About Jacqui Searle

I live with a husband, two children, a small, crazy dog and an elderly guinea pig. I write when I can, usually about grandmothers, although I haven't figured out why that is yet. I work part time in a school. 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.

Back in Time for Tea

Chapter11

When I regain consciousness I am lying on the ground at the park. Someone is crouching beside me and they’re saying something, but I can’t understand it.

‘Gran,’ I try to say but my voice is a mere wheeze and my lungs and my throat hurt, just for trying.

Then the voice again. It isn’t Gran. I open my eyes and immediately blink them shut again. The pain is excruciating. I feel as if I have a thousand flecks of dust in them.

‘Hello?’ the voice says again. I must be more ‘here’ than ‘there’ now. As I can understand it now. ‘Hello? Are you OK? Can I help?’ I open my eyes just the smallest amount. There’s a girl there. She’s not Gran and she’s not June. June! I try to push myself up onto my elbows. I need to find out what happened to June! The girl puts her hand on my shoulder, steadying me and holding me back, I think. ‘Easy now,’ she says. ‘You look like you’ve been in the wars.’ In spite of everything, this prompts a small smile from me. If only she knew! ‘That’s a bit better,’ she says. ‘Look, I don’t know what happened to you, but you were lying on the floor and I saw you as I walked past.’

‘There was a fire,’ I croak out. ‘I got out, but my friend-‘

‘A fire?’ the girl sounds shocked. I find I can open my eyes a little more now, so I take a good look. She’s a bit older than me. She has died black hair, with purple streaks in it. Her clothing is black, despite the warm weather, and she wears a black choker and dark red lipstick. She looks kind of cool and edgy, I think, whereas I look…a state. ‘A fire?’ she asks again. ‘Where?’ She looks around, as if trying to detect a mysteriously hidden inferno. I decide to change the subject; this could get awkward.

‘I need my Gran,’ I tell her.

‘Do you know where she is?’

‘Home,’ I’m not coming over too well here, I know, but you try talking to someone when you’ve just fallen out of a burning barn and the past. I’d like to see you try! Just as I’m trying to think of a way to sound less like doofus, I hear the gate squeak and in comes Gran, almost at a run. As much at a run as Gran can do, anyway.

‘Ellie!’ she calls.

‘I found here like this,’ says the other girl. ‘She’s been asking for her Gran. Are you…?’

‘Yes,’ Gran replies. ‘Thank you so much for keeping an eye on her. I got here as quickly as I could.’

How on earth did she know, I wonder?

‘You’re welcome,’ says the girl. ‘Is there anything more I can do for you?’

‘No, I think we’re – actually, could you help me get her to her feet? If you wouldn’t mind?’

The girl nods and drags me upwards. This is neither comfortable nor dignified. I have to hope we never meet again. Then again, she is kind and didn’t even flinch at touching dirty old me.

‘Thank you,’ says Gran to the girl. ‘Thank you, I can manage from here.’

The girl nods, gives me a smile and a wave, and leaves the park. Gran helps me to walk, fussing over me an awful lot. She suggests calling an ambulance but I shake my head. I’m not burned. I have sore eyes, a dry mouth, stiff limbs and I look a sight, but I’m pretty certain I’m OK. Gran fusses for most of the way home. Then she sits me carefully in a  chair and brings me a cold drink of water. I’ve never wanted anything more in my life!

‘Now sip that – no gulping!’ she instructs, and watches me carefully to make sure I comply. When the last of the water is drained, Gran throws her arms around me and sobs. I will not get used to this, I think: Gran crying. ‘Oh Ellie,’ I can’t believe the danger I put you in! There must have been another way! How are you? Are you all right? What happened? Tell me everything! No – don’t rush – go carefully. Tell me exactly what happened.’

I manage a smile at Gran’s eagerness mixed up with her concern. Then I tell her everything. I tell her about how pushing June out of the way didn’t work. How it just brought us back – or forward – to the park. I told her how Lilian came with me one time. Gran nods, as if she remembers that. Perhaps she does, I think. After all, it happened. Then I tell her how I forgot her the second time, so she’s still in the henhouse. She touches my arm, by way of reassuring me that this is alright, that she doesn’t mind being left behind. In the henhouse was where she remembered being, anyway. I tell her about my solving the mystery of her telling me to be, ‘back in time for tea,’ and she looks surprised.

‘Why did you say that, Gran? Why didn’t you just tell me what to do?’

‘I didn’t know,’ is her reply. ‘I just thought maybe…maybe we needed more help, you and I. Maybe it would work if we could get the adults in on it, but you were gone too fast for me to elaborate. It wasn’t really a plan, Ellie, just an idea – half an idea, really. You were brilliant to work it out like that.’

I smile, feeling kind of brilliant for a moment, but then my story turns to June, the matches and the barn. I think she got out OK, I tell Gran. I think Billy saved her. I want to go back and check now, but Gran is adamant that this won’t be happening – not today, at any rate. Then, for the first time since I arrived at Gran’s, I burst into tears. I sob and sob. I’m crying for exhaustion, for June, for not being able to tell Gran for sure if I did the one things she’s been waiting for all these years. Eventually, between sobs I manage, ‘I don’t know if Billy did save her, Gran. I don’t know for sure.’

‘He didn’t,’ says Gran. ‘Billy didn’t save June, Ellie: you did.’

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.

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.

Back in Time for Tea

Chapter 8

‘Gran,’ I say, with what I hope sounds like a brave and determined voice. ‘Gran, you have to help me. You have to help me save June.’ Gran looks at me, startled for a moment, as if she forgot I was there. Perhaps she was, in her own way, back in the past for a moment – back with June.

Gran produces a tissue from the sleeve of her cardigan and wipes her eyes, then blows her nose.

‘You know, Ellie, it is fair to say that I have waited over seventy years for this. I remember you coming to the farm in the War. I remember when you stopped coming and, all my life since, I’ve wondered who this strange child with, with her tales of, ‘my time,’ and the strange goings on there. Of course, when you were born and your mother named you, I wondered. I wondered if you were the one. As you grew older, I’d study your face and character for signs of that other Ellie, but it’s hard to match your grand-daughter with a memory from sixty or seventy years ago. Sometimes I’d think you reminded me of her, but then I’d find your likeness in old family photos and think perhaps you had the ‘family look’ about you. Then when you started having your ‘turns’, I became suspicious. Some of the things your mother described to me were familiar to me.’

‘Because you travelled, too? I ask.

‘Yes. I knew what it felt like. I wondered if perhaps it was an inherited trait. You know – some families inherit huge ears or fabulous cheekbones, while perhaps we inherit a predisposition to falling through time. There were others, you know.’

I raise my eyebrows in surprise. Why does nobody ever tell you this, I wonder? Surely it would be useful to know that you might one day fall over and land in the past – or future. ‘Who?’ I ask.

‘Well, nobody knows for sure, but there were stories about my grandmother. She disappeared, you know, when my mother was young – never seen again. Oh, there were stories and explanations: drowning, run off with a fancy man – that sort of thing – but there were other stories too and what with me, June and then you…I started wondering, you know?’

‘Is that why you brought me here?’ I ask. ‘To study me, or to see if I could save June?’

‘What?’ asks Gran, offended. ‘No! I brought you here because I love you and I was worried about you!’

‘Because of the time travelling?’

‘Because of the possibility that you might be, yes. Ellie, this isn’t an easy thing to talk about, unless you’re with another traveller. Nobody – absolutely nobody else understands. It’s not…’

‘Normal,’ I finish her sentence for her.

‘Well, quite. But here you are, my abnormal girl, and it seems we have a problem to solve. What can we do about it, do you think?’

‘Gran, I need you to come back with me. I need you to talk to June and talk her out of whatever it was that nearly killed her. It was something she did, wasn’t it? You know what she’s like! She’ll listen to you, Gran!’

Gran leans back in her chair and sighs. ‘Oh, Ellie, I can’t do that.’

‘Why?’ I ask ‘You could do it then – you can do it again now! You know where stuff is on the farm, you know what she did. I need you, Gran!’

‘Ellie, I stopped time travelling the day June disappeared and we all thought…we all thought that she’d died. I couldn’t do it again, or I would have done it before now. Besides which, how would I explain my presence to little Lillian? I’m not sure what the rules of time travel are, but I’m not sure you can go barging in on your own self. We need to think of another way.’

I had been pinning all my hopes on Gran coming back and sorting it all out for me, that I hadn’t thought beyond this plan. I slump in my chair, thinking that the whole thing is doomed, that I wish I’d never travelled back in time in the first place. Then at least I wouldn’t know there even was a problem! I’m cross with Gran, who sort of got me into this, I think, and I’m cross with June, for being stupid enough to do whatever it was she did to catapault herself through time for over half a century. That reminds me: June! It’s no good being cross with her, I think. I do know about her and I do need to save her, although I’m still not clear on what it is I’m saving her from.

‘Then I need to know everything, Gran. I need to know what happened on that day and on the day after and why you all thought she’d died. If I can get myself back to exactly the moment before she did whatever she did, maybe I can stop her, yeah?’

Gran nods. ‘I’ll tell you what I know, Ellie, but I warn you, it isn’t much and it may not be enough. Maybe it will help, though. Maybe we can work out the rest.’

I grit my teeth, hoping we have enough time left to solve the puzzle of June’s disappearance, before it’s too late and she’s gone for good. ‘Tell me what you know,’ I say.

‘June was always hiding out in that barn,’ says Gran. ‘She was either shirking her jobs around the farm, or avoiding Freddy, Beryl and Ida – the twins – or maybe a combination of both. Of course, the children soon found her out and would go and taunt her out of her hiding place. Freddy was all for dragging her out, at least to listen to him you’d think he was, but you know I think he was a little afraid of her. She was like a wild cat, that girl, and could she put up a fight? Oh, if she felt like it, that one could box your ears, scratch your face and knock you over into the dirt. She got into fights at school, mostly with the other evacuee children. Only once did she box Freddy and Aunty Doris gave her such a telling off for it that she never tried again. For his part, though, Freddy remembered the pain and the shame of being beaten by a girl younger and smaller than him and he was wary. Beryl and Ida fought with words, mostly. She never went for them. To be honest with you, I think she scorned them and they knew it and didn’t like it. I suppose nobody wanted to play second fiddle to this interloper, as they saw her and, in their different ways, they all wanted to get even with June.

‘That one day, though, Freddy and the girls came into the barn. I remember it very clearly, because I was in there too – or just outside, or very nearby, or-‘

‘The day you saw the same thing lots of times?’ I ask.

‘Yes, it must have been that, because I can remember it from different angles. The oddest thing, though, is that it was different each time. It wasn’t hugely different – there was always June in the barn, the children coming in and taunting her, an argument…but sometimes it ended in a fight and sometimes it ended before then. I can’t explain that, except maybe the times you were there, or I was in the barn, it played out differently. What do you think?’

‘I don’t know,’ I say. ‘Yeah, maybe.’ Hope begins to fill me then, because I think that maybe we did influence things a little, Lillian and I. If we did it then, maybe we can do it again. I put this idea to Gran, who is enthusiastic.

‘Yes, maybe we can, Ellie. Good thinking! Where was I? The barn, yes. So this one day, Aunty Doris was going frantic over June disappearing, because she’d switched her jobs from egg collecting to taking the tea out to the farm workers in the field. This had been going about as well as anything could where June was involved and yet today she was nowhere to be seen and the tea was ready, stewing and in danger of going cold. I remember I said I’d go and get her – I was too small to manage to tea things myself, but I knew where she was and going to get her would be a welcome relief from Aunty Doris grumbling and crashing around because she was cross, I remember. So I ran out of the kitchen and over to the barn. When I got there – at least one of the times, anyway – the children had made it there before me and were standing in front of…I think it was hay bales we had there.’

‘Yes!’ I interrupt her. ‘Hay bales and a tractor!’

‘So it was!’ says Gran, amazed that I have seen it too, even though that’s the whole reason for our having this conversation. Still, I suppose it is odd that, in a way, I’ve seen it more recently. Perhaps it’s odd that I’ve seen it at all, but I think we’re way past caring about that. ‘Hay bales and a tractor,’ she continues. ‘I stood behind the children for a moment, wondering what would happen. I remember standing very still and quiet. There was a tension in the air in that barn that I was afraid to break. It was almost as if the air could crackle. Oh, Ellie, I’m not making any sense, am I? It was a long time ago and-‘

‘You’re making sense, Gran,’ I cut in. ‘Go on!’

Gran pauses again. I’m uncomfortably aware of how much time this is taking and how much time we don’t have. I don’t think she wants to tell me everything but I really, truly need to know. She sighs and continues, slowly, almost haltingly.

‘So there they were, and there I was and, somewhere, I assumed, there was June. Freddy called out to her and I remember looking at him then and he had a stick in his hand. I was fairly certain he meant to hit her with it, or perhaps he just had it by way of self-defence, but I wanted to protect her – to warn her.’ She stops again.

‘What did you call out?’ I ask.

‘That’s just it, Ellie. Nothing. I called out nothing. I could have warned her, I could have stepped in – I could have done something and I did nothing. Oh, Ellie, I’m so ashamed. I was ashamed then and I’ve been ashamed ever since.’

‘So, did he hit her?’

‘No.He didn’t have time, as it turned out. I was still watching him, standing silently behind the three of him when I saw him lean forward, over the hay bales – I remember them clearly now.’ Gran pauses again. I want her to tell me more but I can see this is difficult for her. What I can’t tell is if she’s struggling to remember, or struggling to forget. ‘He leaned forward – I think he was planning to seize hold of her and drag her out, you know? But she was too quick for him, our June. She’d been watching him like a hawk, of course, and she was ready for him. She reached out her hand and grabbed hold of him – by his hair, I think. I remember he hollered in pain. Then she sort of stood up and tumbled him into the hay bales. It was almost comical, just for a moment: the sight of that big, silly boy, falling head first into the hay, with his shorts and sandals sticking straight up in the air.’

‘What happened next? What did Beryl and Ida do?’

‘Oh, nothing at first. They were as taken aback as the rest of us, I suppose. June had the upper hand for a minute and then Freddy managed to roll and loose her grip on his hair. He was shouting about her pulling out his hair, she was shouting – I wouldn’t like to tell you what she said – and then the scuffle began.’ That must be when she got the cuts and bruises, I think. ‘Of course, she was tough, but he was bigger and stronger. He overpowered June and at that point I couldn’t bear to watch. I ran out of the barn.’

‘Were you going to find help?’ I ask, sure that my brave Gran was going to sort things out somehow.

Gran shakes her head. ‘I’m afraid not. I was scared and I wanted to escape, so I ran for the hen house. Oh, Ellie, if only I hadn’t. If only I’d been brave – sensible, even.’

So, what did happen? I wonder. Did Freddy beat her so badly they all thought she’d died? But that wouldn’t make sense, would it? There would be a body and no time travelling. Or did she get stuck in a loop of endless travel? No, that’s ridiculous – she kept going back to the barn. You can’t think someone’s dead if they keep reappearing, can you?

‘What happened, Gran? What happened?’

There is another pause I can’t afford and then Gran says, so quietly I’m not sure I hear her right, ‘Fire.’ I lean in, trying to catch her words and she says it again, this time more clearly, ‘There was a fire, Ellie – a fire in the barn. It went up in flames so quickly, they said. I suppose the hay and the wooden walls and everything – it was like a tinder box. Freddy, Ida and Beryl got out, somehow. Everything was in chaos – there were people looking for me, thinking I’d perished in the fire, when really I was in my coward’s retreat, unaware of the drama unfolding a short distance away.’

‘And June?’ I ask, although I think I know the answer.

‘We never saw her again. The barn was razed to the ground, along with everything in it and, we all thought, June.’

‘But I’m still seeing her, so there’s hope, right?’

‘Yes, there’s hope. Maybe not much, but there’s a chance…oh, Ellie, if there’s a chance, we have to take it!’

I nod. I am going to take that chance, I know I am. I am going to save June and I am going to stop Gran from thinking it was all her fault and I am… completely clueless as to how I’m going to do all of this. While I’m thinking, Gran places her hands either side of my face and says, ‘Go, Ellie – go and make this thing right. Neither of us know how but just go.’ She lets go and I get up, and run out of the room and towards the front door. As I’m about to shut the door behind me she calls out, ‘Ellie!’ I turn around and look back at my Gran, now looking small and old in the hallway. ‘One last thing – be back in time for tea!’

Back in Time for Tea

Chapter 7

‘When I was small,’ Gran began, ’war broke out in Europe and Mr. Churchill – you learned about him in school?’ I nod, so Gran continues, ‘Mr. Churchill gave Germany an ultimatum, which they ignored and so we were went to war too. I mean the country, but also my father – your great-grandfather. My mother said he came home from work one day, not long after Churchill’s announcement on the wireless, and told her he’d signed up. He’d signed up to the army, to join the war effort. I was much too small to know about any of this, but my mother said she was not impressed. She told him he had me and her to care for and he couldn’t go running off like that anymore, playing the hero when we needed him at home. Do you know what he replied, my brave father? He said, ‘Ethel, if men like me don’t unite to fight this menace, then there may be no more home, as we know it, to support. If this Hitler chap has his way, we’ll lose our freedom and anything worth living for. I have to do it – for our future, for Lilian’s future. Don’t you see?’ ‘

‘Of course, I didn’t know any of it at the time, but when Mother told me a few years later, I was so proud of him.’

‘Gran, did he…did he come back?’ I ask. I’m not sure if it’s OK to ask this and it’s not strictly information I need for June, but this is my great-grandfather, for goodness sakes. I want to know!

‘He did! He fought in Europe. He lost friends and comrades, but he came back – back in one piece. Perhaps not the man he was when he left, but I couldn’t remember that man anyway, so I was just pleased he came home again. We’re getting ahead of ourselves, Ellie. Anyway, so it was just Mother and I for a while, but as the War drew on, things got difficult. Hitler and his U-boats cut off supplies from getting into the country, planes were shot down, things were looking grim. My mother decided she should help too, so she signed up to work at the Aircraft Factory that was nearby – we lived near enough for her to cycle there then – but there was one problem.’

‘You?’ I ask.

‘Yes, me. There was a little girl to look after. She felt strongly that she should ‘do her bit’. I think she worried about Father being so far away and that made her feel helpless, so she went to work for the War Effort, to make her feel like she was doing something to help him.’

‘And you went to live with your Aunty Doris at the farm?’ I ask.

‘Yes, I did. Aunty Doris took me in. She had her own children – a boy and twin girls –‘ (Freddy and the Mirror Twins, I think) ‘and me and then she took on an evacuee girl. The little girl was a distant relative, who lived in London with her mother, who’d also gone to work for the War Effort. Aunty Doris knew very little about her, but she needed a home and was part of a group of children who were evacuated to this area, plus her second cousin, or something, contacted her and said she’d feel better if her daughter was among family. You know who I’m talking about, don’t you?’

I nod: June.

‘Oh Ellie, you should have seen her. I remember the day she arrived. Oh, she was the scruffiest, most cross-looking scrap of a girl you ever saw. I remember Aunty Doris’s face when the little girl arrived, all scowls and tangled hair. We all thought perhaps nobody in London took baths, but I daresay she’d had a hard life. My cousins, who had accepted me without question – perhaps because I was so little and didn’t pose a threat to them – took an instant dislike to this interloper, as they saw her.’

‘They were cruel!’ I say, crossly.

‘They were,’ Gran agrees, ‘but they were also put out about how much of their mother’s attention this new girl took up. Oh, if Aunty Doris wasn’t cleaning her and cutting her hair, she was having to keep an extra eye on making sure this one didn’t get into scrapes. Oh, the scrapes that one got into! You have to try and understand that they were jealous and also that this new girl in their midst was very hard to like. She was all corner and hard edges, Ellie. If any child spoke to her, from the farm or the school ,she’d as soon put up her fists as speak back, and when she did speak back – oh the language that one knew!’

‘But you liked her, didn’t you?’

‘I did,’ says Gran. ‘I was in awe of her at first. When I went to Aunty Doris’s, my mother gave me strict instructions on how to behave, what to do to make myself welcome, how to fit in and, small as I was, I obeyed those rules. Yet here was this new girl, flouting every rule and finding new ones to break in her spare time. If she wasn’t overturning pig bins, she was stealing food from the kitchen and getting into fights wherever she went. I was in awe of her at first. I followed her around, fascinated by this girl whose behaviour seemed so alien to me. After a while, I suppose I was so often by her side that she accepted me and started confiding in me. I found out that she was a lonely, anxious little girl, who’d never really had anyone teach her how to behave.’

‘Poor June,’ I say.

‘Yes, poor June.’ She stops talking, rests her chin in her hand and just sits like that for a bit, not really looking at anything. Perhaps she’s looking back and remembering it all clearly, I think. There’s a tear in her eye and I feel uncomfortable about it but I also know there’s an unknown disaster about to unfold and that June has given me a job to do. Reluctantly, I ask Gran,

‘That’s not all, though, is it?’

Gran turns her gaze to me, the spell of the past apparently broken. ‘No, that’s not all, Ellie.’

‘What happened, Gran? I need to know.’

Gran is looking directly at me. Her gaze is so intent I start to shift in my chair, as if I’m feeling guilty of something. Perhaps I am, though I’m not sure of what. ‘Ellie,’ she says, suddenly very serious, ‘I know you do, but before I tell you what happened, I need to know exactly why you need to know. I need to know what you know already and I need to know what you’ve been getting up to in that park.’

Now I know why I feel so guilty. I’ve had seventy years of sneaking around and calling it, ‘the park’,and Gran is onto me, although I really don’t think any of this is entirely my fault. I’m not sure where to begin, so I say, ‘Gran, my…’turns’, they’re not…they’re not just turns,’ and then I take a chance and add, ‘Are they?’

‘No-oh,’ says Gran, a little uncomfortably, I think.

‘I’ve been…I’ve been…’ I am so used to hiding my strange behaviour that even now, with the one adult who may actually understand and believe me, I feel reluctant to go on. I feel I need proof that she really will understand. I look at her, expectantly.

‘Ellie, I think I know and I think you know I know what’s been going on with you. Tell me the truth – the truth, mind – and I promise I will believe you: every word.’

So I do, and the relief is immense. It’s as if I’ve been carrying around a huge weight and now I can take it off and hand it to someone who can deal with it for me. Everything comes pouring out: about my time travelling episodes, about going back and forth between the War, the Farm and the park and now. I tell her about June, the barn, the hen house, the Others. I tell her about how it feels to travel through time, about the grinding noises and the sensation of falling off the earth. I tell her about Lilian possibly seeing the same moment over and over, perhaps from slightly different viewpoints and then I ask her the questions I’ve been holding inside, ‘Are you one, Gran? Are you a time traveller and are you Lilian?’

‘I am Lilian,’ says Gran. ‘As to whether I am a time traveller, I think perhaps I am – or was – but that I never got very good at it. I never travelled through years like you’ve been doing or like June did-‘

‘Does,’ I correct her. ‘She’s still doing it. June is still stuck between now and then, Gran.’

Gran looks at me, disbelievingly, I think. ‘Is she, Ellie? Is she really?’ She looks almost hopeful now.

‘Yes! Yes she is! That little girl you saw me with at the park?’

Gran makes that fluttering movement at her throat again and the grips the arms of her chair.

‘Is she, Ellie? Is she really? Is she still there?’

‘She is, Gran, she is! I’ve seen her with my own eyes. I’ve talked to her, I’ve sat and listened to her. I even had bread and dripping with her! Gran, it’s what this is all about!’

And then Gran does something quite unexpected: she bursts into tears. My gran sits there and sobs big, noisy tears and I have no idea what to do about it. ‘Gran? Gran?’ I ask her.

‘Oh, Ellie,’ she says through sobs that make my poor Gran shake. ‘Oh Ellie, all these years, I thought…I thought…I thought she’d died, Ellie! I thought she’d died and it was partly my fault. I thought she died in the – we all did! All these years of not knowing, all these years of a terrible fear that I could have, should have done something to stop it all. I just kept telling myself I was very young at the time, that none of us could have seen or known what she’d do, but, Ellie, I was the only one who could have understood it. At least, I was the only one who could have tried!’

‘Died in the what, Gran? How did you think she died?’

Gran is silent for a moment, but for the sobbing, which is now much quieter and more subdued. I feel like the most insensitive person on the planet, but I really do need to know, because if June is about to die, I really do need to do something to stop her, and I haven’t the faintest idea what. I don’t know what to do! Then I remember June’s words to me: Get your Gran, Ellie! I can’t get her to help us now, though, not when she’s a sad and possibly broken old lady. I need old Gran back: Gran who steps in and fixes your problems. That’s when I realise: I need to step in and fix Gran’s problems. I’m not yet eleven years old and I’ve been a mess my whole life, but now I need to step up, be strong and be the one who fixes things for others. I’m not sure how I feel about this, so I decide not to feel anything about it at all. I decide to just get on with it.

Back in Time for Tea

Chapter 6

I am looking at June and wondering what she’s planning. How does she intend to win her own war, I wonder, when she suddenly 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. Well, I was. Then you arrived – on top of me and-‘

‘Oh yeah,’ she manages a smile, remembering kicking me off the swing. ‘Yeah, 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. The  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.’

‘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.’

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 glosses over.

‘So what happens next?’

‘I don’t know,’ I reply. ‘Don’t you? I mean, hasn’t it happened?’ 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.

‘What do you think?’ she asks and 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 OK, June, 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 panting, 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 on seeing me. 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.’

 

Back to ‘Back in Time for Tea’: third person narrative.

Chapter 1, again.

If you met eleven year old Ellie Gardiner for the first time you might notice her brown hair, probably half-covering her face. You might also notice how she is slightly small for her age, but with gangly limbs that suggest a growth spurt can’t be far away. If you look harder, you might see the frayed cuffs of her school cardigan, made that way by her habit of pulling at them when she is anxious about something. If you look harder still, you might observe how she appears to be reluctant to look directly at you. Instead you’ll perhaps see her peering at you through her hair, or perhaps stealing a glance and then looking away again. If she’s noticed you studying her, it’s entirely possible that she’s now scowling at you. Her manners could use some work, to be sure. Her expression is probably so unfriendly that you’ve looked away again, uncomfortable with the idea that someone you don’t even know has apparently taken such a dislike to you. When you look back, you’ll see her skulking off. Ellie Gardiner is not an expert at making friends.

What you are less likely to have noticed about her is what makes Ellie special. Of course, we are all special in our own way, but Ellie has something about her that marks her as different to most other children – most other adults, in fact. To be fair to you, it isn’t something that can be easily seen or understood and it isn’t something Ellie is likely to talk to you about. She feels uncomfortable about it and, at this point in the story, she doesn’t understand it herself. She will, in time, but we are getting ahead of ourselves here. It’s best that we follow her story as it happens, at least as far as we can.

Ellie Gardiner, though she doesn’t know it yet, comes from a long line of curious people. I suppose you might say it runs in the family. You know, like some genetic illnesses can: haemophilia, for example. If one or both of your parents carry a genetic mutation in their DNA, you might inherit the mutation, or you might inherit the disease itself. This might be how Ellie came to inherit her special condition, although it is so rare that nobody has really studied it, so it’s hard to say for sure.

In the beginning, Ellie felt quite ‘normal’. She lived at home with her mother and they got on well. She had a close relationship with her grandmother, whom she saw for holidays and who only ever told her how marvellous she was and who seemed to delight in her company. If somebody believes you are wonderful and constantly proves it to you in their actions, you will believe them and start to feel as beautiful as they say you are. It’s why parents and teachers should always be on the lookout for ways to make you want to celebrate yourself. Unfortunately, you need more than one person to convince you of how superb you really are and you need to hear it more often than every now and then, when you go to visit them. Ellie didn’t quite have that. When she was still very young, younger than you are now, she and her mum ran into some problems. They were small problems at first – things like her mother feeling unwell and being unable to do as many of the things as she’d hoped for – but over time those problems joined forces and became bigger problems. They had to move house a few times, which meant moving school a few times. Never being able to get used to your surrounding means never quite being able to feel settled. Ellie got into the habit of expecting to move all over again. She became tired of leaving friends behind, of the inevitable breakups just before she left and so she gave up making friends altogether. This is actually a good deal harder than you think: humans are wired to make friends with other humans and it is hard to resist the pull of a friendly smile or an invitation to play. Ellie found that she had to push people away by becoming really quite disagreeable. Over time she became good at it. It was a way to protect herself from more hurt, she thought, but of course it only made life more difficult.

Eventually, hearing about this from some thirty or forty miles away, Ellie’s grandmother decided, ‘enough was enough,’ and suggested Ellie and her mother move in with her. Ellie’s mother was reluctant at first, but it seemed like a good idea to Ellie and that’s how she came to move house one more time and live at her grandmother’s. It’s also how come she finished primary school earlier than her peers and had more time than usual to kill, that long summer, before starting secondary school near to Gran’s house. ‘It’s not worth your while starting another primary school for just a few weeks, only to have to start all over again in September,’ said her grandmother. Ellie agreed.

The other thing that prompted Gran to keep a close eye on her granddaughter was an apparent health condition that Ellie was developing. At times, Ellie had begun  to feel the world was slipping away from her. She would feel faint and often fall to the ground, apparently losing consciousness for a few minutes. Later she would complain of hearing strange noises as she fell and feeling the world tilt. Her mother took her to the doctor, of course, and various causes were suggested, but none quite seemed to fit. One doctor even suggested she was making them up, as a way of drawing attention to herself. Ellie found this very insulting and almost laughable: hadn’t she spent the last few years trying to draw as little attention to herself as possible? Ellie continued having her ‘turns,’ as they called them, and her mother continued to worry. Gran thought, to herself, that it couldn’t hurt to simply keep a close eye on Ellie, to feed her up with good food and to try and remove as many of the stresses from her life as she could. Gran believed in curing a lot of ailments in this way.

And thus it was that Ellie found herself living in small village in Surrey, with plenty of time to herself and not many people around to share it with. Anyone her age was still in school, anyone not her age was most likely busy. Gran encouraged her to spend time out of doors and she began to explore the streets close to her new home. On one of her explorations, Ellie found a park, on the way to the sweet shop. She found that if she timed her visits for the morning, the older children were all at school and the younger children were mostly at preschool or toddler groups, so she pretty much had the place to herself. She enjoyed sitting on the swings, leaning back and watching the sky and the treetops move. She found her ‘turns’ became more infrequent and she was hopeful that they were stopping altogether. She was no stranger to her own company and came to view the park as ‘hers’.

One morning, as she arrived at the park, she was surprised to see a girl already sitting on the swings. She stopped for a moment, ducking behind a hedge so she could see the girl, without the girl seeing her. Ellie guessed that the girl was younger than herself – her feet were higher off the ground than Ellie’s when she sat on the swing – and she also noted that the girl wore a frown, as she often did herself. Deciding that the girl did not pose much of a threat, Ellie stood up from behind the hedge, pushed open the metal gate and entered the park. She really wanted to sit on the swings, but she had no wish to strike up a conversation, so she went for a the slide instead. She climbed up via the slope, which always seemed more fun than climbing the steps, turned around at the top and slid back down. As she reached the bottom, she noticed that the strange girl was leaning forward on the swing, elbows on thighs, head resting in her hands and staring at Ellie. Staring intently at her, in fact. ‘How rude!’ thought Ellie. She decided to ignore her and climbed the slide a second time. She paused at the top and looked over at the swings. There was the girl, still staring at her. Ellie slid down and asked, as casually as she could, ‘What are YOU looking at?’ To her surprise, the girl jumped, as if startled. She gawped at Ellie for a second and then quickly looked around and behind her. She looked back and made as if to say something in return, but instead she sat there with her mouth hanging open. Then she carefully and lightly gestured to herself.

‘Yes, you!’ Ellie replied. ‘There’s no one else here! Why are you looking at me all the time?’ She wouldn’t normally be this brave. In fact, she probably would have just left the park, but this girl really was very small and Ellie felt some rights in protecting her territory from this interloper.

The girl looked even more startled and said, ‘I didn’t think you could s…I thought you hadn’t noticed me.’

Ellie shrugged. This conversation wasn’t going anywhere and, frankly, she hadn’t time to pursue it. Actually, she had about ten weeks at her disposal, but she wasn’t thinking about that just now.

‘Sit on the other swing,’ said the girl.

Ellie looked at her. She did want to sit on the swing but she didn’t want to be bossed around by this girl. She shrugged again.

‘Please?’ the girl tried. ‘Nobody never talks to me here usually.’

Ellie knew how that felt. She softened a little. Plus, she really wanted to know, ‘Do you come here often?’

‘Sometimes,’ was the vague reply.

‘I’ve never seen you here before,’ Ellie remarked.

‘I seen you!’

Great, thought Ellie. Now she had a miniature stalker. Perhaps the girl had spied on her when she was busy watching the sky. Perhaps she had hidden behind the hedge as Ellie had just now. She wondered if the girl had seen her do that and felt slightly guilty. She sat on the other swing and waited, waited to see what might happen, if anything. It felt a bit odd, this hanging out with someone roughly her own age.

Nothing much happened, so Ellie asked, ‘Where are you from?’

‘Farm,’ said the girl. ‘Well, London really, but I’m here for now, aren’t I?’

‘I’m from near London but I’m living here. Well, for now, anyway.’ Ellie’s interest picked up. ‘What are you doing here, if you’re from London?’

”Vacuee,’ said the girl and Ellie raised an eyebrow. Did she mean ‘evacuee’, like they’d just learned about in school? She wondered if the girl meant ‘refugee’. She’d heard there were many about, seen the pictures on the news and heard Mum say how frightening it must be for these people, having to leave everything they’d ever known and journey out into goodness knows where, just looking for someone to protect them and say, ‘You’re safe here,’ and how many people refused to say that to them. Ellie had secretly vowed to say it, if the chance arose. Perhaps this was that chance, although the girl’s accent was so convincingly ‘London’ that she wondered how she’d had time to perfect it.

‘You what?’ asked Ellie.

‘E-vac-u-ee,’ said the girl, as though talking to an idiot. ‘Name’s June,’ she offered.

‘Ellie. What are you an evacuee from, exactly?’

‘War, of course,’ snorted June. ‘There’s bombs on London, haven’t you heard?’ she looked incredulous. ‘There was one just down the road, even, but everyone says I’m safer here in the countryside, so here I am.’

‘Hitler’s bombs?’ asked Ellie, fearful of looking a complete fool, but curious enough to risk it.

‘Yes! Who else’s?’ June gave a despairing shrug. Evidently she did think Ellie a fool.

‘But….June, the war ended in 1945.’

‘Did it?’ asked June. ‘So I’ve got…’ she counted on her fingers, evidently not a maths whizz, thought Ellie, ‘three more years of this?’

Ellie briefly considered it strange how June didn’t question Ellie’s apparent knowledge of the future. She must be lying for…for attention?

‘June, the war isn’t on now,’ Ellie offered, hoping to catch her out.

‘I know that, don’t I? It was on this morning, it’s not on now, it’ll be back on this afternoon. You must know that?’

Ellie looked at June with something between pity and exasperation. What an odd child, she thought.

‘Oh, or have you not done any yet? Sorry. I didn’t think about that. I didn’t think maybe you was just starting, you know?’

‘Just starting WHAT?’ Ellie demanded, utterly confused by this clearly crazy girl.

‘Oh, you really don’t know, do you? Sorry,’ and just like that, she was gone. Not gone as in ‘got up, walked off and left the park,’ but gone as in vanished – completely, in an instant!

Ellie sat there for a few moments, opening and closing her mouth like a goldfish, trying to work out what just happened. Had she just seen a ghost from the past? That must be it – there was no other explanation. She got up slowly and walked out of the park, like any normal person would, and walked home. She decided against telling Gran, who would most likely ask if Ellie had any other imaginary friends. Ellie was quite sure she hadn’t imagined this and, unless her ‘turns’ were taking a new direction, she simply couldn’t explain it in any way that would make sense. She decided not to try.