Unfinished Symphony, page 5
All too soon the music began to slow and fade. The beavers slapped the feet and tails in appreciation as Archie replaced the violin back inside his great coat.
“Dear beavers I am afraid that is all the time we have to spare. If I could impose on you one more request. We seek entrance but my arms are too old and weary and Polly, well, she is a mere pup.”
The beavers turned and rushed into the river where they waited for Polly and Archie. Polly climbed into the boat and sat on the small bench at the back. Archie pushed the boat to the edge before climbing in. He took the rope from the front of the boat and tossed the end into the river.
The boat drifted away from the shore. One of the beavers lay on his back and swam alongside the boat. Polly reached over and tickled his stomach. His little paws reached up to his mouth and he looked like he was laughing, chattering his large teeth together. He then floated away from the boat and his friends took it in turns to jump over him, the water spraying, forming iridescent mirages of colour.
Archie joined Polly on the seat at the rear of the boat then he reached up and tilted his hat over his eyes, the shadow a black film blanketing his face. Within seconds deep snores could be heard. Incredulous, Polly thought. Since learning that word she had been waiting for an opportunity to use it. Incredulous, he now expected Polly to row them to god only knows while he slept in the midday sun, truly incredulous.
Polly lurched back in her seat and nearly toppled off the back of the boat. She crawled to the front of the boat and looked out over the bow; the rope at the front of the boat was pulled taut as the eight little beavers pulled them along. Not trusting her sea legs she slithered back to her seat and sat alongside Archie.
Polly found herself drifting along with her thoughts as the scenery rolled by, she thought about what Archie. They were her memories. The past mixed with the present and she watched a kaleidoscope of images as she dozed in the midday sun. She woke with a start as her head lolled forward and then she sat up and wiped the congealed drool from her chin. She could hear a slight rumbling in the distance.
It sounded like someone running a giant bath, Polly strained her eyes. Ahead of the small wooden boat and climbing out of the river was a sheer granite rock face, pockmarked with vegetation. Cascading over the top with a mighty roar and slavering like a hungry dog was the largest waterfall Polly had ever seen.
Polly held onto the sides of the boat as she stood, steadying herself. The beavers strained against the rushing current as they continued upstream.
“Stop” she cried but the beavers paid her no attention and seemed instead to double their effort. She crawled to the front of the boat and Polly tried to untie the knot but her fingers couldn’t find purchase. The waterfall was getting closer; they would be smashed to pieces.
“Archie” she shouted “Archie, quick, wake up.”
Polly scrambled back to the bench and shook Archie but he just continued to snore. Polly swept the hat of his head, his eyes were firmly shut and shaded by his long grey eyelashes and his tongue lolled out like and exhausted dog.
Polly swept the large hat through the river filling the dome with water; it was leaking out and spilling all over the boat as she jammed the hat back onto Archie’s head. She was knocked onto her back as Archie bolted upright. He looked around, eyes wild and staring.
“Why Polly why?” he asked as his eyes retracted into his head.
“Archie we’re heading straight for a waterfall, look and the beavers won’t stop. I tried, I even tried to untie the rope, I didn’t know what else to do and you wouldn’t wake up.” Polly had to shout above the roar of the waterfall, they were getting closer all the time.
“Polly my dear it is all in hand” Archie said sitting back down, he removed his sodden hat and reached under the wooden bench. In his hand was a large yellow umbrella and he patted the bench next to him. He opened the umbrella and pulled Polly in close.
“You and your father; cold water is never the answer. Ah to be woken gently and greeted with a nice cup of tea. Although, I do feel mighty alert and somewhat refreshed. Perhaps there is some method in your father’s madness. Now huddle in close Polly and do not fear.”
They sped towards the waterfall and the cliff face. Polly gripped tight to Archie as the water fell about them. She closed her eyes tight and could feel the weight of the water as it thudded onto the umbrella. Archie curled his arm around her shoulder and pulled her in tight as she buried her face. She waited for the crunch as the boat hit the face of the cliff and she waited. The small boats frantic bobbing began to slow and the water splashing down began to ease. She opened her right eye and looked from behind Archie’s arm; they appeared to be in a large cave at the back of the waterfall.
“See my dear, nothing at all to worry about” Archie said.
Polly looked around and watched as the light was bounced around by the falling water. The beavers climbed out onto a small shingle beach and dragged the boat up behind them. Archie climbed out first and then offered his hand to Polly guiding her down. Her footing slipped as the shingles crunched and slid beneath her feet; shivering as the water spray on her clothes began to touch her skin. Now they were out of the sun she couldn’t believe how cold it was. Archie noticed her discomfort and reached back into the little boat and removed a large orange coat which he dressed Polly in.
It was a bit too big for Polly but she pulled up the zip and then reached into the pockets. She found a pair of fingerless gloves in one pocket which she quickly made use of. In the other pocket she found a small, square paper bag. Pulling it out, she held it up in front of her face to read in the dull light; Fisherman’s friends. She tore open the packet and popped one in her mouth and felt the warmth spread through her body. She offered the packet to Archie who declined with a shake of his head. Polly removed her hair bobble and shook her head loosening her hair, then she placed the bobble and the packet back in her pocket.
The beavers stood on the shingle beach inside the cover but seemed unwilling to approach any further. Polly looked back over her shoulder and a dark cave sat there like a black question mark.
Dare you enter?
She looked back at the beavers and Archie thanked them. Not wishing to hang about they turned and waddled towards the water’s edge. They dived in and left Polly and Archie alone with only one way to go.
At the edge of the camp he huddled in the undergrowth. Gypsies, it had to be gypsies. He could see the faint outline of their songs swirling around the edge of the camp. He would get no joy here. The songs they sang had great power, ancient power. This tribe still knew the potency of music. He would have to wait for nightfall. Then he would skirt the edge of the camp and find the trail of the song. They couldn’t have gone far. He was getting close.
For now, hide and rest. His brother will have told them and they would be expecting him. He must be careful. He sat, he watched and he waited.
“Here begins the path to the underworld and Polly once we embark on this journey there is no turning back. My dear you must keep all your wits about you, not all the creatures of this world are as accommodating as our good friends the beavers. Come now and stay close.”
Together they climbed up onto the rock shelf at the back of the cove and headed towards the dark opening. As they entered Polly felt the darkness wrap around her, smothering her, and she reached out for Archie’s hand. She clasped it tight as he led her further into the unnatural darkness.
The passageway closed in all around her and she made herself as small as possible, fearful of catching herself on the side. Even her breath felt constricted. Panic began to rise with each step, she wanted to pull away and go back to the big cool cave. It was too tight, it was too hot, she couldn’t breathe. She started to pull away from Archie.
“Polly you are in no danger, just a few more steps. Hold tight to my hand”
Hotter, tighter, she walked on and on. Each step a struggle. She concentrated on breathing slo
She looked back and hovering just over her shoulder was the entrance to the cove; the small boat resting on the shingles as the water lapped gently against its sides. It was no more than a few feet away and the entrance was no smaller than the one she entered.
“Polly my dear, not just anyone can enter the underworld. You were most brave. I do believe a Fisherman’s friend may be in order.”
“You know what Archie, I think I am going to have two” Polly said removing the packet from her pocket.
“Very bold my dear, very bold.”
Polly popped the tiny brown pellets into her mouth and looked around at the vast cavern that opened out ahead of her. The walls of the cavern pulsed, giving off enough light to see by. It was still dark but nothing like the darkness they had just pushed through. Archie started walking ahead of her and Polly trotted behind him struggling to keep up.
The cavern again began to narrow and the floor became more and more uneven as she clambered up and down trying to keep up with Archie.
“Come now dear, there is no time to be dilly dallying.”
The sides and the roof came down to greet each other as they formed a narrow passageway. There was still room to walk upright and the walls still gave off a mellow glow. The passageway began to twist and turn and Polly struggled to keep sight of Archie. The floor was still uneven and Polly trotted along as fast as she was prepared to risk, she didn’t wish to fall and be left behind.
Polly looked around at the cave walls; she was surprised to find things growing. Small plants grew out of the rock face like big green pimples and along the base of the walls sprouted mushrooms. They were tall and short; all of them opening out like a red umbrella dotted with white. Polly stopped to look; these were the same mushrooms her father had warned her about picking. They grew alongside pine trees and could make you very sick.
Polly looked up, she had completely lost track of Archie. She started to run, careful her feet didn’t catch on the surface of the passageway. Down and down she ran and then the passageway ahead broke off, left of right. Which way?
Why did she have to stop?
Polly was lost. Well and truly lost.
Colours twinkled and danced behind his closed eyelids as he dreamed. Laughter, all around him laughter and it was for him, all for him. They listened to his songs and his tales. His brother looking on, for once anger and jealousy flashing in his eyes. They listened to how he banished the tyrannical king with nothing more than his wit and a song. Tell us more they cried as he held them in his hand mesmerised. Sing us a song they would shout and then whisper amongst themselves. Arguing about his voice, was it dipped in honey or gold or both?
Abaddon stood and swept off his hat, tossing his favour into the crowd he watched as a crowd of beautiful women fought, desperate to be the owner of his gift. He ran his fingers through his long black curly hair and smiled, his teeth shining bright. He raised his violin, the diamonds along the neck catching and reflecting the candlelight. The audience gasped and held their breath. Would the famous Abaddon really play for them?
Abaddon lifted the bow and rested it atop of the violin strings; he looked down as his boot started to dance. Confused he looked around but no else seemed to notice. He started to play but the music would not come. He watched his boot as it continued to jerk at the end of his leg. He stopped playing and ran his fingers through his hair. Clumps of black curls came away in his hand, his dirty hand. He dropped the strands of hair as they turned into worms and looked up as the crowd began to snigger, laughing at him. His shoe was torn from his foot.
Abaddon bolted upright; he was still in the undergrowth. He looked down at his foot, his shoe was missing. Ahead of him a badger sat nibbling at his old worn boot. He picked up a branch and thwacked the beaver across his back. The beaver turned and shuffled back into the trees. Deciding, after tasting the old shoe that it was not worth fighting over.
Abaddon reached over, replaced his shoe and looked across at the camp. Smoke drifted into the sky from extinguished fires and the daylight cut down through the canopy above, he had slept late, much later than he hoped. He stood, he would have to skirt the edge of the camp to try and find the trail of the song. He risked the chance of being seen but he couldn’t delay any longer.
Edging around the camp he soon picked up the trail. It was still fresh and he headed into the trees and followed it down along the bank of the river. He began to run, leaving the camp far behind. On and on he ran as he followed the winding river, the taste of her song still fresh on the breeze. But then the trail just vanished.
Abaddon slid to a stop, his boots sending up a plume of dust. He span around. Where? How?
He turned, retracing his steps. He found the place where the song faltered and looked out across the river. Very clever, very wise, but how had they crossed?
Bewildered he sat and he waited.
The path on the left went down and the path on the right went up. All was not lost she was heading for the underworld so she followed the path on the left. It began to descend and all along her the walls began to dim and fade. The darkness crept in around her. She couldn’t believe Archie had left her on her own.
As the light faded she could hear tiny drops of water falling from the roof of the cave and hitting the floor, echoing in the enclosed space. Polly picked her way carefully over the uneven floor and reached her hands out, one hand to feel for the side of the cave wall and one pushed out ahead. The passageway again split in two, left or right, up or down, heads or tails. She decided to continue down and felt the passageway to the left descend with each footstep.
The ground became more uneven and she stumbled, she reached out for the wall scraping her knuckles. She was breathing heavily and she lifted her hand to her mouth. She sucked on the bruised knuckle and the metallic taste of blood filled her mouth. As she sucked the loud breathing continued and Polly felt the hairs stand up on the back of her neck.
Polly’s hand came away from her mouth and the breathing continued. Her breath was now shallow and raspy and her pulse was racing. She wasn’t alone and there was no way she could run down here.
Polly began to turn around, hoping, praying it was Archie.
A pair of red eyes floated in the inky blackness, glowing like embers. A long red tongue pierced the gloom as it ran across a row of razor sharp teeth that shined with malicious glee. Polly watched the saliva drip and realised it was this she had heard. Drip, drip, drip like a clock ticking down.
A growl, deep and mean came from the shadow as it came slowly on. Even the light seemed afraid to touch the beast. The beast started to laugh, not a happy laugh, the type of laugh a spider would make as it approached a fly trapped in its silky web.
Polly felt in her pocket for something, anything. Her hand closed around the paper packet of Fisherman’s friends. The growl grew deeper.
“My, my, what do we have here? Are you lost little girl?” the beast asked in a whisper that carried as much menace as any growl. “Do you always wonder around uninvited? What’s the matter? Cat got your tongue?” laughed the beast.
“Please sir, I was invited. I came down here with Archie, it’s just I turned around and he was gone, then I went the wrong way which I thought was the right way. I wouldn’t come here on my own I don’t even know where here is” Polly spoke so fast she began to feel dizzy.
“That old fool, why has he led you down here? This is no place for the living. Speak.”
“Archie didn’t say, I just know he had a plan. We were being followed by someone, someone who is trying to steal my song. I don’t know why we are here I just know that I am lost and …” Polly listened to herself talking and she looked at the beast in front of her. It wasn’t as big as the cows or the horses on the farm. It was a cat, that’s all. It may have been a big s
“My name is not important, I am the guardian to the underworld and if you wish to pass into the realm of the dead you must first answer my questions. One wrong answer and you will die, pass the test and you may still die but it will not be at my hand.” The beast spoke and his voice was so low it vibrated her insides, releasing another flutter of butterflies into an already crowded stomach.
“Answer me this;
At the sound of me, men may dream or stamp their feet
At the sound of me, women may laugh or sometimes weep.”
Polly had always enjoyed playing riddles and she relaxed in the company of the familiar game. As she listened to the beast an image of her father singing and clapping came to her. She thought about how her mother would laugh and cry at the same time, smiling as tears ran down her cheeks.
“I think I know the answer, I think it is…”
“Remember the price of failure” interrupted the beast.
Polly felt uncertain. It had to be. It couldn’t be anything else.
“Music, the answer is music.”
“Well aren’t we the little smarty pants. There is still one more question and remember just one mistake and you are my dinner. Clever meat always tastes better.”
Polly cheered with delight
“Quiet” he roared “Any fool can be lucky. The next will not be so easy to guess. Your final riddle;
Say my name and I disappear.”
Polly looked at the twin red jewels and his bright white teeth. Drool, drip, drip, dripping on the floor of the cave as he salivated over his next meal and his dark fur bristled as he hunched his massive shoulders ready to pounce. She looked down at the pads of his feet as they drew closer, her eyes drawn to the massive claws ending in razor sharp points. More and more butterflies swarmed around her stomach.