by Jan Carew
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These things happened to me nearly ten years ago. I lived in a city, but the city was hot in summer. I wanted to see the country. I wanted to walk in the woods and see green trees.
I had a little red car and I had a map, too. I drove all night out into the country. I was happy in my car. We had a very good summer that year. The country was very pretty in the early morning. The sun was hot, and the sky was blue. I heard the birds in the trees.
And then my car stopped suddenly.
‘What’s wrong?’ I thought. ‘Oh dear, I haven’t got any petrol. Now I’ll have to walk. I’ll have to find a town and buy some petrol. But where am I?’
I looked at the map. I wasn’t near a town. I was lost in the country.
And then I saw the girl. She walked down the road, with flowers in her hand. She wore a long dress, and her hair was long, too. It was long and black, and it shone in the sun. She was very pretty. I wanted to speak to her, so I got out of the car.
‘Hello,’ I said. ‘I’m lost. Where am I?’
She looked afraid, so I spoke quietly.
‘I haven’t got any petrol,’ I said. ‘Where can I find some?’
Her blue eyes looked at me, and she smiled.
‘She’s a very pretty girl!’ I thought.
‘I do not know,’ she said. ‘Come with me to the village. Perhaps we can help you.’
I went with her happily, and we walked a long way.
‘There isn’t a village on the map,’ I thought. ‘Perhaps it’s a very small village.’
There was a village, and it was old and pretty. The houses were black and white and very small. There were a lot of animals. The girl stopped at a house and smiled at me. ‘Come in, please,’ she said.
I went in. The house was very clean, but it was strange, too. There was a fire and some food above it. I felt hungry then.
‘That’s strange,’ I thought. ‘They cook their food over a wood fire! Perhaps they have no money.’
I met her father and mother, and I liked them. They were nice people, but their clothes were strange.
‘Sit down,’ said the old man. ‘Are you thirsty after your walk?’
He gave me a drink, and I said, ‘Thank you.’ But the drink was strange, too. It was dark brown and very strong. I didn’t understand. But I was happy there.
I asked about petrol, but the old man didn’t understand.
‘Petrol?’ he asked. ‘What is that?’
‘This is strange,’ I thought. Then I asked, ‘Do you walk everywhere?’
The old man smiled. ‘Oh, no, we use horses,’ he said.
‘Horses!’ I thought. ‘Horses are very slow. Why don’t they have cars?’
But I didn’t say that to the old man.
I felt happy there. I stayed all day, and I ate dinner with them that evening. Then the girl and I went out into the garden. The girl’s name was Mary.
‘This is nice,’ she said. ‘We like having visitors. We do not see many people here.’
We spoke happily. She was very beautiful. But after a time, she began to talk quietly, and her face was sad.
‘I cannot tell you,’ she said. ‘You are only a visitor here. We have to say goodbye tonight. You have to go now.’
I didn’t understand. I loved her. I knew that. And I wanted to help her. Why did 1 have to go? But Mary said again in a sad voice, ‘You have to go. It is dangerous here.’
So I said, ‘I’ll go to the next town and find some petrol. Then I’ll come back.’
She didn’t speak.
‘I love you, Mary,’ I said. ‘And I’ll come back to you. You won’t stop me.’
She said goodbye to me at the door. Her face was very sad, and I was sad, too. I didn’t want to go.
It was midnight. The night was very dark, but I walked and walked. I was very tired when I saw the lights of a town. I found some petrol, and then I asked the name of the village. But the man at the garage gave me a strange look.
‘What village?’ he asked.
I told him about the village. I told him about the old houses and the people with strange clothes.
Again he gave me a strange look. He thought, and then he said, ‘There was a village there, but it isn’t there now. There are stories about it — strange stories.’
‘What do people say about it?’ I asked.
He didn’t want to tell me, but then he said, ‘There was a big fire in the village. Everybody died. There aren’t any people or houses there now.’
‘How did it happen?’ I asked. ‘And why?’
‘Oliver Cromwell killed them; he said. ‘He was angry with the villagers because they helped the king in the war.’
‘This isn’t right,’ I thought. ‘That war happened 350 years ago!’
Then I remembered the strange clothes, the long hair, the food over the fire, and the old houses. And I remembered, too, about the horses.
‘But I don’t understand,’ I cried. ‘I saw the people and the village. I spoke to some people there!’
The man looked quickly at me, and then he spoke.
‘There’s an interesting story about the village. For one day every ten years, it lives again – but only for one day. Then it goes away again for another ten years. On that one day, you can find the village. But you have to leave before morning, or you will never leave.
‘Can this be right?’ I thought. Perhaps it was. Mary said, ‘You have to go.’ She loved me, but she said, «We have to say goodbye.’ She was afraid for me. ‘Now I understand,’ I thought.
I went back to the village, but it wasn’t there. I looked again and again, but I couldn’t find it. I saw only flowers and trees. I heard only the sound of the birds and the wind. I was very sad. I sat down on the ground and cried.
I will never forget that day. I remember Mary, and I will always love her.
Now, I only have to wait two months. The village will come back again. On the right day, I will go back. I will find her again, my love with the long, black hair. And this time, I will not leave before morning. I will stay with her.
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