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.

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