I just found yet another of Spinneyhead’s lost novels.
Dancing Through the Dark was a fairy tale set in the (then) present day (I wrote it in the early nineties) with a soundtrack by Meatloaf and Carter USM. There was a Tetris waterfall, a mad Fairy King and an evil, scheming member of the Cabinet. I never finished it, of course, though a shorter screenplay version was completed. For your delight, here’s the whole of the first chapter.
Steve hung up the phone and looked around the rather dismal motorway services. He could have a meal from the cafeteria, but cold beans in the van seemed more appetising. He stared at the screens of the video games across the way, trying to become mesmerised, then turned and went into the shop.
Armed with three large bags of jelly babies, Steve sat in the van in the rain. It had seemed like a perfectly reasonable idea when it had occurred to him the previous night. He would get in the van and go on a tour.
It was now early afternoon of the day after the idea before. Steve was most of the way to nowhere- and bored. He ripped the head off a defenceless jelly baby and looked out across the carpark. The problem was motorway driving, it was just so dull. When his left leg had gone to sleep through lack of use, Steve had decided to stop for lunch. Now he really didn’t want to go back on to the motorway, he needed some winding country lanes to drive along instead. Steve started up the van, drove it to the fuel pumps and filled up with diesel. When he had paid, he drove back into the carpark.
Most motorway service stations have a small gate hidden at the back of the carpark. This gate provides access to a nearby minor road so that staff can get in more easily in the morning. After one circuit of the carpark, Steve had found just such a gate. He ignored all the signs protecting it and drove up the short slip road. The van emerged onto a much more sensibly sized road and set out, parallel to the motorway, in the opposite direction to the one it had been going. Steve selected some loud music, turned up the stereo, and drove much faster than he was supposed to.
Blossom had to admit, she did like her body the way it was. She was short, possibly slightly too short at only five feet, and small. Pert was how she liked to describe herself. Cascading ringlets of titian hair hid her ears and, when she wanted, her eyes- which reflected back as a deep blue that people wanted to dive into. Her nose hid under a butterfly swarm of freckles and her lips were relaxed into a natural smile. She ran a finger through the water and her image broke up into many small moving bands and waves. She sighed and looked around her little clearing.
It was a nice clearing, almost unspoilt by human intrusion. There hadn’t been a single used condom anywhere in sight, and only a few discarded beer bottles and cans. It was a much better place for Blossom’s having visited it, of course. She watched the shadows of leaves as they played across her naked skin, sorry that she would soon have to put some clothes on and leave. She stretched, enjoying the play of sunlight and shadow for a last time, then pulled her bag from behind a tree.
The bag was a large shapeless thing, built up from swatches of leather. Every little square had been kindly donated by some happy, healthy and willing animal and Blossom couldn’t feel at all guilty about it if challenged. It held a lot more than could have been imagined and it was a while before Blossom found the clothes she wanted. Clothed in what she felt to be appropriate garb, she was ready to leave the greenery and take her place on any street. The wonders of camouflage. She took up the bag and started out. On the threshold of her temporary little paradise she turned and blew a kiss. A wind blew up and all the trees waved their branches gently as she left.
The lines laced together beautifully to form the symbols on the map. They worked so well that it was possible to see diagrams of the hidden spaces through them from some angles. The only light in the room flickered from the fire place to backlight a figure of fine and weak lines. He turned his thin face away from the map with a smile of anticipation.
The lights of the city revealed themselves with a move of the figure’s right hand. Something jumped from the outstretched left hand to flick a switch and light the room.
The curtains swayed where they were parked and the small ball flew back on elasticated string. The figure put the ball, and the remote control for the curtains back into the pockets of his tweed jacket.
The room didn’t really suit him. The squire’s style couldn’t really blend with the chrome and black decor. The fire burned under a stainless steel hood. A simple button flooded the fire base with smothering gas, killing and cooling the fire.
The squire left the room through the window, scaling down the ten storeys with relative ease. It was going to be blatantly obvious that he had been there, but that didn’t matter. There was no new information for the squire, so he had to simply return home and see how it unfolded.
Steve was lost. It wasn’t any great surprise, he had been taking random turns for a couple of hours as a way of finding somewhere interesting to eat lunch. The picnic table by the stream had been rather incongruous, but perfectly fine for dining at. Now, however, it was proving impossible to locate picnic site or stream on the map.
The search had narrowed down to one square on the grid, which only covered around forty square miles. Using the side of the van as a third hand, Steve rotated the atlas and checked up and down the valley for landmarks. It would have been easier if he had been on the side of a hill, he guessed, but he hadn’t been afforded that luxury.
“East of middle and North and South of Nowhere.”
Steve dropped the atlas at the sound of the piping voice. He picked it up and shook the mud off before he turned. “Where did you come from?” It was a particularly deep and probing question considering how much Steve was still shaking.
“I found myself in the woods and just wandered over here looking for someone to give me a lift.”
Steve tossed the atlas through the open driver’s window so hard that it came out of the passenger’s side. This ruffled his fake nonchalance and he went to retrieve the book from yet another puddle. “Well there’s me and the next one should be along in about a century.” Steve had just noticed that the road was actually tightly packed gravel rather than tarmac.
“I’ll take that to be ages.” The girl shifted her bag, almost as large as she was, round to the passenger door of the van. Steve kicked at the surface of the track. “The door’s locked.” he commented absently. The door clicked open and first the sack and then the girl swung into the van. “Oh. Okay then, maybe it isn’t.”
Steve picked a few pieces of gravel from the track and threw them at the stream. He got into the van and shifted the atlas and rucksack into the back. The girl was sitting expectantly on the seat by the open passenger’s window. “Fasten your seat belt” Steve reminded her, before doing the same and starting the engine. The driven wheels slipped slightly on the surface. Steve took the van forward a short way before turning the wheel and pressing his foot down.
The rear wheels span and fought for friction. Resolution of vectors pushed the back of the van around in a tight arc until it faced back the way it had come. It dragged curls of newly raised dust in its slipstream as it trundled off.
The track turned into a brick cobbled road. Steve was certain that he hadn’t heard the road rippling by under the tyres when he had been this way earlier. He continued in the direction he would have gone if it hadn’t been for the detour.
The castle came at them slowly, peeki
ng over the rise as they sailed along a shallow bend. It came ever more slowly as Steve lifted his foot and stared over the steering wheel. Now he knew he was lost. He eventually disengaged the gears and let the van trundle slowly down the slight incline to the castle’s entrance.
The hillside broke against the castle like a rolling wave. Bracken foamed against the walls. Steve couldn’t help musing that castles were normally built on the tops, rather than the sides, of hills. This second configuration gave a terrible vantage point to any attackers.
No ancient monument should be so well preserved. The lower part of a fairy tale turret sat above the arch of the gate. A band new dark wood bridge crossed the moat. Steve had left the van door open. He closed it after going back to check that he had pulled the hand brake. He returned again to lock the doors as he knew they would be around for some time.
The girl was already most of the way into the castle. She only stopped to stare up at the gate. Steve stood on the bridge, then moved from side to side, testing for non existent give. The planks were almost certainly safe to drive the van over. He considered this for a moment before the girl called from the castle.
The courtyard was large, made more so as the tumble down buildings lining the walls had tumbled down. The keep faced the gate, imposingly solid within the solid walls. In the very centre of the yard a stone plinth had been almost overgrown. The girl had laid a rug out on the plinth and was busy spreading tins onto it. “I’m afraid I’ve only got the tinned stuff.” Steve turned a large tin of glazed ham in his hands and felt hungry again. The girl emptied the bag and shook it. She looked inside and searched around all the nooks, frowning.
“I don’t seem to have a can opener.”
Steve opened the pouch on his belt and unfolded and folded the gadget that emerged until it presented a tooth and hook for opening the tin. He handed this to the girl. As she battled with a tin he drew another gadget from another pocket and attacked the ham with it.
There was the ham, pheasant, pickled vegetables of almost every description and, from somewhere, crackers. Steve’s gadget refolded to produce a knife and he was using this to slice cured mushrooms to top a thick slab of ham on a cracker. “I don’t believe I’ve asked your name?”
“Where did you get all this food? I mean it’s not your usual hitch hiker fare.”
“I was given it. The clothes as well.”
Steve looked the girl over for probably the first time. He would have done it earlier but that might have meant crashing the van. Her clothes did look handed down, and quirkily timeless. They were tweeds, cut down and refitted. They had refitted quite well, Steve checked them out again- just to look at the detailing. Blossom’s hair fell over her shoulders in heavy waves that were trying to be curls. She smiled and Steve caught sight of her eyes. They were of a blue that he could quite happily dive into. He managed to catch the ham before it hit the ground.
“Are you going anywhere in particular? Blossom enquired.
“No. I was going to ask you the same.” Blossom shrugged, so Steve continued, “I just decided I needed a break yesterday, so I bundled some stuff into the van and set off.”
“So you’re on holiday?”
“For a fortnight, yes.”
“What do you do?”
“Play computer games and scan the jobs pages. Oh yes, and sign on every other Tuesday.”
“Sounds like fun.”
“Only because I bought everything I needed before being sacked. I’ve beaten every game I’ve got, though, and can’t really afford any more.”
“Life must be so hard.”
“Unbearable. I want to go and look at the keep.” They folded the rug around the food and left it for later collection.
The keep was still solid enough to show its design. Aged oak beams blocked the gate sized door, apart for one passable gap. Steve measured the depth of a beam as one hands span as he walked past. Inside the keep, away from the drying sun, the beams were covered in a greasy slime built up from too much water.
Spotlight beams of sunlight cut through the keep from arrow slits. Otherwise, “It’s a bit dark in here isn’t it.” Commented Blossom.
Steve jangled his keys out of his pocket and fumbled for the attached torch. He scanned the tiny dot of light around then settled it on the ground in front of him. “It’s not a very big beam.” Blossom observed.
“It’s not a very big torch.” Sulked Steve.
“We’ll just have to make do then won’t we.”
“I’ve got a sensibly sized one in the van if you want.”
“No, no, let’s go on as we are.”
Steve picked a way across the rubble towards a spiral stairwell lit with a cross shape. There was a fluttering from across the chamber. Steve turned toward it and a pinpoint of torch light traced across the far walls. Blossom tapped Steve on the shoulder and pointed. A dove moved in poetic slow motion through a shaft of dust refracted light. The bird arced over their heads and disappeared up the stairs. Steve returned to making his way across the floor.
The staircase only went up one level, the second flight had disintegrated into a selection of oversize cheese slices. The room they emerged into covered the whole of the first floor. One whole wall consisted of slotted and leaded window. Beneath the window was a large stone and wood throne. Blossom took quite naturally to the royal position whilst Steve considered the glass. “I didn’t think they could do glass when they built this sort of place.”
“It’s amazing what they could do with magic.”
Steve tapped one of the diamonds of glass. The second tap dislodged the glass and it fluttered down toward the trees. Steve bit his lip and backed away, careful not to touch anything else. “Do you have any idea what this place is.”
“Well I reckon this is Arthur’s seat.”
“Arthur’s seat is in Edinburgh. Isn’t it?”
“Ah, that’s what they all say.” Blossom was up and striding across the hall. She stopped by the remnants of a faded pennant. She tugged at it gently. “Do you fancy a little memento?”
“Best not. People tend to get pissed off if you steal from ancient monuments.”
“God yes. Do you think the Greeks would have inflicted donner kebabs on the world if they still had their marbles?”
“Possibly not. Shall we go?”
Steve looked around the room. There were corners and stairways that he could have investigated for days. But he couldn’t be bothered. “Yeah, let’s went.”
They went down the staircase and tiptoed through the rubble. Birds had flocked to the picnic tablet. They scattered with the scraps they could carry. Steve refolded the rug around the food and ported it back to the van.
While Blossom transferred the empty tins to a plastic bag, Steve wound down the window and clambered onto the roof. He slid across carefully to the place he could stand on a strengthening band. He was still a little uncertain about whether he would buckle the panel. Shifting his weight nervously, Steve scanned the road backwards and forwards. Far off in the direction the van pointed the moving glint of sunlight on car glass could be seen. “Thar she blows!” Steve pronounced.
“What?” Blossom popped her head out of the opened window.
“Civilisation.” Steve slid off the roof and opened the door again. “Move over.”
The van rolled for several yards before Steve bothered to start the engine. The lane opened onto a deserted B road. Steve tossed a pound coin to decide to go left.