SNEAK PREVIEW! First of a Two-part Glimpse into “The Bluebottle Boys” (Volume Two)

SNEAK PREVIEW! First of a Two-part Glimpse into “The Bluebottle Boys” (Volume Two)

Sneak PreviewNotes: (1) Today and next Tuesday, I’m presenting a Sneak Preview of a portion of Volume Two of “The Bluebottle Boys.” On Thursday, May 4, there will be a special announcement. The serialising of Volume One of “The Bluebottle Boys” resumes on May 9, with Chapter 10. (2) Today’s featured picture is no fantasy painting but an actual photo, shot shortly after sunrise, of Moseley Bog. (3) Though clearly some magic’s afoot, the impressions of Moseley Bog from the edge of the millpond in this portion of the story are accurate, as are sounds from the Bog. If you’re alone or nearly alone, especially at or near dawn or sunset, they can really play hob with your imagination. (4) This portion of the story takes place at Sarehole Mill, about a 45 minute bike ride from where Reggie lives in Edgbaston, with Moseley Bog just across the waters.

In early childhood, J.R.R. Tolkien lived about 50 yards from Sarehole Mill, and the place became the inspiration for The Shire.

It’s evening, past Sarehole Mill’s closing time, but Reggie, who has a propensity to do such things, has slipped into the grounds anyway. An accident has disabled the student playing Puck in the school production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and Reggie has half-auditioned, half-blundered his way into being the replacement.

He’s brought ”Gramfer’s” guitar along to practice Puck’s closing soliloquy, which the director wants sung, not recited, having no idea he’s about to be summoned across the pond for a nighttime visit to Moseley Bog. Reggie slips into an alternative world, finding himself a hit at what he presumes to be the Ivy Bush, an inn at The Shire, as he performs for some hobbits — and some odd-looking little men sitting in a corner in semi-darkness. He leaves to thunderous applause, but finds himself back in “the real world” as the inn door closes behind him.

No sooner had the door closed than the applause stopped cold.

I was back at Sarehole Mill, alone in semi-darkness, watching the sunset send glimmers of diamond and topaz across the grasses and the pond. I shrugged and shook my head as I walked onto the nearby grasses, now cold and soggy with dew. Then I came upon a large rock (or a small boulder, depending upon your point of view) near the water. Not much, but sufficient for me to sit upon and high enough for me to see over the tall grasses near the pond.

I dropped to my knees long enough to take Gramfer’s guitar out of the case before scooting up the stone and securing the case behind the middle of my back for a modicum of additional support. Even so, I more lounged in a Cassiopeia-like “W” kind of position than sat upright, the guitar’s box wedged between my knees and solar plexus, its strings facing me, scarcely a foot from my nose.

I played the accompaniment to Puck’s Soliloquy without singing, then played it a second time, slowly, singing along. I played Santino Garsi’s”Galliarda deta la mezzza pace”for a quick Renaissance style instrumental break that gave me a moment to confidently let my fingers fly free. Then, I played and sang the soliloquy twice more, the first time slowly, the second, picking up the tempo. I heard echoes across the pond. For a moment, I stopped and listened….

All was silence, interrupted only by scattered bird songs, and the faint, vaguely uneasy, buzzing of insects, as sunset began its transition to early twilight.

A soft reddish glow enveloped the grounds as the shadows elongated and grew deep. The trees across the pond were still visible, most within my line of vision welcome enough sights on warmer days, together with one or two, extending into the waters, large enough to be a makeshift home for a coterie of smaller birds and mammals. But even here, a few spare remnants of what once had been trees had fallen into each other or into the pond, combing into shapes that looked a bit macabre in the vanishing light.

I shivered slightly as a frigid breeze wafted across the grasses, chilling the portions of my shins and ankles that had been soaked in the dew.

I wasn’t sure how much longer I could remain. but was determined to stay until the cold made further postponement of my departure impossible. I’d play another interlude to rest my voice, play and sing Puck’s Soliloquy two more times, and then decide if I was too cold to go on.

I played a simplified version my former instructor had given me of Gaspar Sanz’ “Clarin de los Mosqueteros del Rey de Francia.” I thought I heard my music being played back to me from a strange sounding string instrument, deep in the recesses of the bog, but when I stopped, I heard nothing but the distant croaking of a single frog — even the birds and insects were silent now. Then, for a second, I thought I heard light laughter, far away. I told myself there were a dozen explanations — the distorted sound of a bird, distant filtered street noise, perhaps a small mammal — who knew. But, there was nothing to worry about. So, why were my nerves on edge?

I began to play and sing Puck’s Soliloquy again, elated to find I could now play and sing it at full tempo.

But, as I did so, I could again hear faraway playing and singing. Not quite halfway through, I stopped in mid-phrase. The music across the bog stopped too, but not soon enough – my stopping before completing the phrase had caught the player and singer off guard. I heard a few bars, faintly but unmistakably, from the other side of the pond. It was on the strangest sounding stringed instrument I’d ever heard, somewhere between an arch lute and a theorbo. It hammered like a dulcimer, rather than plucked. I’d caught the culprit at last — or rather the culprits, for the singer was different this time.

Before, the voice had been high pitched, almost cartoonish. This time, the voice was clearly that of a girl — one possibly about my age. I heard a bit of embarrassed laughter — they knew they’d been caught. I played and sang the next phrase; whoever or whatever it was played and sang it back to me.. I played another measure, no more; the same measure came back. Two notes only, and I stopped. After what seemed like an expectant pause, two notes came back slowly, at four times the count.

And then . . .

[to be continued]

© 2017, 2016, 2015 by G. H. McCallum and Duvanian Press, all rights reserved.

The concluding episode of this Sneak Preview will appear on May 2, with a special announcement on May 4. The serialising of “The Bluebottle Boys” (Volume One) will resume on May 9 with the start of Chapter 10. Meanwhile, “The Bluebottle Boys” (Volume One) is currently available at Amazon.

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G. H. McCallum

G. H. McCallum is author of the Reggie Stone series, the first of which, Walking Backwards for Christmas: A Tale of Woe from Soggyhall, was released on 12 December 2014; look for the second, The Bluebottle Boys, in late spring of 2016. He blogs principally on the 1960s, Victoriana and magic realism.