Authors: Alan Garner
For the worth of two Marks and a Bob
The dream was wonder, but the terror was great. We must keep the dream, whatever the terror.
The Epic of Gilgamesh
, Tablet VII, line 75
The stones have no rosetta.
Prehistory in the Peak
Hit hade a hole on þe ende and on ayþer syde,
And ouergrowen with gresse in glodes aywhere,
And al watz holz inwith, nobot an olde caue,
Or a creuisse of an olde cragge …
It had a hole on the end and on either side,
And overgrown with grass in clumps everywhere,
And all was hollow within, nothing but an old cave,
Or a crevice of an old crag …
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
, lines 2180–4
Table of Contents
‘Listen. I’ll tell you. I’ve got to tell you.’
‘A scratch, Colin.’
‘I must tell you.’
‘Just a scratch.’
He cut the veil of the rock; the hooves clattered the bellowing waters below him in the dark. The lamp brought the moon from the blade, and the blade the bull from the rock. The ice rang.
He took life in his mouth, spat red over hand on the cave wall. The bull roared. Around, above him, the trample of the beasts answered; the stags, the hinds, the horses, the bulls, and the trace of old dreams. The ice rang. He held the lamp and climbed among antlers necks ears eyes horns haunches, the limbs, the nostrils, the rutting, the dancers; from the cave to the crack. He pushed the lamp at the dark and followed his shoulder, his head twisted, through the hill along the seam of grit, by the nooks of the dead. He slipped out; pinched the lamp, and crawled between slabs into the gash of Ludcruck on snow.
The colours and webs faded and he saw the world. The ice had dropped from the two cliffs flat in the gap. He braced himself against each side of stone, and moved over the fall.
He found them lying together. He tried to touch her and the child through the ice. He saw his echo, but they had no echo. Though the eyes met, they did not speak. They were not him. Where the crag had shed, spirit faces looked down from the scar, rough, knuckled, green; and grass hung over the ledges.
He passed where the cleft opened more than a spear length. The sky was blue, icicles shone; the sun played, but could not reach the floor. He went along, up, around, and left Ludcruck hole by the arch to the hill.
He met the footsteps, woman and child, and walked against them, back above the river, cobbles banging in the melt of summer flood, until a fold of land shut off the sound and he came to the lodge. He opened the hide and went in.
He lay for one day. He lay for two days. He lay for three days.
A face was leaning over him, concentrated, checking. He heard and saw, but did not wake.
Next, he was in the ward, and a panel in the ceiling rattled.
‘A cup of tea, diddums?’
‘Coffee, my love?’
‘Chin up, chicken.’
A hand lifted his head, and another put the hard glass between his teeth.
Someone wiped his beard. The colours and webs faded. He saw the world.
‘Hello, Colin.’ A doctor looked down at him.
‘Well, all seems to be fine. You can go home tomorrow.’
‘Why not now? Now. Please. That was the agreement.’
‘I don’t advise it.’ The doctor went to the desk and spoke to the sister. Colin worked a finger under the plastic strip around his wrist that showed his name and number and date of birth and tugged to snap it. It did not move. He tried to force it over his hand. The plastic bit into the skin. He managed to get another finger through and lodged the plastic in the crease of each first joint, and pulled again. The white band did not slacken. He blocked his mind against it, shut his eyes and willed the hands apart. He held the pain as ecstasy. It could not feel, and he would not give. He would not give. It could not feel. He would not give. He would not. The band broke, and he fell back, triumphant.
‘There we are, cherub.’
He opened his eyes. A nurse had snipped the band with scissors.
He reached behind the locker for his backpack, took off the gown and dragged on his own clothes; no more a thing.
‘You’re discharging yourself, Colin. I’d be happier if you stayed until after breakfast tomorrow. You do understand?’
‘I understand, sister. But I’d like to have a taxi, please.’
‘It’s in your own interest to stay.’
‘I know it is. But I want to go. I want to go home. I need to. I want to go now.’
‘Avoid alcohol until you’ve seen your own doctor. Remember.’
A porter wheeled him to the main hall. With each passage from the ward to the air he felt himself return. The taxi was waiting.
‘Where are we for, squire?’ said the driver.
‘Church Quarry, please.’
‘I’ll show you.’
‘Best sit at the front, then.’
Colin got in and held the backpack on his knee.
‘Done your seat belt?’
The driver reached over and ran the belt across Colin’s chest between his arms and the backpack and locked it. They drove round the car park to the road.
‘Which way?’ said the driver.
Colin’s cheek was on the backpack.
‘Don’t nod off, mate, else we’ll never get home.’
‘Sorry. Go by Trugs.’
They left the town into the falling sun, away from the straight walls, the corridors without shadow, the flatnesses, along roads and lanes that bent, dipped and lifted, copying the land. Colin’s head drooped.
‘What line of business are you in, then?’ said the driver.
‘What’s your job?’
‘Ah. Survey. M45. At the moment.’
‘It wants widening.’
‘I’m measuring it.’
‘Comes in handy sometimes.’
‘M6, M42, M45, M1.’
‘How do you mean?’
‘It misses the worst of the traffic.’
‘May I have a little air?’
‘Sure. So what’s this survey you’re doing?’
The driver looked at him.
‘Only the anomalous. Bear right at The Black Greyhound,’ said Colin.
‘The main work is MERLIN.’
‘Oh. To keep them bridges up.’
‘Turn right here,’ said Colin. The taxi wove between potholes along a farm track beside the wood. ‘At the next tree will do fine.’
‘You all right, mate?’
‘Perfect,’ said Colin. ‘Thank you very much.’
He walked into the silence of the wood and the quarry and his Bergli hut. He put the key to the door but he could not feel the lock. Sweat ran and his mouth was dry. Light shone on the log planks. He turned his head towards it in the dusk. It was a torch, dazzling him.
‘You sure you’re all right, mate?’ said the driver.
‘Perhaps a little help,’ said Colin. He slid down the doorframe. ‘How remiss of me.’
‘Come here. Let’s be having you.’ The driver took the key, unlocked the door and opened it. ‘Where’s the switch?’
‘I don’t use it.’
‘By the cringe.’
The driver put his arms under Colin’s shoulders and lifted him across the threshold. He swung his torch to see the room, then hefted Colin along the floor and laid him down on a bunk that was against the wall.
‘The lamp’s on the table,’ said Colin. ‘Matches in the drawer.’
The driver looked. ‘And what’s this effort?’
‘Tilley. Loosen the pump to release any pressure.’
‘The knurled projection on the top of the reservoir. Give it a quarter turn to the left and retighten. Open the jar of meths and dip the preheater in. When it’s soaked, clip the preheater around the vaporiser stem, light it with a match and slide it up under the glass. When the meths begins to expire, give four full firm rhythmic strokes on the pump, like so: “
”; then as the flame dies, turn on the lamp and the mantle will ignite audibly and burn yellow. After thirty seconds give several strokes on the pump until the mantle is white and the lamp is making a steady hiss. What’s the matter?’
The driver was laughing. ‘Stone the crows! You’re summat else, you are!’
‘What? Where? How many?’ Colin got himself to the table. He pulled a chair across, sat heavily, and lit the Tilley lamp. His hands shook but his pumping brought the hissing white.
‘How many what?’ said the driver.
The driver’s phone rang. ‘Hi, Fay. I’m with a customer. The job from the hospital. Eh? You’re breaking up.’
‘A figure of speech,’ said Colin. ‘Of course.’
‘I’ll ring you back. Cheers.’
‘So selfish of me to detain you,’ said Colin.
‘You’re all right, mate. Part of the service.’
‘Thank you. Thank you. That’s generous. Most generous. Should I need a taxi in the future, will you be able to drive me?’
‘Sure. Here’s our card. Give us a bell.’
‘But I’d like you to do it, personally. What’s your name?’
‘Call me Bert.’
‘I mean your full name.’
‘Bert Forster. But ask for Bert.’ He wrote on the card.
‘Thank you. Bert.’ Colin held out his hand. ‘Whisterfield. Colin Whisterfield.’
‘Pleased to meet you, Colin. Now, how are we going to sort you?’
‘I’m feeling better; much better. I’ll be fine.’
‘Can I get you owt?’
‘No. No. I’ll sit here a while and then go to bed. If you’ll pass me a glass, there’s a rather good malt over there. I only wish I could invite you to join me.’
The driver put the glass and the bottle on the table and Colin poured the whisky with a steady hand.
‘Right then, Colin. I’ll be off.’
‘Yes. Thanks for all you’ve done, Bert. Good night. If you could close the curtains …’
‘I hadn’t finished answering your question.’
‘I was saying. Multi-element-radio-linked-interferometer-network.’
‘So you were. Cheers, mate.’
Colin made a fire and sat at the table through the night until the day showed. Then he put out the lamp, sprawled on his bunk; and he slept.
He woke, drank, blew a fire heap, ate meat, and left the lodge. He took smouldering moss and the lamp and went into Ludcruck from the Bearstone so that he did not cross the icefall.
He lit the lamp and worked through the grit past the nooks of the dead. The beasts trampled, but he did not stay. He lowered himself over the lip of the cliff inside the hill and climbed in the flicker, seeing nothing outside the globe in which he hung, hearing only the waters below, down to the great cave that was night, and the Stone that was its being, though it could be held in a fist.
The Stone was the womb of things. Nothing before it was made, and with it the spirits had chopped the marrow from the rock. It lay among the glint of its making; and the shining river ran beneath.
He put the lamp aside and sat a while, moving his thought. Then he stood and he stamped and he danced on the flakes and he sang. The chinking filled the cave, answering between the walls and the sky of the roof. He turned about the black Stone. He became the sounds, and was with the voices of the old, and the voices of the old were with him.
His step pressed the flakes; and from them under him rose moonlight, which grew with the dance, until it quelled the lamp. The moon lifted into him and flowed from bone to bone; along his spine and every rib, gleamed at his fingers, filled his skull, broke through his eyes, and brought pictures to his tongue.