Sunday, 30 May 2010

All that glitters

It is childhood memories like this one coming up which keep me hovering between the belief that faeries really do exist for children, and/or that children's imagination is so powerful, that group hysteria can be experienced in 'groups' of only two. I remember this event as if it were yesterday, so real was it for me.

It was one of those warm summer afternoons during the school holidays that seem to simultaneously be packed with interest, but completely uneventful. I must have been around 8 or 9 years old, as was my friend who had come to visit me for the day. We had gone off on a ramble in some local woods and - in the manner of an A.A. Milne story - were doing nothing in particular.

After a while, we found ourselves on a stretch of road which bordered a small patch of woodland that was cordoned off by a wire fence, and the 'KEEP OUT - PRIVATE' notice posted nearby left us in no doubt that the owner of this copse did not welcome visitors. It was the same all over rural Surrey, so we were used to it.

On this particular day, however, the hostile signage only served to arouse our curiosity, so we crept under the wire, hoping that the house on the other side did not keep a large and ferocious dog. There was nothing particularly different about these woods when compared to the one we had just left, it was just the adventure of doing something illicit that appealed to us at the time, and because it was only about a quarter of a mile from where I lived, I felt that I had a perfect right to explore it.

We were scuffing through the leaves and dead foliage - only about 20 yards in - when I detected something strange beneath my feet. A small patch of ground felt hollow when I stamped on it, and a distant echo of my stamp could be heard from under the ground, suggesting the acoustics of an underground chamber. I called my friend over, and he listened to the sound as I stamped. We scraped away at the floor of the wood until we uncovered a wooden trap-door with an iron ring set into it. We pulled on the ring, and the hinged door opened back, revealing a set of steps leading down into impenetrable darkness.

Of course, one of us had to go down and my friend, being the bravest, did so whilst I stood guard on the surface. I watched him disappear into the gloom, then heard him gasp in astonishment. I could bear it no longer and shouted down to him, asking him what he could see. My voice echoed in the void, but he did not answer. Very shortly, he came clambering back up the steps and stood next to me, his face flushed and voice hoarse with excitement.

"There's treasure down there! Lots and lots of treasure! Gold, jewels - tons of it, all stacked up in the dark!"

The look on his face and the tone of his voice convinced me that he was telling the truth. What to do next? We decided to go back to my house and collect a couple of torches so we could both go down and inspect the hoard in more detail. We closed the trapdoor and spread old leaves and debris over it. We then marked the spot with a pair of crossed twigs so that we could easily find it on our return, and rushed back to the house.

Soon, we were creeping under the wire again, but this time - when only a few yards into the wood - a voice boomed out from the foliage nearby.

"You boys! What do you think you are doing?" We had been caught by the owner.

We decided the best thing to do was to come clean, explain all, then take him to the secret chamber so he could see for himself. Breathlessly we told him as he looked at us incredulously. We lead him to the spot marked by the two crossed twigs, then began kicking away the leaves on the woodland floor, as he stood over us with a stern look on his face. Beneath the leaves, there was nothing but firm, damp earth.

I kicked and scraped with my hands and feet, but there was nothing unusual there at all - just solid earth like you would find at any other part of the woodland floor. Eventually, his suspicions confirmed, he told us to get back out under the wire and never come back onto his property.

After the holidays had finished, when we were back at school, my friend and I mentioned this event only once. We decided to tell nobody else about it, as they just would not believe us. We were beginning to doubt it ourselves.

7 comments:

  1. No doubt that exact spot is now under a shopping centre, or Gatwick airport.

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  2. Actually, that part of the country has changed very little - according to Google Earth. There are quite a few more swimming pools around, and the estates have expanded quite a lot, but I think my spot of woodland is still there. I'll check.

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  3. Hey Tom, that was a brilliant story. I enjoyed reading that! The way you described it was almost like being with you and your friend. I'm glad they haven't built a supermarket over your bit of woodland. You don't think you and your friend took that owner blokey to some similar crossed over twigs in a different bit of the wood? Hope you're having a good day today. Molly

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  4. I just don't know anymore, Molly. I've had a good sunday - hope you have too.

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  5. I love those stories of childhood. We all have them and when you think back you do wonder what was real and what you imagined. Well told Tom. I enjoyed that.

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  6. Thank you Raz. It is strange how vivid my memory is of my friend going down the steps into the darkness beneath the earth. Did we just sit there in a trance-like state, enacting the scene in our imaginations?

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