If you’re coming in late, the novel starts here: EARTHWITCH CHAPTER 1: The house that wasn’t
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Days passed by, and Agatha and David settled into their new way of life. Grandma Rolie, while definitely quirky, was just as capable as Agatha had suspected upon first moving into The Invisible House. She may be an old lady, but she was agile and quick-minded, and totally capable of managing her own affairs.
Weeks of school holidays still stretched before the children, but there was plenty to do where Grandma Rolie lived.
One of Agatha’s favourite ways to pass the time was to work her way through Grandma Rolie’s bookshelves. Grandma Rolie had some wonderfully interesting old books, many of which were on the occult and on something called ‘Ley lines,’ which Agatha soon learned were mythological lines of power that crisscrossed the globe.
Agatha found tome after tome on the subject of ‘Geomancy,’ and many of the books had Grandma Rolie’s looping handwriting scrawled in the margins, with editings and annotations to much of the information the books provided. Agatha even found a series of books on the subject written by Grandma Rolie herself, who seemed to be a bit of an expert in the field. Agatha knew that Grandma Rolie had always worked as a writer, but there was something almost magical about seeing the name ‘R.Barholemew’ stamped on the cover of book after book.
Grandma Rolie had always been something of a mystery to Agatha. She had met her grandmother several times (usually at Christmas or at family gatherings), but had never really understood what made her grandmother tick. Now that she lived with her grandmother, Agatha understood why the old lady had remained a mystery – she was intensely secretive, and very much valued her privacy. She had lived alone for many years, and although she was an interesting and intelligent woman, Agatha had never known her Grandmother to have a single friend. Certainly no-one ever visited the house – not even stray dogs or cats.
Grandma Rolie had, it seemed, always lived here with a cat or two (her current feline companion was the ever-purring black Devon Rex Matchiko), and she liked to be private and to live alone. Agatha found it almost impossible to believe that Grandma Rolie had once been married to her Grandfather (who Agatha had never met), and had mothered two daughters, one of whom (of course) had been Agatha and David’s own flamboyant, outspoken mother.
When Agatha wasn’t reading one of the many interesting books in Grandma Rolie’s collection, she and David were out exploring. In this part of Melbourne, there was much to explore. Grandma Rolie lived next to Moonee Creek, and Agatha and David loved to explore the creek, walking along the adjacent bike path and scrambling down the banks to the waters edge, watching the ducks and hoping to find frog spawn. Although the creek was mainly supplemented by runoff water from the road systems, it was clean, and the creek supported a lot of wildlife.
David became interested in native birds, after finding a battered copy of ‘What Bird Is That?’ in Grandma Rolie’s bookshelf, and Agatha just liked to sit by the water and think, watching the animals and listenig to the flow of the water.
It was one roasting summer day in early January when life suddenly took a sharp turn sideways.
Agatha and David were down by the creek as usual, and it was late evening, but the sun was not yet down. It had been so hot during the day that they had taken shelter from the sun under an old railway bridge where the rail line crossed the creek. It was cool and shaded under the bridge, and the concrete supports of the were cold and relaxing to sit on.
It was noisy every so often, as the rumble of regular trains passing overhead broke the sound of animal noises and insect chirruping, but it was private and undisturbed, except for the occasional cyclist who used the path, whizzing past onwards into the city, or whizzing in the other direction out to Broadmeadows and beyond.
Agatha was immersed in her thoughts, and David was down at the waters edge, prodding the water weed with a stick, and digging the sediment at the bottom of the creek with its tip. All was quiet and undisturbed, when they heard the sound of people approaching from the south.
Agatha looked up, as a group of half a dozen young boys came into view. She watched them as they approached, and it struck her that there was something not quite right about them that send a chill down her spine, although she couldn’t exactly figure out what it was that made her feel so chilled. They looked as ordinary as could be – all dressed in what was more or less the latest fashion, and most wearin baseball caps with logos, and sneakers in various states of disrepair.
“David,” she said sharply, without knowing why. “David! Come here. Now.”
David hiked up the creek bank to join his sister and sat down beside her on the concrete, watching the young boys approaching with her. Agatha glanced at her brother, and knew that he, too, had felt that something was wrong about the strangers.
The group drew closer, until there was little more than a metre between them and Agatha and David. They stopped, stood over Agatha and David, and looked down at them. It made Agatha immediately uncomfortable, to have her personal space invaded in this way, but to stand up would be seen as a challenge, so she stayed sitting.
“You’re new here,” said one of the boys, staring down at them. It was a statement, not a question. He stared at David and Agatha, and they noticed that his eyes were different colours: one blue, one brown. The chill that Agatha had felt earlier grew. Something wasn’t right. Agatha felt a strong desire to leave, to run, to escape – and she wasn’t a coward.
“Yes.” replied David simply. Agatha said nothing.
“Where do you live” asked the same boy again. Once more a statement, not a question: this boy expected an answer.
“Oh – over there,” replied David, waving his arm northwards up the bike path in a non-committal way.
“We haven’t seen you here before. You don’t belong here,” said a second boy. He raised his arm to brush away a fly, and Agatha saw that he was missing a finger on his right hand.
She started to look at the boys more carefully. Every one of them had some sort of defect, something not right about their bodies. It was as if they had been painted, but by an inexpert artist with basic mistakes. A third boy – wearing sandals rather than the accepted uniform in the group of worn down sneakers, had an extra toe on each foot. It was weird.
“We’re leaving,” said David quietly, and he caught Agatha’s eye. She could see what he was thinking, and nodded in agreement. “It’s nearly dark. We should get home.”
“Oho!” said the boy with the mismatched eyes, who seemed to be the ringleader. “You’re supposed to be home before dark, are you?”
“Ye-es,” replied David, before Agatha had a chance to stop him.
“I know who you are,” said the boy. Statement again. He stared at Agatha and David, as though adding two and two together. “You’re Roland’s children, aren’t you.”
“I don’t know who or what you’re talking about,” said Agatha quickly, “But we have to go. We’re going. Bye.” She stood up, grabbed David’s hand unthinkingly, and tried to move past the boys.
Mismatched-eyes put a hand on her shoulder to stop her, and it was as if Agatha had been struck with an electric current. She felt sick, and dizzy.
“You *are* Roland’s kids. We knew you were coming. They told me. I knew. We thought we’d find you here.” He spat derisively. “Roland’s kids. Always the same. You can always find them near water. As if we don’t know better!”
He pinched Agatha’s shoulder. Hard. It hurt, and the electric current was strengthening. Agatha’s head started to throb. “You’re not leaving.” He grabbed harder.
Agatha pulled away, and pushed David behind her. Although there was only a year between them, she suddenly felt like very much the older sister, and knew she had to protect him.
“We’re going,” she repeated. “Now.”
“We won’t let you go. You’re coming with us.” said mismatched-eyes.
“No they’re not,” said a strange, strong voice behind them. Mismatched-eyes let go of Agatha as if he had been stung, and she whirled around to see a stranger only metres behind him. “They’re leaving.”
Mismatched-eyes laughed bitterly, as the stranger moved forwards to stand next to Agatha. He was slightly older than any of them, and by his voice she could tell her was American. His eyes were bright blue, his hair was brown, and he wore a necklace of bright green opal, carved in the shape of a dragon. Somehow – Agatha didn’t know why – she was reminded of Grandma Rolie. There was in common between the stranger and Grandma Rolie, but Agatha couldn’t place it. But she suddenly felt safer.
“You can’t take them,” said Mismatched-eyes to the stranger. “They’re not yours. We found them.”
“They’re not yours,” replied the stranger.
“Hold on-” began Agatha, confusedly.
“-they don’t belong to anyone yet. You haven’t claimed. You have no right to claim here. Leave.”
“They’re mine!” said Mismatched-eyes.
The stranger stared contemptuously at Mismatched-eyes. “You’re a fool,” he said. “You can’t claim here. Or now. It’s not yet dark.”
“It will be dark soon.”
“What on earth are you talking about,” began Agatha. The stranger turned to face her.
“Questions later. With me now. You have to trust me now. David, go now. I’ll take Agatha. David, stay on the track. *Do not leave the track.* If someone tries to stop you, cross the water: you’ll be safe then. Run! Home! Now!”
Still confused, yet as if answering a command, David ran past the group of boys, pushing them aside as the boys reached out to stop him. Agatha watched her brother disappear from view.
“Now – come with me,” said the stranger to Agatha.
Curiously, the group of boys who had accosted Agatha and David parted to let her leave with the stranger. They flinched when he walked past them, as though he were something they cold not bear to touch.
Agatha walked up the path northwards, with the stranger by her side. “I’ll explain everything when we get you home,” he said. “I know it’s all a bit much for you right now. Trust me when I say that it was fortunate for you that I happened upon you just then. Things could have turned evil.”
“Who are you?” asked Agatha. “I mean – you said you were leaving, and those bullies let you pass, and they didn’t try to stop you – even though there was just one of you and six of them.” Agatha felt foolish. “Are you a black belt or something?”
The stranger laughed for the first time, breaking the chill that Agatha had felt since first seeing the group of boys. Waves of warmth swept over her at the sound of something as normal as a laugh. “No – I’ll explain everything properly when you’re back with Grandma Rolie. Those boys were Mordred. They’re evil. Sundered. Rolie told you not to go out after dark. I’m sure of it. She’s not going to be happy with you.”
“What’s Mordred? Wasn’t that King Arthur’s son? I remember seeing the movie. That’s all fairytales.”
“Fairytales are only stories that have become worn down with use, until the original meaning has all but disappeared, Agatha. They’re not – and never were – make-believe. You’re lucky to have escaped. They may have looked like ordinary boys, but did you notice anything different about them?”
“They were all – wrong,” said Agatha slowly. “Every one of them. They had – mistakes. And they made me feel cold.”
“That’s because they’re Mordred. Evil Ones. They’ve been Sundered – striped of their souls. They’re not individuals any more. Just tools of Darkness. But Darkness always leaves a mark – and we identify that mark as something wrong. Something not quite right. Sometimes it will be eyes of different colours – as you saw this evening. Sometimes it will be something so small that you won’t even see it. But it will be there, and you will feel it – the mark of Darkness.”
Agatha felt that familiar chill steal across her aain at these words. Despite everything, it all seemed too fantastic. Too unreal. But she knew that she was safe with the stranger.
The Invisible House came into view, and Agatha noticed immediately that the stranger had no problems in seeing it, which struck her as odd: she had become used to living in an invisible house, and now to have a complete stranger open the garden gate and walk through as if nothing were amiss or odd seemed bizarre.
Grandma Rolie opened the door, and said, “Justin – good to see you. Agatha – you’re late.” Then: “Where’s David?”
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Read Chapter 3 of EarthWitch here
Chapter 2 word count: 2183
Total word count so far: 2124 + 2183 = 4307.