The weather broke very early Sunday, rain pounding on the window pane disturbed Mac from his slumbers. “Potato field needs ploughing tomorrow.” Walts words repeated in his mind. Or were they Walts? In fact not. They were Gramps’ words after all. Semi conscious, he remembered the request at last evenings family dinner table. “Want to help out Mac?” Grabbing the moonlit, monochrome checked pattern of his bedroom curtains and still seeing them with shut lids he turned over, cuddled up to Sal and wandered back off to dream. He would be up early so needed all the rest on offer. Sal snuggled into the curves of his body fitting to him like a piece of jigsaw.

Outside the storm was brewing. It blew bursts of wind through the trees in the garden next to the couples bedroom. Mac, semi aware of the noise was not troubled enough to care. He was used to the swirling, rustling and sometimes frantic passage of the air as it played about the branches. He had occupied this bedroom since out of nursery and so had come to know, even enjoy this tune between wood and wind. In fact the whole symphony gave him a feeling of security, of pleasure in the fact that here he was, all tucked up, warm and out of harms way while nature unleashed her breath on her ever forgiving domain.

Over the next few hours both of them stirred a couple of times but neither surfaced properly until daybreak when first light combined with a rattle of hailstones nudged Mac to come to.

“That field will have to wait, it’ll not harm to put it back till a better day.” Sal was awake too and figured on a lazy lay in bed with company.

The house itself was quiet, everyone else had obviously come to a similar conclusion. There was no sound of mum or dad downstairs in the kitchen, no breakfast banter around the table, not even a dog or cat curled up on the sheepskin rug at the entrance to their room. Peace indeed, at least indoors, and after all it was a Sunday, so why not?

“Another hour and then see what the day brings eh!” Mac replied, and with a teasing tickle of Sals ribs added, “besides you’ll be hungry much before then.”

Leaving the awakened to their chores, wherever they were, struggling in the terrible turmoil outside, the two of them cuddled and talked, watched the morning news then fell back to sleep. It was not until a much later hour that Mum knocked on the bedroom door and brought in breakfast. Mac had just finished counting the church clock chimes and to his disbelief at the number ever increasing over eight had already made a decision to rise. “What’s the time?” He was not sure how many tolls had passed.

Mum was dressed for her Sunday morning horse ride. “Eleven, did you here the rain in the night you two? It’s baited now thank goodness and the short term is good.” Poached eggs on toast and a huge pot of coffee were in full view once the tray they occupied was placed on the huge magnolia duvet. “I’m going to ride Jasper to noon meeting,” she went on, “I told Aunty Bessie I would be there.”

Sal turned over to see her. “Oh thats lovely, thanks for brecky Mum, I’ll stack the pots after. You get off and give my love to Aunt Bessie.” Sal comfied herself and tucked in, “I’ll do dinner as well, for six, shall I?”

Mum smiled at the invitation and nodded to her son. “There’s a chicken to pluck Mac?” Mac acknowledging her request as she closed the door. He cut the yellow yolk sac to let its contents run across his toast then added a scoop of brown sauce and went on to break his fast.

Every other Sunday at mid day all the elders, that is all those over seventy could meet at the forum if they so desired, and many did. Anyone else was also welcome to attend, but it was primarily the elders day. It was to here that Mum and Jasper were heading.

The event gave an opportunity for conversation and entertainment, exchanging views face to face instead of over the ether, swapping commodities be they objects or offers of help, but most of all the aim was to have a good time and enjoy.

Mac switched the video-wall to the outside camera and rotated the lens housing looking over the garden. “The stream’s flowing fast, it must have put some down,” he reported to Sal busy examining her bump.

“I never heard a thing. Slept like a log.”

“Gramps is off to noon meeting too.” Gramps seeing the camera move waved through the lens to him. “He’ll be trying to get further up the ladder you can bet.”

Gramps played bowls on the lush crown green, it was all for fun but there was a competition and he would be trying to climb the ladder higher than he achieved last season. For a few hours his father would be sat in attendance at the Board. He was not yet Chair Man but was actually the next in line, being the second oldest resident now in the town. When finished with the business of the day he would no doubt join his son and play a few ends himself.

At the Board twenty elected elders sat as a council to insure the parish was well represented and understood in the borough. All aspects of produce, trade, community and exchequer came under their jurisdiction and they answered up the hierarchy and received direction down to pass on to their catchment. This system of independent, self styled local government worked extremely well and efficiently and had done so for many a century. They sat in one of the ornate chambers inside the granite town hall, a room lavishly decorated in carved oak and colourful tapestry hangings. The mosaic marble floor and fine plaster ceilings were the original designs, going back to the second era when artistic expression was the order of the day.

Sal wiped her plate clean with the last remaining piece of toast leaving the pottery spotless. She turned to the window where Mac was standing. “Call mum Mac, see if Aunt Bessie wants to come for dinner. It’ll be nice to see her. I didn’t know she was back in town.”

“Me neither honey.” He picked up his handheld. “Call mum.” The device responded.

Aunt Bessie was Mac’s father’s Aunt in actual fact. A fine, bolt upright figure of a woman, she was the historian of the family and archivist of their tree. It was her knowledge and exuberant care of the past that had rubbed off on Mac and given him his thirst for all things historical and ancient. Goodness knows how, but Aunt Bessie knew all that was worth knowing about times gone by and even some information forgotten by the elders. Some facts were researchable but others were not, and people did say she had a sixth sense to be able to recall all that she could. Bessie had never denied or confirmed the fact but had confided in Mac telling him he also had the same gift though he had never perceived it. The dreams he had been having of late though did make him wonder.

Stories of ages before, times long ago were retold by Bessie as if she had actually taken part. She was something of a celebrity locally as well as throughout the nation, her online status progressing over the years from blogger to full blown web site presence. “Not bad for a rural girl,” was her favourite saying whenever she was embarrassed into admitting how influential her work had become within the faculty of history.

“Yes Mac?” Mums voice came on the handheld. Mac passed Sals message on to be arranged. “I will, but you know how busy she can be” she replied adding, “there’s a beautiful mist along the river Mac, you two ought to get out and take a look, it’s magical.”

As far as Mac’s family history was concerned Bessie had done much research there too. She had traced it back to ancestors who were local landowners and some, in fact many, had held titles of Manorial standing. The family had been a part of the landscape, and indeed helped shape the very same for some eleven hundred years, acquiring estates and building reputations throughout that time which made the present incumbents proud to say the least. Not that the titles were theirs today. Unfortunately, as often happens a black sheep had foolishly lost the whole estate and substantial properties including the Manor Hall on the toss of a coin two hundred and thirty years ago. Nevertheless the archive was still theirs, not that they could use the privilege if it was still bestowed upon them. In modern times there was altogether a more fairer, altruistic society, run by the populace for the good of the community. Titles of land and wealth were now woven into societies fabric merely as historical remembrance, any office held by an individual nowadays was earned by respect and driven by democracy.
Mac was wondering out loud. “When did we last see Aunt Bessie? It must be a month ago.”

“The snow was still on the ground cause she stayed the night. Do you remember? She told us stories of those wars that even Paps didn’t know about.”

“Yes. I do remember now. He said she must have dreamt it”

The Hall belonging the families ancestors still stood, not extended or altered in any way. Built of very pale sandstone, three storeys high, it was crowned with rooftop buttresses and an oval, green lead dome. On its front aspect six stone columns held up a porch which ran along the middle third of the facade. It was as magnificent a museum now as it must have been a home all those many years ago. Mac loved to visit the grounds and house, now in the ownership and upkeep of the council. Mention of Aunt Bessie had given him an appetite to rekindle his fascination with the place. “Fancy a first of the year walk around Burdett Hall gardens?” He looked to the sky above the tree-line. “The weather has cleared up Sal.”

“Why not. We can take some stale bread for the ducks. That mad mallard might worry you again, remember him last fall?”

Mac chuckled at the memory of the greedy bird harassing them for food, waddling too and fro to attract attention. It even jumped onto the bench beside him in an attempt to pinch bread from their bag. The ducks belonged to the same flock that inhabited the town, a better fed and kept group could not be found in all the borough.

Sals exit from under the bed covers was much slower than her partners these days, she had a much bigger load to elevate in her present condition and it needed a somewhat learned manoeuvre now involving elbows and shuffles. Slowly she emerged, stretching and bending to prepare her body for the day ahead.

“If it stays warm we can walk the bridges.” Mac suggested. This was a riverside pathway taking in several crossings of the water over ornate cast iron walkways. It was a favourite route of theirs especially when just on their own. Her eyes glistened with anticipation. “I’ll go dress the chicken while you do the same to yourself.” Smiling at his humour he turned to leave.

“Ah ah!” Sal returned the expression and gave him a loving kiss on the cheek as he passed on route to the kitchen.

Burdett Hall still stood in acres of grounds, some areas given over to public recreation others to growing and cultivating traditional herbs and vegetables. It also held the repository for native lavenders and boasted a working distillery which produced perfumes, soaps and many more sundry items. Row upon row, in many a field the fragrant plant grew and blossomed into a sea of purple. By harvest time the scent from the crop filled the dale with such an aroma that people came from far and wide just to sit out the lazy warm afternoons and be entertained with nothing more than sight and smell.

The hoverbus dropped them off at the entrance to the brick walled kitchen garden belonging the estate, a shelter from the wind whatever direction it blew. By the fish pond they both sat, hand in hand, trying to imagine how life was going to be in a few months time. “I’ll be a lot thinner that’s for sure.” Sal sighed and grabbed at the thickness of her legs.

“I love you whatever your shape” he insisted squeezing her hand reassuringly. He did, and she knew it. “Besides it’s only due to the baby, your keeping him nourished.” Mac was thinking of the girth of the people he had encountered in his dreams. “You know it will all go.”

Sal returned the squeeze and smiled. “I’m just not used to being so tired love.”

No fish were to be seen amongst the mass of pond vegetation in front of them. They had both looked so intently over the past half hour to be the first to spot one. Disappointed Sal stood up from the bench seat. “Let’s walk a bit Mac before those clouds come over,” She was looking at a grim horizon towards the other side of the valley.

Taking the southern path out of the enclave through a brick archway, their walk began with a weaving in and out of beds of rhododendrons. Huge, bushy specimens of overgrown proportion. For all their gigantism they put on such a display of blooms later in the year that none would suggest pruning them back for fear of losing the spectacle. This winding grove led to a small wooden style and over this onto the walk proper. Down the hill to the riverside the two lovers strolled, hand in hand, at one with the world.

The park in summer would be full of people picnicking, or dog walking, but today only half a dozen were obvious. Surprisingly, two of these were their old science teachers William Lofthouse and his wife Ella, coming over the first of the bridges, a narrow footbridge decorated with elaborate wrought ironwork and painted all shades of green. The two mentors never seemed to age and looked just the same as they did ten years ago, even down to the corduroy suit and checked twin piece under their long brown coats. Sal smiled and spoke first. “Hello! You had the same idea then Bill.”

Mac was very pleased to see his favourite form master. He extended an arm in friendship. “Isn’t it a strange day, doesn’t know what to do does it?”

“We should get around ok,” Bill replied, taking Macs hand and shaking it with some exuberance. “I see you two have been busy since we saw you last alumni.”

Mrs Lofthouse hugged Sal with care not to squeeze so hard. “It’s wonderful Sal, you look so radiant,” she whispered in her ear, loud enough for all to hear. Mac and Sal replied together, him agreeing but her complaining of how tired she felt of late. “It’s only natural Sal, the baby is growing.” Mrs Lofthouse added. With excitement at the coming reply she went on, “do you know if a boy or girl?”

Very excitedly they both answered”Boy.”

Mr Lofthouse added his embrace to the mother to be. “You’ll both make fine parents I am convinced, it couldn’t happen to a nicer couple. Before you know it he’ll be in our classrooms.”

“Do you have a name for him yet?” Mrs Lofthouse asked.

Mac looked at Sal, she at him. They had still not made a final decision. Their embarrassment showed, but Mac made light of it. “We don’t really know yet, we may call him William.”

“Good choice,” Bill replied, “he will go far with that name.”

The four of them spoke a little longer on the joys of parenthood offset with sleepless nights and worry about infants and then parted to continue about the landscape of spring awakening. The fresh leaves on trees, unfurling ferns, buds on branches all mirrored the new growth in evidence within the happy pair.

Once across the swollen river, rushing faster than usual and taking plant debris in its angry flow they took the right turn back towards the house, a riverside path lined with tall sycamore. They walked in and out of the trees still trying to decide on a name for junior. Mac was favouring Ben today, but Sal wanted James. “We will know when we see him I think,” this her usual comment to close up the dilemma, “shall we go get a coffee and watch out these black clouds before we get wet?”

Unfortunately the weather had other plans for them. A slight drizzle of rain began, which only a dozen or so steps later turned into a torrent. It came from out of nowhere. Wherever the purple and black storm clouds had suddenly materialised from was anyones guess, but here they were, unleashing such a storm and with such ferocity.

Mac thought quickly. He had to shout to be heard. “We had better make for the deer shelter.” It was just visible through in the distance at the edge of the park, not too far away, far enough though in the worsening conditions. The rain did not seem to be falling evenly either, or steadily, but in haphazard lashings, sheets of water blown one way then the other. They had dressed for a change in the weather, but wax jackets are not sou’westers and what should be waterproof seams immediately let in at shoulder and elbow stitches.

The next bridge was yards away. They crossed back over the river. It had risen in level. By treading purposely across what had quickly turned into boggy ground their leather boots gathered water becoming wet through in seconds. Still the rain fell, almost not falling at times but travelling in a sideways motion never quite reaching the ground and sometimes even appearing to rise upwards. Tree branches bent at awkward angles and a few lost the battle and gave way, the pain of the torn wood sounding a forlorn rasp as it ripped.

He dare not rush them, not wanting Sal to slip, but they needed to get to the higher ground and the shelter as quickly as possible. The riverside was fast becoming waterlogged threatening to cut them off. Small streams were appearing where none were before. Sal crossed some running water not bothering how deep her boots sank under, she held onto Mac like her life depended on it, and if not hers certainly the life she had inside her. The largest ancient trees offered no shelter, the downpour so hard that branch or trunk presented no obstacle whatsoever. The rain curled around the bark speeding on as if no obstacle was there. It continued to pour and pour and if it at all possible was becoming worse.

They made the shelter, a wooden, open fronted porch and stone barn. Thankfully it had no occupants, deer or otherwise. “This is crazy.” Mac complained as he took of his coat to allow removal of the other wet garments underneath. He looked to where they had come. “It’s so dark, just look at the horizon.”

Sal was doing the same, struggling to pull her arms from out her coat. “That’s a one off to be sure Mac. I’m wet through to my skin.”

“There’s a glimmer of light just over by the cricket ground, but that seems to be heading by us. It must have put a months worth down already, and it’s not letting up.”

“Let’s hope mum and Jasper weren’t out in it, you know how he hates the rain, and this is not just rain!” Sal stood at the back of the grassed lodge sporting a state of undress that brought back certain memories. They looked at each other knowingly, amorously, humorously.

For all that the storm delivered, coldness took no part, in fact it was muggy, that kind of humidity usually associated with foreign climes and holiday escapades, so temperature favoured the brave. Should they take a chance? It was an exciting prospect and they certainly had nowhere to go at present. But what if someone else came looking for shelter. They had took similar chances before, even in this very porch, but pregnancy had bestowed a sense of maturity on them that seemed to pour scorn on such liaisons.

A flash of sheet lightening illuminated the bedraggled pair casting shadows on the rear stone wall of the shelter reminiscent of an horror movie. That sort of elongated and tortured shadow which usually heralded something dastardly was about to happen. It did. A loud crack of thunder. It shook the building, both occupants and the immediate vicinity so completely that Sal was sure her eardrums would burst. She plugged each ear with a finger to prevent any harm. Mac held her tight as the tortured rumble negotiated the park, as if looking for an exit. After about ten seconds it must have found one, it dissipated in strength and headed in the direction of the local church. More rain cascaded onto the roof above them, running down and off like a stream in full flow.

Another flash, Mac began to count in Sals ear.”One,” Thunder ripped the atmosphere again. “It’s right overhead, it’ll soon pass,” Sals face betrayed fear. She was looking over his shoulder out of the building as the rumble faded. Mac repeated himself to console her, “it’ll pass love don’t worry.”

“Look,” was all she could manage to blurt out, motioning with her head towards the open front of the building and the park.

Mac turned on his heels to see. There in front of him was her concern. A lake of water occupying the park they had just walked across. The level was rising steadily, coming up to join them. “The rivers burst its banks, we’d better get dressed and make for the house, if it reaches there we are all in trouble.”

Scampering about the lodge, pushing limbs into wet sleeves and legs, squelching feet into soaked boots they soon recovered dignity and then made for the outside and the howling gale. The lake of water had already advanced a metre or two nearer. It was filling the vale with a fast and frightening ease.

A hundred yards away was the tarmac path up to the house. The ground in between was now drenched and treacherous to walk on. They chose their steps very carefully, Mac holding Sal to him with interlocked arms.

Sal shouted at the top of her voice. “This is crazy Mac, I’m frightened now?” The floodwater began lapped up to their position forcing them further up the grassy slope. “This can’t be happening, what if anybody is trapped down the valley?”

He did not know the answer to that question, only that they would be in trouble. Reaching the tarmac the two were able to retreat faster up the hill, fighting a driving wind and its cargo of rain as they went. Up they trudged, one heavy footstep after the other leaning into the wind at a very odd angle to allow movement in the direction they wanted to go.

Stood in the stone porch of Burdett Hall a figure in long green waterproof coat and wellingtons beckoned frantically to them, their arms making huge circles in the air to attract the coupled attention. This side of the building was shaded from the storm. Mac led the way and they took grateful refuge along the concourse quickly heading towards a woman who for all the world looked like Aunt Bessie. Tall with silver grey hair tied up in a bun and held with an obvious butterfly hairpin she could be her double, but was not. Not her double that is, because she was Aunt Bessie.

Mac questioned her immediately. “What you doing here Aunt Bessie? We thought you would be at noon meeting.”

Bessie replied with a huge smile across her face. “I’ve been my dear boy but knew I would be needed here to greet you.”

He did not ask the obvious, the fact she was here was of no surprise to him, it demonstrated one of the fascinating aspects about her. “Did you know it was going to do this, rain so much?”

“I had an inclination yes. Sally my dear sit in here, come both of you.” Bessie ushered them into the great hallway of alabaster sculptures and ancestral portraits. Up the centre of this room rose a red mahogany staircase dividing at its top into two landings. “You need to understand something,” she went on looking at her nephew.

Sal took the weight off her feet and sank on to the second to bottom stair. Mac helped her off with her coat. “What is that Aunt Bessie?” He had a puzzled expression as he replied.

“Wherever you may go I know what is happening to you remember that, it has taken me time to find you but I always know where you are.”

Sal looked perplexed, she did not know what to make of the comment, but Mac did. Somewhat disappointed at its true connotation he knew precisely what it meant. “Can you tell them I’m ok?”

Bessie took him by both hands, kissed him on the forehead and spoke. “They will soon know dear boy, take care. This is not the last you will see of me.”

“How do I come back?” Another louder roll of thunder interrupted his questioning. Sal, Bessie and all their surroundings began to fade. The second time he shouted. “How do I come back?” Too late. The thunder awakened him.

White walls, blue sheets, no Sal. He was back in the outbuilding. Water was dripping from the corner of the windowsill onto the wooden floorboards and disappearing down between the cracks. A long sigh of exasperation left his dry mouth. “Frick!” He was not one to swear. This seemed like a good time to start. “Aunt Bessie?” He blurted out the words in disbelief. What should he think? “Did that dream mean anything?”

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