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It’s highly subjective whether a story feels magical, as opposed to merely containing magic. This story succeeds at both, and is something that has haunted me ever since I came across it when I was young.

Its opening: “There were three things needed before the charm would work. Rather like making a cake, when you want eggs, flour, sugar: it had to be raining, the day had to be Friday, and I had to have the Dream the night before.”

Actually, a fourth ingredient is necessary: Bran singing a seven-note song. On the first note, his brother Huw finds himself standing outside his neighbour’s front door, despite the fact he is wheelchair-bound in normal life. If he opens the door he sees a vast forest, and he runs through it. But all too soon Bran sings the seventh and last note and he returns to reality. The song only works once a day.

There’s something quite believable about Huw’s treatment of this one instance of magic in an otherwise mundane setting. Every Thursday Huw hopes that he’ll have the dream and that Friday pours with rain.

Each time Huw hopes this time he’ll get to the centre of the forest. He even urges Bran to compose more notes to the song so the magic will last longer (something that Bran is unable to do.)

The story has a few flaws. The plot is a little uninspired, and it’s only obliquely mentioned once that Huw is in a wheelchair (it was only the illustration that clued me in). But there’s something about the way this piece of magic works that makes it really quite distinctive.

The Green Arches by Joan Aiken

Availability: print only

Word count: 2,400

First published: Mystery Stories, edited by Helen Cresswell, 1996, Kingfisher

Where else to find it: Mystifying: Sinister Stories of the Unexplained, edited by Helen Cresswell, 2008, Kingfisher

Moon Cake and Other Stories, collection, 1998, Hodder & Stoughton

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