My turn for this wonderful bookish blog hop! My writing is mostly informed by my archaeology; my historical novels are set in the 12thC around a Priory I discovered. But today I’d like to introduce you to the hero of my children’s short stories, aimed at independent readers or for bedtime reading. Henry usually lives in the 1950s, making him just historical; but for this solstice special, as the year turns and there is hope for a better year on the horizon, I thought I’d like to bring him into the present day. He owns a magic pencil, and the things that he draws with it come to life – not always in the way he expects…
Henry Baker and the Stone-Age Solstice
Home was a bit of a depressing place right now, what with not being allowed to visit Nan, and Dad having lost his job. He and Mum spent more time worrying about things than smiling – it felt like no-one had been able to be properly cheerful for months, and it didn’t help that the virus might still cancel Christmas.
Henry was surprised to find that he was really enjoying going to school, even with all the virus restrictions! They had been doing the Stone Age, working backwards to it. Last week Miss Kinneson had talked about how it had taken thousands of years for metal to replace flint tools, and there was even a surgeon in London who used a flint scalpel instead of steel right now, because it was sharper!
She had brought in some Bronze Age axes, real ones, and Henry could still feel the solid cold weight to them, sucking all the heat out of his hand. They’d been a lovely mossy green, and Miss had said that was sort-of bronze rust; instead of going the reddish-orange that iron did, bronze went that soft green colour. He’d liked the shape of them, too – some of them were plain and narrow, with clear straight sides like a ruler, except for where you could see that some of the bronze had leaked out between the two sides of the mould when they were being cast. Most of the others had curvier shapes at the bottom, and Miss explained that to sharpen the blade you hit it with a hammer; the more curved they were, the more the axe had been used. Henry swapped his big straight one with Gurdeep for a lovely curvy one, like a cool green smile. You could just see a bit of shiny metal in one place, like dark gold glinting through, and Henry lost himself in a daydream of a man dressed in furs using this magical gleaming tool to cut firewood for his family.
He hadn’t thought that anything could beat the axes, but this week, Neolithic Week, Miss had laid out some interesting looking stuff at the front and said they were going to talk about them for a bit, then watch a video. She called them up one by one to choose something to hold. Henry hated the days when she did things in reverse surname order; and sure enough, he was last, and there was only one boring looking lump of stone left on the table. He was a bit surprised when Miss smiled at him and told the class,
“Henry has got my favourite piece! As he’s here, we’ll start with it. Have a good look at it, Henry, then hold it up and tell us what you see.”
He looked dumbly at it for a moment, lying in his hand like a short fat slug. It was pale grey with some darker grey spots in, nothing very special. It was almost flat, with just a little bulge at one edge. THIS was Miss’ favourite piece?!
“Turn it over” she whispered.
It still didn’t look that great. It was shaped a bit like a cheese wedge on this side, with the thickest part of the edge curved. He ran his thumb along that side, and frowned in surprise. There were a whole lot of tiny ridges along it! He turned it to the light and peered at it. They were pretty evenly spaced, all along that edge, and looked like they’d been made on purpose, there was nothing in the stone that would give lines like that. The curve was like a grin, and the lines were teeth! He turned it in his hand. With his forefinger curled over the back edge, and his thumb over the top, only the smile showed.
“Oh, clever boy!” Miss said. Henry looked up, startled. “That is exactly the way to hold it. Hold your hand up, so that everyone can see? – what Henry has is called a thumb scraper, and they’re used for cleaning all the gunk off the insides of skins so you can use them to make clothes and shoes from them. You only ever find them right outside where a house was, because that’s where you’d stand and clean up your skins; and Henry is holding it exactly like the person who made it held it to do that work, maybe 5000 years ago.”
Henry wandered back to his seat in a daze, still clutching the thumb scraper. It fitted into his hand like it was made for it, and he could see how what he’d thought were random shapes in the stone were actually meant to be there. There was a place that exactly fitted the fleshy bit at the tip of his forefinger, so he could press really hard if he wanted to; and he could feel how by moving his thumb just a fraction that he was changing the angle of the “teeth”. This was a serious piece of design! It was warm in his hand, and he wondered about the person who had made it, all those thousands of years ago…
He was still half in the dream when Miss pulled the blinds down, turned off the lights, and started the video. It was about some place in Ireland, he hadn’t been listening properly. The camera was flying around a great green mound, people looking tiny beside it. They were on top of a hill, a river curving around, fields stretching away beyond. The camera moved round some more, and there was a great white gash of a mouth on the other side of the mound! The camera zoomed towards it and through a low door. It went black as black, and Henry gasped a bit.
The narrator went on, “For 364 days a year, no light can enter the chamber. Only on the morning of the winter solstice, 21st December, can a single ray of light penetrate the mouth of the tunnel, and only then when the weather conditions are perfect. For the people waiting inside, entombed in the dark, the wait must have been agonising. We can only speculate what that ray of light meant to them. Perhaps only when that golden beam of light slowly crept the whole length of the passageway, across the chamber, and then to its final resting place on the north wall of the chamber, could hope be reborn in the world.”
Henry watched, hardly breathing, as a small warm spot of light broke the darkness and inched along the stone floor, leaving a golden track. It crept past the spot where the camera was, and with unbearable slowness crept up the wall of the chamber. Henry could feel goose-pimples on his arms as the camera panned round, resting at last on three perfectly carved and interlocking spirals, gilded by the light.
“For this year at least, a perfect solstice. The Earth has been woken from her winter sleep by the force of light, and the cycle of life has been renewed with hope.”
The whole class drew breath together as the credits started to roll and Miss flicked the lights on. Henry shut his eyes to keep those golden spirals in his mind for a moment more.
Homework was to write a story set in the Neolithic, and Henry wrote all about how the man had wanted to make his family some fine new clothes for the solstice celebration, and had carefully chosen just the right piece of flint to make the tool that would let him do that. It was an OK story, he thought. Then he borrowed Mum’s gold pen that she used for writing gift tags and very carefully drew those interlocking spirals at the bottom of the page.
There were raised voices coming from downstairs – Mum and Dad arguing again. Henry drew in a deep breath. Nothing he’d drawn with his magic pencil had worked out as he’d planned – but each time things had at least changed. And change was what the whole family – the whole world! – was desperate for. He got the magic pencil out of its secret hiding place in his T-shirt drawer, sharpened it to a fine point, and very carefully used it to draw in one smooth go the line that the sun made going up the passageway and across the chamber, ending exactly in the middle of the spiral. He sat back and huffed out the breath he had been holding. And mentally crossed his fingers. Then really crossed his fingers, both hands – and his toes.
Nothing seemed to happen for a couple of days, and Henry began to worry that he hadn’t been specific enough. What if the magic thought he was drawing a skipping rope? Or maybe a snake? It was freezing outside, maybe he’d caused a whole heap of snakes to appear and die straight away from the cold…
The thud of letters on the mat broke up his thoughts, and he went to fetch them. There was one each for Mum and Dad, so he took them through to the kitchen, where they were both sitting drinking tea, not really talking to each other. They opened them straight away and spoke together.
“It’s an appointment for the vaccine!”
“They’ve offered me the job!”
Dad came round the table and swept Mum up into a hug, and after a moment they pulled Henry in too. Dad spoke into Mum’s hair. Henry had to strain to hear…
“Now we can have a proper Christmas.” He sounded close to tears, but you could tell he was smiling.
Comment below with your favourite children’s story to be in the draw to win a signed copy of Henry and the Magic Pencil; 9 more stories for your little ones 🙂
Here’s the full list of all the Jolabokaflod posts, so you can catch up! Each one has been marvellous so far!
Dec 3rd Sharon Bennett Connolly https://historytheinterestingbits.com
Dec 4th Alex Marchant https://alexmarchantblog.wordpress.com
Dec 5th Cathie Dunn https://cathiedunn.blogspot.com/
Dec 6th Jennifer C Wilson https://jennifercwilsonwriter.wordpress.com
Dec 8th Danielle Apple www.danielleapple.com
Dec 9th Angela Rigley Authory Antics
Dec 10th Christine Hancock A boy who became a man. The man who was Byrhtnoth.
Dec 12th Janet Wertman https://Janetwertman.com
Dec 13th Vanessa Couchman https://vanessacouchmanwriter.com/blog
Dec 14th Sue Barnard https://broad-thoughts-from-a-home.blogspot.co.uk
Dec 15th Wendy J Dunn www.wendyjdunn.com
Dec 16th Margaret Skea Home – Margaret Skea, Author
Dec 17th Nancy Jardine https://nancyjardine.blogspot.com
Dec 18th Tim Hodkinson http://timhodkinson.blogspot.com
Dec 19th Salina Baker www.salinabakerauthor.com
Dec 20th Paula Lofting www.paulaloftinghistoricalnovelist.wordpress.com
Dec 21st Nicky Moxey nickymoxey.com
Dec 22nd Samantha Wilcoxson samanthawilcoxson.blogspot.com
Dec 23rd Jen Black JEN BLACK (jenblackauthor.blogspot.com)
Dec 24th Lynn Bryant www.lynnbryant.co.uk