Chapter 1

Ok, so I'm going to write this lot down in diary form, so that I don't forget it. Not that it's likely - 'it' is so weird that I think it will stick in my mind for the rest of my life. Seriously.

I'd promised Mum that I'd walk the dog - he's called Pooch, it suits him - so I took him up into the woods. And it's, like, Sunday - so there's loads of people around and I'm not going to get assaulted and dumped in a shallow grave or anything. Not unless my attacker works really quickly.

And I've been up there must be, ooh, every weekend since the year dot, since I can ever remember. So I know my way around and stuff. Anyway me and Pooch just went round one of the set walks, but the opposite way to everyone else, cos I can't face looking at other people's arses all the way round. A little way into the walk the wood gets really dark for a bit, because it's along the edge of the quarry and you have to walk beneath the side, sort of thing.

Then I saw it - the caravan in the trees. Seriously, it's never been there before but there it was. A properly old one as well - all twirly edges and steps up the front. Like you see in kid's colouring books. I half expected to see an old gypsy lady sitting outside it, with a fire and maybe doing her darning or something. Only it looked deserted, as if it had been sat there for years. But it hasn't, it wasn't there last week, I'm absolutely certain of that.
By this time I thought I was seeing things and really should go home and get some sleep to make up for last night (it's not like I was doing anything exciting, just reading some crappy magazine until stupid o'clock), only Pooch had gone over to sniff it out, so I thought I'd have a quick look.

It was really creepy, I kept looking over my shoulder. It felt like someone was watching me but there was noone there, even though I could hear people fairly nearby - a family with kids, it sounded like. I got closer and realised that the door was missing - it was just a black opening into the dark. Which was scary enough, but then everything seemed to go quiet. You know when it snows and sort of soundproofs everything, so it all sounds muffled? That's what it was like.
I wiggled my fingers in my ears in case they needed popping, but it didn't make any difference. Pooch was still sniffling around the caravan so I decided that I was being pathetic and ought to just go and get him.

Then I realised that there was a light in the caravan. Now, I knew it couldn't be electricity and it didn't look like a torch, so what on earth it was I had no idea. Unless it was a tramp with candles? It would have to be a very well-prepared tramp, what with getting the caravan up here in the first place, pulling it into place, all that stuff.
At which point I realised that there were no tracks leading up to the caravan wheels. So, a proper Romany caravan had just appeared overnight (ok then, within the last week), seemingly from nowhere, looking like it'd been there forever, but with absolutely no sign of how it got there? Riiiiiight...

Creeptastic, no? At which point any sane person would have run screaming for the hills, raced home, locked the doors and had a nice nap. But of all the descriptions that have been applied to me over the years, 'sane' is not one of them. 'Pain in the sodding arse', maybe, or 'a right flaming know-it-all', yes. I can admit to those I guess. But I've never been one to go for the sensible option.

Besides, this was the most interesting thing to happen to me for months! Living in the sticks and being taught at home (Mum couldn't drive when we were small and the nearest school was a good few miles away, so she started teaching us herself and it seemed to work out ok so we've just stayed like that) means that not much happens generally. I have to wait til my few friends are on school holidays and stuff, so that we can make arrangements to get over to each other - for the rest of the time I just talk to them online.

Blah, blah, blah, anyway...super-weird caravan, noone around, sound's still all muffled and strange, dog is disappearing into the bloody undergrowth and BAM! a face appears around the door :o

So seriously, I was nearly up the nearest tree in fright. I might even have squealed a tiny bit, in an annoyingly pathetic girly manner ('feminine' is not something often applied to me, either). Then I stopped, cos the face wasn't moving and didn't look like it was going to come out and stab me in the throat or anything, and it appeared to have a hand attached to it somewhere further down which was reaching out to grab Pooch from where he was scrabbling around under the caravan.

I was about to get all indignant and shout at the face for pulling my dog around, but I realised that the face was smiling and tickling Pooch under the chin (well the hand was doing the tickling, not the face. Obviously). For his part, Pooch was looking pathetically pleased at the attention and was seconds away from flopping over to have his belly rubbed.

Then the face looked straight at me. Wow. I mean seriously - w.o.w. Pretty. Really pretty, but in a boy-way rather than girly, you know? And older than me, maybe 19 or 20. Long, floppy hair all hanging over one side, as if he'd been pulling and fiddling with it. Dark, dark eyes.
That was all I could see, but if that's not enough, I don't know what is.

And then came the weird bit. Cos obviously today hasn't been weird enough, has it? Right. So, he looks straight at me with his odd black eyes, and he pulls at his hair with one hand (the other one was still stroking the stupid bloody dog at this point) and he speaks. In a completely normal voice, as if ancient spooky caravans turn up in the middle of the woods completely out of nowhere every day of the sodding week, and he called me by my name. WHAAAAAAT???

Firstly, I've never seen him before In My Life. Second, he's gorgeous and probably knows loads of girls older and prettier than me that would be more than happy to go walking in the woods with him. Third, he's gorgeous. Fourth, I have the weirdest name in the history of the world and how the hell does he know what it is???

Too weird, too late, too tired. Will finish updating this tomorrow.


Chapter 2

...reads back...catches up with own up on mind and just starts waffling...soooo, Mr Gorgeous knows my name. Oh right, of course, I'm living in Freakout City, I forgot.

What on earth do you say when that happens? No, you don't know, do you? Because it never bloody well happens, that's why!

But he's the most attractive thing I've seen in, well, FOREVER, so I'm not going to run off straight away. At least not until he's actually got the knife out. And Pooch still seems to be having a good time. By this point I'm kind of wishing that it was my belly that was being rubbed by the attractive weirdo with the pale hands, hmmmm...

Oops. Anyway, perhaps I'm stupid or something, but I figured he didn't look like a raving sex attacker. Not that I've met many, thankfully. So I figured that I'd go and find out what the hell's going on and how come he knows my freakish name.

As I approached the caravan (trying to look confident and probably failing, especially as I tripped over a tree stump on the way but I don't think he noticed), I could see that there was furniture inside. Old furniture. Rickety chairs set around a small wooden table, a tatty sofa along one side and one of those wood burner things in the corner. Which must be where the light had been coming from - from this close I could see that there was a fire burning low behind the glass front.
Thing is, it all looked ancient, like it had been abandoned years ago. Only it couldn't have been, cos Mr Gorge is apparently living in there. It doesn't look like the sort of thing someone would steal - you'd have to be pretty dedicated to steal an enormous pile of wood on wheels and just move it to a random spot in the local woods. Or pretty nuts. And so far as I could see so far, he was just pretty, full stop.

So yeah, off I go to my Dooooooooooooom... And was surprised again, because he was friendly and chirpy and spoke as if we were old friends.

"Hey Lily, how're you doing? Cold, isn't it?"

Right, by this point I'm convinced that I'm hallucinating. In which case I may as well just go along with it and see where my twisted imagination is taking me. So it's only polite to talk back, yes?

"Ummmm...I'm okay. I think? At least I was..." Aaaarrrrghhhh, shutupshutupshutUP!!! I'm such an idiot. Start again. Deep breath.

"Hi. I'm Lily. Only you know that, so, erm, yes. And you are?" (insert 'quaking-in-boots' symbol here).

"I'm Finn. Short for Finleigh. I had weird parents". We both laughed, I guess he knows how I feel. Common ground, woo!

"The fire's going down - hang on, I'll put some more wood on it. Give me a sec." The weirdo-whose-name-is-Finn goes to get logs from an old basket by the side of the burner. Now I'm in the doorway I can see that there's an old kettle on top of the burner - he must use it as a cooker.

With a twinge of betrayal I see that Pooch has made himself cosy on an old rug in front of the fire. Bloody stupid traitor dog - what if I was being abducted, fat lot of good he would be. I'd have been better off bringing Flora, my cat. She hates anyone she doesn't know and hates anyone coming between me and her even more. She sleeps on my pillow and glares at Pooch, who never notices. And who's currently snoring in the middle of the potential murderer's lair. Idiot.

"Are you ok? You look distracted" - Finn's staring at me with an amused look in his eyes. Eek, don't look at me, I will blush and look stupid and probably start talking crap and make a prize idiot of myself and run away and never again find myself standing in the semi-dark in the presumed home of a very gorgeous man who I've never met in my life and may have all sorts of motives for getting me here. And who knows me better than I know him, let's not forget that bit of info. Erm, right. Yes, I am a bit distracted lovely man, how did you guess?

"I'm fine. Been here long?" Stupid question. Stupid stupid stupid.

"Forever." not even looking up.

"Right. So a long time then. Erm, how come you know my name?" Cos that at least is a logical question, no?

"I've always known you, Lily." A slow smile. Friendly, or the smile of a cobra waiting to strike? I'm not exactly sure. My back's to the door and he's on the other side of the table, I could probably make a run for it. But he's tall and lanky and looks fit - I bet he could outrun me easily. And the stupid sodding dog is still snoring gently on the floor, I'd have to try to grab him first.

"I'm not here to hurt you, why would I do that?" Now he looks offended. Great. I've offended the weird man that I've never met before because I haven't immediately assumed that he is safe to be around. But in all honesty he does sound genuine. I've always been pretty good at judging people - sixth sense, Mum calls it. I can sort of see through people, I guess. And Finn seems ok, ridiculous as that sounds in the circumstances. My instincts don't seem to be springing up and screaming 'run awaaaaaay', and that should mean something.

At which point I decided I'd trust him. You only live once, right? And it may as well be short and interesting rather than long and dull, that's my theory. Let's face it, the opportunity to sit in a cosy old caravan with a very attractive older man who seems to know and like me without me having to actually hold a conversation and risk him realising what an idiot I really am...yup, that's worth taking a few risks for, I reckon.


Shit, Mum's coming in and I'm supposed to have tidied up. What I have actually been doing is wandering round the house taking yesterday's events apart minute by minute and trying to reassemble them in a way that makes logical sense. So far I'm failing.


L. x

Chapter 3

I'd better get this updated before I forget it all. I'm determined to keep all this written down - last Sunday's already beginning to seem like a dream.
So I'd decided (foolish or not? You decide!) to trust Finn. The dog seemed to and stupid tho he might be, Pooch wasn't usually that comfortable with strangers. Maybe not complete strangers, tho - there was something about Finn that seemed familiar, as if I'd met him before.

I knew that I couldn't have - living in the country and not not even going out to school means that you notice when you meet new people and I was damn sure that I'd have noticed Finn. I mean, come onnnnnnn, people! Ok, so he's not tall, dark and handsome, but tall, pale and interesting does me just fine...

Anyhoo. So, I sat down on the scraggy sofa - it was the only option that didn't involve plonking myself right next to him and I was still at the stage where I figured that having a table between might be a prudent move. Pooch opened one eye a fraction as I moved and gave me a lazy look as if to say "Oh hello you, joined us finally?" like the illmannered toad that he is. Humph.

So there's me, Lily, sitting opposite Finn, eek, and he's just looking at me. Not staring, just, well, looking. Like it's the most comfortable situation in the whole world. I didn't know what to say and I was feeling more than a bit self conscious, so I occupied myself with gazing around the inside of the caravan.
Now that my eyes had adjusted to the gloom I could see that it had once been a beautiful place. The sofas were battered and threadbare but the fabric had obviously started life a beautifully textured rich red and the cushions were once squishy and comfortable. There were throws over the back and sides and what looked suspiciously like a fox fur hanging off the end of the sofa that Finn was so casually sprawled out on.

A dusty lamp hung over the table, looking as if it hadn't been lit for years. In fact it looked very much like one of those old oil lamps you see in people's houses when they're trying to look all vintage and bohemian. Tatty and cheap, more like.

There was a dresser of some sort in the corner - I couldn't see it properly in the dim light. It occurred to me that it must be getting dark outside and that surely Finn must light the lamp at least occasionally?
He interrupted my daydreaming with a cough - definitely an attention seeking one rather than a sign of a dodgy chest, I reckoned. He was still smiling at me when I looked up and I couldn't help speaking a bit sharply.

"Yes? I'm not that interesting, surely?" Unless he was just laughing at me. Maybe that was it. "You do realise that I'm expecting you to explain all this to me at some point soon?"

Can you believe it, the bastard starting laughing. And it was definitely looking like being at me rather than with me. How bloody dare he.

"Oh Lily, you do look sweet when you're angry," he snorted. Sweet? I'd give him bloody sweet! I stood up ready to storm out, but he was quicker than me and before I knew it he was round my side of the table with one hand on my arm.
Not exactly holding me back, but not showing any sign of wanting to let me leave, either. Weirdly, I wasn't scared.

Finn sat down heavily on the sofa (huge puffs of dust came up round him, he really needs to clean those bloody cushions) and patted the space next to him encouragingly. I stood where I was, glaring.

"Oh come on, you know I'm not here to hurt you" he said, and do you know, I would swear on anything you cared to put before me that he was telling the truth. Somehow I really did feel safe with him, with this man that I'd met for the first time only minutes before. Minutes that seemed like hours, mind you.
And how come he felt so familiar? So many things just aren't right with all this, you know. Weren't right. Ohhhh I don't know, I'm so confused that I can't even write my own diary without confusing my tenses. And there's my mum so proud of how well she's taught me...

So very, very weird. And there's only so much bizarre stuff that anyone can take in one day before the brain goes 'whoooooah there lady, shut down is imminent' and you have to start thinking about what shoes would go with those new stripey tights or summat, just to calm things

"I'm leaving." There. See, Mr Gorgeous, I am a Free Woman. "And the dog's coming with me". Just in case he was harbouring dognapping thoughts.
Ok so I'm not that keen on Pooch, but, y'know, he's the family dog and my brother would yell if he disappeared and I really didn't think the parents would go for the 'oh yeah well I left him with this stranger up at the woods, he lives in a rotten dusty caravan that's been there for years but noone's ever seen it before and he's rather tasty and no, I have no idea who he is, yes I went into his caravan, yes, I am evidently brainless' blah blah...

Finn didn't even raise an eyebrow. Didn't even look bloody sorry for annoying me. Just sat there with his hand still on the space where he'd wanted me to sit, with a half smile on his face. I could nearly have hated him at that moment.

"You'll come and see me again." A statement.

"Yes, of course". Eh?? What was I saying? Why did I say that? What happened to my life, did someone come along and suck the Normal out whilst I was asleep???

But I knew I would.

"Yes, next Sunday". I knew I wouldn't be able to make it before then - I'd agreed to meet my friend Rachel on a couple of the days (she lives in the village but her mum drives her to the nearest town for school. I rely on her for gossip to keep me sane) and we had to visit my gran on another day. Also I needed to have some time on my own to get my head round all this.

Seemingly aware that we were leaving, Pooch lumbered up from his place on the rug and came round to join me by the caravan door - managing to detour past Finn to get his ears scratched on the way, I noticed.

I didn't know what else to say, so I sort of raised my hand to Finn as a goodbye. He raised his in return, still smiling at me. I half-jumped down the rotting caravan steps and headed towards the path, Pooch following close behind.
When we got to the path I looked back - I honestly half-expected the van to have disappeared, to have just been a figment of my (admittedly overactive) imagination. But no, it was still there, and I could see the faint flickering of light from the stove through the cracked panes of the side window.

I looked at my watch, wondering how long I'd been with Finn. Now, this is the weird bit. Well, it's weirder than the rest of it, if you can believe that. I obviously didn't know the precise time that I'd gone into the caravan, but there was a family walking past as I got to the path and they sounded just like the family that I'd heard before I'd met Finn. The kids certainly had the same names and the mum had the same whining nasal voice, anyway. And looking at the sky, it didn't seem any later or darker than it had when I'd set out down the path in the first place.

In fact, everything pointed to me having 'lost', at most, about three minutes. Only I'd been in that van for at least twenty. So what the bloody hell happened???

I stalked off home, checking back once to see if the caravan was still there. It was. At which point I got creeped out and ran the rest of the way, yelling at Pooch for not keeping up with me.

So yeah - that's it. So far. I've had the week to think about it and I'm no wiser than I was when I started writing this whole thing up in the first place. And I'm beginning to think that maybe I sat down to wait for Pooch and just kind of nodded off, or something. Maybe the caravan is just an old wreck that's been dumped there and my subconscious picked up on it whilst I was half asleep.

Well I'll find out tomorrow. Because it's Sunday. And either there'll be nothing there but a whole heap of rotten timber and the remains of my dignity, or there'll be Finn. Waiting for me.

And I know which one I want it to be...

L x

Chapter 4

Oh. Just oh. Ohhhhhhhhhhh. Ummm, hello me. This seems ridiculous, talking to myself in a bloody diary of all things - how utterly...I don't know...teenage, for god's sake. But I swear on my life that this is the weirdest time I've ever had and also the most exciting and I daren't forget any of it because, seriously, this could be a film someday, with god I don't know, some little indie actress playing me, kind of cool but not stupid and blonde or anything, and they would need a SERIOUSLY gorgeous actor to play Finn, I can't think of anyone that would do him justice to be honest, and...whooooah. Right, I need to slow down. For one thing I can't write fast enough to keep up with my head. Maybe I should learn shorthand or summat.

Anyway. Start again, Lily. So. Second meeting with Finn And The Caravan Of Doom... Actually, it's not very doom-like at all, once you get used to the dust and the piles of crap and the fact that it doesn't have electricity. Actually, it doesn't seem to have plumbing either, I wonder how he goes to the bathroom? No, maybe I don't want to be thinking about that, give the bloke some dignity and stuff. Might have to have a nosey round, tho...

Urk, I'm getting carried away again. From the beginning. Went back up to the woods yesterday. Took the stupid mutt, mum must wonder how come I'm so fond of him all of a sudden. He certainly isn't complaining, this is the most attention he's had in years. I timed it so that I was up there around mid-morning - late enough for there to be people around, but not so late that it would be busy with families walking off their lunches. What is it with woods on a Sunday afternoon, is it kind of the law or something, to drag your entire family round whichever one is nearest to where you live? It's not like half of them take any notice of their surroundings - it's usually a couple of kids bickering whilst mum and dad walk together in a show of togetherness, only you can see that they never actually touch each other and one of them is usually looking a bit tight around the mouth and glaring when they think the other one's not looking.

I really ought to study body language or summat, I reckon I'd be good at it.

Ahem. God, I go off on a tangent sometimes, I bore myself with the sound of my inner monologues. So, the lovely Finn. I took Pooch off out and told mum I'd sort my own lunch out when I got in - god knows whether the whole time-space-continuum thing would happen again, so I figured I'd better give myself plenty of time.

It was bloody cold yesterday, so it was a nightmare figuring out what to wear - I mean, I'm walking in the woods, I can't suddenly put on a cutesy dress or anything, it would look weird. And I didn't want Finn to know I was even remotely thinking about making an effort. People, I have pride, you know?! So I figured that casual-yet-funky was the way to go - show off my individuality and quirkiness, all that crap. To cut a dull story short (well only this bit's dull, hang on, oh inner voice, it gets better!), I went for the 'tiiiiiiny skirt, thick tights and huge jumper' routine - great big clompy shoes are the bonus item. I'm growing out my hair and it's all over the place, so I shoved a knitted hat on and wrapped the most attractive (I have to say attractive cos mum made it, but it's more accidental buttonholes than anything else) matching scarf around my neck, covering the rest of the mane. Make up? Does one wear make up to walk the dog? I decided on mascara - anything else and the entire family would realise that something was up.

Off we trotted, Pooch and I, and by the time we got close to the turn in the path that would bring us round to the caravan, I felt sick. Not sure whether it was nerves or excitement, but retching is never a good look. I could feel myself slowing down as I got nearer to the bend, but Pooch was rattling on ahead - looking forward to a tickle and a snooze, no doubt.

So I took a deep breath and strode around the curve in the path. And saw - guess what? Go on, guess? You'll never get it, so I'll tell you. Nothing.


Yup, just trees. And shrubby things and probably dog crap and squirrels, but mainly trees. No caravan anywhere to be seen. And I couldn't be sure that I was at the right place, cos even when you've been walking past them for years you don't really take any notice of trees, do you? I mean, I know that we'd be up the creek without them and all that, but one girl's birch is the next girl's larch - I wouldn't know either of them from a field of haystacks, in all honesty. What an awful confession from someone brought up in the country, ha ha!

Ooh, I'm getting all jokey cos I know how the story works out and can relax, but you, dear Inner Voice, do not. So let me carry on.

I was a bit stunned at the lack of caravan activity, so I tried to act nonchalent whilst legging it round the next bend to see if I'd made a mistake and it was perhaps a bit further on. Nope. And the next bend leads round to a pond and looks different from the first bit, so I knew I was in the right place.

There's a bench on the path, facing where the caravan should have been, so I plonked myself down on it and tried not to cry. Cos that would have looked pathetic, and can you imagine trying to explain why to anyone who saw me?

"There, there...was a caravan there...sniff...really old...ohhhhh this man, he was lovely, gulp, and he knew me but I didn't know, I'm not making it's ok, you don't have to phone my mum..."

You get the drift. So I sat there glaring determinedly at what I reckoned was the space in the trees where the caravan should have been. The trees glared determinedly back and stayed most un-caravan-like in their demeanour. Gits. Pooch had come wandering back by this point, so I bent down to scratch his head (and maybe cry a tiny bit into his ear, shhh, don't tell) and it was right then that the sound disappeared. Just like last time.

For a second, I didn't dare look up - I'm not sure what I was most scared of, the caravan being there or being disappointed if it wasn't there. But of course (of course! ha!) it was. And in the doorway stood Finn, looking mildly concerned.

"You ok, Lily? You look a bit pale." Understatement of the year. "Come in, do you want a cup of tea? It's cold out there."

Without thinking about it, I got up from the bench and walked steadily across the undergrowth, straight towards the open door. Pooch had beaten me to it and was already halfway in, Finn grinning down at him as he went.
But as I got closer, he frowned. "God Lily, you look rough" Gee, thanks. He obviously realised what he'd said and had the decency to look embarrassed. "I mean, you look like you've been crying - who's upset you, what's wrong?"

Do you know what I did? How thoroughly, totally pathetic I am? I flung myself at him. I did, really! I know, I know - Humiliation Central. I was hanging onto him before I realised what I'd done, and by that point it seemed easier to just stay there clinging to his jacket, rather than having to pull back and see him laughing at me.

Only he wasn't laughing, he was pulling off my stupid hat and stroking my hair. And it seemed, well, normal. Completely comfortable and ok and normal. So when he stepped back and pulled me by the hand into the caravan, I followed him inside without a murmur.

He let go of my hand and I automatically sat on the nearest sofa, which was the one by the window. The one with the suspicious dead fox on it. I tried to look as if hugging strangers and going into their houses (ok, caravans, but it sounds ridiculous) was something I did every day.

Finn had put the kettle on top of the wood burner and was dropping teabags into a pair of mismatched enamel mugs that he'd evidently taken from one of the shelves in the dark at the back of the room - I could see several others still there in the gloom, looking for all the world like the pictures I'd seen of my great granny's kitchen when my mum was young. We still had her sandwich tin - pale green with dark blue edging it is, with bits chipped off from people banging the lid on over the years. Mum keeps buttons in it now, I remember playing with them for hours when I was young.

Teabags, sugar..there was even a milk jug. I just hoped that the milk in it was ok. The one thing that really makes me retch is curdly milk in drinks, yeuch.
I noted for later pondering that as he evidently had basic provisions to hand, he must be real. Food = living human. Logical, right? Oh dear lord, even I can see how ridiculous this all seems, and I'm the one writing the bloody stuff! Anyway, on with the show.

He passed me a mug and to my surprise it looked like a perfectly acceptable, normal cup of tea. I mean, I don't know what I expected - creepy green vapours rising from a bottomless mug, maybe? I attempted to sip it but it was scalding hot and I ended up giving a mangled squeak instead. Still, it was something to hold - to make everything seem a bit more grounded in reality. Cos let's face it, not much of this has been realistic so far, has it???

I'd expected him to go sit on the other sofa, but he threw me by dropping down next to where I was sat. There was a gap of about a foot between us and I tell you something, it felt as if it were both no space at all and also a great big bloody chasm that noone would ever cross.

"So come on then, what's up? You know you can tell me, Lily."

But I couldn't, could I? Cos I'd sound all pathetic and girly and, just, urgggghhhhh.

"I'm ok, just tired. This is all a bit weird, you know?" Cos he must know, right? He must know that it's not normal for 15 yr old girls to be sitting in a dark and strange room with a man she's only met once and even then he appeared out of nowhere and the sound goes all funny every time and seriously, WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON???

And maybe even Finn didn't know really, cos he was looking confused. No, correct that, he looked kind of, well, wistful.

"I guess I'm going to have to explain myself" he said, looking down into his mug of tea. Well yes, that would be good, Mr Understatement Of The Year. Only I didn't say that out loud, obviously. Instead I just scratched at the rim of the mug, picking away at a tiny chip in the enamel.

"You see, I know you Lily. I've always known you."

My neck practically snapped with the speed that my head shot up, I'm telling you - it was all I could do to not tip steaming tea down myself. Finn chuckled. "I guess I shouldn't be surprised at that look - you really didn't know anything about me, did you?"

Erm... "No. No, I didn't. Was I supposed to?"

What had I missed, was I adopted, did mum find me floating down the river a la Moses, was I a foundling, a weird woodland chimera or something? Oh no, I forgot - we're in the real world, aren't we. Well, sort of...

"No, I guess there was noone left to tell you the stories. Your great aunt Maggie would have been the last of them when I think about it, and you were a tiny wee thing when she passed over."

"Haaa-hang on, how did you know Maggie? She died when I was still little - she was ninety something when she went, you couldn't have known her!" I realised that I was sounding scared now and tried to pull myself together - Finn appeared to be on my side, and was certainly the only person likely to explain all this weirdness to me.

He put his hand over mine and spoke more softly. "I did know her, Lily. I realise that it sounds impossible but really, it's not. And I knew her mother before her. I've known a lot of your family, in the time that I've been here."

Shock made me sound sharper than I intended. "Rightio. So you're about five hundred years old or something, but you look eighteen and you knew my great great aunt even though she's been dead for years and was ninety odd when she went? Right. Cos that sounds just peachy, y'know? Properly normal. Not." I was angry now, and a bit scared. My original conclusion that Finn wasn't a Top Drawer Crazy appeared to be way off the mark. I started to get up, but he held onto my hand.

"Please Lily, let me explain properly. Since when have you been so narrow minded? Maggie used to tell you the stories about the Woodland, do you not remember?"

Of course I did. Maggie often told me bedtime stories when she babysat for my mum and dad - I could just about remember some of them. Fairy stories. And Finn didn't look much like your average fairy. But by the same token, he did know an awful lot about me for someone I'd never (consciously) met in my life. I decided to give him the chance to explain - if nothing else, it would give me the opportunity to get closer to the door to make my escape.

He pulled me back down next to him, closer this time, and shifted himself around so that he was looking directly at me. I noticed that his eyes were a very dark green, sort of emerald in colour. up until now they'd just looked black. He certainly didn't look like the undead, if that's what he was.

"Lily, please hear me out. I know that an awful lot of what I'm going to tell you will sound unbelievable, and it is - in the normal world. But this" - he gestured around the caravan - "isn't the normal world. It isn't your world. Or at least it wasn't, up until now. I knew you'd see me sooner or later - it was just a matter of time. I've known Pooch here for years" He smiled and scratched the snoozing dog fondly behind the ear. No bloody wonder the stupid mutt seemed so comfortable here, how long had he been sneaking in for a warm by the fire whilst I paced the woods shouting for him? I glared balefully at the dog, who I could have sworn was now looking faintly embarrassed. So he bloody should be, I muttered to myself darkly as Finn continued.

"And yes, I am ridiculously old." He grinned at me, looking not very old at all. "Or rather, I've been around for a long time. There's a big difference. I really am alive, you know - feel." He stuck out his hand, wrist side up, and gently placed my fingers over his veins. Sure enough, there was a steady pulse beating time with my thumping heart.

"It's just that when I'm on this side, time doesn't pass. Not even a second. And as I very rarely go to the other side, I don't age. Well, I'm maybe six months older than I was, just from visiting people. Maggie, for instance. But that's not bad for over - let me think, I used to keep count but I've lost track recently - I don't know, maybe two hundred years?" I let out an audible gasp. "I know, it's a long time" the wistful look was back now "and it gets lonely. That last time I saw Maggie and knew she was going to die...well, I thought maybe that I should, too. That I should come through the divide and jump off a bridge or something, end it for good. But I couldn't bring myself to do it - Maggie knew that you would need me at some point, and so I promised her that I would wait. And I did - I waited for you, Lily."

Phew. I mean, phheeeeeeeeeewwww! There's a gorgeous man, noone but me can see him, he's older than, like, my grandad, and yet he's waiting for ME??? Whoah! Take the tablets Lily, pinch yourself, this is a dream, right?

But it wasn't. I was sitting there in that caravan as sure as I'm sitting here writing this down. And I know that I'm sitting here now, because I have writer's cramp and a crick in my neck. Anyhow, back to the (bizarre) story -

Finn was looking expectantly at me, as if waiting for a response. "Errrr...thanks?" I squeaked. The corners of his eyes crinkled with amusement. "I mean..." I was stumbling now, unsure of what I was thinking, let alone what I was going to say to this man who appeared to be giving himself to me (ME!), practically gift-wrapped, "Maggie knew this would happen, then? Did my dad know?" Cos I'm pretty sure that dad wouldn't take kindly to this, he wasn't known for his tolerance for 'spooky crap', as he put it.

"No, only Maggie. And everyone here, of course." Of course. Of-bloody-course. Strange people everywhere, hiding in some alternate dimension until Lily-Saviour-of-the-Spooky-World-O'Reilly turns up to save them from their doom, whatever doom it was. Wasn't that how it happened in comic books? I should watch those bizarre satellite channels more often, with their round the clock transmissions of ghost chases and a lot of sitting around in the dark scaring each other with stupid noises. Maybe then I'd have a bit more of a sodding clue as to what was going on here.

Mute now, I just nodded in what I hoped was an encouraging manner. Come on man, may as well fill me in on the rest of the creepshow now that I'm (literally) a captive audience.

"Ok, I'll give you the shortened version for now, or else you'll be confused for weeks. No, I'm not saying you're stupid," he'd obviously seen my eyes narrowing at the assumption that I wouldn't understand, "it's just that it's understandably complicated. Especially the bit about where you fit in.

"The woods are a living thing. The animals, insects, plants and trees, they sort of form a higher being, if that makes any sense? Kind of like when thousands of bees swarm and become a flying ball of bees, seemingly with one mind. So all of us here, we're part of that higher mind. We keep an eye on each other, make sure that no harm comes to the forest or its inhabitants.

"Only as people encroached on the land more and more, it was harder to keep it safe. Eventually it was decided that the only way to be sure that humans didn't do more damage than was necessary, was to actually involve them - let them know what was as stake, how the forest is the heartbeat of the land that surrounds it.

"Of course, you can't just go announcing that sort of stuff - for one thing there were no newspapers or televisions way back then, and for another, people who admitted to talking to squirrels were likely to be burnt as witches." Finn laughed, but it didn't sound as if he found the thought amusing.

"So the forest encouraged the local 'wise women' - those who the villagers both feared and relied upon in equal measure. She would find that the patch of hedgerow containing the juiciest blackberries would be miraculously cleared so that she could pick a basketful without having to climb through brambles. Maybe a patch of tasty mushrooms would pop up near to her back door, ready to pop in a pan.

"These sort of women, they always paid back in kind. They left food out for the animals in winter, helped any injured birds or foxes they might come across, that sort of thing. And so a two-way relationship started. Because of this relationship, the women could be relied upon to protect the forest, to keep it safe from those who might abuse it and use up its resources without providing replacements.

"My mother was one of those women. There was just the two of us - my father had gone off one day, supposedly to market, but had never been seen again. She always said that he must have come to harm, but I suspected that he'd had a taste of the life -and women- available in the nearby towns that were rapidly developing across the countryside. Anyway, we made do. We were happy, certainly. She taught me everything she knew - I learnt to cook, to mend clothes, to catch a rabbit when the warrens were overflowing and skin it for the pot."

Finn's face grew darker. I had a horrible feeling that his human life may not have been as happy as he was painting it.

"There was a man in the village who took a shine to my mother. He was already married to a shrewish woman and she'd given him three children - each as arrogant and sly as their parents. He believed that everything he wanted should be his by right, and he wanted my mother. I was a teenager by then, and when he came calling on her one day in winter, I blocked the door and refused him entry.
"Of course, he just shoved me aside and came in anyway - what else did I expect? Mother was standing in the scullery at the back of the house, proud and upright with a determined expression on her face. I knew that she was going to give him short shrift, and indeed she did. She told him coldly that he had a wife and children to look after and that she as a widow had made me her priority. She needed no other man, she told him."

Finn was gripping my hand by now - I could feel his nails digging into my palm, but I couldn't breathe to say anything.

"He attacked her, Lily. Right in front of me. Left her bleeding across the old couch in the corner, like some cheap whore that he'd paid for and cast aside. She lay there for days - I pulled blankets over her and tried to give her water, but she refused. The only thing she said to me in all that time was that I was to 'take over'. I had no idea what she meant.

"Three days, it took her to die. Of course we had no money for a funeral - she would have only been in her thirties, why would she have planned for that? She ended up in a pauper's grave on the edge of the village, not even a marker stone to say that there lay the bones of my beloved mother - the only living thing that ever loved me, gone forever."

I could feel tears trickling down my face, but I didn't care what I looked like. I squeezed Finn's hand in encouragement, but he was staring unseeingly at the floor.

"I couldn't stay there, not in the house where it had happened. I took clothes and provisions, left all the remaining food out for any animals that wanted it, then torched the place. I had no idea where to go, but I started by forcing myself to walk through the woods that my mother had loved so dearly.
"That's when I saw it. Saw this - the caravan. It was in the same place as it always is, the same place that you saw it. There was a woman in the doorway." Finn's voice trailed off, but now he was smiling. He seemed to give himself a shake, then he turned back to me.

"And you know what happens from there, because it happened to you. As I had nowhere better to go it soon became apparent that it would be far easier for me to simply stay on this side of the line, as it were.
"Over the years the human guardians reappeared, and eventually it settled into a pattern of being the female line of one particular local family. Your family, Lily." He smiled, seemingly confident that his explanation was done. I wasn't so sure.

"Errrrm...are you trying to tell me that I am a WITCH???" I was high-pitched now, not knowing whether to be excited or terrified. Finn laughed. "No, you're not a witch. You're a Guardian tho, and as such you will eventually be responsible for the wellbeing of all the forest and its occupants. Think you can shoulder the burden, Lily O'Reilly?" His eyes twinkled.

"Can I be sick now? I'm not kidding, that's a lot to take in. What do I do, how do I know what care things need, when should I be here, how..." Finn interrupted me. "Calm down, Lily! All you have to do for the time being is visit. Be aware of the forest and what's going on. And come see me often." He smiled as he said the last bit. Gulp.

"Ooooookay. I'll think about it, alright? And I'll definitely visit. You could do with some help cleaning this place up." Finn laughed at the disdainful expression on my face as I poked at a nearby cushion - a cloud of dust came up from it and made me cough.

"Seriously, I'll come see you in a couple of days. I need some normal time to get my head round everything. And maybe I'll ask mum and dad about Aunt Maggie - some of those bedtime stories were scary, I'm not sure that I want to know whether they're actually true or not. No," Finn had opened his mouth to say something, "I really don't want to know. For the time being I am going to pretend that this forest is full of nothing more creepy than the odd bad tempered bunny. And ageless young men, of course." I think I may have blushed at this point, but luckily it was dark in the caravan and I doubt (hope!) that he didn't see.

I got up and walked to the door, prodding Pooch with my foot as I went. He lumbered up from the floor and followed me, cheerfully nudging against Finn's leg as he went. I turned to look at Finn, who had followed us and was stood just behind me as I stepped out into the cold. Now that I was looking more closely I could see gold flecks in his green eyes - he is seriously handsome, that boy. Man? Old man? REALLY old man??? I'm trying not to think about it.

Without thinking, I leant over and hugged Finn tightly. But this time it was me in the role of comforter. "I'm so sorry about your mum," I said. "Me too," he replied.

And I stepped outside.

Chapter 5

'Lo. I'm rubbish at keeping up with things - even diary-writing, by the looks of it. It's been a busy few days. Busy in my head, anyway. I reckon I'm allowed a bit of forgetfulness.

Of course, I got home from the woods the other day in a properly weird mood - that conversation was deep! I mean, bloody hell - it's not often that a girl gets told she's, like, the only thing that can save forest-kind or whatever it is they say in the films. No doubt in a ridiculous voice, with lots of echoey bits.

So yeah - hahaha, I'm the Guardian of the Forest, wouldn't you just bloody know it? Of course I am. I'm rolling my eyes a lot right now, believe me. Insert hollow laughter here, and all that. I mean, W.T.F???? See, in a movie or book or something, the heroine would take all this calmly in her stride, probably understanding immediately what it is she has to do. Then she'd get on and do it, all whilst convincing her family and friends that there's nothing stranger going on than maybe a new fondness for hillwalking. Or something.

But guess what? Yup, I live in the REAL WORLD, people! The world where suddenly being keen to get out of the house raises eyebrows, where mooning around looking dreamy and pale (like Movie Girl would no doubt do) would mean instant humiliation from an irritating small brother.

So I need to play this one cool. Apart from anything else, I'd quite like to avoid being sectioned. My parents are tolerant, but even they would call in outside help if I started waffling about parallel universes and saving endangered, I don't know, squirrels, with the help of undead men who visit old ladies on their deathbeds. Tell me honestly, does that sound normal to you? Huh? Exactly.

I left it a day or so, then mentioned to mum that I'd had a dream about Aunt Maggie and wasn't it strange, given that I'd (obviously) not seen her for years.

"I don't know so much," says Mum, "she was always fond of you. Considering how often you saw her I guess it's not really a surprise she's stuck in your head a bit."

Mmmm. You bet she's in my head. "Thing is mum, this dream was really clear," - may as well push it as far as I can, now - "it was as if she was trying to tell me something."

"Probably one of those old folk tales she used to like reading to you. Well I say reading, she knew it all off my heart - you'd think she'd written them herself sometimes."

More like she did all those things herself, I muttered under my breath, but smiled winningly (I hope, or maybe I just looked a bit weird, who knows) at mum, who attempted to ignore my gurning and carried on.

"Some of them were a bit much really - more like Grimm's fairy tales than a nice bedtime story for small children. I used to say to your dad that she'd give you nightmares. Never did, tho - you used to just gaze at her as if she was the most interesting thing you'd ever seen in all your life."

Ooh, maybe my toddler self knew more than I do now?

Mum carried on - "I haven't really given her much thought since she died, to be honest. I always thought she was a bit batty. Harmless, tho - and obviously we inherited this house from her, so I'd never complain. Kids and animals always liked her - she'd take in anything stray, whatever it was.
"I remember a young lad that used to visit her" - ow owwwww, I bit my lip then, I just bet she's talking about Finn - "we used to warn her that she'd be taken advantage of one day, but she wouldn't hear of it. Said she knew him better than we did and we were to leave him be. Orphan, I think he was. Not sure where he lived, must have been over the other side of the hill somewhere. Long gone now though, I should think.
"No, that's a lie - he came back once. You might remember actually - it was when Aunt Maggie was ill, towards the end. Just after we'd moved in here with her" Mum said that bit like a question, as if she was asking me to confirm what she was remembering. I just tipped my head to one side and stroked Flora, who'd climbed on my knee and was kindly attempting to shred my tights with her claws.

"Yes, I remember...he called at the back door and asked - really politely, mind - if he could see Maggie, just for a minute. Well I didn't think he should, what with her being so poorly. But she must have heard us talking - she started banging the floor with the stick she kept by the side of the bed. When I went to see what she wanted, she said I was to let him up to see her, that she needed to see him before she 'left', as she put it. I wasn't sure about it, and I was nervous to be honest - I didn't know him from Adam! But anyway, I let him go up and I could just about hear them talking together. I swear I heard her laugh - she'd not had the strength to do anything but whisper for weeks.

"He didn't stay long - came back down all smiley and thanked me for letting him in. And he spoke to you, Lily, I remember now! Smiled and said 'See you soon Lily', or something. I suppose Maggie must have told him your name. Pleasant lad he was." Mum looked a bit vacant for a minute there, I wonder if she'd fancied Finn herself? Ohhhh ICK!

"So he left and Maggie never explained any of it to any of us, not even your dad. She died the next week, anyway." Mum looked sad, but only in that way that adults do when they're supposed to be sad, you know? As if she was fond of Maggie, but her death was about on a level with a pet dying - briefly upsetting, but soon over with. I suspect she was just as pleased to get the extra bedroom back - she uses it for painting and stuff now, it's Her Room.

Mum was clattering around with pans for dinner by this point, so I made a show of shifting things around on the table as if I was tidying up. Anything to keep her talking without making my curiousity too obvious.

"Have you got any pictures of Maggie?" I was dying to see what she looked like, my memories were far too fuzzy - all I could recall was a hunched lady with grey hair, not exactly a precise description.

"I bet we have, actually - there's a box of her old papers and stuff in the attic. Ask your dad nicely and maybe he'll get it down for you after tea. I can't see why you shouldn't have a look through it all, it's not as if there'll be anything secret in there." Mum smiled indulgently, whether at me or the old lady she was remembering, I wasn't sure.

Meantime I was hoping that there was loads of secrets to be discovered amongst Maggie's belongings, even if they'd only have deeper meaning to me with my newfound knowledge. Can you imagine how edgy I was through tea? Dad was grumbling about something or other to do with work and I was desperately hoping that he'd be in a good enough mood for me to ask a favour. As it happened I didn't have to - Mum did it for me. Go mum.

"Bob, I was talking to Lily earlier about Maggie - can you remember much about her?" Swivel eyes to dad, look interested-but-not-too-eager...

"What do you want me to remember? She was ok I guess. Could be a right battleaxe when she chose, mind. Do you remember when the company up at the big quarry wanted to excavate more of the hill?" - this to mum, who was nodding vaguely - "I bet they had a shock when they realised how determined she was to stop 'em! Thought they'd easily get the better of a little old biddie, so they did - must have been a surprise when she turned up at the meeting with all the research, and that bloke from the wildlife trust, or something. Fancy a massive company like that being stopped in their tracks just 'cos some rare flower was growing in one tiny patch!" Dad grinned, despite himself. "You've got a lot of her in you, Lily - kind hearted but sodding bloody-minded when you get riled." Dad rolled his eyes theatrically. Cheers dad, har har.

"Anything else, Miss Nosey?" Errrrrm...yes, actually. "Well, mum reckons there's a box of Maggie's stuff up in the loft - any chance of you getting it down for me? It would be a cool family history subject, I reckon." Useful to remind the folks that I'm supposed to be educated occasionally...

Good old dad, he's ok so long as you stay out of his way when he's knackered. He got the box down and just dumped it in my room, no questions asked. I told them I was going to have a root through it all then have an early night. Ignoring the pointed requests to actually have said early night I grabbed Flora and scuttled up to my room, locking the door behind me to be on the safe side. I mean, you never know - maybe a deranged genie was going to pop out of an old envelope and dance round my room or something? It's not the strangest thing that could happen, given current circs.

Talk about dust! The last time I'd sneezed so much was in Finn's caravan. Which reminds me, I must find some cushions out of the endless pile that seems to grow in the airing cupboard. I'm sure mum won't realise a few have gone. And I've got to start spring cleaning that boy's home out, honestly. If I don't I'll end up allergic or something and I am not missing out on the most exciting (rather than terrifying, hopefully, fingers crossed and all that) adventures of my life because I've got a runny nose...

So....Maggie's life, all in a heartbreakingly small cardboard box. Mum reckoned her clothes were in a trunk up there somewhere as well, but the paperwork would do for now. Saying that, there was a silk scarf bundled up with the first pile of letters, it had been used to tie it all together. I undid it and put it to one side - it would be a pretty colour when it had been washed.

The first pile turned out to be disappointing - solicitor's letters, bank statements, that sort of thing. I already knew that other than the house, Maggie had left nothing but a small amount of cash that was in my dad's name - we'd been on a caravan holiday on some of the proceeds. In fact the details of it were right in front of me - a letter from 'Farr & Co., Sol's', stating that the sum of five hundred pounds was to be given to 'Robert O'Reilly, Esq.'. It seemed oddly impersonal seeing my dad's name written out like that, but it was nice to hold in my hand an actual link to the lady who was so much in the front of my mind.

The next pile was more interesting - gardening notes, full of neat little scribbles reminding herself not to plant beans by the hedge the next year, because the rabbits came through and ate the seedlings; a list of which fruit had done best (blackberries, by miles - I wondered idly if Finn's tale of the miraculously-cleared bramble bush still applied), and a small, plain notebook containing rough sketches of where she intended to plant a fruit orchard. I realised with a start that the drawings referred to the apple and plum trees that still grew at the back of the house. There was a couple of nut trees as well - the big walnut grew outside my bedroom window, close enough to tap the glass on windy nights. It used to scare Cally half to death, but I like it. Don't tell anyone, but I sometimes pretend that it's my unfeasibly (and imaginary) gorgeous boyfriend, come to see me in secret. Oh, hang on...
Heheheee, made myself snigger then, how very unladylike...

Right, back to the impromptu history lesson. A big brown envelope, coming apart at the edges. Jackpot! Photographs - lots of them, by the looks of it. I tipped them very unceremoniously out onto the bed and spread them around with my hand. Flora gave me a Look and delicately removed herself onto the armchair in the corner, evidently planning to make a bed out of my unsorted laundry.

Some of the pictures were surprisingly recent - a couple even had me on them. The first one showed me as a tiny baby - I only knew it was me because I recognised the babygro I was wearing from other family photos. I was sitting happily in the arms of a woman with a shock a of grey hair and a humorous expression on her face. So this was Maggie, then.
I scrutinised the picture for any clues. But clues to what, I had no idea. I pushed the newer photos aside and decided to concentrate on the dozens of older, faded prints that had also spilled out of the envelope.

There were loads of images of the garden, looking very bare and basic compared to the mini market garden it now was. I could guess the order in which they'd been taken by the size of the shrubs and trees in them.

Sometimes Maggie herself was in the picture, looking surprisingly smart for someone whom I'd imagined to be - what? A permanently ancient old crone? Of course she'd have been young at some point, strange as it was to imagine now. In fact she was a bit of a looker, was Maggie - all long fair hair (it looked red, but I couldn't tell for sure) and athletic-looking in fitted sweaters and trousers. What was it that mum used to call them? Slacks, that was it. Maggie would definitely have been a 'slacks' lady, I reckoned. Straightforward and determined as well, from the expression on her face. She smiled directly at the camera - in some pictures she looked as if she was trying not to laugh at something. Or somebody.

Something went 'ping' in my head. It does sometimes, and not always just because I've been playing music too loud (which is not making me deaf, no matter what the parents say). Anyway, a massively huge ping - what if the photographer was Finn??? Maggie was looking towards whoever it was with an expression of, I dunno, comfortable adoration? I can't explain it, even to myself. But she looked so settled, as if she had complete confidence in both herself and the person she was looking towards. Kind of how I felt when I was in the caravan. Well, maybe not entirely comfortable in myself, not yet, but I felt sure of Finn.

And that's how Maggie looked. Sure of herself, and of Finn. Because by now I was certain that it was him behind the camera. Maggie had been single for all her life as far as I knew ('spinster', mum called her - what a horrible word), but I knew from what Finn had told me that he had been her companion for a lot of that time.

This house was hidden from outsiders enough for noone to need to know who Maggie had visiting. Or staying over, even.

I shoved a creeping feeling of unease to the back of my mind and reached for the next few pictures. The first few had fallen out upside down, so I flicked them over.

And for a split second, my heart stopped beating. For there, looking back at me with his twinkling eyes and floppy hair, was Finn. My Finn. Smiling for the camera in exactly the same way as Maggie had been before him, eyes creasing in the sunlight. My stomach lurched - I'd wanted to find out more of the story, but maybe there was more than I actually wanted to know.

Almost against my own will, I slowly turned over the next photo. I should have expected it really, but I still felt my heart skip another beat. They were both in the picture - they must have set a timer on the camera. Maggie and Finn, arms around each other, looking for all the world like a cliched Happy Couple. Only something jarred, and it didn't take me long to figure out what it was.

Attractive though she might be ('handsome' was more the sort of phrase I'd use, I think), Maggie must have been at least in her mid-fifties when the pictures were taken. It was miles before I was born obviously, but even with my limited knowledge of fashion history I could guess that the clothes she wore were about forty or fifty years behind the current styles.
But Finn looked exactly the same as he did the last time I'd seen him, just two days previously. I mean, exactly. Nineteen, maybe twenty years old, quite possibly even wearing the same clothes.

So - what? Well I mean, it's bloody obviously 'what', isn't it? Maggie and Finn were together. As in, 'together'. Bloody hell. In triplicate. Jeeeeeeeeeez-uss. Etc.

Umm. yes. Well. I took the photo of Finn on his own, and tucked it inside a book that I'd left on my bedside table. The others I scooped together and slid back into the envelope. Feeling more than a little bit dazed, I threw everything randomly into the cardboard box and shoved it into the corner of the room. Flora was on the windowsill waiting to be let out - for such a pretty cat she's a proper killing machine by moonlight. I opened the window for her, catching it on the tip of a walnut branch as I did so. The stupid thing caught on the frame and I slapped it out of the way with unnecessary force, snapping the tip off as I did so. I found myself muttering 'sorry' at the tree - this forest-caring stuff is getting to me already.

With one last glare out into the woods, I shut the window and pulled the curtains tight. Still feeling stupidly grumpy I decided I may as well just go to bed, and flounced my way around the room, kicking things out of my way as I went. Everything just felt, well, confusing. There was just too much to get my head around and I wasn't in the mood to think it all through properly.

I got under the duvet and pulled it over my head in a manner which would have been quite dramatic had anyone actually been there to witness it. After a few minutes I muttered and put my hand out of the covers into the chilly darkness.
I felt for the book on the little table, and pulled the photograph out. With a sigh I slid the photo under my pillow and fell asleep.

Chapter 6

Yeah, I am again. Like a bad smell, as dad would say. Still writing down this ridiculous story, still trying to make sense of the confusion that is my life...

Anyway, I guess I'd better attempt to update things a bit. You never know, I might appreciate it when I'm in my dotage and moaning to everyone that I had, like, the most booooooooring life in the history of the world, ever.

Well boring isn't the word I'd use to describe it at the moment, ohhhh no. Bloody weird and stressful and a bit exciting all at the same time, that's more like it. Who knew that so much went on in the countryside? And I'd been muttering for as long as I could remember about how country living was all very well, so long as enough things happened for a person to feel that they were living, and not just mouldering away like a pile of dead leaves...

So yeah. The photos. Maggie and Finn, looking happy and content and couple-y. I mean, what was I supposed to make of it all? I couldn't really say anything - it's not like I had any ownership over him. And both he and Maggie were adults, even if she was waaaaaaay more of an adult than he was. Honestly? I didn't want to think about it. Not in any great detail.

So I made the decision to ignore it, at least for the time being. If (when, fingers crossed) I became closer to Finn then I'd ask him about it, but not before. After all I guess that Maggie would have been the same age as him at one point, so it wasn't weird when you look at it like that. How awful it must be to grow old and wrinkly whilst your boyfriend stays permanently young and pretty!

Too, too confusing. So like I said, I put that part of the story in a mental box marked 'Strange Crap' for the time being and figured I'd just wait and see where things took themselves. Which would obviously mean seeing Finn again soon. Oh dear, never mind, what a shame...

A couple of days after I'd sorted through the photos I had the perfect opportunity to sneak off to the woods without anyone noticing. Mum and dad were both out and Cally was at his mate's for the day. I figured that given that time stands still whilst I'm the other side of the 'door' (is that the right expression? I can't think of any other way of describing it), all I needed was the time it took to get to and from the caravan.
I took Pooch - he evidently knew the place better than I did, so he may as well go see his friend again. Thinking about it, I wonder just how long Pooch has been seeing Finn? He's only six, but he's always had a habit of scurrying off whilst out for a walk - we've given up now, we just go home and wait for him. I bet he's been going to that bloody caravan for years, the devious little sod. And all the time Finn's just been sitting there waiting for me...

Noooo, he must do stuff when I'm not there, surely? If time doesn't pass then does he just freeze the minute I leave, or what? That can't be right - he says that time doesn't pass at all on that side and I know that for myself - it's been 'frozen' for me whilst I'm in the caravan. So woooh, that means he's in, what, a parallel universe? Where there is no space/time continuum, or whatever it is that Doctor Who fiddles around with? Way too complicated - I'm supposedly intelligent, but I'm getting a headache just thinking about it. Wonder if Finn knows how it works?

So yeah, I took Pooch and wandered off in the direction of the woods, but not before finding a couple of old cleaning cloths out from under the sink. I put them in a big plastic bag, along with the cushions that I'd rooted out from the depths of the airing cupboard that morning. They weren't exactly the height of fashion but I was hoping for a teensy bit of, I dunno - boho charm, maybe? Living the way we do doesn't often produce fashion experts, but I learn a bit from the crap-mags.

And the windows could really do with a scrub, just to let some more light in - the caravan had evidently been there since way before the advent of electricity and it was seriously gloomy. Anything could be lurking in those corners and I'd have no idea, urk. I mean, I'm not one to be bothered by a bit of dust, or piles of crap hanging around - one look at my bedroom would prove that to anyone. But it would be nice to pretty it up a bit. Put my mark on it, sort of thing... Yeah yeah, shut up at the back of the class...

So off to the woods we go, like an insane little dwarf with her four-legged pal, swinging a carrier bag of household furnishings. At least it was a weekday - less walkers around to wonder what on earth the weird girl was up to.

The caravan was there straight away this time - no messing around with hiding itself this time, thankfully. I couldn't see Finn, but felt sure enough of my right to be there that I had the confidence to just walk in, giving the door a token tap as I went.

"Hey you, nice day."

It was a question, it was from Finn, and it came from somewhere in the darkness at the back of the room. As my eyes adjusted I could see that he was stood by the little sink in the corner, doing something with, what, mugs? Dear gods, perhaps the man was washing up - how does that work then? Seems a bit unfair to find yourself living in some fantastical netherworld, yet still not get away with the housework...

"Hey back. I brought some cushions."

What a ridiculous thing to say. Way to go Lily, how to make yourself sound like a complete tit in one easy lesson. "Erm, I mean, it's dusty and the cushions and stuff are obviously old, and I thought maybe I could clean up a bit, and..." I trailed off, feeling my face turn crimson.

To his credit, Finn laughed with what sounded like genuine humour. "That's lovely of you, thanks. We'll have a look at the windows later as well, you can help me prise them open - they've been jammed shut for more years than I care to remember."

No wonder the place smelt so damp, then. Surely it wouldn't be a nice place to stay constantly - he must go elsewhere sometimes. So what did he do all the time???

"Finn? How long have you been here? In the caravan, I mean?" I felt really nervous, as if he mightn't want to tell me any of the details. But surely I had a right to know a bit about the person who had - whether he meant to or not - turned my entire life upside down?

He'd come over and sat on the sofa by this point. He leant his head back and closed his eyes as if deep in thought. He didn't look offended, that was something at least.

"Weeeell...I've been here since I crossed over, like I told you. How long that actually is, I'm not so sure. I'd have guessed it at being maybe a century or so but it's more than that, it must be. Some of those trees out there were tiny saplings when I came here and some didn't even exist. I'm trying to remember who was on the throne. One of the Georges, it was."

I wanted to ask which George, but didn't dare interrupt.

"Yes, George. Can't rightly remember which one. People used to joke about him - not in public though. More than your life was worth back then."

George the Third then, presumably. Mad King George. So that was, what, late seventeen hundreds? I've never been great on history, but we've got a poster up in the dining room where we sit to do our 'schoolwork', so some of it has seeped in by osmosis, I reckon. Blimey, to put it mildly. That would make Finn about two hundred and fifty years old. Yeah, I reckon that classes him as an older man, don't you? Eeep.

The older man was still sitting with his head back and his eyes closed. His eyelids were a greyish colour, almost translucent. He looked tired, but then I guess anyone would be a bit weary after two and half centuries of living in a damp caravan.

"It's been a long time, Lily. So long..." He trailed off, then sat up suddenly. "Would you like to see the woods? My woods I mean - from this side of the door?"


"Yeeee-eees. I'm scared though - am I safe on this side? Cos if I don't get home before mum and dad, there's going to be all sorts of hassle..."

Finn seemed to find this amusing. "Lily, you of anyone will be safe in the woods. We're relying on you to keep us safe, have you forgotten already?"

I never was very good with responsibility. The thought of having to take charge of an entire parallel universe seemed so ridiculous as to be laughable though. And maybe I really am just losing my marbles and imagining all this. Either way, there's no point in bottling out now.

"Yes, yes, you're such a dweeb that you need a teenage girl to look after you, I know the score." Finn's not the only one that can be a smart-arse. And I guess he does need me. It's a nice feeling.

"Come on then Lilith, let me show you your realm." Finn's eyes twinkled as he got to his feet and walked towards the back of the caravan. Pooch was already up and through the curtain that divided the main room from whatever was behind it.

Finn held his hand out to me encouragingly. He spoke softly, "Lily, it's okay. it really is. You'll like it here."

I took his hand and let him pull me through the curtain - where I stopped dead in my tracks, my mouth open with surprise.
We were still in the caravan, but it was completely different from the bits of it I'd seen so far. A tiny kitchenette was in front of me, complete with sparkling clean work surfaces. A small sofa was built into the wall to the right of the sink, with what appeared to be a bunk bed fixed over the top. It reminded me of the living section of our neighbour's horsebox - all the basic essentials were there. And it was neat as a pin.

Suddenly I was mortified that I'd considered Finn in need of help with his housework. He'd obviously spent some of his many decades here learning how to keep a tiny 'house'. Maggie would have been impressed, I couldn't help thinking.

But the really major difference in this room was the outlook. No more grimy little panes of cracked glass - the whole front of the caravan above the kitchen units was clear. Finn saw me gazing at the massive window.

"Nice, isn't it? It's a real caravan window, just a much younger caravan than this one." He grinned, obviously pleased with his handiwork. "Someone dumped a van in one of the laybys ages ago - I managed to get the plastic window pane out before vandals did for the rest of it."

By this time though I was distracted again - this time by the view through Finn's salvaged window. It was the woods of course, but not how I'd ever seen them before. Sunlight pierced brightly through the trees, making pools of light on the grass and the patches of nodding flowers that lay beneath the trees.
Something was making me uneasy, but it took a few minutes to figure out what it was. Then it hit me.

"Finn, it's winter in the real world. What season is it here?"

"You noticed that, huh? Well there are no seasons here. It all just...exists."

"Exists how? I can see spring flowers and trees with blossom on, yet other trees are bare - it's as if all the different times of the year are here in places." My frown deepened as I took in my surroundings.
"And how come this part of the caravan is so, well, different? From the other side it looks as if you live in a complete hovel, yet here it's clean and bright and definitely cobweb free." I looked up as I said the last words and confirmed to myself that there was indeed a distinct lack of dust and eight-legged friends in the vicinity.

Finn was leaning against a door that I hadn't noticed before. It too had a window, a small one this time. There was a little curtain pulled back on a wire - the whole place looked for all the world like my aunty Jean's caravan on the Welsh coast. If it wasn't for the weird fairytale landscape outside the window, that is. I was brought back to reality (reality? Ha!) by Finn's voice.

"It's really complicated and I'm not sure that I understand it myself, if I'm honest. I remember trying to explain it to Maggie and she told me to shut up - she was laughing, but she said that it was hurting her head to think about it and that she'd rather just enjoy it, even if she didn't understand it all.
"But're a curious little thing, aren't you?" He was smiling again. I felt my hackles rising at being called a 'little thing', but figured that he meant it more nicely than it sounded. At least, he better had, if he valued his ancient life.

"Okaaaay, so imagine this side of the woods as being in a bubble. Trees, plants and wildlife sometimes move into the bubble - a tree's branches might start overhanging into the bubble and eventually there's more in the bubble than in the outside world, so -pop!- it disappears inside.

"Haven't you ever seen a squirrel racing up a tree and all of a sudden it just disappears? Ok, so mostly it's just hidden in the leaves or behind a branch. But sometimes it has run into the edge of our world and it appears on our side. The bubble is only thin enough to let things through at a few points, so the squirrel rarely finds his way back out. And anyway, why would he want to leave? It's not as if he's going to have to go through a hard winter on this side."

Finn smiled crookedly at me, as if gauging my reaction.

I was thinking hard, trying to get my head around all this new information. Mum was pretty hot on science but this was a branch of physics that we hadn't covered at home. Something occurred to me.
"Where are these openings then - why hasn't anyone ever found them? I mean, there's so many people wandering around these woods that someone should have walked through one by accident before now, surely?"

"No, and for a simple reason. Most people just don't see the other side. The gaps are mainly in trees and undergrowth - unless a person could see through the gap in order to notice the different scenery behind it, they'd be unlikely to manage to get through, or even want to try. In fact, very few people can see anything from this side. You're very much in the minority, Lily." Finn stopped as an amusing thought seemed to occur to him. "Actually, I'm surprised you hadn't noticed me before now, considering that you look into one of the openings pretty much every day."

I was bemused, no other word for it. I spend most of my time these days not understanding things, it is Most Irksome.
"What do you mean? The only place I've ever seen you is here." I corrected myself. "Is at the front of the caravan. And I didn't even see you there until recently."

Finn looked a bit shifty. Embarrassed, even. Okay already, what joke was I missing? I began to feel annoyed and it obviously showed.
"Look Lily, I promise I've never spied on you." Spied on me? From where, for heaven's sake? It's not as if I've ever even done anything worth watching in the woods, other than maybe look stupid throwing sticks for Pooch (I am genetically incapable of throwing things, I'm convinced that it's an hereditary fault. I always let them go at the wrong time and look like someone who's only recently recovered the use of their limbs after some weird neurological disorder. I'm not kidding).

"There's a gap in the bubble, as we're calling it that, much closer to your house. To your room, in fact." I was open-mouthed again by this point. Lily Guppy-Fish, I should be called. I stared out of the caravan window, fixing my eyes on a large oak tree in a clearing up ahead. Maybe if I counted the leaves on the branch then I wouldn't start spluttering and make an idiot of myself. Again.

"Truly..I have honestly never looked in on you. But...well...there's an opening in the branches of the walnut tree outside your window. It's not near to the house, it's right by the trunk of the tree, hidden between the branches. But it does mean that you could come and go a bit more easily. If you wanted to..."
Finn trailed off. I looked back at him and would you believe it, I swear he was looking nervous! Mind you, so he ought - a man of his age gawping through the bedroom window of a fifteen year girl - dirty old perv! The thought made me snort and I had to turn it into a very unladylike cough.

"So, how far along the branch is this gateway to another world? Because I'm not the planet's greatest tree-climber, you know." Finn grinned at me, probably with relief that I was still there and not headed in the opposite direction as fast as my little girly legs could carry me. Cos let's face it, that would have been the most sensible option at this point. Go home and make a nice cup of tea, Lily dear! Pretend that this never happened!

Only it has happened. Is happening. Finn spoke, "Not far. You'd only have to grab the end of the branch, the one that taps your window (hang on, he's been loitering around enough to know about the tapping then), then use it to swing down. The gap is underneath that branch, just a bit closer to the tree. If you swang in, you'd pop through the gap, no problem."

O-kaaaaaaayyy. But there's an issue here, dear reader, have you picked up on it yet?

WHERE THE BLOODY HELL AM I GOING TO LAND????? Eh? Answer that, Mr Smartarse-knowitall-woodsman!!! Wouldn't you know it, he did know the answer. He bloody would.

"Don't panic - you won't come through in mid air. The ground's higher up on this side, you'll come out on a small banked-up bit inbetween the trees." He must have noticed my dubious expression, cos he was trying his hardest to look reassuring, I could tell. "It's covered in moss, it'll be a properly soft landing, I promise."

Jeeeeeeezuss. I've just gone back to read through what I've written so far today and it sounds ridiculous. And that's to me, the person who's daft enough to actually be doing these things! Maybe I need my head examining. Can you imagine trying to explain it to the doctor? Especially the one in the village, old Dr Fallow, he'd not have a clue what to say to me. He'd probably decide that it was teenage hormones and send me home with intructions to mum to not let me watch too many horror films... At least the sheer bizarre-ness of it all has the advantage that noone would think I could actually believe any of it, there's that in its favour.

Anyway, back to the strange tale. So we're still standing (well Finn's standing, I'm half-sunk onto the sofa at the side - all this weirdness takes its toll) in the bright kitchen area. Which has a row of new looking mugs and a pint of milk on the side, I've just noticed.
Pooch, I've realised, has scarpered out of the door and is snuffling around the trees outside, peeing up the occasional chosen one. Poor trees - they escape into a glorious world and still get pissed on by idiotic mutts.

"Shall we?" Finn stood by the doorway, holding out his hand. What, he actually wants me to go out there? What if I crumble into dust or something, what if I can't breathe the air??? Oh no actually, Pooch would be dead by now if that was the case. I forced myself to think of Maggie - she must have been through here hundreds of times, yet she was a strong old biddie til her dying day. Oh well - what's good for Maggie is good for me, I guess.

Finn took my hand and we stepped out into the Woods.

Chapter 7

Crikey. I mean, I know that 'crikey' is a properly crap word and stuff, but if I wrote down what I was really thinking as I stepped out into the Woods for the first time I would have to swear. A lot. And you never know, maybe in years to come my witterings may be read by someone with delicate sensibilities and, well, I’ll shut up now…

For god's sake. So, yeah. Into the Woods. The very beautiful, non-scary, oh-my-god-I-can't-believe-I've waited-so-long-for-this, utterly amazing Woods. Full of flowers and trees and little glades and everything you could ever hope to see in a perfect imaginary woodland. I even spotted a tiny glittering stream off to one side.

Finn grinned at me - surprise was obviously etched in my face.

"Like it?"

"Ohhhh! Oh my GOD Finn, it's amazing!" I was laughing out loud by this point. I could hear birds, the wind in the trees, all the 'normal' sounds you hear in woodland. The only different was a slight metallic tang to the air, or maybe that was my imagination.
Finn took my hand and led me through the trees to a place where the undergrowth thinned out and the sun broke through onto the grass. To one side was a grassy bank, which we sat on. He smiled again.

"Comfy enough for you? This is where you'll land if you come through from the walnut tree." I did the gape-y fish face again. I'm so glamorous.

"It's safe Lil, honest."

He was laughing at me again now. I felt the indignation rise.

"Excuse ME, Mr Know-it-All, but this isn't normal life, you know! You seem to forget that not all of us live a parallel bloody universe of trees and caravans and weird portals and, and pixies for all I know!"

I practically spat that last bit out. Ok, so pixies is a daft idea, but then so is climbing walnut trees to access portals to different worlds. See, when I put it like that it's pretty bloody weird, isn't it???

Seriously tho, this place is a-maz-ing. I half expected to see Bambi skitter by, flashing love-me eyes as he went. There was certainly life in the place apart from Finn - I could see the entrances to a rabbit warren in the back of the bank that we were sitting on and something was rattling through the tree overhead - a squirrel, I guess.

What I wasn't expecting was for there to be other people there. For some reason I'd assumed that Finn lived entirely alone in the woods and that his spying on the 'real' world was the only human contact he had. I was wrong, though. As we sat in silence, me doing a slightly aggrieved face and Finn looking quietly amused, a woman walked through the opening in the trees and came towards us.
She gave me a friendly smile, not looking over surprised to see me there.

"You must be Lily, then. I’m Rebecca.We've been waiting for you."

Another statement. God, these people are sure of themselves. Then to Finn –
"Does she understand it now? Will she take Maggie's place?"

I had the distinct feeling that the second question held a double meaning and tried my best to ignore it. Instead I put on my 'pleased to meet you' face and held out my hand to shake hers.

"I haven't quite decided about taking my aunt's place as yet - I'm not entirely sure of the extent of Maggie's duties."
I flashed a glance at Finn as I said it, but he appeared unperturbed. Humph. It would be nicer if he'd look a bit worried, as if he thought I mightn't think him worthy or something. Or just a bit bloody grateful, dammit!

Rebecca looked unworried. “I’m sure you’ll settle in just fine.” Still smiling. “We’re an odd bunch sometimes, but we seem to work things out just fine between us.”

“Bunch? There’s more than the two of you, then?” And there was me thinking that Finn was grateful for my human company. Of course he’d have other people with him, girls probably, and I’d look like a right idiot. Just my luck. Find an abandoned gorgeous man in the middle of nowhere and he turns out to have a harem hidden behind the trees…

Yeah, I know – I’m being overdramatic again. It’s in my nature, I’m good at it.

Finn stood up and held out his hand to pull me up next to him. There was an embarrassing moment when I wasn’t sure whether to let go or not and sort of hung on by a finger until he moved and dropped the contact. Rebecca noticed, I’m sure of it. I don’t trust her, but I’m not sure why…

She smiled brightly. “I’ll be off and leave you to the introductions, Finn. I’m sure it will take you a while!” and with a light laugh she walked off in the direction of the caravan.
At least, I say ‘in the direction of the caravan’, but in all honesty I was completely bewildered by this point – I had absolutely no idea in which direction anything was. There was nothing familiar in this scenery, however beautiful it might be.

“Come on then, Lily-of-the-valley, let me show you your kingdom.” Finn’s eyes were twinkling now – he was evidently enjoying himself. Although I was finding him faintly irritating at times, I wasn’t scared – I still had that same feeling that I’d had when I first met him, that everything was somehow familiar.
And Maggie had been here, had lived here after a fashion – I’m pretty sure that she wouldn’t intentionally set her own great-niece up as the heir to this place if it was awful. I do hope so, anyway…

We stepped down from the bank and onto a path that led through the trees. Although Finn was only walking slowly I still had to keep stopping to look at things – I was amazed by the place. On the surface it all looked fairly normal, so long as you ignored the little voice in your head that was telling you that barren, windswept trees didn’t usually stand next to those in full bloom.

By this time we had walked deep into the trees and I could no longer see the sunlit bank behind me. How far does this place actually go?! Ok, so time slips and holes in the fabric of the universe aren’t exactly the sort of thing that I’ve felt the need to learn, but even with that lack of knowledge I would have thought that a place this size had to exist somewhere? Something else to add to the list of Impossible Questions, I guess.

I could see what looked like a pile of rubble ahead of us, between a pair of fallen trees. As we got closer I could see that what had looked like a random heap of stones was actually a rough box shape, a bit like the built in barbeque that dad attempted in our garden a couple of years ago. Actually, this was tidier than dad’s version – he’s not know for his diy skills.
The stones made a sort of basin shape in the earth, with protective walls around and a slight overhang on top. There was water in the basin and it appeared to be bubbling up from somewhere – there must be an underground spring somewhere nearby.

“The witch-well.” Finn’s voice broke into my curious thoughts.

“We use it for all our water – well everyone else does, anyway. I used to come up here to wash, but then I found another spring nearer to the caravan. All the water here is from underground.”

Of course – saves having the man from the water company calling and wanting his bills paying…

“All mod cons, as my gran used to say.” I’d given up being surprised at anything by this point. I was pretty sure that the constant bewilderment would make a return soon enough; may as well give my frazzled mind a break for a while.

I had a thought. It happens occasionally.

“Why’s it called the witch-well?”

Finn plonked himself down by the side of the well and absentmindedly stroked its bricks.

“Well, it’s been called that for centuries – I certainly knew it as that when I was in the world. It was on the ‘real’ side at that point, it must have come over not long after me.”

Ok, so I’ve given up on surprised, but confused is making a re-entry…

“Anyway, like I said. When I was still in the normal world, it was in the woods, but it was the edge of the village then.”
He waved vaguely behind him. “You’ll find remains of house foundations in the undergrowth around here, there were a few small properties that just got abandoned over the years. The well was the main source of water for most people, but then the squire put a pump in the village square. Of course, it made sense for villagers to use that instead, and the well was used less and less.
“As I’ve told you before, the village had a woman to whom everyone naturally went with health problems. The village crone, if you like. She was welcomed when they were in need, but most often ignored when times were good. So she kept herself to herself – living close to the edge of the woods, taking her water from the well.
“All sorts of ridiculous stories built up around these women – we’ve talked about it already, I won’t bore you with it again. But on one occasion the rumours got out of hand and a woman was drowned in this well. They said she was a witch and a danger to the village.
“The irony was that she was the only one who’d got any real knowledge of natural medicine. People sickened and died for no apparent reason for a long time after she was killed – men, women and children alike.
“She was blamed for the deaths – they said she’d put a curse on the place. It never occurred to anyone that maybe she’d been the one helping them to stay alive…”

Finn’s voice trailed off, but his hand stayed on the stones.

“We look after it now, make sure it’s kept clean and put to its proper use. We’d certainly be stuck without it.” He smiled reassuringly at me; I guess I must have been looking upset at the story.

“It was a long time ago Lily, and things have changed. At least I thought they had – the few times I’ve seen the real world recently makes me think that I’m better off staying where I am.
“At least now I know that I can keep an eye on you, make sure you’re safe.”

Eh? Am I supposed to be pleased about having my very own bodyguard? Up until recently I had no inkling that I might even need to be looked after. It’s not making me feel any safer, to be honest…