November 1st was Meg Hart’s 11th birthday. The twins had had themselves a good Hallowe’en and decided to take her a party – a big bag of Cheesy Wotsits and a bottle of Cola. They didn’t tell their mum because they knew she’d say ‘No’.
Meg’s mum seemed pleased, though, and took them up to her daughter’s room. ‘Look who’s here! Roz and Daisy. Oh, I don’t think Meg can have these. I’ll leave them for you to eat’. She went out.
Meg lay pale under the covers. Thin as paper, black hair, luminous blue eyes. She’d been in bed for two years now. ‘Well, well,’ she said. ‘Look who’s here. What’s in the bag?’
‘Your mum says you can’t have them.’
‘Rubbish. Gimme the Cheesy Wotsits.’ She raised herself on her elbow. Her arm looked like a bent stick.
The bed faced a window with a big view of trees and sky. There was a full-length oval mirror. There were tables with comics and jigsaws and bowls of birds’ eggs and skulls and horse chestnuts that gleamed in the afternoon sun with that sparkling sheen that can never be replicated. ‘Where d’you get the conkers?’ said Daisy.
‘Walked over to Brigmouth, last week. There’s the biggest chestnut tree you ever saw!’
‘But that’s miles!’
‘Yeah. Well, I go for a good walk every day.’ Meg skipped lightly out of bed. She was wearing Winnie the Pooh pyjamas; her hair straggled down her back. She opened a drawer and took out a tarnished medal with a scrap of ribbon attached. ‘Look. Bandy Hogg helped me to find this.’
‘Bandy Hogg was in the War with my Grandad. He was with him when Grandad was killed in France. He came with me one day. We went up on Barleyman’s Moor. The sky was blue. We walked and walked. There was rabbit-holes. Bandy said, “Try that one”. I put my arm down and found this. It’s got Grandad’s name on it. It says “Distinguished Conduct Medal 1917”. Now! Over here. Watch this!’
Meg ran round the bed and pushed at the reflection of the door in the big mirror. A shimmering black space appeared in the glass. ‘Hurry up! It won’t stay open long.’
The three girls stumbled through the black oval into a grassy area with trees, boulders, and a round building with a conical roof.
‘It’s the Water Tower!’
‘Yes! And look! Over there.’ On a brown raincoat spread on the grass, a woman with bright red hair and a man heaved and fumbled.
‘Rosie Rook and some man. I don’t know who he is, but they’re always here.’ Meg suddenly shivered, looked scared. ‘Hey! I’m awful cold. I’m off.’ She turned and ran. ‘Cheerio, you two! Thanks for the Cheesy Wotsits!’
Roz and Daisy didn’t speak much, with Meg gone. They wandered home through the gathering dark, slipped up into bed, fell fast asleep, and didn’t wake up for a long time.