Back in Time for Tea

Chapter 9

I race to the park as fast as I can. I’m desperately hoping June will be there and, as I round the corner and reach the park, I see that I am in luck. June is there, on the swing as usual. I pull open the squeaky gate and rush in, calling, ‘June! June! I’ve found out!’ She looks up from the swing as I arrive. No cuts and bruises this time, I note. This is good, this is very good: we are in time. ‘I’ve spoken to Gra- Lillian, and I know…I think I know how to stop it!’

‘Stop what?’ she asks. I have no idea how she can be so ignorant of her own actions, but then perhaps this is one of the times when it hasn’t happened yet and this version of her doesn’t remember it. I’ve no time to stop and think if that’s even possible, so I drop the thought for now.

‘The barn – the Others! June, I think I know how we can stop them!’

June tilts her head slightly and seems to narrow her eyes. Out of the corner of my eye, I see her hand slip carefully to her pocket. ‘No need,’ she says, so matter of fact that I am almost blown away by it. ‘I already know what to do.’

Not for the first time, I am completely baffled by this girl. I turn my gaze to her pocket, where her hand appears to be gripping something. She sees this, shifts uncomfortably on the swing seat for a moment and looks – she looks guilty, I think.

‘June,’ I ask her, still looking at her pocket, ‘What have you got there?’

‘What have I got?’ she asks, airily, a little too airily if you ask me. ‘I ain’t got nothing.’ I am still looking and she knows this. ‘What I’ve got is a handful of none of your business, alright? I’ve worked it out and I know what to do. Now stop asking me questions; you’re no better’n the Others, sticking your nose in where it don’t belong!’

This hurts! I’m trying to help her – to save her, possibly even save her life and I am NOT like the others. I lunge for her on the swing. In the back of my mind is the thought that this is exactly what the Others would do and I’m angry with her and with myself for this. I’m proving her right and yet it doesn’t feel like my fault. As I lunge forward, there’s a crack in the air, as if the atmosphere between us is being sliced in two. June disappears and I think I will be left behind. I’ve no time to think about it though, as I feel a sudden pain in my fingers – as if they too are being sliced. I push myself forwards, almost as if trying to hold onto my own fingers. I honestly feel as if I’m going to lose them! There is a deafening noise, I feel like I’m going to be sick and then everything goes very dark. I feel as if I am falling and the feeling persists, longer than usual. Usually I fall to the ground and land in the past. This time I feel as if I am falling through a dark tunnel. I can hear the usual grinding noises but they are muffled – just as if I am underground, I think. I have no idea where I am, or where I am going. The falling sensation continues and I am frightened that it will never end. Usually I fall backwards through time with June as my guide and this time she has gone ahead without me. My fingers are still sore, but it’s too dark to inspect them for damage. That’s when I realise: I did fall with June!

I remember that as I lunged forward towards her on the swing, my fingers brushed against her arm and that was the moment she left. Something about my touching a travelling June must have made me travel too, but she went ahead without me and now I am without my guide. I am lost in time! I try to call out, to locate her, but my voice is muffled. It’s like one of those bad dreams, where you want to call out in your sleep but your mouth feels stuffed with cotton wool, or dirt. I know I need to find her, more than than anything. I shut my eyes tight – a bit pointless in the pitch black, I know, but it helps me to concentrate – and think of June. I picture her with her mousey hair and her scruffy dress. I picture her scowling face and make the images so vivid they feel real. As I do so, I feel my fall slowing, my ears fill up with noise and I land with a, ‘bump!’ on the ground. My head feels as if it is spinning and my eyes refuse to focus for a moment. I roll over slightly and vomit onto the ground. This feels utterly disgusting but it does seem to get the job done: a few moments more and my vision clears. Carefully, I stand up, and look about me, trying to ignore the small patch of sick by my left foot. I am not sure where I am, to start with, and a feeling of panic grips me, as I begin to think I have landed in the wrong place, possibly even in the wrong time. I force myself to be calm and to look about again. There is a washing line in front of me, cotton frocks and shirts flapping in the light summer breeze. ‘Aunty Doris’s washing line!’ I say out loud. So I have landed on the farm – just not in the barn. I should be able to find it from here, I think. I head off in one direction but then stop. I need Lillian. I need to find Lillian! I run towards the farmhouse and peer in the back door. Nobody can see me, after all. There’s no sign of Lillian in there. Perhaps she’s at the barn. I start to head that way, then I remember what Gran said,

‘I ran for the hen house…’

This is where I need to go. I run as fast as I can, reach the hen house, wrench open the wire door and almost tumble inside.

‘Lillian!’ I hiss. No answer. I call again, a little louder. Again there’s no answer, but I listen carefully and hear what sounds like a muffled sob. I peer to one side and can just about make out the shape of a little girl, huddled in a corner, hiding her face behind her folded arms. ‘Lillian, I need you!’ my voice is urgent. I’m not sure why I need her: perhaps because she’s Gran, although she doesn’t know that, of course.

She looks up, her arms sinking down by her sides and I can see, now my eyes are adjusting to the dim light, that her usually clean face is streaked with tears and dirt. I reach out a hand and she takes it. I wince slightly, at the touch of her hand on my sore fingers, but there appears to be no visible damage to them. They must have just got caught in the time vortex, or whatever it is I fell into.

‘I’m frightened, Ellie,’ she says, her voice small.

‘I know,’ I say, trying to make my own voice sound as calm and as brave as possible. ‘They’ve got her, haven’t they?’ She nods. ‘What did you see this time?’ Lillian shrugs and looks away, but I’ve got her on this one, I think. I know what she saw! I check it, in case Gran’s memories became muddled over the years. ‘You saw Freddie, Ida and Beryl taunting June, yes? Freddy had a stick and he was going to hit her – hit June – but she got him first, he fell forwards and they had a fight, yes? That’s what you saw.’

Lillian’s eyes are wide in her small face. ‘How did you-‘ she begins.

‘Never mind,’ I reply. ‘No time for that now. We need to stop it!’

Before she can protest, I run off, pulling her behind me. We reach the barn, out of breath and I burst in, just in time to see June in the middle of a wary semi-circle of the others. Freddy has one hand to his cheek, presumably nursing a blow from June. The girls are standing stock still. I motion for Lillian to stand by the door and creep over to one side, so I can see their faces. I am almost crawling along, making full use of some hay bales as cover. I know the Others can’t see me but I’m not sure if June should see me yet. Peering cautiously through the tiny gap between two of the bale, I see Beryl’s and Ida’s faces. They are mirroring each other’s expression, which is one of open-mouthed terror. I follow their gaze to June and realise what it is that has rooted them to the spot with fear. June is holding a box of matches in front of her, her left hand holding the box and her right hand holding a match, as if preparing to strike it. I am horrified! Either she has no idea how flammable a circle of hay bales is, or she simply does not care.

‘Take one more step and I’ll do it!’ she calls. There is a note of triumph in her voice but also something else, I think: fear. This must be what she had in her pocket at the park: the matches. She was right about knowing how to stop it, in a way. She’s seized the power from Freddy, but she’s afraid of it, I think. Perhaps she does understand the danger. If Freddy knows that, I realise, she’s doomed. If he gambles on her not striking that match, he can make his move and overpower her. I think she knows this, judging by the look on her face. I’m not sure Freddy does. If he doesn’t realise, or if he gambles wrongly and she goes for it anyway, we’re all doomed.

The air in the barn is almost alive with tension and I remember what Gran said, about the feeling of electricity in the air and then I remember what she said about the fire. I feel as if the static in the air has flowed into me and I suddenly leap forward, knocking June to the ground and, as luck would have it, through time. In an instant, we are back in the park. June glares at me, fury in her eyes, and goes to hit me. I have stolen her moment and we both know it. I dodge the blow and slap her back – partly because I am annoyed with her and partly because I realise that we are in the wrong place and time. This won’t do at all and I need to get her back, and quickly. Just as I thought, June immediately puts as much distance between us as she can – seventy years of distance. There’s the now expected cracking noise as she leaves but I am ready for this. I am already reaching out and I feel my fingers brush against her arm. Trying to ignore the sudden searing pain, I roll forwards and after her or, at any rate, back into the tunnel.

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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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