My story starts one sunny day in August. I’d spent the morning setting up bookcases, then bringing in box after heavy box of old books from an outbuilding, with the intention of getting them into some kind of order. They belonged to my uncle Josiah who had died at an unexpectedly early age after being pushed onto the live rail of a tube train at Holland Park station by a ‘random madman,’ described as a ‘fakir lookalike,’ yet to be apprehended.
The books had been left to me, Ruben Winterfield is my name, in Uncle Josiah’s will, possibly as I’d worked in the antiquarian book trade for a number of years, although I’d only met him on occasion. Well, the ones I’d looked at so far were fairly weird. There were books on various forms of astrology, tarot, angels, demons, witchcraft, clairvoyance and the like. There was also a collection of old hardbacks by William Walker Atkinson, the famous occultist, also known as Yogi Ramacharaka or Theron Q. Dumont, which I suspected to be very valuable in the first and early editions, which these were.
Needing a break, I decided to take a stroll and get some fresh air. I walked along a footpath outside my house, to a track along the edge of a field, where a stream bubbled in a gully which ran alongside. I reached a huge, gnarled oak tree, where there was a short path to a small waterfall. On impulse, I took it and was amazed to find that, for the first time ever, I was not alone there. A lady in a purple cloak was situated on the far side of the stream, bending over with her hands in the water, presumably searching for something. On my side of the stream stood a young girl, perhaps six years old, holding the lead of a beautiful honey-coloured rough collie. The girl had a pretty face, bright blue eyes and mid-length blonde hair, held back in a ponytail with a blue band.
The lady seemed startled by my appearance and stood up, looking flustered. The little girl simply turned to me and smiled. “Hello, I’m Esmerelda, this is Solomon, and that’s my mummy.”
Well, it seemed that the mother, Tameka, had been performing some kind of ritual, to Neda, a goddess of waters, when in her excitement of shouting an invocation, a talisman she’d been holding went flying into the waterfall. It was eventually found, a leather pouch, stamped with strange symbols, and containing now-sodden herbs.
Esmerelda rolled her eyes at me. Apparently, this wasn’t the first time her mother’s ‘occult activities’ had gone awry.
I’d invited them back for a cup of tea, a glass of orange squash, and a bowl of water respectively, and had taken a shine to them. Tameka had wavy blonde hair and was not unattractive, but somewhat odd, rambling on about archangels and goddesses, as if they were personal friends. Esmerelda, on the other hand, seemed bright as a button, and, mentally well in advance of her six years. Solomon seemed a gentle soul, content to sit in the corner, close his eyes and meditate on whatever dogs meditate on.
“Mummy’s got a magic carpet,” Esmeralda said.
I laughed. “Well, I’d like to fly to Iceland, they’ve got some pretty big waterfalls there!”
Tameka perked up. “Actually, I do have one. It was left to me by my great-uncle, Henri Baq. He wrote a history of the flying carpet.”
“I thought it was just fairy tale nonsense,” I said.
Tameka’s face became serious. “Fairy tales are usually based on fact.”
So, to my astonishment, I’d wound up at their place one afternoon, an old castle-like mansion, only part of which appeared to be habitable. Tameka led us into a large book-lined study and went over to an old cupboard. She extracted a rolled-up piece of fabric, approached the centre of the room and unfurled it.
I gasped in astonishment. It appeared to be woven from green silk with a gold weft, perhaps eight feet by five. We all clambered on board, Solomon too, who barked several times, whether in assurance or alarm, I couldn’t be sure. We humans sat cross-legged in time-honoured fashion for riding carpets.
Tameka took a piece of parchment from a shoulder bag. “This carpet was made under the supervision of Ben Sherira, from the Kingdom of Ghor,” she translated. “Is everybody ready?”
“Yes, mother,” sighed Esmerelda, whilst Solomon opened his eyes and gave a soft bark.
“What about you, Ruben?”
For the first time, I realised this might not be a piece of total insanity. “Well, er, if you’re sure it’s safe ….”
Tameka didn’t reply. She read some incomprehensible words from the papyrus, clapped her hands and, Wham! I found myself looking down on an amazing sunlit cloud-scape through a translucent bubble, surrounding our carpet.
We whizzed over deep blue oceans, mountains, glaciers and forests, until Esmerelda exclaimed, “Oh, look, mummy, there’s Akureyri!” whilst Solomon whined, presumably wishing to be on terra firma.
I gazed down on the picturesque fishing town, situated in the northwest corner of Iceland, as we headed over the brilliantly coloured flowers and shrubs of the botanic gardens, allegedly the world’s most northernmost, and then shortly we were hovering over Godafoss, the ‘Waterfall of the Gods.’
Curtains of thundering water pounded down from multiple falls, deafening, even within our supernaturally-protected environment. Suddenly our ‘bubble’ disappeared and we were exposed, enveloped in the mist of rebounding water, our ears reverberating to the clamour of its unimaginable crashing weight, our noses assailed with the odour of liquid energy. Solomon was barking furiously.
Fortunately, after a few minutes, our sphere of protection reappeared and our now somewhat soggy carpet soared upwards once more.
The sun dried the carpet, even through our protective bubble, and I also found it was safe to move about, a welcome relief after squatting for so long. “I’d like to see the Niagara Falls,” I ventured. “I’ve never been there.”
Esmerelda pulled a face, and Tameka took the hint. “Sorry Ruben, Esme’s going to a party. It’s her friend, Rosalina’s birthday and they’re having a magician.”
I laughed at the irony. Then I noticed that the sky had turned dark and our carpet was being buffeted by high winds. It turned cold, and then after a while, it began to snow.
“I don’t like this, mummy,” said Esmerelda, looking tearful. Solomon rubbed his face against her cheek as if to reassure her.
“Don’t worry, we’re safe in our bubble,” said Tameka. “Hey, d’you remember those glass globes that you shook and then they were filled with falling snow?”
“Yes, of course,” I said. “There’d be a little Christmas scene inside.”
She laughed. “Well, we’re like that, but the other way around!”
Later that day I stood on a terrace outside the Brampton Hotel’s Riverside Room, where the party was being held. From inside came the excited squeals of young children enjoying the fun. I stood with a glass of wine, gazing down on a small waterfall which cascaded alongside a glass wall of the hotel. Had I dreamt the Iceland adventure? it seemed too incredible to be true. Suddenly I felt a warm, soft hand on mine and a kiss on my cheek.
“Thank you for coming today.” It was Tameka. With a flowing red dress and wearing makeup, she was barely recognizable as the soggy female above Godafoss earlier.
“Oh, you’re welcome, it was … something different, I suppose,” I said, rather lamely.
She smiled. “I hope you’ll come with us again.”
I noticed she was still holding my hand. My heart beat a little faster. “Yes, I’d like that.” I guessed I could use her magic in my life.
Featured in the book and audiobook, To Cut a Short Story Short, vol. II: 88 Little Stories
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