Ruby is a young woman who lives at home with her mother, father and little brother. She lives in a part of Glasgow called Giffnock, where there are nice houses with big gardens so that everybody there feels very lucky. Most of her days are straightforward – the odd calamity happens of course, like losing important things or being late for school, but up until this December morning nothing on such a big scale had happened before, nothing that had turned her thoughts and her life upside down.
The day had started normally enough. Clothes on, hair brushed, breakfast, teeth done, then out the door ready for the day. But as she opened the front door of the house, she saw, sitting on the lawn, a small animal. Not their dog, Vera. Not any dog, in fact. But it wasn’t a cat either. Nor a rabbit. Nor any animal she had ever seen in her life before.
What was it like? It was the size of a cat, had big eyes like an owl, a very fluffy pink coat and dainty paws, the claws painted with red nail varnish. How strange.
Ruby looked round. She looked beyond the gate. She thought she might see the owner of this creature. But there was no-one in sight. Even the postman was much further down the road.
Ruby stared at the creature. And do you know what? It stared back at her. Intensely. It made her quiver inside. And do you know what else? It spoke. It opened its mouth and spoke.
‘Hi Ruby!’ it said. ‘Hi there!’
It really was very friendly, she thought. She smiled back.
‘I’m looking for help,’ the animal explained. I’ve got lots of animal friends but I need a human being for this.’
Ruby looked puzzled. Why me, she was thinking.
‘Because I need to borrow the hand of a human being. Vera told me that you might help.’
Ruby wondered when this conversation with her dog had taken place. She also began to wonder whether the creature could read her thoughts.
‘Yes, I can read your thoughts,’ it said. ‘So, will you now please follow me. Don’t worry about your parents,’ it went on, as Ruby looked back through the porch to where her mother was following. ‘They’ll understand when it’s all over.’
They turned left out of the gate and walked till they reached a wood.
‘Come on,’ said the creature.
Do you have a name?’ Ruby asked.
‘Pintle,’ it said.
‘That’s better,’ said Ruby.
They were five minutes into the wood when suddenly Pintle stopped in front of an old oak tree. At its base was a little wooden door with a brass handle.
‘You first,’ said Pintle.
Ruby was a bit afraid, never having gone right inside a tree before but she was a brave girl. Before she could enter, though, there was a loud whooshing noise from within and all sorts of characters rushed past her.
My goodness. There were people from Frozen, like Elsa and all the little snowgies. And Harry Potter, chased by Voldemort; and James from the Giant Peach, with his two horrid aunts behind. And look! Who was this now? Yes. Santa! Santa came bustling past Ruby. ‘Sorry sorry,’ he said when he bumped into her. ‘Look out for the reindeer.’
And they all flew off into the sky, disappearing in different directions, with Santa away to Lapland to prepare for Christmas and the others off to goodness knows where.
‘How wonderful!’ said Ruby. ‘Being able to fly.’
‘Just you wait,’ said Pintle. ‘In you go now.’
The floor of the little room inside was soft with leaves. In a corner was an iron, spiral staircase.
‘Come on! You’ll see at the top! That’s where the land of Up-Above is.’
So they climbed round and round for what seemed like hours until they came to the top, where there was another door. Ruby opened it. Outside in the land of Up-Above it was sunny. They could see for miles. There was a mountain in the distance and lots of trees in between. The ground beneath them – wow – was made of candyfloss so that Ruby was afraid of slipping through it to fall back down into the wood below. She looked over at Pintle to see what was happening to him. But he was floating above the ground by a few inches.
‘Lucky you,’ said Ruby. ‘I’m frightened of falling through.’
‘Look! Look at your feet,’ said Pintle. And sure enough, when she looked down she too was floating above the ground.
‘Now I can tell you what it’s all about,’ said Pintle.
He grew sad and Ruby thought she saw tears in his eyes.
‘My friend,’ he said, ‘my very best friend, Rabbit, is somewhere in Up-Above land. We came up this staircase together. I thought I was right behind him but by the time I reached the top he had gone.’
‘Oh dear,’ said Ruby.
'And,’ Pintle went on, ‘I then heard a rushing, flapping noise in the sky and when I looked up I saw a huge big eagle flying away. And do you know? I think it had something in its claws. I can’t say for sure that it was Rabbit. But it might have been. It probably was, and I’ve just got to find out. I can’t do it on my own.’
He was sobbing hard by now.
‘Oh Pintle don’t worry,’ said Ruby, giving him a cuddle. ‘We’ll do our best.’
‘I fear that Rabbit might have been taken to that mountain. I hope that he is still alive.’
Pintle pointed to a big mountain which was very far away, right at the end of the world.
‘It is so far away,’ said Ruby, feeling very tired.
‘But we can go faster. Look. Swing your arms. And Pintle showed her how.
As soon as Ruby did this, she skimmed over the surface of the ground even faster. And she found that the quicker she waved her arms, the quicker she moved across the surface of the candyfloss ground.
‘Whee!’ she said, leaving Pintle to catch up.
Very soon they were at the base of the mountain.
‘I still don’t know why I’m here,’ said Ruby. ‘You said you needed a hand. The hand of a human being. What did you mean?’
‘You,’ said Pintle, ‘can get us to the ancient Mirror. If we have the Mirror we will be able to speak out Rabbit’s name and it will show us a picture of where he is.’
‘But how do we get to this Mirror?’ asked Ruby.
‘Round the corner here,’ said Pintle, ‘there’s a hollow in the rock. It’s shaped like a human hand. If you place your hand there, it will open the rock. The Mirror is inside.’
Ruby went over and put her hand in the space. Nothing. Nothing happened. She had expected the rock to open wide.
‘Pintle,’ she said, ‘what’s happening? Why is it not working?’
‘I forgot! Sorry sorry it’s my fault. Oh dear, yes, I forgot – you have to do something first.’ ‘Which is what?’
‘You have to carry out a brave act.’
‘But I am brave. You know that.’
‘I do know. But there must be a demonstration of it. Here. Now.’
‘Crikey. What can we do? There’s nothing here to…’
But just as she spoke, the sky went dark and they heard the flapping of wings and the wind made by the flapping nearly knocked Ruby to the ground.
‘Oooh,’ she cried out. Looking up, she saw a huge eagle hovering over their heads. Suddenly it swooped down and in a flash had caught Pintle by one ear. He squealed and lost his footing and in a second had been lifted right off the ground.
Ruby looked round. At her feet was a large boulder. Instantly she picked it up and launched it at the eagle. It struck it on the leg and the pain made him drop Pintle. Furious, it came back, thrusting out its beak to peck at Ruby’s face.
‘Oh no you don’t,’ she cried, and with her fist she bopped it hard on the nose. It squawked and lurched back before flying away.
‘Pintle, are you all right?’ she asked.
Poor Pintle was lying on the ground, taking deep breaths and trying not to cry.
‘I’m ok, I’m ok. My goodness, that was brave of you. But you know… I wonder whether that would do…’
‘For the brave deed! You did something very brave, standing up to that eagle. Maybe, just maybe, it’ll work now. Opening the rock.’
So Ruby again placed her hand carefully in the hollow and this time, this time, there was a cracking and a creaking and slowly the face of the rock in front of them lurched open, spitting out small stones. And inside was a mirror. THE Mirror. Glistening, glinting, golden Mirror.
Ruby and Pintle both squealed! ‘Hooray! We’ve done it!’ and leaned forward to look carefully. The Mirror was misted over.
‘We must say Rabbit’s name,’ said Pintle. ‘Together now.’
‘Rabbit Rabbit where are you where are you?’ they chimed.
The mist cleared. Ruby and Pintle peered into the Mirror. They were looking at the inside of a cave.
‘There he is! There he is!’ shouted Pintle, pointing to Rabbit who was lying stretched out on the floor at the edge of the cave.
‘But is he moving?’ said Ruby.
‘Yes. Yes. He’s alive. I saw his paw twitch. Now listen. I’ll ask the Mirror to tell us where this cave is.’
And so he did. The deep voice of Mirror told them that they had to go around the back of the mountain, travel across the land until they came to a cluster of silver birch trees which grew in a long row. They were to count to the third one then climb to the top. There they had to shut their eyes for one minute exactly. When they opened them, they would be in the cave.
‘But,’ said the Mirror, ‘there is one obstacle. The eagle won’t bother you again since Ruby was so brave and fought it off. The eagle, however, is just a messenger for the Monster who lives in the cave. The eagle searches out victims chosen by this Monster and takes them to him. You must fight the Monster. You need to find a weapon to take into the cave.’
‘We can take the rock,’ said Ruby, bending over to pick up the rock she’d used to fight off the eagle.
‘Good idea Ruby,’ said Pintle. ‘Let’s go!’
And so they sped away from the mountain across the candyfloss ground of the land of Up-Above.
‘There there,’ shouted Ruby, pointing towards a line of silver trees with their delicate quivering leaves. ‘Just like the Mirror said’.
‘Ok,’ said Ruby. ‘Let’s count. One, two, three. Climb up now.’
Pintle found it difficult to climb. It was difficult for his paws to grasp the trunk of the tree but Ruby was at the top in no time. The wind seemed stronger up there and she had to hang on tight.
‘Wait for me, wait for me!’ said Pintle.
Ruby was patient and it was only when Pintle got to the top that they closed their eyes and began to count up to one minute, as they’d been instructed.
‘One, two, three…’ began Ruby.
‘No no! We have to do it backwards,’ said Pintle.
‘Ok ok. Sixty, fifty-nine, fifty-eight…CLOSE YOUR EYES!! Now we need to start again. Sixty, fifty -nine, fifty-eight…’
When they reached “nothing”, they opened their eyes and found themselves in the cave which they had seen in the face of the Mirror. All around were little animals chained to the wall. Some of them had dead eyes although they were alive, some looked anxious and lost, some were crying. There were cats and dogs and squirrels and mice and voles and beavers and some creatures that Ruby didn’t even recognise.
‘Oh Rabbit, Rabbit, where are you?’ said Pintle.
‘” WHERE ARE YOU RABBIT?”’ did you say?’
The voice booming this out was so loud that Ruby’s ears hurt and the walls of the cave started to crumble.
‘TAKE YOUR PICK. THERE ARE PLENTY OF RABBITS. I DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU THINK YOU CAN DO, THOUGH.’
And it laughed, flaking more pieces off the walls.
It was the Monster. Its voice came from a shelf at the back of the cave, high above them. Ruby looked down and saw that Pintle was shaking as hard as the leaves on the silver birch they had just climbed. She patted and soothed him so that he calmed down.
Even though they were so afraid, they still managed to look around for Rabbit. Suddenly, Pintle let out a cry. ‘There!’
He pointed to the far wall, just under the ledge where the Monster was still rocking with laughter. Poor little Rabbit. He was quivering violently. Maybe from the cold because he was all wet through and rabbits hate to be wet. Sometimes it can kill them to be wet which is why people never give their pet rabbits a bath the way you would with a dog or maybe your cat. But he was also shaking because he was very,very afraid.
When he heard Pintle shout out, however, he sat up, his ears pricked up and he stopped shaking.
‘Pintle Pintle,’ he cried out. ‘Help!’
‘We’re coming, we’re coming,’ said Ruby.
‘I DON’T THINK SO,’ said the Monster. And his arm came down, magically getting longer and longer so that it was able to touch little Rabbit on the floor. His hand circled round Rabbit’s middle so that he couldn’t move.
Ruby looked up towards the Monster.
‘Let him go!’ she shouted.
The Monster laughed, his spittle landing on her face. At this she was so incensed that she pulled out the rock she had hidden behind her back and banged it on his arm as hard as she could. The Monster screamed, his arm jerked and his hand loosened its hold on Rabbit so that Ruby was able to grab him and pull him away.
‘Quick Pintle! Let’s get out of here!’
Pintle in the meantime had run round the cave, freeing all the other poor creatures who had been upset and agitated with all the goings on but who now all followed Ruby, Pintle and Rabbit to the entrance of the cave.
As Ruby ran forward with Rabbit under her arm, Pintle and the others were close behind. But so was the Monster. It had jumped down from its shelf and stretched out both arms so that they were almost touching Ruby.
But one leap, one bound, and Ruby was out the door with Pintle and all the other animals at her heels, banging into each other in their haste. This was not the end though. As they half climbed, half fell down the silver birch tree, the Monster blasted them with his breath which was filled with fire. Branches all around them burst into flames so that they had to dodge their way down to the ground.
It didn’t stop there. The Monster’s breath could reach far ahead so that right before their eyes they saw the candyfloss ground melt and disappear in patches, leaving black holes where they could fall through to the ground far, far below.
‘Follow me,’ said Ruby, waving her arms as hard as possible to go as fast as possible. It seemed like a whole day before the holes stopped appearing in front of them but eventually they reached the mountain where they had found the Mirror.
‘Nearly there Pintle,’ said Ruby. ‘Nearly there.’
Soon they were all climbing back down the original oak tree which had led them to the land of Up-Above. Then they were walking back through the little wood near Ruby’s house. All this time Ruby was clutching Rabbit, who hadn’t made a sound except when the fire breath of the Monster came close, singeing his fur. Now he just felt tired out. He wanted to sleep for a week. But he was roused by all the little creatures they had saved, saying thank you and goodbye. All the voles and the mice and the cats and the dogs and the badgers and the other strange creatures clustered round Ruby and Rabbit and Pintle, to pat them and hug them and thank them for their release.
And now Ruby recognised the houses at the end of her street. Then her own house. Home. Home at last. She gave Rabbit a little squeeze and bent down to kiss Pintle.
‘Are you coming in?’ she asked.
But Pintle and Rabbit stopped at the lawn.
‘Sorry Ruby, but there’s no place for us in a human’s home. We’ll stay in the garden, though. I’m going to make sure that Rabbit doesn’t disappear again.’
‘Oh dear. I’ll miss you,’ said Ruby.
‘We’ll be here Ruby. Don’t worry. You’re a star, remember. One day we’ll come back and have another adventure!’
‘Who’s a star?’ asked Ruby’s mummy, who’d just come out of the front door.
‘We’re all stars,’ said Ruby.
‘I’ve no idea what you’re talking about.’
Ruby said nothing. She just smiled to herself as she went into the house.
Gillian Mayes, December, 2016.