The Noogan

Somewhere in Britain’s ancient and mystical landscape, there
lies a village. A place that has witnessed ages come and go. Its
stories are many. Most forgotten, some buried. And at least one
is hidden.

1939 three children were evacuated to a country village in
the south west of England. The idyllic yet antiquated village of
Abbeyton Lacey. By the end of the following summer, pretty-faced
Rosey Larchwood had disappeared. One foggy night she ran off and
was never found again.
In the summer of 1976 a schoolboy found a dilapidated diary
hidden in an overgrown garden.
But only now, many years later, the time has finally come for
him to tell of what he had discovered. The tale of those three
evacuees, consequentially of his own childhood and the dark side
of a village called Abbeyton Lacey.

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5. The Forgotten Garden

 

 

The funny thing about getting carried away with laughing and chatting is that sometimes the present will creep right past you. When there was an eventual pause between us, I looked around and realized we had it seemed, walked miles. We found ourselves far from that river and heading down an ever narrowing lane. God knows where. Hedges on both sides were high and unkempt.

“Where the fark are we?,” asked Matty. Though it was clear no one knew.

“I reckon we should turn back the way we came,” said Jonathan.

“Get on,” I told him.“That's miles back.”

“What do you reckon then Spanner?,” he replied  “... that we keep going further and further away, hoping  that this lane will lead us home?”

“Piss off. Just, we don't have to go back to the river to get home.”

“I reckon,” began Christian while looking at the sun’s path  “..that this is the direction we've got to go,” he said pointing towards some trees to our left.

“Yea, that's about right” said Jonathan surveying the sky in an attempt to have some influence too. That's how we ended up crawling under the hedge. An attempt to make a short-cut homeward. Under we went, wriggling like ferrets. It was not so hard actually, the hedge being so mature. It was just a question of clearing the dead leaves underneath out of the way. One by one we pulled ourselves under and out the other side into this other place. From the lane, I thought it was a woods, but it seemed to be an abandoned garden, dark and mildewy. Dead leaves carpeted the ground so deep that they covered my calves. And from that carpet grew oak trees, their  giant gnarled trunks clothed in lichen which looked like the washed-out turquoise face-flannel in our bathroom.  Untended weaving laurels too which were so gigantic they could scarcely support their top heavy height. Bramble bushes here and there, wild and tangled, had been free in this place to begin a take over. On every one of their thorny arms hung dozens of ripe blackberries. And from there, a startled blackbird flew up and away, trilling his flustered alarm as we moved from the hedge and entered into this strange place. We stood in silence, looking around cautiously while an air of must and old fungi ridden deadwood pervaded. We could just see the house to which the garden belonged. At a distance it was revealing itself behind a cluster of oak leaves. The house was of another century, rather grand with a stern formality about it. The roof, steep,clad in dark grey slate had a black ridge line. At each end,the ridge rose like the prow of a boat. Below the roof, large pale grey-green stone blocks were its construction. Only the cornerstones and lintels were flush and straight. The rest looked a little rudely hewn and within it, a leaded window peeped. Its small black diamond panes faced our way and I could imagine someone watching us from that window, while we in turn looked at it through the trees. I wondered about who lived there and why they had not visited their ample garden for so long. A nearby drumming of a woodpecker started up and broke the silence. The next to follow was a series of grunts from above. It was a grey squirrel darting along a branch where another chased it. They bounced around from one branch to the next,feathery tails twitching at each stop and apparently oblivious to our presence. Around the garden, fallen branches had, it seemed lain there for years, growing coats of shaggy emerald moss. Ivy free to wrap itself around what it chose, had chosen everything. And there, near my foot, a tree stump marked the place where the gardener had once worked his saw, though now the stump was bound completely in ivy too. 

  Talking in low voices we cautiously wandered through those trees until Jonathan suddenly found something stuck in one. It was a sickle embedded in the trunk. But he couldn't remove it, though he grunted like the squirrel trying. We all had a go. When i finally had my turn to try, I reckoned from watching the others give up, the trick was to wiggle it up and down. Jonathan laughed incredulously .“You? You're not gonna get it out,” he sneered. 

Christian added  “Go on then little Arthur. Thinks he's King Arthur.” But I couldn't budge it one bit. It became obvious that since it was put there, the tree had grown well around its blade and we all eventually gave up. Now, as we continued, we were all looking to see what we might find. Matty was soon making a fuss over a bottle neck sticking out of the ground by a tree root. Jonathan, of course looked peeved at Matty’s find. I knew he would be. Jonathan was the one who went looking for old bottles buried in the ground. If he found any antique ones, he'd clean them up and then try to get a couple of quid for them down at the antique store in Abbeyton Lacey.

“I'll get a few quid for this. Looks old,” said Matty enthusiastically aware of us all watching his progress.

“Looks like an old medicine bottle to me,” added Jonathan feigning disinterest while Matty scampered around trying to dig it out. Next he pulled out his new penknife and began scraping at the earth. I could see the top of the bottle. It was one of those old lime coloured glass  ones. Square rather than cylindrical in shape with letters embossed down the side. But as Matty levered it out, his face turned to disappointment. It was only the broken top half. Jonathan on the other hand looked relieved and unable to contain a smile. 

  We could have easily missed that huge bush of brambles nearby. But when Matty cast away that broken bottle neck we heard a clank. On our closer investigation, it turned out to be an arc shaped den completely enveloped in brambles and ivy. A door was just visible and with some careful handling we managed to release it from the binding of thorny arms. And then, one by one, we crawled inside. At first, It was dark in there while our eyes adjusted. I could sense a rather spongy floor space, made of wood. There was daylight  coming through from above. It passed through the peppered holes of the rusty old tin roof. And through a glassless window frame, brambles seethed like fans at a football match turnstile. But the inside was more or less empty except for woodlice and floorboards. I suppose that would have been it and we would have left had Matty not started lifting the rotten floorboards. It was a chance to use his new penknife again. Both he and Christian had one. They had been given them by their uncle Ray. Though he wasn't their real uncle. He was a bloke with three daughters and an old white Woolsely car that sported a turquoise band down its side. When the car was parked outside their house, it usually meant Matty and Christian were not coming out. So their uncle Ray told me when I knocked on the door once. He was a fat bloke. Quite old, with sandy coloured hair and ginger sideburns. The hair was slicked into the shape of a withered tea pot with a spout hanging over his forehead. A faded sky blue vest stretched over his flabby trunk, while curly beige chest hairs seemed to be escaping at the top. As well they sprouted over his shoulders and down his arms. Cigarette held between stained thumb and finger, he sort of looked over my head while muttering words with his dry voice. Then before I knew it he had closed the door. But Matty and Chris seemed to like their new family. It just meant I suppose that if that bloke and his family moved in permanently, they wouldn't be coming out so often. 

  Back in the garden Matty dug around with his blade, prizing up a soft floorboard. Not surprisingly, it revealed more woodlice and orange wood dust. But then, something else. Jonathan saw it too. “What's that?” he exclaimed pointing his finger to its hiding place. We all looked to see. It was something like a tin wedged under the next floor board. All of us descended to our knees hooking and pulling at it until it came free. The curiosity it seemed was a cake tin, red and tarnished and soon enough we placed it on the wooden floor. The lid came off quite easily with the push of Christians fingers and we  all awaited to see what it might contain. The inside revealed a  book and some loose pieces of paper. The type that you'd have at school, but they had gone quite yellow. On those first pieces were written three names. Catherine Nelson, Rosie Linden and Bronte Nelson. They were all written in pencil,the first having a more elegant hand. The page went on to say in Catherine's handwriting that-‘This is the property of Catherine Nelson’,which i thought was a bit useless, seeing that anyone finding this would of course look to see what was hidden inside. Held in Christians hands, we gathered around. Then turning the first pages of the book we soon noticed all the words were virtually illegible as the pencil writing had faded away. The rest were mostly stuck together. Our concentrated attention soon waned as every free page turned out to give nothing away. Eventually it was just me holding the book. Both Matty and Jonathan picked up some loose pages still laid in the box.

“Rosie loves Tig.” Matty read out then lifted his top lip in an attempt to sneer .“Who the fuck is Tig?-sounds like her dog or somethin,” he said, moving on to the next piece. Jonathan unfolded his and for a moment he remained quiet, its contents taking his interest. Written in a neat flowing hand with black ink that was fading to yellow, it appeared to be a  verse. “Listen to this,..” he finally murmured and began to read it out.

 

 

 

 

THE TALE OF OLD BLAC.

 ( DR. SABELIUS BLAC )

 

 

 

From across that twi-lit summers moor

One evening  knocking at his door

Disturbed the sounds of gentle snore

They both  had met once before     

Knew all to well, Sabelius Blacwin.                   

 

“Think I not know your every home? 

Though to every corner do you roam.      

No sanctuary for you in steeple or dome  

‘Be ever engaged’, warned Saint Jerome” 

  So was told Sabelius Blacwin 

                           

“The pleading scholar who'd asked for more  

Who'd once come knocking at my very own door 

What was promised, you could not ignore   

The years burned bright were twenty four                 

And the candle is now low Sabelius Blacwin.”            

 

“Did I not keep my bargain's end?   

And for your bidding, a demon send?

All your wants and desires given?      

All your enemies from your path driven?                  

Is this signature not yours, Sabelius Blacwin?”

 

Twenty four years past, that very week      

Was an ambitious young man with truth to seek. 

But granting access to burning desires       

Was the quest for truth consumed by its fires

So was the fate of Sabelius Blacwin                  

 

Studious scholar in tireless pursuit     

Seeking that which has no refute            

But the alchemist's quest has many a route  

And after many long years still remained mute

-So had complained Sabelius Blacwin.

 

Revelation by hook or by crook          

To the forbidden arts would Sabelius look  

Monosencis and the Shadows book 

To transcribe, to borrow and sometimes took.

Like this, sowed Sabelius Blacwin

Then nefarious requisites eventually met      

Signed with his blood, the contract set         

Keys to the world Sabelius would get          

And twenty four years to pay his debt.

-The soul of Sabelius Blacwin

 

And soon enough gossip would spread    

Of a man who raised life from the dead  

Walked across water and thousands fed    

'I can do more than Christ!' the doctor said.

The amazing Dr Blacwin.

 

But golden was his own path paved              

And adoration  what he really craved  

The seers eyes grew ever depraved   

Objects of desire, duly enslaved

The shameless Dr Blacwin.

 

But when twenty four years was drawing near  

Sabelius felt dread and uncontrollable fear   

He scoured old texts and sought  out the wise   

But all said the same, it would be his demise.

The reap of Sabelius Blacwin

 

To the church he repented, claimed Christ to extol   

Then pleaded and begged they pray for his soul   

Their priests most high said they'd do all they could  

But it was now up to him to try and do good.

How he cried, Sabelius Blacwin.

 

Now Sabelius Blacwin was a shrewd old man     

And as an insurance made a second plan      

A lifetime’s study had revealed curious mention 

Of a world as ours in another dimension

And who has dominion over this earth?           

And in another, has his contract still worth?   

 

Could  Sabelius  save his soul?                

Could he conjure such an  hole?

Could it be done, Sabelius Blacwin?

 

So in the waning of that final year        

Sabelius' escape was drawing near           

When a villagers’ daughter fell gravely sick 

And the priest had asked that Sabelius come quick

So off went Dr Sabelius Blacwin

 

Sabelius did good as best he could       

And within an hour the child stood       

Right as rain and in  goodly humour    

Sabelius somehow had dissolved her tumour

The remarkable Doctor Blacwin

 

The thankful parents were amazed            

But in the village questions were raised  

Demanding answers from the church      

Outraged parishioners would mount a search

To find  Sabelius Blacwin

 

The Doctor, they claimed had hexed her grave  

For the purpose of a life to save            

They swore that he would have no haven              

While chuckled darkly a lofty raven

As they head for the house of Sabelius Blacwin

 

The Doctor was hauled from his door,              

Up the path and across the moor              

To a hill where an elder tree grows        

There met his end with twitching toes.

The fate of Sabelius Blacwin.

 

 

   As Jonathan read out the final lines, we had all become rather quiet. Christian meanwhile, had spotted something else and moved towards it. A tiny drawstring bag laying in the tin which he then retrieved. We all turned to watch as he opened and then tapped out the bags contents. What fell out was a curious little man-figure. Cleverly made from acorns,now dark and shrivelled with rusty hairpins bound in thread were its arms and legs. Its head being the smaller acorn still bore a stalk cap. A rolled up strip of yellowing paper was bound to his middle and tied with a red thread. On closer inspection, we saw that there were tiny words written in faded pencil on it.

“What's it say?” I asked intrigued. With hesitancy, Christian began. 

“It says.. ‘To here you shall keep, so in safety shall we sleep’.”

“Is that all it says?” asked Jonathan,looking a little uncomfortable

“No..something else,” he muttered,peering at the tiny writing and unravelling it further.“Its,..” he began and then frowned,”..part of the Lords prayer-the one we have to say in school assembly .“ ‘Forgive us our trespasses’,” he began,   “...as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil' ...That's all it says”

“What about the rest?” I asked.

“No. That's all it says,” repeated Christian quietly. For a moment we stood in silence.

“What do you think it all means?” asked Jonathan with a voice empty of suggestion, re-folding the verse and placing it back in the tin.

“Dunno,” replied Christian almost cautiously, still looking at the writing and the little acorn man.

“Some crappy schoolgirls diary,” said Matty again,losing interest.

“Perhaps we should leave it. Might be bad luck,” murmured Jonathan, growing more uncomfortable. Christian sniffed dismissively. But i couldn’t help noticing how he carefully put the acorn-man back in the bag.

“I'll ‘ave that if you don’t wan’ it,”said Matty holding out his hand.

“Nobody's having it,” he replied firmly and laid it back in the tin.

“Shouldn’t have opened it really..” muttered Jonathan.

“I don’t give an arse,” returned Christian with apparent disinterest. Meanwhile Matty had already started carving his name into the floorboards.

“You keeping that?” asked Jonathan observing me still holding the book.

“Might do,” I replied.

“That old thing is shot to buggery,” he said and for a moment looked suspiciously at me. I could see my keeping the book bothered him.“Theres nothing in there except perhaps some lovey dovey words written by some schoolgirl,” he began testing me. “Is that why you want it? Ay?” and leered teasingly, sensing my annoyance

“No,” I replied, growing defensive.

  Suddenly, we became aware of Matty waving his hand up and down frantically, accompanied by a desperate expression. He was indicating that their was someone outside so we all fell silent. Jonathan pointed his finger in agreement to where the noise was coming from and I strained my ears further. I could hear the sound of leaves being scuffed up, but began to suspect it was only a blackbird rooting around. “Just a blackbird,” I whispered. But following that,the sound of a blackbirds trilling alarm while taking to flight was heard. Surely the alarm of something approaching and I could now hear it too. Footsteps approaching in the leaves. They were getting closer all the time, while we inside that den held like statues. Through the rust holes I could glimpse something. A figure in a donkey jacket holding a long stick. Then the figure stopped. I couldn't see his face and had no idea if he was looking our way or not. We all glanced at each other in silence anticipating what would happen next. Then, the sound of a striking match followed by the distinctive smell of tobacco smoke drifting in the air. Unnervingly, the figure seemed to make some grumbling sounds, but I'm not sure if it was a mutter or clearing his throat. Had the stranger heard us talking? Would the stranger approach our hiding place? The moment seemed to drag on forever and I began to worry that it wouldn't be long now before Matty let out some kind of sound or snigger. I daren't look his way.  Finally the stranger began moving off again and to our relief it was away from us. I was aware of those steps being uneven. One was stronger than the other and spoke of a limp.

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