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The Hills of the Chankly Bore

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They went to sea in a Sieve, they did, In a Sieve they went to sea;

In spite of all their friends could say, On a winter's morn, on a stormy day, In a Sieve they went to sea.

Pat had propped her pack against a rock and gotten the book out of the flap pocket. Now she had Keda on one knee, and Tommy sitting on the rock next to her leaning against the side of her thigh, both of them looking up at the pictures as she held the book open and read aloud. I stood by the side of the old jeep-trail that crossed our path here, bouncing to stretch my tired leg-muscles and looking left and right along the road.

I wondered where it came from and where it went, here in the middle of nowhere, and who drove along it.

Far and few, far and few, Are the lands where the Jumblies live;

Their heads are green, and their hands are blue, And they went to sea in a Sieve.

We had stayed with friends the previous night. Early this morning, with the twins still a little blinking and tousled from bed, we'd eaten a quick hot breakfast, then said goodbye at the trailhead and started up White Horse Ridge. I'd carried Keda part of the way, but Tommy had insisted on walking, his pack with spare clothes and a couple of essential dinosaurs and books hitched up high on his back. Pat had led the way, since she knew the path, and I'd admired her hair tumbling down from under her cap, the solid thud of her boots on the trail, the shape of her body in warm early-winter flannels.

We had stopped a couple of times on the way up the ridge, to let the little ones rest and to breathe the air and cuddle together. It was cloudy and chilly, but still, and quiet, only birds calling and squirrels rustling the leaves and us breathing. We'd taken most of the morning to climb the ridge, going the slower easier way that Pat remembered from other years. At the top we'd stopped for lunch, and a long rest and some gathering of stones and contemplation of the long empty rolling view. Now we were almost down the other side, the river not far ahead.

Pat gave the kids a hug and picked up her pack again. I helped her get it onto her shoulders, not that she needed the help, and held her in my arms for a moment, not saying anything.

She looked at me, and I kissed her mouth, and she grinned and started us off again.

And when the Sieve turned round and round, And every one cried, "You'll all be drowned!"

They called aloud, "Our Sieve ain't big, But we don't care a button! we don't care a fig!

In a Sieve we'll go to sea!"

"That's our boat?"

"That's it!" Pat had extracted the long narrow framework from a leaf-covered cache near the edge of the marsh. This time of year, the marsh was a flat sea of brittle brown stalks and limp grass, crossed by wide shallow channels of muddy water, the swift blue of the river just visible beyond it. In the center of the marsh a steep rocky island jutted up out of the flatness, and between the marsh and the river was the dark line of a railroad causeway, the only sign of humanity since we'd left the jeep-trail behind.

"Is it seaworthy?"

"We're not going to sea."

I was skeptical, but the kids loved the idea, and began making pirate sounds. Pat smiled, and I shrugged and helped her work a high-tech-looking fabric sheath around the wooden ribs. Pat had planned this expedition, and I, distracted by her smile and her ardent naked body, hadn't insisted on knowing the details.

Once sheathed, the wooden frame snapped solidly into shape, and we had something very like a small canoe. It slid easily into the water, the twins cheering and offering to keel-haul any lubbers or scallawags we might encounter.

And all night long they sailed away;

And when the sun went down, They whistled and warbled a moony song, To the echoing sound of a coppery gong, In the shade of the mountains brown.

We paddled and poled, with a pair of collapsible alloy paddles that Pat had pulled from the cache, and the boat whispered down the channels, and birds flapped and cackled around us. Keda called and pointed whenever anything moved, or might have moved, in the grasses, and Tommy scanned the horizon for treasure ships. The sun was lowering toward the hills across the river when we reached the island. The clouds had thinned and shreaded as we navigated the marsh; the sky above them was shot with pale pink.

We pulled the canoe out of the water and left it bottom-up on the bank. Tired and drowsy as we were in the fading light, we managed one last haul up the rocky slope to the top of the island, even Tommy letting himself be carried, and Keda blinking over Pat's shoulder. The view at the top was gray and brown and lovely, the river sliding quietly past, the train tracks lying still and cold and waiting.

"So where do we sleep?" I asked. Pat had said we wouldn't need a tent. She smiled and, after a searching look around the trackless peak of land, led us into a little sheltered place in the rocks, on the steep riverward slope of the island.

She bent and did something to something, and, with a dramatic sweep of her arm, opened a door in the hillside. The kids gasped and clapped and laughed, and I blinked. What had seemed to be just part of the rocky slope was in fact a compact little structure, too small to be a cabin, too solid for a lean-to. I made a suitable amazed face at Pat, and she ushered me in.

Inside, the place was small but perfect, Quaker-simple rather than Spartan-simple. Two levels of pale wood-slatted floor, the lower just big enough to stand in, the upper holding two nooks just wide enough to sleep in, with low windows opening on the river and the hills. At one end was a tiny kitchen, with a cupboard and a propane-heated-stone fire for cooking and warmth, cunningly vented to the outside. "We'll make dinner there now," Pat said, "but we shouldn't need it for heat during the night." The twins instantly claimed the smaller and cozier sleeping platform, and unrolled their sleeping bags and opened their packs.

"I don't get it," I said after a satisfying dinner of rehydrated beef stew, "who built this? Who keeps it up?

Why are the windows so clean?"

Pat grinned. "Daddy designed it. Folks in general built it and maintain it. The windows are so clean because we're going to wash them tomorrow morning, and see if anything's getting low in the inventory, and sweep and dust."

"Is there a 'puter?" Keda asked, after she and Tommy had poked into every accessible niche of the little space.

"No 'puter, AND no TV," said Pat. Keda nodded and went back to the window with her book. When the light faded too much, she dug a battery-powered reading light from her pack.

"Can we stay up all night?" Tommy asked. Pat and I looked at each other the way parents look at each other. It had been a long day.

"As late as you want," I said.


"But get changed and into the sleeping bags first."

"O Timballo! How happy we are, When we live in a sieve and a crockery-jar, And all night long in the moonlight pale, We sail away with a pea-green sail, In the shade of the mountains brown!"

Changing meant wooly sleepers against the cold for the kids, and a long nightshirt for me, but Pat just stripped out of her pants and jacket and the outer layers of her clothes, and stood curvy and fetching in a red t-shirt and flannel boxers.

"You'll freeze," I said, putting my arms around her. The fullness of her body through the cotton felt good. She kissed me, her arms warm and familiar against my back. "I don't think so," she said, and her tongue licked my lips.

All four of us cuddled into the grownup sleeping bags zipped together on the bigger platform, looking up out the window, a deliciously tight fit. Tommy snuggled up against his Mommy, and Keda sat up next to me, talking about her origami and her book, until I pulled her down onto my shoulder. "Lying down time," I said.

"But we're staying up all night!"

"In bed."

"In sleeping bags!"

"In sleeping bags. Lying down."


But the "aww" turned into a yawn, and both of them were asleep before very long at all. We lay there surrounding them for a little while, talking softly about the day and the hills and the universe, and then we moved them over into their own bags and tucked them in and kissed them.

Back in our own place, warm beside the cold window that now was keeping out a moony night, we slipped easily into each other's arms and kissed and pressed against each other, Pat's legs twining around mine. Then she lay back and I touched her face and ran my hand lightly over the soft firm mounds of her breasts under the t-shirt.

"O Timballo, how happy we are!" I whispered to her.

She smiled. "I remember the Christmas that Santa gave me those books, four or five little Edward Lears in a yellow box. The Jumblies were always my favorite." I slid my hand lower and pushed up her shirt, stroking the smoothness of her stomach.

"Touch me," she whispered. My hand went under the waistband of her boxers and very gently down over the wiry hair between her legs. She purred.

I kissed her mouth and her nose and she spread her thighs, opening herself wider to my fingers. Her thighs were cool, but the hill between them was hot, and as I stroked her her breathing changed. I remembered another Lear verse.

"O beautiful Pussy, oh Pussy my love..."

She laughed in mid-gasp and pressed her hips up against my hand. "You're absurd," she whispered, and she pulled my face down to hers and kissed me, and moaned, and she pulled up my nightshirt and felt my hardness, and pulled me onto her. I slid fully into her and stopped there, with her arms around me, our kids asleep, the night close by outside. I sighed deeply and she grinned at me, rocking her hips to slide herself up and down around me, and I gasped and kissed her, and she moaned and panted and pushed, and we made very pleasant very tired love there in the elf-house on the island, and then we lay down to sleep.

Sometime in the night I found myself awake, with my chin in my hands, looking over at the tangle of the twins in their nest, thinking of the Jumblies and the night. "How tall they've grown," I muttered to myself, "for they've been to the Lakes, and the Terrible Zone, and the Hills of the Chankly Bore."

Tommy kicked slightly in his sleep. I noticed Pat's face beside me, her eyes open, luminous in the moonlight coming in at the small windows.

"No Chankly Bore for them, not for a long time," she breathed.

I smiled and touched her hair, but her face was very serious.

"Not for you, either," she said.

"I'm already tall enough?"

"I mean it," she said, "Promise me?"

"Promise you -- ?"

"You'll stay away from the Chankly Bore."

"I --"


"I promise."

"Thank you." And she drew me down and kissed me warm on the mouth, and we were asleep again. Maybe I dreamt it.

And in twenty years they all came back, In twenty years or more, And every one said, "How tall they've grown!

For they've been to the Lakes, and the Terrible Zone, And the hills of the Chankly Bore."

And they drank their health, and gave them a feast Of dumplings made of beautiful yeast, And every one said, "If only we live, We too will go to sea in a Sieve, --

To the hills of the Chankly Bore!"

The sound of a train whistle woke me early in the morning; a long, long freight was coming along the track toward our marsh, three big diesel engines in front, boxcars and piggyback truck trailers stretching behind them into the distance. I raised myself up on my elbows to watch it come. That brought my face out of the warm Pat-flavored layer of air around our bags, into a vaguely sandalwood-scented chilliness.

Pat stirred beside me, eyes still closed, lying on her tummy.

I put my hand on the small of her back and moved it in slow circles. She burrowed her face farther into the folds of the sleeping bag. I touched her shoulderblades and the top slopes of her bottom. She growled a low familiar growl that sent a hot shiver through my body and sped my blood. I kissed the back of her head, smelling her hair, and she arched her back like a cat, pushing her bottom upward against my hand and spreading her thighs. Raising the top bag and letting the cold air slide in around us, I pulled her shorts down her legs and under her knees and off, and she waggled her hips. I chuckled and kneaded the flesh of her buttocks in my palms, and bent down to kiss each one. She growled louder. I slid my fingers in between her thighs and touched the yearning wetness there.

The engines had just passed under our window when I rose up over her and entered her slowly from behind, supporting myself on my arms, pushing inside her a finger-breadth at a time, as she arched her back even further and groaned, taking me in with her eyes closed and a rapturous smile on her face.

It was a long, long train, and by the time the end of it passed us she was whimpering and writhing, and my mouth was wide open in that brief endless time just before climax. My hips moved by themselves, and her bottom pushed rhythmically up against me with her moaning, and then she came, and I came, and I fell onto her, and out of her, and then off of her, and she opened her eyes and purred and kissed me.

The next train, passing about half an hour later, sounded its whistle just even with the island, and that woke up Tommy.

He looked around, sat up, looked over at us and made a silly excited face. He shook himself and reached down and touched his sister, who raised her head, her hair falling around her eyes.

"What are we gonna do today?"

Far and few, far and few, Are the lands where the Jumblies live;

Their heads are green, and their hands are blue, And they went to sea in a Sieve.

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