Number Six’s Lesson
The little gang of six set off in the late afternoon sunshine. Picnics, walking sticks, backpacks and anoraks all excitedly prepared the night before ready for the big adventure today. The sun was hanging low on the horizon and dusk was looming as they entered the abandoned Churchyard. A buzz of excitement and anticipation filled the air round about them as they gamboled along the path overgrown with vast hedges and nettles, giggling and wriggling, skipping and tripping they went along the ancient pathway towards the back of the Chapel.
It was Brownie ‘Number Six’ who was in charge of this week’s adventure. They each had a turn at choosing what their adventure entailed and nobody ever grumbled at the decisions as usually a wonderful time was had by all. Brownie Number Six was called so due to the simple fact she was the youngest. Each one had a number in order of their ages and every six weeks or so, they’d get together for a Brownie Adventure. This particular adventure landed on a full moon and Number Six thought it would be excellent fun to visit an abandoned Cemetery, she’d been searching and searching for the perfect place when ‘quite by accident’ she overheard Mother Owl let slip a bit of gossip she’d heard about Sister Winifred’s Uncle and his old parish; supposedly haunted by an ancient witch whose shack had been demolished to build the new chapel, the gossip being the witch had been inside the shack at the time. The thought of witches and ghosts and graveyards thrilled Number Six and she immediately went in search of the rest of her friends and told them of her plan. The old chapel was now in ruins and the tale behind it would most certainly add to the fun.
They reached the Cemetery just before dusk and they eagerly made their way along the path. Upon reaching the old Oak door that used to welcome the worshippers of times gone by they came to a decision, which path to take round the back – the left or right? Number Six gave the nod to vote and each raised their left hands in one of the Secret Brownie Salutes. Before casting their vote they had each decided in their minds that since they’d done good deeds all morning and they deserved a little treat. And down the Left Path they went.
They rounded the last bend of the path and reached the back of the Chapel and they slowly formed a line with Number Six in front (due to it being her adventure) following her in sequence; One, Two, Three, Four, then Five; all in line marching slowly and proudly to the gate at the top of the cellar steps. The line stopped and they all faced each other forming a small circle with Number Six addressing them:
‘Okay Brownies, we all know the rules,’ and they all said together. ‘Any and all treasure, no matter how small, is divided up fairly, to one and to all’.’
Number Six grinned at everyone and asked the question they always asked before the start of any adventure. ‘Ready?’ and they all replied together, ‘Always!’ They opened the rusty old gate and descended the ancient stone steps. They counted thirteen down to the bottom and upon reaching the rotten wooden door leading to the cellar they found a sign written in thick red paint. KEEP OUT!
They looked at each other and Number Six gave the nod to vote. All six of them made a Secret Brownie Salute and raised their hands again. Another unanimous decision had been made and in they went. It was still just about light enough outside to see the basic outline of the cellar and Number Three reached into her backpack and pulled out an old miner’s lantern and lit it. Placing it on a table that Number Four and Five had set the right way up again, she informed them they had enough oil until about midnight.
On the floor near where the table had been lying there was an old cardboard box with a pretty design that looked like a star; upon investigation they found what looked like an old pocket watch, a few dried herbs, a pine-cone and also a little book that you could just about fit in the palm of your hand. There were only a few pages, folded in the middle to make a little booklet and the cover was made out of a thick rough cloth with an elaborate design stitched into it with cheap cotton thread. There was a small handwritten paragraph on each page made with a scruffy hand and opposite there was a hand-drawn picture. It looked like a little story.
The festival of Harvests was at its peak in the tiny forest, midway through the celebrations you might not notice a stage set up inside the ever-aging trunk of an ancient Redwood, the stage roof an encyclopaedia of history, with rings telling of Famines and Wars and Great Winters, ones that have been and hints of ones to come. The main theme of the second day is Justice and a very solemn part of the day starts at High Noon.This year’s play is the Call of Judgement. A most special event this year as the Owls are in attendance.
The Owls had swooped in on the eve of the New Moon, dark was the night and sharp were their wits. The tiny congregation, gasped in awe as the terrifying beasts swooped in, deafening thunder the sound their wings made as they snaked through the forest searching out the gathering. A special Oath is in place on such occasions, where all come in peace. This didn’t stop the young ones of the gathering cowering in fear behind the tiny lace aprons of their Grandmother’s skirts. The Owls circled the area above a Sycamore tree three times, causing a small breeze.
From their fearsome talons the Owls dropped tiny gifts, all landing perfectly onto the falling Spinning Jennies, tiny helicopters ever swirling on their slow waltz down to the ground, passing through clouds of fireflies causing a cacophany of lights; yellow, green and red flashes of lightning darting this way and that way. The gifts dropped precisely at the feet of whom they were intended.
The Owls swirled slower, one last time and swooped majestically down into their places. The Black owl landing on the branch of the White Birch and the White owl landing in the branches of the Black.
The Owls settled into position on the sturdy Branches of Justice as the Brownie helpers passed around seeds, nuts and grasses to all in attendance, all to be washed down with sweet honey and the juice of ripe red, green and blue berries. On solemn occasions such as this, everyone ate and drank from the same bowls and shared the same food and drink, all wore whatever they chose, everyone wears a mask and nobody feels ashamed.
When all had had their fill, everyone went to their places. All of a sudden, there was a new, bigger commotion from above.
The treetops shook and the whole Gathering fell silent wondering what wicked demon approached. Every single creature of the tiny forest obeyed the solemn Oath on such a night and only a servant of evil would dare to ever break it. All eyes raised skywards, as the dancing helicopters waltzed once more, swirling amidst glistening stardust, dazzling dewdrops falling from the moonless midnight sky, every colour of the rainbow, floating to the earth, this way and that way. Like snow from the heavens it covered them all. Everyone gaped in awe as the Great Grey Owl landed on her Throne.
The Great Grey Owl prepared to address her children, she turned her head this way and that way and looked at all of them. Big ones, little ones and tiny ones with an even look in her eyes, she took in a long slow breath and the whole of the forest, from the tiniest Tick to the mightiest Tree bowed their head in solemn silence to listen.
‘My children, the Great Sabbath is approaching as I am sure you are all aware by now. You have sensed my presence in the air in these recent times. Judgement Day is coming.’
They were quite enjoying the tale until it got to the last bit and for some reason a little shiver ran through all six of them, they were going to put the booklet back into the box when one of them noticed another folded piece of paper tucked into the back cover. Number Six retrieved it and on the front in big bold letters it said ‘Private and Confidential!’ – Only to be read during the New Moon! KEEP OUT!
‘Private and confidential,’ they repeated in a little chorus, ‘Only to be read on the new moon,’ they echoed. ‘Keep out!’ they giggled in unison. Number Six addressed the rest of the group.
“Sister Gnomes, we have been on many adventures together, we have discovered many amazing secrets and I hope there shall be many more,’ they nodded their heads sagely in agreement as she continued. ‘On this paper might be great wisdom, it might be a treasure map to great riches, it may also be nothing of worth at all. Whatever we find within, we must promise to share it equally.’ They looked at each other, raised their right hand in the Official Brownie Salute and repeated together the Brownie Law followed by the Brownie Motto.
“A Brownie Guide thinks of others before herself and does a good turn every day.”
“We’re the Brownies, here’s our aim, Lend a Hand and play the game.”
Holding the mysterious slip of paper in her hand, Number Six nodded her head and they voted. They looked at each other, one after the next, five raised their left hand in a Secret Brownie Salute meaning one thing and the last one raised her right hand meaning another thing. A clear decision overall, but as the rules state, all Brownies ‘get to have their say, come what may‘. Number Three, the Brownie who voted with her right hand (and was very superstitious) gave a slightly worried look and pointed out that in fact it was quite the opposite of the New Moon and the others agreed, with Number Two pointing out it would be even easier to read in the growing darkness of the doorway since it was fast approaching midnight and the door was facing South. All six chuckled whilst Number Six unfolded the slip of paper and read aloud:
All you that in the condemned hole do lie,
Prepare you for tomorrow you shall die;
Watch all and pray: the hour is drawing near
That you before the Almighty must appear;
Examine well yourselves in time repent,
That you may not to eternal flames be sent.
And when St. Sepulchre’s Bell in the morning tolls
The Lord above have mercy on your soul.
They all looked at each other bewildered; then one remembered they’d learned something of it at school during a lesson on Nursery Rhymes, she was pretty sure it was Oranges and Lemons, they decided they would read up on it together later. All of a sudden there was a loud bang and the cellar door slammed shut behind them. Three, Four and Five jumped, One and Two giggled, luckily there was still a bit of oil left in the old miner’s lamp and Number Six read on:
Now you’ve read my poem, you’ve found one of my tricks.
The last words that you read in sin, add up to sixty six.
Added to the ones above, it makes up quite a lot.
Add them all together, you’ll soon wish that you’d not.
As soon as you get to the end, a shiver through you goes;
You’ll realise you’ve just been cursed, with dodgy Satanic prose.
The Devil likes to play her games, she teaches as she plays.
Keep out has a meaning. KEEP OUT if that’s what it says.
Wise Gnomes should pay attention, and scorn the other fools.
If you want to play My Game, obey all of My Rules.
Now owing to your insolence, a steep price you must pay.
The door is locked, you’re stuck within, until another day.
P.S. Your oil is almost done.
From Tall-ish Tales (Short-ish Stories)