When Clive and Holly go on holiday with the black dog, Doofus, strange things start to happen... This sequel to DOOFUS, DOG OF DOOM is free to download.
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by Emma Laybourn

Chapter One

Holly was worried about Doofus.

For days now, the great black dog had been restless. He did not howl like he used to, but he prowled darkly around the house like someone awaiting bad news.

Holly did not know why. She felt she did not understand her pet – although pet seemed the wrong word for Doofus. It was seven months since she had picked him out at the dogs' home; a lonely, aloof, abandoned puppy. That sombre puppy had grown at an alarming rate, and had shown some even more alarming abilities. Holly had learnt to love him, but he remained a mystery to her.

So now she was worrying about Doofus, and resenting having to worry. The summer holiday should be a carefree time, she thought, especially when they were about to go away. She should not be carrying this knot of anxiety inside her stomach – although she knew, secretly, that the worry was not only about Doofus. It was also about Nan.

These thoughts revolved in Holly's mind while she was in her bedroom stuffing T-shirts into a holdall. And when she heard the crash downstairs, the anxious knot in her stomach immediately developed several more tight coils.

"Nan!" she exclaimed. Had Nan toppled out of her wheelchair?

But when she ran down to the living-room to check, Nan was dozing peacefully by the window, her thin hands clutching at her blanket. Holly looked wistfully at her great-grandmother, wishing that the old lively Nan could come back, with her jokes and hugs and chatter. But that would never happen now.

Carefully she moved a silky wisp of hair from Nan's crumpled face. Then she looked through the window for the source of the crash. She could see Mum and Dad beside the car, trying to squeeze Dad's suitcase into the boot. But there was nothing broken on the drive.

The crash must have come from the back garden; so Holly hurried through the kitchen and out of the back door. There she found Doofus amidst a heap of bits of broken pot and soil and rosemary bush.

Black as a shadow, he stood over the remains of the plant, guarding it. He was waiting for her. Holly's old dog, Pancake, would have squealed and rolled over pathetically with her paws in the air, pretending she was hurt to cover up her guilt at breaking a flower-pot. Doofus did not squeal or roll or look pathetic. He looked inscrutable.

"You clumsy pup," said Holly, and was at once aware of how little the term suited him. "What did you do that for?"

But she already knew. Doofus put down his massive black head into the pile of soil and roots. With his teeth, he pulled the rosemary bush out and cast it aside.

Beneath it was a glint of polished stone. Holly caught her breath. Ever since she'd buried it two months ago, this had lurked at the back of her thoughts.

A smooth, grey, oval stone the size of her hand, with a hole drilled through it. A stone eye.

She didn't want to touch it; but Doofus nosed it out of the soil and dropped it on her foot.

"All right," she said reluctantly. "If you insist. I guess it's probably safer with us anyway."

She had been planning to leave the stone hidden in its pot by the back door while she was away; but then what if foxes knocked it over, or if Mum decided to replant the rosemary bush? And Holly dared not hide it anywhere in the house, because Mum was staying behind to look after Nan, and Mum was a demon tidier, and did not know about the stone eye.

She picked up the stone without looking at it. She certainly did not want to look through the hole pierced in it, in case she saw a golden eye look back.

The memory chilled her. The stone was a window into the past. It had been discovered on top of the wild moor not far from where Doofus had been found. It allowed creatures from the past to crash though time into the present: Holly knew that much, but she did not know how the stone eye worked.

However, Doofus seemed to think that she should take it, and she trusted Doofus. So, running upstairs with it, she wrapped it in a T-shirt and plunged it deep into her holdall.

"Leaving in ten minutes," called Dad up the stairs.

"Coming!" Now her bag wouldn't close. Holly pulled out a skirt and threw it back in the wardrobe. What would she need a skirt for, in Cornwall? Or possibly Devon – Great-Uncle Ted was a bit vague about where his house actually was. She tried to forget the stone eye by thinking about the holiday to come.

She'd been to Ted's house once before, but she had been not quite five and didn't remember it. All she remembered of that holiday was a dropped ice-cream. The horror: the white splat on the pavement. Now she visualised a low, snug cottage by a golden beach.

She knew it was near the sea. There would be sand. Rock-pools. And, this being an English summer, probably rain.

Holly zipped her holdall and lugged it down the stairs, stepping over Doofus who now lay in the kitchen doorway.

"You're lucky," she told him. "All you need is a collar and lead."

Doofus stood up, yawned, and leaned casually against her, pinning her to the wall. He was so big now that if he pinned her in that way, she stayed pinned. There was no pushing him aside. He sniffed at the bag before releasing her. He was checking.

Holly dropped her bag in the hall, laid her raincoat on top of it and then hurried into the back garden again to clear up the rosemary bush before Mum could see it. She had found a spare pot and was settling the battered bush into its new home when a voice addressed her.

"Will I need a torch?"

It was Clive. He came clambering awkwardly through the fence from next door. As well as his school rucksack, he was carrying a supermarket bag with clothes spilling out of it; another bag full of clanking, empty jam-jars; and a small glass tank.

"I expect Great-Uncle Ted will have a torch. And jam-jars," Holly told him.

"But they might be full of jam," said Clive.

"What are you going to put in the tank?"

"Anything I can find," he said, somewhat sadly. He was in mourning. His most beloved pet, Mr Finney, had died on their last day of primary school.

It had been a day of silliness and celebration at the school, of awards and cake and signing each others t-shirts in felt tip; and they had come home together, laughing, to find Clive's mother at the gate with a dead hamster in a box.

"I'm sorry, Clive," she'd said, almost gentle for a change. Although Clive's mum didn't like his pets, and usually called them a waste of time and space, she had lined the box with kitchen paper.

Clive had said nothing at all. He'd taken Mr Finney in his hand and walked off in his signed T-shirt to his shed.

He'd been mourning ever since. Holly suspected that was one of the reasons why Dad had offered to take Clive on holiday with them.

There were just the three of them going – Clive and Holly and Holly's father. Her older brother Matt was staying at home for a basketball course. Both mothers were staying too. Clive's mother claimed to want a bit of peace; Holly, indignant, felt like telling her that Clive wasn't half as noisy as his little sister Lily, who had lately discovered how to sing. Her own mother would not leave Nan, who had brought her up from babyhood. It was Mum's turn to look after her grandmother now.

"Nan!" said Holly, with a gasp. "I need to say goodbye." She turned and ran inside, with Doofus padding after her.


Nan's eyes slowly opened. She seldom seemed more than half-awake these days. The last few months had shrunk and withered her like a winter leaf. Nonetheless Holly loved her dearly, for the sake of the Nan before the stroke, the Nan who used to bake her biscuits and tell her tales and laugh at nothing sixteen times a day.

"We're going in five minutes, Nan," she said. "I'll bring you back a present. What would you like? Would you like fudge? Or chocolate?"

"Ah," said Nan, which meant, Holly knew, that she would like a turnip if it was a present from Holly. Doofus put his head under Nan's thin hand. Nan had always liked Doofus. She made a faint attempt to pat him.

"We'll see you in two weeks," said Holly, kissing Nan. But when she turned at the door to wave, Nan's eyes had already closed again. Holly felt faint tears behind her own eyelids. Nan was so old.

She blinked away the tears and thought instead about Great-Uncle Ted, Nan’s brother: really Great-Great-Uncle Ted, only that was quite a mouthful. He was old too, but not as old as Nan, and he acted much younger. He still had his loud laugh, and a booming voice and beard to match.

And a house only minutes from the sea. Might it be an old smuggler's cottage? she wondered. Perhaps it would have secret passages where barrels of rum were once concealed, and ships in bottles on the windowsills. It might have an attic with an airy gable window and a telescope to watch boats out at sea; a wilderness of a garden ith rabbits gambolling at dusk. That would be nice for Clive – and for Doofus, although he had never chased a rabbit in his life. He had only chased much bigger prey.

Holly shivered and tried to put it out of her mind. Then she picked up her holdall – which seemed suddenly heavier with the knowledge of the stone inside it – and hefted it outside to Dad, who wedged it in the car.

Chapter Two

A smuggler's cottage it was not. It was immediately clear to Holly that there was little chance of finding secret passages in the thin grey house at the end of an increasingly narrow and overgrown lane. Dad had driven more and more slowly along this green tree-lined tunnel, muttering under his breath at every bend. There was barely enough room for their own car and Holly could not imagine how they would pass if they met another.

But they met no-one. The tunnel emerged into grassy farmland and a little row of houses sitting patiently by the road, which snaked away between fields seemingly to nowhere. Although Holly knew the sea was somewhere around, it was not visible.

"I need to get out," said Clive. Dad stopped the car at once so that Clive could struggle out and stand taking deep breaths. He had already been sick once into his glass tank, about thirty miles ago. Holly and Doofus unfolded themselves stiffly from the back seat and stood not too near him. The air smelt wild and salty.

"I was okay on the motorway," said Clive. "It's the winding roads that do it."

Holly looked at the terrace of tall, narrow houses, which bore the sign Karrek Row. It was a very short row; there were only four of them, surrounded by fields. The two houses in the middle looked dilapidated, with boards over some of the windows. But the house at the far end was bright with pots of geraniums. From this one Uncle Ted came out to meet them, bandy-legged and cheerful.

"My word," he said, "You've grown, the lot of you. I'm sure you've put on two inches in two months."

This was possibly true in Holly's case. Her jeans seemed to get shorter, and her shoes tighter, daily. She felt herself shooting up far above Clive although they were both eleven. And Doofus had only stopped growing during the last month.

"Let's show you round," said Uncle Ted, and he began to haul bags out of the car, unfazed by Clive's jam-jars and even his tank of vomit.

"I remember this!" said Holly, amazed at herself, as they entered the front room. There were no ships in bottles, but there were old photographs of ships hanging on the walls; and maps. Every wall held maps. The stairwell was covered with them. Ted had travelled the world.

As she went into the cramped kitchen, memories from seven years ago arrived in her head and slipped into place, adjusting themselves to fit. Everything had been bigger then.

Doofus pattered alertly across the kitchen to the back door.

"He seems to know his way around," said Dad.

"He's checking it out," said Holly. Doofus took this patrol seriously. He examined doorways and sniffed assiduously in corners.

Dad carried the bags up the narrow stairs. At the top there were two bedrooms, one on each side, with low doors. One was Ted's room. When Dad entered the other one, he had to duck.

Inside, a map of the world covered an entire half-wall. There were two narrow beds, with an even narrower space between them, currently filled by Doofus. The whole house, in truth, was very narrow.

"Two of you will need to share," said Uncle Ted to Holly. "Up to you which two. I thought maybe you and your Dad. Or Clive and your Dad."

"Hmm," said Dad.

"And the third will go up here. Gets a bit chilly at nights. But you'll be all right this time of year," said Ted encouragingly.

He opened what Holly had thought was an airing cupboard on the landing, to reveal a set of even steeper stairs. At the top was an attic; just as Holly had imagined, it had a gable window tucked into sloping mint-green walls.

Dad could not stand up in here without hitting the ceiling. The walls held bowed and faded shelves, mostly empty apart from one pile of old books. No telescope, just a pool of lemon light from the window, in which Clive stood, looking caught.

A salty draught meandered past them; the window did not fit its frame. Doofus stalked over to it and gazed out.

So did Holly, laying her hand on the dog's neck. The sense of his strength was very reassuring – although why should she need reassuring in this airy place?

And there, at last, was the sea. It was not far away at all: the fields suddenly stopped and there was a grey-violet, speckled band beyond and around the green. Now that she could see it, she could hear it too; a steady, hushing breath.

"You'd better draw lots for this room," said Dad.

"We'll take it in turns," said Holly. "Clive can have it first." She really wanted the room for herself, with its view and waiting shelves and sunlight on the yellow coverlet: but she thought Clive liked it too, and he needed it more because of Mr Finney.

Clive let out a long breath. "Okay," he said.

They went back down the steep staircase to collect the other bags. As soon as Holly put her holdall on her bed and unzipped it, Doofus was beside her, rooting in it with his nose. When he raised his head, his jaws held something hard and smooth. He nudged Holly with it.

"Really?" she said. "But why do you want me to take it? It'll be safer in the bag."

He simply stood still, pressing the stone into her hand, his black eyes as unreadable as ever.

"Whatever you say." Holly slid the stone into her jeans pocket. It just fitted. With it lying heavy on her thigh she ran downstairs to the kitchen. Clive was sitting at the table, still looking a little sick and sad, as he had ever since the death of Mr Finney.

Ted regarded him with some anxiety. "I've got ice-cream in the freezer," he suggested.

"No, thanks," said Clive, wincing faintly. "I think I just need a bit of fresh air."

"Good idea! You two go and have an explore while I make tea," Ted said heartily. "Take the dog out for a walk. You can go two ways. There's a footpath going inland to Hulverton and the shop."


"Our village. It's a mile and a half, but safer walking on the track than on the road. Well, you've just driven down the road, you know what it's like. Have to climb into a hedge if a car comes. But you might prefer to go down to the beach. Just follow the road all the way to the end. It doesn't go anywhere else."

"Will they be safe?” asked Dad. "What about the cliffs?"

Ted studied the two children with bright, cheerful eyes. "They're not given to jumping off cliffs, are they? They'll know to keep away from the edge. You won't go beyond the coastal path, will you? You're sensible children."

"Sure," said Clive without enthusiasm.

"Tea in an hour," said Ted, and Clive winced again.

"Do you want to bring your notebook?" Holly asked him.


But Clive cheered up a little once they started walking. Agreeing that they weren't very interested in the village or the shop, they went the other way, towards the sea. The road was empty: on either side, fields stretched away, also empty but for dozing cows amidst low, stunted bushes. There was no sound but the wail of seagulls and the long sigh of the waves.

Then Doofus began to trot ahead eagerly. The road dived suddenly downwards to their right; but Doofus, swerving left, began to run along a narrow, wiggling track that led around the cliff-top like a brown rope thrown carelessly upon the ground.

"That'll be the coastal path," said Clive. Holly began to run after her dog.

"Doofus! Come back from that edge!" For although the path was a good two or three metres from the cliff edge, Doofus had left it and was standing on the brink, looking out to sea.

Holly did not go too near him. "Doofus," she said quietly, "come back, please. You might slip." He was alarmingly close to where the grassy edge tipped down into nothing – a long way down. Seagulls circled beneath her.

But Doofus did not move except to shift his gaze from sea to shore, studying the beach.

"We're going to the beach next," Holly pleaded. A long moment later he retreated from the edge, and she breathed again.

They returned to the road, which snaked downhill between cliffs rearing up on either side. When they turned a corner the sea was laid out before them like a crumpled, ever-shifting tablecloth.

"Oh," said Clive, frozen. After a moment he added, "It's not a bit like Rhyl."

There was a small beach, made mostly of slabs of rocks studded with limpets. Away to their left the tarmac of the road was broken up with potholes, and then disappeared altogether. A storm must have washed it away at some time in the not too distant past, for a ragged line of orange tape showed where it ended, along with a sign lying on the ground. A little further on was a ruined building, also cordoned off with tattered orange tape.

"That's an eyesore," Holly said; it was what her mum would say.

But Clive turned to stare at the dark cliffs that dipped into the sea.

"Oh, my," he said in awe. "Oh, wow."

"What is it?" Holly screwed up her eyes, expecting a seal or perhaps even a dolphin. Nothing less would put that tone of reverence in Clive's voice.

"Geology," breathed Clive; and then she saw.

The cliff was made of zig-zags. Layers of rock were concertinaed, folded up and over on themselves like stone blankets, going up and down along the massive cliff face. Then she saw that the rock slabs on the beach followed a similar pattern; they heaved up out of the sea at unlikely angles.

Clive began to pick his way over these slices of rock towards the cliff face. Between the slices were rock pools, in which Doofus was nosing. On squatting down to look, Holly saw that they were full of crabs and shells and anemones – all perfect Clive-bait. She watched them for a while. But Clive showed no interest. He kept staring at the cliffs as if hypnotised.

"Come on, Doofus," Holly said. Doofus ignored her. He was stepping over rock-pools, surprisingly delicately for a dog so big; padding further and further out until his feet were washed by incoming waves.

"Doofus? This way!"

Then Holly reflected that the sea was new to Doofus. He would not know how dangerous big waves and slippery rocks could be. Those long foam fingers were gentle here, softly probing every cranny; but further out the currents might be strong. So, picking her way over the rocks after her dog, she took hold of his collar and tugged.

She might as well have tried to shift a cart-horse. When Doofus didn't want to go, there was no moving him. But he was seldom this stubborn. She jumped back before the next wave sloshed over her shoes.

"What is it, Doof?" she asked. "What's out there?" For he was studying the waves intently, an ear cocked as if interpreting their sighs and whispers. He turned back to her and nosed at her pocket.

"Yes, I've got the stone," said Holly. "What about it?"

Doofus looked out to sea again, before nudging at her pocket once more.

"You want me to throw it in? Here? Why?"

He merely stretched his nose out at the waves, as if he was a pointer.

"Well," said Holly doubtfully. "You know best."

She thought about it for a moment. Perhaps the sea was the safest place for the stone eye. Lost on the seabed, it wouldn't conjure up anything from the past except maybe the odd jellyfish. Certainly nothing as dangerous as the wolves it had allowed to roam the moors back home... and the other thing.

The golden eye. The stench of blood. The soft, heavy footfall. Remembering that terror, she suddenly wanted to be rid of the stone. She drew it from her pocket.

"Are you sure?"

In answer, Doofus shoved against her legs. So Holly hurled the stone as far as she could across the water. She was good at throwing, having spent the last few weeks practising for cricket.

Nothing untoward happened. Nothing shone through the stone's eye for a dazzling moment, the way it had the last time she had thrown it. The stone fell into the sea with a liquid thunk.

She hadn't thrown it very far, in truth: it was much heavier than a cricket ball. But far enough. Too far to wade out there and find it again. And it was surely too heavy to get washed up on the beach.

"Is it safe now?" she asked.

But Doofus just went back to his rock-pool and investigated an indignant crab, as if the stone had never existed. He seemed content, so Holly had to be.

Clive had noticed nothing; he had his back to the hissing waves, and was studying instead the huge, silent, petrified waves of the cliff-face.

"Okay," said Holly. Her pocket felt light. Was it really that easy to be rid of fear? That quick?

Well, why not? The stone had lain buried in the moor for hundreds, maybe thousands, of years before it had been found. Why should it not lie harmlessly in the sea for just as long?

But something was worrying her, nagging at the fringe of her mind. As she turned away, wondering what it was, a sudden movement on the cliffs above her made her jump.

Someone had been watching her. Someone who ducked out of sight the instant she turned round.

Holly stared up at the cliff-top for a moment. Then she deliberately bent down as if searching the rocky beach. But all her consciousness was fixed on that cliff-top.

Sure enough, she saw a slow movement at the corner of her vision. She waited, pretending to inspect stones, until she was sure.

Then she looked up with a swift, sharp jerk. The watcher was not so swift nor sharp. She had a glimpse of a red t-shirt and red hair – short – before they ducked out of sight again.

Holly thought of waving, in an ironical, knowing way. But now there was nobody to wave to. She did not like being spied on. It made her angry; and anxious, again, as if the knot inside her had never really untied.

"Come on," she called over to Clive. "Let's head back to Ted's. Tea'll be ready soon." She thought that if they went up the road quickly enough, she might see who was on the top.

However, Clive was in no hurry. When he eventually drifted over to her he had a dreamily excited look that she hadn't seen on his face since a string of molehills appeared across his garden.

Holly was pleased for him – sort of. If geology could make up for a dead hamster, that was fine. Not that it would do for her. Nothing had ever made up for the loss of Pancake; not even Doofus.

And nothing, she thought now for the first time, would ever make up for the loss of Doofus. But he was a young dog. He would live for years and years. Her thoughts veered towards Nan, white and frail in her bed, and skidded away as if on ice.

"I'm going back, Clive," she said. "Come on, Doofus."

She began to hurry along the broken road with her hand on his collar. She wanted the watcher to realise that she had this large, strong, ferocious-looking dog at her beck and call. The fact that Doofus had never bitten anyone was beside the point. He had confronted far more dangerous things than humans.

But once they reached the top of the road and she could see along the cliffs, there was no watcher visible: nobody but the dozing cows. The coastal trail was empty. She stared hard at the bushes that lined the path. Though stunted by the wind, they were still big enough to hide behind if somebody crouched down.

Holly shrugged, deciding that she didn't care enough to go and check. She wasn't going to let some red-haired idiot spoil the first day of her holiday. Doofus was gazing out to sea again, so she joined him. The waves chanted a repetitive, insistent spell, calling her back down.

She thought she recognised the rock that she had been standing on when she threw the stone. A wave broke over it as she watched. Perhaps it might have been better to wade out and drop the stone into deeper water.

"I did the right thing, didn't I?" she asked her dog.

Doofus merely turned away and trotted inland. Clive came panting up to her.

"I'll take my notebook next time," he said, sounding more like himself than he had all day. As they trudged back to Uncle Ted's along the sandy road, Holly heard the sea-spell calling softly, and then more softly, far behind them.

Chapter Three

Holly woke and listened to the sea again. It was like having some giant creature sleeping not far from the house, its faint, long snores drifting through the half-open window in the restful dark.

Dad's snores were not so faint. She thought they were probably what had woken her, until she heard the faint scratching at the bedroom door, and then a sigh.

That was Doofus. He never whined when he wanted something. He never barked either. He no longer howled, thank goodness. He only sighed.

Holly got out of bed and went to see what he wanted – which was, of course, to be let outside.

"You should have been before you went to sleep," she told him in a severe whisper. Creeping downstairs, she found the back door wasn't locked; so she opened it, and Doofus shot out into the darkness of the garden like a cannonball.

And, like a cannonball, it seemed that he collided heavily with something. Holly heard a thump, and the sound of tussling – but no cries – and then feet thudding away across the grass.

"What?" she said. In the clouded moonlight all she could see was a shadowy figure – a person, fairly small, or maybe only appearing small because it was running stooped and low until it clambered over Ted's back fence. Doofus did not follow it. He didn't seem bothered at all as he sauntered back to Holly and rested his bulk against her leg. He yawned.

But she was horrified. Was this a burglar? A child-snatcher? The watcher on the cliffs again? And the back door unlocked!

"We might have been murdered in our beds," she said to Doofus, and for the second time in two days heard that disconcerting echo of her outraged mother.

"All right," she amended, "maybe not murdered. But who was it?"

Doofus nudged her into the house. He was quite calm, so Holly tried to be calm too. Even so, after carefully locking the back door – the key was stiff – and watching Doofus settle down in the doorway in front of it, she could not relax. She went back up to bed and lay there, her eyes open to the darkness and her mind open to the other darknesses she had so recently known.

Forget it till morning, she told herself. Doofus was a good guard dog. If anything seriously dangerous were around, he would show more concern. It was probably a tramp, looking for food. A rather small and stocky tramp.

* * *

"That'll be the piskey," said Great-Uncle Ted over his toast and marmalade. "The frisky piskey."

"You mean a pixie," said Holly with polite disbelief.

"That's it. One of the little folk. Was it wearing proper clothes?"

"I couldn't tell," she said, startled. "I expect so."

"Because they often don't, you know, just rags. They'll come and steal clothes off the washing line and pies out of the pantry." Ted winked at her.

"I didn't hear anything,” said Clive, reaching for the jam. He had already hoovered up his cornflakes and was on his third slice of toast.

"There was nothing to hear," said Holly. "It was only Doofus who heard anything wrong. But, Uncle Ted, don't you think you should keep the back door locked?"

"Ah, the piskey might not like that," said Ted. It was impossible to tell how far he was joking.

"How big is a piskey?" demanded Holly.

"About yay big." He held his hand out, not far from the floor.

"All right. Then it was not a piskey. It was a person, a small person, or maybe somebody about my age."

"There are one or two around," said Uncle Ted. "Children, I mean. You're not unique. He's probably just a nosy parker, whoever he is. I don't usually bother locking the door, but maybe we should. I'll leave a bit of milk outside it for the piskey."

"Really?" said Clive. "You really leave out milk?"

Uncle Ted looked at him. "Don't speak too light of them," he said. "Ask anyone in Ireland. Or on the Isle of Man. Or Iceland. They're elves there, of course."

"Of course," said Clive. "So did the piskeys bend the rocks down by the sea?"

Uncle Ted looked at him a little harder. "That's been done a long, long time ago.

Clive sighed. "I am eleven," he said.

"All right. About three hundred million years ago, the rocks began pushing into each other–"

"You mean tectonic plates collided," said Clive.

"I do." Uncle Ted was now staring quite hard at Clive. "I've got some geological maps if you’re interested."

Clive's face lit up. Ten minutes later he had maps spread out amongst the breakfast crumbs, and Uncle Ted was pointing with a gnarled finger.

"Sandstones and mudstones," he was saying. "Even better up at Hartland Quay. Your dad could take you there."

"Not my dad," said Clive automatically, studying the maps. "Is this the Carboniferous Period?"

"Permian," said Ted. "The one just after."

Holly wondered how Clive knew so much, seeing as he could barely read. "That map looks nothing like the right shape for Cornwall," she pointed out.

"Coastlines change," said Ted. He pushed a huge slab of a book over to her. "You'll see in there."

Holly leafed through it, and saw. The book was full of maps of Britain through the ages – and the coastlines did shrink, and grow again as she turned the pages, ebbing and flowing and occasionally, during ice ages, disappearing altogether under seas of ice.

She didn't particularly want to see those slow tides in the books. They made her uneasy, although she wasn't certain why. Suddenly she wanted to be doing things; to be running along the beach with Doofus, carefree and dodging waves, not stuck in this narrow grey house.

She pushed the book away. "Can I go out?"

"You can go to the shop for me," said Ted. "Get some food for lunch."

Because I'm a girl, thought Holly, as she trudged along the track that led away from the sea, towards the village shop at Hulverton. Because I'm a girl I get to do the shopping.

But that wasn't really fair. She was the one who was desperate to be outside; and she could have said no. Anyway, Doofus was as eager to go out as she was. She did not put him on the lead, knowing that he would not chase anything he was not supposed to.

The sound of the waves diminished behind her as she walked. The path cut through an undulating sea of green, flecked with the foamy blobs of sheep. She could hear them munching. Half way across one field, three big stones stood leaning over one another. They were much taller than she was; she stopped to look at them over the low hedge.

But Doofus wriggled through an opening in the hedge, and trotted over to the stones, so she followed him. He walked around them, sniffing intently at their cool flanks and their dark roots in the grass.

"Standing stones," Holly said aloud. Dad had told her that there were standing stones in Cornwall that were three or four thousand years old. He had not mentioned the fact that there might be some in Ted's back yard, more or less. All three stones were higher than a tall man; two of them leant against each other, the third stood upright, and a fourth, which she had not noticed from the track, lay on the grass.

The stones made her feel vaguely uncomfortable. Not just because the air felt very chilly in their shadow, but because they reminded her of that other ancient stone that had rested in her pocket until she flung it into the sea. Something was still bothering her about that, and she didn't know what.

But Doofus was interested in the standing stones. She walked round to their sunny side, away from the path, waiting for him to finish sniffing at them.

She basked in the warmth, relaxing for a moment – but it was only for a moment. Between the stones' high, leaning walls, she glimpsed another person walking on the path, beyond the hedge. A second later the walker was out of view again, but she knew what she had seen.

Someone with a red T-shirt and red hair.

Holly lurked behind the stones, hoping whoever it was had not noticed her and would not walk towards her. By the time she peered out again a few minutes later, the red-haired person had gone.

Doofus seemed satisfied by whatever his sniffing had told him. When he returned to the track, she followed him with her heart beating a little faster than usual. Soon the path met a thin gravelly road which wandered down to a small grey excuse for a village: a clump of tired houses and the shop.

The village looked entirely closed, with blank windows and two empty streets; not a sign of life. As Holly ordered Doofus to sit outside the shop, she wondered if this would be closed as well. But the door rang like a bicycle bell when she pushed at it.

Three heads turned as she went in, and one of them had red hair. It was a boy about her age or perhaps a little older. Holly felt him staring and did not want to look at him, but then decided to. Why shouldn't she? Especially if he'd been spying on her from the top of the cliff yesterday. So she gave him a brief expressionless stare back, before she turned to study the shelves.

There was not much to study. Tins, tissues, soap. And half a dozen fish staring back at her from on top of a crate of ice. The shop-keeper and the old lady by the counter resumed their chat.

"Did they take anything else, Anita?" said the old lady. The shop-keeper, who was plump and middle-aged, replied,

"Just the beef. I'd left it in the pantry to defrost. And they stuck their grubby fingers in the butter."

"Ah!" said the old lady wisely. "Fingerprints! What did the police say?"

Anita snorted. "You think they'll send detectives all the way out here for the sake of a joint of beef? They said some one will stroll down from Barnstaple this afternoon. I'll believe it when I see them. Meanwhile, I'd lock your door at night, Madge."

"Ah," said Madge. It was a proper pirate's arr. "I always do this time of year, in the tourist season. It may be spriggans in the winter but in the summer I'd know who to blame." The old lady picked up her shopping bag. Before she left, she cast a steely glittering eye over Holly, coolly saying, "Good morning."

"Good morning," mumbled Holly, as the bell rang Madge out.

The red-haired boy was inspecting biscuits. The plump shop-keeper turned to Holly. She looked friendlier than Madge.

"Well! You'll be staying with Ted," she declared. "It's Holly, isn't it? I've seen your photo."

"Yes," said Holly, taken aback. "Please do you have some bacon?"

"In that chiller cabinet. Are you liking it here?"

"It's lovely," Holly said politely. "And a dozen eggs, please." Anita began to check eggs for cracks before putting them in boxes. To fill the space, Holly asked,

"What are spriggans, please?"

"Oh, don't worry about Madge," said Anita. "Full of old stories, she is. Spriggans are just naughty little sprites."

"Piskeys," Holly said. "Okay."

"Bad ones," said Anita. "And how's your brother Matthew?"

"He's fine," said Holly, taken aback again. She added hastily, "He's not here. That's not him." She nodded her head towards the red-haired boy, still browsing biscuits.

"Oh, no, that's Otto. Your neighbour, from the other end of Karrek Row. Has he not introduced himself yet? Otto? This is Holly. Aren't you going to say hallo?"

Otto emerged from behind the shelves. "Hallo," he said, unsmiling. His voice was unbroken. She judged him to be about twelve.

"Hallo. I saw you yesterday at the beach," said Holly, equally unsmiling.

"I often go there," Otto said. He had a narrow, pale, rather blank face with a few random freckles. A forgettable face, unlike his hair. It was the most remarkable thing about him: very red, with curls trying to burst through the wax that slicked it down. Holly felt quite envious of it.

"Are your other two houses rented out this week?" Anita asked.

Otto blushed slightly. "Not this week. Dad's still doing them up."

Anita tutted faintly and turned to Holly. "Will you be all right carrying those eggs all the way back?" she asked.

"Yes, thank you," Holly said. "I've got a rucksack." It turned out she had to stuff a newspaper and a large envelope for Uncle Ted into it as well.

Otto came out of the shop after her, without buying anything, and began to walk alongside her. He did not ask if she wanted his company, nor did he offer to carry her bag. Instead he flicked at the long grass-heads that they passed, as if he was teasing them. Holly was glad when Doofus shouldered his way in between them so that she could feel the protective bulk of his body by her legs.

"That's a big dog," said Otto. This remark was so obvious that it did not seem to deserve a reply.

"I'm staying here with my father for the summer," he added after a while. "My parents are divorced. I spend most of the summer holidays with Dad. He's an architect. And a developer. He's bought the two houses in the middle of Karrek Row and he's doing them up for holiday lets. He's already done our house up. It's really smart. He paints too. Oil-paintings. He sells them. He's got a boat." As he spoke he began to torment the cow parsley, pulling at every lacy head. Holly did not answer. Her father had nothing comparable to offer.

"What year are you?" asked Otto. "At school, I mean. Are you Year Eight? I'll be in Year Eight in September."

"I'll be in Year Seven," she said reluctantly.

"Oh! You're not in High School yet, then?"

Again, this was so obvious that she did not bother to answer. She wished he would go away.

"I could show you our boat," said Otto. "It's a motor cruiser."

"No thank you," said Holly instinctively. She added, "I think we'll be busy. Dad has a list."

"Where are you from?"

"Derbyshire," said Holly shortly. He had nothing to say to that. He had probably barely even heard of Derbyshire, she thought. “You're from down south," she said. "Near London."

"Surrey. How did you know?"

"It’s the way you talk."

"Me? I just talk normally."

"Well, you can't hear yourself," said Holly distantly.

"Who's the other boy?"

"That's Clive," she said. "He's my friend. He lives next door back home."

"Is he a nerd? He looks like a nerd."

"He's my friend," she said with a snap. Clive was undoubtedly a nerd of sorts with his notebook and his strange enthusiasms, but there was no way she was going to denounce him to Otto.

"You needn't be so prickly," Otto said, sounding prickly himself.

She put her hand on Doofus's broad shoulder and looked away over the hedge. "What are those stones?"

"I don't know. They're just stones."

"They're standing stones," she corrected him. "Why don't you know? I thought you came here every summer."

"Yeah, but they're only stones. Why would I be interested in stones?"

Holly felt herself grow warm with annoyance. "Because seeing as they might be thousands of years old, I thought you might have bothered to find out. I mean, you like to find out about everything else, don't you?"

"What do you mean?"

"I saw you spying on us from the cliff." There, she'd said it.

After a minute he said, "Well, it's a free country."

"And who was creeping round our house last night?"

"What are you talking about?"

"Somebody was in our garden last night. Doofus chased them off."

"That wasn't me," he said more confidently. "Didn't you hear Anita in the shop? A burglar got in through her pantry window and stole her beef. Probably the same person. Why would I want to go creeping round your garden?"

Holly had no good answer to this, so she said, "I'm going to give Doofus a run," and clapping Doofus on the shoulder she set off.

Doofus raced off after her like an eager greyhound, overtaking her within two seconds. It gave Holly an excuse to run at full pelt after him. She was fairly sure that if Otto did follow, he wouldn't be able to keep up. On sports day she'd proved faster than all the boys except one; and her legs seemed to have grown a bit even since then.

Spider-legs, her brother Matt unkindly called them. Still, they could run. She knew she could keep going for a good while, even with her rucksack.

Sure enough, when she eventually raced up to the house and looked back, panting, Otto was gone.

"Two of these eggs are cracked," said Ted, unpacking the bags.

"Sorry. That was me. I ran."

"Not to worry, we'll be using them soon," said Ted easily.

"Uncle Ted, what are those standing stones in the field on the way to the shop?"

"That's the Benns. They were probably a dolmen once – a tomb with a stone on top till it fell off."

"How old are they?" she demanded.

"Nobody's too sure. There's a good dolmen down Penzance way that's four thousand years old, if your Dad fancies a day trip."

"I'll put it on the list," said Dad.

"Where's Clive?"

"He's gone down to the sea," said Dad. "If you're going after him, take your phone."

"It won't work," said Ted. "Take the dog."

"I was going to," said Holly. "Are you coming too, Dad?"

"Maybe later. I've got cricket on the radio and a crossword that needs doing," said Dad with a happy yawn.

"And I've got a sink that needs mending and grass to cut," said Ted, looking at him rather pointedly. He was tearing open the fat envelope that Anita had given Holly for him.

"Take some sun-cream for Clive," said Dad. "He ran off without it. He was in too much of a hurry to catch low tide."

"He won't miss low tide," said Ted. "It's not till mid-day. But you need to be back for lunch by one."

"Low tide?" repeated Holly. "When was it high tide last night?"

"About six yesterday evening. Then again around six this morning. There's a tide table on the door." Ted frowned at the contents of his package. "What on earth," he said, although it only seemed to be a sheaf of documents.

"Let's go, Doofus," said Holly, throwing the sun-cream and a water-bottle in her rucksack. Ted's words had filled her with a sudden panic that rushed over her in a wave of heat. She could feel herself turning red.

How stupid was she? As she ran out of the house again with Doofus at her heels, she berated herself fiercely.

Tides! How could she have forgotten about tides?

It had been high tide when she threw the stone eye in the waves. She had foolishly imagined it would stay submerged for centuries. She had thought it was a safe end to the stone and all that it could do.

And instead, a few hours later, the tide would have gone out – and left it lying high and dry for anyone to see...

* * *

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Copyright © Emma Laybourn 2020

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