by Stephen J. Herron

Interlude - Matthew

The Day of Chrysalis

Late January 1996

The man, his wife and his son sat in the back of the police car. They were not in trouble- instead, they were heading towards a safe house, where they would have the first decent nights sleep in some weeks. The family were homeless, rare enough in Belfast, but still too common.

The boy looked back out the window at the tall fair haired man who had told the plain-clothes policeman to take them to their destination. Still clutched tightly in the boys hand was the ball that he had been given by the same man a few hours earlier.

It began as a warmth inside the ball. It expanded slowly, then as a rush, an explosion of light and sound that almost swept his mind away.

Matthew was only eight years old. He didn't understand what was going on, but it felt as if something old and wise had opened a door into his head, climbed in and shut the door behind him. There was not enough room for both of them, and Matthew was caught up with keeping his mind intact.

Liam and Mary, his parents, worried about his sudden quiet turn.

Matthew still felt detached as they arrived at an expensive apartment block overlooking the river. His father commented that tonight, at least, they would live like kings. Mary smiled weakly, and dreamed of having a long bath for a change. She coughed painfully, and Liam bit his lip, a worried expression on his face as he glanced at her.

Matthew's mother put him to bed almost immediately, and left him in the clean bright room. The boy climbed out of bed, and stood by the tall window, which looked down upon the river and the train station on the other side.

Without warning, the wave of dizziness fell upon him again. He staggered back to the bed, and fell asleep in an instant.

There was an long period of darkness. Matthew realised quickly that he wasn't really asleep any more. He felt more awake than he had ever done before. Matthew's eyes opened as he could hear a soft voice calling to him.

"Hello, Matthew. It's lovely to meet you."

A cool breeze blew across his face, and he realised that he was lying on his back on a cold, soft surface. Sitting up, he opened his eyes, and looked around. Matthew was stunned to find himself on a long, sweeping green hill. Trees in the distance ran along side a bright flowing stream, and behind him, on top of the hill, was a ring of stones. It was morning, and the sun was rising in the south. The air was warm, the ground cool and damp with dew. It was simply delightful.

Matthew looked around again, and he could see a boy, around his age, watching him close by. The boy had tidy blond hair, and his ears seemed to be a bit longer than normal. His clothing was simple, a silk shirt and jeans, his bare feet damp with dew from the grass, a stalk of which was stuck in his mouth. The boy was sitting on the ground, smiling at Matthew.

Matthew stared at the boy for a moment, then blinked. The lad was still there. Like a dream remembered later in the day, Matthew realised that this boy was the mind that had arrived inside his own. It was surprising that it was only a little boy, the same age as himself.

"Hello. Where am I?" asked Matthew. The other boy waved his hand around at the scenery.

"This is what it's like where I come from."

"Where's that, then?" asked Matthew curiously.

The golden haired child smiled.

"It's called Arcadia- well, part of it. I've just come from there. This is like a television picture of it. We're not actually there."

Matthew looked around again. It was a pretty nice place. He could see a dragon swoop low across the distant river, and he could hear it singing.

"I didn't know that dragons did that," he commented. The other boy shrugged.

"That one does. Most don't."

Matthew looked back at the boy. He frowned, and tried to think of how to word his thoughts.

"Why have you come to me? Why are you here?"

The boy looked distant for a moment, as if trying to think of a good answer. "You know all these problems with guns and bombs? Back in the real world?"

"Yes," said Matthew sadly.

"Well, I'm here to help. I think I can make people dream of not fighting. Dreams are important, Matthew."

"Mmm," agreed Matthew, but he looked a bit unsure. "But you're just a little boy. How can you help? Noone ever listens to little kids."

"Ah, but I'm not quite a little boy. I look like one now, since that's the only way I can fit into your body."

Matthew remembered a little bit more of the incident earlier that day, when it felt like something had exploded in his head. Or landed. He realised now that it was like a rock falling into a still lake. There is always a splash. And ripples. He realised now that the boy had been a big rock, and that the ripples were still being felt across the city. Maybe even the whole of Northern Ireland.

"Are you in me right now?" asked Matthew carefully. The other little boy nodded.

"My name is Ardry," he said, smiling brightly. Matthew smiled back.

"That's a nice name," he said.

"Thank you, Matthew. Someone else is using it right now, but when I tell everyone that it's my name, then he'll have to give it back."

Matthew nodded, but didn't really understand.

Ardry watched Matthew carefully in silence for a moment before continuing.

"I need to borrow your body, Matthew. I can't make myself one in the real world."

"Can't I make one for you? Could I help you make one?" asked Matthew. He felt a certain amount of concern as to all this talk of 'borrowing bodies'. Ardry shook his head.

"I'm afraid you can't. You can lend me yours."

Matthew looked doubtful.

"You can go to Arcadia, and take my place there. You can play games, eat as much ice cream as you want. You'll be treated like a King," explained Ardry. He smiled.

"And maybe you and the Dragon can teach each other some songs."

Matthew looked around. He had to admit that this place was nice. And his stomach rumbled painfully when he was awake. His mummy and daddy did without food to let him eat. His face darkened.

"Will I be able to see my mummy... I mean, my mum and dad?" he asked. Ardry shook his head sadly.

"No. No, you won't." Matthew nodded, his eyes filling with tears.

"Won't they miss me?" he asked. "Your body will still be here. I'll be using it. They'll think I'm you," explained Ardry, watching Matthew carefully.

Matthew sniffed back a tear.

"No, I don't think I'd like that," he said, his voice broken. Ardry sighed.

"I know. But you must go to Arcadia if I'm to do my mission." Matthew thought hard and long.

"Can we share?"

Ardry looked confused.

"Share?" He smiled suddenly. "You know, I didn't think of that..."

Matthew looked around. "Arcadia is nice, and everything, but I'd miss my mummy and daddy too much. I know that you'd look after them, but, well, I'm just a little boy. I need them, I think."

Ardry smiled. "You know, if I did borrow your body, I'd have a copy of your memories. I'd love them too."

Matthew shook his head firmly. "You aren't me. They'd notice the difference."

There was a moment of silence, until Ardry spoke. "It's not usual to let the host share, you know. But I've got the authority to do it."

Matthew cocked his head like a curious puppy. "What do you mean, 'authority'?" he asked.

Ardry smiled, and then laughed. "I'm an important person. At least, I was. And will be. My name means that I am a King. Noone can tell me what to do, if I really, really want to do it."

Matthew stared at the boy. Then he frowned. "But you're just a boy!"

Ardry laughed. "As I explained, I just look like a boy. And pretty soon, I'll start thinking like a boy as well. That's why we need to sort this out quickly. I'll just grow up again. I didn't really mind it the first time."

Matthew nodded. "We'll share then?"

Ardry stood and walked over to Matthew. "Yeah, okay. Take my hand."

Matthew stuck his hand out, and Ardry took it. They shook hands.

"You know, I'll forget most of what I did in Arcadia. I don't blame you for not wanting to leave those you love. I have to, you know." Ardry's voice was very sad. Matthew patted his hand in sympathy.

"I'll be your friend, King Ardry." Ardry smiled, and wiped a tear from his eye.

"I haven't cried since I was a child," he commented. Matthew shrugged.

"You are a child," he commented. Ardry looked at him, and Matthew could see the wisdom still there, deep in his heart. But something was being lost. Memories of a place of pure beauty and imagination were being stripped from Ardry's soul, preparing him, perhaps. For an instant there was a look of fear and loss, and Matthew had to wonder what Ardry was risking.

There was a flash of light, and then Matthew was in darkness. Sleep began to overwhelm him. He felt more relaxed and satisfied than he had ever felt before. There was no hunger, and no thirst. Somehow, just spending time with Ardry had recharged him.

"Matthew?" Ardry's voice came from the darkness.

"Mmm?" replied Matthew sleepily.

"We have to keep me a secret. I'm going to hide inside you for a while, just until it's safe for me to come out."

"Okay," murmured Matthew.

"When I do come out," continued Ardry, his voice softer and more distant, "well, then we'll have a bit of fun. Good night, Matthew."

"Fun," mumbled Matthew, as sleep finally took him.

The next morning came too soon. Liam and Mary awoke on a soft bed, and Liam brought his wife some breakfast. He looked troubled as he ate, and he eventually broke the silence.

"I want to leave. This isn't right, you know."

Mary nodded. She felt his unease.

"Not all Peelers are like those ones who gave you the trouble," she said, her voice painfully broken. Liam had no reason to like the police. She coughed, winced, and spoke more clearly.

"Matthew's the important one. We have to find somewhere we can keep him safe and well."

Liam nodded.

"I know. I have an idea. There's this old house near where I used to live..."

In the next room, Matthew awoke. There was no tiredness in his body or mind, and he sprang up out of bed. He rubbed his eyes, and walked over to the window. The sun had risen, just, and the city looked cold and wet. There was a beauty there, but his mind couldn't quite grasp the reason. He caught sight of his reflection, and was surprised when it winked back at him, it's blond hair the opposite of his own dark hair.

The dream of the night before came crashing back, and he nodded to Ardry's image in the window. He winked back, and smiled.