‘You shall lift up the stone and see all the stars of heaven beneath.’
That was all the voice said, whispering into her left ear. She almost felt breath on her skin as it spoke, but there was no-one there.
There was nobody she could tell about the voice. They would think she was back in trouble again, perhaps even schizophrenic this time, and Maddy did not feel schizophrenic. Not that she knew how that felt — but she felt no different than she ever had, except that sometimes an invisible person said something incomprehensible to her.
One day, she was in the kitchen cooking dinner, it came again.
‘You shall lift the stone and see all the stars of heaven beneath.’
‘You’ve got the wrong person,’ she yelled. ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about! Go away!’
‘You shall lift the stone and see all the stars of heaven beneath.’
Maddy threw a tomato in the direction she imagined the voice coming from. It splattered against the far wall, and then she had to clean it up before Ben saw the mess and asked what had been going on. The onions burned and she had to start all over again.
The voice did not bother her for a while and she thought maybe she had chased it away. But no.
Any time there was a moments’ silence and she was alone, the whisper came, so she started to wear her earbuds all the time and made sure that music was playing through them whenever she was by herself. There was never silence and she could not hear whispers above the constant noise in her ears.
At night, though, it found a way in through her dreams.
‘There,’ it said, ‘there is the stone.’
She was in a dark place, and all she could see was a circular stone, about a shoulder’s breadth wide, lying on the cold ground. The words ‘Well Beneath’ were engraved on it, lichen growing into the grooves of the shallow-cut letters.
‘You shall lift the stone,’ the voice told her.
So she did.
It was hard to get her fingers underneath the edge of the flat stone, but it was thin and not as heavy as she expected. She lifted it up and rolled it away. Underneath was a circular black hole. Looking down, she saw dark water and in it a great crowding mass of stars.
She leaned towards the water, and felt herself falling in.
The fall woke her suddenly and she sat up in bed, gasping, which woke Ben, too.
‘Nightmare,’ she said. Then she told him about the dream. It was a relief to tell someone, but she did not mention that she’d heard the voice before.
‘Sounds weird,’ he said, then he closed his eyes and a minute later was snoring gently.
In the morning he only vaguely remembered the incident and Maddy did not know whether to be glad about that or not.
Every night from then on she would be woken by the dream. Ben was very worried. She persuaded her doctor to give her a short course of sleeping tablets, but the dream managed to punch through her drugged sleep.
Ben made her go to see a Jungian therapist, who, after a few sessions trying to extract meaning from her unconscious, told her that she was ‘resistant’. She resisted by not going to see him again.
Ben’s next solution was a holiday. An expensive week in a country hotel with no phones, no work, nothing she did not want to do. It did sound good. The hotel was a converted manor house just outside a town called Shuckleigh, with the River Lost flowing through the extensive grounds. Here, the dream did not disturb her sleep at all, and during the day she heard no voices.
‘Stress,’ said Ben. ‘That’s all it was.’
And she believed him.
After a couple of days they went out of the hotel to explore the countryside. Further along the river was an old ruined abbey — not much more than a few broken walls, but quite picturesque. Ben wanted to take some arty photos, so Maddy wandered away and left him to it.
Between the last wall and the river she saw a round flat stone on the ground, and as she approached it she started to feel both fear and a magnetic attraction. She stopped and listened, but no-one spoke to her.
Trembling inside, she walked up to the stone. Incised into it were the words ‘Well Beneath’ with lichen growing into the grooves of the shallow-cut letters.
‘I could walk away,’ she murmured, but she knew that she could not.
Scraping with her fingernails, she cleared part of the edge of the stone and found that it was thinner than might have been expected, but it still took a lot of effort to lift and roll it away.
In the circular hole beneath there was water less than an arm’s length away from the top. As she looked down Maddy saw that it was filled with a multitude of stars. She reached down into the water, and the water reached up to her. A darkly glittering hand took hers and pulled her down into the stars. They crowded around, stinging her skin, peeling the life away from her, making her into one of their own, pressing her down into one bright, shining dot of light. She began to dance to the roar of the waters.
The water rushes by, but the river remains.
The Story of a Stone.
Ever since the River Lost pried it from the earth, the stone had submitted to the waters, wearing smooth in the flow of time.
Centuries passed. One hot summer the river receded far enough to leave the stone dry on the bank with many others. A child found it.
The stone was divided in two by a band of white quartz, harder than the greenish rock on either side of it. After so much wear, the quartz now stood out in a ridge around the stone’s middle. Fascinating to the child, who took it home.
The child’s mother found the stone in its pocket and, not taking the time to appreciate its smoothness and the ridge of white crystal dividing it, only seeing a dirty thing, threw it into the garden.
Decades passed. A trowel pulled the stone into the light once more. The woman wielding the trowel was gaining a few minutes’ peace by planting out spring bedding. She knew that the stone did not belong in the garden, but she liked the look and feel of it, so she pushed it into her pocket. She made her own clothes, and was always sure to have a hidden pocket in her skirts. If there was any pleasure in her life, it had to be hidden, or it would be spoiled.
The weight of the stone was comforting, a thing out of place, like her. She kept it always in her pocket, holding it secretly for comfort sometimes.
A day came when no comfort was to be found in anything anymore, and she ran away from that house, unable to face the depth of her rage and despair.
To the river was her only thought, as if the Lost was calling to her. The sound of rushing water filled her mind, pushing out all the other dreadful things.
She ran to the bridge, climbed over the edge and leapt free into the river. The cold waters embraced her at once, pulling her down by her skirts. The river reached into her pocket and plucked out the stone, then carried her away.
The stone tumbled to the riverbed and settled comfortably back into its place, surrendering to its slow dispersal into the waters of the world.
For the water rushes by, but the river remains.