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written by: Michal Reibenbach
Bryony is an old, hobbling woman. To some people with avid imaginations, she looks like a witch. She and her archeologist husband left England many years ago and re-established their home in a country in the Middle East. They became afflicted by a strange decease and after a long, arduous fight her husband’s body had sadly succumbed to the sickness, and he’d passed away. By a stroke of good luck, Bryony had recovered from the illness however she’d been left with ugly little bumps all over her body. At first, the children who inhabited the little village where she lived had called her ‘witch’ and thrown mud at her. Over time a few of the children lost their fear of her strange appearance and began to visit her in her little wooden hut. Bryony would share the simple meals she’d prepared for herself with the children, and after they had finished eating they’d stay and took turns in stroking her large, black cat. The children became her family.
For most of the year, the country, where she now resided had a sweltering hot, dry climate and sand-storms often filled the air. When it did occasionally happen to rain, Bryony would go and wander around outside; for she loved the rain. She was especially delighted if there was a faint drizzle and a mist hanging in the air since that sort of weather reminded her of her home country England.
On one of those drizzly days, when Bryony was trudging down a small lane, she made a wish, ‘I wish I could go back to England for just a little while; it would make so happy.’ As soon as she’d made that wish, there was an instant flash of lightning in the sky, and beneath her the ground suddenly gave way. Next, she felt herself falling down a deep, black hole which had somehow formed beneath her. Bryony screamed, but her screams were whipped away in the swiftness of her fall. She was left in a state of helplessness, and pondered her fate, ‘What’s happening to me?’
Bryony was immensely relieved when, after a while, she landed with a thump onto ‘something’ warm; it felt to her rather like a hard cushion but she wasn’t certain because of the darkness that surrounded her. She thought to herself, ‘Where am I, and what on earth is it I’ve landed on?’ As she groped around with her fingers, she heard a voice booming out in the darkness, ‘It’s me you’ve landed on- and I’m George, by the way!’
Bryony was too stunned and confused at hearing this revelation, to be able to respond with an intelligible answer and wondered, ‘What can 'George' be?’
She strained her eyes and gradually, as a faint ray of light filtered towards her, she was able to conclude that she, along with George, was currently inside a cave. Furthermore, as George began to move, she became convinced that, whatever or whoever he might be, he was a big creature—possibly he was even larger than a horse! ‘Please hold on,’ said George, ‘I don’t want you to fall off…Ouch! Ouch!’ then he added with the complaint, ‘Creeping in and out of caves isn’t good for my old bones.’
His outburst amused Bryony and made her smile. ‘Perhaps this George isn’t so scary after all,’ she thought, ‘He even seems quite likable.’
A short while later, George with Bryony sitting on his back arrived at the mouth of the cave; Bryony began to blink furiously in the sudden sunlight, in an attempt to recover the sharpness of her vision. To her amazement, the first thing she saw clearly in the sunlight was that George was a green dragon! Not enormous, but still a dragon! She began to ‘check him out’ in more detail: he had some spikes which protruded along the rim of his back and his long tail, a black tongue which forked into two at its end, and which flickered in and out of his mouth. However, what Bryony noticed most about him, were his big brown, blood-shot eyes, which she was sure were kind eyes. Bryony decided that she was definitely not afraid of him.
She turned her gaze from George to herself. Now she was amazed for the second time since getting her sight back; for she saw that she was no longer an old witch-like woman covered in bumps but a teenaged girl… one who was wearing blue dungarees and a marigold yellow T-shirt.
‘What’s happened to me, George?’ asked Bryony of the dragon.
‘You’ve tumbled down a ‘time tunnel’’ answered George; it transported you back in time. You’re now a teenage girl in rural England; for you made a wish and it’s my job to help make that wish come true.’
Bryony tried to make sense of these bizarre happenings in her head: ‘A time tunnel? How peculiar! I remember wandering along in the rain and thinking back to my childhood in England. I was reminiscing about the beautiful seasons, also about Christmas and I made a wish to return to England for a short while. It was at that point, that I fell down a dark hole…”
After this recollection, Bryony turned to George, ‘Oh yes, now I remember,’ she said, ‘You mean you’re really making my wish come true? That’s so wonderful of you!’ ‘Hold on tight, Bryony. I’m about to take off,’ said George, as he began to flap his massive wings so that soon they were soaring up high into the sky. Bryony clung tightly onto George’s neck, below her she could make out the lush, green countryside, country lanes, the rooftops of the farmhouses, and fields dotted with farm animals. After a short flight, George navigated carefully downwards and landed in a field.
‘Well, kid, this is where you get off,’ George said to her. Bryony gladly slid off George's back and down upon a grassy field. ‘Have fun,’ he said, ‘do whatever you wish to do… and remember I’ll be back to collect you in two hours' time.’ With so saying George took his leave, flew back up into the sky and disappeared out of sight.
Left all alone, except for a horse contentedly grazing in the field, Bryony wasn’t too 'bothered,' since she remembered this field very well from her childhood. She removed her sandals, let them fall onto the grass, and proceeded to amble around, bare-foot amongst the pasture and wildflowers which sprinkled the field. The blades of grass pressed up between her toes, and a faint spring sun smiled down on her. Bryony walked over to the chestnut brown color horse; she bent over to pick a handful of grass, which she then offered to him on the palm of her hand.
‘I remember you, dear horse’ she whispered to him, as he nibbled at the grass; she could feel his lips and his breath on the palm of her hand. With her free hand, she stroked his nose, which had the feel of rough velvet. When the horse had finished eating the grass, she hugged him and laid her cheek tenderly on his neck- his horsey scent seeming so pleasant and familiar to her. After a while, she released him, strode off through the field up to its back-gate, clambered over the gate, and then trudged up the winding path on the other side of it. Along the way, on the borders of the path, grew golden daffodils, they 'nodded' their heads in the breeze, as if greeting her. At length, Bryony arrived at a wood, serene and cool, Silver Birch, Beech, and Oak. The leaves on the trees fluttered merrily in the soft breeze. Floating in the air was a rich fragrance of leaves and earth. Bryony pranced over rotten, fallen leaves, and twisted, criss-cross roots. Suddenly she caught sight of a red squirrel scampering up and down the trunk of a Silver Birch tree. She heard the melodious chirping of birds rise and fall as they hopped among the branches. The sun cascaded silver shafts of light down through the cracks in the canopy overhead. She was filled with joy.
After a short while, she stopped short in amazement when stretched out before her she beheld a multitude of glorious Bluebells, they covered the woodland floor and stretched out for as far as her eyes could see. They were breathtaking. Their thick scent filled the air. Bryony thought to herself, ‘They are a blue carpet fit for a fairy princess.’ A blackbird with jet plumage hopping about on a nearby branch burst out in song. As Bryony heard the music of nature, the wood seemed to transform into an enchanted forest. She began to dance around, twirling her body and flinging her arms out with fingers spread. She was overcome by a feeling of sublime happiness.
From behind a large red-and-white toadstool, two green-clad elves with large, pointed ears peeked at her and laughed as they saw her dancing around in their forest.
A faint rain-shower began to fall through the canopy above; she tilted her head back and allowed the soft rain-drops to caress her face and trickle down her body. She adored the feel of it and the fresh, earthy smell it evoked from the wood. She lost all track of time!
‘Bryony, Bryony, Bryony!’ thundered George's deep voice through the air, waking Bryony abruptly out of her trance. She quickly ran back into the direction of George, hopped over the gate and sped over the wet, soft glistening grass of the field. On her way, she retrieved her sandals from where they lay; she greeted George with a hug, slipped on her sandals and hoisted herself up onto his back.
‘George, do I have to go back now?’ Bryony asked him. ‘No not yet, you’ve still got two more hours of winter to enjoy; so keep a firm grip, we’re taking off,’ said George. ‘Goodbye, Magical Bluebell Wood! Goodbye Sweet Horsey!’ Bryony called out loudly in their direction.
Once again George began to flap his enormous wings, and he took off into the sky. Shortly after, he landed in a paddock filled with snow, which sparkled on the ground like diamonds. Bryony was puzzled as to how it could all of a sudden be winter. Luckily, she was now dressed in warm winter clothes. Upon sliding off George’s back, she 'plopped' softly onto the snow. The rush of cold winter air on her face made her shiver a little, so she pulled up the fur hood of her coat.
‘I’ll be back to fetch you in two hours,’ George reminded her. Then once again he flew off, shedding snow all about him as he left.
Bryony plowed her way through the snow across the paddock. She recollected this place, for it was a paddock close to a childhood friend's home. Snow was falling silently and thickly all around her; along the way she saw a robin sitting in a bare-leafed tree. The tree's branches were decorated in silvery- white snow. The robin had puffed out its feathers and was chirping merrily, ‘I’ve missed seeing you, you pretty little bird, with your red breast,’ whispered Bryony to him.
Leaving the paddock behind her, she continued to make her way across a snow-covered lawn. The lawn was hedged in by holly-bushes, which were full of bright red berries, and whose branches were weighed down with snow.
Upon arriving at the threshold of her friend’s house Bryony saw a pretty Christmas wreath decorating the front door. ‘How lovely, it must be Christmas time,’ thought Bryony to herself, while she hopped from one foot to the other in order to pull off her Wellington boots. She then allowed herself into the house; for in those far-out places, nobody ever bothered to lock their front doors.
Bryony called out into the house, ‘Bobby, Bobby... Are you home?’
She was overjoyed when she heard a response, ‘Bryony... I’m here, in the sitting room.’
Upon entering the sitting room, Bryony was confronted by a cozy scene; Bobby, his older brother, and his parents were all sitting around a blazing, log-fire crackling in the crate. Bobby’s parents were slumped deep in their armchairs, Bobby’s mother had grey hair which was arranged in the cutest pinned up curls, rather like enormous noodles all over her head. His father was a big, quiet man with three double-chins. He was sucking on a pipe which had already gone out. Bryony noticed with amusement that everyone in the room, including the dog, had 'snub noses.' Bobby was sitting on the carpet hugging his knees, while his brother was kneeling beside the fire, roasting chestnuts on a cast iron frying pan. Behind them to the back of the room stood a beautiful Christmas tree adorned with glistening glass balls, tinsel, glowing fairy lights and a large star crowning a top branch. To Bryony, the scene resembled a Christmas card picture.
“Come and join us, Bryony,” said Bobby’s mother in welcome, ‘This year we’ve decided to celebrate Christmas Eve by roasting chestnuts.’
Bryony wriggled out of her outer garments, threw them onto a convenient chair, and went to sit down next to Bobby on the carpet. The room was filled with the smell of the burning logs, the chestnuts, and also their boxer-dog and tabby-cat---who were both sitting as close as possible to the fire. The friendly atmosphere enveloped her like a warm blanket, making her feel deeply contented. Bryony peeled the cooked chestnuts which Bobby’s brother would hand out to each of them in turn. She popped them into her mouth one at a time and chewed them ever so slowly to make sure they lasted as long as possible. They were so very soft… and delicious.
All too soon, George’s deep-pitched voice was heard bellowing out to her through the air, ‘Bryony- Bryony- Bryony!’
‘Who’s calling your name?’ asked Bobby.
‘It’s a friend, and I’m afraid I have to go,’ said Bryony.
‘Your friend’s got a strange voice,’ said Bobby’s mother.
Bryony smiled at her, ‘Yes he does rather----I’m really happy that I came to visit you; thank you for the chestnuts, and please remember that I will always love you all, forever!’ The tone of her voice betrayed her emotions, tears welled up in her eyes, and a couple of tears brimmed over onto her cheeks.
‘What a sweet thing to say,’ said Bobby’s mother- ‘We love you too, dear. Merry Christmas and remember that just like every year you’re invited over for Christmas dinner tomorrow with your parents.’
‘Yes, of course,’ said Bryony, ‘Merry Christmas to you too.’
‘Merry Christmas,’ said Bobby, as he turned and looked into Bryony’s eyes.
‘Merry Christmas’ she replied, as she rose. She swiftly went to retrieve her coat and gloves and left the room while putting them back on. When she reached the front door, she pulled on her boots, and as she left she closed the door behind her.
Twilight had begun to descend, the snow had ceased falling, and now a fine rain was falling. Bryony tipped her head back, the feel of the soothing rain on her face was bliss.
When Bryony was finally straddled on George’s back, he said to her, ‘Bryony… the time has come to take you back to the cave.’
She cuddled and kissed his scaly neck, and said, ‘Thank you.. for the best present I’ve ever been given.’
‘Don’t go all slushy and sentimental on me,’ said George, ‘I’m only doing my job. Grab on tightly.’
George flapped his large wings with gusto, got airborne, and soon landed next to the mouth of the cave.
‘Bryony, do you think you can make your own way back into the cave? It’s too low and cramped for me in there,’ complained George.
‘That’s alright, I’ll manage on my own,’ said Bryony, as she dismounted him for the last time. ‘Bye, Georgie-Porgie. You’re a very kind dragon..I’ll never forget you and Merry Christmas’.
‘Bryony, just walk to the end of the cave and wait there, the time tunnel is situated in the roof of the cave. It will suck you up and take you all the way to your own country. There’s no need to feel scared,’ said George, and then as an after-thought, he said, ‘I’ll never forget you either, Bryony and Merry Christmas.’
Bryony walked towards the cave and anxiously entered it. She groped along the cave wall with her right hand. It felt slimy; she waved her free left hand around in front of her until eventually, she felt that she had reached the end of the cave wall. Bryony positioned herself so that she was standing slightly in front of the wall, and waited. As she stood alone in the dark cave, her heart began to beat loudly in fright. After what seemed like a very long time, her ears detected a gurgling sound. Next, she felt a warm wind twirling around her body, so that her hair flew all over the place, then came the feeling of ‘the complete loss of self-control,’ as she was being 'sucked up' into the time-tunnel.
After about half-an-hour of being sucked back and with a final push of warm air, Bryony sensed she was about to be shot out of the other end, and so she stretched out her hands to break her fall. When her hands touched the ground, she noticed that the ground around her was wet and that the rain was still falling. Bryony turned around quickly, for she was curious to see ‘the time tunnel’--but by that time, it had completely vanished! Bryony couldn’t fathom what sort of strange magic had been at work?
She thought to herself, ‘That was a very weird and marvelous experience!’
Bryony picked herself up off the ground and, as she staggered back home to her wooden hut down a sludgy, path she chuckled to herself. On her way she stopped and yet once again threw back her wrinkled, dried fig like face up to the now coal black sky and let the rain stream down over her face, making her white hair hang down in clumps and soaking her clothes. A coldness crept over her, caused her to shivered slightly but she was overjoyed. She sang out in a rasping voice, ‘Singing in the rain, I’m singing in the rain, what a glorious feeling I’m happy again…..’
She has two boys and six grandchildren.
Lives in Jerusalem.
The author has had stories published by Cafelit, Literary Yard, Grant Hudson's Anthology, 'Miracles' and Spillwords.