It helps to be middle aged to read the Bede Series in the true spirit it was written… namely in the guise of a middle-grade time-slip adventure to please an author (me) refusing to age. I write mystical fiction for adults because I believe that too much maturity can be dangerous to your spiritual health. And so, I invite you into my playground.
Peter Pan, the boy who refused to grow up, said it best when he pleaded with pantomime audiences to save Tinkerbell. “CLAP IF YOU BELIEVE IN FAIRIES!” he commanded. And without hesitation, every parent in the theater put their hands together, raising the roof with cheers and stomping feet. Not just to encourage their offspring but to enthusiastically honor the times when storybook fantasies were essential realities in their whimsical education.
May I tempt you with a prologue written seven years after book one of the Bede series, ‘TWINTER – the first portal’, was first published. It was belatedly dictated to me a month ago in the only way writing matters – a 20-minute stream of consciousness by the word sprites who play behind my eyes because sometimes I am sabotaged by responsibilities from my own never-ending list of false ‘do or die priorities’ and forget to listen to my imagination.
It was a dark and stormy night
Two cats began to fight
There were two little ghosts
Eating bread and toast
Perched on Hadrian’s Wall
That defended Bede Hall.
“It’s time,” one of them said
With a feeling of dread
It’s far too soon,” said the other
“And a great deal of bother!”
The distance from Bede to London is 300 miles north as the crow flies and 30,000 miles as time flies.
Sarah Goodman’s kitchen in the village of Bede radiated with spectral light that emanated from a small square hole in the back door – a rotating cat flap called ‘The Royal Opening of the Way’ that permitted entry for time traveling cats from the temple of Bast in ancient Egypt whenever summoned by Bede Hall.
After eons, a mystical feline colony continued to guard the passages linking ages past and future that reside in nine portals of power within the stately Hall and the surrounding landscape.
The flap glowed green and began to rock gently in time to the clock on the wall ticking the last few seconds to midnight. It swung more urgently until it froze, fully open, wide enough to welcome Anubis – a noble Abyssinian wearing a single hoop earring and a wide collarette of gold that cast elongated sparks up the walls as his sleek shadow progressed.
Anubis, fearlessly pushed in, and padded silently over the checkerboard tiles towards the front door. At precisely 12:01, he spun gracefully, thinned into a long green string, and slipped through the keyhole into a downpour of English rain.
Outside, he resumed his feline shape and sniffed the air for demons. Satisfied he was alone, Anubis shook raindrops from his fur and waited until ‘The Royal Way’ re-materialized as a luminescent green carpet shimmering with power that levitated an inch above the cobbled street. He pawed it cautiously before streaking down the country lane towards a treeline of oak and willow startling a lean fox emerging from a skeletal hedgerow.
The fox stared after the disappearing vision and sniffed the distinctive splayed paw prints of a cat with extra toes. “Goodness,” it said out loud. “This can’t be true. It’s a thousand moons too soon!”
Inside the forest, a green mist replaced the carpet, hovering eerily like low-lying swamp gas. As Anubis waded through it the trees took a step back and the population of woodland creatures pressed forward. Rabbits and mice; badgers and fox, lined the path, respectfully averting their eyes.
Anubis howled a formal greeting that set up a general bustling of fur and claws on the forest floor. Birdsong and chattering squirrels chirped from the tree canopy, and the tree sprites, never at ease with the feline species, slithered out of sight on the highest boughs.
It was nine minutes past midnight when Anubis emerged from the trees before a Roman wall curled protectively around Bede Hall like a dragon’s tail. He landed, light as a phantom, and padded a crumbling span of the 73-mile-long Hadrian’s Wall holding his tail high like an antenna.
Lightning bolts seared the sky in pulsating searchlights. Anubis reached the second time portal as a resounding thunderbolt dislodged an ancient stone and set it rolling towards the Hall’s gates carved with magic symbols.
Inside the gates, a herd of green animals made of leaves, gamboled in their midnight hour of freedom. They halted abruptly as Anubis slipped through the bars. The largest topiary, a sphinx named Sage, bowed its head. The others froze into their daytime positions and waited for their leader’s orders. The smallest, a young hare named Harigold, hopped up and down too excited to remain still.
Anubis returned Sage’s bow. His brief message containing the words mercurial, fickle, and diabolical triggered a renewed display of lightning spikes that singed the treetops. “Make the most of your freedom,” he said. “We’re nearly out of time. Pass the word.”
Sage mumbled to himself so Harigold wouldn’t hear. “But surely, that’s impossible.”
Anubis positioned his back against the moon and stared through the bars at a small window under the eaves waiting for the Hall’s all-clear signal of nine flashing lights before heading to his English wife, Feathers, waiting in the dining room window of the great house.
There was no time for an affectionate hello. Feathers gave her report. “It’s as we feared,” she hissed. “The weather has been fearful of late. Frightful extremes of hot and cold wildly out of season plague the land whenever the matriarch is dreaming. Your dire predictions bring a whole new meaning to the term ‘changeable as the weather. Word has it the tree sprites are tunneling underground, the bees are in a right old tizz, and Miss Findhorn’s lavender crop is up in arms. The land is wasting away. For the moment, the Hall is holding off the developers. But with the Green Man in hiding and the matriarch in a dithery state, its only a matter of time before it’s sold and falls into ruin. Or worse.”
“This is only the beginning, my dear,” Anubis replied. “The Furies are restless. And by that. I mean more restless than usual. Young Miss Beryl that was, will have to bring her grandchildren up to speed smartish and no mistake.”
“They arrive next week,” Feathers grumbled, “if the old lady keeps her promise and stays awake. She can be rather unpredictable. Bede Hall is not best pleased with her. Even Parks is fit to be tied.”
Anubis’s fur bristled like a hedgehog. “Her Majesty, Bast, has ordered me to return with the Stratford-Smyth family and take up permanent residence. You’ll have to help me.”
A little ghost waving frantically from behind the dining room mirror caught Anubis’s eye and set the two cats caterwauling fit to wake the dead.
“The prophecy is upon us,” Anubis said and beetled off to the Hadrian portal.
“Goodbye, dearest,” Feathers said to the empty spot Anubis deserted. “I shall alert Parks.”
Anubis closed his eyes and concentrated on the temple of Bast. He raised his head to the full moon, yowled once, shivered his tail wildly, and leaped from Hadrian’s Wall directly into the keyhole of Sarah Goodman’s front door.
The kitchen clock had ceased its ticking, frozen at nine minutes past midnight; the black and white floor tiles were already covered in a drift of golden sand, and the electrics sputtered like candles.
Anubis lifted his head to the familiar scent of lotus incense wafting from the time portal. A warm Egyptian breeze set the flap swinging in slow motion like a beckoning finger, gently teasing him to come home. Anubis plunged into the Royal Way. The sand swirled into a howling vortex and followed him. The flap juddered to a stop.
Old Miss Sarah’s alarm clock jolted her from a deep sleep. The ears of her house cats at the foot of the bed twitched madly, threatening to wake them, but the ghost of a young man watching over Sarah’s dreams, lulled them back to sleep.
“Ben is that you?” Sarah whispered into the dark.
“I’m still here,” the ghost replied, gently. “All is well. Go back to sleep, my love.”
Nine important events occurred simultaneously. The hands of Sarah Goodman’s kitchen clock spun forward to nine o’clock, chimed nine times, the last tile shone gold for nine seconds before blacking out, the house cats resumed their purring, the trees stepped forward to resume their old positions, the woodland creatures scuttled off to bed, birdsong commenced, Ben drifted away, and timeworn Bede Hall mulled over a new strategy to defend itself with its venerable gardener, Stanley Parks.