Short Story 'The Long Man': Response to My Challenge, Chalk Figure on a Hillside; Background Information

Updated on September 22, 2018
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Ann loves to write stories & poems & is always eager to meet challenges issued by other hubbers or herself, to exceed her comfort zone.

The Long Man

There he stands, stands out in chalk, supported by white canes. He walks through downy grass, surveying the Sussex Weald.


The Long Man of Wilmington on the East Sussex Downs
The Long Man of Wilmington on the East Sussex Downs | Source

I saw him once, in my dreams.

He came to our house. Late one evening there was a knock at the kitchen door, more a rasping as chalk sticks scrape-squeaked down the wood.

“Who would that be at this time of night?” asked my mother. My father went to investigate.

All he saw was a shadow the other side of the glass panel, outlined in white. The shadow had a tinge of green and seemed familiar. The white rap was repeated as Dad peered through the opaque window.

Due to the familiarity, Dad decided to open the door. There stood an outline of a man, the tallest I had ever seen, towering above the gutters. He stooped, the better to converse with my father. His voice, soft and porous, with the faintest tinge of dusty irritant in his throat, came across the threshold with deep resonance,

“I’m sorry to bother you at this hour. My name is Will. I’ve been watching this house from my hillside and there seems to be a welcome in it, as people young and old come to your door. So I chose you to help me with my problem.”

“Well…,” Dad hesitated, though intrigued. He had a quick mind, a trusting disposition, a practical inclination. He sensed deep within that this was a one-off encounter he couldn’t ignore. A feeling of awe with glowing contentment infused his body. He had seen this figure high up on the Downs near our home.

“I’m Robert. You’re welcome to come in but I’m not sure you’ll fit! Maybe you could sit on the door sill; I’ll find you a cushion. Then you can explain and we’ll see what can be done.”

The long man smiled, his eyes gentle with a touch of melancholy. His outline shimmered in the moonlight, like northern lights shifting with the palest green.

“I was right in thinking there was kindness here.”

My mother brought out a cushion, a pretty home-made patchwork of remnants. She smiled her calm hello and left Dad to it.


Our house (bungalow). Back door is on the right of the house, just before the garage
Our house (bungalow). Back door is on the right of the house, just before the garage | Source
Mum's Patchwork Cushion: hexagons from dress material
Mum's Patchwork Cushion: hexagons from dress material | Source

Will perched the cushion across the doorstep and carefully folded himself upon it, legs outstretched to the fence. He was not used to bending.

"This is so comfortable for my old bones,” he said.

“I’ll come straight to the point. I’m already a few hundred years old but I don’t tolerate the cold ground so well now and even chalk can be rough when one lays one’s head to sleep. I thought you might have a solution to cradle my head on that hillside. Your ancestors didn’t have the foresight for that.”

His direct gaze implied his faith in my father, who would doubtless solve the problem. By this time, Dad had perched himself close to Will and, man to man, they talked of life, of history, of the community which my father served as local optician. One surveyed the land, inspiring nature and history. The other respected that land, loved nature and worked to make sure others could see it all in focus. Both gentle souls displayed a deep empathy evident to all whose paths they crossed.

“This problem of yours; sounds like you need a pillow, soft as grass, to hasten your slumber. My wife is a seamstress. She could make one to suit you to a T, as soft as down, as deep as dreams and as broad as an oak branch. We’ll deliver it when it’s ready, if you like.”

Will inclined his head in acceptance, a mere notion of a tear in his eye.

“I see many kind people as I survey this weald below my hillside, even though a film sometimes fogs my old calcareous eyes. You are of the ilk whose approach to others will keep mankind on his true path. You partake of knowledge, you listen, you understand and then you give. I shall keep a special eye on you during your time on this earth.”

The long man unfolded himself with the help of his canes, leaving a little chalk dust, said “Goodbye for the moment” and strode unnoticed back to his patch of chalkland.


With magic speed (as happens in dreams), my mother fashioned the customised pillow. It swirled with shades of green, from lime to holly, flecked with dabs of chalk-cream, its linen texture laid to fine horizontal lines.

The next day found my Dad on the slopes of the Downs. He placed the pillow precisely within Will’s outline. It happened that my mother was not alone in her gift-making. My father had been troubled that the Long Man’s sight was fading. On the pillow, Will would find lenses tinged with green to soften any bright sunlight.

Dad turned towards home with a spring in his step, a smile playing on his lips and a feeling of well-being. A whisper rode the breeze as he reached the path below,

“I offer my thanks. My protection goes with you.”

…………………………...................................................................................


Background

Let’s look at some of the background to this story, starting with information about the Long Man then a few relevant facts about my parents.


The Long Man of Wilmington

The Long Man of Wilmington is a hill figure on the steep slopes of Windover Hill, part of the South Downs, near Wilmington, East Sussex, England. It was formerly often known as the ‘Wilmington Giant’ or locally as the ‘Green Man’. He is 235 feet (72 m) tall, holds two ‘staves’ and is designed to look in proportion when viewed from below.

Formerly thought to originate in the Iron Age or possibly the neolithic period, the figure may have been cut in the Early Modern era - the 16th or 17th century AD - according to an archaeological investigation in 2003.

From afar the figure appears to have been carved from the underlying chalk (as it was originally) but the modern figure is formed from white-painted breeze blocks and lime mortar.

The Long Man is one of two major existing human hill figures in England; the other is the Cerne Abbas Giant, north of Dorchester, in Dorset. Both are Scheduled Ancient Monuments.

It is one of two hill figures in East Sussex; the other is the Litlington White Horse.


The Optometrist

My father was the village optician (now referred to as an optometrist). He trained, worked for others and finally had a practice of his own, having converted the smallest of our bedrooms into a consulting room. Many of the villagers came to our door for eye tests and the appropriate spectacles if necessary. Occasionally, he picked up on a medical issue indicated by something not quite right in a patient’s eyes; two people were diagnosed with a brain tumour in time to give them a better chance.

Away from work, he liked to walk, always with his camera. He had a talent for composing wonderful photos which he developed in his dark room.

His walks took him, often all of us, over the South Downs close to our house, along wooded paths, over open grassland and beside hidden gills*. He loved nature, he had an open disposition and our home resounded with his humour and our laughter. Popular with the villagers, he was successful in business. He also loved to write and draw.

I inherited his love of life, nature, drawing, photography and of cars! He taught me all the makes and models of what was then a form of transport that not all households possessed.


The Seamstress

My mother was his support, our homemaker as well as a creator of interior covers and most of my and her clothes, particularly dresses. She was speedy on her treadle sewing machine. I admired her artistry and her eye for colours and style. Like my father, she could draw and write. Her forte, though, was as a pianist with an eclectic appreciation of music, especially Chopin, Rachmaninov and the Beatles! She was gentle, tolerant and saw humour in so many things. We giggled a lot.

I inherited her love of flowers, fabrics and sense of colour. Sadly, I have no talent for playing any musical instrument though I do appreciate music and I have a good sense of rhythm.

Both my parents taught me the love of books and reading, something for which I am eternally grateful.


Home Setting

My love of the South Downs, where this story is set and where I grew up, is also part of my soul; my roots are strong.


Together

Mum, Dad and I, a few years later than this story
Mum, Dad and I, a few years later than this story | Source

Sources & Terms

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_Man_of_Wilmington

*gill - a Sussex term referring to a stream in a steep-sided gully


Chalk Figures

Have you seen any chalk figures like this one?

See results

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Ann Carr

    Comments

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      • annart profile imageAUTHOR

        Ann Carr 

        2 days ago from SW England

        I know Alderley Edge. I lived in Congleton for a few years. I also love the books by Alan Garner which centre around the Edge - The Weirdstone of Brisingamen. I've seen the supposed entrance to the cave where the wizard was supposed to be but I don't remember the carving.

        So many legends surround King Arthur. He's supposed to be buried with Guinevere at our nearby Glastonbury Abbey and then there is 'Camelot' just up the road from here. So many claims to fame, I suspect to lure the tourists over the years!

        Thanks for the info, Lawrence.

        Ann

      • lawrence01 profile image

        Lawrence Hebb 

        3 days ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

        Ann

        Alderley edge, about 20 miles south of Manchester. There's a local legend that Arthur and the Knights of the round table are buried there.

      • annart profile imageAUTHOR

        Ann Carr 

        3 days ago from SW England

        Hello Lawrence. I love anything like that and the face of Merlin sounds great. Where exactly is that?

        You no doubt saw the White Horse above Westbury then, fairly near to Stonehenge. It's an area steeped in history and fortifications.

        Glad you loved the story.

        Thanks for all your input. Good to see you today.

        Ann

      • lawrence01 profile image

        Lawrence Hebb 

        4 days ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

        Ann

        When in the Forces I was stationed in Netheravon in Wiltshire for two years.

        I was literally a 'stone's throw' from Stonehenge and the chalk hills around there.

        Just down the road from where I grew up is a carving in a cliff face that local legend has it is the face of Merlin the Wizard of King Arthur fame.

        Loved the story.

      • annart profile imageAUTHOR

        Ann Carr 

        3 weeks ago from SW England

        Thank you, Dora, for your insightful comment. The story was designed to cover historical, geographical and social so I'm pleased it worked.

        I'm fond of all the characters too.

        Lovely to see you today.

        Ann

      • MsDora profile image

        Dora Weithers 

        3 weeks ago from The Caribbean

        Never thought that the chalk man had anything to offer. Thanks to your story-telling skill, he comes alive and experiences mutual love and understanding with your parents. Great story on many levels.

      • annart profile imageAUTHOR

        Ann Carr 

        3 weeks ago from SW England

        Elijah, thank you for your comments. I'm glad you enjoyed this.

        Ann

      • NatureBoy0 profile image

        Elijah A Alexander Jr 

        3 weeks ago from Washington, DC USA

        Wow, Ann, you really dreamt that? Quite interesting with vocal details explained so well I visualized it with ease - not like my writings sometimes comes across. I really enjoyed it.

      • annart profile imageAUTHOR

        Ann Carr 

        3 weeks ago from SW England

        Hello Rinita! Thank you for your generous comment.

        It was a fictional dream for this story, however it was based on the actual chalk figure on the hills nearby, as well as my parents in their true colours.

        I'm pleased you enjoyed this.

        Ann

      • Senoritaa profile image

        Rinita Sen 

        3 weeks ago

        I have never seen a chalk figure before, but your story intrigues me. Was this a real dream or made up for the sake of this story? Either way, this was marvelous! Your descriptions are so real I felt transported to the time when your parents lived their generous and hardworking lives. Your house and your family photo are both beautiful. Thank you for sharing this wonderful piece, Ann.

      • annart profile imageAUTHOR

        Ann Carr 

        3 weeks ago from SW England

        Thank you, bill. I'm always grateful for your appraisal of my hubs, especially when you pick out something I was attempting to do; glad it worked! A 'brilliant' from you - wonderful! You've made my day.

        Have a stupendous late week and weekend, bill.

        Ann

      • annart profile imageAUTHOR

        Ann Carr 

        3 weeks ago from SW England

        Thank you, Pamela, for your insightful comments. Reading is essential for life and for leisure, I think. Yes I was indeed. I appreciate your support.

        Ann

      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 

        3 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

        The opening sentence is a beautiful example of how to hook a reader. It is beautiful in its simplicity. There is nothing terribly special about its wording other than the fact that it challenges the reader to find out who "him" is. It is simply brilliant!

        The rest of the story ain't bad either. lol

        Seriously, beautiful writing, Ann! I'm glad I saved this until I had enough time to really enjoy it.

        Wishing you a spectacular Thursday, Friday, and beyond!

        bill

      • Pamela99 profile image

        Pamela Oglesby 

        3 weeks ago from Sunny Florida

        I enjoyed this story Ann. It feel good to help someone in need, and this story with the personal touches from your youth. I was taught to love reading at young age also. I can tell you were proud of your parents.

      • annart profile imageAUTHOR

        Ann Carr 

        3 weeks ago from SW England

        Thanks, Doris. I'm sure you are up to it and some!

        Yes, Mum was for ever making cushions and covers and the like; it was her job too for a while. She made some for Lawrence Olivier's flat in Brighton! I am indeed proud of my parents and miss them every day.

        Ann

      • MizBejabbers profile image

        Doris James-MizBejabbers 

        4 weeks ago from Beautiful South

        What a sweet story, Ann. A great answer to your own challenge. I saw the challenge, but my muse was on vacation at the time. Being an Ozark hillbilly, I don't think we are up to it. Thank you for sharing your photos, especially of your home and your family. I love the pillow pillow because it looks like some of the pillows my mom used to make. Your parents sound like really great salt-of-the-earth people. You must be so proud of them.

      • annart profile imageAUTHOR

        Ann Carr 

        4 weeks ago from SW England

        Venkatachari M: Thank you for your kind comments. Glad you found this interesting. Thanks for reading.

        Ann

      • annart profile imageAUTHOR

        Ann Carr 

        4 weeks ago from SW England

        Thanks, Eric. Glad you enjoyed this.

        Ann

      • annart profile imageAUTHOR

        Ann Carr 

        4 weeks ago from SW England

        manatita: Thanks for your kind comments. Yes, my Dad was wonderful, so was my Mum in a different way. Glad you liked this.

        Ann

      • Venkatachari M profile image

        Venkatachari M 

        4 weeks ago from Hyderabad, India

        Very interesting and entertaining story. Your parents are really very great and nice. Thanks for sharing these nice things.

      • Ericdierker profile image

        Eric Dierker 

        4 weeks ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

        What a great story. I enjoyed getting to know these folks.

      • manatita44 profile image

        manatita44 

        4 weeks ago from london

        An impressive and majestic figure, almost in the middle of charming and enchanting Downs. Mums cushion shows talent as well as an array of beautiful colours.

        Cute story, bringing out the accommodating and endearing side of your loving dad. Mom didn't give your her music, but you acquired their love for words and language, alright. Have a great Wednesday.

      • annart profile imageAUTHOR

        Ann Carr 

        4 weeks ago from SW England

        Hello, John! Thank you for your kind words. I'm glad you enjoyed this. These places and people are close to my heart.

        Ann

      • FlourishAnyway profile image

        FlourishAnyway 

        4 weeks ago from USA

        Not only was this a lovely story but also a beautiful tribute to your parents. I enjoyed it so much.

      • Jodah profile image

        John Hansen 

        4 weeks ago from Queensland Australia

        This was wonderful, Ann. Your account of the dream was delightful and I enjoyed reading about your parents and the Long Man of Wilmington. A good response to your own challenge.

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