WHEN ELEVEN YEAR-OLD JOANNA GILCHRIST FINDS A MYSTERIOUS BOOK CALLED BEYOND THE VEIL, SHE EMBARKS ON AN ASTONISHING AND MAGICAL ADVENTURE. GUIDED BY FRIENDS FROM INVISIBLE REALMS, SHE LEARNS HOW TO COOK HERBAL REMEDIES AND READ THE SECRETS OF STRANGERS’ HEARTS IN ORDER TO HELP AND HEAL. BUT THIS IS ONLY THE BEGINNING OF HER JOURNEY TO TINNICANARA, A MOUNTAIN THAT ONLY SHE CAN SEE, WHERE A MIRACULOUS GIFT AWAITS HER…A GIFT MADE OF PERFECT LIGHT.
We are very fortunate to be able to share with our Inspirational Storytellers community, Chapter 1 of Julian Middleton’s newly released children’s novel “Joanna Beyond the Veil”. It is a spiritual adventure story for children ages nine to twelve and everyone of an imaginative disposition!
Joanna Gilchrist didn’t know anything about the pothole until her foot went into it. She missed her step, lost her footing, stumbled to one side and fell over in a clumsy heap.
She was alone on Acacia Avenue on a warm sunny afternoon. The stunning blue sky looked on uninterestedly as she clutched her ankle. A gentle wind stirred the bushes in the nearby gardens, but left her alone.
“Stupid hole,” she grimaced.
She was half a kilometre from home, on her way back from the shop. To her left, Acacia Avenue continued on down the hill. Nearby, a number of big old houses sat well back from the road. They had long curving driveways and most had trees lining the front of the gardens for privacy.
“Stupid, stupid hole,” Joanna muttered. She tested her ankle and pain flared in her leg. She sat down again. The ankle had obviously twisted quite badly. It was very tender to the touch and already swelling. She looked up to see a rather tall and imposing figure approaching down a nearby driveway. It was a woman in a light blue skirt and plain white shirt, with a florid orange headscarf tied round a great quantity of flowing black hair. There was an expression of concern on her face, which Joanna instantly thought both beautiful and a little scary on account of her strong, piercing gaze.
The woman hurried across the pavement and knelt beside her. “I’ve been trying to get the authorities to fix this hole for six months,” she said. “And now look what has happened – a child has been hurt.”
“It’s just sprained,” groaned Joanna. “I’ll be okay in a minute.”
The woman laughed. “I admire your courage, but I’m not so sure! Let’s have a look, shall we?”
Joanna allowed the newcomer to examine her ankle. The swelling was quite noticeable now.
“Can you stand up?” the woman asked. “You can come inside and sit down for a while, if you like.”
Joanna looked into her face, which was strong yet kindly. There was something fierce about the woman, she thought, but only in a good way. Joanna wasn’t sure about going up to the house, though. As her rescuer helped her to stand, however, a memory floated up into her thoughts. A couple of years before, her Dad had been ill with some kind of fever. Doctor Harper had prescribed some tablets, but these hadn’t worked and he seemed to be getting worse. One afternoon Joanna had entered the kitchen to find the back door open. Her Mum was talking to someone on the doorstep. It had been this same woman who was helping her now! The visitor gave her Mum some kind of herbal remedy that cured her Dad in twenty-four hours.
“You came to my house once,” Joanna said.
The woman nodded. “I heard about your Dad through a neighbour, Mrs Beeton. I had just what he needed. You coming?”
Joanna looked at her again and instinct told her that it was safe. Limping on the sprain, she followed the woman slowly up the drive. It was a winding gravel driveway that twisted and turned through trees and shrubbery for some distance before the house suddenly came into view. This was a very large place with a great many windows it seemed, protected from the harsh sunlight by towering sycamore trees. Joanna glimpsed a long lawn sloping away to the rear. It was obviously a very old house and the fact that it lay in shadow made it both inviting and mysterious.
The woman looked down at her and smiled again. “I’m Diana by the way,” she said. “Diana Jennings.”
“I’m Joanna,” Joanna answered, feeling a little shy. At that moment, her mobile started ringing. It was home calling – her Mum sounded a little alarmed.
“Joanna, are you all right?” Her voice was tinny and squawking. “I suddenly had the strangest feeling about you.”
“I’m okay,” she replied. “I fell down and hurt my ankle, but Mrs Jennings rescued me.”
“You’re at Diana’s? Do you want me to come and get you?”
“I’m all right, Mum. I’m just going to sit down for a minute and then I’ll come home. But there wasn’t any bread at the shop.”
“I’ll come and fetch you,” her Mum insisted. “I’ll be there in two minutes.”
“I’m going to talk to Mrs Jennings first,” Joanna said. She was surprised to hear herself saying it – the words just popped right out of her mouth. “Can you come in about fifteen minutes?”
“Okay,” her Mum said. “See you both then.”
“How’s that foot?” Diana enquired.
Joanna was still limping heavily. “Quite sore actually,” she said.
“Come inside and sit down.”
The interior of Diana Jennings’ house was cool and shadowy following the glare of the afternoon sun. A long hallway lined with wooden panelling led through into a spacious modern kitchen. Joanna stared through the window into the garden. It was simply enormous – practically a meadow!
“This house has been in my family for two hundred years,” said Diana. “Come through here.” She led Joanna through a doorway into a smaller room off to one side. There was a peculiar orange glow in the room. Joanna realised that it came from a semi-transparent sheet of plastic that had been taped across the window.
“It protects the books,” said Diana. “Sunlight damages them. See?” She waved her hand, gesturing around the room. Joanna gasped. The walls were lined with books from floor to ceiling! There were a great many shelves on each wall, and all were crammed with titles.
“How many are there?” Joanna wondered aloud.
“Five thousand,” answered Diana promptly. She glanced at Joanna and Joanna detected a certain intensity in her eye. “Would you like to take a closer look?”
Joanna nodded and wandered closer. Most of the books were clearly very old – musty, dusty, ancient volumes. The biggest stood on the floor at her feet. Some were so big that Joanna thought they could almost have been little doors! Many of them were centimetres thick.
Joanna tilted her head, her troublesome ankle temporarily forgotten, and read some titles at random: Magic, Mystery and Mankind; Forgotten Doorways; The Many Dimensions of Reality; Suffering and the Soul of Man; Divine Messengers; Darkness and Light.
“What are they all about?” Joanna mused.
“You might call them doorways,” replied Diana. “It’s just a question of knowing which door to knock at really.”
“I wouldn’t know where to begin,” said Joanna.
“I can help you there,” Diana said. “But you’ll have to trust me.”
“I trust you,” Joanna said.
“Okay.” Diana left the room for a few moments and returned carrying a thin strip of cloth. It was bright blue, with flashes of yellow interwoven at irregular intervals. Joanna studied it nervously.
“Yes,” Diana chuckled, “it’s a blindfold. But don’t worry, I’m not going to lead you astray.” She came closer. “Quite the opposite, in fact.” She handed it to Joanna who pressed the soft, velvety material between her fingers. It felt warm and comforting. It was the kind of material you might want your bedding made of, she thought. And perhaps your pyjamas, too!
Diana took back the blindfold with a smile. Joanna shrugged and stood patiently while Diana tied it round her head and fastened it at the back. She adjusted it so that it completely covered Joanna’s eyes.
“No,” Joanna said.
“Okay.” Joanna felt Diana place her hands lightly on her shoulders and steer her forwards. “Now,” she continued, “the shelves are just in front of you. All I want you to do is reach out and run your hands along the books. If you want to go to the other walls, just keep moving right or left, whichever you prefer. As I say there are five thousand to choose from. See which one likes the look of you!”
Joanna thought this a strange turn of phrase, but nevertheless she stretched out her arms and felt her fingertips brush the spines of the books just ahead. She pulled back for a moment as she felt – or thought she felt – a faint buzzing-like vibration, as if machinery was humming within.
“Go ahead,” Diana said from somewhere behind her. “Don’t be nervous.”
“It – it feels like they’re alive!” said Joanna.
“I should hope so,” replied Diana.
Joanna reached out again and touched the books. This time there was no buzzing.
“Now,” murmured Diana softly, “concentrate…”
Joanna wrinkled up her forehead as she felt along the rows of books. Some stuck out a little way…others were further back. Many were exactly the same size and formed long smooth sections that her fingers slipped across comfortably. She came to the end of the shelf and reached up higher, this time moving from right to left.
“Calm your thoughts, Joanna,” whispered Diana. “Quiet your mind…”
Joanna frowned some more as her fingers continued tracing the spines. She had just begun to wonder exactly what she was doing groping along a bookcase in a stranger’s house when she felt her mind fall utterly still. At the same time, her fingers brushed against a particularly large volume and simply stuck to it.
“This one!” she declared in excitement.
“Excellent!” cried Diana. “You’ve a friend for life there!” She whisked away the blindfold. Joanna pulled the book down off the shelf – it was very heavy – and studied it. It was a big, dusty old volume with a faded blue cover. The title was stamped in gold lettering across it:
BEYOND THE VEIL
“Toulouse Trelee,” murmured Diana wistfully. “Fabulous woman. She practically invented the wishing well, you know. Not to mention the Inverted Telescope.”
Joanna looked up. “The what?”
“An indispensable aid to self-understanding,” said Diana. “It resembles a normal telescope except that when you look into it, you peer into your own thoughts. Wonderful!” She sighed deeply and her gaze fell upon the book in Joanna’s hands. “A wise choice,” she remarked, and Joanna wasn’t sure whether she was addressing her or the book.
Diana made some fresh orange juice and Joanna followed her out into the beautiful back garden. They sat at a small wooden table in the shadow of a tall weeping willow. Joanna looked up into the deep blue heavens. The sky was enormous today. A few wisps of white cloud drifted across its depths.
Diana poured two glasses of orange juice. Joanna set the book down on the table, careful to keep it clear of the drinks, and opened the front cover. The inside page was mottled with age, but the next was perfectly white. The first thing Joanna encountered was a list of Toulouse Trelee’s other works.
“A History of Time and Space,” she read aloud. “The Undiscovered Country of the Mind. Why Far Away is Closer Than You Think. What the River Said.” She turned two more pages and came to the contents list. She blinked in surprise. It was just a list of numbers, one to ten, with nothing written after them. Joanna flicked through several more pages to chapter one. Chapter One was all it said. She glanced quizzically at Diana.
“Don’t be perturbed,” said Diana. “What you have there is Toulouse’s finest work. It was so good, she couldn’t find the words to write it.”
“Right,” said Joanna. “Maybe I should try again, eh?”
“Oh no, not at all,” Diana protested. “You’ve got the cream of the crop there. The cherry on the icing on the cake! The prize jewel of my collection.”
Diana paused and exhaled dramatically. “Joanna, Beyond The Veil is not a book to be read. It is an experience to be savoured.” She clapped her hands and Joanna looked around, half expecting something magical to happen. “I shall say no more. See how you get on with chapter one.”
At that moment, car wheels crunched in the driveway. Joanna’s Mum had come to collect her.