The two boys stood side by side. Only a few centimetres separated them. Without turning, Simon spoke to his younger brother, “Hey, Michael, did you hear about the girls that disappeared here thirty years ago?”
Each boy gazed at the brown water rippling beneath huge slabs of exposed stone. Green sludge, algae and sorry-looking plant-life decorated the edges of the large pool, where water met rock. The brothers’ eyes remained fixed on the water, as though hypnotised. In the diminishing orange light cast from a clear autumn sunset, a faded sign beside the nearby footpath stated: Denham Quarry.
“Disappeared?” Michael replied with a furrowing of his brow, “What? Here?”
“This very place. Death Quarry.”
“Where did they go?”
“No one knows. Fifteen Girl Guides, vanished into thin air.”
“What’s a Girl Guide?”
“You know. Like Cubs and Scouts. Like your Beaver Scout group, but older. A Scout group just for girls.”
“We have girls and boys in our Beavers.”
Simon paused, squinting a bit, “Well, thirty years ago they didn’t have girls in Beavers or Scouts. Boys were Scouts, girls were Guides. So yeah, this group was all girls.”
“Oh, weird,” he paused, reflecting. “Jessica is probably the best in our Beaver group.”
“Oh? Jessica is the best is she? Is she your girlfriend?” Simon teased.
“Shut up, Si. I’m cold. Can we go home?”
“What are you talking about? We only just got here. Do you not want to look for clues about the disappearing girls?” He did some quick maths. “You know, if they’re still alive, they’ll be in their forties now!”
“Maybe they all just ran away.”
“Fifteen girls? Doubt it. They’re probably dead. That’s why they call it Death Quarry. Let’s see if we can find their bones.” He set off walking around the water’s edge.
“What? I thought you wanted to be an archaeologist.”
“I want to dig up fossils and maybe dinosaurs. Not people.”
“Hey, dinosaurs were people too.”
“You’re weird, Si.” Michael dropped his rucksack, and took out a cereal bar. “Can I leave my bag here?”
“If you want. It’s not the airport.”
Michael scrunched up his face; he didn’t get it.
“Come on, let’s look around,” said Simon.
The boys roamed the bushes and quarry edges, but after an hour gave up their search. Michael picked up his bag and followed his brother on the short walk home along the country lane. The front door opened with a sharp click.
“Well hello! Better late than never. Where have you two been?”
“Just looking for clues,” replied Michael.
“Did you find any?”
“Oh well, better luck next time. Tea will be ready in five minutes. Go and wash your hands and then sit up please.”
. . .
With his teeth thoroughly cleaned, and his body snug in fresh pyjamas, Michael could still feel the residual warmth of hot oat-milk cocoa in his belly as his mother tucked him into bed. She kissed his forehead, and turned off the light on her way out, shutting the door softly behind her. She had been out of the room for barely a minute when Michael untucked himself and rolled out of bed. He quietly turned on his computer and researched the missing girl guides mentioned by his brother. He zoomed in on a photo of them. “So that’s a Girl Guide,” he murmured. Satisfied, he switched the screen off, and climbed back into bed.
A few hours later, Michael awoke to a sound in his bedroom. It hadn’t been loud, just something moving, shuffling. His eyes scanned the room while he lay motionless in bed. In the soft blue light leaking through his curtains, he could see two action-figure sized silhouettes crouched on the shelf opposite his bed. I don’t have any toys up there, he thought to himself. Moving slowly, he quietly turned on his bedside lamp. The figures were moving, inching backwards. He blinked, and unconsciously mouthed, “Girl Guides.” They were just like the girls in the photo: same clothes, same green sash covered with badges. Michael tilted his gaze towards the floor. There were more. He counted. There were thirteen down there, so with the two on the shelf, that made fifteen. Fifteen tiny girls.
“How did you get here?” he whispered.
Fifteen miniature arms pointed to Michael’s rucksack, which lay crumpled on the floor.
“Can you talk?”
One girl, the tallest of the group motioned for him to move closer. Slowly, he climbed out of bed, lay on his front and shuffled towards the group. He rested his chin on the floor so that their heads were the height of his eyes.
“You’d never hear us from all the way up there, so I need to speak to you closely. Our vocals chords are probably small too, you see,” said the tall, small Girl Guide.
“Shall I whisper?” replied Michael.
“Yes, thanks. Now, we need your help.”
“Do you have gold here?”
“Gold? I think my mum has gold rings and stuff.”
The girl clasped her hands before her chest. “We need gold to get home.”
“Oh.” Michael said, visibly concerned.
“Can you help?”
“I think so. I’ll ask my big brother. Will you wait here?”
Michael pushed up off the floor, and headed into his brother’s room. He saw a blur as Simon quickly shut his laptop lid.
“Shit, Mikey. How many times do I have to say. Knock!”
“Sorry, I forgot.”
“What are you doing up? Mum put you to bed hours ago.”
Michael shuffled, feeling the thick carpet beneath his toes. “There are fifteen small girls in my bedroom.”
“What? What are you talking about? Have you had a nightmare?”
“No. They need help. Will you come and see?”
“I’m kind of busy right now.”
“What you doing?”
Simon frowned. “Fine. Show me. But there’ll be nothing there.”
. . .
“What the hell?” Simon whispered, his body rigid. A couple of the toy-sized Girl Guides waved up at him.
Michael motioned to his brother. “Ladies, this is my brother Simon. He’ll know what to do. Si, they look like toys but they’re real. They need gold to get home,” he said, holding his palms face up, “Oh yeah, you need to whisper too. Like me.”
Simon took a deep breath. “What the hell is going on?”
“We should lie down on the floor so we can hear them.”
Michael descended, and Simon followed suit on a patch of carpet across the bedroom. The two Girl Guides from the shelf had joined the others on the floor by now, and were talking amongst themselves. Simon brushed aside some Lego pieces and watched as one of the of the girls walked around a plastic brontosaurus towards his little brother’s ear. He couldn’t hear what she was saying, so he addressed the others.
“Are you the girls who went missing thirty years ago?”
One of the girls approached him and spoke. Her voice was quiet, but clear: “We don’t really know anything about time. The world is fluid in terms of both scale and duration. But we might be your girls. We aren’t sure who we are. All that we know, is that a kind hedgehog led us to the rucksack — your brother’s rucksack — and spoke of the way home. She told us that we could trust you, and that we would need an offering of gold in order to return to our own place.”
While Simon let the words sink in, the girl crossed her arms and started tapping her foot. She was apparently waiting for a response.
“Hedgehogs don’t talk,” he said.
The girl shrugged her shoulders, and returned to her group. Michael rose to his knees, and turned to Simon.
“So, Sandra said we just need to take them back to the quarry, and leave some gold in the light of the moon. Then they can get home.”
Simon shook his head, “Okay, I’ll go along with this. Whatever this is. Mum’s jewellery box is in the spare room. Hold on.”
He tiptoed out of the bedroom and down the hallway, and gently opened the door to the spare room. The muffled sounds of a television echoed from downstairs. Revealing the contents of the jewellery box, Simon grabbed anything that looked like gold and stuffed his pockets. He closed the box lid and crept back to Michael’s room. The same surreal scene greeted him: his little brother and fifteen miniature girls.
“I’ve got some gold. I guess we should get you back into Mike’s rucksack and head back to the quarry. We’ll have to be proper silent though, Mikey. Mum’s watching TV down there.”
The brothers held their breath and crawled past the living room doorway. The percussive sounds of a gun fight emanated from beyond the half-closed door — more than adequate cover for the scuffling of small knees on carpet. In that moment, Michael’s heart had never beat so fast; Simon’s had been racing ever since his brother had burst into his room unannounced earlier that night. The siblings crept away from the house, finding themselves under a clear sky and a full moon. For a few seconds, the rapid beats of their hearts synchronised. They were on their way.
. . .
The quarry was perfectly tranquil, illuminated by the brightness of the moon above. Michael placed his rucksack on the ground. Almost immediately, the girls climbed out. One of them waved at Simon, and pointed at a perfectly smooth, flat stone.
“You want me to put the gold stuff there?” he said. Some of the guides nodded. Simon crouched down, and piled a gold watch, a few bracelets, necklaces and earrings on the stone. He remained crouched, and Michael sat down cross-legged beside him.
“What now?” Michael asked.
As soon as he had posed the question, the jewellery seemed to reflect an excess of moonlight. It brightened, and then melted, forming a flawless golden pool which covered the stone. The liquid gold ebbed, moving off the stone, and weaved between other rocks as it slithered into the body of water at the base of the rock face, disappearing into the depths. For a moment, the water flashed with a yellow light. The boys were awestruck. Simon’s mouth hung open, “Mum is going to kill us.”
While the brothers had been distracted by the show of bright gold, the Girl Guides had discreetly formed a line beside the large pool. Now, as Simon and Michael returned their gaze, the first girl proceeded to step upon the water as though it was a solid piece of glass. The others followed, each of them miraculously able to walk on water; their reflections in the pool’s motionless surface given a crystalline definition by the dazzling moonlight. When the line of girls was nearly halfway across, the silence was punctuated by a sudden cacophony of animal sounds: birds tweeting, dogs barking, owls hooting and a shrill peppering of insect noise. It stopped as quickly as it had started, and directly opposite the leading girl guide, a circular hole appeared in the rock wall; it gradually grew, and emanated a bright orange glow, as though light had been captured from the sunset earlier that night, and transplanted into the rock face. Michael shielded his eyes.
The parade steadily progressed above the water, and one by one the girls approached the bright orange circle which had impossibly opened into the gritstone. The first girl reached the opening, and without slowing, disappeared into it. A tiny girl, walking into a tiny sun. In only a few seconds, the vivid amber light had swallowed the entire procession. The portal contracted, and disappeared, and the brothers found themselves in the blue haze of midnight.
“Bye,” said Michael in a quiet voice, waving at the cold, grey rock face.
“I hope they get where they need to be,” replied Simon.
. . .
The next morning, the brothers awoke to their mother calling from down the hallway.
“Michael!” Her voice cracked a little. “Have you been in my jewellery again?”