The Touchstone

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Extract from The Touchstone by Andrew Norriss

The Story…
Douglas has been given a Touchstone by an alien called Kai. When he holds the stone he can see Gedrus, an intergalactic librarian who has access to the answers to pretty much everything in the Universe. Douglas had asked for help for his friend Ivo who was making a robot to take part in a Robot Wars competition…

 

Chapter 1

One morning, as Douglas was leaving for school, he heard a voice calling his name. It was a faint voice hardly louder than the wind blowing through the trees, but when he looked round to see who was calling, there was nobody there.

            He was wondering if he might have imagined it when the voice called again.

            ‘Douglas!’ it said, slightly louder this time but still hardly more than a whisper. Puzzled, he looked around him, but the garden in front of the house seemed quite deserted. Only when the voice called a third time, did he realise it was coming from one of the lilac bushes that ran along the wall in front of the road.

            Crossing the grass, he pulled aside one of the branches and found a woman sitting on the ground with her back against the wall, her chin on her chest and her right hand clutching her left shoulder. She was wearing black boots, combat trousers and a khaki sleeveless vest.

           

Resting in her lap was a case made of a dull grey metal, about as big as the lunchbox Douglas had used when he was in primary school. Around her neck, hanging on a silver chain, was a green stone, the size of the top joint of a man’s thumb.

            As Douglas pulled aside the branch to look at her, she lifted her head.

            ‘Douglas?’ It was the voice that had been calling him and he could understand now why it had been so faint. Speaking seemed to take a considerable effort.           ‘Douglas Paterson?’

            Douglas wondered how the woman knew his name. He had never seen her before in his life. Pushing the branch he was holding to one side, he knelt beside her.

            ‘Are you all right?’

          ‘I am hurt,’ said the woman in a hoarse whisper.

          ‘I’ll get someone to help.’ Douglas stood up. There was no one in the house as his mother had already left for work, but he could phone the emergency services and ask for an ambulance.

            ‘No!’ The hand that reached out and grasped his arm was surprisingly strong. ‘No one must know I am here. If they find me I am lost.’

            ‘Oh’ said Douglas. ‘Right…. ’

‘I do not have much time so you must listen carefully. Three things.’ She spoke in short bursts, breathing through clenched teeth between each of them. ‘One, my name is Kai and I come from another planet. Two, my mission is to take this…’ she gestured to the case in her lap, ‘… back to my home world and liberate my people. Three, I am being hunted by the Guardians of the Federation and my only chance of escape is to find someone to hide me for the next forty-eight hours.’ She looked up at Douglas, her dark eyes staring intensely into his. ‘Gedrus says you are the only coda I can reach. Will you help me? Please?’

            Douglas did not reply immediately. For some seconds he knelt there, not moving or speaking.

            ‘Please!’ Kai tugged at his arm. ‘Will you help?’

            With a start, Douglas shook himself out of his trance.

            ‘Sorry,’ he said. ‘What was number one again?’

 

Douglas was not the sort of boy to panic when some-thing out of the ordinary happened. In the battlefield of life, when shells and mortar bombs were falling all around, he was the one you would find in the corner of a dugout quietly making himself a cheese sandwich and brewing a pot of tea. If you wanted calm in the face of a crisis Douglas Paterson was your man, but even he found the next half-hour something of a strain.

            The first of several shocks, as he unlocked the front door and helped Kai up the stairs and into the house, was the way her left arm fell off. He picked it up, at her request, and pushed the end of it back into her shoulder socket – but it fell off again as they crossed the hall, and again as they struggled up the stairs.

            In the end Douglas carried it himself until they got to his bedroom, where Kai, gasping for breath, sat down on the bed and asked if he had anything that might hold it in place. Douglas went and got a roll of Elastoplast and a pair of scissors from the first-aid box in the bathroom.

            He came back to the bedroom where Kai was still sitting on the bed, her left arm lying across the metal case on her lap and a blue gunge oozing slowly from her shoulder socket. In her right hand she was holding the green crystal that hung from the chain around her neck. Her eyes were half-closed and her lips moved slightly, as if she was talking to someone. Douglas wondered if she was saying a prayer.

            When she looked up, she nodded approvingly at the tape and scissors.

            ‘Excellent.’ Letting go of the crystal, she picked up her left arm and held it in place. ‘Two strips will be sufficient. They will be needed for only a few hours.’

            Douglas unrolled a strip of tape, cut it off and ran it round the top of Kai’s arm and on to her body. As he reached for a second piece, he was about to mention that he still thought calling an ambulance might be a good idea, when Kai started talking again.

            ‘I will tell you what is going to happen, Douglas. In a few minutes I will become unconscious. I will be like that for two days. For forty-eight hours, you understand? During that time my body will heal. It is very important that I am left alone while this is happening.’ She looked directly at him to emphasize what she was saying. ‘I will not need food or water. I will not need help or medical care. I will need, only, to be left alone.’ She looked around the room. ‘You can put me where you like. The only thing that is important is that my hiding place remain a secret.’

            She reached up to take Douglas’s hand as he stuck the second piece of tape over her shoulder.

            ‘I must not be found. And you must tell no one of my presence here. Gedrus says that if you speak to anyone, anyone at all, I will almost certainly be caught.’

            Douglas opened his mouth to speak but Kai lifted her hand to silence him.

            ‘I know. You have many questions, but I do not have the time to answer them. However, I have something that may reassure you.’

            Releasing Douglas, Kai touched the front of the metal case on her lap with the fingers of her right hand and the lid swung open. Inside, laid out in a row, were three green stones, identical to the one Kai wore around her neck. In fact, the way the stones were spaced made Douglas think that the stone she wore had once been the fourth.

            Each of the stones was attached to a silver chain and they lay in the case as if buried in glass, like one of those paperweights where a flower or an insect is held inside a glass ball.

            ‘Take one.’ Kai pointed to the case and then, when Douglas hesitated. ‘Here…’

            She took his hand and pushed it into the case. Douglas found that what had looked like solid glass felt and moved like a liquid. It offered no more resistance than a bowl of water as he grasped one of the silver chains and pulled it free. The solid surface reformed beneath his hand with barely a ripple. He stared at it, and then at the stone that hung from the chain on his fingers.

            ‘It is called a Touchstone,’ said Kai. ‘You hold it like this.’ She clenched her hand around the crystal that hung round her own neck.

            Slowly Douglas reached up and curled his fingers round the stone. He instantly felt a shock wave of energy that seemed to travel in a split second from the stone in his hand to every nerve-ending in his body. Up his arm to the hairs of his head and down to the end of his toes, a wave of vital, tingling awareness shot through him and, with a cry of surprise, he opened his fingers and dropped the crystal as if he had been burnt.

            Kai looked at him, her dark eyes staring out from a face that was growing paler by the second.

            ‘From now on, when there is anything you don’t understand, anything you need to know, any time you need help, you hold the stone and you ask Gedrus. You understand?’

            ‘Gedrus?’

            ‘He can tell you whatever you need to know.’

            Carefully closing the lid of the case, she put a hand on Douglas’s shoulder and pulled herself up. Standing, she looked directly into his face.

            ‘But it is important that you let no one see it. No one must know that you have it. No on…’

Kai’s face was completely drained of colour now and she began to sway. ‘The time is very close. We must choose now where you would like to conceal me because soon… soon, I shall…’

            Her eyes closed and Kai toppled sideways to the floor, her body landing on the boards with a crash that seemed to echo round the house.

            Douglas stared at her for several seconds before kneeling down beside her to hold her wrist. There was no sign of a pulse but, since he was holding the arm that had fallen off, that was not entirely surprising. Nor was there any sign of breathing. In fact, no indication that Kai was alive at all.

            Douglas wondered what he should do and eventually decided that he would have to phone for help. He was twelve years old and he knew that twelve-year-old boys do not hide dead bodies in their bedrooms for two days, even if that is what the dead person wants and they have promised to get better.

            He shifted his position to stand up and, as he did so, brushed his knee against the green stone, which was lying on the floor where he had dropped it. Almost without thinking, he picked it up and the result was as instantaneous as it was dramatic.

            This time there was no shock but directly in front of his face a picture appeared hanging in space like a window in the air. It was about a metre square and astonishingly vivid. Each part of it was crystal clear, the colours wonderfully bright, the detail pinpoint sharp – and the image it presented was every bit as real as the room around him.

            The picture was of a library. An enormous room, where hundreds of shelves containing thousands of books stretched in all directions as far as the eye could see. At the front, a young man was sitting in a swivel chair with his feet propped up on a large desk, reading a book and eating an apple.

            As Douglas stared, the man looked up from his book and gave a little nod of recognition, as if he and Douglas were old acquaintances passing the time of day in the street.

            ‘Hi there!’ he smiled cheerfully, ‘What can I do for you?’

            There was a long pause.

            ‘Who are you?’ asked Douglas.

            The man in the picture leaned forward and pointed to the word written in gold letters on a triangular piece of wood on the front of his desk.

            ‘I,’ he said, ‘am Gedrus.’

      

     ***

The Touchstone is only available as an eBook and audio CD as it is currently out of print.

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