I’ve been working on this story for quite some time now. The original idea came to me about 10 years ago when I lived on Saddleworth Moor. But it’s been festering away in the dark and dusty recesses of my mind waiting to be written.
A writer doesn’t write stories. Stories come out to be written when they’re ready. Sometimes they only show you part of the story. Other times, they’ll emerge fully fledged in their Sunday best. Admittedly, sometimes you have to tease them out a little like getting your younglings ready for school in the morning.
Here’s a sample chapter for your perusal. I’ve also attached some stunningly dark illustrations by Alexander Jansson, whose work I love. And, if money were no object, I’d ask to illustrate the story. To me, they seem to capture the bleak and darkly mysterious world of the moors.
Here’s a few to get you in the mood…
By David Milligan-Croft
The Wargallons live deep, deep underground in the wet, wild and windy Saddleworth Moors that straddle the ancient counties of Yorkshire and Lancashire in the north of England.
They are very hairy. In fact, hair covers their entire body. They have sharp horns on top of their heads. And, if people didn’t know any better, they might think them quite frightening.
But, they are very shy, timid little creatures who very rarely come out of their underground homes.
For food, they pluck vegetables from their tunnels under the earth like we would pick fruit from a tree. Sometimes, when they get to come up to the surface, they forage for berries and wild flowers.
If ever they are out on the wild moors and an unsuspecting hiker happens upon them, they simply hunker down on all fours and pretend to be a ram grazing on the grass. This only works at a distance, mind. Closer up, and you would notice that their facial features are more akin to ours.
If you’ve ever wandered upon Saddleworth Moor you will testify to its spectacularly barren beauty. One thing you have to be extremely wary of though, is how quickly the weather can turn. One minute you can be walking amidst the tall, wild grasses with views of rolling moors as far as the eye can see. Then, in a matter of minutes, you can be enveloped in a shroud of fog so that you can barely see your hand in front of your face.
If you chanced to stray from a well-worn path, as you most probably would, being the adventurer that you are, and the ghostly mist descended, you would most definitely find yourself lost. If you can actually find yourself being lost. If that makes sense.
The only time Wargallons come out of their secret hidey-holes is if they hear the sound of a child’s cry. It’s something to do with the frequency of the sound waves. It doesn’t work with adults. Their frequency is too low to penetrate the thick soil and stone of their underground homes. A child’s cry is much higher pitched which resonates in the Wargallons’ sensitive ears. In some ways, their ears are much like a dog’s. As is their sense of smell. They can smell a child’s tears from five miles away.
The doorways that block the entrances to the Wargallons’ underground caverns are made from solid granite that was forged when our planet was formed zillions of years ago. So they are pretty hard to budge. But for some spooky reason, at between 110 and 115 decibels, which is the frequency of a child’s cry, those millennia-old boulders grind open as easily as a kiddy opening a bag of gummy bears.
* * *
Jibbledibob was busy pulling carrots as they dangled from the roof of the tunnel he was in when, all of a sudden, the gateway nearest to him began to grind open. The dark tunnel was flooded with blinding light so that Jibbledibob had to shield his eyes with the basket he was using to gather the carrots.
His nostrils were filled with the joyous scent of wild heather and lavender from the moors outside.
Slowly, blinking his eyes to get used to the light, he edged toward the opening. As you can imagine, Wargallons have very sensitive eyes, what with living underground in almost complete darkness most of the time. So it took Jibbledibob a few minutes before he could open his eyes outside. And, even then, he had to squint to stop them from watering.
Jibbledibob had heard tales from the elders about Wargallons rescuing lost children from the moors, but those stories were from a long, long time ago before he was born. But he knew something was up, as why else would the secret door have opened?
Then he heard it.
It was a child crying somewhere out on the moors.
Jibbledibob was frightened. He’d never been outside before. And he knew it would take him ages to run back to the main cavern where all the Wargallons lived. And by the time he got there, the doorway would probably have closed up again.
He took a deep breath and stepped out of the doorway. And the first thing he noticed was the springy grass beneath his feet. It felt quite bouncy. Jibbledibob had a mind to jump up and down, but then there was that cry again. He pricked up his hairy ears and turned them towards the sound. He sniffed the air and got the faintest whiff of something like orange blossom.
Slowly, he walked toward the sound and smell of the crying child.
His eyes had become accustomed to the light now. Even though it was foggy, and wouldn’t be very bright to you or I, it was still very bright for someone so used to living in darkness.
The sound was louder now, and just ahead of him, was a small crag of rocks that dropped steeply into a gully. He crept towards the ledge and sneaked a peek over the edge. And there, lying on the ground, was a human child. He knew that because of the stories the elders would tell around the fire. Jibbledibob quickly pulled back from the edge. His heart was racing, he didn’t know what to do. Surely, if he just appeared over the edge of the rocks, the poor little mite might die of fright.
“Heeeeelllllpppp!” came a cry from the human child.
Jibbledibob had to put his hands over his ears for fear they might burst. Like I said, their ears are extremely sensitive.
“Pleeeeaaaaase, someone heeelllllpppp!”
Jibbledibob was panicking. He was wracking his brains trying to think what to do, when he had an idea.
He slid down the side of the scree, still out of sight from the human-child, and once at the bottom, he spoke.
“Who’s that!?” The voice said, alarmed.
“Don’t be frightened, I won’t hurt you,” Jibbledibob said.
The little human was frightened. “Why are you saying that? Why are you hiding? Heeeellllppp!” she cried.
“Shhh, don’t cry! I just didn’t want to scare you.”
“Why? Why would you scare me?” The little voice said, afraid.
“Because of the way I look,” Jibbledibob said in his softest voice.
“Why? How do you look?” The child said in a calmer voice.
“Not like you. I think I might be a bit scary looking to you. But, I promise, I won’t hurt you. I’m here to help.”
The child was curious now.
“Are you lost?” Jibbledibob asked.
“Yes. And I’ve hurt my ankle. I slipped off the rocks,” the little voice said in a whimper. “And I’m cold and wet and hungry.”
Jibbledibob reached into his basket and threw a carrot from behind the rock which landed at the child’s feet.
“Eeww!” she said. “I’m not eating that, it’s covered in dirt!”
“It’s all I’ve got,” he said. “But there’s warm stew back at the cavern if you’d like me to take you there?”
“I want to go home,” the child cried.
“I can’t take you home”, Jibbledibob said gently. “The gateway will be closing soon. And if I don’t get back I’ll be locked out. But I could take you to the elders. They might be able to help.”
“The elders,” he repeated. “You know, the grown-ups.”
She giggled at that. “Errm, okay then. But wouldn’t that mean I would have to look at you?”
“Hmmm, hadn’t thought of that,” Jibbledibob said, flummoxed.
“I could close my eyes,” the child said.
“That’s an idea.”
“Or,” she continued, “I could promise not to be frightened.”
“There is that as well,” he concurred.
Jibbledibob scrunched up his button nose while he contemplated the options. “Okay, then. I’ll come out. You ready?”
“Yes,” the child said nervously.
“You sure?” he asked.
“Think so,” it said more nervously.
Jibbledibob took a deep breath and stepped out from behind the rock where he saw a little girl half lying, half sitting on the ground with her back against a rock, clutching her ankle. Her eyes widened when she saw him and her jaw dropped. Then, she smiled. Then the smile turned into a giggle and she put her hand to her mouth.
Jibbledibob was puzzled and he looked over his shoulder to see what she might be laughing at.
“You’re cute!” she said.
Jibbledibob smiled too and walked toward her. He knelt down beside her and looked at her swollen ankle. It was beginning to turn purple. “Can you walk?”
“I don’t think I can,” she replied.
“You can’t stay out here on the moor,” he said. “I’ll have to take you back to Pappajap.”
“Pappajap?” the little girl said.
“Pappajap. He’s our chief.”
“What a funny name,” said the girl. “My name’s Emily,” she beamed.
Jibbledibob cocked his head to one side, “Emily? That’s a funny name.”
Emily looked a little bit cross at that. “No it’s not! It’s a perfectly proper name for a girl.”
Jibbledibob looked a bit embarrassed. He hadn’t meant to upset the little girl. Emily, realising the strange creature was a bit upset asked, “What’s your name, then?”
“You’ll think it’s funny,” Jibbledibob said shyly.
“No I won’t. I promise.”
“Jibbledibob,” he said almost inaudibly.
“Sorry?” Emily said, straining her ears. “I missed that.”
“It’s Jibbledibob,” he said, clearing his throat.
Emily smiled a teeny bit. But made sure not to laugh because she had made a promise. “Jibbledibob. What a perfectly wonderful name,” she said proudly.
Jibbledibob felt a few spots of rain on his nose. “I need to get you back to the caves before it’s too late,” he said as thunder began to grumble in the distance.
“My parents will be worried about me. Can’t you just take me back to Greenfield?”
“Greenfield? What’s that?” he asked.
‘It’s the village where my parents’ car’s parked. They’ll be panicking I imagine.”
“I don’t know where that is. And besides, if we stay out here much longer, we’ll both freeze to death.”
Emily looked down and fingered the hem of her cotton dress. She could feel the tears welling up inside her again. She wasn’t frightened of Jibbledibob, but she didn’t like the idea of being taken to some underground caves where she might not ever get out.
Jibbledibob could see she was frightened. “I promise,” he said. “I’ll make sure you get back to your parents. But first, to do that, we need to get back to the cave where it’s warm and dry.”
Emily thought about it for a moment, then sniffed, wiped a tear that was about to roll down her cheek, and nodded.
Very gently, Jibbledibob slid his furry hands and forearms underneath Emily and picked her up. Emily put her arms around his neck, and although his fur was a little bit damp, he felt snuggly and warm.
So, Jibbledibob and Emily walked back across the great moor to the entrance of the underground caves.
Apart from having incredible hearing, sight and smell, Wargallons also have a very good sense of direction. And Jibbledibob didn’t even have to look where he was going to find his way back to the stone entrance. Which was lucky because the great boulder was just beginning to slide closed again. Jibbledibob and Emily ducked inside the tunnel just in the nick of time as the rock boomed closed. And then, Emily began to be afraid.
There is a twist in the story which involves two children who have been living with the Wargallons for a very, very long time…