with the fairies!

Ma Crabtree believed them, as did many of the older members of the community, such as Fanny Parkinson who had gone through the tor ring backwards when she had failed to conceive after eight years of marriage. Ma had told her what to do and her belly had been full within the year. Fanny’s child had the ability to see things others couldn’t, too, just like Ma.

Ma waited for the knock at the door -– she knew they would come. When the hilltop had been searched and no body had been discovered, they would seek her out and she would tell them what they already knew but didn’t want to believe -– not yet. After a while, she knew they would want to believe it for anything would be better than thinking the child was dead.

Mind you, she had seen it in the cups and had told the mother that there would be no mill for Gracie! The mother had taken it that another occupation would call instead, but Ma had a good idea at the time that it had something to do with the stones. She hadn’t expected them to take the child away though, it had been a long time since that had happened. Since before her time.

The knock came, just as she knew it would. She put the kettle on and answered the door. They already knew where Gracie had gone, but they had to hear it from someone else, someone who knew about these things.

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4 Comments:
  • At 30 March 2010 at 14:07, Anonymous Melissa said…

    Oh, wow! What a piece! I love how you write dialog because somehow you convey exactly what your characters look like when you write what they're saying. I love little Gracie! You capture her in the descriptions of her thoughts of the mills (shudder), the excitement about the fairies after she sees the full moon ... and somewhere under all of it is the foreshadowing of the last bit when she's missing. So good!! Can't wait for the next part ... I'm so glad i have the time to catch up today!

     
  • At 3 April 2010 at 11:50, Blogger Miladysa said…

    This piece flowed when I was writing it Melissa. *They* just came to me and I fell in love with them instantly :)

     
  • At 1 June 2010 at 23:59, Anonymous @Howiehippobum said…

    Better and better! So good, I'm lost for words!

    I had 3 favourite writers in this genre : Arthur Machen, Alan Garner, Robert Holdstock. Now there's a 4th : Miladysa!

     
  • At 2 June 2010 at 00:31, Blogger Miladysa said…

    Bloody Hell Howie - now I'm lost for words :) Thank you kindly!

    *jigs*

     

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Whituth's living can't see the dead but psychic Elizabeth Whyte can see everyone: living humans, delayed souls, fallen angels, vampires and fae. She helps maintain the fragile peace between light and darkness in her work with RoYds, an unworldly refuge. But that peace has suddenly become fragile. Whituth's carefully maintained balance is tipping toward darkness. Now Elizabeth and her angelic allies must discover who or what is threatening both town and refuge before balance is lost forever

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