Return To Brude

I have an extract from children’s book Return to Brude by G A Taylor – let us know what you think.

A streak of black fur shot over the hill, her paws skimmed the lane, her green eyes keened ahead. No need to turn; she heard him panting too closely at her heels. Ten whisker-widths behind her, his ears flapping, his head bobbing, was Dylan the terrier.

This was Cantrip’s daily burden – to be hounded – to follow the girl out of the cottage and get no further than the edge of the village before the yapping and the chase began.

Where the lane dipped, Cantrip sprang to clear the garden wall with elegant precision, land between blossoming rosebushes, and weave towards the white cottage inhaling scented triumph.

Dylan skidded to a halt inches from the wall and seconds from flattening his snout. He snorted, shook his head and trotted on to the wicket gate, where he watched her black tail lick the corner of the cottage for the last time. He barked as if to say, ‘Catch you tomorrow,’ then u-turned and headed home.

Cantrip slipped through the back door flap, and stood for a few seconds to cool her paws on the stone tiles before leaping onto the rickety stool by the kitchen table. She bent her head to breakfast, but a jarring prickle shot from tail-tip to whiskers, making them quiver. She froze and listened – but sensing no one in the house, dismissed the feeling and ate her bacon and black pudding.

The cottage stood fixed in the morning sunlight as Dylan toddled back over the hill, but by the time he was over the brow, its white walls had begun to shimmer and ripple as if distorted like a heat haze mirage, and seconds later – it shivered into nothingness.

No particle of the property remained; it vanished along with each villager’s memory of it. Even Mr Morton, who trekked by an hour later on one of his twice-daily walks to the woods with Dylan, did not notice the cottage was missing. Dylan may have suspected something though, for he gave a curious sniff at the spot where he usually peed on the garden wall, but even that was gone.

Only its residents would remember the cottage beyond the village. Two of them stood shaded at the edge of the woods watching Mr Morton heading home with Dylan.

Maggie McNiven frowned at the weedy stretch of land where their home had been, and Peg McNiven saw, through teary eyes, the patch where her herbs had flourished.

A glance at her younger sister deepened Maggie’s scowl. ‘Oh don’t you start.’ Her hooded eyes swept the area. ‘Is she still in the village?’

‘Probably,’ said Peg, half-distracted by blowing her nose.

‘Probably, what good is probably?’ said Maggie, turning a redder shade of livid.

‘Ach, cool yer heels, she’ll be at the pond,’ said Peg. ‘You know what she’s like near water, the ducks think she’s a long lost relative, but my herbs, Megs, and my books… all my lovely books.’

‘Never mind your ruddy herbs and books. They can be replaced, she can’t.’ Maggie gripped her long black skirt and charged across the grass muttering, ‘Fine guardians we are.’

‘But Megs,’ called Peg, ‘where are we going?’

Maggie wheeled round. ‘Where do you think? To the only place we can go, so hurry up.’

Peg’s eyes narrowed. ‘Is that wise, Megs?’

Maggie spread her palms. ‘Do we have a choice?’ And before she turned again towards the village, said, ‘And don’t call me Megs.’

‘Sorry, your humphiness,’ said Peg, trudging after her sister.

Now tethered to the newsagent’s pavement-sign in the village, Dylan pawed to catch a discarded baker’s bag, taunted by its meaty aroma, but it stayed beyond his reach. He strained at his leash until a breeze sent the bag tumbling into the gutter. Then another smell caught his attention and set his tail wagging, as a pair of trainers stopped beside him and their wearer bent to tickle him behind one ear.

‘Hello Dyl, chased any black cats today?’ asked an amused voice.

Dylan snuffled Annie McBride’s hand; it smelled of bread, grass – and bacon. He looked up at her expectantly.

‘Sorry Dyl, I’ve no treats left,’ she patted her pockets, ‘the ducks cleaned me out.’

As she straightened up, Annie saw Aunt Maggie storming down the hill towards her with Aunt Peg puffing along behind. Knowing that thunderous stride, Annie considered ducking into the shop, but since eagle-eyed Aunt Maggie had probably spotted her already, Annie tossed her thick plait over her shoulder and stood firm. Dylan whipped behind the newsagent’s sign as the wiry, dark-haired force of nature that was Maggie McNiven, closed in.

Annie reflected on the morning’s events, but nothing she thought of deserved the apparent oncoming wrath. ‘Which one of us is for it, do you think?’ she asked Dylan, her bright-blue eyes glinting. Dylan said nothing.

When within reach, Maggie grabbed her niece’s shoulders and pulled her so sharply into a hug that it made Annie gasp.

‘Are you alright child?’ said Maggie, as she thrust Annie out to arm’s-length.

Aunt Maggie never called her by name; it was always child or girl or lassie – anything but Annie.

‘I’m fine, why wouldn’t I be?’ She’s been at her bluebell brandy, thought Annie.

Peg caught up and folded at the waist to clutch her knees, completely winded.

Annie grinned. ‘What’s the matter with you two?’

Maggie released Annie’s shoulders. ‘Nothing, we… had a feeling that something had happened to you, that’s all.’

‘No, you,’ Peg wheezed, ‘had a feeling, phew!’

Annie raised an eyebrow. ‘Don’t be daft. This is Glendowf, for goodness’ sake, it’s not like there’re murderers and kidnappers lurking around every corner. Honestly you two. This village is so sleepy it could do with a coffee injection and a kick up the –’

‘– are you quite finished?’ said Maggie, her expression pinched. ‘We are just protecting you – we’ve done it quite well for the past eleven years – we are not being daft.’

Peg objected. ‘I wasn’t worried. I know you can take care of yourself, kiddo. Now,’ she said to Maggie, breathing deeply, ‘can we please walk to the station? I don’t think my heart can take any more jogging.’

‘Well you’re not exactly built for it, are you?’ Maggie cast a jaundiced eye over her substantial sister.

Peg’s eyes narrowed. ‘Oh get stuffed, ya skinny freak of nature.’

Annie chocked back a laugh and said, ‘Why are you going to the station?’

‘We are going to the station,’ said Maggie, circling her finger to signify all three of them, ‘because we need to catch a train. And, no,’ she shot Peg a black look, ‘there’s no need to exert yourself, the next train doesn’t leave for half an hour. Let’s go,’ she said, and marched off towards the other end of the village.

That Aunt Maggie knew Glendowf had a train station was not such a shock to Annie as the thought of them actually going somewhere – anywhere. Annie doubted her aunts knew the rest of the world existed; they lived like hermits.

Peg nudged her niece. ‘Come on then.’

Shaking her head, Annie joined Peg to follow Maggie down the street.

‘Where are we going?’ Annie asked Peg.

Peg snorted. ‘More than my life’s worth to tell you that one.’

‘We’re going to visit a relative on a matter of urgency,’ Maggie called over her shoulder.

‘Hang on – where did we get relatives from, all of a sudden?’ said Annie.

Maggie halted, turned a stoic face to her niece, drew breath and said, ‘Just because we never mentioned any relatives, doesn’t mean we don’t have any.’

Annie’s eyes narrowed. ‘You said we didn’t have any.’

‘Well I…’ Maggie tutted and waved dismissively, ‘I lied. You shouldn’t believe everything you hear anyway. Now could we please go?’

Annie clenched her teeth and grunted, ‘Urgh – that woman. You know, it’s true what they say, Aunt Peg, you can choose your friends –’

‘– but you can’t whack your Aunt Maggie on the head with a shovel and then use it to bury her – yes, I know,’ said Peg, linking arms with Annie. ‘Come on kiddo, let’s go.’

A small black nose sniffed the air from behind the newsagent’s sign, and content that the danger had passed, Dylan padded back round, lay like the Sphinx and watched wistfully as the baker’s bag danced up the street.


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