Chapter 1

And

Donna was looking after the Imp and her brother, Brian, while Carrie and the Rayman gave a master class at the music school. Fortunately this was a fairly rare occurrence. They seldom taught at the same time, but today they were working together, preparing a new accompanied choral work that involved the whole school. It was a huge endeavour designed to push the teachers as well as the students. It would increase their understanding and the performance itself would be impressive. Over a hundred students were performing. They’d been working up to it for over a year. Donna was giving them her full support, which at the moment meant babysitting.

At eight the Imp was quite a handful. She had all of the Rayman’s and Carrie’s abilities combined with her own unique nose for trouble. Not really trouble, Donna mused. It was more that she homed in on things most people carefully avoided. She enjoyed energy of any sort and found disputes highly entertaining – the more emotionally charged, the better. Donna was one of the few people able to look after her. She couldn’t be fooled, and she could retrieve her from anywhere, anywhen she chose to hide herself.

Brian, on the other hand, was very well behaved. He was still playing happily on the big rug where Donna had first put him. At two and a half he showed absolutely no signs of any talent. He was completely absorbed in whatever he was doing with the wooden blocks she kept for him. At his age the Imp had been a walking disaster area, which is how she acquired her name.

Today the Imp had more or less given up trying to get away, but Donna could tell she was just looking for a single moment of inattention and then she would be off. Donna ignored the wisp of contact the Imp was using to monitor her thoughts. She smiled to herself, remembering the last time she’d caught the Imp eavesdropping in her head. She’d imagined herself creeping up behind her and when the Imp realised what she was doing, Donna created a double and used it to tap her on the shoulder. How she had jumped! Donna had removed herself to the double, so when the Imp turned to look at the real Donna, no one was there. She was quite well behaved after that, for a short time anyway.

Donna caught a smile in the Imp’s contact and realised that she was fully aware of what she was thinking. She laughed, turned and beckoned for her to come out of the big open fireplace where she was hiding. The Imp laughed too. She thought she’d fooled Donna with her own somewhat static double that was supposed to be looking out the window. She ran into Donna’s open arms and gave her a long hug.

‘Do I pass my examination?’ Donna asked when they finally drew apart.

‘You always do. I can’t fool you at all. You’re just like Talma, only not so fierce. She never lets me win either.’

‘I wonder why that is?’

‘Well, you could let me win sometimes,’ the Imp said a bit petulantly.

‘I could, but then how would you ever know you had?’

The Imp gave her one of her magnificent stares, which Donna returned in kind until the Imp eventually dropped her eyes.

In one of her mercurial changes of mood she dashed over to the window seat and picked up her instrument. It was a miniature version of the Rayman’s. She played it somewhat erratically but nearly as well as his top students. She started working on something that Donna thought she must be writing and became so engrossed in it she forgot Donna was there. Her young voice was very pretty and if it matured even half as well as Carrie’s she would probably surpass her as a vocalist. Donna listened for a while and then turned around in her chair and looked at the papers on her desk. There was nothing really important there. The Gathering more or less ran itself and she only had to keep an eye on things once in a while to make sure nothing had been overlooked, nothing important anyway. The past few years had been hectically busy but also great fun. She looked out her office window and down to the area in front of the Acorn. There were several groups of people sitting around and a lot of activity for the time of day. News that Carrie and the Rayman had come for a visit had spread quickly.

Under their guidance the music school had been transformed. Inspired by their success, the other departments had besieged Donna to help them bring their own courses up to a similar standard. She was delighted to assist. Ngang and Jethany were a great help, but they slowly withdrew once they saw that Donna could manage quite well without them. Without any warning they disappeared one day and no one had seen them since. Donna tried to find them, mostly out of curiosity, but she’d been amazed that she couldn’t. She mentioned this to Talma, who only smiled and said nothing.

A tousled head of messy curls appeared at the front of her desk and a small grubby fist waved a block to get her attention.

‘Ma Rat,’ Brian said enthusiastically.

Because he seldom spoke Donna gave him all her attention. For some reason she found she tended to overlook Brian. She would have felt anyone else coming, but Brian was more than silent. It was as if there was no one there. He was the exact opposite of the Imp – quiet, never a real problem but also quite unfathomable.

Donna managed to translate ‘Ma Rat’ to Margaret, Carrie’s mother and therefore Brian’s grandmother.

‘What about her, Brian?’

Brian smiled a knowing smile as if he’d said something very profound then turned and went back to what he’d been doing on the rug. Trying to follow his thought processes was impossible, even for Talma. He wasn’t stupid, in fact he was very intelligent, but he lived in a world of his own.

Donna put her attention on Margaret. She seemed perfectly fine. She was working on a recipe for some kind of pie, although Michael thought she was meditating with him. Donna smiled. Margaret hadn’t taken to his instruction at all. He’d been trying to share his knowledge with her ever since they met, but Margaret simply wasn’t interested.

Donna dismissed ‘Ma Rat’ as yet another Brian-ism. One day they might be able to communicate with him, but not for a while yet, it seemed.

The door opened and Carrie and the Rayman came in. Though they looked a little tired, they were both smiling.

‘How did the class go?’ Donna asked.

‘Well enough,’ Carrie said, ‘but they expect us to do their practice for them.’

‘Yes!’ the Rayman agreed, rolling his eyes. ‘Actually this group is doing rather well. They’ve benefited greatly from the changes we made to the early training, but they still try to take shortcuts.’

‘Perhaps you should only teach the ones who are more conscientious,’ Donna suggested.

‘But that would leave out the really talented ones,’ Carrie told her, sighing.

‘It’s worth a try,’ the Rayman said, stooping to pick up Brian, who was pulling at his clothes to get his attention.

‘And,’ Brian said decisively.

‘And what, Brian?’

‘And now?’

‘We’re going now.’

‘What is “and”?’ Donna mouthed to Brian’s back.

The Rayman shrugged, holding Brian closer to him so he wouldn’t see his ‘I have no idea’ face.

‘Come on, Imp,’ Carrie said. ‘Put your instrument into its case.’

‘Why?’

‘We’re going home now and it’s safer if you put it in its case.’

‘But I’ll only have to take it out again when I get home.’

‘Not if you don’t do as you’re told, you won’t,’ the Rayman said quietly.

The Imp looked up startled and complied. Music was her favourite thing, for the moment anyway, and both her parents used that desire ruthlessly to keep her in line. She was rather willful, but she was finally learning that actions had consequences. She didn’t want to risk losing her instrument, again. She put it away quickly, picked up the case and took the hand that Carrie held out to her. Carrie nearly smiled but managed not to. Even a month ago such a ready response would have been unheard of.

‘Thanks, Donna. See you soon,’ she said and they all vanished.

Donna smiled to herself once they were gone. Parenthood suited her friends. They were very good at it. She turned back to her desk, reluctantly thinking, not for the first time, that full as her life was, it would be nice to share it with someone.

The Rayman, Carrie, Brian and the Imp didn’t arrive home as they expected. Much to their surprise they found themselves on a beach. It was the beach on the long, thin island where Jed had been marooned by Pia. The Rayman looked at Carrie and she looked at him. They both turned to look at the Imp. They’d brought her here several times but not since Brian was born.

‘Why did we come here?’ the Imp asked. ‘I thought we were going home.’ She was a bit defensive.

‘I was following you,’ Carrie said, turning to the Rayman.

‘I was following you,’ he said, putting Brian down because he was struggling franticly. Again they both turned to the Imp.

The Imp exclaimed loudly that she hadn’t done anything, so they didn’t hear Brian say ‘and’ happily as he toddled across the sand stooping to pick up a handful. He sat down and let it fall through his fingers. ‘And,’ he said as he leant over to do it again.

* * *

Margaret banged a pot on the stove. She couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. So she’d been thinking when she should have been meditating, so what! She didn’t have to actually meditate if she didn’t want to. She never wanted anything to do with Michael’s stupid stuff. She rattled the pot lid into place rather forcefully. She regretted agreeing to give it a try. She sighed. Well, she had tried – sort of. It was all so stupid. Michael had gone off in a huff again but he’d be back. He never gave up on anything.

Exasperated, Michael climbed slowly up to his favourite thinking spot, on top of the mill roof. Margaret hadn’t grasped even the basics. He decided he needed some help. Talma might give him some clues, but then again she might not. She kept reminding him that Margaret was his responsibility, not hers. He looked out over his domain and sighed. Donna had set him this impossible task and made it clear that doing it would teach both of them a great deal. She would be much easier to approach, but he doubted she would help him either.

The trouble was he could see Margaret’s point of view. She said she felt nothing when she meditated and could see no reason why she should be bothered with it. If she was right he was inclined to agree. That is, if she had actually followed his instructions. He had his doubts about that. It always worked, or at least it had always worked up until now. Perhaps Carrie or the Rayman would help. They were good at impossible things. He could ask them the next time they visited. He was at a loss. He’d tried everything he could think of apart from admitting defeat. Now there was something he hadn’t tried. Maybe that was his lesson, he reflected. He would try giving up and see what developed. He sighed, happy to have found a solution at last. He lay back against one of the big beams that held up the roof and relaxed.

A movement below caught his eye and he saw Jed walking towards the mill. He was someone worth bothering with. Jed had made great strides in his own self-discovery. Iris was as difficult as Margaret in her own way, but Jed never lost control and he was reaping the rewards of that. Iris trusted him. Michael stepped through the angled door that led in from the roof. He pushed through the labyrinth of beams and ropes and took the quick way down to the ground by jumping through the open trapdoor and descending on the hoist. That also lifted the counterweight, which would save him doing the job later. The thump of his landing startled Jed, but he smiled when he saw that it was only Michael.

’How’s Iris?’ Michael asked, giving him a big hug in greeting.

’She’s fine, but it’s for her that I’m here. She asks if we could have more flour. We’ve had a busy few days and used up most of what we had.’

’Sure. There’s plenty ready in the bottom store. Just help yourself and mark it on the pad. How are you doing, lad?’ Michael asked, seating himself on the low wall beside the river and patting the stones beside him.

’Oh, we have our ups and downs. It’s pretty full on, but the kids are all doing well and they’re happy.’

The two of them talked a long time before heading up the lane together towards the miller’s house. Jed pushed a sack barrow he’d borrowed to carry the big heavy flour sack. They parted when they reached the house.

Michael went through to the kitchen and sat down opposite Margaret, who was preparing something on the table. By the set of her jaw Michael could see she was unrepentant and ready for a major row. He looked at her silently for a while. That seemed to make her uncomfortable.

Eventually he said, ‘If you don’t want it then that’s your choice.’

He stood up and walked briskly out through the back door. Margaret stared after him, speechless. He had never given up on anything, ever, certainly not since she first met him. She felt rather guilty. She should at least have tried but it all seemed such a pointless waste of time.

* * *

Carrie and the Rayman never did work out what happened, but they stayed on the island anyway. It was warm and sunny, and Brian was thoroughly enjoying himself playing in the sand. They hadn’t intended it, but now that they were here it seemed a shame not to indulge in a little relaxation. The Imp went in for a swim with the Rayman, but Carrie stayed in the shallows to keep an eye on Brian. It was unlikely he would do anything risky but the waves here were much too big for him if he wandered in. She didn’t really want a swim. It was fun to watch but far too energetic for her at the moment. Teaching a big group took an awful lot out of her. The Rayman took it in his stride, but his playing was less physical than her singing. When leading the huge choir she sang every note with her students.

The cool water and warm air revived her. She relaxed, amused that Brian seemed quite happy all by himself. She used to worry that he was too docile, but she revised her opinion after witnessing him stand up to the Imp. Even though he was less than half her size he could stop her in her tracks with no apparent effort. Even Carrie sometimes had a job doing that. Everything the Imp did just slid off him, sometimes literally, like the time she tried to dress him up for one of her games. Brian wasn’t having any of it. The Imp ignored his protests but he simply refused to cooperate and no bullying on her part could get him to change his mind. Bigger though she was, she couldn’t physically overpower him. He might be small but he was very solid. He never lost his temper but in his quiet way he kept repeating ‘no’ until she eventually gave up. He’d been placid but totally inexorable since the day he was born.

The Imp had screamed and kicked right from day one, wearing them both out for the first three years. They worried about Brian at first but they couldn’t find anything wrong with him. Eventually they took Talma’s advice and thanked their lucky stars. Two Imps would have been far too much to handle. Brian’s complete lack of musical ability was a bit disappointing. He had absolutely no ear and hummed or sang on the same sour note whenever he did sing, which thankfully wasn’t often. He’d bang away on the drum John made for him, but in his own time not theirs. They tried but couldn’t teach him anything. At his age the Imp was a sponge and seemed to absorb music effortlessly. Brian would listen but just didn’t seem remotely interested in learning. Talma said he was simply his own person and not to bother about him because the ‘who’ that he was would be very obvious eventually. Carrie loved him dearly, but she hoped he would start that process soon.

Between themselves she and the Rayman did acknowledge that Brian was singularly peculiar. He liked his grandfather, who could make him laugh just by looking at him, but for some perverse reason he really liked his overbearing grandmother. She, however, wasn’t that fond of him. He never called her granny but much to her annoyance he always called her Ma Rat.

The Imp thought that very funny but never dared to laugh about it in front of Margaret. Margaret enjoyed the Imp, who would argue with her about absolutely anything. They both enjoyed doing that. Margaret also delighted in having such a musically talented granddaughter, but she couldn’t work out what to do with Brian. It seemed that he just liked her company. He always chose to sit on her or next to her, depending on what she was doing. He was very polite and always asked her before climbing onto her lap. If he couldn’t sit on her, he sat and stared at her. This unnerved her and she was getting less tolerant of him. Carrie tried repeating ‘granny’ to him over and over again. Brian would listen, solemnly nodding his head as if he understood, but it made no difference. When she finished he would smile up at her and say ‘Ma Rat’. He wouldn’t change and she’d given up trying to make him.

The Rayman was showing the Imp how to body surf on the big waves, but she hadn’t really got the hang of it and she swallowed a lot of water. She was lying in the sun drying off and coughing theatrically every so often. The Rayman was still in the water. Jed had shown him and Carrie how to do it when they brought him to the island with Iris early in his relationship with her. He looked as if he knew what he was doing, but he claimed he wasn’t really very good. He told them that Pia had been absolutely brilliant. Although she never met Pia, Iris wasn’t very keen on her and there had been a rather awkward moment.

Carrie liked to body surf, but the Rayman was much better at it than she was. The sound of the waves was relaxing and at this time of year the sun wasn’t as hot as it could be. Carrie felt herself unwinding and sighed happily to herself. The last few years had been strenuous, but now life was getting easier. She stood up and wandered over to a nearby bush and carefully picked some of the delicious prickly fruit to take back with them.

They jumped home a bit nervously but arrived with no further problems. They were all tired and after a meal they put the children to bed. They discussed what had happened but couldn’t work out what had caused the displacement. The only thing they could think of was that one of them must have triggered a subconscious wish. It had never happened before and they decided to discuss it with Talma at the earliest opportunity, but somehow it slipped both their minds.

Capter 2

Bong

At festival time when Brian was about five, Carrie and the Rayman took both children to the mill for the rehearsals, as they did every year. They’d decided that this year the festival would be a good opportunity for some of their better students. They wanted them to play in front of a different audience but they also felt it was high time for them to broaden their outlook. They were planning to teach them some of the non-musical skills they’d learned. Away from the Gathering they wouldn’t excite or upset the other teachers.

Right from the start, Donna wanted the Gathering to teach more than just intellectual knowledge, but she’d found it difficult to introduce the idea. She was hoping to sneak in a course she would teach herself. At first she held off until the academic staff grew used to her, but they became extremely difficult whenever she mentioned it. She’d been very busy and there was so much resistance that she postponed the project rather than risk unsettling the harmony she’d achieved.

The Entrenched had given up trying to sabotage her fairly quickly and after a few years even Esmerald appeared to have come over to her side. She hadn’t thought about teaching again until recently. She put the idea to the Rayman and Carrie to see if they would help. They came up with the brilliant idea of introducing advanced abilities away from the Gathering.

In her unpredictable way Talma stepped in and decided she would introduce the group to travelling. She did it by the simple expedient of transporting all of them to the mill. They were very excited by the experience and therefore highly motivated. On arrival there Talma casually turned them over to Michael, much to his chagrin. He taught them all to meditate, probably as a way to shut them up. He told them they needed to learn silence, which he said was the key to learning anything.

They now met with him every day before and after rehearsals. Michael suspected that Talma was hoping he would learn to travel himself while assisting the students. He wasn’t averse to the idea but nothing he’d done had worked so far. He spent time with both the Rayman and Carrie but he couldn’t seem to grasp either their explanations or their practical demonstrations. They jumped him all over the place but he still couldn’t understand how they did it. They offered to transport Margaret anywhere she liked to go too, but quite bizarrely she still refused to acknowledge that they could.

Margaret wasn’t pleased to find that she was stuck with Brian during rehearsals. The Imp usually looked after him at festival time and all she had to do was break up the odd squabble and feed them. But this year the Imp was involved with the performance, singing harmonies with Carrie. Michael, the alternative minder, was busy erecting the stage. Michael and Brian got on very well together and Michael often looked after him. It was bad enough to have Brian loose in the mill but much too dangerous to have him roaming about on the main stage while they were still building it.

Margaret was relieved that far from being his usual nuisance, she’d hardly seen him. Normally he was constantly underfoot but since he arrived he’d spent most of his time at the back of the house, where he appeared to be building something. Apart from brief exchanges when he came in to get a saucepan lid and a few bits of string, she’d hardly seen him. When she asked what he was up to, he said he was building her a ‘bong’. Used to her grandchild’s eccentric conversation she thought nothing of it. She was busy organising the festival details and relieved not to have to deal with him following her about.

As Carrie often said, Brian was Brian and everyone else had better get used to it. Margaret felt that losing the odd pot lid was a small price to pay for peace and quiet. Although not many people would be arriving for a while yet, there was still a lot to do. Carrie and the Rayman had taken the remaining two main slots in the big performance, but plenty of other performers had to be squeezed in somewhere and she was occupied trying to work out how.

Only the better musicians got to play on the big stage these days and she tried to encourage the others to play in amongst the crowd. That made a great atmosphere, she told them. They agreed with her, but she didn’t always persuade them. Most of them wanted to play on the big stage or not at all. She knew which ones were talented and accommodated them when she could, but she also tried to encourage those who weren’t to improve. The audience just wasn’t that easy to please any more. After listening to the Rayman’s band, as everyone called them, they’d learned to discriminate. They would tolerate mediocre performances, but they became restless, which unsettled the atmosphere for the other performers. She tried not to include the less talented anymore if she could help it.

The Rayman’s band drew huge crowds. The festival had grown bigger every year as a result of their fantastic shows. Fortunately there was plenty of space in the big fields, but word spread and people were coming from much further away and in consequence often stayed longer. Last year’s festival had nearly double the numbers they were used to, and Margaret extended the show by several days. That helped. The artisans and other stallholders loved the festival and there were more of them every time too. People like the Woodsmen prepared for it all year and did very well, usually trading everything they brought in just a few days.

This year the Rayman told Margaret they were bringing over some of the technicians they worked with at the Gathering. They had something new to show everyone and she expected a stunning performance.

Margaret was so absorbed in the schedule that she didn’t notice Brian as he industriously dismantled her washing line, climbing up precariously on a pile of wobbly boxes to do it. She didn’t see him return later for the broom she’d left leaning against a wall.

She called him in to eat around midday and to his delight they sat at the huge kitchen table by themselves. Margaret found his gaze a little disconcerting as he sat munching silently while staring at her intently. She was surprised and relieved that he disappeared as soon as he finished. Shrugging, she counted herself lucky and thought no more about it.

* * *

It wasn’t until the rehearsal was over and everyone came back to eat that she guiltily remembered she was supposed to be looking after him. She noticed Carrie looking about for him when suddenly a loud banging drew them all out into the garden.

They found Brian standing on top of the garden table enthusiastically attacking a large pot lid with a stick.

‘What do you want, Brian?’ Carrie shouted over the din, but Brian simply executed a bow, waved an arm like a showman and continuing banging. Eventually satisfied that he had everyone’s complete attention, he shouted ‘BONG’, then turned and carefully threw the pot lid in one direction and the stick in another. This behaviour was so odd that his audience simply stood and stared.

All of a sudden there was a rumbling not unlike the roll of a drum. This was followed by a series of short staccato cracks and one of his grandmother’s sheets flew up into the air right in front of them, startling everyone. More odd surprises then happened very quickly, but there was a definite theatrical nature to the mayhem. The broom dropped out of a tree behind them, swung down on the washing line and hit a series of large pieces of wood that Brian had balanced like dominoes. They fell in all directions, triggering other noises from various objects including the wheelbarrow and the water butt, which was empty for repair. It made a good deep drum.

In the midst of it all Brian stood waving like a conductor as another sheet flew up into the air with more banging and a loud wooden thud. Clinking from bottles partly filled with water followed, accompanying a wild dance by both sheets. The performance ended with an enormous BONG as something metal and very heavy connected with the wall of the shed on the riverbank. This startled all the ducks, which must have been sleeping behind it. They flew up, quacking loudly and flying straight at the small audience. Margaret had to duck or be hit by one. When she stood up again she slowly turned to glare at Brian and advanced upon him. He wasn’t fazed by her less-than-favourable attention and merely took a bow. Michael was the first to recover. He began to clap, laughing loudly at the now beaming Brian. The applause infuriated Margaret, who was definitely not amused and rather noisy expressing her opinion, but Brian was unrepentant.

It took a long time to sort things out and put everything back where it belonged. Carrie eventually took Brian home to get him out of her mother’s sight. No amount of scolding made any difference. In fact it seemed to please him. Margaret was really angry, even for her, and his lack of remorse seemed to absolutely enrage her.

Later on when things calmed down and the band had retired to the rehearsal room to keep out of Margaret’s way, the Rayman noticed John tapping out something softly on one of his drums. He had a puzzled look on his face.

‘What’s up, John?’ he asked.

‘I think I just worked out the performance that young Brian gave,” he said. John had a tremendous memory for rhythms.

‘It had an odd time signature, but listen to this.’

He played something that sounded an awful lot like Brian’s ‘Bong’.

He repeated it several times. It was odd but definitely musical. The others looked at him in surprise.

‘You mean that Brian actually played something intentionally?’ the Rayman asked.

‘You know, I think he did. It didn’t all play exactly in time but it was pretty close. Even the ducks at the end kinda fit. It was outrageous and strange but then so is Brian.’

The Rayman laughed. ‘Well, at least we know he has some talent, even if it’s a bit hard to understand.’

‘You mean he actually worked out all those sounds to fit within a rhythm?’ Ree asked.

‘It certainly sounded like it to me.’

‘That’s totally amazing.’

‘Well, Brian has always been rather different,’ Angel commented from the floor where she was doing some stretches. ‘He loves to watch me doing my floor exercises. I’ve seen him trying to copy them but he never shows any interest at all when I dance.’

‘Oh, is that what he’s doing when he rolls about on the floor? I wondered,’ Ree said, laughing.

‘I think I better go back and tell Carrie we may have another budding genius on our hands,’ the Rayman said. ‘Not that anyone could dent Brian’s happiness. He seemed positively triumphant. But Carrie might feel more comfortable if she knows it was a real performance, not just random Brian.’

Carrie was relieved when the Rayman arrived home with the Imp and explained John’s theory to her. She was fascinated by the discovery.

‘You know, I’ve always known he was clever but he’s never really done anything I could pin down.’ She spoke quietly because Brian was playing not far away.

‘Just to have made the thing must have taken ages. It was an enormous effort for a five-year-old. How he managed to get the washing line down and then hang it up in the big tree is scary to even think about. But I guess we better sort out someone else to look after him during rehearsals rather than leave him with Mum,’ she added with a big grin. ‘It was rather a dramatic first performance. I wonder how long it will be before she forgives him?’

‘I think he frightened her with the ducks. You know she can’t take it when someone scares her. We better speak to Talma or perhaps Patty. Brian is normally easy. I’m sure even the twins could handle him.’

‘Yes, but could he handle them?’

‘Well, he didn’t seem put out by all your mother’s shouting. If he can handle that, the twins won’t upset him. Why not try Peewit? I’m sure she’d do it if she’s around.’

‘You know, that’s a very good idea. I’ll go see if I can find her later, once they’re both in bed.’

* * *

Peewit spent a lot of time at Greenways. She went home occasionally, but she’d grown tired of the twins. They were very boisterous and gave her no peace at all when she was with them. She’d enjoyed looking after them when they were little but now she escaped from them whenever she could. She lived briefly at the Woodsmen, but there was never much happening there and it was too close to home. The twins could walk over to visit her far too easily. She moved on to Greenways where there were more people, and it was much further away, too far even for the twins. It took a day and half just to get there and they didn’t know the way – not that something like that would stop them. She liked living in the larger community. She had her own place; well, she had a big room over the bakery that she could use as long as she helped when they were busy. It suited her. She wasn’t naturally an early riser but she did enjoy the excitement of the busy time first thing in the morning, as well as meals and plenty of time off during the day to wander about as she liked. She had to be back for the rush at mealtimes but otherwise the day was her own.

There were a number of young people at Greenways and she’d made some good friends. They found her stimulating, though somewhat tiring to be with at first. She mellowed once she was used to the calm that was characteristic of the place. Living with Rick and the twins had always been a madhouse and it took her quite a while to adapt to a less frantic lifestyle. Patty occasionally joined her for a few days and she too seemed relieved to be away from home. She said she didn’t really like leaving the twins with Rick, because he was nearly as bad as they were, but she did need some time to herself. She used the excuse of delivering dresses to the store, and she was visiting with Peewit when Carrie arrived. They were both very pleased to see her.

After Carrie explained what had happened, Patty told her that she and Rick would gladly look after Brian.

‘Peewit’s loft space is empty. He can have that and it’s close to us. The twins do make a lot of noise but they’re in their own rooms at the other end of the house and won’t disturb him at night. We’re all planning to go to the festival anyway and we can bring him there with us. The kite can only manage two adults at once and now that Bron has grown so big Rick would have to make two trips anyway. Brian weighs hardly anything – he can easily fit in the kite with Rick and Bron. Bron can look after him until we get there and that will keep Bron out of mischief. Brian’s no trouble at all and he might even settle the twins if we put them in charge of him.’

‘I doubt that,’ Peewit laughed. ‘Nothing’s going to settle those two down.’

Patty looked at her with a slightly pained expression. ‘You know, you were nearly as difficult when you were fifteen.

‘Perhaps I was, but there was only one of me.’

‘Believe me, one of you was quite enough,’ Carrie said, laughing. ‘Thank you, Patty. That would be a really big help. I can focus on the performance for once. It’s been a bit difficult these last few years with both the Imp and Brian to look after. I haven’t really been able to sing as I like to.’

* * *

That was how Brian found himself with a new family. He adjusted quickly and calmly, as he did to almost everything, even flying. Rick took him up for a ride in the kite on his first day with them. He was puzzled by Brian’s reaction, or rather lack of it. He seemed mildly amused, but he was neither scared nor excited like most people during their first trip into the air.

The twins focused all their attention on Brian but they too became frustrated by him. They couldn’t boss him about because he took no notice of them and nothing they did seem to rouse him. They quickly found they couldn’t force him to do anything. At first they suspected he was simply a bit dense but quickly revised their assessment. He politely pointed out that it would be better to take a more direct approach, or as he put it, ‘Roundabout won’t work.’

Rick had looked up in surprise. ‘Are you two making a roundabout?’

‘No, Dad,’ they said in unison, dragging Brian outside to avoid further interrogation. It took them several days to work out what he meant and a few more to come up with an appropriate strategy.

‘I think we need to see what you’re made of, Brian,’ Melanie told him.

Brian said nothing. He just looked up at her with interest, but then he did that with everything. Breathing out through pinched nostrils, Melanie managed to keep her cool as she led him around to the back of the house and along a narrow path that followed the edge of the cliff. Eventually they reached a small shed that housed their pride and joy, a flying fox that Rick had made for them. Brian looked up at the thick rope that fed out through the back of the shed. The rope was tied around a huge tree on the other side. He looked over the cliff and saw that it dropped down to the bottom at an angle.

Rick had acquired the rope as a trade. It was originally made to support a swing bridge but the project was abandoned when one of the rocks designated as an anchor point washed away during a big storm. No longer required, the rope was put into storage until Rick happened along. He was happy to take it in exchange for ferrying trade goods for the village. Rather than trade it on as Patty suggested, he decided to use it to make the flying fox for the twins. Even though he could only fly the twins one at a time in the kite, Patty had vehemently forbidden him to teach them to fly. They both loved flying and he taught them anyway. He couldn’t see any harm in it. Melanie had a natural flair for acrobatics but Bron was very steady and much better at takeoffs and landings. The kite’s undercarriage took some brutal hammering from Melanie, who tried to do everything at high speed. Rick came up with the flying fox to keep them happy when he was away. It was also a good misdirection that kept Patty from questioning him too closely. It was a way they could do the next best thing, he told her, and it was big enough for both of them.

He’d spent a long time building it and made the twins help him so they understood how it worked. Patty tried it but she couldn’t really see what the fuss was about. She preferred to walk down to the pools at the bottom of the cliff. The fox didn’t work the other way, which she felt would have been much more useful. The climb was steep and you had to drag the thing back up. It did keep the twins amused, which was something.

Neither of them was much use at dressmaking. Melanie was dexterous but she couldn’t sit still long enough to do anything fine. She just wasn’t interested. She hated wearing dresses and wasn’t motivated to make one. She wore Bron’s castoffs most of the time. Her own clothes were too restricting, she said. When she did wear dresses she quickly ripped them or got them dirty, and Patty gave up trying to make her look pretty. Bron was patient enough to sew but much too clumsy, like his dad. His hands were bigger than Patty’s and he pricked himself when he tried. Peewit was better than either of them, but that wasn’t saying much. She could mend her own clothes but that was about all she ever bothered with. Patty would have liked an apprentice, but there didn’t seem to be one in the family.

At first the twins were delighted with the fox but after only a few trips it became rather tame. Their understanding of how it worked meant that after a minor adjustment – removing the fins from the speed brakes, which worked using air resistance – they managed to increase the speed considerably. Their excitement with this revised and extremely dangerous setup hadn’t worn off, at least not yet.

‘This should be more direct,’ Melanie told Brian as she pulled open the door at the front of the shed and tied it back. Brian looked in at the flying fox and turned to her with a slightly raised eyebrow.

‘Look, we got a reaction,’ Melanie teased as Brian watched Bron undo the anchor rope that held the fox in check.

‘Not really, but I think we’re going to,’ Bron said as he checked the pulley’s connection to the sling and made an adjustment to the plank that was the seat, so they’d all fit in comfortably. Brian was light, so they wouldn’t overload the rope.

Brian allowed Bron to lift him in, though he could have easily climbed in by himself. He shuffled over to one side of the seat as the twins climbed in after him.

‘No, you sit in the middle, Brian. Then you can’t fall out,’ Melanie instructed.

Bron leaned forward and pulled the rope that started the fox moving towards the drop-off. Brian looked inquisitively at where they were heading. This looked interesting. The smirk on Melanie’s face told him they expected something from him. It would be a pity to disappoint them.

The flying fox reached the point where it started to slide forward under its own weight. Bron stopped pulling and gripped the seat expectantly. Brian looked at the short stubby wings. He figured they must be there simply to make it look good, because he doubted this thing could fly. The fox reached the drop-off and began gathering speed alarmingly. About halfway down, at maximum speed, Melanie, who was also gripping her seat with both hands, looked down at Brian excitedly, but he seemed unmoved by the experience. She turned to Bron, who was frowning, and they exchanged a puzzled look. Brian smiled slightly and before they could stop him he jumped straight up into the air spreading his arms wide so the wind caught his clothes and the fox shot out from under him.

‘No!’ Melanie yelled, making a grab for him. Though she came close to his foot, it slipped from her grasp and she could only stare in disbelief as he fell towards the trees behind them. She screamed in despair and clutched at Bron. White-faced, Bron hugged her to him as the fox raced down to the bottom of the run.

It seemed to take forever and before the fox stopped moving completely they both leapt out and fell, rolling over and over in the bracken. They rushed back up the slope, desperately searching for Brian. They covered the ground again and again but they couldn’t find any sign of him. Eventually they gave up and plodded disconsolately back to the house to tell their parents. Bron was completely silent while Melanie tearfully and quite unreasonably kept asking him, over and over, why this had happened to them.

When they reached the house they opened the door reluctantly and walked in. They found their parents sitting at the kitchen table eating their midday meal. Brian was sitting between them looking unhurt and munching away happily. He smiled at them as they stood staring at him with ashen faces.

‘Wash up quick, you two,’ Patty urged them without turning round. ‘You should really have stayed with Brian,’ she scolded. ‘He was back here ages ago. You shouldn’t run off and leave him on his own.’

For some reason Brian found that funny and laughed out loud. It was the first time Patty heard him do that. He must be settling in, she thought, and she smiled down at him affectionately. He was such an easy child.

 

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