What time of year is it? If it’s spring time, perhaps you can see, growing under the trees around you, a great carpet of green leaves. It smells pretty strong. It’s wild garlic. That’s how you know that this place is old. Because of the ancient trees and the garlic growing beneath them. That’s how you know that the stories are true, that the land and the lake are older than all of us, and come from a time before there were houses and before there was a park.
Mo liked to ride his bike around the lake every evening after school. He came to this part of the park all the time. Sometimes he came with Nan, and she brought her handbag along and gathered plants to put in it. Mo wasn’t sure what she used them for. Maybe it was to cook dinner, but he suspected it was for other things, too. Nan had a lot of secrets and knew a lot about the special things that grew in the park. Sometimes, Mo thought that she made spells with the things she found here.
And sometimes Mo came here on his own. It was on one of those days that he realised everything felt a bit different. A bit weird.
He didn’t quite know what it was to begin with. There was just a feeling that came over him. The birds in the trees were unnaturally quiet. There was no rustling in the undergrowth. When Mo peered through the trees towards the lake, he saw there were no birds swimming. No swans, moorhens, coots, ducks, nothing – which was really odd. Normally the lake was full of life.
It was as if everything in the world had stopped short, scared.
And suddenly Mo realised something else. There, under the trees, just there – the wild garlic that Nan liked to collect to put in her stews looked strange. As if it had been trampled on by something huge.
Mo’s heart began to beat hard in his chest. He knew something was about to happen.
He made his way slowly down to the edge of the lake. But just before he reached it, something – or someone – slammed straight into him, toppling him over. Mo clawed at mud and reeds until he landed in something squidgy and unpleasant. When he looked up, there was a figure towering over him.
A figure so huge that Mo gulped in horror.
It was a man. A man wearing the waterproof waders of a fisherman, and holding a fishing rod, but Mo had the strangest feeling that this was all for show, that this wasn’t a fisherman at all but someone pretending to be one, so that he could do something terrible.
“Watch where you’re going,” the mountain of a man hissed at Mo, in a voice that sent a shudder down his spine. And then the man turned and thundered off to the lakeshore, and the shadows cleared, and Mo found himself scuttling backwards into the safety of the woods and the wild garlic. He peered through the trees to where the fisherman had stopped on the lakeshore. He watched as the fisherman began to prod at the water with his fishing rod. As he prodded, he kept looking over his shoulder, as if to check if he was being watched.
“He’s up to something,” Mo muttered to himself. He had a sudden thought that came bright and clear and obvious into his mind. “I bet it’s to do with the treasure in the cave. But what should I do? It’s none of my business.”
But he didn’t think this for long. Because the lake was always his business. He loved it. And here was someone who had scared away all the birds, and was stomping around as if the lake was his, and planning something terrible. He had to find out what.