Carcer Ridge, 18 March 2841
Waking up on a desert island with no idea how you got there is something that would unnerve even the most self-assured of people. When it happened to five-year-old Seren Oileán it should come as no surprise that she spent the first few minutes screaming and shouting for her parents before the enormity of her situation sunk into her psyche.
The island was small enough that she could see the other side of it from her position standing on the beach; her brand new, pink-and-white trainers quickly filling with water. She wished she had worn something waterproof, and immediately her running shoes were replaced by pink and white wellington boots.
‘Weird,’ she said, staring down at her feet. Normally things like that did not happen to Seren.
She walked across the tiny desert island, passing the single coconut tree that grew in the middle of what was really little more than a large pile of sand with delusions of grandeur. Two coconuts were hanging from the tree and looked ready to fall if she as much as looked at the tree the wrong way.
When she reached the other side, she found the view was exactly the same as from the other side. The island was surrounded by a vast expanse of flat, blue ocean. Clouds hung in the otherwise empty, deep blue sky. There was no wind and the only sound was the gentle lapping of the sea on the shoreline.
‘Well this sucks,’ said Seren.
‘Mind if I come in?’ asked a man.
Seren spun around and saw a tall man with short, brown hair and a beard made of stubble standing in the ocean a short distance to her left.
‘Where did you come from?’ she asked.
‘It’s difficult to explain right now,’ said the man. ‘I expect you are wondering how you got here?’
‘Where’s my Mum?’
‘Ah, yes. I’m afraid this will come as a bit of a shock. Your mother is in hospital, Seren. I’m sorry to say you were both in a car accident and unfortunately you did not survive.’
‘I want to see my Mummy!’
‘Your mother isn’t here, Seren. I’m here to look after you until you get adjusted to your new life here in Carcer Ridge.’
‘I don’t know where that is but I want to see my Mummy right now!’ said Seren. She did know where it was, however. Her father had explained what it was at length until she got bored and stopped listening. It was a magic place where people went to live when they couldn’t live with Seren and her parents any more. Just like when Freddie, her dog, had been hit by a car and went to heaven.
The man walked slowly out of the ocean and onto the beach. His clothes were bone dry despite walking out of the water, which did not seem to react as if he was there at all. It continued to lap against the shoreline without any ripples as he walked, as if he was not there at all.
The man knelt beside Seren and smiled at her. ‘The doctors are making your Mummy better right now. How about we play a game while we wait for them to finish, then we can talk to her?’
Seren thought about this for a while. She was still not happy but it seemed like the best offer she was going to get.
‘Is my Mummy going to be okay?’ she asked. ‘She’s not going to go and live with Freddie and leave me behind, is she?’
‘Who is Freddie, Seren?’
‘He’s my dog only he got run over by a bad man in a car and now he lives in heaven and I don’t get to play with him any more.’
The man nodded his head slowly. ‘No, she’s not going to live with Freddie. She’s going to be fine, Seren.’
Something clicked inside Seren’s mind. Nervously, she asked ‘Am I going to go and live with Freddie now?’
The man smiled again. ‘Do you want to see Freddie?’
Seren nodded vigorously.
‘Okay then. Close your eyes and think really hard about Freddie.’
Seren scrunched up her eyes as tight as she could and thought about when her Dad had taken her to the big dog shop where Freddie had been left by someone who couldn’t look after him any more. She had picked Freddie out from a pack of other dogs because his ears flopped when he ran and she thought that was really funny.
Something prickled in the back of her mind and then she heard a familiar barking behind her. She turned around and opened her eyes to find Freddie running toward her along the beach.
‘Freddie!’ she shouted and ran to hug him. ‘I missed you so much!’
She hugged the dog tight, the feel of his soft fur bringing back so many memories. He had been gone for almost a year and there was hardly a day that had gone by without her wanting to see him again. Now he was here and she was happy.
But Mummy said he couldn’t come back, said a voice in the back of her mind. Mummy wouldn’t lie. How is he here?
Keeping her arms around the dog, Seren looked up at the man. He had not moved an inch while she was distracted.
‘Where am I?’ she asked. ‘Am I in heaven?’
The man knelt down and stroked Freddie’s head. The dog sniffed him then, as if deciding he was acceptable, went back to staring at the ocean.
‘No, you’re not in heaven,’ said the man. ‘You’re in Carcer Ridge. Do you remember going to the Backup Centre with your parents?’
‘Did anyone explain why you were going there?’
Seren nodded again.
‘What did they tell you?’
‘That it was in case something bad happened. If I got hurt I could go on like nothing had happened.’
‘Well, Seren, something bad did happen. You got hit by a car, just like Freddie here, but now you’re all right again.’
‘I don’t understand.’
‘I know. It will take a bit of time to get used to. Let’s play a game with Freddie, shall we?’
‘He likes to play fetch.’
Freddie wagged his tail vigorously at the mention of the word ‘fetch’. The man smiled and patted his pockets.
‘Oh dear,’ he said. ‘I don’t seem to have a ball with me. Do you have a ball, Seren?’
Seren shook her head.
‘Not to worry. Maybe if we both close our eyes and concentrate really hard, we can make a ball appear.’
‘Don’t be silly,’ said Seren. ‘You can’t really do that. That just works in playing.’
‘I think it works here, too. Watch.’
The man closed his eyes and held out his hand, palm up. He made a face that looked like he was concentrating really hard.
With an audible poof, a ball appeared in his hand. It was small, red and made of rubber. He held it out for Seren to see.
Seren laughed and clapped her hands vigorously.
‘Now you try,’ he said.
Seren closed her eyes and thought of the miniature football Freddie had used to chase around the garden. She held out her hands and wanted the ball to appear. After a minute of nothing seeming to happen, she opened her eyes.
Her hands were empty.
She started to cry. Freddie whined and pawed at her in concern.
‘Hey, it’s okay,’ said the man. ‘There’s no need to cry. It can take a bit of time to learn how to do it. Try again. This time, try to feel the ball in your hand while you wish for it.’
Still unhappy, she closed her eyes and held out her hands again. She thought about the ball and tried to remember how it had felt when she threw it for Freddie. This time she felt something in her hands. She opened her eyes and laughed with delight. The ball was there, real as day.
‘I did it!’ she shouted. ‘Look Freddie, I did it!’
The dog barked and wagged his tail.
She threw the ball across the island. The dog raced after it, almost tripping over himself as he grabbed it in his mouth. He brought it back and dropped it at her feet, his tail still wagging. She picked it up and threw it again.
‘Well done,’ said the man. ‘You’re really getting the hang of this.’
Seren looked up at the man. ‘Who are you?’
The man smiled. ‘Can’t you tell?’
Seren shook her head.
‘Look at me closely,’ he said. ‘You should be able to see who I am.’
Seren stared at the man with the kind of intensity only a child can manage. He was right, she could see who he was. There was information floating around him. Not visible information, not like his suit was visible, but it was still there, floating around him like a cloud she could only see because she was looking for it.
The information that surrounded the man told her a lot about him. His name, where he was from, the fact that he was over three hundred years old and where he lived, amongst many other things. She had never met anyone that old before and she was surprised to find he looked so young. She decided age must go back and forth, like a swing. You’re young when you’re born then you grow old and when you get to the end of growing old, you grow young again. That seemed the only way to explain how the man could be older than her grandmother but look younger than her father.
‘Joseph,’ she said. ‘You’re called Joseph.’
The man smiled again. He smiled a lot, Seren thought. He must be really happy here.
‘Well done,’ said Joseph.
‘Can I see my Mummy now?’ asked Seren.
Joseph looked off into the distance for a moment, then turned his attention back to her. ‘She’s out of surgery now. Shall we call her?’
Seren grinned and clapped her hands with glee.