Sandstone hills – Part of the Little Blue Marbles Series

Dylan woke up at the break of dawn hungry, but not willing to eat any of the crackers, nuts or cheese he had brought along for the trip. The thought of crossing the sandstone hills had kept him up for most of the night, and now, exhausted and with worry causing him a sick stomach, he had to find the strength to get out of the sleeping bag, out of the tent, and face the damned hills, which looked even more inhospitable grazed by the first rays of the sun than they did during the night like a darkness denser that the surrounding. There was in fact no good reason his drinking friends, and only friends around these parts, could present to justify their loathing for these hills: no one had gone missing travelling them, there were no venomous snakes, wolves or bears roaming there, and the trail crossing them only required some hiking boots to walk, was hard to get lost on since taking the wrong turn would take you to a precipice sooner rather than later, and only difficult because of the steep inclines.

Dylan was a strange nature, an intrepid explorer afraid of missing the direct train and having to change in stations along the route he hadn’t visited before. He embarked on this voyage to prove himself to his friends and also because in spite of liking the carefree lifestyle that living in a forgotten town offered, he would get quite bored and craved doing something out of the ordinary. So, instead of taking the train to the summer fair held in the village ten miles away, he had decided to pack his glass goods in his backpack along with essential supplies and walk the two-day journey there. His friends pointing out glass goods and backpacking don’t mix well only spurred him on, and having walked seven easy miles the day before, only had to cross the hills to get to the village on the other side.

Grinding his teeth, Dylan left the last patches of dusty green weeds and entered the hills. The first monolith soared to the sky, blocking the view of the sun and marking the entrance like the frame of a door. The abruptness of entering a cave, rather than climbing a hill, was making its way into Dylan’s heart like an expanding foam, pushing other feelings aside and then disappearing leaving behind only an empty space which constituted the dread Dylan, as others before him, was feeling intensely. The path was getting steeper and the effort of climbing increased the blood pressure causing Dylan’s ears to start ringing. The ripples of the earthquake shaking his eardrums reached his eyes, which were now protesting violently to the lack of light, the sudden severing of its flow brought about by one step crossing past another monolith soaring on the opposite side to the first.

An urge took over Dylan, who at this point was sweating and cursing his foolish decision to venture here, and he stopped, took off the backpack and from the main compartment took out a carefully wrapped glass vase, the layer of old newspaper so thick it barely allowed one to discern the shape of what’s inside, unwrapped it and having put the wrapping back into his bag, he lunged forward onto his left foot and with a massive swing of his right arm powered by the momentum of his jump, propelled the vase forward like an olympic thrower and smashed it less than a meter in front of him. The explosion sent glass shrapnel cutting his face. He didn’t move for what seemed like an eternity. His mind, his hearing, and vision regained clarity and he called himself lucky for somehow not having any glass in his eyes, as far as he could tell. He kept on walking. Eventually, his curiosity got the best of him and he run his hand over his face, feeling the stinging pain for the first time. He knew those tiny shards of yellow glass would accompany him beyond the end of his crossing, the summer fair or the year.

For the next five hours, whenever the pulsating pressure boxed him in, he would take another piece of glass, smashed it to pieces, and kept on walking as nothing ever happened. During periods of calm, as he was approaching the highest point of the crossing, he would have a name creep into his mind: Irene. When he made it to the highest point, he had run out of glassware in his bag, which was now filled only with blood-stained, old newspaper. The sun had made it to the top of the sky and had its best chance of seeing the vertical sandstone walls. For a brief period of time the murky brown of everything around had its strange purple tinge cut by the bright yellow sunlight, turning briefly a forgettable shade of vermilion. The light descended low enough that Dylan could see the lizards sunbathing in the noon sun, their presence betrayed by their movement and yellow eyes. The sun not long after descended gently in unison with Dylan on the path. He didn’t think ‘Irene’ again.

Next to the entrance to the tiny village square was a sign battered by the weather and reading ‘Sandstone Hills’, barely legible in a strange gothic font and with yellow letters on a rusted background. The place was packed with one massive fair ride offering folk the chance to ride round for £5 on tacky unicorns, dolphins, orangutans, and pigs until the insides of their thighs grew blisters. The contraption took up so much space it seemed to displace the atmosphere as well, and left for a suffocating fair experience. The whole event was actually just a Sunday market, which had brought in on command from some clever businessman the ride in order to call it a fair and put prices up dramatically. Not dissuaded, the local folk were going round the stalls in an orderly fashion. In counterclockwise sense from the entrance were arranged stalls in such a way to provide one with things they needed for the day, in the right order: greasy fried sausages wrapped in bacon and served on a slice of black pudding next to a ladlefull of baked beans (from a can, reheated over a fire for dramatic effect), a pint (or several) of apple cider, seventeen different kinds of cheese, the only one selling being the extra mature cheddar, a selection of underbaked and over-infused with baking powder scones, no jam (too much sugar is bad for the health), a pint (or several) of dark ale, so that by the time one had visited all the stalls and the shops selling ‘Ye ol’ knick-knacks’ situated behind them, they had passed the day and were ready to leave with all their money gone. In the corner of the square opposite the entrance, hidden behind the last stall selling watermelon and pork pies (a local tradition), was sat a haggard looking man with his face covered in bandages. In front he had a hat filled with coins and a paper bag filled with blue marbles. The adults barely noticed him, but he had made himself into an attraction for the kids. He gave the big marbles for 50p and the small ones for 30p. The slightly older and working towards becoming astute businesspeople among the children could get the imperfect ones for 20p. By the end of the day, Dylan had made enough to buy himself a pie and pint of lager (cheaper than ale), fix the hole in his budget left by the room where he had spent the night, and get himself a train ticket back.

On his way to the station, which was actually about half a mile outside of the village and consisted of a ticket kiosk and a platform with a leaky roof, he swung by a shack from where he knew he could buy pigments stolen from a chemicals’ factory which had closed down years before, but had never been cleared out. The jolly man inside was not bothered hiding the nature of his business and cried out when he saw Dylan:
‘Dylan, mate, haven’t seen you in ages, what can I help you with this time?’
‘Mate, some of that stuff you sold me last time lasted forever. If I put too much in made the glass so coloured I couldn’t see through it.’
‘There’s plenty more where that came from. What would you like? Some cad yellow?’
‘Neah, think I’m done with that for a while. You got some more of that cobalt blue?’
‘£50 for a 10 g bag’
‘Bloody hell, ain’t you got some smaller ones?’ Dylan knew the bag probably hadn’t even been weighed and must have had a couple of grams in it at most. He had saved £20 for his visit here and knew the man, whose name he never cared to enquire about, would give him as much as he wanted for as much money he had.

With his blue bag of wonder safely craddled among the newspaper in his backpack, Dylan turned up to the kiosk and asked for a one-way ticket to Larkham. On the train he fell asleep and dreamt of Irene.

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