Winter Solstice – 21st December

Snow swirls around the village of Port Gwyneth as if it if is encased in a snow globe that has been given a hard shake. The all-encasing whiteness makes the village appear timeless, hiding, as it does, the tell tale signs of change.

But it is three hundred years since Hepzibah Kemp was drowned as a witch.

Mizzy is running through the standing stones on Spriggan Point. They seem to go on forever, row after row after row of upright sentinels, snow rising and falling amongst them. She has run out of breath and is frightened, for she knows that she is being chased. Finally, she summons the courage to turn and face her pursuer – a tall man, dressed all in black, with a sharp pale face, a long nose and a thin, small mouth. There is something in her hand. It is her camera. She lifts it to her eye and tries to shout ‘Keep away, or I’ll shoot. Everyone will see what you are!’ but she has no breath. She backs away and finds herself falling, off the cliff edge, into the sea. The waters close over her head with a roaring sound.

In her attic bedroom, Mizzy opens her eyes, gasps, and rolls out of bed onto her feet.

‘O.K. that was weird!’ she mutters to herself. ‘Must have eaten way too much of that mac n’ cheese.’

The clock radio says 7.24 a.m. She realises that the roaring noise in her dream is her mum banging the hoover around downstairs.

‘Really? At this time in the morning? She must have got her Christmas cleaning bug’ thinks Mizzy as she wanders over to her desk, which is scattered with photographs.

She selects an image of the standing stones and sticks it onto a wall covered with a jumble of other snapshots. It is one that she’d taken earlier in the week. It’d been bitterly cold with a stinging wind, but she’d been determined to get the shot. The stones looked perfect by the light of the rising sun; shadows stretched long and thin across the inhospitable landscape.

She knows the girls at school would think this lame, but she can’t understand why they think filling their bedrooms with photos of pop stars is so brilliant. After all, in thirty years time these stones would still look the same. But the pop stars will be middle-aged blokes prancing about on stage desperately trying to hang on to their youth and careers. And the girls at school will probably be watching them, trying to recapture the carefree teenage lives that they now imagine as the best days of their lives. How lame is that?

But, she has to admit to herself, maybe, she isn’t so very different. Isn’t that why she likes taking photographs? The way they capture a moment in time? The way you could look at them and remember the feelings you had when you took it and the person you were then. It is amazing to think of it like that. A moment that she saw through the camera viewfinder fixed like that forever.

But not really forever, just that moment in time, because life does not standstill, time is always changing isn’t it?

Looking at another photo, of her mum and dad in front of the stones holding their new-born baby Mizzy, she wishes time could just stop, for a bit at least.

Her mum, Cordelia, looks nice in the photo with a happy radiant smile. Mizzy stops herself thinking about it, the feeling of wanting to cry.

Then her mum calls up the stairs, ‘Are you awake?’

‘Yes, I’m up mum!’

‘Happy Birthday, darling, how does it feel to be a teenager?’ says Cordelia as she pushes open the bedroom door.

If it were not for the age difference, mother and daughter would look like twins – identical big green eyes, elfin faces, and long flaming red hair.

Mizzy contemplated her answer. ‘To be honest, mum, slightly disappointing. Not that I was really expecting it to be a life-changing day, you know?’

‘You look sad?’ says Cordelia, concerned.

‘Oh it’s nothing really, Mum.’ answers Mizzy trying to think of an acceptable explanation for her mood ‘Just looking at my photos of the stones – I mean, they are photographed all the time these days, but they have been there for hundreds of years. Long before cameras were invented. But we have no photos of them then do we? The people who visited them – the people who built them? So all those moments are just lost aren’t they?’

‘Well you know my feelings on time. Time is not a process but a state of mind. When we see this, we will transform our lives and enter into an altogether closer understanding of reality!’

‘O.K. enough of your ‘New Age’ mumbo jumbo Mum. I’m just saying, all this big stuff happened in the world and got forgotten, and people make a big fuss about the smallest stuff, like your first teenage birthday and actually life just goes on as normal doesn’t it?’

‘Well, I think it will be a long time until we all forget this day. Have you looked out of the window? There is nothing normal about this weather!’

They sit down at the window seat and stare out oat the blanket of snow covering the narrow lanes of Port Gwyneth and the cliffs above. Dark, yellow tinged clouds are massed in the sky.

‘More snow coming, too’, muses Cordelia. ‘I knew it. Didn’t I say last night? When I saw the moon? I knew something unnatural was coming.’

‘Did you do it, then?’

‘What do you mean, did I do it?’

‘Well you’re supposed to be a witch aren’t you? Did you weave a spell to bring the storm? To make my birthday extra special?’

‘That is not funny. I’m a White Witch. I would not abuse my power.’

‘Joke, mum! I’m just winding you up, I know that you couldn’t have done this!’ laughs Mizzy.

‘Well, I might have been able to, one never knows what powers one might be able to summon,’ replies Cordelia, haughtily, refusing to acknowledge her daughters gentle taunt. ‘I predicted it; at least, which is more than those weather forecasters with their degrees and hi-tech equipment managed to do. I’m one with the Goddess, and open to Her Wisdom. I can interpret the signs; all they can do is stare at their screens, hoping that satellite images will give them an answer. Unseasonably mild! Got that wrong didn’t they?’

‘Yes, Mum, of course,’ replies Mizzy, in a sarcastic tone. ‘I mean, Cordelia Kemp just needs to gaze at the moon, hang a strand of seaweed by the door or listen to the cock crow to know if we’ll need an umbrella!’

Cordelia shrugs. ‘No need to sneer, let’s see how bad it is everywhere else.’

They look at the news on Mizzy’s laptop, but nowhere else in the country seems to have been affected by the winter storm.

‘This is weird, everywhere else looks dry and sunny?’ says a puzzled Mizzy, ‘Let’s put the telly on, and see what they are saying.’

But, TV, radio, Internet, all said the same; everywhere else seemed to be basking in sunshine. They sit watching the television to see when, and if, the rest of the country will finally catch up with events in Port Gwyneth.

‘Breaking news now, reports are coming in of freak weather in the little Cornish village of Port Gwyneth,’ announces the grey-haired man sitting on the sofa, leaving a pause so that the young blonde-haired girl beside him can carry on the story.

‘Yes, remarkably, whilst the rest of the U.K. enjoyed an unseasonably mild night, this little fishing village, popular with tourists, experienced heavy snow and gale force winds.’ she explains.

Then it is the man’s turn again. ‘Snowdrifts have blocked roads into the village, and a spokesman for the Highway Agency has said that people should not attempt to either get into or out of the village by car.’

‘However, a lull in the storm has enabled us to land a helicopter in the village and we can now go over live to our weather girl,’ continues the blonde girl cheerfully. ‘Gillian, what’s it like in Port Gwyneth?’

The image cuts to a lady wrapped up in a red padded jacket with a fur-lined hood, surrounded by some well-known faces from the village.

‘Well, as you can see, Joanna, the snow is quite deep but there is a lull in the storm now. It snowed heavily overnight, and there has been over twenty-five centimetres of snow. So it’s not really surprising that the Met Office have a severe weather warning out for the area…’

‘Isn’t that Destiny?’ says Cordelia, spotting a face in the crowd.

‘Of course it’s Destiny. Do you think she would miss out on a chance for fifteen seconds of fame on national television? She’s got her gang with her. The Destiny Tyler Show. She’s probably hoping that she’ll be spotted by a television producer who will be desperate to cast her in some reality show.’ mutters Mizzy, disparagingly.

Destiny and her friends look less like snowbound villagers and more like Saturday night revellers. Their fake tans look incongruous against the pure whiteness that surrounds them. Looking cold, rather than the hoped for cool, they shiver in their skimpy outfits.

Gillian turns to them, quizzically. “So, all this snow must have taken you by surprise?’ she asks, pointing the microphone at Destiny.

“Oh totes! At first I thought it was, like, fake? I thought my dad had done it for me for Christmas? Then I realised it wasn’t just in our garden but, like, everywhere? It’s not good, though, because I really need to get some decent winter clothes now? But, my dad won’t drive me to the proper shops, because he says it’s dangerous, which is just an excuse if you ask me, and all they’ve got here are, like, horrible anoraks, which, seriously, I would rather die than wear? Hashtag Furious!’ declares Destiny breathlessly.

‘Right, I see,’ says a bemused Gillian. ‘Well, let’s hear from your father who, I believe, is the Squire of Port Gwyneth?’

The camera pans over to Destiny’s father who, like his daughter, is basking in his moment of glory. His title might not mean much in the modern world, but everyone will see, he hopes, how the village still relies on the ‘Good Old Squire’.

‘Yes, indeed, Gillian, I am the Squire. I must say that this is the most snow we have seen in thirty years. This is snow in amounts and depths that we are not used to, and it’s difficult to handle, but I have organised all the villagers to do their bit.’

‘He’ll have promised them a few pints down at the ‘The Smugglers Rest.’ Cordelia says, cynically.

Gillian then launches into an attempt to scientifically explain the odd weather phenomena, involving descriptions of the localised effect of events in the troposphere.

‘She doesn’t know what she is talking about, it’s the moon that’s done this,’ moans Cordelia, ‘I remember seeing the same moon on my thirteenth birthday back in 1979. Terrible storm then, too.’

Huddled together on the sofa, neither wants to break the spell the storm has created; the feeling that Mizzy remembers from her childhood, of togetherness.

‘Well, I wish I could stay here all day,’ says Cordelia ‘but, I better open up the shop. There won’t be any day-trippers, but the families who have booked a cottage will still need to do some Christmas shopping.’

‘Yeah, and they won’t be able to go anywhere else for their Witchy wares with the roads blocked!’ laughs Mizzy.

‘What about you ?’ asks Cordelia, as she puts on her coat, ‘Are you staying in?’

‘No, I’m going to see if I can do some Christmas shopping and then pop up to see Dad.’

‘Well, be careful,’ Cordelia says as she walks out the front door, and the full force of the cold wind hits her, ‘wrap up warm, its freezing out here.’ Then she adds ‘and make sure you get back early. I’ve made plans for your coming of age.’

That sounds ominous, Mizzy thinks, hoping her mother’s plans do not include some mad spiritual rite of passage nonsense. She can’t help feeling a little guilty for her rebelliousness, although she long ago rejected her mum’s wild beliefs; it still felt like a betrayal, sometimes.

Mizzy watches the news for a while longer, then thinks, in frustration, ‘I’ve had enough, if I here one more mention of the ‘White Christmas Village’ I’ll go mad.’ She looks out of the window, sees that the snow has eased, and decides to go and take a look at this miraculous village, herself.

Mizzy’s home, Kemp Cottage, painted yellow, is a beacon on a gloomy morning like this. All the other cottages in the row are painted in the traditional white, another example of her mother’s determination to be different from all the other villagers.

Mizzy closes the front door behind her, and steps into the narrow cobbled street. To be on the safe side, in case it starts to snow again, she is wearing a heavy red woollen duffle coat and Wellington boots. Sheltered from the wind, the snowdrifts were not too bad in the narrow alleys. But as she turns towards the main shopping area of Fore Street, her journey becomes more of a struggle. She has to walk gingerly on the icy pavement, trying to avoid slipping or getting snow in her boots.

It is then that Mizzy notices an old lady struggling to push a shopping trolley, piled full with plastic bags, cardboard boxes and old suitcases, through the snow on the other side of the road.

Granny. No not Granny. It can’t be Granny because she died when Mizzy started secondary school. But she looks like Granny, the same green eyes and red hair that all the Kemp women have.

Mizzy shakes her head, as if to wake her self and starts to cross the road to help the bag lady with the unwieldy trolley. Then she realises that the old dear is standing completely still, staring at her. Good deeds are all very well but that woman looks a bit crazy. Best to ignore her.

She carries on down to the end of the street, but can’t help looking back at the old woman’s weathered face. Her bright eyes, creased by decades of peering into the rain, wind and sun, are still fixed intently on Mizzy.

She quickens her step, but cannot help wondering about the strange old lady. Of course, she feels sorry for her. Carting all her stuff around in those bags in that shopping trolley. Not easy on the steep, narrow, cobbled streets of the village. She is probably homeless. But really, Port Gwyneth? Not the ideal location for someone down on his or her luck in the middle of winter. She won’t find any rich pickings now; she ought to have come in the summer when the incomers were flashing their money around. Out of season, apart from the few fishermen that still ply the seas, the village becomes deserted, and cold too. The whitewashed cottages clustered around the harbour are cute enough for the holiday homers and tourists when the sun is shining, but they can be freezing and damp at this time of year. It costs her mum a fortune to heat the cottage, and you still have to wear a jumper indoors to keep yourself warm. She hopes the old dear had somewhere warm to shelter for the night; perhaps she will doss down in one of the boats in the harbour? Keeping out of the way of the villagers up top. Most of the old families live above the village now, where properties are cheaper, and they won’t welcome a bag lady. They don’t like outsiders unless they have money to spend.

Mizzy turns into Fore Street and the walking becomes hard work, as she strives to get through the drifts. Disgruntled villagers are attempting to shift the snow, shovelling it into piles outside their shops, whilst being filmed by television crews. The few Christmas shoppers (mostly outsiders who own or rent holiday cottages) are trying to get into the festive spirit, but failing miserably in the chill wind.

They huddle on the pavements and stare blankly at the varied range of items in the windows of the specialist galleries and shops that now line the main shopping street.

She notices quite a crowd in her mum’s shop, ‘Kemp’s Magick Emporium’. Clearly, there is a demand, even at Christmas, for pagan and ritualistic items; incense, aromatherapy, candles, crystals, dream catchers, spell-kits. All the esoteric supplies you might need for your magical practices.

The other shops in Fore Street sell an equally obscure range of gifts designed to appeal to tourists; porcelain pixies, wind chimes, and other hand crafted knick-knacks.

The colourful Christmas lights in the shop windows glow in the half-light of dusk, but only make Mizzy feel anxious. Just a few days to Christmas, and she still hasn’t bought any presents. ‘It’s not fair’, she murmurs to herself ‘Most people don’t have to worry about presents for other people on their birthdays and why,’ she adds as she spots the old woman reflected in the art gallery window, ‘is that old bag lady following me? Staring at me, again. Weirdo.’

A flurry of snow forces Mizzy to wipe her eyes, and when she looks up the reflection has gone. Had she imagined it? As the snow gets heavier she walks on, but now the weather is really irritating her and making her feel sad. As a child, the gift she had most wished for on her birthday was snow. She had loved it, covering the village in a soft cottony blanket. It had made the air cleaner, refreshing even. She had loved taking a deep breath and then filling the air with clouds as she exhaled. Nothing could beat that spotless feeling of newness. Everything white. Port Gwyneth became a different world.

‘For once, it has actually snowed on my birthday, so why aren’t I really happy?’ she thinks. ‘Maybe my lack of joy is because I am thirteen today, and no longer a child?’ She dismisses the idea. ‘No, this weather is ridiculous, this is just too much snow’. It has taken her half an hour to struggle up Fore Street and the shopping expedition has not gone well. ‘Last year, I loved all the funny quirky things the shops sold? Now they just seem like overpriced trinkets.’ She knows her dad would be happy with the old standby of a book about history, but her mum is more difficult. She’s got plenty of all that new agey stuff she likes; she stocks most of it in her shop. This year, Mizzy wants to try and find something a bit more special for her parents.

She decides to try another day, and heads towards the maze of cobbled streets through which lies the steep path that climbs up to the top of the village. When she was ten Mizzy’s father had moved out and gone to live in one of the bungalows there.

Some of the villagers complain about the fact that incomers have pushed up the price of property and driven them out of the harbour. The truth, though, is that they were only too keen to move from the cold, ramshackle and dark cottages ‘down below’ to the larger, warmer, homes being built ‘up top’. Homes fit for heroes, built by the council after the war. Who wouldn’t rather have an indoor toilet and bathroom than a privy out the back and a tin tub by the fire?

Mizzy sees the bag lady being accosted by a young reporter from the local news station. Unlike Destiny, she clearly has no desire to have her fifteen seconds of fame.

‘The storm? Aye, ’twas me. I brung it with me, it often come when I arrive. Last time was 1979. What year is it now?’ the woman shouts in exasperation. The reporter backs away, shaking her head at the cameraman. It seems the ranting old woman is unlikely to feature on the news tonight.

The bag lady pushes her trolley away and spotting Mizzy, fixes her with an impenetrable stare.

Mizzy has had enough. It has been a very irritating afternoon and this stupid old lady seems to have been following her around, looking for an argument. She is going to give her a piece of her mind.

Just then her mobile phone rings. She takes it out of her pocket and answers it.

‘Hello?’, says Mizzy.

‘Hello.’ says the bag lady in reply, thinking that Mizzy is talking to her.

‘I’m not talking to you! – and have you been following me?’ replies Mizzy then into her phone explains, ‘There is some strange old lady here who just started following me.’

The bag lady looks perplexed, and looks around. ‘I follow no one. I be my own mistress. Where be the strange old lady?’

You are the strange old lady. No, Mum not you.’

‘I strange? You’m the one talkin’ to a pebble.’

‘Pebble? My phone you mean? Listen, my mum wants to talk to you.’

The bag lady looks all around but there is no one to be seen. ‘Where be she?’

Mizzy hands her the ‘pebble’ and the bag lady holds it tentatively to her ear mimicking what she has seen Mizzy doing.

‘Leave my daughter alone or I shall call the police!’ demands Cordelia.

At first the bag lady looks astounded, and then realisation seems to dawn on her.

‘Very clever! Tis a small radio?’ she says to Mizzy, and with a formal voice speaks into the phone.

‘Ten four, copy that, constabulary assistance will not be required. Over and out.’

The old lady then peers closely at the phone and attempts to prise the back off.

‘Hey, what are you doing? You’ll break it!’ scolds Mizzy, grabbing the ‘pebble’ back from the bag lady who remonstrates, ‘I ‘ave to find out how the new magic works!’

‘I don’t care. Look it up on the internet, you’re not taking my phone apart to find out. No Mum, no not you…it’s the bag lady…no don’t worry, I think she’s harmless, just not all there.’

‘Not all here? Canst see through me? Is my body still betwixt worlds?’

‘What!’ exclaims Mizzy, and then speaks once again into her phone, ‘Hi Mum, look I’m just going to make sure she has somewhere to spend the night. Don’t worry; I’ll be back for your party or whatever it is you’re planning. Yes, I will. Bye.’

Mizzy puts the phone back into her coat pocket.

‘Tis electrick?’ asks the old lady.

‘Electricity? Well it runs off batteries, so yes it’s sort of electric.’

‘Tis, new magic? Hast thou the power over electricks?’

Mizzy gives a snort of derision ‘Magic? No, it’s science.’

The old lady shrugs. ‘Aye, I know of science, as I say, ‘tis the new magic.’

Mizzy looks at the old tramp in puzzlement. She is obviously a little mad. Then she notices the puddles under her feet.

‘You’re soaking wet.’ she says.

‘Aye, I have just arrived.’

‘On the bus? Did it have a hole in the roof?’

‘No, from the sea.’

‘By boat? At this time of year? I thought the tourist excursions only ran in the Summer?’

‘No, I walked from the sea, as always.’

Mizzy looks concerned. ‘Right, I see, you’re saying you just strolled out of the sea onto the beach? Are you on any medication?’

‘Aye, I have the burdock root for the bone ache.’

‘Right, sounds like the sort of stuff my mum would take. No, I meant for your mental…oh look forget it, have you got anywhere to live?’

‘I ‘ave my own abode, ‘tis a magic place. You may see it, if you wish.’

Mizzy is a little unsure whether she should go with this strange lady, but reckons that she could outrun her if she turns nasty.

‘O.K., I’ll take a look. Just to make sure you won’t freeze to death. My name is Mizzy, by the way.’

The old lady smiles, ‘T’is a lovely name indeed, ‘tis the name I gave my own daughters.’

‘Your daughter has the same name as me? Wow, how random is that! What’s your name?’

‘I am Hepzibah. You can call me Hep, ’tis what all my family call me.’

Mizzy stares at her in confusion, for a moment, ‘Well, that’s even stranger. There was a witch in our family called Hepzibah. She was drowned for being a witch. My mum’s always going on about her.’

‘Aye, I know the tale very well.’ Hep replies.

She slowly leads Mizzy along a track that curves up, towards the cliffs at Spriggan Point. There are only a few flurries now, but it is getting dark and they struggle to get through the deep piles of snow with a full shopping trolley.

‘This path has changed since my last visit’ moans Hep as she stumbles over a branch.

‘Well, a little light might help,’ said Mizzy as she activates the light on her phone.

Hep looks back and forth between the illuminated trail and the smartphone in amazement.

‘Tis a truly wonderful wand, indeed – you can talk through it, like the telephone, and it provides the electrick light!’

‘Everything is magic to you!’ laughs Mizzy.

They walk on in silence. Mizzy has been worried about the old lady slipping and injuring herself but, in fact, it is she who finds herself becoming exhausted by the hazardous state of the ground. Her feet keep skidding away from under her and Hep grabs her, and holds her up with surprising strength.

‘Careful there, midear,’ says Hep, solicitously. ‘Canst let any harm come to you now, canst we?’

They continue arm in arm, and Mizzy uses this new closeness as an opportunity to find out more about how Hep is intending to survive what is turning into a harsh winter.

‘So, it must be hard, you know, living rough when the weather is like this. You on benefits or anything?’

‘Benefits? I get no benefaction; you’m think I would go begging to the Parish? ‘Ave to go cap in hand to the Squire? Never.’

‘Well, I meant state benefits, actually. You are entitled, you know. You’d get your pension, and credits and allsorts, someone your age.’

Hep is clearly not listening and quite affronted by the idea that she needs any hand-outs.

‘Well how do you eat then?’ asks Mizzy.

Hep looks at Mizzy with a puzzled expression, and points up to the big supermarket at the top of the village.

‘This is a time of abundance. I ‘ave known nothing like it. ‘Ee throw food away! On all my other visits I ‘ave had to lay traps, and skin what I ‘ave caught. I ‘ave had to charm fish out of the water and gut ‘em. Ere they be just discarded, all wrapped up on trays and ready t’cook. Fruits I ‘ave never seen before, and bags o’ vegetables all laid out for me in’t big metal containers.’

‘You mean, you take the food out of the skips at the supermarket?’

‘Aye, tis best hunting ground I ‘ave ever known. When I was y’age the whole village would have feasted for a week on the leavings o’ you modern folk.’

‘You must have a strong stomach, that’s all I can say.’

As they approach the top of the cliffs, the standing stones loom ahead through the snow. In the dim light, they look like hunched figures. The clouds part, and the rays of the setting sun make the mica within the granite sparkle. Mizzy wishes she had her camera with her so she could photograph them.

Hep gestures towards them. ‘Ee like the stones?’ she asks.

‘Yes, I do,’ says Mizzy, surprised at the question. It is almost as if Hep has read her mind. ‘Not because of all that pagan worship stuff, though. I just think that it’s amazing that primitive people could have raised such giant stones, and I like to photograph them.’

‘Aye, they were clever folk. And, sometimes, do it not feel like the stones are watching o’er the village, keeping it safe?’

Mizzy just grunts, unwilling to admit that, at times, she has had the very same feeling.

As they pass the ruined engine house of the old tin and copper mine, Hep shivers. ‘Brings back some memories, that place. I knew so many of them that toiled and sweated below the ground, digging out the tin and copper.’

‘’That’s impossible!’ says Mizzy, incredulously. ‘Spriggan Mine closed back in the 1920s – you’re not that old!’

Hep just mutters under her breath. ‘Perhaps I am older than you think.’

As they approach the cliff edge, Hep gestures with pride at a mass of densely packed and very thorny gorse bushes.

‘Behold my abode. ‘Tis protected by all manner of enchantments I ‘ave wrought.’

‘You can’t live under those bushes, you’ll freeze to death!’

‘Not in the bushes! Follow me.’ Hep splutters in exasperation, and pushing through a large gap in the bushes she walks down a set of steep stone steps that curve along the cliff side.

‘Hang on a minute, where are we going?’ says Mizzy, trying to hide the fear in her voice. ‘The cliff edge is dangerous, we’re…I don’t know…a hundred feet above the water, people have fallen you know!’

‘It is not far now, hold m’hand.’

Mizzy is about to tell Hep that she has no intention of putting her life at risk with a mad woman, when she realises that the steps end not with the precipitous drop she expects, but by a large concrete structure built partially into the face of the cliff.

‘What is this place?’ she says, in surprise.

‘’Tis old Second World War bunker, part of the coastal defences.’

‘How did you find it? I’ve heard rumours about them, but the council covered up the entrances years ago, nobody could even remember where they were.’

‘No, they won’t be remembering. I ‘ave made sure o’ that. But, easy for me t’find, little time has passed since I was last in the place, ‘twas but a few years ago to me when it were full o’ soldiers.’

Hep pushes her trolley at the heavy metal doors, the hinges of which bleed rust into the surrounding cement, and with a loud creak it swings open. It is like going into a submarine. As Mizzy gets used to the dim light, from the slits in the wall that look out to the sea, she sees a wood-wormed table, disintegrating chairs and an old cast iron stove. Dust lays thick on everything, and it looks long neglected.

‘Are you really going to stay here? It’s not very nice.’

‘It just need cleaning up a bit, I’se not had a chance for a while. A good fire will cheer the place up.’

‘So, you’ve lived here before?’

‘Aye, on my last visit,’ replies Hep, unloading wood from her trolley. It seems as if, all at once, sparks and flames flare in the darkness, and a warming fire fills the stove.

Illuminated by the flickering light, Mizzy notices that the walls are scrawled with strange magic symbols. Mizzy recognises some of them as being identical those that she has seen in her mother’s books. Oddly, there are also mathematical equations mixed in amongst them. Hep sees her staring.

‘The old and the new, I shall master them both, with your help.’

Mizzy shakes her head. ‘Don’t look at me. I failed my last math test, its just gobbledygook to me. I think you better enrol in an evening class or something.’

Hep starts getting out great clumps of plants from her plastic bags, which prompts Mizzy to say ‘My mum has loads of herbs and stuff. I suppose you think they’re magic like she does.’

‘Aye, wild garlic to keep out evil spirits, foxgloves for healing, hemlock for curses.’

Mizzy stares at the floor. It is littered with ferns. In the cobwebbed corners stand twigs of hazel.

‘Are those to protect you from storms?’ she asks.

‘So, you do knows the old ways?’

This comment annoys Mizzy. ‘Can’t help but pick up some of that nonsense when you live with someone who thinks they’re a witch. ‘And you’re as bad as her!’ she complains. ‘With her magic and ‘New Age’ ideas, and earth mother spiritualist nonsense! She gave me such a stupid name I had to shorten it so that nobody knew how awful it was. You won’t believe it, and please don’t tell anyone, she called me…

‘Misericordia Kemp.’ they say in unison.

Mizzy is dumbfounded. She is sure that no one knows her full name, apart from her mum and dad.

‘A faerie name meaning ‘mercy’,’ adds Hep.

Mizzy peers at her suspiciously. ‘How did you know that?

‘I have told you. I have been here before. I know of you, I know of your mother and of your father.’

Mention of her dad suddenly reminds Mizzy of where she is meant to be. ‘Sorry Hep, I’ve got to go. I’m supposed to be seeing my dad, he’s got a present for me for my…’

‘Birthday.’ Hep says, finishing her sentence again.

Mizzy eyes narrow. ‘Yes. How on earth do you know all this stuff?’

But Hep just taps her nose and gives a knowing smile.

They make their way through the tunnel of bushes that surrounds Hep’s home, out into the falling darkness of a winter afternoon, the sky lost in a swirl of snow.

‘Snowing, again,’ comments Mizzy. ‘Are you sure you want to stay in that old bunker?’

‘I shall be fine. The weather will improve now I have arrived,’ says Hep, distractedly, as she notices a small crystal ball hanging around Mizzy’s neck. ‘A Scrying Ball. No doubt a gift for your birthday from y’mother?’

‘Yes, it was. You’re the first person who’s known what it is,’ replies a surprised Mizzy.

‘For the right person, a means to divine the past, present and future. A unique gift. It will come in useful in our search.’

‘What search?’ says Mizzy.

But Hep appears not to be listening. She seems fascinated by the flurry of white around her and catches a snowflake in her hand. Miraculously it does not melt.

‘Tis formed in the sky, by clouds, oceans and the land. See, look at the symmetry, each be unique. As above, so it be below. Each of us be unique too, and you be particularly special, Mizzy.’

Mizzy stares at the complex shape within Hep’s hand, entranced.

Hep closes her hand and disappears into the thicket of bushes.

‘We shall meet again, Misericordia Kemp. We ‘ave much to do.’

Chapter 2