Well, here we are for the last time. Dadi’s Little Helper comes to an end – or at least the first draft does. It’s been a funny little story, written in serial over the past few weeks. It has grown and shifted in unexpected ways, delving deeper than intended, and yet I can’t help feeling there’s more in there. That’s the magic of the editorial process, of course – revisiting a text with fresh eyes to see what was missed, what could be better developed, and what elements should be trimmed because they fail to serve either character or story. There may be some restructuring too, helping to make moments more powerful, or seeding in elements for a more significant payoff. It’ll happen. I may even write about the process and show you some of the changes I’ve wrought once they’re done. Some folks will find it interesting, I hope. Anyway, that’s enough waffle from me. You’ve waited long enough for an ending. Here it comes.
Dadi’s Little Helper pt 6
A chill feeling crept through Meical as he entered the dell, quite unlike the peace he’d felt the first time. It wasn’t just the sweat cooling, either. There was a gaping sensation as he approached his father and the shrine. Reality outraged; the world as he knew it askew. He dragged Iolo back then tore into his dad, hitting and slapping him, calling him every name under the sun—words Iolo shouldn’t hear, perhaps, but he needed to understand, to see the monster masquerading as man. There was no response at first; his father just took it all, head rocking back at each blow, eyes raw, tongue swollen in grief and mute acceptance.
It was Iolo who stopped him, grabbing his brother from behind, hot tears soaking his spine. He hated it when they fought. Meical had tried to explain in the past, tried to get across all the ways he was made to feel small, to feel worthless; how Dad made him so angry he could spit, but little Iolo couldn’t see it. He worshipped his father and brother alike. It hurt him to see them like this, he’d signed clumsily. It made him feel powerless and it was all just so stupid. He would never fight with the people he loved, not in a million years. The grip was fierce and determined, a hug full of woe. Meical relented, muscles relaxing. He twisted and patted Iolo’s arm.
[Okay. It’s okay. But Iolo, you have to see this. You have to see what he’s done.]
Meical had been busy, Dafydd saw, as he followed meekly behind. Uncovered it all by the looks of it, there in the lee of the giant. The blade of a massive hand protruded from the edge but, in falling just short of the colossus, he’d discovered the first of the bodies. The pain and the shame of it was leavened with relief, like kidney stones passing. His dread gave way to acceptance and a raw need to have done with it all. Bring it all to light.
He’d been methodical at first, had Dafydd. Six feet down. Flowers in their hands. Proper burials. The abortive baby Iolos had shaken him. It had been so much simpler to make him large. Rough-sketched as he’d been, the giant at least had the girth and the strength to function. The first few ante-natal necks were so fragile they snapped as life took hold. His next essays weren’t much better as he strove to develop his art. Animation smoothed many malformities, but the way some limbs fused or the tiny chests crumpled still gave him nightmares, years later, and all those mouths with their silent screams. He’d hardened to his work eventually, making armatures for inner strength, refining his techniques, perfecting his artistry. By the time the ‘first’ baby Iolo came home to Mair, dozens of newborns littered the grave en masse.
Iolo had been caught between the powerful pull of the giant and the gentle, insistent tugs of his other selves, swarming so close to the surface. He was curious about the babies of course, when Meical showed him, and thrilled to spot some newer models, ones that held much clearer memories. The six-year old, the nine. They felt like old, treasured toys, rediscovered with delight. But none held his attention for long. It was the giant, always the giant that drew him.
He gave Meical and Dadi only half an ear as the one accused and other replied; Tegid Foel was his true focus, though he understood now that that was not its name. He was the giant, and the giant was him. Dadi helped him to remember, and that memory sparked a need. He knew what he had to do, and how to do it— or at least he thought he did. So he picked up the shovel, pacing his way along the side of the pit to the spot where the great head lay.
The words washed over Meical. The wheedling. It looked bad, but they were clay, his father insisted. No different to the giant, or the unfinished Iolo back at the house. The transformation only went one way – he didn’t know why – but they weren’t real. They weren’t dead any more than rocks or dolls. Some of them had been there for fourteen years or more, untouched by decay. He could see that, surely? Meical shook his head in wonder and disgust. Give him enough rope… His father spoke of his trials and errors, of the horrors and the hardships, and whilst he never touched upon the deepest truth, Meical felt its shape in the pauses, the side-steps, the careful rephrasing. Why couldn’t he just open up?
A touch of pride entered dad’s voice as he spoke of his first success, bringing Iolo home to his wife. About a month in, he realised the baby wasn’t growing – couldn’t grow, his father said – and so he’d begun work on a replacement. By this time he was confident in his abilities; he had a sharper eye, a quicker hand. He switched them overnight, then began on a new one at once. ‘Growth spurts’, he passed them off as. Every month or so at first, then every few months as the boy ‘grew’ into childhood. And every time he was left with a cast-off. Well, what was he supposed to do? He buried them with the rest. Clay to clay. Burning would have been more sensible perhaps, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. He’d hoped they’d rot down or be reabsorbed, but every time he dug, he find a face or some fingers. It killed him a little more each time.
Meical walked over to where his discarded jacket lay, lifted it wordlessly then drove his spear home.
‘What about this one? Was he made of clay?’
A tiny skeleton lay underneath the jacket, fingerbones interlaced on the chest, the flowers they’d once clutched long-since degraded. Teeth grinned up at Dafydd, but there was no joy in the reunion. All those years he’d poured his love into the damned automata while his baby boy lay cold and alone, rotting in darkness. Heavy sobs wracked his chest as he scooped up the bones, hugging them tight.
This was the scene that faced Mair as she walked into the dell, the boys’ forgotten lunch in her hands. Iolo dropped his shovel and collapsed, his head gaping wide with some terrible injury. And as her eyes locked with Dafydd’s – aghast, anguished – the very earth quaked beneath them.
Leant over, Iolo felt for the tiny catch behind his ear. He could see events unfold in his mind’s eye: his head would open, the magic words would slide out and disappear into the giant’s own cavity. Lifeless, his body would fall forward, its weight clicking the vast skull shut and, just like that, he would be the giant again. His fingers trembled with anticipation. Ah! There was the catch. He flicked it and—
—his eye opened, squinted, adjusted. There was no pain from the empty socket, just the dull ache of absence, quenched in joy. There was a rightness to this. A homecoming. He flexed his fingers, stretched muscles and spine like a sleeper newly awakened. The blanket of earth was snug about him, comfortable, weighty, but it was time to get up now. He shrugged it off and clambered upright to the shrieks of utter terror.
The thing that burst free was vast and lumpen, a rough-hewn human tall as the tangle of trees about them. The bare feet alone were as long as poor Iolo, sprawled on his face at its side. The noise that left Mair’s throat was barely recognisable as her own, but Meic’s echo tore at her heart. There was too much to take in – the bodies, the giant, the tiny bones in Dafydd’s arms – but her boys needed her. Now! Mair let the lunches fall and she ran to Iolo. As she dragged him backwards the monstrosity looked down at her, grinning idiotically.
[Mami!], it signed. [Look at me. I’m all grown up!]
And it reached down towards her with its clumsy great paws.
Every turn had wrong-footed him, left him shaken and vulnerable. He’d lashed out at his father, but it was the world that betrayed him— his sense of the rational, the comprehensible. Here, now, as the colossus burst from the earth, knocking him to his knees, Meical just about lost his mind. He screamed at his father to save mam, to make it all stop, but Dafydd looked on dumbly as the giant plucked Mam from the ground. With a roar of frustration, Meical leapt to his feet and ran towards Iolo.
The skeleton, Mair’s arrival, the giant eruption… each seemed like frozen images to Dafydd somehow – disconnected and endless in their inherent horror. Then everything sped up. It seemed that Mair was plucked from the ground in an instant, that Meical raced with superhuman speed to attack his giant brother, snatching up the shovel to rain blows upon Iolo’s toes to little effect. Iolo raised his foot, surprised and tickled by the sensation, but Dafydd read it wrong. His voice rang out at last, commanding, cutting through the chaos for everyone to just
The world froze.
And then Iolo wobbled. He couldn’t disobey Dadi, but gravity had no such compunction, nor did the loosened earth at the edge of the excavations. It crumbled beneath his weight and sent the boy-giant sprawling. His joy turned to fear as he fell, all-too aware of the precious bundle in his hand, and as he crashed down into the pit, he cradled her desperately.
Meical lay beneath the bridge of Iolo’s foot, gasping for air with a horrible, cracked whistle. Something had broken inside him. There was surprisingly little pain, but the pressure bearing down on his chest was enormous. It took every ounce of his strength to breathe in. He heard Dad’s cries and when the yells turned to noises of relief and consolation, he understood that Mam was alright. A little injured perhaps, but there were no wails for the dead. Good. That was good. Warmth flooded his chest, and he coughed savagely for a few moments, wetting his chin with blood. Then came sounds of consternation, of urgency. Dad told Iolo to shift himself carefully, and the weight, at last, was lifted. Stars filled his vision for a while.
When he came to, they were both crouched by him. Iolo sat back, afraid to get too close, weeping with guilt at the damage he’d wrought. The skeleton of the baby was in mam’s arms now, cradled and stroked non-stop, but her gaze stayed on Meical. She had never been a strong presence for him, always brittle, always short, yet she held him there now with burning eyes and a will of iron while Dad whittered on— as though the right combination of words might somehow unlock forgiveness.
‘I buried Iolo a long time ago, Meic, but we never forgot him. We couldn’t move on. Your Mam and I just… clung to each other and grieved. And then you came along. We thought you might replace your brother, fill the hole in our lives, but nothing ever could. I’m sorry, son, it just hurt too much. We never gave you a proper chance though, never gave you your due. And then I met Ceridwen. God help me, I’ve been burying Iolo ever since.’
Meical beckoned him closer, movements weak but clear.
‘What… was his… choice? Before?’
It took Dafydd a moment to understand his meaning, then he got it. Free will, he told him. He was going to let him be a real boy if he wanted. To take away all his restrictions, now he knew what he was. To let the boy follow his dad into farming or make his own way like Meical if he wanted. But when he realised that there was no Iolo in there, that Ceridwen had lied about his son’s soul… He didn’t dare go through with it. If he tore through the words would there be anything left? No. He couldn’t risk it, not now.
‘He should… choose. Let him. Please. For me.’
Dafydd couldn’t face it again. It was Mair who buried their baby this time, in the garden, beneath his favourite tree. Dafydd did all he could to explain, but only three pieces of information stuck with her: this skeleton was her baby. That Meical, too, had passed. And that all souls are transient. Nothing else mattered. Meical’s body was interred in the usual fashion, at the church, presided over by a priest. The Iolo’s all had been reburied in the pit, deeper this time, with a greater sense of ritual and remorse. The giant too. Iolo understood the dangers it represented now. He mourned himself, yet was comforted by its presence, knowing it was still there in a way, like Meical.
Dafydd had fully intended to destroy the shrine – an act of righteous vengeance – but it remains there still, in Ceridwen’s dell. A persuasive and powerful woman was she, in her time. And with her whispers and dreams she’d wove him a new story, one in which Meical’s soul could be redeemed, poured into Iolo’s body the way their babi’s might have, had he not been gone so long. There is nothing grief and hope can’t do, won’t try when felt in combination. He patted down the last of the soil and stood, brushing his hands down his legs. The sun lanced through the trees, leaving shadows and joy on the ground. Dafydd patted Iolo’s shoulder, then turned to leave.
‘Come on then, Meical. Iolo. Time to go.’
‘Okay dad,’ said Iolo.
And the two who were three wandered home.
So there we are, tragedy and triumph of a sort. It’s not perfect by any stretch, but I’m pleased to have brought things to a close. (Starting a story is easy – any fool can do that. Finishing… ah, there’s the rub.)
As readers, should you have any thoughts on how the story may be improved, either generally or specifically, I would welcome your feedback. I know there’s work to be done on the character arcs, and I’m painfully aware of how badly under-served Mair is. I’ll be pulling together some broader thoughts on my intentions for the piece as I begin my edits, and if I think they’re worth sharing, I shall do so along with the editorial comments to help give you an insight into the editorial process.
That’s about it for now. I’ll be back on track with my schedule next week. Tata till then.