Eileen was busy, and Binnie was following her around the house as she worked changing bedsheets and tidying the ballroom, as if there were any point to that, not helping of course, but launching what was promising to be a massively tall tale.
“Why don’t you and Alf go and play outside?” she said, trying to head Binnie off, but it didn’t work.
“We did that. That’s what I’m telling you. We went out to the woods, and we saw this arch of trees, and as we went over to it there was a bright shimmering light—”
Eileen froze, and then forced herself to keep moving, picking up toys. “A bright shimmering light,” she repeated, hoping her air of absent skepticism was not too studied.
“That’s right,” Binnie said forcefully. “Tell her, Alf.”
Alf had appeared out of nowhere; Eileen closed her mind’s eye wearily. “Are you telling her? I told you not to. Nobody’s going to believe it.”
Alf was right, but before she could say so, Binnie went on. “Yeah, and we went between the arch of trees and all of a sudden we were—”
They were where? Oxford in 2060? This was bad, this was very bad.
“—in another wood that was bustin’ full of snow.”
Eileen breathed again. Of course, it was just another story. “A wood full of snow,” she said, putting the toys back on their shelf.
Now they were both following her around, jumping over one another to tell her the story. With an effort Eileen tuned them halfway out, but she couldn’t avoid hearing some of the tale, which involved a long trek through the snow and a conversation with a weird human-like animal, and then a sleigh ride with a pale and beautiful lady dressed up in furs to a gloomy, damp castle filled with statues—
This story was sounding awfully familiar, but Eileen couldn’t place it. She dragged out the rolled-up mattress to put down for the soon-to-be-arriving evacuees and began hauling it upstairs. Alf and Binnie followed her, not helping.
“—and I told her it wasn’t none of her business what my dad’s name is—”
“Yeah, and our mother’s name’s not Eve, it’s—”
“I’m telling it, all right? So I said to her—”
“You said not to tell Eileen. So it’s my story. We told her she must be looking for someone else, because we never done nothin’.”
“And then she asked if we were human, and that’s not a very nice question to ask somebody, I don’t think. So I said that was none of her bleedin’ business either.”
“But she said she would give us a nice dinner if we went with her to her house.”
“But it wasn’t, it was just some crusty old bread. I told you we shouldn’t have gone with her.”
“You wanted to ride in the sleigh.”
“I wanted to drive the sleigh, but that fat little furry bloke went after me with his whip. Missed me by a mile, though.”
This story was sounding awfully familiar. Eileen frowned, panting as she got the mattress up the last flight.
“Anyway, she had this pet wolf who guarded the castle, and they argued about these other kids they’re looking for, and—”
“And then she said we stole this funny stone knife she had, but we never.”
A stone knife? Eileen dropped the mattress and glared at them thoughtfully.
“We just found it on the seat of this huge marble chair,” Binnie said, “and Alf told her it was his Christmas present, just joking like, and she fair went bedlam on us. Said there wasn’t supposed to be any Christmas, just winter.”
Winter without Christmas? Eileen stared at them. They must have read—but no, it was still being written. Then where could they have—?
“And she waved this long stick at us,” Binnie said indignantly. “But Alf and me dodged out of the way and ran off. We went all over the castle,” she added with satisfaction.
“Yeah, and it was chockablock full of those creepy statues,” Alf said. “You ask me, I think she was a nutter. So we got out to the courtyard—”
“I’m telling it. We got out to the courtyard and there was this stone lion we decided to climb up on, you know, to get away from the wolf. So then we got on its back—” But Binnie stopped.
“And then what happened?” Eileen said, no longer even pretending not to pay attention.
Alf looked at Binnie. “I told you not to tell her. She won’t believe it.”
“Did the lion come to life?” Eileen asked shrewdly.
Binnie flushed red, but glared at her in defiance. “Yes, it did,” she said, “and it flew over the wall and carried us back to where we started.”
“Because it was a different lion,” Alf explained.
“How do you know?” Eileen asked.
“Because there isn’t any other lion like that,” Alf said, daring her to make something of it.
“I see,” Eileen said.
For the briefest of moments Alf and Binnie looked apprehensive, as if afraid she might jeer at them about the lion; but when she merely stared at them hard, their energy surged up again.
“So the lion told us that we could stay in that place if we wanted and help get rid of the mean mad lady,” Binnie concluded, “or we could come back ‘ere and fight ‘Itler.”
“And you decided to come back here?” Eileen said, rather wishing that Aslan hadn’t offered them the choice.
“That’s right,” Alf said. “We got stuff to do here, for the war effort.”
Like completely destroying the space-time continuum? Eileen said: “Well, you can start with helping me move this mattress.”
Looking disgruntled, they reached reluctantly for the other end of the unrolled mattress. “I told you she wouldn’t believe us,” Alf said to Binnie. “You don’t, do you?”
Eileen couldn’t think of a response quickly enough, so Binnie said, “It doesn’t matter. She’s not going to tell on us, and she won’t make fun. And maybe she does believe us.”
Alf made a scoffing noise, and Eileen’s answer came to her lips.
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,” she said, “than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
Alf dropped the mattress and laughed. “Horatio!” he crowed to Binnie. “She called you Horatio. That’s your name now, ha ha ha!”
“It is not!” Binnie shouted, diving for him; and in the next instant they were thundering downstairs like an entire herd of lions, leaving the mattress where it was.
“I think,” Eileen muttered, back to wrestling with the thing herself, “I’d better forget this ever happened.”