Once again, I imagine that this part will be followed by ‘more tomorrow’ (or maybe even tonight). I hope some people are reading it. Comments and criticism always welcome (particularly as I just noticed some syntax errors in the first batch that no one was pedantic enough to tell me about). This is a new style for me and I’m not entirely comfortable yet, but I’m hoping that those who didn’t like my last story think that this kind of thing’s an improvement?
Here it is (really not a one-shot, huh?):
When Laura and Arthur stepped back outside the palace the air was glowing faintly golden. Arthur looked worried and whispered, “We must run; get as far as possible.”
The pair started to run, but Laura was quickly trailing behind, fighting to stop her bag slipping from her shoulder and wary of her bare toes on the stone. Arthur flew back and tossed the satchel aside, “You can get it back later,” and pulled her across the rest of the square. At the edge, where the stairs had been before, there was now a ladder that extended into gold at the bottom and liquid blue at the top.
“Up,” said Arthur and Laura began to scurry up the rungs so quickly her fingers were almost immediately blistered. Arthur followed below, hardly pushing himself, certainly not breathless, with one hand pressing against Laura’s diapered bottom forcing her upwards.
They climbed more and more quickly until Laura’s arms were screaming and her legs wobbled and only Arthur’s hand held her to the ladder. But still they were at the juncture between gold and blue. And then Laura’s now bloodied fingers gave up and before she’d even formed the question, “What are we running from?” she’d fallen and Arthur’s flailing hand had missed hers as she passed him and all of a sudden she sat up in bed.
Laura shook the sleep out of her eyes and slipped out of bed into her waiting slippers. It was Saturday; her parents would be sleeping in. Heading out of her room it suddenly clicked what was different today: under her shorts, she was dry.
“Goodnight mummy,” Laura called out, as she slid the Goodnite up her thighs, along with a pair of pyjama shorts and then into bed. Her muscles ached more than they should for the half a day’s tennis she’d played and no sooner had a slender finger flicked the switch on the bedside lamp than she was asleep.
The tapping wasn’t as much of a surprise this time. Laura had half expected it; she’d put the shorts on just in case. “Come in,” she muttered to the window and when she had finished rubbing her eyes a tall boy with spiralling blue and green eyes was offering her his hand. “Gentler this time, please,” Laura requested, submitting a skinny arm, every hair standing on end.
“We’re not going far this time,” said Arthur, his voice soft and clear, “at least, not at first.”
He led Laura by the arm over to the window and swooped the curtain aside. There was no window, just the bottom of a ladder. Laura turned and sighed, but he caught her, “Honestly; not far.”
A few minutes later Laura blinked and shook her long blonde hair. They’d emerged on a beautifully kept lawn, arrestingly vibrant green and carrying the smell of fresh rain, though Laura’s naked toes felt perfectly dry. They were bathed in bright sunlight from all sides, casting shadows like floodlit sportsmen. Overhead magnificent swathes of russet leaves – every imaginable shade – billowed and swirled like a turbulent sea.
“Where are we going,” asked Laura.
“Truth be told, I don’t really know,” Arthur confessed. “But we’ll know when we’re there, or at least you will. You’re about to lead.”
“How exactly am I supposed to lead us anywhere?” gasped Laura, her raspberry-pink lips not quit closing when she finished.
“You will. You just have to want to go somewhere. There was always more ladder last night because neither of us wanted to fall down.”
“So we would never have reached the top?”
“No, we could have, but it was never very likely.”
“But it doesn’t hurt today, does it?”
“Hmmmmm. That way.” Laura was looking up and saw that all the leaves were billowing in one direction, as if heading to coast. She pointed in the same direction.
“You’re getting it, huh?” Arthur suggested, picking a few blades of grass. He threw them into the air and they blew away, fast, as if caught by a gale, in the opposite direction to the way Laura pointed. “I think you’re right. What made you decide?”
“Nothing really. I was grumpy. I just chose. I wanted to follow the leaves.”
And Laura looked up and saw that the sky had cleared up.
“But…” she began, but she didn’t finish. All around her was thrashing and whirling and rustling, deafeningly.
The was flipped upside down and now, as Arthur grabbed for Laura in the raging leaves the clear sky above them filled with the greenest green and the grass came plummeting down.
Arthur caught Laura’s bony shoulder and reached down to her waist with his other hand. Swiftly, he yanked the ribbon out of Laura’s shorts and ducked under the fiery surface of the leaf-sea to tie their ankles together.
“We’re both going to need both hands,” he explained.
“What are we going to do?” Laura screamed. The grass had covered perhaps half the distance it needed to. They were imminently to be forced under.
“We’re going to catch it,” came the reply that Laura simply could not believe. But before she had time to object Arthur was counting, “Both hands up now, come on, three, two…”
Laura braced for a crushing weight.
“…believe! One!” And the Earth came crashing down upon the two of them, back to back in the leaves. The grass was soft to the touch, and springy, but forced them down and down. The leaves parted and shot away from them as if they were in the centre of a whirlpool. Everything spun and spun and moved farther and farther out. Laura pressed herself into Arthur as hard as she could and pushed up as hard as she could. Then she grabbed his hand behind her.
The grass tilted down on the side where they no longer pushed up, bearing harder down. Yet Laura and Arthur stayed in place and, as it tilted, the plane of grass whipped out into the maelstrom, flipped over and sunk to the bottom.
Gasping for breath, Laura turned to face Arthur as the leaves swept back in around them. Arthur reached a muscular arm over her shoulder and, in a veil of blonde, her head slumped over his.
Like feathers in the wind, two limp bodies drifted onto a beach of fine, white sand. The boy’s hand clung, rigidly, to a branch and autumn fallen leaves lapped at their feet. The girl coughed and coughed again, and coughed up an acorn.