Tea and Cake

Ferdy climbed down from his autogyro to be rushed by Boz and the gang. Phoebles hugged him, Beryl shook his wingstub and Dark Flo smiled. Ginsbergbear puffed on his Perterson pipe and spoke kindly.

“So my young dodo, what’s the news from behind the lines?”

“I don’t suppose we could have a cup of tea first?”

Lady Æthelflæda’s erstwhile chief steward materialised alongside the thirsty dodo. “The kettre is just coming to the boir, chá wirr be leady in five minutes.”

“Oh… Thanks. Then I will begin. Your Kronstadt Marines are fighting street by street in the outskirts of St Hellier. Some Brummy dressed as Captain Midlands is engaging the Résistance Crapaud and Kittens of Chaos in the interior. There’s these nuns… But the important bit first… I’ve been back to the Silvertown Airways hangars on Guernsey.” Reported Ferdy, “and picked up a telegram from Larry. Here.” He passed the note over to Boz.

INTERCEPTED COMMMUNIQUÉ ST HELLIER TO SLASHER MCGOOGS ON HILFSKREUZER PINGUIN STOP QUOTE STOP AM NOW IN SOLE CHARGE STOP WHAT NEXT STOP EROTEME STOP SIGNATURE STOP SUPREME COMMANDER BRITISH FORCES MAD JACK PARENTHESIS BART PARENTHESIS STOP ENDQUOTE STOP TAPM LARRY XX STOP PS HAND STOP

Boz frowned and passed the telegram to Phoebles who frowned even more and passed it to Ginsbergbear.

“Well lets all see,” said Dark Flo.

After Flo and Beryl had read the now somewhat crumpled paper Boz, who had been lost in contemplation, addressed the company.

“Flo, can you get into your Ninja kit? After we’ve had that cuppa Ferdy, I want you two to get as deep into St Hellier as you can and find Mad Jack. We need to know what he and Slasher are up to. And what’s happened to Fluffy?”

“I shall reprise my ‘purveyor of onions’ disguise,” said Ferdinand.

“Give us a mo.” Dark Flo opened up her Bergen and, with scant regard for the excited, chattering Chinamen who had instantly lost interest in their game of Mahjong, stripped down to her Airtex Y-fronts. As she clad herself, piece by piece, in her Mountbatten Pink Shinobi shozoko the ensemble began to blur into the background.

“Remon Dlizzre cake with youl Chá madam?” The chief steward sidled up to Flo whilst some of her most alluring bits were still visible, carrying an EPNS tray of steaming mugs of tea and assorted dainties arranged around a three tier cake stand.

“Thank you Cheng, that will do nicely.”

“Hoorah,” said Ferdy, screwing his Breton beret firmly onto his head.

With tea and delicate pastries consumed and the Cierva bouncing across the croquette lawn to carry Flo and Ferdy skywards, on into the zone of conflict, Boz eyed a shiny BMW 740Le xDrive sitting in a carport next to the villa.

“We need transport. Anyone know how to hot wire a Beemer?”

Beryl nodded. “I’m on it.”

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The Analytical Engine

augustas-analytical-engine-sLady Augusta King, Countess of… yes, well, that was all in the past, stepped from the spacetime tunnel into a building that put her in mind of the lovechild resulting from a carnal act between St Paul’s cathedral and Crossness pumping station; so vast that it would have made St Peter’s basilica seem small and mean, vast enough to dwarf even the Analytical Engine that it housed, and the Analytical Engine was immense. The clattering and whirring machine glistened as cogs spun and worm-drives spiralled, belched steam from its reciprocating power source and intermittently emitted a heartfelt cry of anguish.

“Is that you, Master Dorje?” Augusta was still a little queasy from her brief, but always disorientating journey, but must, she felt, crack on. A head appeared from out of the leviathan, several hundred yards down its length.

“Ah. At last.” The diminutive Tibetan emerged holding an adjustable spanner and oily rag. He began the long march across the marble checkerboard floor. Augusta walked to meet him.

“Modifying I have been the Jacquard input teleprinter tape to accept. The holes so much smaller they are, and a take up spool designed had to be. Nearly there I am, maybe. Is that the interface?”

“It is indeed, Master Dorje,” said Augusta, thrusting forth her cardboard box triumphantly.

“Deep joy I have. With me down to the Jacquard Input Terminal you will come. Installing your device we must be. Tests we will conduct.”

A richly inlaid rosewood desk stood ready to take Augusta’s electro-mechanical binary interface device. Behind it an ornate brass ‘bedstead’ framework supported finely crafted drums configured to carry the teleprinter punched tapes, feed them over bodkin-like hole detectors and, once read, on to take up spools for storage. A dynamo, linked to the primary steam engine provided the necessary electricity to power the Interface. Augusta unwrapped her pride and joy, teleprinter output and tape feeders were aligned and voltages fine-tuned. Nuts were tightened, bearings greased and a sturdy whack with a rubber mallet administered to the delicate Jacquard reader. Initial test results were promising.

*

Dorje and Augusta emerged from the spacetime tunnel, their ears still ringing from the simultaneous clacking of n-thousand relays.

“MANY DECIBELS EXCEEDING EU HEALTH AND SAFETY REGULATIONS YOUR ANALYTICAL ENGINE IS. NEXT TIME, I THINK, EAR DEFENDERS WE MUST WEAR.”

“WHAT?”

“Excuse me, ma’am, this appeared at the passage entrance some time ago, demanding to see you. Says it’s urgent.” One of Le Chat guards was holding up Zelda, distastefully by two fingers on the collar of her distressed biker jacket. The young geek was holding a cigarette packet sized hard drive.

“We need to download this stuff as soon as poss, Mrs King. And there’s something I have to tell you. In private.”

“Back down the hole again, then. Ah well.” Augusta obviously did not relish yet another spacetime hop so soon. “Put her down please. You’re coming with us, child. I think you’ll be impressed. The experience is not unlike a niptrip.”

Once Zelda’s hard drive was plugged up and downloading into the Analytical Engine the trio sought a quiet corner in the bubble universe.

“There’s not much hard detail, but it’s definitely a CIA run black op. This is the thing though, once I’d managed to hack Langley, Les Chats Souterrains are involved somehow. Lots of emails and vague references to ‘the ultimate goal’.”

“I see,” said Mrs King, “and this information is all going into my machine I trust.”

“Treading carefully we must be,” from Master Dorje.

“There’s one more thing,” added Zelda, “another name kept cropping up. McGoogs.”

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Zelda the Geek

ak-time-tunnel-sSlasher McGoogs, in yachting cap, white shorts and deck shoes, stood next to Kapitänleutnant Felix Graf von Luckner, on the bridge of the surface raider Pinguin. Cats swarmed everywhere. The Pinguin was operating off the eastern seaboard of the United States of American. The cats were ships’ cats rescued from the Pinguin’s victims before the vessels were sunk, and given free range over the warship. The Merchant Marine crews were confined to the officers mess, drinking German beer, playing boogie-woogie jazz on the Steinway grand and celebrating their good luck.”

“How many merchantmen is that now captain?”

“Fifteen; a hundred and sixty thousand tons,” replied the Kapitänleutnant.

“Well it’s worked. The Sixth Fleet has diverted from its course towards Jersey and is coming to get us. The arrogance of these yanks; haven’t changed their codes in over a year. They might as well communicate in plain language.”

“Gut. Now we will make all speed for Cape Horn. The Galapagos Islands can be very pleasant this time of year. We will give away our position once in a while, make sure they follow. First stop the River Plate to drop off our prisoners, I think.”

“Erm… You won’t need me to come ashore will you?” Slasher was looking a bit shifty.

“Ah yes, the bank scandal. What is it they call you in Rio, the Teflon Spectre? Thirteen government ministers gaoled, including the Vice President, and you were acquitted in absentia due to lack of evidence.”

“It was never proved beyond reasonable doubt that I even existed.”

*

Auguasta found Zelda the Geek in a gothic arched Entertainment Crypt below the refectory of the convent fortress of the Lesbian Brides of Our Lady of Perpetual Self-Doubt, watching Doris Day in Calamity Jane on a 65” LG smart TV. She was listening on headphones and jumped nervously when Augusta touched her on the shoulder. Zelda turned and whipped off the black BOSE QuietComfort 35 Wireless Bluetooth Noise-Cancelling Headphones that continued to blast out The Sisters of Mercy’s Marian at high volume. The plumpish teenage sociopath could have been Velma Dinkley, in her horn-rimmed specs and orange jumper, had it not been for the Mohican, tattoos and piercings.

Augusta noted the savage, distant stare and the ravaged veins up the girl’s bare arm. “How long have you been clean, dear?”

“What’s it to you?”

“Been there before you. For me it was chasing the dragon on poppy nectar.”

“Oh. I was an innocent at Uni. Got sucked into wild Warhammer parties, Babycham and grass. Catnip looks and smells much like marijuana to the uninitiated. The occasional nipspliff led inexorably to mainlining. The nuns found me in a junky squat and dried me out. I don’t do anything stronger than Fisherman’s Friend lozenges these days.”

“Well, I’d go easy on them too, if I were you. Look, young lady, I need your help. I want anything and everything on the US Government’s involvement in this invasion… You do know there’s been an invasion don’t you? …Tweets, Instagram, the lot. And if you could get into Langley all the better. But we’ve got to remain untraceable, really untraceable. The Merovingian Lizard Kings have zero sense of humour and if my Analytical Engine gets clogged up with ads for Viagra and Penis Extensions they’ll wreak revenge. We must not exist, ghosts in the Cloud.”

“No problem,” said Zelda, “It’ll take a while to set up.”

In Zelda’s cell there was a pipe cot, a short row of coat hooks and a large secretaire. Cluttering the latter were two desktop Macs and a jumble of assorted hard drives and modems. The young nun began pulling out old connectors and cross patching a new and complex configuration.

Augusta, meanwhile, went outside and down the mound to the ancient passage grave. The path had turned slippery and sparkled from a persistent drizzle. The tunnel was dank and cold. At the far, inner end a low chamber was still guarded by two Chats Souterrains. Not the same ones, there had been several shift changes. They stood sentry either side of a steel door, its paint pealing and an injunction in French and English not to enter faded to illegibility. She passed through the door, descended a steel staircase and opened another door, painted green, frosted glass panel, into a disorderly workshop. Here she began work on a HeathRobinsonesque arrangement of multiple USB ports, a Cathode Ray Tube fettered within an electromagnetic collar, mauve glowing beam tetrodes, their HT anode topcaps arcing intermittently, and a Creed & Co teleprinter with mechanical keyboard, all conjoined in a maze of stiff, rubber coated copper wiring. This was destined to become The Analytical Engine’s near magical, and quite possibly musical Web Interface. Augusta put her soldering iron to one side and admired her masterpiece. With a little gentle manipulation the contraption was fitted into a cardboard box retrieved from under the workbench. She tucked it under her arm and marched up to yet another door, a perfectly normal door except that it hung isolated in the middle of the room some six inches above the floor. Augusta grabbed the doorknob, took a deep breath and opened. Facing her on the other side was a wide, endless tunnel ringed with light that pulsed down its length whilst playing a catchy little John Williams number.

“I hate this bit,” she muttered to herself and stepped forward.

The Way We Lied

After a short while, she observed the two figures returning to the house and within minutes Mary reappeared at the door and walked to a small green car nearby. Nick stood in the doorway for a second and Sarah knew from his posture that he was more thoughtful than usual. Then he disappeared inside and Mary drove away in the dilapidated old Morris Minor.
Without thinking clearly about the consequences, Sarah decided to follow her. She had no idea where Mary was going, but she wanted to know more about her. The green car was old but rattled speedily through the lanes and down to the dual carriageway. Sarah kept her in sight, but allowed two more cars to filter in between them so Mary would not realise that the same car had been behind her for nearly three miles. Sarah assumed Mary must live somewhere near Godalming, as everything she was associated with linked her to that area, but she really did not know whether Mary’s home was in the town or an outlying district.
Then she realised that the green car was signalling and was coming off on the slip road towards Cottenham. Annoyingly the road led to a roundabout and Sarah could not follow immediately. By the time she was able to head after Mary, several other cars had slipped through and she could no longer see her.
She swore aloud, cursing the cars ahead of her and kept driving straight on. There was no sign of the green car and Sarah realised she would have to return home cross country, via the small winding switchback lane known locally as Swing Swang Alley. It was a quiet road, except in the morning and evening rush hours when commuters used it as a rat run. At those times it was also a rabbit run, with the tiniest of young rabbits escaping from their warm warrens and their mother’s clutches to hop out unchaperoned from the sandy banked verges onto the tarmac. Flattened, bloodied fur was all that remained of that morning’s casualties, along with a shredded ball of feathers that had recently been a cock pheasant. Sarah contented herself with enjoying the drive home, but as she approached the crossroads just past Crossmill Lake, she suddenly spotted a green car, just like the one she had been following earlier, darting down a track into the woods over to her left.
She felt she simply had to check in case it was Mary. She turned left and parked a little way along the road in a small clearing where dog walkers regularly left their cars. Then she walked back along the road to the track. On one side was a sign saying ‘Private’ and on the other a roughly painted board which read ‘Furze Cottage’.
She had never realised there was a cottage tucked away here, down the track she must have passed a thousand or more times. She peered down its length, but it veered to the left and she could not see a building. She started to walk along the badly rutted path cautiously then decided to creep through the trees, just in case the green car suddenly reappeared.
The track led to a red brick Victorian cottage and the car was parked outside. Was this where she lived, Sarah wondered, or was she just visiting and corrupting someone else? She stood in the shadows, watching, wondering if she would be given some clues. Then she saw Mary come out of the front door, accompanied by an obedient dog, to collect a bag of shopping from the boot of the car. She could not see any other inhabitants around or in the house. There was no noise, no chattering, no laughing. There was only Mary and a little spaniel trotting at her heels.
Sarah watched her for a while longer, then slipped silently back through the silver birch trees and returned to her car. Now she knew where Mary lived. Now she knew where to find her. “I know where you live,” she whispered to herself with satisfaction.

Breaking out Grandad – Ben’s Tale

 

Chapter six

“Ben! For tenth time! Will you just hurry up!”

“You exaggerate, Mother dearest. You have called me but eight times!”

“Don’t be rude!”

I wasn’t. I considered it gentle teasing but Mum was not in the mood. I was late for school. She was late for work.

“Just get on. You should be at school in five minutes shouldn’t you?”

“It’s only assembly.”

“Well, you still have to get there on time. Now go!”

She was heading for the front door and I for the back when the phone rang. I saw her hesitate and then sigh. She picked it up.

Silence. Then: “What do you mean he’s not there? Are you sure?” More silence. “He must have gone to get something, milk maybe.… “Missing? Are you sure he hasn’t put them somewhere funny? In a different cupboard maybe.”

I stood, bag in hand, watching her. She waved crossly at me and mouthed “Go on!” But I stayed where I was.

“Alright, Andrea, I’m coming over,” she said and put the phone down. As she turned to me I sensed that she was rearranging her features to become ‘calm, in control Mum’.

“What’s happened Mum? Is it Grandad?”

“It’s nothing. He’s just popped out for a paper and Andrea got in a flap. You know what she’s like.”

Yes. I did. I didn’t much like Andrea because of the way she bossed Grandad, but she didn’t get in flaps. Besides which, Grandad had a paper delivered – I used to deliver it myself when I had a paper round – and there was plenty of milk in the fridge when I was there yesterday.

“Stop standing there gawping at me and get to school!” Mum snapped. Then she came over and did something odd. She gave me a hug. We hadn’t hugged in about three years.

“I’ll come with you,” I said.

“What? To work?”

“No. To Grandad’s. That’s where you’re going. You told Andrea.”

“No. Well, I might pop in on my way to work.” Her work is in the opposite direction.

“I can miss assembly.”

She shook her head. “Hurry to school now.” She turned and almost ran out of the house and into the car. Moments later she roared off down the street. I followed on my bike.

 

Chin Woman was in a right state. She was pacing up and down while Mum interrogated her.

“I told you; I arrived and he wasn’t here,” she squawked. “Just the cupboards open and those things gone.”

“I’m sure there must be a rational explanation.” Mum started pacing too and the two of them marched up and down like lions in an enclosure.

“What things have gone?” I asked.

Both women swung round, glared at me and said in unison: “Why aren’t you at school?” See, I said Chin Woman was bossy and Mum is, well, just Mum.

“What things have gone?” I repeated, a little louder in case they hadn’t heard.

“Some random bits and pieces,” said Chin Woman. “The little saucepan which hung up by the cooker.”

“And his torch that he always kept by the backdoor so I’m worried he went out in the night,” said Mum, her voice squeaky with anxiety.

“And that nice throw is missing,” added Chin Woman. “The green and brown one from the chair by the French windows. And a tin of soup I was going to give him for lunch today.”

Not necessarily so random. “I’ll just check out the back,” I muttered.

Down the garden Grandad had obviously been doing a bit more digging. The hole was about three feet deep now and longer than it was wide. I shuddered. It reminded me of a grave. And should he be digging at his age? Supposing he had overdone it and had a heart attack, or felt ill and stumbled into the lane where he had collapsed.

‘Pull yourself together, Ben,’ I told myself. Someone would have found him by now and, if they had, then the phone call would have been different.

I peered out into the lane, looking quickly from left to right in case I saw him. Of course, there was no sign of him, either lying prone on the ground, his face ashen grey, his lips… (stop it Ben!) or ambling back from the shop with another newspaper.

I crossed into the woods.

The light was soft and was probably doing all sorts of pretty dapply things but I didn’t take any notice. I stepped forward as quietly as I could, scanning the tangle of shrubs, trunks, branches and twigs in front of me.

I could hear birdsong but no other sign of animal life. I moved on towards the clearing where we had once made camp and where we had picked the mushrooms. But the clearing lay undisturbed. Perhaps I was wrong and Grandad was actually at the shop. After all, I was usually at school at this time of day so I didn’t know his morning routine.

At the far side of the wood was a field where Gran, Grandad and I had had picnics that summer I had stayed, and I decided to walk through, just to check he wasn’t there. I wandered on, still taking care to keep quiet, until I came to a dense thicket of bushes which forced me to walk around them. On the other side was another small clearing which looked familiar. It was surrounded by the bushes on two sides and ash and oak trees on the other two. At the far end was the stump of a huge oak which must have come down years before and created the clearing. I remembered Grandad pointing out the badger set under the stump. I had been fascinated and had sat and watched the stump for what had seemed like hours in case a black and white face appeared. I didn’t stop to wonder about the badgers now though for in front of it, wrapped in a green and brown blanket, sat Grandad. He had made a little fire and had balanced a saucepan on it.

I stood still, watching. He had not yet seen me and was absorbed in the task of stirring whatever was in the saucepan. I edged nearer and heard a shriek:

“Ben! Ben! Where are you?” It was Mum.

Grandad jumped up, saw me and took a step backwards. He tripped over the log he had been sitting on and fell back with a crack against the stump.

 

He wasn’t badly hurt but we had to take him to hospital for a check-up. Mum tried to send me off to school but I convinced her that I could revise where I was so I spent several hours in Accident and Emergency, stranded on a hard plastic chair, staring at a biology text book and trying to remember the different parts of the human respiratory system, while all the time glancing over at Grandad whom lay in bed alternately dozing and then demanding what was going on. I couldn’t tell him. I didn’t know myself and I hoped someone would come up with an answer.

Mum was quick to come up with questions and a whole load of ideas about what was wrong with her father. Chin Woman, who had come with us (against my wishes) did not help when she spilled the beans about all the odd things he had been doing. I couldn’t see that they were that odd; well, not if you looked at them individually. But put things like hoarding food in his bedroom together with all the other things – including Mrs Stuck-Up-Nose’s gossipy opinions as we were leaving for the hospital (“I’ve been worried for months now – all that digging and telling me that walls have ears”) – and I was more bothered than I was about to say. I was pleased to see the plaster on her stuck-up nose though.

“We’ll do an assessment, Mrs Crouch,” the doctor said, trying – and failing – to reassure Mum.

“An assessment of what?” said an accusing voice. We all swung round. Grandad was standing there, glaring at us. “What am I doing here?”

“Dad, please, go and lie back down.” Mum tried to steer him but he shook her off.

“I said, what am I doing here?”

“Don’t worry Dad, it’s all OK.”

“It is not ‘OK’ as you put it. I do not know why I am here.”

“Grandad, you slipped and bashed your head.” I grasped his arm and he started to push me off and then checked himself. “I think you may have a bit of concussion,” I added.

“Oh.” He seemed to deflate. “Really. Well, I never. I don’t remember a thing about it. Perhaps that is the concussion. But my head is a bit sore.” He touched the back of his scalp then looked at his fingers. “No blood though!” He smiled brightly.

“See he’s perfectly OK,” I said, but no-one was interested in my opinion. They weren’t much interested in Grandad’s opinion either.

In fact, it all went downhill from there. They decided to keep Grandad in hospital for a night and then swung into meetings with doctors, a psychiatric team, social services, the man who put the bins out…well, why not? Everyone else seemed to have a say, everyone except me, Molly and Grandad.

“What’s wrong with Grandad?” Molly asked me that evening.

“He tripped and bumped his head.”

“Yeah, but I heard Mum tell Dad that he was cooking stuff in the woods and was doing weird things,” she said, head on one side and balancing on the side of her shoes

“They don’t know anything,” I snapped at her and then regretted it. It wasn’t her fault. I got up from the sofa and stretched.

“Where are you going?” asked Molly, her bottom lip pouting.

“To see Grandad.”

“In hospital?”

“Of course.”

“But it won’t be visiting hours.”

“So? I can’t think they will stop me seeing my old grandfather.”

“Can I come?”

“No! It’s your bedtime or something.”

“It’s not!”

“It is!” I ran out the door before she could answer and was on my bike and down the road before she could tell Mum and Dad.

 

The main entrance to the hospital was closed but I found ‘Entrance B’ and made my way to the geriatric ward on pink corridor. Nasty name ‘geriatric’, nasty pink too, like Mrs Stuck-Up-Nose’s face powder, too bright, too fake, too falsely cheerful.

The nurse at the desk wasn’t cheerful, falsely or otherwise. She wouldn’t let me in

“But I’ve come miles to see him,” I said, which was partly true. I had come about three miles. And it was raining again.

“I’m afraid it’s not possible. The elderly patients here are settled for the night. You will have to go and come back tomorrow during visiting hours.”

“But, please, just for one minute!” I begged at which point a voice roared “David! David! Is that you?” It was Grandad.

The nurse leapt up, banging her knee on the desk as she did so. She shot me a ‘don’t you dare say anything’ look and limped off down the ward. I followed.

She stopped by a curtained-off bed, twitched the curtain to one side and asked. “Mr Heath, are you alright?”

“No I’m bloody well not alright!”

I peered over the nurse’s shoulder and grinned at Grandad.

“David! Thank God!”

“Can I just have a moment?” I looked pleadingly at the nurse and could see her thinking. In the end she nodded.

“Be quick then.”

He was sitting up in bed, looking angry but otherwise healthy enough. I pushed some clothes aside and sat on the chair next to the bed. He grabbed my hand.

“David!” he hissed.

“I’m Ben.”

Confusion flashed across his face. “Ben,” he repeated. “Ben. Of course. Sorry old boy, but you look like David. He must be, oh…I know, your uncle, isn’t he? I must be going daft.” The grip on my hand tightened. “Is that why I’m here? Am I going daft? Have they put me away somewhere because I’m losing my mind?”

I squeezed his hand. “No, of course not Grandad. You slipped and bumped your head today and they want to check you for concussion and stuff. It’s just, er, routine.”

“How did I hit my head?”

“You tripped over in the woods behind your house.”

“Really?” He felt his head with his free hand. “Do you know, I don’t remember a thing about it.”

“Must be the concussion.”

“Excuse me.” It was the nurse again. “I said you had to be very quick. You must leave now.”

“Not yet, please.”

“Yes, you must. You can see your grandfather tomorrow.”

I started to stand up but Grandad tugged hard at my hand. “Don’t go Ben, don’t go. You must get me out of here!”

“Mr Heath, it is not visiting hours and I must insist that your grandson leaves.”

“No!” Grandad was looking frightened now. I couldn’t leave him.

“If I just sit quietly…” I suggested but she was having none of it.

“You must leave now. You are upsetting your grandfather.”

“No, you’re upsetting my grandfather. The whole lot of you are.” My voice was beginning to crack.

“What’s going on in there?” An old and grumpy voice from another bed joined in.

“Yes! Will you lot bloody shut up!” This complaint came from across the ward.

“You are upsetting everyone. Now go! Or I shall call security,” snapped the nurse.

I had to prise Grandad’s fingers off my hand. I promised him over and over that I would be back but I could still hear him shouting as I left the ward. I wept all the way home.

Back in Time for Tea

 

Chapter 6 (Edited a bit.)

I am looking at June and wondering what she’s planning. How does she intend to win her own war, I wonder? Suddenly she reaches out and grabs my hand. There is a pull, the now familiar sound of turning gears, a rush and I’m sitting on the floor of the barn. June has brought me back and I still don’t know how she does it. I’m in my usual landing spot, among the hay bales and beside the tractor. It looks a little different though. I take a moment to look around and work out what’s different. The same things are there, the light is still filtering in from outside, but it looks…dishevelled, much as June did when she arrived in the park. The hay bales are partly knocked out of place, there’s loose hay on the floor, the door is slightly ajar. It looks like the scene of a scuffle. I start to wonder if Lillian is right, if we are all just revisiting the same incident, at very slightly different moments in time.

June is sitting beside me, head in hands again, still cut and bruised.

‘What happened?’ she asks.

If only I knew. ‘We were at the park,’ I start to explain. ‘Well, I was. Then you arrived – on top of me and-‘

‘Oh yeah,’ she manages a smile, presumably remembering how she kicked me off the swing. ‘’But why are we back? I was running away…’

‘I don’t know, June, you grabbed my hand and pulled me back.’

She is quiet for a moment. We both are. Then she says, ‘Sorry, Ellie. I didn’t mean to pull you into this – into any of it. You were just the first person to speak to me in the park. I wanted someone to help me.’

‘Don’t be sorry,’ I say, suddenly feeling much older and responsible. ‘Imagine the conversations I can have: ‘What did you do in the holidays, Ellie?’ Let me see, well I time travelled and saw World War II.’

She manages a weak smile and then looks me in the eyes and says, ‘What if I’ve pulled you into danger, Ellie?’

‘Well there is a war on,’ I say, making another feeble attempt at a joke, one which June ignores. Instead she asks,

‘So what happens next?’

‘I don’t know,’ I reply. ‘Don’t you? I mean, hasn’t it happened already?’ June is quiet again. I can’t believe recalling something you’ve already done takes this much thought, although I suppose she’s always caught between being five minutes and seventy odd years from it. That’s when it hits me. ‘June, are you an old lady?’

She looks at me, like I’ve gone mad. She has a point!

‘What do you think?’ she asks, gesturing towards herself. She sounds exasperated with me, for asking such a question.

‘Not now! I mean, ever? Is there a point where you’re an old lady and you’re looking back on your life and thinking…oh, I don’t know, maybe thinking that you’re glad this barn business was over long ago and then your children…no, your grandchildren come round and…’

‘How would I know? Why would it matter?’ June is still giving me the exasperated look.

‘Because if it turned out OK, June,’ I explain, ‘you’d be an old lady by now – so long as you looked both ways when crossing the road and everything. Look, my gran was alive in the war and now she’s an old lady and…’ I pause. I give myself time to think how incredibly stupid I’ve been. ‘We need Gran,’ I say. She might know. June, I think she knows!’

June’s eyes are wide now, wide with fear. ‘I don’t think I wasn’t never an old lady. I think I’m just stuck travelling.’ Her eyes fill up with tears. I’m not sure I can cope with this and she evidently can’t. I need to know why June never grew up. I need to know what happened in 1942 and the one person who, I am sure, can help me is seventy-something years away.

‘Get your gran, Ellie,’ says June. ‘Get her! How did you get back last time? Think!’

I can’t think: June’s words and those sad, frightened eyes are filling my thoughts. If only Gran was here, if only she could help me now, if only…

There’s a rushing noise, a grinding of gears, the world tilts and I’m sure I’ll fall off it. I try to cling on but there’s nothing there. My hands are flailing, grabbing at nothing, snatching the air. I know what’s happening now, but it doesn’t make it any easier. I land with a bump. Everything is dark. I open my eyes. I’m back at the park. I sit up and there’s a horrible taste in my mouth. I notice that I’ve been sick a little, like babies do, I think. I wipe it away with my arm, hoping nobody saw me. I wait for the spinning sensation to stop and the pounding in my ears to go away, then I stand up carefully and look around. No one else is here and I got away with that, I think. Now what? Landing in a heap in the park means my brain is slow to work. It’s like wading through a field of treacle. I rub my fist against my forehead, trying to restart my brain, and then I think, ‘Oh yes! Gran!’ I want to run back home to her but my legs are still wobbly. It’s like one of those nightmares, where something is chasing you and yet you can’t run away because your legs are like lead. What’s chasing me though? The past? I wobble off, as fast as I can, heading for home.

Across the road and around the corner I seem to recover my balance and some of my strength, so I break into something of a clumsy jog and arrive at the front door, out of breath. I push the handle and almost fall into the hallway. Gran is just coming downstairs with a basket of laundry, which she hastily puts down.. She is busy asking me if I’m OK, if I had another ‘turn’, if I’m hurt, when I cut right through it.

‘June. Gran, do you know anyone called June?’

Gran steers me into the living room, sits me down on the sofa and sits in her chair.

‘Who?’

‘June. She’d be…she’d be an old…I mean…about your…she’d be a lady a bit older than you, Gran.’

Gran folds her arms, looks thoughtful and says, ‘June…June…not Jean? Joan? I don’t think so, no Ellie.’

So I have to go for the part I’ve been carefully avoiding; the part where I admit these aren’t ‘turns’, but something quite, quite different. The part where I admit that I know and that I think maybe Gran knows and we have to stop talking about it as a small thing that might go away and admit to our outstanding levels of weirdness.

‘Did you ever know a June? When you were little? When you lived on the farm with Aunty Doris in the War?’

Gran makes an odd, choking noise and her hand flutters at her throat. For an awful moment, I think maybe I’ve killed her – that the shock will kill her. I leap forward but she motions for me to sit back down.

‘Ellie, how did you…? I mean, I never spoke about…I never told…’ she has tears in her eyes, I notice. This frightens me a little. I have upset Gran, Gran my tower of strength and my refuge. Now what will happen to us all?

‘Gran, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to…’ I begin, but then I remember how important this is, how June is counting on me. ‘Gran, I’m really sorry. I need to know….I need…I need your help.’

‘Come here,’ says Gran and, big as I am and old as she is, she makes room for me on her lap. I curl in and, for just one moment, I am little again and safe in Gran’s arms. She strokes my hair as she says, ‘It’s a long story, Ellie. It’s a long, long story that I’ve never told to anyone but I’ve been waiting so, so long to tell you – you and only you, Ellie.’