Back in Time for Tea

Chapter One.

My name is Ellie and I don’t belong here. I don’t seem to belong anywhere really, but that’s not what matters right now. What matters now is that this is 1942 and there’s a war on. That’s bad, you know that, right? The thing is I wasn’t born until 2003, so that makes it catastrophic.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that this isn’t possible, that someone born after 1945 cannot be alive during the Second World War. Until today I’d have agreed with you because, until today, I wasn’t stuck in somebody else’s time. Whose time, I guess you’re wondering? June’s time: my friend June. I guess you might also be wondering how I got here.  Yeah, I’m wondering that too, along with how I get back, but for now you’ll just have to stick with me, OK? When I know more, I guess you’ll know more too.

So try asking me another question. Try putting it another way. Like, how did it all begin, maybe? I’m not sure I know that either, but I can tell as far back as I remember, or maybe as far forward. That’s the thing with being in the wrong time: the past, the present and the future seem to get into the wrong order. Where shall I begin, though? At the start would seem sensible, but my own story appears to start long after it begins. I think I’ll leap right in to where I am now. Or is it where I am then? I’ve no idea anymore. No idea at all. I’m going to call it, ‘now’, I think. I’m here and it feels like now.

I’m at a farm, I think near to where my Gran lives but I don’t really recognise it. Everything is different. I’m hiding out in a  barn, because my friend June said I’d be safe there. I don’t know anyone here, except June, and, anyway, I’m dressed all wrong. I’m in shorts and a T-shirt. I don’t suppose  any of the other girls here wear shorts. I expect they are clothed like June, who wears a cotton dress. I imagine the boys wear shorts, but with buttoned shirts and the sleeves rolled up. Oh, look, we all know what they look like – you’ve seen old photographs, even dressed up like them, I expect. I did, for school, when we learned about the War. Picture that, only without the gas masks and labels, because I guess they got to take them off once they’d arrived and settled in a bit. Then look at yourself and you can sort of imagine what I might look like. Not exactly going to blend in, am I?

So I’m worried the others will see me and know something’s up and I don’t know how to explain that. I’m not bothered about hiding, or being on my own. I’m used to staying out of sight. I’m used to not having friends. Almost all the time I’ve been in primary school I’ve been picked on by the other kids. I don’t know why, exactly. I don’t fit in, my mum’s not like their mums, I don’t wear the right clothes, I don’t like the right bands and stuff…I don’t know why any of that matters, but it does. So anyway, although I’ve never worked out how to blend in, I’ve got good at keeping out of sight. In my old primary school I knew where all the quieter spots were, how to get from one classroom to another without really leaving the shadows – that kind of thing. Shadows and edges – I’m good at them, so the dark barn suits me fine. I’m waiting for June. She said she’d check if the coast was clear and then come back to me. She’s been a while and I’m getting bored.

I wonder what time it is. Sunlight is filtering in through the window, in what must be the hay loft, so I know that it’s day. It was mid morning when I left the park and my time. Perhaps it’s the same time here. Perhaps I can travel through years but not hours. I don’t know. I never asked June that. I hope I’ll find out. I hope I can find my way back. June said we’d work out a way back. She’s been doing it for years, this coming and going, but she says she’s not sure she knows how to do it with someone else in tow. I came back with her this time, of course, but that was an accident that neither of us saw coming. I don’t want to try going back yet though. For one thing, I haven’t a clue how. For another, I can’t risk being seen by anyone here and for yet another, I am slightly curious to see how things are in the past. I mean, I don’t want to find I went back in time, sat in a dusty barn and came back again. What’s the point of that? Mind you, June’s only ever seen the park and you have to wonder, what’s the point of that?

There’s still no sign of June, so I decide to have a look around the barn. Outside the shaft of sunlight, it is shadowy in here. I am sitting on some hay bales in what looks like a pen, maybe for sheep or pigs, but there are none here now and it doesn’t smell too bad. There’s some farm equipment here – mostly stuff I don’t recognise – and some sacks and stuff.  Clambering over the edge of my pen, I can just about make out more farm equipment. Some of it looks like it goes with horses. I wonder if they farm with horses here, or a tractor? Or maybe both? Is that what they did back then? Edging up to the front of the barn, I see a tractor. It looks like one of those you see at a country show or a museum, but it’s all shiny and new. That’s something I hadn’t considered about moving through time: that stuff you think of as old is suddenly brand new. I wonder what it would be like to bump into Gran here? She’d be young, wouldn’t she? I can’t even imagine that! Gran’s pretty old, although she’s always telling me, ‘I’ve still got it, Ellie! Don’t you forget that.’ She says that whenever she thinks I look, ‘a bit shifty,’ which is apparently quite often. She’s alright though, Gran. I feel safe when I’m with her. I’d feel a lot safer if she was here now, but she’s not. Instead I will have to rely on June. This thought doesn’t fill me with confidence. She’s not the most reliable person I’ve ever met.

There must be other people here, though I’ve so far seen no sign of them. Perhaps the barn is tucked out of the way. Perhaps the children are in school. I know there are other children here because June told me a little about them. They are the farm children – the ones who belong here. June doesn’t belong here. She’s an evacuee from London. I’m a bit nervous about meeting the others. June doesn’t like them much. She says they laugh at her and tell her to go back home. She says sometimes they say worse things and I get the impression she’s frightened of them, though she’d never say so.

As I’m edging about, being careful not to bump into anything in the half-light, I hear voices. They are a little way away and I can’t make out what they are saying, but they are children’s voices. I think I can hear the sound of them carried on the breeze. It’s a mix of chattering, shouting and laughing. I can only catch part of it. I strain to hear better and the voices are getting nearer. I decide it would be safest to hide again, so I clamber back over the side of the pen and hunker down among the hay bales. Just then, I hear the creak of the door and the barn suddenly floods with light, a path of light where the door has opened inwards. I want so much to see who it is, but I daren’t. Suddenly a boy’s voice speaks,

‘Where is she? We know you’re here, you dirty girl! Come on, show yourself!’

I am terrified! How do they know? Did June tell someone? Why would she do that? This boy doesn’t sound friendly. He speaks again,

‘Not coming out? Scared are you? Aww, little Junie fwaidy waidy?’

There is laughter and then a girl’s voice,

‘If you’re not going to come out by yourself, we’ll just have to drag you out, won’t we Freddy?’

They’re looking for June, not me. For the briefest of moments I feel relief. Then I realise that they mean to come looking for her and that’s when they’ll find me. I dread to think what they’ll do to me. I shrink back into the pen, using the shadow of the big tractor wheels as extra cover.

The boy’s voice – Freddy – says, ‘Yes, drag you out and teach you a lesson, you lazy shirker!’

My heart is in my mouth now and I can hardly breathe. This doesn’t sound like a lesson I want to learn. A third voice, another girl’s, says,

‘Because if you won’t do the work and you won’t come when you’re called, we’re certainly not going to do it for you!’

That’s when I notice something: they’re all standing there talking to the air and, they think, June, but none of them have actually taken a step forward. It’s all just words and threats. Cowards, I think. Are they scared of her, just as she’s scared of them? I hope this is true and I hope they’ll go. Just then I hear more footsteps and I hope, for her sake, they don’t belong to June. They might be scared of her but her turning up like that might be too good an opportunity for them to miss. A voice speaks. This time it belongs to a much younger voice,

‘Freddy, Ida, Beryl! Aunty Doris is looking for you.’

‘Well we’re looking for June,’ says Freddy. ‘Have you seen her?’

‘She’s not here,’ the younger girl says, flatly. ‘Aunty Doris said-‘

‘We’re going!’ said Freddy. ‘Come on, you two.’

There is the sound of retreating footsteps. I am still crouching in the shadows, waiting for the sound of the barn door, waiting for safety. Nothing. As quietly and as carefully as I can, I lean forward slightly and peer under the tractor. I can see two small feet. The older children have left, but she is still standing here. Is she waiting for June? I stretch out a little further and lower myself onto my stomach. I’m lying flat on the barn floor and I have a better view from under the tractor. Plus, it feels good to stretch my cramped limbs. The little girl is standing still holding a basket. She turns her head from side to side, then crouches down and tried to peer into the gloom. I hold my breath. Surely she will see me!

‘Hmm,’ she says, thoughtfully, before turning around and leaving the barn, leaving the door open behind her.

I breathe a huge sigh of relief. Cautiously, I get to my feet and look around. Nobody is there and I can no longer hear voices. My legs ache something awful and I am desperate to stretch them. Awkwardly, I clamber over the side of the pen again and rub my sore muscles. I stretch my arms outwards and blink, hard. That was much too close, I think. I can’t risk being found out again. I wonder if the barn has a better hiding place. I decide to explore a little further and am walking around the side of the tractor, enjoying the return of feeling to my legs, when I hear footsteps and a voice. I dive for cover behind the tractor, terrified of being found out. What will they do to me if they find me here? Evacuate me off somewhere else? Then I’ll be in the wrong time and the wrong place. I’ll never get back! Hardly daring to breathe and pressing myself as far as I can into the gap between the tractor’s huge back wheels, I hold my breath.


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About Jacqui Searle

I live with a husband, two children and a small, crazy dog. I write when I can, usually about grandmothers, although I haven't figured out why that is yet. In my spare time I walk the dog, bake cakes, sew badly and write. I once drove a steam train - that was amazing. I've also driven a vintage tractor and crewed narrowboats.

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