Will took his bike a bit higher this time. He was becoming more comfortable with both the mountain and the bike now that they’d been living there for a month. It was a good mountain bike – a birthday present from the whole family. His parents uncles, aunts, grandparents and cousins had all clubbed together to get him something really decent and sturdy and it had been worth it. He loved it! Every day he went up the mountain and every day he became more confident about his own capabilities and those of his bike on the steep slopes.
He’d also walked right up to the top of the mountain with his parents a few times and had assessed the terrain. He’d had ‘The Lecture’ from his dad about just how far up he was allowed to go, weather conditions to look out for and which places to avoid.
He snuck a look back down the valley to the village below to find that he was becoming engulfed in a fine mist and the village was becoming hazy. As he looked back up the track, that also began to disappear. A little flutter of nerves filled his chest, but he found that he liked the feeling and he tingled with excitement at the thought of an adventure in the mist. He looked down at the brittle grey slate gravel beneath his feet and realised that he was straying from the well worn path. The sound of cars from the roads below was fading as he continued upwards, to be replaced by the sounds of sheep calling to each other in the eery mistiness.
But it wasn’t long before he cycled up out of the mist, back into the sunshine and then he could look around for the path. He couldn’t see it and he decided to get off his bike and walk. This part of the mountain was dotted with large holes and littered with loose slaty gravel which made him feel unsafe. He was also quite wobbly, tired and hot from cycling uphill so hard and sat down for a rest with his back against a rock. He stared back down at what looked like a thick white blanket of cotton wool completely obscuring his view of the village as if there were no houses there at all.
Suspecting he was the only human around for miles he began to talk to himself “Orrr-righty. Where am I then? Where’s the blummin’ path?” He chewed at the inside of his cheek and wiped the sweat from his face with his sleeve. The warm sun beat down on his head and he felt quite sleepy and thirsty.
“Where’s the blummin’ path!” a voice echoed. Only it wasn’t an echo, it was more of a mimic. He heard giggling and footsteps crunching in the gravel. Small, fast footsteps of a child. Then a young person, perhaps a year or so younger than Will, stood a few metres down the hill from him. Was it a boy? The child came closer; a lone figure against a backdrop of soft white. Now he could see that it was a small girl. Her clothes and short hair were limp from the mist and clinging to her. Her dusty, dress looked as if it had once been pink with white flowers, but was now a dusky colour with grey flowers and dirty grey streaks around the hem. Her face too was dirty as if she had wiped away her wet hair with grubby palms. In her hands were great clumps of sheep’s wool. She gazed back at him amused. Surely she shouldn’t be up here on her own. Was she lost, or had she just run on ahead of whoever was with her?
Will tried to speak, but his mouth was stuck closed with dryness. He thought perhaps he would stand up to see if anyone else was coming, but realised he couldn’t move. He couldn’t seem to get his lead-like limbs to budge. So he just continued to sit and stare. The little girl looked a moment longer and then ran past him laughing. As she did so he noticed that her boots were unlike anything he’d ever seen before; great big thick, soft leather boots with long rows of lace-holes.
He sat there bewildered for a moment longer and then decided he should go home and tell his parents. But suddenly he realised that he had closed his eyes for a moment and shaking his head forced them back open. He looked around for his bike and stood up. He was surprised to see that he was standing on the missing footpath. He’d been on it all the time? The tricky terrain and loose chippings were gone and the well-worn path back down the hill was right under his feet. Could he have moved?
He cycled down and was home in minutes.
Gasping for water he deprived himself of the kitchen tap for a few more seconds while he went to report the girl on the mountain to his father. He found him in the garden with Mum and Granny and rasped out the story through his tired dry mouth. Dad put his boots on and was off to investigate before Will had finished talking.
“Oh you’ve been collecting spare wool!” said Granny suddenly. Will was mystified to see his own pockets bulging with scraps of sheep’s wool.
“Ahhh, we used to do that years ago. Used it for stuffing for doll’s cushions and all sorts.” Mind you that all stopped after Rose’s accident. We used to walk up the steep side nearer the church – everyone went that way in those days, ’cause it was quicker.” She sighed. “That long way up with the path was made after Rose fell collecting wool when we were little girls……so sad…..”