(Extract from the Iron Forest of the Seaclown)
‘Why do we have to come down here!’ yelled Wingsey who was finding it almost impossible to stop himself spinning round in the fast flowing water.
‘Because this is where we will find Peter and what’s more….’ gasped Rusty as the water began wrapping her hair tightly around her face making it difficult to finish what she was saying.
‘What’s more!’ yelled Sprocket, ‘that’s what Peter would have done if one of us had got lost.’
‘Gosh!’ gasped The Two-Faced Nut as they finally emerged into a wide flat gorge, ‘just look at the huge ship.’
‘That’s not a ship!’ exclaimed the miserable face. ‘It’s a wreck.’
‘Well, it was a ship once,’ blurted Rusty.
‘And so was that,’ interrupted Sprocket, ‘and that,’ he went on, pointing to first one and then another huge iron skeleton sticking out of the seabed.
Wrecks of all shapes and sizes appeared to be growing like a forest of bamboos out of the sand as far as the eye could see in the dim light in the gorge.
‘There’s something very odd about this place,’ began Rusty, appearing to shiver as she clutched Sprocket’s arm. ‘Look at those huge fishes up there,’ she went on, ‘they seem to be watching us.’
‘I hardly think they would be bothered about us,’ he replied, gazing at the great silver and black shapes as they slid silently around the jagged iron ribs of the wrecks.
‘And another thing, have you noticed there aren’t any starfishes or crabs,’ blurted Springaling, ‘just as Clawd said’.
‘But there are clusters of mussels clinging to the iron walls of the ships,’ said Rusty pointing to a massive orange hulk lying on its side with its rows of round portholes staring down at the sand.
‘Just look at the seabed,’ she went on ‘it’s littered with iron chains and twisted railings and not even one scarlet anemone or even an oyster to welcome us.’
As they walked further into the forest they soon found themselves standing beneath great gothic arches that stretched up towards the dappled surface where tall masts of rusty iron draped in forests of wiry weed and mussel shells spread like a trellis above them. Then to Rusty’s amazement, Wingsey suddenly yelled
‘I like it here Rusty! Can we stay?’
‘I like it too,’ blurted Young Pinion running around playfully on the soft sand as fast as the water would allow, while Springaling bounced like a man on the moon from one great block of iron to another springing so high he could almost touch the great white fish as they swam over him.
The Two-Faced Nut looked quite relaxed as he wandered among the huge gear wheels that had spilt from the broken side of an old paddle steamer. Clambering up the spokes of a half-buried paddle he tried to make out the name cast on the massive arched plate that hung like a pendulum from the guard.
Sprocket, who appeared to be quite overcome by the mechanical magic of the place, paced purposely below the stern of what must once have been a graceful liner. Staring up he saw its two huge propellers now draped in a heavy curtain of flaccid weed longingly gazing up at the flickering surface of the sea, while its bow lay hidden and forgotten in the deep soft mud.
The sparse light that pierced the waves to shimmer timidly on the iridescent bellies of the great fish as they darted about the forest was beginning fade, scattering a mantle of inky blackness over the surface of the sea.
‘It’s almost too dark to carry on!’ shouted Rusty.
‘But what about Peter!’ yelled Wingsey ‘We haven’t even found him yet.’
‘But we will tomorrow,’ began Sprocket as he joined the others who had flopped onto the sand by a huge coil of anchor chain, ‘If we stay in one place he may find us. After all, he could be anywhere.’
‘Or he may be nowhere!’ exclaimed Springaling. ‘What I mean is, he may not even be in the forest at all.’
‘Well, my friend Clawd was sure that’s where he would be,’ interrupted Rusty, ‘and he knows a lot more about these things than we do.’
‘I think he’s with that old Seaclown!’ shouted Young Pinion. ‘If you remember, Clawd did say that he followed him into the waves and he’s probably with him at this very moment, learning how to juggle.’
‘Juggle!’ gasped the Two-Faced Nut, ‘whoever heard of anyone juggling under the sea.’
‘Why not?’ snapped the happy face, ‘but perhaps not with burning torches.’
‘Perhaps not with anything,’ replied Rusty indignantly. ‘As far as I’m concerned, jugglers juggle and they certainly have no right to go enticing verniers to start wandering about in the sea. That’s what I say.’
‘Then perhaps we should scribble a notice on the side of that ship saying something like, ‘Peter we are looking for you’,’ blurted Sprocket triumphantly ‘Then if he should happen to wander past, he’ll know that we are looking for him.’
‘Then we’d better write please wait here as well!’ yelled Wingsey ‘or he won’t know where to find us.’
‘Of course Wingsey, I was about to say that, if you’d have just given me a chance.’
‘I think that’s a very good idea Sprocket,’ replied Rusty, ‘all we need is a nice sharp, pointed thing to scratch it with.’
‘Like this piece of old railing!’ shouted Young Pinion, handing a long thin metal bar to Sprocket.
Climbing up on top of the anchor chain next to the wreck, Sprocket began to scratch WE ARE LOOK.., then, pausing, he turned to Rusty and shouted ‘How do you spell looking, is it ‘in’ or ‘ing’, which made them all laugh, ‘in’ of course replied Rusty, ‘whatever has a ‘g’ got to do with it?’
‘Of course,’ blurted Sprocket turning back to scratch ..IN, STAY BY THIS SHIP PETER TILL WE FIND YOU.
‘There, that should do,’ replied Sprocket standing back to admire his writing and almost tumbling backwards off the chain. ‘Now he knows we’re looking for him.
‘I decided not to use big words,’ Sprocket went on ‘just in case a fish or a lobster decides to read it.’
Although it was almost pitch black the words that Sprocket had scratched on the side of the ship stood out quite clearly just as if they’d been scribbled in bright orange chalk on a school blackboard. However because it was now too dark to keep an eye on everybody, Rusty decided that it would be better to rest where they were for the night and begin a fresh search in the morning.
They had hardly been asleep for an hour when Young Pinion, who had curled up on the soft sand inside a large chain link, suddenly woke with a start, terrified by the cold yellow eye dancing above his face.
He leapt from the chain as if he’d just been stung by a wasp screaming ‘No! No! No!’ while violently shaking Sprocket’s arm who spluttered and shouted, ‘Whatever is the matter Pinion, have you gone quite mad or something?’
‘The octopus. It’s the octopus,’ Pinion gabbled, ‘it was staring at me.’
‘What octopus are you talking about Pinion?’ yelled Sprocket.
‘The one that’s just crawled out of that wreck,’ gasped Pinion. ‘Look at its huge yellow eye,’ he went on, pointing up at the flickering yellow disc that had pierced the smooth surface of the sea and now danced like a cold yellow phantom across the smooth sand.
‘You must have been dreaming,’ said Sprocket putting his arm around the little pinion trying to comfort him, ‘that’s the moon and a fine big moon it must be too,’ he went on hugging his friend tightly until he had stopped shaking.
‘But I saw the octopus swim out of that hole in the ship and I felt it’s long cold tentacles twisting around me as if it was trying to carry me away.’
‘Then it must have been a nightmare,’ interrupted Rusty who had been woken by all the commotion. ‘If it had been an octopus then where is it now?’
‘And why would an octopus want to kidnap you Pinion,’ blurted the Two-Faced Nut who had just joined them. ‘Has anybody ever heard of an octopus that eats spiky little iron pinions!’ exclaimed the miserable face.
‘Now that’s not fair!’ shouted Springaling as he bounced up beside them. ‘Can’t you see that Young Pinion is very upset.’
Pinion had finally stopped shaking and was quite relieved when Sprocket suggested that as the moon was so bright they may just as well venture a little further into the forest in search of Peter.
‘After all,’ he continued, ‘the sooner we find him the sooner we can get home.’
‘I agree, but I think we should all stay as close together as we can until the sun rises,’ began Rusty as she handed Pinion the iron spike that Sprocket had used to write with, ‘take this Pinion,’ she went on, ‘then if that nasty old octopus chases you again, you can whack it one.’
Pinion, however, didn’t find that a bit funny and instead threw the spike as hard as he could at the wreck, where it pierced one of the corroded iron plates that still hung precariously from its ribs.
‘Gosh!’ yelled Springaling, ‘that was amazing Pinion. But look! Whatever’s happening now!’ he gasped.
‘I would never have believed it, ‘ mumbled Sprocket as he stared in amazement at the huge iron plate as it slowly split from top to bottom like a sheet of saturated newspaper, spilling clouds of bright orange dye into the sea as several enormous rusty icicles broke free.
Then, like a film in slow motion, they saw row after row of iron rivets that once secured the massive plates to a lattice of flaking ribs spring from their holes, freeing the huge metal plates to cascade into the debris below, a vast crimson cloud of liquid iron turning the flickering yellow light of the moon to the colour of blood.
‘Hurry!’ screamed Rusty ‘ before the whole ship crashes down on us!’
But as she turned to run, she suddenly felt a strange tug as if she was being drawn towards a giant magnet, ‘Help help!’ she gasped as she grabbed wildly at the anchor chain, only to see Sprocket and Young Pinion clawing at the twisted railings protruding from the sand.
‘Over there! Inside the ship!’ gasped Sprocket grabbing the little pinion round his waist to stop him tumbling head over heels towards the wreck, ‘it’s the juggling Seaclown.’
Wingsey and The Two-Faced Nut, being made of brass, appeared not to be affected by the strange magnetic force, so that Wingsey was able to cling tightly onto Springaling’s arms, who slowly began to stretch like an elastic band as the pull of the strange force grew stronger and stronger. Inside the great ship, the sinister image of the juggler became clearer, casting his burning torches faster and faster into the blackness above him, until their flames appeared to merge into a pattern of fiery lines of force.
‘And look there, beside him!’ yelled Rusty ‘ It’s Peter!’
‘Peter! Peter Verny!’ screamed Sprocket, ‘it’s us, your friends! We’ve come to save you!’
But the old vernier just stared straight ahead as if in a dream, slowly skipping from one foot to the other in time to his master’s eerie dance. Incensed by the clown’s power over his friend, Sprocket let go of the rail and snatched up the pointed spike, hurling it with all his strength at the juggler.
‘Set him free!’ he screamed at the clown, who continued to taunt the enraged sprocket with his huge smiling lips and gestured towards the iron spike which hung quivering and frozen in the powerful field of the magnet.
Then, to their amazement Peter Verny suddenly threw himself at the juggler, knocking him to the seabed, allowing the burning torches to drop one after the other into the black depths of the wreck.
Suddenly the hovering spike was freed from its magnetic jailer and sped like a rapier towards the great ship thudding deep into another of the huge plates, shattering it into a collage of iron shards.
Rusty stared in horror as the lattice of tall ribs began to crumple one after another like a row of tumbling dominoes, while high above them, beneath the flickering crests of the waves the three massive funnels appeared to bow gracefully at the moonlight before slowly falling like huge oak trees succumbing to a woodman’s axe.
Even as the massive funnels crumpled like tissue paper onto the deck below, the great ship itself began to writhe and buckled before collapsing like a house of cards onto the Seaclown and their dear friend Peter Verny.
In desperation, Sprocket raced towards the plummeting wreck intent on snatching Peter Verny from the clutches of the evil Seaclown, only to be swept clear by a mountainous wall of angry black water rushing from below the gigantic structure as it collapsed, throwing him into its violent inky current which was driving gigantic clouds of mud and sand before it in its raging convulsions, tossing and spinning everything in its path like corks.
It was many hours before the turbulent, murky water became clear and still, enabling the companions to find each other once more. Much to Springaling’s relief the beckoning power of the sinister magnet had completely vanished, while spread out on the seabed before them, flecked in dappled sunlight, lay a colossal new forest of corroded iron stretching as far as they could see. Here and there miniature fountains of crimson liquid sprang from between the contorted undergrowth dissolving into the dappled water to be carried away by the gentle currents that probed the new landscape.
‘ How pretty it shines in the morning sun,’ whispered Rusty, trying to reassure Sprocket that there was nothing more he could possibly have done by taking and squeezing his hand. ‘Such beautiful colours of amber and red’ she mused, shaking her head slowly from side to side.
‘Yes, such pretty colours,’ he repeated slowly, ‘ the iron must be so happy to be free once again.
Springaling and the rest of the gang sat huddled together in silence on the soft sand just staring up at the surface of the sea, watching it slowly grow brighter below the morning sun of a new day. Each of them now understood for the first time how such a dear friend as the old vernier could so quickly have become hypnotized by the power of the Seaclown’s fiery torches.
It was Rusty Nail who finally broke the spell of solace that had descended upon them, just as the last remnants of the ruby clouds of decaying iron began to fade.
‘The way forward for us now, is the way back!’ she shouted as she leapt to her feet.
‘Back!’ they all yelled,’ do you mean home Rusty?’.
‘Back the way we came!’ she exclaimed, pointing up at the surface of the sea.
‘I think she means the way we came, only in the opposite direction,’ blurted the Two-Faced Nut. ‘Which I suppose means that I’ll have to walk backwards,’ grumbled the miserable face.
‘I do indeed,’ replied Rusty, ‘so let’s just hope we can find the way, shall we?’
And so began their long trek back to the ramshackle old beach hut at the end of the promenade which Rusty Nail, Sprocket and Young Pinion, together with Wingsey Nut, Springaling and of course the constantly squabbling Two Faced Nut, now called their home.
No longer would they be able to rely on the guidance and wisdom of Peter Verny, Rusty observed in an attempt to reassure Wingsey Nut and Young Pinion that life must carry on as normal.
‘You must never imagine for one minute,’ she told them, ‘that things can never change and it’s folly to believe that anything or anyone will be with us forever.’
‘Besides ‘ she went on ‘it’s not all bad,’
‘Then please Rusty, tell us the good bit!’ shouted Young Pinion grabbing her hand.
‘The good bit is, we can now use Peter’s polished box to store our seashells and fossils in,’ replied Rusty, smiling.
‘Oh do hurry yourself Pinion!’ shouted Sprocket, ‘don’t just stand there daydreaming or we’ll never get home.’
© Barry Freeman 2017