Welcome to The Echo’s annual feature — Summer Soap. Now in its fourth year, Summer Soap is a daily fictional serial run over 12 parts, which began last Monday and runs for a fortnight. Called One Summer In Cork, this story was written by Christine Kannapel, from the MA in Creative Writing Programme at UCC. You can catch up with previous episodes at www.echolive.ie. In this ninth episode, Julia finds out more about the mysterious time-travelling portal.
“WHAT? What do you mean Rory is gone?”
“I don’t know how it be, lass, but he be gone. Disappeared,” the man snapped his fingers, “just like that.”
“I mean he was here and then not. Like magic. The warden don’t believe me either. Ye might be more open to it, lass. You be not from here.”
I turned to the party chasing after me as they appeared around the corner. They halted.
“He’s gone,” I said, helplessly.
“He’s gone?” Sarah asked as the guards apologised, shifting in their boots.
“Vanished,” Rory’s cell mate said, snapping his fingers again, “just like that.”
A drizzly kind of rain filled the night. Sarah and I sat next to the hearth in my room. She casted several glances of concern towards me.
“I’m very sorry,” she said.
“I just don’t understand. He couldn’t have run away or been taken away, surely.”
I looked into the fire and watched as the flames waivered against one another, crackling.
This all was too much and I couldn’t understand a bit of it.
“Surely it’s a mistake. Surely he will resurface. Maybe there is more to it then we know. It could be a cruel trick.”
“Sarah,” I sighed. “Do you believe in fairy tales?”
“Faerie stories? My father used to tell me them, after my mother died. He thought they would help me, so.”
“Oh, I’m sorry.”
“No bother. Why do ye ask?”
I hesitated, unsure if it would be wise to tell her the truth, but I had to tell someone.
“We are from the future, Sarah.”
Sarah reminded me again of a bird, just as she had the first time I saw her. She looked startled, but intent. Then, without warning, she chuckled.
She stopped chuckling.
“We were celebrating the summer solstice. Then we went for a swim in what we thought was a holy well near the seaside. Then we ended up here.”
The fire snapped and several sparks sifted through the air.
“Is a car something from the future, then? Ye mentioned something about a car.”
“Yes, it’s like a carriage. But, Sarah, we travelled back to this time period. I think that somehow, Rory has travelled back to our time. I’m just not sure how.”
The fire snapped again. Sarah stood, pressing her skirt down with her hands.
“Come, there’s a story my father told me once, and maybe he will tell it to ye.”
We entered the sitting room, where Sarah’s father sat smoking a pipe.
“Can I help ye?” he said, the pipe still in his mouth.
“Father, what was that story ye told me as a child, about the oak tree and holy well?”
“Can ye not see I’m trying to rest, here? What a long day at the distillery I had.”
“Of course, but our guest would like to hear it especially.”
I smiled, gently, with reassurance.
“Well,” he said slowly, moving his pipe from one corner of his mouth to the other, “I see that I may.”
Sarah and I sat on either side of him.
“There’s an oak tree not far from here. It’s older than we know, and grand. Close near it, was a holy well. My grandmother said that the oak tree was from the days of our forefathers. Ye see, my grandmother was a seer and a storyteller, so she would know.”
He nodded his head, as if to assure us of his grandmother’s legitimacy.
“Once, a woman and man were found by the tree and holy well in winter, lost. The holy well, once covered in ice, was broken through. Some say they emerged from it. The two were odd, too. They knew all sorts of things about what was coming and already was.”
I prayed that I did not look too eager as I gazed at William. I knew exactly which oak tree he was talking about and had a hunch that the characters in this story had experienced exactly what Rory and I had. However, the holy well we swam in was far from the oak tree.
“So, they lived in the country for many months. The inhabitants of the countryside began to think that they were sent by faeries. Though the pair couldn’t tell the future of any one person, they predicted the Cromwell years and his influence here in Cork. They told us all to be brave. Then one day, they were seen by the oak tree and were never seen again. The holy well vanished too and reappeared by the shore west of the oak tree.”
William cleared his throat.
“The oak tree has other stories as well. It is very grand and very old, like. So, the oak is known as a holy place, though it hasn’t been as pilgrimaged to as that well out west that our man was accused of pilgrimaging too.”
William tapped his pipe and then looked at Sarah, his face suddenly growing red.
“And I’ve been meaning to ask ye, daughter. What were ye doing out in the country when ye found the lad and lass?”
Sarah flinched and looked at her hands.
“I wanted to go on a walk, father,” she said, softly. “The city air is stifling sometimes.”
“Sorry,” I said, standing, needing to go back to my room to think alone, “excuse me.”
However, William paid me no attention.
“If I find that ye were off frolicking with that doctor again, I will have to put limits on where ye can and cannot go!”
I slipped away and ran to the Blue Room.
So there had to be magic involved. All logic was pushing away the possibility, but what had happened thus far was far from logical. I would have to wait until the summer solstice and then I could dive back into the holy well. Surely, the oak tree was part of it all as well; it was like a grand, majestic, road sign.
The rain grew heavier and the night darker as I rocked side to side on the bed. Perhaps it was dawn already, or still only thirty minutes past midnight. I did not know, and I did not know what had happened to Rory and I, or why.
I closed my eyes without realising it and opened them to see Rory’s boxers and my sundress folded on the chest at the end of the bed. Quickly, I shut my eyes again: worried for my parents, Ben, and Maeve, who all probably thought I was missing. Of course, I was also worried for Rory, and naturally, myself.