The Secret of Hillnesss Point 1
1991 before the internet caught on.
It seemed to ten year old Elizabeth as if she and her very slightly younger twin sister Natalie had been in the car forever when it finally pulled up and she felt the engine cough and die. She wiped a peephole in her mist covered window and peered out. The tiny cottage they had parked in front of was virtually covered in ivy and and looked as old as the hill that rose behind it. Elizabeth decided she liked it.
“Come on girls, undo your belts and jump out” their mother, Belinda, said without looking around.
Elizabeth looked across at her sister who was sound asleep and snoring gently. How is it that Natalie always falls asleep so easily? Elizabeth thought, a little jealously. Outside the weather was unfriendly and cold, Elizabeth didn’t want to get out of the warm, cosy car and closed her eyes quickly before anyone noticed she was awake. She felt the car rock as her mother climbed out and began to unload bags from the boot. The tutting and sighing that accompanied these efforts comforted Elizabeth and reminded her of being a younger child tucked in bed at night. She really was feeling sleepy now. Perhaps she should just stay here in the car a few minutes more and have a little rest.
The first thing Natalie saw when she opened her eyes the next morning was a large stain on the ceiling. She couldn’t think what was strange about it at first and then she realised it was in the shape of an elephant. This seemed at once amusing and also strange. Strange because it hadn’t been there the last time she woke up. Then she remembered she wasn’t at home! Well, she was at home, her new home. The place where they were all going to live from now on. We are on an adventure thought Natalie, who was always prone to dramatic thoughts, an adventure in a strange place called Hillness Point.
Elizabeth and Natalie explored the house while Belinda made some breakfast. They were upstairs in the bathroom.
“This bath is yellow and old and disgusting” said Elizabeth.
“It’s sooo old I bet more than one thousand people have had baths in it” said Natalie smiling.
They climbed in the bath and sat face to face.
“Do you think any of them did you know what in it?” Natalie grimaced.
Elizabeth climbed out and went over to the tall china sink. A huge gilt framed mirror hung above it at a precarious angle. She dragged the small wooden stool that sat in the corner over to the sink and stood on it so that she could see more of herself in the mirror. Her reflection looked odd, stretched out and taller than she was in real life. “This mirror is weird, it’s got wavy bits and it makes you look taller.” She pressed her nose against the cool glass and squashed her lips against it. “I look like a fish now” she laughed. She turned round to look at her sister who was trying to open a heavy cupboard door on the other side of the small room.
“I can’t get this door open Lizzy.” puffed Natalie, “Come and help me”
Elizabeth, who at 144cm was only one half of a centimetre taller than her sister, stepped down and went over to help. They struggled to get their fingers behind the door so they could pull it open but the gap was so narrow that even their slim fingers wouldn’t fit. After a while they stopped trying and just stood staring at the door as if just glaring at it would open it up. Natalie had an idea.
“I know, we’ll get a knife from the kitchen and use that”.
Elizabeth knew that their mother wouldn’t allow them to take a knife from the kitchen and said so.
“OK we’ll…….um we’ll…….” Before Natalie
could have another idea they heard their mother calling from downstairs…
Down the two steps on the landing in one leap, round the curvy wall, helter-skelter down the stairs - one, two, three, five, seven, ten, across the hall, through the tiny living room and into the kitchen.
“Beat you” Panted Elizabeth who was a naturally fast runner. Natalie ignored her.
Breakfast tasted different. Breakfast looked different too. It was eggs and toast certainly but the eggs were bigger than usual and the yolk was a thick creamy yellow. The toast wasn’t white and square but a kind of muddy brown and the slices were uneven and crusty. The salty butter had melted and dripped onto the plate forming a kind of glaze that Elizabeth took delight in dipping her fingers into and then licking them clean. Natalie looked at hers as if it was something the cat brought in and wrinkled her nose as if it smelled like it too.
“Don’t you want yours Natalie? asked Belinda.
“Not really hungry.” Natalie pushed her food around the plate.
“Ok well, you can have something later if you want” Belinda was used to Natalie’s awkward eating habits. After breakfast the girls helped to wash up, with Elizabeth rinsing after her mother had washed and Natalie drying the big white plates that were covered in a spidery cracked glaze.
“Why don’t you go and get ready while I call the removal company?” Belinda said once they had finished the dishes. “I need to arrange a time for later today or we’ll run out of clothes before you know it”.
The rest of the family’s belongings were following them down from the city and were expected later that day. The girls agreed and went upstairs to change, both feeling excited at the prospect of inspecting their new surroundings.
Hillness Point was a small coastal village of about fifty or so houses. The Ness was a promontory of jagged cliffs that leaned over the shingle beach as if struggling to see the distant shore. The Hill was a sloping grassy mound that reached two-hundred metres or so above sea level and provided the backdrop to the village looking North. Its quaint higgledy-piggledy centre was comprised of a thatched village pub named ‘The Hanging Frenchman’, a small and brightly painted post-office, a general store called ‘Magwins’ that sold food and provisions, a wooden hall that served as a meeting place for the scouts, girl-guides, women’s institute and three or four societies and clubs; and a big, dark, ugly church with a graveyard that contained lopsided stones so old and weathered that the names and dates, carved by now long dead hands, had been worn away by countless squalls and storms. One of these aforementioned societies had a very strange name. It was called ‘Friends of the Elephant’s Eye’. But more of that later.
These buildings were gathered around a small grassy space of irregular shape that had at its centre a tall wooden pole with iron rungs that resembled a ships mast. If an adventurous girl were to climb to the top of this pole and shade her eyes against the sun she would be able to look out across the buildings and beyond to the glistening expanse of the Sea.
Scattered around the village outskirts there were several small groups of dwellings, mostly old farm cottages. One of these was Toby’s Chest the home that Belinda and the children had now moved into. Many of the cottages had odd names and Toby’s Chest was flanked by Fuss & Bother on one side and Crying Shame on the other (Belinda said that a person called Toby probably built the house years ago and no-one had bothered to change its name since). All in all about a hundred and fifty people lived in the small community. The nearest big town, Firchester, was about twelve miles away and could only be reached by one narrow road that in some places only allowed a single car to pass and in winter was regularly blocked by snow or flooding.
It was just a few minutes walk to the village and as Elizabeth, Natalie and Belinda made their way towards the centre where the post-office and Magwins faced each other across the green they took their first good look at Hillness Point. The houses were very small and the ridges of the roofs seemed to dip and rise as if age had made them feeble. The wooden lintels of the front doors were quite low and appeared to have been built for smaller than average inhabitants. The windows were made up of grids of unevenly square panes and if you caught a glimpse of your reflection it would stretch and wobble as you passed by and the old-fashioned, hand-made glass distorted it. There were few front gardens as most of the front doors opened straight onto the street, but the houses were freshly painted for the most part and cheerfully coloured curtains and ornaments brightened the windows giving an impression of people who took pride in their homes. Much of the materials used to build the houses had been reclaimed from ships sunk of the coast on the unforgiving rocks and here and there a piece of mast or a section of hull would stand proud of its neighbouring surface. Some had letters or numbers carved into them, the meaning of which had long-since been lost. There was only one large house, the others mostly being two-up two-down cottages, and it sat on the South side of the green in the centre of the village. Imposing, wide and tall like an ocean liner amongst little rowing boats it had columns and a porch and the stone facade was squared off and regular, unlike the rough rendered faces of its smaller neighbours. Despite its grandeur the house looked cold and unfriendly. Its wide North facing windows recalled sockets in a skull, oblivious of the goings on around them. In front of the house flanking the path to the large front door were two gateposts with moss covered stone capping. On each post was an inset piece of masonry on which was carved the image of an eye.
“Who lives there mum?” asked Natalie, pointing at the big house as they crossed the road heading first for the post-office.
“I don’t know Nat” said Belinda glancing back, “probably someone very important I shouldn’t be surprised” she added, as she held open the post-office door for the girls and the shop bell tinkled to announce their arrival to the shopkeeper.