by Annie Shnapp
It hadn’t been a good year and I was tired. A messy divorce and a house move had taken their toll and I needed some peace and quiet. Which was why I ended up in Moniaive. I had lived there for a while and remembered it with affection. Long lonely walks plus some decent bar company in the evenings were just what I was after.
I checked into the Craigdarroch Arms on a Saturday evening in May. The joint was jumping and after a long soak followed by a steak pie I fell into conversation with some of the locals. I suppose I must have had a few gins too many but anyway, by midnight I was beat and headed for my room upstairs. As I was turning in I noticed that there was no soap in the bathroom and decided to look for some in a cupboard I’d seen on the landing.
I opened the door. Darkness. I felt about, my hand meeting loo rolls and bottles. I reached further in. Still no soap. I climbed into the cupboard and as I did so the door slammed shut behind me, leaving me in pitch blackness.
I was fumbling for the catch behind me when I heard a roaring noise and I was suddenly propelled headlong down a sharp incline. The fall lasted several terrifying minutes until I was flung out into daylight and landed abruptly on a narrow pavement.
I looked around. I was standing opposite the cross in the village in front of the Craigdarroch. It seemed to be morning.
I moaned internally. I must have had far too many gins the night before. This was really not what I had come to Moniaive to do.
I decided to take a look around.
I turned left, up Chapel Street, and headed out of the village. There were some nice houses. As I passed the Old Bakery the unmistakable sound of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Superstition’ blasted out. Through the window I could see a bearded gent boogying away enthusiastically.
Up the road, by the bridge, a group of people was loading baskets into a car festooned with a banner reading “Gala Committee Annual Outing”.
“Isn’t it a lovely day for a picnic?” said a mild blonde woman who was being bossed about by all the others.
“I’ve made cucumber sandwiches,” trilled a rather camp bearded man, “It’s going to be such fun!”
I walked on for a bit, enjoying the views and spring weather. I felt well, better than I had for a long time. But there was a nagging at the back of my mind. The cupboard, that fall, I couldn’t make sense of it. Eventually for reasons of mental health I decided to put it all down to too much gin and a very strange dream. But all the sameÉÉÉ
After an hour I started to feel in need of breakfast and turned back towards the village. I passed the Craigdarroch and went down the steps of the George Hotel.
Inside, the gleam of chrome was a bit over-dazzling, but I was greeted cheerfully by a smartly dressed bartender and ordered a full breakfast. I was starving.
“This place has changed a bit since I was last here,” I remarked to the barkeep. He looked at me strangely as he busily polished his glasses, but did not reply.
Breakfast over, I went into the post office. I asked the postmistress if there were any postcards of the village. Taciturnly she indicated a shelf to her left. “That’s a nice one,” I said, “Or maybe I’ll take this one, that one’s good too.”
“Just make up your mind,” snapped the postmistress, “I can’t stand here chatting all day!”
I looked back at the Post Office as I left, I was puzzled. The village seemed quite different to the one I had known. I’d remembered folk music, the traditional charms of the George, long blethers in the Post Office and the notorious Gala Committee. The place had certainly changed. And then I saw the sign.
Noniaive Post Office!
It made me think. That fall through the cupboard onto the pavement below hadn’t felt like a dream. Perhaps there was something strange going on, something surreal. Was it possible that this wasn’t really Moniaive at all, but some alternative village reality? For some reason this crazy idea started to make sense to me. But how would I get back?
Up ahead at the cross a blue van had drawn up and two rather unsavoury looking characters were deep in conversation with the owner of the Craigdarroch. I overheard them as I approached.
“I’ve never seen that hole before,” said the owner, pointing at a gap in the eaves. “It’s appeared overnight. Can you do something about it, lads?”
“No problem,” grunted the white haired one, throwing a cigarette butt on to the road. “Carlos is always happy to get up a ladder, he’ll have it filled up in no time.”
I peered up at the hole. It was directly above the spot on the pavement I had landed on that morning. Maybe it was a portal to the original village, my way back. I had to try it.
The men laid a ladder against the wall and went back into their van. I had no time to lose, this might be my only opportunity to get back to reality. I scrambled up the ladder. The hole was big enough to squeeze through and I began to haul myself up through it.
Suddenly I heard the roaring sound again and I was swept upwards into darkness for the second time. Aeons seemed to pass as I swirled and spiralled in nothingness until I was spat out roughly into the cupboard again. The door flew open and I landed on my knees on the landing floor.
The lights were on and it seemed to be night. I got to my feet and went cautiously downstairs.
The bar was a crush of bodies and noise. I bought a gin and took a look around. A small group of women were stood tightly together, deep in conversation. It looked like there was some choice gossip being exchanged. An ice fight was taking place and someone was complaining loudly about the bloody Gala Committee.
It was good to be back.