This was my first attempt at a re-write of my earlier story Midsummer Night. This re-write significantly changed the plot, and even the main character (Simon replaces the earlier Tom). The moth-men are entirely new, for example.
Later, I re-wrote this again, changing from past to present tense: Midsummer Night (v3).
On the eve of his eleventh birthday Simon lay in bed and listened to the rain falling outside his window. It was Midsummer's night, the shortest night, and the most magical night in the world, when you could hardly tell dusk from day. When the sun finally rose it would be his birthday, but Simon had always been more excited by the night itself. On Midsummer the world was different and special. It was a magical time. Sometimes Simon dreamed that the whole world changed in those few short hours of darkness, just for an instant in the depths of the almost night. Sometimes he tried to stay up and catch that moment, but always the half-light lulled him to sleep before he could see it.
Now he lay awake, listening to the soft patter of the rain in the dark. By the side of his bed a clock was ticking, the hour hand edging closer to midnight. Outside the rain was stroking the rooftop with thousands of little fingers, dripping gently from the eaves, and pattering down onto the ground below. The rain was so soft it was like a caress, gently drifting Simon off to sleep.
Then suddenly he was wide awake. The sound of the rain had stopped, the hands of the clock by his bed hovered at midnight, and something strange was happening outside. A golden glow hovered on the ceiling of his bedroom, like the headlights of a car that had suddenly stopped outside the window, and there was strange noise, an almost undetectable creaking and popping, as if something was uncurling after the rain.
Simon couldn't keep his excitement in check a moment longer. He leapt out of bed and ran to the window. Outside the window the sky dripped colours. Flocks of high clouds reflected rainbows of old sunlight while serried layers of luminescence hovered on the horizon. When he flung open the window the air was rich and warm and heavy with the scents of flowers. All around him, where on any other night there was only an old trellis and a few even older stems, there were now huge bundles of dark green vines bursting with huge glossy leaves and huge with white blossoms the size of coffee pots. He was right! The Midsummer world did exist! His heart leaped in exultation.
Without hesitating Simon clambered out of his window and down the trellis into the garden. On every side were plants so huge and lush that he was like an ant crawling under their leaves. Where, normally, the backyard lay, a tangle of plants reached high over his head. On leaves as large as outspread umbrellas drops of water the size of marbles glistened, their surfaces swimming with molten silver. He walked past strawberries the size of chairs and cushions, and huge aubergines like rich black sofas. Beneath the giant plants were smaller ones glowing in the shadows, bluebells, and harebells. Simon almost thought that he could hear them ringing.
The air was rich with sweet scents; heavy, luxurious, sugary smells that seemed to have colours and shapes. One bush smelt orange, another violet, and underneath them all was the scent of wet leaves and rain washed grasses. Even the sounds had colours, silver tinklings from the flowers and the soft black plashings of raindrops dripping from the tips of leaves into the darkness below.
A little path led up through the giant plants, its edge marked with terracotta tiles. It wound along under the huge leaves, curving here and there, and running uphill all the while. The gravel of the path crunched under Simon's feet as he followed it - hiding the sound of other feet, little feet, that came along after him. Simon didn't notice, he had eyes only for the view ahead.
Simon stepped out onto the edge of a huge lawn. Above him the sky had been cut into strips and dipped into colour, with light shining through it like stained glass. The colours sheeted down onto the lawn, a different sort of rain altogether, and sank their way into the heavy nodding blossoms that edged the grass. Across the lawn he wandered, from one grove of flowers to another, through the shadows of curling trees, over grass barred with stripes of purple and magenta. He wandered into overgrown arbours where the light filtered onto crumbled sundials and benches carved with lion's heads, and he wandered through arches of stone where moths the size of his head fluttered and danced in the darkness. In the shadows orange fruit glowed with their own light, and golden leopards smouldered in the branches of the trees, all bronze and amber. He shied away from the leopards, frightened for the first time into almost turning back; but they just watched him and panted, their lolling tongues pale in the gloom. Behind him, unnoticed, shadows flitting over each mark his feet had left on the darkling lawn.
At last Simon came to the other side of the trees. It seemed he had been here forever, and yet no time at all. It seemed that there was no end to this magical night. From the edge of the trees he saw only a vista of wonders, extending without end. It was just as he had always dreamt. It was more wonderful than he had ever imagined.
In the distance were mountains almost as dusky as the sky, suspended beneath clouds as massive as the hills. Before them was a plain thick with trees, and here and there amongst them the rooftops of great palaces rose up, looking over the forest and its rivers. Closer still was a cliff top edge, that raised him high above the Midsummer jungle below, and on its brink, a little way above him on a hill, was a singe Golden Palace standing silhouetted against the night sky. Its high walls were pierced over and again with delicate fretworks of diamonds and flowers, through which the aurora sky glimmered, and its tall needle towers were toped with balls of blue and spikes of gold. In the darkness of its centre Simon could see many open windows, from which bright light and the sound of music came drifting.
Between him and the palace wound a path edged with statues of boys and girls in fantastic poses. They rose out of the tangled green of the flowers around them, and a hundred thousand tiny birds perched and fluttered all around them, their plumed tails nodding and their wings as iridescent as a beetle's shell. As Simon stepped forward they rose up into the air in a breezy cloud, zipping and darting from side to side.
Suddenly, as he came halfway up the path a tiger padded from the glowing darkness and regarded him with its hypnotic gaze. In its deep eyes there seemed to be some sort of warning, or a message, but he could not tell what it was. He stopped, afraid for the second time, but the tiger only turned and moved away, its silver whiskers chiming softly in the warm breeze.
When he entered the palace on the cliff top at last he found it strangely quiet. There was no sign of the revellers he had heard from outside, and not a note of the music they had been playing. Inside the rooms were dark and empty, lit only by the heavy light that seeped in through the fretwork shutters and the shadowy walls. In the hot dark corridors there were strings of paper lanterns, strung up in ragged lines where they swung slowly in the night air, but none were lit.
With a soft tread he mounted flight after flight of stairs, moving from one empty room to another, until at last he came to the topmost floor, where a single chamber spanned the building, its shutters thrown half open. Here there were golden screens that shone pale in the reflected light, their surfaces decorated with butterfly's wings, plucked out and stuck down with varnish. Between the screens was a long table, laden with food, with a single candle burning at its centre,
Hesitantly Simon approached, his stomach reminding him that it was long hours since supper. Every inch of the table top was covered in dishes, serving such a feast as he had never seen. There were oranges and plums, strawberries and mangoes by the dozen. There were fruits like yellow stars, sliced on beds of petals, and pears and nectarines candied hard with sugar. There were ices and jellies, cakes and pastries, sea stars and pickled eels and fish swimming in a crystal urn. There were starlings in pies and lizards in aspic, pigs biting apples and roast ducks in pancakes, there was even a lion, carved out of ice! Simon's eyes were wide as he stared at the table, every glance seeing a new dish, and all around him, in the darkened corners of the hall, grey shapes edged closer and closer.
"Eat" whispered the voices, and Simon's stomach growled in agreement. "Eat" they sighed, "And stay with us forever." The golden light dazzled in his eyes, reflecting a hundred wonders from outside the lidded shutters, and Simon thought how fine it would be to see it all, how wonderful to explore forever in the scented shades of the Midsummer world.
And then his eyes lighted on a cake dusted with beetle's wings, and he remembered that tomorrow was his birthday, and all his family and friends would be there, waiting to see him turned eleven. He caught sight of the candle and saw that it flame was flickering dangerously low, and he saw the sky outside, already brightening towards dawn.
Dawn! Simon whirled in alarm and saw the creatures who had stalked him through the gardens, They came at him all in a rush, a grey confusion of dark eyes and moth wings, dressed in cobwebs and old memories, grasping at him with fingers as dry as dead dreams, With a cry he broke free and leapt down the stairs, holding his arms over his face to keep away the touch of their pale fingers, till he burst out onto the long path, past the statues which he saw now were each a child like him, frozen forever.
He ran through the Baobabs and the tiger-lilies. He splashed through a cinnamon scented river where twirling paper boats each held a candle. Under majestic chains of turning stars he retraced his path through the fallen temples and the twisting arbours, with the grey folk just behind him. Down through groves of cedars he ran, while the sky brightened above the mountains and clouds of black birds took to the sky around them. There was so far to go, and the sun was so close! More than once he slid on the damp grass, or found that the dark leaves now hid thorns when he brushed against them, Always the palace people were there at his shoulder, trying to hold onto him for just one second, for just the moment it would take the sun to rise and the way to seal forever!
At last he panted into the rain-drenched forest of giant plants and fruits. The plums and blackcurrants hung sickly sweet in the great soft leaves. At each step they swung against him, tendrils tripping at his feet and stems whipping at his body as he stretched to reach the white trellis and its fragrant creeper.
And then hands were grasping the wood, and his feet were slipping on the slats as he scrambled upwards. Behind him the tops of the trees were already fading as the dawn caressed them into oblivion, already the light was swinging closer as he threw himself over onto his balcony. Then the sun flashed in a cleft of mountains, which were suddenly only the houses at the end of the street. Where the forest had been the sun lightened the wet lawn and the dark trees, early morning, the day after Midsummer.