The Secret Lake
in Bowmere Industrial Estate
by S. J. Budd
Morgan woke up the next day and was unpleasantly unsurprised to find herself in the exact same position she had been in the morning before; waking up to another day at work. Nothing good was going to happen today. It was a shame, as the pillows were moulded into a perfect sleeping position, and never again would she have them so good.
At 8:34, Morgan would leave the house and reach the bus stop at 8:37, halfway through listening to Smack My Bitch Up. She played it every day under the false pretence that her days started off with a bang.
At 8:39, the red bus arrived, as it did every day, and she got on. Passing the middle-aged lady with cropped blonde hair sitting in a white coat in the second seat, she would take her place in the seat she always sat in, next to the bell.
And then she spent the next ten minutes convincing herself that she was separate from the humdrum, subsistence existence of working all day for a pittance, that her job was only temporary until she found that job, that meaningful and well-paid job that would make her really popular, exciting and interesting, thus making all her problems disappear. She arrived at work at 8:52.
But Morgan wasn’t supposed to start until 9:00. She thought about those eight minutes per day, those 40 minutes per week, 2,080 minutes per year adding up to 34.6 hours. She would never get those minutes back; she would never be paid for them.
At 10:00 she made the first round of tea and stared gormlessly out of the window as the kettle boiled. Afterwards, at 11:46, she stared aimlessly at the photocopier whilst it printed. At 17:00 Morgan went home.
After dinner she spent the evening watching the telly. There was nothing to report at 23:00, she pondered as she brushed her teeth. It’s not that she was a boring person, she concluded, it’s just her life wasn’t that interesting.
The next morning was entirely different. She woke up at 7:22, not her usual 7:25. This had never happened before. After one minute of deliberation, she spent the extra time lying in bed rather than going to take a shower. She relished in her rebellion.
Today, for some strange reason, she decided to apply her expensive eye shadow, which was normally reserved for special occasions, such as any social event where she might actually speak to someone or make eye contact. She had a feeling something good was going to happen today.
Another strange thing occurred; the bus was four minutes early. The bus driver had changed. Morgan was not prepared for this. Her usual seat wasn’t taken, and she sat down cautiously, checking for any alarm or distress in the faces of her fellow passengers.
She had never once spoken or even made eye contact with any of them, including the bus driver. But they were like family to her; she had made up lives for all of them.
The old fat lady who sat in the disabled seat at the front even though she wasn’t disabled had once been a beautiful pop star in her youth, adored by millions until she grew sick of the celebrity culture, of being thought of as some kind of goddess who had all the answers people desperately wanted.
She realised whilst on stage, singing her heart out dressed in a black dress and high heels, how fake and empty it all was and rebelled by eating take-out every night until everyone had forgotten her.
Meanwhile, the frail old man who was stick-thin and had probably fought in a war, had once run over a dog late one night after a day of busy espionage against the Germans and had felt bad all his life, spending his whole life trying to compensate his grave misdoing by giving lollipops to local children he knew.
Deciding to break the monotony and try something different, Morgan got off one stop early, just outside the industrial estate where she worked. It was unlike how one would imagine an industrial estate; it was actually more of a nature reserve with companies living in it. Rain broke out, but she didn’t mind. The smell of damp quickly appeared, musty but mysterious.
She thought of Celts and ancient peoples. The rain grew heavy and she ducked down amongst the trees. She would get soggy grass stuck on her black shoes. The other people in the office wold probably get annoyed, because it would transfer onto the carpets at some point. The cleaner would certainly complain and demand a pay raise. What would her co-workers think of that? That thought amused her greatly, and she thought of nothing else until she heard the sound of water hitting water.
Further ahead, there was a lake, grey but beautiful. She had never known there was a lake. Next time she would bring bread for ducks.
Beside the lake was a burly old man with waterproof trousers and boots. He was pushing an old wooden boat along the shingled beach. There was a delicious crunchy sound as she got on the boat and they set off. Luckily, she did not have to do any rowing. She knew it was a big symbolic decision, setting off without question; she wanted to explore life and also the lake.
The strange man did not speak; she imagined his name would be Barry. He would have once dreamed of being an eagle when he was young and Scottish. He had a scar running down the side of his face, no doubt caused by a cat that would suddenly turn savage if it was not stroked properly. He never became an eagle, and his cat had never liked him, and the pain of life in general was there in his face. Morgan looked down shaking her head. So many dreams, so little chances given to achieve them.
At that point a heavy mist descended upon them until she could not see past her nose. That was irritating. If she had known this would happen, she would not have straightened her hair; now it would go frizzy. She would have to wash it when she got home, and that would be awful; she could not blow dry it, because that would make it frizzy, and she worried whether she had enough conditioner left for the task. Barry had not straightened his hair; she doubted he had ever straightened it.
Barry stopped and quickly got out and hauled the boat out of the lake and onto a tiny island that lay in the centre of the lake. Morgan got out and felt very self-conscious about her hair, but luckily the aging woman who stood waiting had clearly seen better days, and Morgan felt a huge weight lift from her shoulders.
The woman stood barefoot in a long, dark-blue dress. She might have made the dress herself: Morgan couldn’t be sure; she knew nothing about dressmaking but had always wanted to give it a go. The nice clothes in the shops were always too expensive and never fitted the way she wanted them to.
“Is this the girl?” The strange woman spoke in a low voice. She is clearly putting it on, Morgan thought. She hated alpha females.
The burly old man shook his hands and wiped his nose. “It’s a girl?” He shrugged his shoulders apologetically, and Morgan saw the woman rolling her eyes. The woman threw up her hands in resignation, but she shouldn’t have done that, as it showed her bingo wings, and Morgan was glad she did not have any.
“We must begin. Barry, start the fire.”
Morgan flinched when the woman said his name. He really was called Barry! She couldn’t figure the mad old lady. Morgan supposed that maybe once she had been an established successful librarian called Viv, but had been driven into a nervous breakdown after being assigned to the overdue fines department. During her career there was one book that got away. She had never recovered the book or the fine, and it haunted her even now.
Barry stood looking at a pile of wood for an awfully long time until the old lady also stared at it, and a flame appeared.
Morgan stood, unsure of what to do with herself. She looked at her watch: 8:59. She was not yet late for work.
Morgan tried hard not to look as the two strangers waved their arms and spoke gibberish. She looked back at the lake and stifled a laugh by pretending to cough slightly. She didn’t want to upset them, and she still needed to get back to work. She should have been there at 08:52 and now it was 09:01. Time was running out. Things were getting very serious now; she had never once been late for work. She didn’t know what could happen when rules were broken.
The old woman called Morgan to stand with them by the fire. They were now wearing cloaks, and Morgan felt jealous; she was feeling chilly, and her red coat did not suffice.
“Morgaine le Fey,” the woman called out, trying to sound clever and wise, but Morgan was immune.
“No, it’s Morgan Laffey,” she corrected. Why were people always getting her name wrong?
The woman rolled her eyes again and hid her embarrassment really well. “You have been summoned back to the forgotten isle once again to serve the land of Britain. There is a book that has gone missing.” She stood very straight, trying to make herself taller than Morgan but failing. “A book that must be recovered at all costs.” The old lady stopped and looked Morgan in the eyes, and Morgan did her best to look interested, “Are you willing to dedicate yourself to finding this book?”
Morgan shuffled her foot on the sand. The grass was still stuck on her shoes. She shrugged her shoulders. “S’pose.” She had four days left of holiday she had yet to take.
“Do you know who you are?” the woman asked incredulously. “You are the reincarnation of Morgaine le Fey. The mighty sorceress, dazzling enchanter, a haphazard healer, average witch, and an occasional shape-changer at weekends.”
“Oh, right. Cool.” This woman is clearly mad, Morgan thought. Best to just humour her. “Wait, are you called Viv?” The old lady nodded her head gravely and looked off into the distance, which was pointless, because it was misty, and one couldn’t see a thing. Morgan thought the woman was being poignant and trying to make herself look all melodramatic so Morgan would respect her.
“Indeed, my name is Viv, and I am the lady of the lake. I used to be the sacred keeper of Bowmere library.” Her voice trailed off and she looked down bitterly, “But that was another time.” She let a tear drop. “Another place.”
Maybe Morgan was all those things Viv had said she was. Was she destined for something greater than being an average administration assistant? “And what is this book I must find? Is it any good?” She took a step forwards towards mad Viv. “Is it worth reading?”
Viv stamped her foot and took a deep breath; she shot a look at Barry who looked guilty. “Of course! It is very important! The people of Britain depend on it. Should you find it, you will receive a gigantic award; it is overdue by six hundred years!” She narrowed her eyes. “Think of the fines, Morgan!”
Now it was Morgan’s turn to look into the distance and try to look melodramatic. She thought long and hard. It was 9:48. Morgan did the boldest thing she had ever done in her entire life. She called in sick to work. But she wasn’t sick; she was on a mission.
Copyright © 2015 by S. J. Budd