Two years ago, whilst researching the book ‘Upon a Tzorkly Moon’, I asked Matlock to take me to some places in Winchett Dale that I hadn’t visited before in order to gain a better insight into his majickal homelands. He was in his cottage potionary at the time, and after I asked he stopped what he was doing and looked at me.
“Places you haven’t seen before?”
“Yes,” I replied. “I know a lot about Winchett Dale, but there’s more, I know it.”
“Indeed there is,” he agreed. “Much, much more.”
“So you take me?” I pressed. “We could make a picnic.”
“No,” he simply griffled.
“You don’t like picnics?”
He smiled that curling hare’s smile of his. “No. I won’t take you. I like picnics.”
“Why not?” I asked.
“Because,” he griffled, returning to making potions, “Winchett Dale doesn’t work like that. If you’re to learn anything about our ways you’ll have to understand that Winchett Dale takes you to the places it wants you to see, not the other way round.”
I frowned. “You’re seriously not going to show me?”
“Why should I? The dale will show you.” He nodded towards the doorway leading into his crumlush cottage garden. “Out there, I believe.”
“Right,” I said frostily, feeling more than a little snubbed as I gathered my things. “I suppose I simply follow a yellow-brick road to a big castle with a wizard in it, do I?”
He looked at me curiously. “That, I suspect, is highly unlikely. And sounds a most clottabussed thing to do.”
Sighing, I made my way outside to the small gate in the far garden wall, thanking a group of tricky-rickets as they politely opened it for me.
“Going for a pid-pad?” one asked.
“Something like that.”
“The hare not coming with you?”
I took a last look back at the cottage, still hoping to see his robed figure emerging. “Apparently not.”
The tricky-ricket simply shrugged. “Never know,” it griffled. “Could be a good thing.”
“He says the dale will show me things it wants me to see.”
“Of course,” the majickal-plant agreed. “Don’t all places do that where you come from?”
“Not really,” I said. “We have maps.”
“Things that help us find places we need to go. So we don’t get lost.”
The tricky-ricket considered this, slowly shaking its leafy head. “But surely, you’re never really ‘lost’ if you don’t know where you’re going in the first place? Your maps sound like the very things that are getting you lost.”
I wasn’t about to get into a futile argument, let alone with a talking plant that seemed determined to tease me, so I bade good-bye and set off, determined to try and find something or somewhere new in the dale.
I walked for at least two hours, seeing nothing I hadn’t seen before; Thinking Lake, the village, Foffle Mountain, Wand Wood and numerous paths and tracks well worn by the many creatures who scrittled and pid-padded along them. Occasionally, one would stop and ask what I was doing, frowning when I tried to explain, quite bemused when I asked for directions for somewhere new.
After a further hour, it was getting dark. Trying to hide my frutstrattion at a wasted afternoon where all I’d discovered was how tired three hours of walking made you feel, I set off for Trefflepugga Path at the far end of the dale in order to take its winding route home. However, as I entered the small woodland in front of the path’s entrance, I happened upon the very thing I’d been fruitlessly searching for – something I’d never known existed until that point – an old house seemingly built within the trees themselves. And there, beside a large lantern glowing by the front door, was Matlock the Hare.
“At last,” he griffled as I approached.
“I thought you were busy,” I testily replied.
“No,” he griffled. “I merely griffled that I wasn’t going to come with you. Not that I wouldn’t be here when you came. Two very different things, I think you’ll find.”
I couldn’t take my eyes off the ancient building, the warm glow seeping from the upstairs, the heavy front door and elegant sign swinging slightly in the breeze. “Who lives here?” I asked.
“It does,” he simply replied. “The Majickal Stores lives here. No one else.”
“Majickal Stores?” I whispered, as the front door slowly opened. “It’s alive?”
Matlock seemed surprised. “Your homes don’t live where you come from?”
“That would be just too strange,” I whispered. “Too creepy.”
He sofly chickled. “Twizzly? There’s nothing twizzly about the Majickal Stores. Nothing at all.” He pointed at the open door. “You see? It’s waiting for you to go inside.”
I really didn’t like the prospect at all. It was getting much darker and the thought of walking into a house that could open its own doors was more than a little ‘twizzly’ for someone raised on strange woodland cottages in fairy-tales. “I think I’ll most likely give it a miss,” I said, trying to sound perfectly relaxed. “Perhaps next time, eh?”
“There may not be a next time,” he griffled. “The Majickal Stores doesn’t appear for anyone. Simply those that need help with their journeys. Most creatures will never set a foot or paw on Trefflepugga Path, and rightly so, for it can be a most twizzly path if it so desires. But for those few that the path has called for the journey, they’ll find the Majickal Stores waiting for them before they start.” He nodded towards the entrance. “The creaker opens, they go inside, and on the table they find all the things the store believes they’ll need on their travels. Sometimes there are many things, the table is full of supplies, potions and majickal implements. However…”
He took a breath. “Sometimes there’s simply an empty table with nothing on it, not the oidiest, oidiest thing. The traveller has been warned. Their journey won’t last very long. The Majickal Stores is warning them to turn back.” He looked at me and smiled brightly. “Why don’t you go and see what it has in store for you?”
“You won’t come with me?”
“The creaker opened when you arrived, not me. It’s your journey, not mine.”
He didn’t griffle another griffle, just waiting and watching as everything else was; trees, woodland creatures, even the house itself. Eventually, telling myself not to be a twizzle-face, I slowly walked inside to a darkened room lit by just a single, flickering candle on a large table in the centre. Resting on top was a huge leather-bound book covered in dust and trailing cobwebs that hung from the ceiling. As I walked closer I read the faded title – Maps of the Most Majickal Places in Winchett Dale.
“Matlock!” I called out. “It’s a map-book! Here on the table, just for me! It’s chosen me a map-book so I never have to waste another afternoon in the dale again.”
“Like I griffled,” he called back, “the Majickal Stores always knows what you need for your journey. Perhaps you’d best take it with you, then.”
“Right,” I said, excitedly flicking though the old parchment pages. There was so much to see, so much to do, so many places yet to find, all exquisitely rendered and written about in fine detail. So much work must have gone into it, I could only marvel at the author’s dedication to the task. Yet this huge volume would prove absolutely invaluable to me, a vital resource to fully exploring this most majickal of places. “I’m coming out!”
It seemed such an easy thing to do, just take the book from the table and leave. Yet the moment I tried to lift it, it grew…
…until it became half the size of the table itself, and twice as heavy. Now, I couldn’t even open the ancient cover any longer.
“It’s not letting me take it!” I yelled. “It’s too big! Too heavy!”
I tried again, determined not to be beaten. If I could simply slide it off the table, perhaps I could drag it across the floor to the doorway. Yet the more I pulled at the edges, the harder it stuck. It was hopeless. All that knowledge, information, details, were simply refusing to come with me. I cried out in frustration.
“This is completely clottabussed! I can’t move it, Matlock!”
His amused face appeared at the doorway. “Oh, dear,” he quietly griffled. “Now that is a most glubbstooled thing, isn’t it?”
“Are you laughing at me?”
“Of course,” he replied. “As is the book, the stores, the woods, the creatures and all of the dale itself. Like I griffled to you, here your journeys are chosen for you, not by you. What good is a map, if it simply takes you to just the one place? Surely, there are many others that are just as keen to meet you, too? How would you discover their crumlush majick if you’d simply passed them by?”
“This was all a trick,” I scowled, stepping back outside. The heavy door closed behind me. “That book contained everything I ever wanted – or needed – to know.”
“And yet it got heavier, and bigger, and more impossible every time you reached out for it,” Matlock griffled. “Perhaps that’s all you ever needed to know. Perhaps that’s what the Majickal Stores wanted you to realise. The more you think you’ve found the answer to something – the more you forget to question and discover other majickal things along the way.”
I sighed, looking back at the peculiar, enchanted building. “It reminds me of someone else I know. Infuriating, majickal and yet, at the same time, really quite special, I suppose.”
He blushed. “Oh, you’re too kind.”
“I was talking about a tricky-ricket I met in your garden.”
It was one of the few times I’ve seen him hurt. And then, just as quickly, he realised he’d been teased, and that big curling smile returned with the glint in his hare’s eye. “Very good,” he griffled. “I suppose the least I could do is offer you a brottle leaf brew.”
“That,” I announced as we made our way by moonlight back to his cottage, “sounds like a most saztaculous idea.”