The night was very still as Hannah lay on her bed reading. At length she grew bored and wandered across to the open window where humid air blew softly in. A great silence lay on the land behind the house – on the fields and patches of woodland and most certainly upon Winding Hill in the near distance. It was a cloudless evening and as Hannah stared in fascination the stars seemed to press down and crowd in upon the hill as if seeking to come to earth.
Suddenly there was a crack of thunder, although neither storm nor lightning followed. But now there was a new star – or at least a new light, visible upon the summit of the hill. This light was quite incandescent, shining out for all to see, but Hannah could not help feeling that it was shining for her – looking for her…
“The man on the hill,” she murmured, recalling her previous encounter. “The man on the hill has come back for me!”
She scurried quickly downstairs, slipped on her shoes and left by the back door, closing it silently behind her. Hannah hurried across the starlit garden, flitting like a shadow, over the back fence and into the hushed meadows. As she crossed the grass, the light on the hill began to descend, as if taking its final steps toward earth. Now it vanished abruptly but Hannah had no fear. She reached the foot of Winding Hill and started the ascent, and about halfway up, met the man as before. His appearance was unchanged as was his disarming smile.
“No, I never appear any different,” he said softly. “Nothing in eternity ever does.”
Hannah studied him solemnly and felt it best to say nothing.
“It is a gift, to remain silent, don’t you think?” the man said. “People have far too much to say for themselves and listen far too little, and that is one reason why they never learn anything!” Suddenly he snapped his fingers and Hannah gasped. In a flash her surroundings changed and now she stood in a large room with a bright red carpet. The walls were high and lined with books, many of which were clearly very old.
A large wooden desk stood near the centre of the room; the man sat behind it, watching Hannah closely. Piles of books, manuscripts and rolled-up parchments cluttered the desk, lit by a single tall candle that burned with steadfast intensity.
Hannah recovered herself and ventured closer to the nearest bookcase. She reached out to touch one of the spines and read some titles: Journeys through Time and Space; There is no Time and Space; One Galaxy, Many Stars; Windows on the Soul…
“These all look very old,” Hannah said.
The man nodded gravely. “Sometimes knowledge grows so old that it becomes literally timeless.”
“So, is this your study?”
He nodded again. “Choose a book and sit down, child. For time is precious.”
Hannah promptly picked out Time is Precious from the shelf and sat opposite her companion. “There’s another book called There is no Time,” she pointed out.
The man laughed heartily. “Indeed. Perhaps that is why it is so very precious. I have no need for it, but we cannot as yet say the same for you.” He paused. “There are no clocks in this study, child. But tell me, what do you value? What is important to you?”
Hannah thought deeply. “My family and friends. My home and my reading.”
“Like me, you have lots of books?” She nodded and the man seemed pleased. “I spent lifetimes in books – in tales and imaginings. Later I berated myself for wasting time, and there were those who told me I had my head in the clouds.” He leaned forward and his eyes appeared quite fathomless. “Later still, I tell you, I rose above the clouds and looked down as if from a great height to understand that there are no clouds, that there is only vision and clarity, and good clear sky all the way to a limitless horizon. It was knowledge and learning that taught me this, and much of this I acquired from books. Do not shy away, child, from what is fantastical, for it is surely in the fantastical that you will find the truth. And you want the truth, don’t you?”
Hannah nodded. “More than anything, yes!”
“If you want the truth, you must first always tell it.”
“I always tell the truth.”
The man sighed and sat back a little. “I am glad you are here. The young and the old come to my study, but only the young at heart.” His smile was wide and benevolent smile. “You are old, Hannah, as children go, and yet timeless in your heart. I want you to tell the many tales and stories that spring from that heart, connected as it is to the landscape of imagination and the rich and varied folk that inhabit that place. May your tales tell of life; may your life be a happy tale, too.” He paused. “Now, we have talked of what you value but of what do you dream?”
“I have lots of dreams,” Hannah answered. “Some are just silly. Some, too, are the stories I want to tell. Some are things I wish for.”
“What do you wish for?”
“I want to be happy; I want to have fun; I want to write books; I want my grandma to stay well.”
The man nodded. “Everyone wants to be happy, of course: that is natural. As for your grandmother, she has work to do; her task is not yet complete. Likewise, yours has barely started.”
The man sat looking at Hannah and she looked back. She stared fascinated into his eyes. Somehow they seemed full of humour and earnestness at the same time, in just the right proportions, Hannah thought. “What do you want?” she asked, finally.
Without hesitation, her companion answered, “I want what’s best for you!”
“So – are you my guardian angel?”
He laughed, quite merrily. “Guardian – yes. Angel – no. You are enrolled in the university of life, dearest Hannah, and I am your professor, I suppose. I oversee your learning and instruction; sometimes I set some examinations, although actually you set most of those yourself, and I generally keep an eye on you from time to time.”
Hannah listened intently. Suddenly she was aware of the books all around her; they seemed to be pressing in like a jostling crowd of people, much like the stars on the hill, and she felt rather claustrophobic.
“Do not shy away from knowledge,” the man said. “For it leads to wisdom, and thereby may help you avoid much troublesome experience and save precious time. One day in a future far-flung but perhaps not terribly so, you will be a professor also, with a study of your own and a library of hard-won wisdom.”
“But I’m only a child.”
The man laughed merrily at this. “Thank goodness!” He took a book from the pile on the desk – it had a bright gold star on the cover. The man flicked through some of the pages. Hannah saw that they were filled with strange, glowing hieroglyphics. “I would advise you to pay more attention to your dreams – those you have at night, that is. Perhaps write the more interesting and meaningful ones down. They have much to teach you from the vale of slumber. Forgive your mother when she snaps at you – she does it because she cares.”
“You see, you already knew that. Pay more attention to what you already know – then you won’t have to re-learn it!”
“Drink more water and sleep with your window open whenever possible.” The man closed the book with a snap. “That is all I have to say.”
Hannah stared over the desk. “So is that book all about me?” The man nodded. “And you wrote it?”
“No,” her professor said, clearly amused. “You did. Each of us is an author, and storyteller truly, and the story we write is our own.” He paused. “In truth, I merely do the marking.”
There was another sudden crack of thunder and once again Hannah found herself back on the hill. The teacher remained with her. He stepped closer and to Hannah’s surprise placed his hand upon her shoulder. A reassuring warmth passed into her heart. He pointed out towards the starry heavens.
“Out there are the stars. In here,” he pointed to her chest, “is your heart. And down there is the earth. These places, in truth, are neither separate nor distant. There is no time; there is no space. I know your heart lies with the stars, yet I tell you the stars lie in your heart and the good earth, too. There is only unity and this binds the pages of the book of your life together. I am looking forward to the next chapter, Hannah – where you grow up, and yet remain as you are. Do you have Time is Precious?”
Hannah looked down and realised with a start that the book was clutched in her hands.
“That is on loan,” the man said, “until such time as you no longer need it. Take good care, for it took a thousand years to write.”
Hannah gasped. “Seriously?”
“Oh, very seriously,” he chuckled.
A fork of lightning cracked the sky and Hannah’s Master threw his arms dramatically upwards, laughed once more – loudly – and vanished.
Hannah remained for some while on the hill, before she tucked Time is Precious under her arm and started for home.