Back in Time for Tea

Chapter 10

My fall through the tunnel is slower this time: I know what to do. Closing my eyes tight, trying to ignore the pain that I think I am almost getting used to, I picture June. In the next moment, I hit the ground. I feel queasy, but I’m not going to throw up, I note with some relief. I’m getting good at this. Looking around I see that I am once more on the farm but, yet again, not in the right part of it. This time I’m by the hen house. I know the way from here, so I sprint on. Moments later I realise I forgot to go and get Lilian. I could kick myself but there’s no time for that and no time to go back. I have to get to the barn. I have to stop June lighting that match.

I reach the barn and stop sharply. I know what I have to do, I think, but not how. Last time I tried simply bowling June out of the way – averting disaster by force – but it didn’t work, did it? I simply launched us both into my time and now look: here we are again, facing the same old problem. We can’t keep doing this for seventy or more years! For one thing, it would get boring. For another, it won’t actually stop it. We’ll just keep doing it over and over and maybe one time I’ll be too late – too long in the tunnel or whatever it is, too far away with my inexpert landing. Then what will this all be for? For nothing – it’ll all be for nothing and I’ll just be some weird kid, falling through time for a dead kid. I’m not doing that!

Think! I tell myself, think! I try to remember what Gran said, whilst being careful not to picture her too closely. I don’t want to time travel just yet. I’d be stuck there with no June to get me back. So what did she say to me? ‘There’s hope,’ I recall and, ‘Go and make this thing right!’ I’m trying, Gran, I’m trying! Anything else? Just then I recall a rather odd thing she said to me as I left the house, ‘One more thing, Ellie – be back in time for tea!’

Yes, that was it. It was an odd thing to say because my dinner going cold was the last thing on my mind and it seemed strange that Gran was worried about it, given the serious nature of my task. What if she didn’t mean it like that? What if it was a clue? What if there was something Gran regretted not doing all those years ago and she wants me to do it now? I wish she’d been more clear about it, but maybe she only thought of it at the last minute and I was out of that front door like a rocket…

‘Back in time for tea,’ I turn the words over in my mind. I am back in time – I did that part. What about the tea? The tea! Suddenly I think I might have it! June’s job was to take the tea trolley out to the workers. Did Gran think maybe they could have helped? I don’t know, but I mean to try. I run towards the farmhouse and get there just in time to see a frazzled Aunty Doris leaving with the tea trolley, heading for the fields. I run to her, waving my arms.

‘Aunty Doris! Aunty Doris!’ I call out. I’m right in front of her but there’s no reaction from her – none at all. Of course – I’m such a plum – she can’t see me, she can’t hear me. This is a terrible plan! I trot along beside her, trying to come up with a better idea. Aunty Doris is surprisingly fast, given that she’s pushing a laden trolley, but then, I think, June can manage it and she’s strong, but only small. That’s when I think of my next big idea. I follow her to the edge of the field and watch her holler over the gate to the workers. While her back is turned, I shove the trolley and, yes, it’s lighter than it looks and the whole thing goes over easily, teapot spilling hot tea onto the ground, cups either smashing or rolling around in the dirt. I feel briefly bad about how this might set them back, what with rationing, but then I’m trying to save a life, so maybe it’s OK.

Aunty Doris turns around immediately and exclaims at the state of things. The workers are already making their way over and, at her cries, a few of them quicken their pace. The one I recognise as Billy gets there first.

‘Oh, Mrs Meers, what happened? You hit a stone there?’

‘No!’ replies Aunty Doris in protest. ‘I don’t know what happened, but I’ve lost that June – again – and now the tea’s spilled everywhere and, oh, just look at the state of this!’

‘Tell you what,’ says another, ‘You go and make another pot, I’ll help you carry it, Billy will track down June and see what scrapes she’s got herself into this time, you alright with that, Bill?’ Billy nods. ‘Rest of us’ll keep at it here for a few more minutes. You know what they say: no use crying over spilt milk.’

Billy sets off in the direction of the barn, thank goodness, and I tag along, my invisible self wishing he’d hurry up a little. We reach the barn and Billy calls out,

‘June! Miss Junie! Come out now.’

I sigh and pull at face at him, not that he knows it. That’s not going to work! I should think he does know that but maybe he’s giving her a chance or something. As I sigh, something catches in my throat on the intake of breath. I cough – silently, for all Billy knows – and glance at him. He’s sniffing the air and I know why: there’s a hint of smoke in it. He says something I won’t repeat here and runs at the barn. He opens the door a crack, which is probably a mistake as that lets in not just the light but a rush of oxygen, fanning the small flames higher. On the other hand, it lets out Freddy, Beryl and Ida.

‘What -?’ Billy begins, but even he now knows there’s no time. He pulls his shirt up over his mouth and nose and rushes in, while the Others wildly rush away, all disheveled. The flames are getting higher now and I realise Billy doesn’t know June’s hiding place. It would probably be obvious, but for the thickening smoke in there. If only he’d look by the bales and the tractor, I think. The tractor! I have no idea if there’s any fuel left in that thing but even the tiniest amount could make this whole thing a whole lot more dangerous than it is already. Can shadows and time travellers be hurt in a blaze? Can they breathe in smoke? There’s no time to think it through, I rush in and immediately drop to the ground, remembering something I once saw on a disaster movie, about that being the place with the most air to breathe in a smoky room. I crawl forwards as fast as I can, reach the hay bales and grab for June. My hand touches her arm but she’s unresponsive. She’s either paralysed by fear or overcome by the smoke. I kick a hay bale to one side, to make a better exit for her and try to drag her towards me. My eyes are smarting now and it’s getting harder to breathe. Danger must be like food to a time traveller: you can experience it. June feels heavy and I feel like I’ve no strength left but I must go on.

Suddenly, an arm reaches in and grabs hold of June. It must be Billy’s arm. Perhaps he saw or felt the hay bale move. I might have helped, might have done something useful! In seconds she’s over his shoulder and Billy is leaving the barn which leaves just me, seventy odd years from home and alone in a  burning barn that could explode at any minute. I am about to give up hope when I remember the one thing that can get me out of here alive: Gran. I picture her as clearly as I can: her white hair, her glasses her kindly smile. There’s a rushing sound in my ears, whether of the cogs of time travel or the flames blazing around me, I couldn’t tell, and before I can investigate, I lose consciousness.

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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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