This is the complete first part of the novel I wrote for this years NaNoWriMo.
White cell, white stairs, everything so white it looked grey. Beyond the stairs, behind the metal bars and white clean doors, there was a cell, about 17 feet by 15 feet, bare apart from one bed, one toilet and one table with a porcelain jug of water on it. The rest was all white floors and walls. The girl sat on the bed, her knees drawn up to her chest. She was staring blankly at the wall opposite her. Occasionally her right hand flexed, clenched into a fist, unclenched, clenched, unclenched, again and again. Sometimes she sighed, not in terror but in boredom and agitation. She wasn’t afraid, only nervous and a little angry.
She could not say how long she had been sitting on the bed when she heard the sounds of movement in the pristine white corridor beyond the locked door of the cell. She leapt to her feet, eager and ready to fight if the tall strange humanoids with overly large heads and bodies that were too skinny to be human tried to inject her with anything or attempted to chop bits off her. They hadn’t threatened to do any of those things - yet - but she had heard stories of aliens performing experiments on innocent human prisoners and she wasn’t going to let it happen to her. She heard the futuristic lock - thousands of years ahead of her time - on the cell door click and the bottom half of the door slide away into the wall (the doors were in two halves, each half being about four feet high) and a young man - older than her, but still young - was pushed roughly into the cell. He had dark blonde hair, spiked up, and wore faded jeans and a red T-shirt bearing the slogan ‘Fuck forever: I just want you for one night’ written in white. He rolled over and backed up against the wall in fear, staring at both the girl and the door, eyes flitting from one to the other rapidly.
The girl was furious. She threw herself at the door and a dull metallic clang rang out, seeming to shake the whole room. There was a pane of thick frosted glass set into the top half of the door. Looking through it , she could see three tall figures walking slowly away. Ignoring the sudden pain in her ribs from the impact with the door, the girl kicked the door and shrieked. “I’m not going in a fucking breeding programme! You get him out of my cell!” After a pause she made a sound somewhere between a snarl and a scream and shouted, “I want to see the Terran ambassador - get her in this cell NOW. Let me out! Let me out you bastards.” She kicked the door a few more times, and punched it until the skin on her knuckles had been torn away, and finally let out a frustrated scream and sank to the floor exhausted, tears gathering in her eyes.
“Are you all right?”, the man asked. He had a Welsh accent, but not a strong one, more of a sing song lilt, quite gentle. The girl looked up at the sound of the voice.
“Of course I’m not all right. What sort of stupid question is that?” she snapped in his face and he winched, a fleck of spittle flying through the air and coming to rest on his cheek.
He rubbed it away and went to sit on the bed. “I’m sorry. I just thought…you know, we could have a conversation like civilised human beings.”
“Oh, fuck off.”
“I mean, what do you know about…well, do you know why we’re here?”
The girl snorted, “God knows. They’re aliens aren’t they? My friend’s grandma was impregnated with an aliens child and it had three arms. And it was blue and had fingers like tentacles.” She lifted a hand and waggled her fingers at him as a demonstration. He stared at her. “There was that lot of Ionians some people, took them to Mars and did experiments on them. Psychological, physical, sexual - you name it they did it. It was horrible. I’ve seen Camragraphs of it.”
The man was still staring at her in disbelief. “What? Where are you from?”
“Nottingham. Earth.” She added the ‘Earth’ as an afterthought when his clouded expression didn’t clear. “What about you then?”
“Is that the one on the Moon, or the one on the Venusian Space Station?”
“It’s in Wales. Near Cardiff? I live on Sea View Terrace…”
The girl started to giggle hysterically. “You can’t live in Wales. Wales went under the sea in 2549, so did most of the west coast of the URE. You’re delirious aren’t you? They’ve hit you or drugged you or something haven’t they?” She kicked the door again. “You fuckers!”
Mark stared at her. “What’s the URE?” The fact that his new companion was from a point several hundred years in his future had escaped him the moment.
“United Republic of England.”
“Where are you from?”
The girl sighed, “Nottingham. I’m from 2819.”
“You can’t be, this is the 21st century!” Mark looked at her, eyes wide with terror, “You’re mad! I’m from 2007 - look!” He pulled a brown leather wallet from his back pocket, fumbled through it and flung a piece of plastic card to the ground. She picked it up and looked at it dubiously. At first glance it appeared to be a credit card - the sort that in her time was used in snack machines and hairdressing booths - but when she read the writing it became clear that it was a sort of identity card. Written in Middle Anglo-English, the card gave details of the man’s date of birth, name and address. The words ‘Driving Licence’ were printed at the top.
“You needed a licence to drive back then?”
The man - Mark Daffyd Henson, born Decembers 27th 1982 - nodded.
“Wow…” the girl went back to reading the card. “We have licences for flying spaceplanes,” she said casually.
“Who’s we? When? Oh my God…I don’t believe I’m saying that…”
The girl handed the driving licence back to Mark and then settled cross legged on the floor in front if him. “I was born in 2798.” she said slowly, carefully, “I came from the year 2819. I’m sorry…but that’s the truth.” The man let out a strangled gasp and she reached out and took his hand. It felt good to feel the touch of another human being. To know that you weren’t completely alone. She smiled. “I’m Gwendolyn, by the way. Gwendolyn Carvetti.”
He managed a weak smile, “Mark Henson.”
“I know…” She gestured to the driving license that Mark was still holding like lifeline. Maybe it was - it was all the proof he had of where and when he had come from after all.
He put the plastic card away reverently and the asked what could be the most important question, “How long have you been here?”
“I have no idea. They took my phone. And my biowatch.”
“Biowatch?” That wary look came back into the man’s eye.
“It was in my ear - like an earring? All they left me was my wallet and a couple of credit slips - like I’m gonna need them…”
Mark nodded, “Yeah, they took my keys.” He paused, “What do you think they’re going to do to us?”
“Whatever the hell they want. You don’t want to know.” She turned away from him and stared at the wall.
Mark put a hand on her shoulder and tried to turn her back round to face him, but she was tense, and afraid, and she wasn’t budging. “Gwen, ” he started, “I think I have a ri-”
“Don’t call me ‘Gwen’,” she snapped, “It’s Gwendolyn. All right?”
“All right, Gwendolyn. Tell me, ok? What can they do to us? What about that Ambassador you were talking about? Maybe she can-”
“I don’t think we’re in the 29th century any more.” She pulled away and sat down on the bed again, right hand gripping the hard mattress, kneading it. Mark guessed that she was using it as a sort of stress reliever. He waited for a minute and then sat beside her.
“Not in the 29th century?”
Gwendolyn sighed. “Did you black out? Before you came here? Did you pass out?”
“I can’t remember. I remember leaving the house for work, and then bang, I was here. I don’t remember being knocked out or falling or anything, just of finding myself in a room with those….things.”
“I was walking home from my boyfriends house - Alex, he’s a maintenance guy on a space station, on leave - and it was dark and then suddenly everything went black. I thought I’d been shot when I first woke up, because everything was all hazy and sort of weird, like a Luako comedown only not as head crushing. But I was standing up, not lying down, so I couldn’t have passed out. It was like the teleports they have at the London station, but worse.”
“What does a teleport feel like?”
Gwendolyn thought as she pondered on how to explain the concept of moving from one place to the other instantaneously and what it did to you. “Think of the worst hangover ever, but one that only lasts about half a second. That’s your brain cells fitting back together again. The brain’s the most sensitive part of the body and that’s why it can feel the effects of the teleport. You get the other after effects later, like blurry vision and aching arms and things. I’ve only teleported twice and I was sick both times, It was awful.”
Mark had no time to reply because both halves of the door slid back with a sharp swoosh and three figures swept into the room. Two male, and one female, who was even taller then her male companions, almost eight feet tall, and she had to stoop a little to get inside Mark and Gwendolyn’s cell. The two males stood behind her, so it was clear to the imprisoned humans that she was their superior.
All three had black or very dark brown hair. The males wore blue coveralls with a long white coat, too big for them, with a hood over the top. The female wore the same thing, but with white coveralls and a blue coat. Her coat did not have sleeves but there were two holes for her arms to poke through. These were pale and very thin and had a sort of swirly tattoo pattern going along the length of her arm. The female simply stood there for a minute or two, just looking the prisoners over with amazing huge blue eyes.
Gwendolyn turned her face away nervously - she hated being stared at - and backed behind Mark, who was staring into the females eyes with his own dark brown ones. Watching him, Gwendolyn wondered if he was going to fly across the room and start attacking the female alien. But were these things aliens? She looked at the eyes again, and suddenly wasn’t so sure, although the thought that these were her own species - Christ almighty, even her own descendants - horrified her. There was complete silence in the room until the female spoke in a quiet musical voice. “Don’t be afraid. I have come to make sure you are all right and bring you food,” she spoke awkwardly as though she wasn’t used to speaking, or she wasn’t used to speaking their language. She turned her head briefly to look at one of the male attendants. He left the room and returned seconds later bearing a large tray with fruit and water and pieces of meat and something that looked like a very large piece of pale brown broccoli. The tray was placed on the table. The two humans looked at the tray curiously, looked back at the aliens but made no move to do anything about either of them.
After a pause the female said, “You are afraid. There’s no need.” She said this with a slight smile, slowly mocking them - the laughter would come later - and Gwendolyn felt something boil inside her.
“Of course we’re fucking afraid. You’d be afraid - not that anyone ever put you in a bloody white cell. See how you’d bloody like it!” Mark glanced down saw that her blue painted nails had almost disappeared into the fabric of the mattress.
“I am sorry.”
“Well you’re doing this for a reason aren’t you? What? You know, what is it? Tell us! Mark!” She prodded him hard in the side. He yelped in surprise and sudden pain why did she have to stick her nails in him? That had probably drawn blood.
“You want them to tell us what they’re doing don’t you?”
Mark wanted a beer and a sleep, a long sleep, away from all this madness. “Yeah, course.”
“See? Tell us.” Now it was Gwendolyn’s turn to stare at the aliens. Now she was angry - more than fucking angry - there would be no intimidating her. Mark noticed that the male attendants had lifted small pen like devices form their overall pockets, and could only guess that they were for sedating the humans.
He nudged her gently “Gwen…” She ignored him.
The alien female looked around the room, glanced at the human prisoners and finally seemed to come to a decision. “I am not authorised to tell you the exact details. I will get one of my superiors to speak with you soon.”
“Liar!” Gwendolyn snapped, but stayed where she was. She liked the look of those pen things even less than Mark did.
“Gwendolyn. Can you state your name and date of birth please?”
Gwendolyn blinked in surprise and gave the alien a funny sideways look. After a slight pause she said “Ok. My name is Gwendolyn Rose Carvetti. Birth date 14th April 2798.”
“And how old are you now? In months as well as years please.”
“21 years and 2 months.”
Mark saw the aliens eyes suddenly go blank. No - more than blank, it was as though her entire brain had shut down for a few seconds, or else that her mind was elsewhere. Her mouth went slack and her head cocked slightly to one side. After a few seconds, the eyes began to blaze blue fire again and the head jerked to attention on the short neck. “I’m sorry Gwendolyn, but that information is inaccurate.”
“All right then.”
“Can you please clarify?”
Gwendolyn sighed. “All right. My name is Gwendolyn Rose Joanna Carvetti. Joanna is my mum’s name.” She finished, with an accusing tone to her voice.
The alien smiled slightly and said, “That is correct, thank you Gwendolyn. Now, Mark, can you tell me…” She went back through the entire sequence with Mark and found his answers to her liking.
Then Gwendolyn said icily, “Ok - now its our turn. I’m not answering any more of your stupid questions and if you ask any I swear to the gods I’ll kill you.”
The alien smiled that simpering little smile again. Under any other circumstances - on a face that Mark could properly identify with another human being - that smile could be translated as being warm and supposed to be comforting, but on her face it was aggravating, mocking both of them.
“I have told you, one of my superiors will be visiting you in a day or two,” she said patiently.
“Get them in here now. Don’t you know the average humans lifespan is three days? You’d better hurry up!” Gwendolyn snapped back at the alien sarcastically.
Mark said quickly, “She doesn’t mean that. Can’t you tell us anything? Can you tell us where we are?”
The female paused for a few seconds, considering Mark’s calmness. “La Temperanza Space Station. We are currently orbiting the planet Earth.”
“And when are we?” Gwednolyn asked, trying to adopt a softer tone.
“Seventy thousand and twenty nine.”
“What?” Gwendolyn wasn’t sure she’d heard correctly.
“This is the year seventy thousand and twenty nine,” the alien repeated.
“What, as in seven, zero, zero, two, nine?”
“You are joking…you aren’t joking are you…oh fuck…” There was a sudden thump to the right of where she was sitting. Mark had fallen off the bed in a faint.
CHAPTER 2: 70029
Gwendolyn fussed around nervously while the male aliens lifted Mark on to the bed and did things like feeling his forehead and checking his pulse and wiping clean the little cut on his brow where he’d hit himself on the side of the metal bed. The female hovered in the background, asking the other aliens questions in their own language, that Gwendolyn couldn’t be bothered to try and decipher. Mark groaned as he regained consciousness a couple of minutes later. Satisfied he was going to be all right, Gwendolyn spun round to face the female alien. “Why are we here then? What are you going to do to us now? I can tell you now for nothing - you’re not breeding us. No fucking way in hell.”
The alien looked confused and smiled that stupid condescending smile again, the one that made Gwendolyn want to smack her. “Sit down, Gwendolyn.”
“Very well.” The alien picked up the chair and turned to leave.
“You’re not going? First you knock my mate out and then you just bugger off…” she grabbed hold of one of the female’s thin arms and pulled. The alien screamed and one of the little pen like things was stabbed into Gwendolyn’s arm before she even saw it. She lashed out at the male alien that had injected her, but then found that she couldn’t move. Gwendolyn’s nerves flashed with a dull pain and she sank to the floor, legs and arms flailing weakly as her nervous system shut down. She stared up at the aliens accusingly as they turned away and moved out of the door. “Come back! We haven’t finished!” she tried to say, but it came out as a garbled mess.
The female alien looked behind her at Gwendolyn and smiled gently. “No we haven’t, Gwendolyn. If you would like it, I will come back later on, when you feel slightly more amenable. I think you will go to sleep now for a few hours. When you wake up you will be able to move again and you might have something to eat. I will see you later.” Gwendolyn was unconscious when the white door slid shut.
“What the fuck did they do to me?” were Gwendolyn’s first groggy words when she awoke. She tried to move, but her arms and legs wouldn’t obey what her brain was trying to tell them and she toppled off the bed ungracefully. “Oww!” she bleated Mark giggled at her performance, and pressed a glass of water into her hand as he helped her into a sitting position.
“Shut up, Cardiff!” she looked down at the water rippling softly in the glass and her head reeled in pain, a sudden feeling of nausea rising from her stomach; the sickness you feel when in the grip of a terrifying headache. “Gods…my head!” She took a sip of the water and shuddered at the stale, over recycled taste.
Mark watched her carefully. “She came in about an hour ago to see if you were up yet.”
“That alien bird? That’s big of her. Did she say when she was coming back?”
Mark shrugged. Gwendolyn’s eyes fixed on the table; the tray of food was still there, untouched. “Is that all right? That food?”
“Yeah, you can have the meat - I don’t eat it.” Gwendolyn looked at him like he’d grown a second head, shrugged and said.
“Actually I wouldn’t touch it either. I don’t know what it is. It could be anything - could be people…”
She tottered over to the table - her leg muscles weren’t fully awake yet and Mark had to help her get across the room. Once there, Gwendolyn leaned on the table - there were no chairs - picked up a piece of fruit and nibbled on it dubiously. “It’s like pear…and that’s like strawberries, but sweeter. It’s normal fruit, but it’s been bred properly.”
“Like in The Time Machine,” mused Mark.
The sound of footsteps in the corridor made then freeze suddenly, until they heard the sound of their lock popping open, and then Gwendolyn leapt to her feet, nearly falling over. The same female alien they had spoken to earlier poked her came into the room, accompanied by only one of her attendants. She smiled at Gwendolyn.
“I’m glad you are feeling better, Miss Carvetti.”
“Oh, it’s ‘Miss Carvetti’ now, is it? You got some manners at last? About time…after you’ve kidnapped us and injected us with whatever the hell it was.”
Mark put a hand on her arm, having the distinct feeling that he was trying to rear a skittish horse in. “Gwendolyn…chill. It won’t help.”
She gave him a withering look but made no effort to shake him off.
The alien spoke again. “I am sorry. I would like to speak to you, not on captor and prisoner terms, but on terms of equality.”
“That’s nice. You could start by putting an extra bed-”
Mark shook her arm again, harder this time. “Let her finish will you? Go on,” he said to the alien.
“My name is Vanda. I am a a military commander on this space station. You said you wanted to know why you are here?”
“That’s right.” Gwendolyn said dryly, but at least she was making an effort to curb her rage this time.
“You are here to help us fight a war, to win back our planet, and your planet.”
There was a silence in the white room, until at last Mark asked; “Against whom?”
“The Overlords. Our species has fought with them for centuries. Once we lived with them, side by side. But while our bodies became weak and our minds took precedence, their bodies grew stronger and they were able to regenerate their body tissue at will. When we had to leave Earth, they took it over. We are human, although to you we might not look it, and we would like to have our home back.” She looked imploringly at the humans.
“What, just us?” Gwendolyn was staring at her doubtfully.
“No, there are thousands of humans we have taken out of their time-lines when the human body was strong, and more able to cope with…physical trauma and war. We can not even breathe the air on our planet. Now we have the technology to change the air pressure to one that will suit us, but we have to regain possession of our planet before we can do that.”
Gwendolyn couldn’t see a flaw in the story, but she wanted some more answers. “So these Overlords…what are they?” “They are the other descendants of humans - or at least part of them is human. We don’t know where they came from - the future or another universe. We cannot tell.”
“So what the hell are we supposed to do to get your Earth back?” asked Mark.
Vanda shrugged, a gesture that was so poignantly human, and yet so completely like an alien pretending to be human that it gave Mark the chills. “Infiltrate, fight them, learn their ways and use it against them. There are whole armies of humans on Earth, people from the 1800’s right up to when our bodies began to weaken.”
“But why us? Why pick a few people out of millions and millions and billions?”
“We know your histories. We have picked people who have shown particular strengths. You, and all the other people taken from time, have their own qualifications that make them suitable for our purpose. I think if you look deep enough you will know. You have all survived different wars and pain.”
The alien was right on that one at least, even she was wrong, or had lied about almost everything else. The people the superhumans had lifted from their own time zones, Mark and Gwendolyn included, were chosen as ones most likely to fight, because of things they had experienced previously. The truth was that the superhumans had detected disturbances on the Earth and were sending the stolen humans in as canaries in the hope that they would be driven to fix the problems on the planet they knew as home.
Intermission: We all had our reasons to be there.
Gwendolyn was sixteen, Donny was seven and a quarter. Donny was always running off and getting into trouble, especially when there was an air raid going on. Gwendolyn was more like a mother to him than a sister. Gwendolyn and Donny’s mother was just a little bit on the old side when she gave birth to her son (she was forty three) and after the birth she wasn’t that interested in him, and left her daughter to try and find an early maternal instinct at the age of eight. It wasn’t that Joanna Carvetti abandoned her son, but she didn’t seem to do a lot in the way of bringing up Donny. It was Gwendolyn who played with him, taught him to read, knew what his favourite meals were and generally mothered him for the seven years of his life, but the one thing she neglected to teach him was not to play in abandoned buildings.
He was hanging around in an old factory building on his own, playing at soldiers, or hunting or spying, or one of the millions of stupid games he liked to play by himself, when the accident happened. The had been an air raid a few days before, and the factory had been hit, not badly enough to make it collapse straight away, but badly enough to make it unstable. Thanks to the vibrations of Donny’s feet on the metal floor, the roof and one of the walls caved in, burying the small boy under the rubble. He was rescued, but his injuries were dreadful, and his parents agreed with the doctors that it would be better for everyone if Donny’s life support system was switched off. Gwendolyn didn’t get a say in the matter. She blamed her mother for the accident, and went to live with her boyfriend simply to escape from her. By the time Gwendolyn was nineteen, her mother had moved to a quiet hamlet just outside the Martian Dominion in Atlanta, and Gwendolyn went to live with her father. The family became a half shell.
Mark was in London on a fortnights holiday with some friends when the whole world seemed to explode around him. He could never have imagined a capital city where there were bombs going off all about his ears. It was the 7th of July, 2005. Two years after that, to the day, the world exploded in another way for Mark Henson - he left his house and woke up in a different time with a woman who was eight hundred years younger than he was.
He knew five people who were hurt in those bombings and one of them was his best friend, Martin Foresby, who lost his left arm up to the elbow and committed suicide as a result of depression. Mark wouldn’t ride on a bus or a train for three months after that, and the first time he did, he had to get off after five minutes because the screaming horrors were making him feel sick. He had done nothing except survive; he hadn’t helped, hadn’t put his coat on top of someone else to keep them warm, even though he was too hot.
But he remembered holding an old man’s hand - the man was simultaneously having a heart attack and the world’s biggest panic attack - and telling him that everything was going to be alright, even though both Mark and the old man were crying and Mark knew the old man was going to die, and the man knew it too. Sometimes all you needed to do was hold some one’s hand and comfort them; sometimes it was all the help you could give. The man had had a nail that was ragged - on the smallest finger - and he remembered the nail digging into the flesh of his hand. When the man was dead Mark looked at his hand and there was a pink crescent shaped mark there. Sometimes he could still see its shadow imprinted on his palm.
CHAPTER 3: Home
Home. Home was where the heart was. Home was 15,000 miles below them them, and 68,000 years older than either of them remembered it.
Mark wanted a window - he desperately needed to look at something that wasn’t the same plain four walls, o the ceiling, or the patterns he could make on the table with water. He needed to breathe clean air, real air, not because of any real physical need, but because it would make him feel human again, instead of feeling like a rat in a cage waiting to be experimented on. Today, six days of being here in this wretched white cell, he was leaning against the wall, arms wrapped around his knees, feeling generally sorry for himself and depressed. He glanced up at Gwendolyn, who was tapping out a tune on one of the walls, Why was she coping with this so much better than he was?
“Yes, Cardiff?” She had become a lot more pleasant over the last couple of days, but Mark still didn’t think she liked him much. He wasn’t actually sure why she called him ‘Cardiff’, but supposed it was some insult based on the fact that in her time, Wales was underwater. He watched how she behaved and realised that she was a lot younger and more vulnerable than she made herself out to be with her sarcastic wit and pretence that she didn’t care about anyone else but herself.
There was a lot more to Gwendolyn Carvetti than met the eye, certainly.
“How long do you think they’re going to keep us here?”
“They’ll probably want to condition us first., Brainwash us. Stick something in our brains that will make us do everything they tell us to.” She seemed to find pleasure in all this doom-saying.
“Right.” Mark said flatly, stretching his legs out in front of him, and staring straight ahead, at the wall.
Gwendolyn glanced at him in surprise. “Ok…I’m sorry I didn’t mean that. I keep forgetting that you think I know more about this stuff than you do. I don’t - we’re not that much different from you in our time. Nothing much changes - you just hope it does.”
Maybe Gwendolyn seemed happier because she was better at finding ways to fill her hours than he was - she walked around the cell or an hour every day, whistling and humming to herself, and she did yoga as well, sometimes. Above all, her favourite pastime was yelling at the aliens when they came to pout food through he door. Mark wondered if she thought of everything awful she was going to scream at them while she was sitting listlessly on the floor or on the table, or lying on the bed staring up at the ceiling. They didn’t even inject her any more, apparently realising that she only shouted and raged at them to satisfy her own fear, and would not actually hurt them. Gwendolyn had spent most of the first three days unconscious from the sedatives and whinging that her legs and arms were paralysed and that she was going to die. Once Mark absurdly asked the human aliens for a transfer, only to be faced with a blank look and the frightening reply of ‘You were chosen together. You will remain together.”
They didn’t talk much - Mark didn’t think he wanted to know what had happened in the 812 years between them, and Gwendolyn clearly had no interest in his time, considering she’d probably learnt about it at school, but they did enjoy speculating about why they were there.
“it’s a thing - a conspiracy thing, like what Muse sing about.” said Mark, “Like they’re not really people, or what people became, but they are aliens who want to take over the Earth form its rightful owners, and they are just using us as cannon fodder.”
“You’ve been watching too much sci-fi!” said Gwendolyn on one of the rare occasions when she laughed. Her favourite theory was that there were two different types of human - the super intelligent kind and the super strong kind, and they were both vying for supremacy of the Earth using their different strengths. Mark told her she was lifting her idea straight out of The Time Machine by H.G Wells. In return she told him that she had never heard of H. G. Wells, and as he was dead, it was neither his problem nor her problem.
Mark and Gwendolyn didn’t know everything about Earth’s current situation, which was soon to become their situation as the time they were destined to return to their home planet drew ever closer.
CHAPTER 4: Nancy
Nancy pulled herself out of the tumbled undergrowth , desperately trying not to make any noise - that had almost been her downfall a couple of days back. The frayed edge of her wool skirt caught against one of the thorny bushes and she winced, instantly freezing and listening for any noise. When she was sure there was nothing heading in her direction, she carefully took hold of the material and tugged it free, tearing it even more, but she didn’t much care about that any more. Modesty was not the issue here. Nonetheless, she rubbed at the blackening stains on her white blouse and stroked at her matted brown hair vaguely. How long since she had washed it? Two weeks? Three? Four? Counting back the days, she realised it was now 22 days since the whatever-they-were’s had kidnapped her. She had thought it was heaven at first - all that whiteness, and the idyllic fruit, and the tall, beautiful people. She had thought they were angels - ha! You can forget all of that, Nancy Warren, God is dead ad he ain’t coming back. Mr. O’Reilly would kill himself laughing at that one.
Thinking of her employers suddenly brought a wave of homesickness crashing down about her ears. She worked as a maid in Dublin for Mr and Mrs O’Reilly and their four spoilt brats. She ordinarily hated her job, but at this moment she would give anything to hear Mrs Peter, the housekeeper, screeching at her for not dusting the mantel properly, or oversleeping for five minutes, or Mrs. O’Reilly telling her off for bringing little Imogen’s supper in to the nursery too hot, or too cold, or with not enough sugar in it. Above all, Nancy wanted to see her mother and sister. Rose would be twelve now; quite the young lady, but like her sister, she would be doomed to go into service as a maid in a couple of years. Their father had died of the Scarlet Fever on top of a chest infection four year sago in 1864, when Nancy was twelve herself. She started working when she was 13, to keep her family in food and clothes.
Unlike Gwendolyn and Mark, Nancy had been told nothing of why she was here by the Superhumans, but after surviving for a week in the ruined planet Earth, she had a fair inkling of what use she was. She also had a fair idea that she was going to die soon - from hunger, cold, being generally sick, or that she would be killed - although the survival instinct in her was strong. and she still hoped for a miracle in which she would be returned ti her home and her family. o
Something shot suddenly through the undergrowth, in front of Nancy’s nose but too fast for her to see it, and she stifled a shriek, startled and terrified. The Nancy Warren of three weeks ago would have screamed at anything and everything - from the O’Reilly’s cat bringing in a mouse, to Mrs Peter dropping a cooking pan. Her mum always used to joke about Nancy’s nerves and said she’d drop dead of something awful by the time she was 25. Nancy now knew that wasn’t true. If her nerves were going to kill her, they would have put her out of her misery by now, and something awful was probably going to get her very shortly.
Something heavy was coming through the bushes now. Nancy gripped a branch tightly, trying to stop herself from fleeing, or screaming, or being sick, and willed herself to remain completely still. She inched a little to the left, where she knew the failing light would not penetrate through the thick greenery and waited, for whatever it was to either pass, or snatch her from her hiding place.
Whatever it was passed in front of her line of sight - it was one of them all right. Nancy began to tremble. It looked around, nostrils quivering - in her fear, she could see everything - and a long thin line of saliva dripped from its chin. This creature had one very long canine tooth that hung over its bottom lip, but the one on the other side was missing. As she watched it snarled suddenly and bolted off, plunging into some other bushes, in search of prey or going to defend its territory from another of its kind, just as Nancy was wondering if she was going to faint. She breathed a deep sigh of relief as she watched its retreating back and reached down into the litter of leaves, turning over rotting matter and sandy soil to revel a long stick with a sharpened point. She had spent hours rubbing and scraping the edge of the stick to make a sort of sword like weapon. It was useful for protection, for hunting, and it would become useful to use on herself if it ever came to that.
Nancy picked it up and clutched it to her chest as she stepped fully out from the tangle of bushed and low trees.
There was a house she spent the nights in, about half a mile away, made of grey stone with a black slate roof. She shared it with a family of stoatlike creatures - the adult wouldn’t come anywhere near her and hissed when it saw her, but the four young ones often played with her hair while she was sleeping. Nancy was grateful for the companionship. She had seen no other human beings for five days, since her companion, Harrin, who was from the year 2537, was killed by one of the humanoid monsters. Nancy did not want to imagine that thousands of years ago those things could have been people like herself, but as she saw more and more of them and saw the similarities between herself and them in looks and some behavior she found it harder and harder to chase the thought from her mind. She held the stick at a stabbing angle as she walked into a clearing, the wet grass clinging to her bare ankles like cold snakes. Not far to her house - she could just about see it, even though it was really too dark to see now.
Nancy knew she was going to die here, on the ruined shell of her home planet, but she determined to live as long as she possibly could.
CHAPTER 5: Return
Gwendolyn looked around her groggily, and wondered if she was still dreaming. The white cell - all that whiteness - had been replaced by green and brown and sandy beige while she was asleep. She felt a chilly breeze blowing at her hair and touching her face. It was the first time she’d felt fresh air on her skin for over a fortnight. Did it use to smell like that or had it changed? Gwendolyn closed her eyes and took a deep breath - the air tasted moist, and cool, and strangely, it tasted old.
She sat up and looked around more closely. There were very few buildings in the distance, Gwendolyn could make them out about a mile away and more. The area around her was covered in long, thick grass, with a few sick looking trees scattered about, but no animal life that she could see. It looked as though the Earth had reclaimed it’s own body and stripped itself of everything man made, killing all life in the process. Oh hang on though - there was life - a little flying insect, almost ethereal in its slightness, hovered near her face and irritably she brushed it away.
She looked down at Mark - he was still asleep. Of course, he would be less able to cope with the teleport than she was. She looked around again, at the bright sky, rampant greenery and occasional insect.
“Fuck,” she said thoughtfully. Now they were in a fix all right. How the hell were they going to get out of this one?
She watched Mark, and waited for him to wake up. When his eyelids flickered, she bent down beside him and took his arm gently, shaking him out of unconsciousness. “Mark…come on lad…wake up.”
“Whassa? Whose…oh. Where are we?” He was still too groggy to feel any alarm.
She paused for a minute trying to find the right word. “Earth,” she said eventually.
“Oh my god….”
“Yes, I know.” She started to pull him to his feet. “Come on”
He looked confused. “Where are we going?”
“Out of here,” she replied confidently.
Mark glanced dubiously around at the grass and lack of any technology whatsoever, and looked back at her, one eyebrow raised, “And how are we going to do that?”
“I don’t know…teleport I suppose. If it can bring us here, it can take us back.”
“And then you’re going to see about getting us home?”
“Yeah.” Mark didn’t like the sound of that slight hesitation. She turned her purple-blue eyes on to him. “Are you ok?”
“I don’t know. I feel like I’ve been taken apart and stitched back together.”
Mark wondered if he was going to puke. He sank back to the floor, where it seemed safer and stared at the world again, bewildered. Gwendolyn watched him. “Do you think you can walk?” she asked eventually.
He nodded. “I think so. Where are we going to get food from?”
“Is that all you can think about?”
“If we don’t eat, we’ll die.”
“There’s a lot of ways we can die. Come on.” She helped him up again, and they started to walk over the tall grass, which was browning in the strong sunlight. There was a small hut, made from greyish looking stone, probably a few miles away. They could only see it as a small house shaped speck in the distance. “Let’s aim for that building over there - we’ll need shelter later.”
Mark didn’t reply. He didn’t think he had to.
“We’ve got to find out where the other teleportals are.”
Mark was starting to get just a little bit fed up of Gwendolyn telling him what to do. Because she was from a more advanced time (and where was the proof of that anyway?) she thought she was better than him, with her idiotic jokes about Wales falling into the sea and talking about things like teleports as though they were planes. Bitch.
“What do mean why?” she sounded incredulous, not annoyed, and she was smiling.
“Why do we need to find where the other teleports are? Can’t we just hang around that one and work out how to find a way back?”
“Doesn’t work like that. You’ve got to bypass the whole system. These are one way ones. I’d have to reprogramme everything.”
Mark stared at her. “How are you going to do that?”
“I don’t know,” she admitted. She pulled a tiny metal device out of the pocket of her black jeans and showed it to him. She must have taken from the site of the teleportal without him noticing. “You just reset it somehow. It’s not that much more advanced than it was in my time.”
“Were you an expert on teleportals in your tine?”
“No, but I know how to pick a lock,” Gwendolyn giggled at his blankly horrified look. “You learn things like that when you’re in the middle of a war,” she said, and started walking again, leaving Mark to catch up with her.
After about half an hour of walking, a small animal - it looked like a wombat but a lot smaller - scuttled in front of them, uttering a frightened high pitched chacking noise as it scarpered. Of course, Gwendolyn had to go blundering after it, making a ridiculous squeaking noise with her lips pressed together. She returned a few minutes later, looking sheepish. “It might have been intelligent,” she explained, feeling Mark’s irritable eyes on her.
“What? Did you expect it to have the head of Einstein and start spouting equations and the theory of relativity at you?” Mark snapped. He was tired and hungry, and his hayfever was playing up. He wasn’t used to this sort of exercise on a regular day, never mind after a fortnight of being stuck in a little cell with a girl who, he was convinced, thought she was god.
“At least it proves that there is some vaguely intelligent life here - not just insects and plants.”
“How do you know they;re not the intelligent ones?” Ok, he didn’t really care - he just wanted to challenge her assumed authority over him.
“Fact of life - most intelligent beings are at least cat sized, Any smaller and we’re just not on the same wave length.” So scientific, so proud of herself, so fluffed up in her own confidence.
“A bit like us then? You and me.”
She stopped abruptly and look up at him. “Mark…look, this is better than the cell isn’t it? At least we’re doing something.”
“It was safe in the cell. God only knows what’s in those bushes.”
She glanced around at the bushes, speculatively, and then looked around not wanting to met his eye.
“Ok…we’ll get up to that house, we’ll get there before it gets dark and then tomorrow you can stay there while I go out and look for the teleportal devices. Is it ok?”
“No. I wouldn’t stay in there on my own anyway. And we’ll be safer if we stay together.” no way was she leaving him on his own, No way.
Gwendolyn wrinkled her nose, almost playfully. “There you go being all chivalrous…looking after the poor wee girly.” Then her face sobered and she smiled, suddenly looking very sad. “I don;t know how to get out of this either you know. I’m only doing what I know how to do.”
To her surprise, Mark put his arm around her. “I think we need to find some more people.”
“Safety in numbers?”
“That’s the one. They still have that saying in your time then?”
She smiled, then looked down at her feet. “I don;t think that one ever goes out of fashion.” She said in a strangely thick, husky voice. When she didn’t move for a few minutes, Mark realised with some shock that she was crying. A tear splattered on to the sandy ground with an audible splash. He;d never seen her cry before, and it was unnerving to see such a strong person break down. She leaned her head on his shoulder, yet pushed away from him at the same time, and he understood that she wanted to have her own space for a bit, and backed off.
“I’ll come back in a bit yeah?”
She looked up, a bauble of moisture halfway down her cheek. As he watched it tricked further, grazed her lip, and fell from her chin on to the ground. “Don’t.” Gwendolyn rubbed her face with her sleeve. “I’m all right now.” To prove her point, she started to walk again, but making sure she kept a step or two ahead of him, not wanting him to see her face.
It was Gwendolyn who broke the silence about a while later, having apparently recovered from her bout of misery. “What do you think we’re going to do about food anyway?”
“Do you know how to make a trap?”
“What about how to shoot?”
“They didn’t teach you much in that war did they?”
She gave him such a distressed and withering look that he wished he’d never opened his gob. Mind you, she had started this conversation. “I’m sorry,” he said weakly.
“So am I! I didn’t exactly slot this into my busy schedule you know.”
“Of course not…” Anything to make her not kill him.
Gwendolyn glared at him for a moment, breathing loudly in fury, and turned abrubtly away. “We’d best get on before it starts to get dark.” she threw the words casually over he shoulder as she started to walk.
She froze when the sound of a low snarling cry was heard in the distance. A cry of triumph or pain. Or something calling. Mark looked at Gwendolyn’s ghastly pale face and knew that must be how his own face looked right now - all the blood had drained away from, the fear. “Did that sound like a bear to you?” asked Gwendolyn.
“How am I supposed to know what a bear sounds like? I’m from Wales!”
“They are extinct where I come from,” she replied, quick as a bullet. “Until they cloned them.” she added thoughtfully.
Gwendolyn cocked her head, listening. “It sounded like a bear, or something about that size”
“I thought it sounded human.”
“Don;t say that.” she looked around her once more and then took hold of Mark’s arm and pulled, “Lets get out of here.” She said.
For the first time she didn’t look angry, or spiteful, or sarcastic, she looked tired and frightened and young and vulnerable. She was so unprepared for the idea of possible death.
Whatever those things were, it soon became obvious that the dark was bringing them out of hiding - the lowing sounds increased as the sun dropped further below the horizon. Once there was a rustle in the undergrowth and Gwendolyn let out a stifled little shriek of terror, her nails digging into Marks’ arm deep enough to draw a speck of blood.
All of a sudden, without any verbal decision, they both started running. Something squealed behind them. “Are you alright Gwen?” Mark yelled behind him, he turned his head a little and saw her running behind him, panting, arms pumping the air, head pointed down to the ground. The little grey house still seemed like it was miles away, and eventually the two of them collapsed on the grass, wheezing at the exertion.
“We’re going to die aren’t we?” Gwendolyn muttered. Mark could hardly hear her as her mouth and throat were so dry from gulping in massive mouthfuls of cold fast moving air.
“Let’s keep moving. If we stay here too long one of those things might find us.”
Gwendolyn nodded but made no effort to stand up. Her legs felt like jelly. She thought she might have pulled one of her muscles in their mad dash. “We don’t even know what they are…” she started to protest.
“Predators.” Mark interrupted, ignoring her glare. “I don;t think I want to know any more than that. You stay if you want…do some nature watching.”
“You wouldn’t leave me.” said Gwendolyn, hopping up and nearly falling over again, worried that her weakened legs wouldn’t support her.
Mark put out a hand to catch her should she fall and grinned bitterly. “You want to watch me?” she shook her head.
They started to walk again, looping their arms around each other like wounded war time comrades helping each other to safety. “It’s not that far now. Only about a mile…” Gwendolyn pointed at the house.
“I wonder where we are…” Mark said suddenly.
“Earth,” Gwendolyn sounded testy.
“No…I mean, where on Earth are we? What country.”
She sighed, “Who cares?”
“I don;t know why. If your going to get killed by a bear or whatever our little friends are, why do you care where you are?”
“It’ll help us to find rivers.”
She snorted derisively. “Do you really think the rivers will be the same as they were 68 thousand years ago? We could try to find the sea I suppose…no…we’d need a compass…”
Mark was staring up at the moon and the darkening sky, trying to find constellations that he knew. Unfortunately the only one he did knew was the three stars that made up the belt of Orion, and there were a lot of groups of 3 stars in a line. Eventually he shook his head and looked down - it was making him dizzy, staring up at the sky like that.
Gwendolyn was looking up as well, at the moon.
“It’s amazing. Everything else has changed, but the moon…the moon always stays the same.” A smile crossed her face as she looked at the white glowing disc.
CHAPTER 6: Human
A creature ran in front of them. Gwendolyn made to bolt, but Mark snatched hold of her round the waist. She struggled and looked him in the eye, mouthing ‘What the hell are you doing, you freak?’
“Stay still,” he whispered fiercely in her ear. She elbowed him in the ribs spitefully, but then settled down. “Don’t run. You won’t have a chance.” He whispered, before slowly releasing is hold on her. The creature had paused and was moving its head around, watching for movement. Neither of the humans dared to breathe or move even a finger. In the darkness they could just make out that it was humanoid, but not human. It crouched too much and its back was sort of bent over into a slight ‘n’ shape. The shadow of hair looked thick, matted, and reached down its back. Ii was female, judging from the bulge of cloth around its chest. The creature made a sort of yickering sound and ran straight at them. Now it was Marks turn to bolt, and Gwendolyn grabbed him before he could start to move, pulling him down to the ground with her. The creature sank its surprisingly sharp teeth into his left calf and it made a contended purring noise.
Gwendolyn was in a good position in the floor. she rolled over and planted a booted foot in the creatures side, knocking it over, and it released its hold on Mark and growled in anger. It turned to face her and she was stunned at how human the face was, despite the vague animal stupidity. It made to pounce on her and she kicked it again swiftly, it fell to the floor, but leapt back up again in an instant, snarling, spittle dripping to the ground.
Gwendolyn dodged and the creature swiped a hunk of flesh from her arm. “Aaaah!” she wailed, looking at the scratch as it filled with blood. The creature paused, licking its hands, seeming to relish the taste of blood. Then it pounced. It wasn’t a dog, and lacked the speed with which a dog could snap. Gwendolyn kicked and struggled underneath the creature, her small body dwarfed by the hefty half human demon. “Maaaark” she shrieked, “Fucking help me!” The creature squealed as she managed to punch it in the breast, she punched it again and escaped form under it while it was reeling from the shock, and landed a couple of kicks to its body while it was helpless. “Run!” she yelled, charging past Mark, who was still staring at the creature in horror.
Their attacker was not floored for long, however ran after them with a dog like persistence. “Give us a break!” snapped Mark, clutching at his leg just under the wound, trying to staunch the blood flow. “We’re going to have to kill it.” he said to Gwendolyn. She looked at him doubtfully, and shrugged off her jacket, twisting it into a sort of lasso.
Gwendolyn gripped the twisted up jacket with both hands and lashed out at the creature as it loomed up behind her, cracking the jacket at it like a whip. The creature snarled back at her and tried to snatch the piece of cloth out of her hands, The two of them began to circle in a deadly sort of cross between a fencing match and a courtship dance. Gwendolyn, being light on her feet and less beaten then the creature, was looking like she had the upper hand. Mark watched fascinated, until both of them seemed to be utterly engrossed in the others movements, and then Gwendolyn suddenly shouted, “Go for her Mark, knock her over!”
The creature yelped in surprise at the sound of her voice and gave a loud annoyed snarl before springing at Gwendolyn. Mark threw himself at the creature in the same instant and the two of them tumbled to the ground. “Hold her down.” Gwendolyn smiled at him gratefully as she stood above the creature, and while it was still struggling to shake Mark off, Gwendolyn looped the twisted rope of jacket round its neck and pulled it tight. The creature howled in dismay and tried to free itself, throwing its shoulders and head around madly. Gwendolyn pulled the makeshift noose tighter in response to the creatures struggles and Mark could see that her knuckles were white with the strain of holding the human beast fast. She shook the material vigorously as though she was playing a tug of war game with a dog, in an effort to make the creature let go of the jacket.
Eventually, it did lose its grip and decided to concentrate on scratching at Gwendolyn’s arms instead. Gwendolyn cried out as it clawed a deep gouge in the flesh of her wrist. She refused to release her hold, and simply kicked the creature again savagely, and yanked on the rolled up jacket, almost falling backwards with the effort. The creature howled in once again, and on the second tug Gwendolyn gave on the noose, Mark heard a sharp cracking sound as its neck broke. He looked up in time to see its head lolling down on its left shoulder, a trickle of blood gathering in its mouth and then dribbling down the length of its outstretched tongue. The eyes - once a surprising gentle sky blue - had rolled up into their sockets, nothing but blue marbles that would do no more rolling.
Gwendolyn was standing over the body, nursing her injured wrist and peering down at the dead creature, not saying anything. Finally she tugged the jacket free of its neck, stepped back in alarm as the body suddenly jerked in a post mortal spasm. She glanced at the crumpled jacket, one blood stain marring its dark green material , and dropped it next to the body. “I don’t want to wear it again,” she said quietly, still looking down at the body. Eventually she remembered that Mark was still there and smiled at him, but there was a pain and fear and despair in her face that didn’t quite allow the smile to reach her eyes. “I wonder if it had rabies…” she was trying to make it sound like a joke, but the words rattled emptily in the air between them. “Did she hurt you?” she asked, when Mark didn’t say anything. He couldn’t think of anything to say. There was nothing to say in this particular situation.
He shook his head, “Only my arm - my leg’s stopped bleeding now anyway. What about you?”
“Nothing a bit of Savlon wouldn’t fix,” her face clouded, “Except we haven’t got any Savlon…”
Mark was looking at the body again. “She’s human.”
“She looks human. Two completely different things.” She wouldn’t go near the body, wouldn’t even look at it now.
“You didn’t murder her,” he said, more to try and comfort her than anything else.
“No, I didn’t. It was her or us, Mark. And she wasn’t human - she was an animal or something. I don’t know what’s happened…maybe they used to be human.” she trailed off, and Mark saw that she was looking up at the moon again drawing comfort from its familiarity.
CHAPTER 7: Fire
The house was not as bad on the inside as it had looked from the outside. It was smaller than it had looked, but there was plenty of room for two people to take shelter there.
“You’re going to freeze to death.” said Mark.
Gwendolyn was wearing nothing but a yellow T shirt and her black jeans. “I’ll have to share your coat then won;t I?” she looked at him steadily and eventually he looked away, blushing. “No funny business, though, Cardiff. You understand?”
He nodded. Sex had never been an issue - in the cell they’d kept away from each other as much as they could, her sleeping on the bed, him on the floor. It was well heated so there wasn’t the problem of having to keep warm. It was a different matter now.
“I know you were thinking it.” added Gwendolyn.
“Actually I wasn’t.”
she raised an eyebrow “If you say so.”
There came an empty silence then, each of them looking round the interior of the hut and avoiding the other’s gaze. Mark broke the silence first. “I’m going to make a fire,” he announced, and strolled out of the hut. Gwendolyn followed him, curious as to how he was going to light a fire with no matches, firelighters, gas or a lighter.
Another howling snarl rose from the copse of trees in front of the house. “I think we should stick together. I’ll help you get some sticks and things.” Gwendolyn glanced around herself nervously, not realising that she was moving closer to Mark for protection.
She watched him surveying the ground and choosing a few twigs. She followed his example. “No!” he snapped at her suddenly, knocking the sticks she had picked up out of her hand. “That’s not right. They;re too damp. Look - you’ll never make a fire with them. You want stuff like this.” he pressed a dry, old stick into her hand. She felt that if she handled it the wrong way it would snap.
“How are you going to make a fire anyway? You haven’t got a lighter, have you?” she looked at him searchingly, not sure.
“I did, but they took it away from me.”
“They could have given it you back before they dumped us here…” she mumbled, almost to herself. Mark grinned.
“Sod’s law innit? Do you know what sort of wood you want now?” Gwendolyn nodded solemnly.
“Good. Make a pile of everything you get and then we’ll take it in the house.”
“How much do we need?” Gwendolyn cast her eye over the vast amount of dead leaves, fallen twigs, even a fallen tree that was littered on the ground around them.”
“I hope so.” she bent down again ad started picking at the different sticks, tossing them onto a pile a couple of metres away from her. Mark constantly straightened her pile when ever he unloaded a batch of sticks of his own. She watched him, glowered at him messing with her handiwork, but said nothing. Just this once, maybe he knew what he was doing and she didn’t have a clue. Gwendolyn did not like that idea.
Eventually she prodded at the pile with her foot. “Is that enough now?”
“We might as well get a good stock up tonight. We’ll have to keep refueling the fire once its lit. I don;t know how long we will need it.” he caught the blank, vaguely reproachful look in her eye, “Don’t you know anything?” he wandered a little way off to gather up a pile of dried leaf litter. Gwendolyn went on stacking her pile of twigs and small logs. Mark had specifically told her not to take bits off the fallen tree, on account that it hadn’t long since fallen down and was still ‘green’. For some reason that meant it wouldn’t burn very well, if at all.
Finally there was a pile of leaves, a stack of thicker log like sticks and two piles of smaller twigs. “All right, you can stop now.” Gwendolyn stood looking down at the ‘fuel’.
“Now what? Magic?” she asked sarcastically.
Mark grinned at her. He was enjoying this. “Nope.” he squatted down on his heels and started sorting through the stack of large sticks, eventually pulling out a big flat piece of wood. “That’ll do!” he said triumphantly. He pulled out another bit from inside the pile; it was about half a metre long and very straight. He looked at it for a moment and threw it back in the pile. “Too soft.” It went on like that, until there were three pieces of wood lined up ion the dark ground; the large flat piece, about 2 inches thick, a similar shaped piece of wood that was a bit smaller and a little thicker and a piece slightly shorter than a foot long and as thick as Mark middle finger. The last bit of wood he had fashioned out of a longer thicker piece, whittling away at it using a pen knife. “They didn’t know what it was so they let me keep it” he explained. Gwendolyn watched him fascinated, not knowing what he was doing, for once in her life too dumbstruck to ask.
“Now I just need to make a bow, mind out…” he nudged her away from the tree she was leaning against. He whipped out the knife again, pulled at some of the trees springy slim branches and hacked down one that was to his liking, chopping off the tapered end and shaping it, until it reassembled a thick garden cane. He swished it in the air and smiled at the sound it made as it whistled through the air.
His face fell then and muttered the word “String…” vaguely. Eventually his gaze settled in Gwendolyn;s feet. “Gwendolyn?”
“No.” she didn’t know what he wanted o do with her feet, but she didn’t like the idea even before she heard it.
“I only want to borrow a shoelace.”
She looked at him doubtfully. “What’s it for?”
He held up the severed branch. “I need it to finish the bow. Please?” she tugged up the bottom of her jeans, looked up at him nastily and started ti untie the aces. “Actually, could I have both of them…the I can twist them together and make a thicker rope.”
“Excuse me?” She paused at peered up at him, confused.
“Do you want a fire or not Gwendolyn?”
“Yeah but I fail to see what me giving you me shoelaces will help you to make a fire.”
Mark sighed “I’m making bow-drill.”
“A what now?” she sounded awed, slightly frightened. And cold.
“Give me the shoelaces and I’ll show you.” She must have heard the weariness in his voice because she bent back down over her boots and tugged both laces free in a matter of seconds.
“Thanks.” Their hands touched briefly as she handed over the black shoelaces. Touching her hand was like gripping a handful of ice.
“Now make fire.” she muttered.
Mark watched her and then shrugged off his jacket. “Here,” he’d be working anyway, from now until they had a fire. He wouldn’t need the extra covering. Then he began to set up his workspace.”I need to burn it in first.” he called over his shoulder. Gwendolyn, wrapped up in his jacket, plopped down on the ground to watch. She half hoped that he would make a fool of himself and not be able to create the fire he’d promised using a few bits of wood. The other half of her was insisting that she was going to doe if there was no fire.
She proceeded to watch, fascinated as Mark looped shoelaces, now tied to op piste ends of the ‘bow stick’ around the shirt length of wood, picked up the small chunk of wood in his left hand and held it above the short length of wood, pressing it down. The other end of the short piece of wood he placed on the board like piece that was lying on the floor. He held the bow in his right hand. “Right…I’ll explain this as I go on. This,” he shook the little chunk of wood in the air, “is the handhold. It holds the spindle steady.” the short length of wood was the spindle. He tapped the board underneath him - he had no foot on it to keep it steady - “this is the board…that’s all it is, a board, and you already know this is the bow.” he started to move the bow back and forth, back and forth, and the shoelaces looped around the spindle caused it to rotate at a good speed.
Mark went on like until the handhold and the board started to smoke slightly and Gwendolyn caught the sharp whiff of something burning and she clapped her hand in delight. “Don’t get to excited - there won’t be fire for a while yet. I’m not happy about this spindle. It still seems a bit soft.” The spindle was starting to make a dent in the board.
“It’s not going to burst into flames is it?” she sounded alarmed, as she watched the smoke rising up in the air.
Mark shook hi head, and peered down at the underside of the handhold. “I think that’ll do.” he felt the handhold and the spindle, drew his hand aways haply from both and put the on the ground. Then he got out the knife again and whittled a small wedge of wood from the board. “Gwendolyn? Can you get me some dry leaves please?” she wet without a word.
When she came back, holding a handful of leaves in front of his eyes, “Is this right?” he nodded gratefully, still whittling away.
When he had finished with he board he looked up and said. “”Run your hands through your hair will you?”
“I need to put some grease on these bits here.” he held up the spindle and handhold.
She gave him a filthy look, but did as she was told. Se rubbed hands over the wood and then sat down to watch while Mark set the whole thing up again, slotting the spindle into the two holes he’d made in the board and handhold during the burning in process. It took half an hour for him to generate enough heat to try and set the little pile of leaves alight. “Have you got anything that burns? He asked urgently, “Quick!” he snapped at her as Gwendolyn ran her hands through her hair again and came up with a number of long dark brown strands. That did it. The hair caught fire in a second and Mark coaxed the leaved into burning as well, blowing very gently an shielding the pile from any other wind.
It took them nearly another hour to get a fire set up properly. The pile o leave sand hair went out after a minute and they had to go through the whole thing again, but eventually there was a food sized fire burning merrily on the ground between them.
Gwendolyn was just staring at him in awe. “The the hell did you just do that?”
He winked, “Magic.”
“I’ve known how to do that since I was eleven - boy scouts. Do they have the boy scouts where you come from?”
She shook her head.
“Didn’t think so. Come on. I want some in the hut as well.” said Mark, holding a long piece of wood in the glowing flames.
“What? so we’ve got to fires?”
“I think that’s for the best. If one goes out, I don;t have to do that again…” he nodded towards the bow drill. Gwendolyn made another little hearth right in the middle of the single round room in the hut, and it burst into flames as soon as Mark placed the burning stick to the pile of sticks and leaves, lighting the whole room in a bright orange glow.
CHAPTER 8: Three
Nancy Warren was dying by inches. She was avoiding the human beasts easily enough - they seemed to be steering clear of her after she was forced to kill one of them, word must have travelled quickly about her - but she was also managing to avoid her food supply. She hadn’t eaten anything yesterday except some nuts, and she did not have much of an appetite for their taste, which reminded her of the pickled cucumbers her mother used to make. Then she decided that they must be poisonous to taste so wretched and made herself vomit. She buried the vomit much like a cat would, to hide the smell.
She tried to bathe in a narrow ditch like stream this morning, and saw the bumpy ridges of her own ribs when she looked down, poking out of her skin. She felt tired all the time too, but she felt that was more to do with the fact that she was often too on edge to sleep than through lack of food. The sudden shaking spells and periods of when she felt as if she might swoon had to be down to the hunger though.
Victorian Ireland had regularly been tough on Nancy’s family - lack of shoes, lack of money, lack of coal - but Nancy had never been forced to go without food in her life. In particularly hard times, her mother went hungry for the two girls sake. This got Nancy thinking about her family again, and she cried, but quietly, lest she attract unwanted attention. Then she thought of Mrs. Peters jam sponge with cream and hot tea and cried harder.
Nancy made herself a little hollowed out burrow in the dried leaves, and curled into a close ball to conserve her body heat. But something was disturbing her. Something was different - there was something new to see, but Nancy could not for the life of her work out what it was. She kept noticing a flicker of movement out of the corner of her eye, always in the same place, but when she turned her head to look properly, she could make out nothing wrong or different about the space, however long or hard she looked. “It’s the light…there’s something wrong with the light.’ she realised eventually and looked up at the sky, the obvious choice. Of course, the stars were exactly the same as they were the night before, and the nights before that, the moon waning slowly into a half moon, making the night less bright than it had been, but if anything Nancy had the impression of brightness, not dimness.
She slept, and when she awoke, she realised what the problem was, because the light wasn’t there anymore. There had been a fire, and now it had gone out. No….there had been two fires, and now one of them had gone out. Nancy strained her eyes and watched, now unable to take her eyes away form the orange red glow shining in the darkness.
Nancy burst into a smile, when, five minute later, a bright pinprick of light rose from the flames in the distance, and moved, carried by an unseen hand, away from the parent fire. The second light was briefly extinguished again before suddenly, another much stranger, yet softer, light appeared. Nancy looked harder and realised that the new light was somehow different to the original. It was like the light the gas lamp in the O’Reilly’s cellar gave out, as opposed to the sharp raw light of a candle flame. Of course! The second flame was sheltered in some kind of a house, it was the light coming through the window that caused the soft glow. She had been forced to leave her own little house after the day she found a dead stoat on the doorstep and discovered a human beast - alright, they looked human, but they were of a beasts nature - sleeping inside. Nancy knew those creatures didn’t like fires, and so her heart leaped as she sat in her burrow and watched the flame. She also know she didn’t want to wait any longer for human companionship. They had a fire, they might have proper food, that Nancy could eat until her stomach cramped up with overeating.
She was totally unaware that she was dribbling as she crawled out from her nest of leaves, and grabbed her stick, which she held slightly in front of her, so that if something sprang out at her she would only have to move her arms - so - to hit it in some vital spot. The hut was less than a mile - 20 minutes - away. 20 minutes away from warmth and shelter and people and food. Nancy couldn’t stop thinking about the food.
As she grew closer, she could see the flames dancing and shimmering against the night, and she could smell the smoke in the clear darkness, even fancied she could smell a rabbit cooking over the skipping flames, and her mouth watered some more, Nancy was exhausted by the time she reached the little grey stone hut, her feet dragging in all the leaves. The combination of tiredness and hunger had ruined her stamina for walking and the constant fear of those creatures didn’t improve matters. She deliberately slowed on passing the first fire relishing the beautiful heat on her body, but she dragged herself away from it, wanting - no, needing - to find the people, and some food.
The hut’s door was a narrow, half rotted slab of wood, held in place by thick robes on one side. At the door Nancy hesitated, but she could hear the harsh yet reassuring crackle of flames on the other side. It was the thought of the fire that brought her the courage to put her hand on the of door and push. The door gave a creak, but Nancy was given no time to register the sound because something - a man, she realised a second later - threw itself at her from the warm darkness of the hut and sent her sprawling to the ground. He grabbed her round the neck and pinned her to the damp grass. Nancy was too afraid to shout for help and so began to cry and squeal incoherently. She started to make a strangled choking noise as the air was crushed from her windpipe, desperately struggling to draw in oxygen, at the same time kicking and struggling against her assailants heavy body. ‘Oh my God, oh Lord. Is he going to rape me?” she wondered and decided now was a good time to start screaming.
She heard a woman’s voice cry, “Mark! What the fucking hell do you think you’re doing?>” get off her! a second later the mans dreadful weight was lifted away and Nancy could breathe again, taking in huge swallows of air, terrified, vision swimming. Above her, seemingly on the edge of a faraway forest the man gave a cry and Nancy guessed that the woman had hit him.
“You fucking monster Look at her! She’s just a kid, a kid, Mark” There was he sharp sound of another slap.
“Sorry… she was creeping up ion us. IT could have been one of those things. How was I supposed to know? I’m sorry!!”
“It’s not me you should be apologising to.” Nancy could make out their silhouettes now; the woman stood arms folded, slim build, the man next to her standing with his hands in his trouser pockets. She saw the glitter of his eyes as he turned in her direction - downwards - and muttered “Sorry. I’m really really sorry.”
The woman snorted. “You should be, Fucking monster.”she made a kicking motion at the man, who dodged. He moved away from the woman and bent down beside Nancy.
“I’m really sorry. I didn’t know…” he repeated and held out his hands for her to take. Hesitantly she took hold of the hands and the man called Mark helped her on to their feet, catching her when she nearly fell back down again. It was the shock, she guessed.
“There’s a nice warm fire in there…” he said, as he helped her into the cottage, whereupon she she stared around at the brightly lit walls, and the two concerned aces, and fainted.
When she awoke, the man was holding a little bowl thing to her face, trying to encourage her to take sips of hot water. Later she realised the bowl was made form the hollowed out skin of some strange fruit.
“Who are you?” she asked, the traditional question, when she felt she could speak again.
“Never mind that…eat this. You’ve been starving.” The woman crouched next to Nancy on the hard ground and pressed a dead roasted bird into the girls limp hand.
“What?” Nancy lifted the dead a little so she could see it.The woman must have thought she was asking what sort of bird it was, but really Nancy was just completely bewildered.
“Pigeon? I don;t know. We only go tit because it had a broken wing. Do you want some more water?” The woman’s dark eyes - strange eyes, dark blue laced with a tinge of deep violet - searched Nancy’s face, worried. Nancy took another look at the winged corpse she still held and and felt suddenly sick, the hunger of the last few day forgotten. Her stomach seemed full, horribly full, as if to eat even one mouthful would cause her to bring her guts up in a great stream of vomit. She managed to shake her head.
The woman tired to coax her, “You’ll eel better.”
“Ni I won;t - it’ll make me sick. Everything here makes me sick!” Nancy noticed with some shock that she was crying, and dropped the roasted bird on the floor so she could hide her face in her hands.
The older girl put her arms around her, making ’sshhhh-ing’ noises and rocking her gently back and forth. “It’s all right…well, it isn’t, really…but you’ve got us now.” After a pause she asked, “What’s your name?”
The girl patted Nancy’s hair, “I’m Gwendolyn, and that’s Mark. He don’t normally go around trying to kill people.” Nancy smiled, and eventually the sobs started to dissipate. Se rubbed away the final droplets of salt water with her dirty sleeves, and Gwendolyn smiled at her.”There. Alright now? Sometimes you need to have a good cry.”
“Nancy nodded, “Thank you.”
“Look, we’ve got to go and get supplies. Try to eat something. There’s’ some fruit over there - you’re welcome to anything you fancy.” She walked over to he door, and in her walk, Nancy noticed that Gwendolyn was very thin too, but in a healthier, rangier sort of way. She was four or five years older than Nancy, and by the look of her clothes and manner from a later point in history. There were certainly no girls like her in Ireland when Nancy was from. Gwendolyn turned back, at the door. !We’ll be a couple o f hours. Don’t…kill yourself or anything. See you Nance.” Mark had already gone. Nancy had a feeling he was trying to stay out of her way in case she was frightened of him because he had attacked her. More than likely, he was probably a bit disappointed that the first human he and Gwendolyn had come across was female. From the way they acted around each other, Nancy judged Mark and Gwendolyn had been in the other’s company for a while.
She drank some more of the water and lay back to stare at the ceiling. When she was certain she wasn’t going to be sick or anything like that, she pushed away the jacket the two had covered her up with, and crawled slowly towards the pile of fruit. At the first mouthful, the hunger that had fled so suddenly earlier came rushing back in a tidal wave, and she ate from the pile of fruit until she felt as thought the juice would come trickling back up her throat if she had any more.
Later, Gwendolyn, Mark and Nancy were sitting in the hut, bathed in the warm glow of the constantly burning fire, drinking from hand made bowls. Gwendolyn had devised a substitute for tea by boiling water over the fire and then putting berried and fruit in it for a flavouring, and appeared o be enjoying being the hostess. The roasted, yet somehow still half raw carcasses of two skinned and eaten rabbit like creatures lay in a pathetic pile on the other side of the room. They would be taken out the next morning and buried. “We don’t want to attract anything to us.” Explained Mark.
“Its just a bloody good job those things don;t like fire.” added Gwendolyn, nibbling on some greenish banana shaped fruit.
Gwendolyn and Mark sat outside the hut after Nancy had fallen asleep, backs to the grey wall, arms wrapped around their knees. Mark realized for the first tie just how much he needed a fag. Not just a fag, but a two foot long fag with extra tobacco and as thick as his thumb. He stared into the dancing flames and felt almost content, but on remembering the question he needed to ask Gwendolyn, the feeling quickly sank. He almost didn’t want to ask her, because her answer could be the biography of his entire future. Mark sighed and blurted it out. “Have you…done anything with the teleport stuff yet?”
She looked surprised at him mentioning it. “No.” she said, shaking her head as well to emphasize her point. “Not really…” her eyes moved away from his face, moved around the sky, failed to find the moon that was hiding behind a cloud and then turned back to Mark. “I don’t think I can. I wouldn’t have the first clue how to bypass the system. I’m sorry…”
Mark shook his head sadly. “I didn’t think you would.” he said after a minute of silence.
“You don’t know of another way out of this do you?”
A bitter smile came across Gwendolyn’s sharp features. “Yes. We can kill ourselves.” She laughed, but it was not a humorous laugh, more a hysterical laugh that set her companion off. The two of them clutched each other and cackled as the tears of hilarious despair ran down their faces until their stomachs and cheeks started to ache. Gwendolyn wiped the tears away from her face and giggled again, “Oh, I need a drink! Do you think we could make some?” That set them off for a second burst of hysterics, neither of them knowing quite what the joke was, but what they dd know was that in all probability, the joke was on them.
CHAPTER 9: Wolves
The vault slammed shut with a solid ‘thunk’ that made the old house shudder. Inside that soundproof, heatproof, air proof vault, fashioned from a mixture of gold and doubly reinforced six inch thick steel, was 89% of the worlds wealth. Ever. The aging woman who stood now, setting the 32 digit code to the vault, was its sole owner and heir. It had taken 35 years of her life to accumulate everything the Earth owned, but n its monetary value instead of its artistic or objective value. Not even the most advanced computers she’d stolen from the superhumans could calculate a number high enough to be accurate. Silvia pressed the last digit and another door slid down from the ceiling, blocking off her investment for a second time. Then she started up the stairs, to her dwelling quarters.
She found her hybrid maid, Touloeuse, tidying her pastel colour cushions and straightening the tapestries which all happened to be the genuine medieval article. “Get out, Touleouse.” she said mildly, but the hybrid, while not highly intelligent, understood that Silvia would attack and beat her - flog her - if she did not leave quickly.
“Yes, Ms. Doyle.” the humanoid snatched up her cleaning materials - cloth, polish, beeswax - and fled the room. Alone, Silvia stretched herself luxuriously on the pale purple sofa, covered in matching cushions ad throws and began her daily meditation. She felt that it was even more important to meditate after a trip through time. I helped to centre her, put her back in the time she lived in, which was now. Now was the only point in history when Silvia Doyle could legally own all her stolen goods, thanks to inheritance causes and general sneakiness on her part, all of this, even the nuclear bomb and the arc of the covenant were her rightful property. The superhumans had abandoned the Earth and augmented themselves with strange technology, bred with another species to produce monsters, had no rights to take anything from her. Silvia drifted into a doze, comforted by the presence of all her things around her. She owned the world.
CHAPTER 10: Faith
Gwendolyn finished tying the bag to her shoulder and started to whistle. She liked the idea of being on the move again, and Mark was finding her unbearable. ON one of their trips to find food, Gwendolyn had strayed into a part of the seemingly never ending forest and hear running water. A lot of running water. She screamed for Mark and together they had managed to find a decent sized stream. Unknown to them ,it was the same one that Nancy had bathed in a few days ago. Gwendolyn followed the stream for about a mile and came to the conclusion that they needed to follow it in the direction of the rising sun and eventually they would reach a river, or the sea.
“Why’s that so important?” asked Mark
Gwendolyn had given him the look that said he was an idiot who knew nothing about anything, rolled her eyes and explained patiently, but with a hint of exasperation on her voice. “River and sea equals water, and fish and boats. Trading points. It means, if there’s any people…I mean…real people.. that’s where they’ll be.” Mark couldn’t fault her reasoning.
“How’s that going to help us get home?”
“It won’t. But it’ll help us find a home…” She’d accepted the fact that they were probably never going to get off this planet in her stride, and was hopeful of finding civilisation somewhere. Mark didn’t want to leave the forest - he was still hopeful that the superhumans would return to the area to reclaim their lost prisoners. And he was afraid to leave the place that had become familiar to him over the past week and had no desire to find himself in another strange hostile place. But he understood what Gwendolyn meant when she said ‘Go and find opportunity, don’t wait for it to find you, because it might be too late’.
The end of the first day found them in an entirely different place than the one they were used to. It was the remains of a old city, probably 25 miles away from the forest, which turned out to have an ending after all. Gwendolyn abandoned Mark and Nancy to explore the buildings, still intent on finding out exactly where they were.
“I might find the Taj Mahal, or the City Of Delusions. Or the Cydonion Statue of Santumonium Hall.” She was fairly bursting with excitement, the joy of being somewhere new, of trying to escape fate.
“The what?” Mark exclaimed.
“Oh - its after your time, darling!” Mark found the new, cheerful Gwendolyn hard to swallow. He frowned. “Off you go then.”
But she wouldn’t go.”Don’t you want to come with me?” she asked, her face falling just a tiny bit.
“No. I need to set up some sort of shelter.”
“Nancy can do that.”
Mark shook his head. “I’m not leaving her on her own. You can look after yourself better than she can.”
“But she’s been on her own for weeks….oh fine…”
The place they were in now had certainly been a lot more populated - here there were entire estates of grey huts, some larger than others, bit enough for a family of ten or more to live in. But there was nothing left. In all the houses Gwendolyn went in, the houses were all empty, with a few oddments lying scattered about - bowls, clothes, a few things that looked like toys. “Holocaust…” Gwendolyn muttered to herself. She picked up a piece of cloth, gasped and dropped it again when she saw the scorch marks. There were no people, no sign of life except for a small number of animals, no bigger than rats, and of around the same species.
The next day and the next, were more of the same, but took them through different cities. On the third day, Nancy sprained an ankle slipping on a pothole, and the group agreed that maybe it would be best to hole up and rest for a couple of days until she could walk properly again. Mark and Gwendolyn went on a food hunt, leaving the Victorian teenager to rest in the shelter of a abandoned house. Again Gwendolyn seemed to absorbed in wanting to explore than in trying to survive, and left most of the looking out for Mark to do. She wandered off and he found her standing on a wall, staring into the distance. “What are you doing?” he snapped at her irritably.
She pointed in to the night sky, “There’s a church - look, it’s got painted windows, it must be a church.” Mark climbed on the wall beside her and sure enough, he could see the weak moonlight - now less than a quarter moon - glinting on the coloured windows. It was the first sign of a familiar culture he’d seen since the last time he watched Touch Of The Wolf on Sunday night, the last night he had spent in his own time. Funny, but the previous three weeks had shown him that fiction didn’t always get it wrong. There were fucking aliens. The wall was a good vantage point and Mark found himself staring at the ruined shell of his former home for longer than he imagined he could do, so long that Gwendolyn was tugging at his sleeve, to try to persuade him to come down.
“Come on! re you in a bloody trance or what?” She half hauled him down from the wall, but her admonitions cooled off when she saw he had been crying, without even realizing it himself. “Thinking of home?”
“A bit, yeah.”
Gwendolyn smiled gently. She looked back up at the wall. “I’d like to go to the church.” she said suddenly.
Mark glanced at her in surprise. “Found religion have you?”
“No. I just want to sit in a pew, and feel something that’s been there for years. Probably thousands of years.”
“I didn’t even know you were a Christian.”
She snorted in contempt, lip curling. “I’m not. I’m about as far as you can get from that. But I like churches.”
“All right. But then we are going to go and find some food. Nance will be going nuts wondering where we are.”
Gwendolyn grinned and leapt on t to the wall again, jumped over to the other side like a hurdler. On the other side she turned back and looked at him. “You not coming then?”
He hesitated. He didn’t really see why he had to go with her, but his previous words; ‘I think we need to stuck together in case one of those creature gets hold of us.’ echoed in his mind and he sprang over the wall to join her. The church was not as far away as they thought, but was smaller. On closer look, Mark saw it wasn’t really a church. It was an imposing square building, longer at the back than it was at the front, and made of a nasty shade of beige coloured stone. There were two large door right in the middle of the front of the building, with black frames and think looking glass. Gwendolyn and Mark on the other side of a high black metal fence, the kind that was suspiciously like prison bars and had leaf shaped spikes on the top. To the left there was a gate with a chain and a padlock on it. Steps led form the gate to the raised ground the church sat on, and an overgrown path led to the church doors. Gwendolyn was the first to see the hunched up figures in the door frame.
“They’re people!” she said in astonishment.
“they’ll be those things.” Mark put out a hand to try and stoop her, but Gwendolyn was already scrambling up the gate, using the looped chains a foothold.
“Come on!” she said as she plopped down on the other side
“But they are those things! You’ll get us killed.” Mark landed on the ground beside her and gave her a filthy look. “If they try to eat us, I’m running ok? You can fend for yourself.”
“Fine. But they only look little and they’re wearing clothes. she started to jog up to the church, grabbing Marks hand as she went and pulled him along with her. She was surprisingly strong.
The children - for that was what they were - looked up at them blankly as they jogged up to the doors. There was one boy and one girl, and they were two of the most painful looking malnourished youngsters either of them had ever seen. Their eyes were dead, and huge, swollen with the effort of looking at everything and trying to determine whether it was edible to not. Mark stared at the children, and then glanced at Gwendolyn. The eldest child, the girl, who was about 14 years old stood up and looked straight at them. She tottered forward on her pitiful stick like legs and Gwendolyn could taste the sour decay of her bad breath. Watching his sister - the two looked so alike they could be nothing but siblings - the boy started to unfold himself and came to stand beside her. Gwendolyn wondered if it might not be too late to run, but she was fascinated, glued to the spot by the children. Both of them were mesmerized by their pale blue, almost sightless looking eyes.
The girl continued to stare at both of them, somehow managing to lock eyes with both Mark and Gwendolyn simultaneously and finally spoke. She had a light, tinkling voice that completely mismatched her wasted body. .
“You are here!” she said simply. Mark and Gwendolyn went on staring. Gwendolyn could feel a sensation she had never felt before in her entire life; the sensation of all the hairs on the back of her neck rising in fear. After a minute the girl continued.
“I have seen what you can do. You and the little one - you one who isn’t here. Is she hurt?” without waiting for an answer the girl said “I think she must be. No matter. Together you three will save this Earth.” she pointed behind her. “They will show you where to go.”
“In there?” Gwendolyn asked incredulously, shifting her gaze to look at the doors.
The girl smiled. The movement o her facial muscles seemed awkward as though this was the first time she had ever moved her lips into a smile. “All the answers are in the place of Gods. Look deep enough, ask the right people the right thing and you will know all there is to know about life.”
“Who are you?” Mark was trying to resist the urge to back ways from the girl.
“The name? What’s in a name? We have none and have even less desire to be defined through a title bestowed on us by people who are no longer with us. I have no name. My brother had no name. Why would we need it here?”
“I….I couldn’t even begin to imagine…” Mark looked at Gwendolyn nervously. In all their adventures and the difficult times since being taken from their homes and periods in history, she had always had an idea of what to do, except for the fire thing, bit that had just been simple knowledge. Gwendolyn was a hell of a lot more resourceful than he was. But now she was speechless. Absolutely speechless. And so afraid of something unspeakable that all the blood had drained out of her face. Mark turned to look at the girl again and asked; “What in there?”
“I told you. Every god you could ever wish for, And every devil, every elemental. Every ghost of the past and every angel. I can tell you nothing more. I’ve been cursed with sight but I can not see that far. You must go in.” the expression on the girls face never changed.
“She’s dead.” Gwendolyn’s voice was so quiet, so even, and the air was so still after her words were spoken that Mark found it hard to believe that she had said anything at all. Until she suddenly stepped forward and put her hand on the girls chest. Her hand disappeared into the girls body, all the way up to the elbow. The girl was not transparent, but she wasn’t there. Gwendolyn pulled her arm back out, looked at he hand, flexed it and looked up at Mark. “See?”
Mark stared at the girl that was still standing there, seemingly frozen. The boy had not moved at all since she had begun speaking and also stood staring blankly at them. “How did you know? I mean…how do you tell?”
“They’re not breathing. That’s usually a sign that someone isn’t alive.” She snapped at the girl, “You’re not real!” The pale eyes seemed to glow with anger as the child moved back, never taking her eyes away from Gwendolyn’s face.Then the girl looked across at her brother and on an unseen nod from her, the boy moved away from the door and stood to the left of the double doors. The girl took to the right and the two children appeared as sentinels to some form of gateway. They looked at the two humans expectantly, and after a long pause Gwendolyn said “Are we going in there or what?”
“What do you want to do?”
“I don;t know. I’m asking you. You know that if we go there we’re going to die?”
Mark looked at her. The final decision was hers - she had made them come here. Unconsciously they each took hold of the others hand
“Let’s go then, here’s to death,” whispered Mark in her ear. She smiled at him gratefully and together they up to the door and pushed it open - him the right door, her the left, and walked straight into a red lit darkness. They could hardly make out the pews in the half light.
“Candles aren’t usually red are they?” Gwendolyn nudged Mark and pointed to one of the candles, which bore a dark red flame, like blood.
“Not usually.” The two of them walked through the church and slowly became aware that they were not alone. It wasn’t that the figures sitting in the pews were appearing before their eyes, but more that they were already there and Gwendolyn and Mark could only see after their eyes had adjusted to the strange light. There were so many of them, all crowding in to the one church building, It was a good job that they were all ghosts, or part ghosts at least and so did not have a physical presence as such. Gwendolyn and Mark suddenly stood, so small and childlike among all those ethereal bodies, standing so close to each other because they needed to feel the heartbeat of another living soul. They looked around them in amazement.
“People.” whispered Mark in awe, his voice echoing horribly in the space.
Gwendolyn took his hand again and squeezed it, hard. “They’re not people.”
That was when they realised that the ghosts, aliens, whatever they were, were watching them as keenly as they were. They whispered and chuckled amongst themselves like children in a theatre waiting for a show to start. “Do they know?” one of the shades said, to no one in particular. This inquest was met by a chorus of shocked laughter and a rustle of conversation the two humans coudn’t make out.
“Look at them! So afraid!” another burst out to be met by a further round of giggles.
All the voices sounded so far away. “Are they….?” a female ghost started to ask.
“Yes yes!!” snapped one of the others in the pew with her. “In their own time. That’s not the way it’s supposed to be.” the shades began to ripple collectively in conversation, whole the two humans stood and watched, and wondered if they would even have a chance if they decided to run for it now.
“Why don’t they move?”
“I told you, they are afraid.”
“What are we going to do, to them? These humans are afraid of everything they see for no reason. How stupid.” Gwendolyn took this to mean that these things weren’t human. Demons then? Creatures from another universe that had somehow managed to break into this one? She cleared her throat. The sound echoed and bounced off the walls of the church, startling all the apparitions into turning to look at her even more closely than they were already.
Gwendolyn paused and then spoke. Her voice sounded so weak and frightened. “Your friends outside said you had a message for us.”
“not a message. A warning.” that one had sounded almost human. Gwendolyn turned to look for the source of the voice but they all looked the same, and anyway it was so hard to tell where the voices were coming from, as the voice seemed to emanate from the very roof of the church, not from any individual ghost, despite the variances in pitch and tone and gender.
“What for?” she asked.
“A warning. That is all.”
“Yes but what is the warning?”
“there was a silence while the creatures - the collective consciousness of the creatures - considered what to say. “A general warning. To elaborate would be to tell you the future and we can not do that?”
“Why not? you’re ghosts aren’t you?”
“Ghosts?” Laughter rippled around the church.
“All right. So what are you?” asked Mark “Whats your purpose here?”
“Mark Daffyd Henson. The boy with the thorn of the rose in his side. What are we?”
Mark frowned deeply. He gritted his teeth. “That’s what I asked you.”
“We are death. We are everything. All your nightmares all your dreams. All your monsters and the heroes. Death destruction love hope. We are the forces of all those tings. The solid forces made flesh and congregated here.”
“How?” Gwendolyn wondered if she was starting o understand.
“Time. Time is damaged here. It moves and the fluidity allows us to exist o your plane if only in this diminished form. Time flows here. Sometimes you can hear it screaming.” Silence fell among the ghosts then, as if they wanted Gwendolyn and Mark to hear the sound of time howling for release. They couldn’t hear anything.
“Hear it shriek?” piped up one of the apparitions.
“No.” said Mark firmly.
“How much of this place is damaged by time?” asked Gwendolyn.
“There is a house, not far. It comes from there,and reaches here.”
“Are you going to let us go?” she asked then, hesitantly.
“Of course. Why would we want to keep you here? Your hearts are beating like two mice hearts - the sound will kill us before long. You must go. It is safer if you should go. Run!” Then the shades were pressing down on them, pushing or pulling or trying to suffocate them where they stood. It was like a thick living mist.
“GO Mark. Get out!!” yelled Gwendolyn, taking hold of her friends jacket and pushing hi in the direction - she hoped - of the exit. She felt as if the wall and the roof had fallen on her, and she clawed her way hysterically between, and through the non existent bodies, trying not to breathe in too much. The red light from the candles suddenly snapped out but neither of the humans noticed that because they had their eyes tightly closed, not wishing to see the faces of these terrible shades pressed up against their own. The noise was deafening, like the sound of your own head when you put your fingers in you ears but his was a thousand times worse.
Gwendolyn had to open her mouth to breathe afraid she would suffocate if she didn’t and one of them stuck its hand into her mouth, like dried leaves, swept by a wind. She screamed out and choked on nothing, and gripped Marks jacket tighter.
They stumbled out into the night air, gasping for breathe tears streaming down their faces, ears ringing. The two children were gone - they were in the church with their brethren - and the night was still and the sky full of bright stars. An owl called somewhere and Gwendolyn let out a little shriek of terror. She looked behind her at the dark looming figure of the church, its windows seeming to glitter and suddenly started to run. Mark followed, no less funked than she was but more able to control it.
“I want to get out of here, Mark. This is too fucking weird,” she said breathlessly when he finally caught up with her.
“What else have you been saying ever since we came here?” She glared up at him and just managed to stop herself from swearing at him again, “No, but there’s a time machine close by there has to be.”
“Why?” Mark seated himself on a low lying branch of a yew tree.
“Because those things, in there, They said ‘time flows’. There must be something damaging time and its building up in the church.”
“Couldn’t that be the teleport.”
She shook her head. “no, because its something to do with time. There’s some weakness in the folds of the universe and these beings are getting though.”
Mark struggled to take all this in - frankly, to him, it sounded like garbage, but then…they must have time travel in Gwendolyn’s time. “So where do you think they’re from?”
He heard her let out heavy sigh. “Why do you always assume I know everything? They could be from anywhere. Probably lots of different anywheres. I don’t know.”
“Sorry…” h muttered sarcastically, “But you are bound to know more about time travel and everything than I do.”
“Oh I see…I’m from the future, therefore you think it’s all sparkly and science fictiony, and every other family has a time machine. That’s exactly the sort of bollocks I’d expect you to come out with.”
“Yeah…but you do know a lot.”
“People from my time have known time travel and the nature of time for hundreds of years…just…it’s kike the Romans inventing electricity and never using it, no one’s invented a time machine that works properly yet.” she shrugged and sat down beside Mark on the branch, swinging her legs slightly and watching them.
“You’ve tried then?”
“Of course, but they could never make one that did n;t ill people or strand them in whatever year they went to for eternity. We’ve got a sort of mind one now. You take this drug and it puts you into a trance and your soul - your soul I guess - is transported to a different time, depending on how strong the drug is.You’re there, but with a sort of ghosts body which means you can’t touch anything…or change anything., cos you’re only there in your mind.”
“Lie the things in the church!” Mark suddenly exclaimed, his eyes glistened with excitement and the prospect that he was actually right for a change.
Gwendolyn, of course, looked doubtful. “I don’t think so, I don;t think they could be unless they’ve been trapped here for so long they’ve gone mad…that’s certainly possible. You can go mad if you do ti too often.”
She paused on that, staring out into space. Mark sat with her thoughtfully for a minute or two and then he asked, “So, what’s it like?”
“Weird. Like a dream but its actually real and you are really there. You can’t get back until the drug wears off, takes a few hours or a few days, it depends on your resistance and metabolism I suppose. I only went a few times with school - history and religious studies - it’s not like banned or anything.” she clarified at his surprised look that a hallucinogenic drug was used in schools.
She surprised him even more with her next sentence. “The first strain of the drug was made in Victorian times The inventor went mad and took himself of into the far future or the far past. So far that he didn’t get back. Te formulae disappeared until about a hundred years ago. They found it in an old house hidden under the floorboards.”
Mark opened his mouth to speak but Gwendolyn cut him off before he could begin. “The paper was signed and dated 1889, with an 1891 postmark where the inventor must have sent it to a friend and told them to try and hide it.”
“Oh my God…” muttered Mark. “but this thing causing the time distortion…that can’t be through travelling in the mind can it?”
“No. It would have to be a physical thing - a machine that rips holes in time - a great bit clunky thing.”
“At the house?”
“What house?” Gwendolyn asked irritably.
“The house that the ghost things mentioned.”
Mark hopped off the branch. “Come on We haven’t got any food yet. And there;s nothing we can do about it now anyway. Nancy will be going nuts…Gwendolyn?”
She still seemed to be pondering on all of the strange revelations that had come to light tonight. Now she had a real hope and something to strive for. That worried Mark. He had a fairly good idea that Gwendolyn would be a stubborn and vicious adversary who could stand to get him an Nancy and herself into a hell of a lot of trouble. He tapped her on the shoulder, “Gwen…”
She blinked. “Yes?”
“Food. Come on.” She jumped off the branch and followed him. Nancy did not ask why they had been gone for so long, and neither of them told her, aware that she would either be unable to believe them or that she would be terrified, probably the latter.
CHAPTER 11: Silvia
“Ma’am, you have some visitors here to see you. Shall I let them in?” Silvia’s manservant, Reed, announced primly.
“Very good, Reed. Show them in please.” Silvia was surprised at this intrusion, although none of this this showed in her posture or face. She swung her legs off the couch and pulled her green and blue caftan closer around herself. Thus she settled down to receive her visitors, a plaster smile on her old, but reasonably unlined face.
Reed swept the three new arrivals in, being careful not to get too close to them or touch them. “Would ma’am like to take some refreshment?” he asked, casting a dubious eye on the three ragamuffins standing in the middle of Silvia Doyle’s clean ice blue carpet. She looked at them for a few seconds and nodded.
“Yes, please Reed. The full round, with biscuits and cake, if you would be so kind.”
“Of course, ma’am. ” Reed made a small bow before he turned to leave the room.
“Sit down,” Silvia told her visitors, a little more sharply than she intended to. “Can you tell me why you are here? I don’t normally receive that many visitors, way out here.” she was referring to time as well as space when she said that, but her visitors were not to fully realise it yet.
One of the women, - the one with a mass of dark hair and startling eyes - opened her mouth, but shut it again and sat down wordlessly with her two companions, a blonde man in his middle twenties, and a much younger girl dressed in a torn Victorian style dress. Silvia was slightly stunned to see that the girl was little older than a child. She had the perpetually nervous look of someone suffering from post traumatic stress.
Then the three of them sat silently for a minute or two, the two older ones making non verbal signals with their eyes. The other girl sat stiffly on the couch and stared straight ahead of her.
Silvia waited patiently, crossing her legs and studying the pattern of her caftan in between watching her visitors. It was the man who eventually spoke.
“I don’t expect you to believe us ma’am,” he began, “But we have come from different points in time, against our will.” He made if he was finished there, but a sharp look from the girl made him continue. “We have come here in the hope that you will be able to help us, ma’am.”
“What makes you think I can help you?”
“You are the only other human being we have found and we’ve been travelling for days.”
“I see.” Silvia watched them cautiously. How could they possibly know about the time machine she kept hidden in her basement? As she was about to speak again, Reed bustling back into the room bearing a huge tray of food - cakes and biscuits - and a tea kettle, plus cups and saucers and little plates for the food. He placed it on the small table that lay between Silvia and her visitors.
He whispered to her, “Coffee is still to come, ma’am.”
“That’s all right, Reed. I think we can wait for that.” she smiled, “Thank you.”
After he had gone, she turned her attention back to her companions, who were staring raptly at the plate of cakes as though they had never seen food in their lives before. No, she amended, it was more like they had gone with out food for so long they had forgotten what it looked like. Their eyes were blank and narrowed and somewhat sly.
“Help yourselves,” said Silvia a little warily, wondering if they might suddenly spring at the plate like animals.
“Can we? Truly?” the younger girl asked, playing covertly with a lock of brown hair.
“Of course you may.”
The older girl glanced at the younger and muttered, “I’ll get some, Nance.” she stood up and picked up one of the small plates, looking at Silvia curiously as she did so.
“You can take as much as you like.” reassured Silvia. She could see how thin and malnourished the girl was when she walked.
“Thanks.” If it wasn’t for those purple blue eyes, the girl would be quite pretty if slightly sharp featured. But the eyes made her look a little unnerving.
Silvia watched patiently while the visitors ate. At last the man looked up at her and caught her eye. “Is there any chance at all that you can help us?” he asked.
“What can I do to help?”
The older girl glanced up and frowned and Silvia’s sudden guarded manner. “We need help getting off this planet and back to our own times. I think Mark explained that we had been kidnapped.” the stared right at Silvia with those awful purple eyes. She had to glance way after a few minutes because of their feverish luminosity.
“What makes you think I can help you?”
The girl looked shiftily around the room, and shrugged. “You know this place, you’ll know if there are any points on this planet where one can…travel through time.”
Silvia’s heart leaped in shock. How could they know of the time machine? She stiffened, but none of her visitors could have sensed this subtle change in posture. Over the years, Silvia had become used to and good at hiding her feelings and emotions from the people around her. “I know of no such places.”
All three of them were looking at her now, and at last the older girl, who had been studying Silvia’s face the most closely said, “You’re lying. Your colour has gone up.”
“Excuse me?” the man said, already half rising from his seat.
Silvia stood up, and at her full height she was five feet and eight inches, even towering over the man slightly. “You heard me. I think you should get out of my house.”
The girl remained seated on the couch, looking up at Silvia cockily. “Why?”
“Reed!” Silvia reached down under the cushions of her couch and pressed the small green emergency button that was concealed there.
The girl suddenly cursed and jumped up from the other couch. “All right!” she skirted quickly round the furnishings and stood beside her companions. “There’s no need to arrest us or anything. We’ll go. Sorry to bother you. So sorry.” she grabbed the arms of the other two and started to haul them out of the room. Silvia shouted for her manservant again but made no attempt to stop her visitors. She watched them as they ran raggedly, tiredly down the painted hallway.
“Reed!” Silvia shouted again, wondering where he was. Suddenly the fleeing group veered off to the left, the man scrabbling to open the door he found himself facing. Reed was charging down the hallway, holding the old fashioned pistol. He fired just as the younger girl disappeared through the door and the bullet smacked into the door frame, taking out a great chunk of ebony wood.
“Sorry Ma’am…” he muttered staring down at the smoking barrel, stunned that he had actually pulled the trigger.
Silvia smiled tightly. hands on hips to try and stop them from trembling at the loud noise. “Don’t worry about it, Reed. Just get them out - there is no need to start shooting. Make sure they don’t come back please.”
Reed bowed slightly and made to follow the runaway group. “Yes, Ma’am…”
Silvia stared at the empty space Reed had left behind him for a few minutes and then turned back into her rooms. She put a hand to her forehead and felt suddenly faint. Perhaps she should relocate? Her heart lifted for an instant from hope but sank back down again as she realised that there was no where else left to relocate too. This little house on a grassy Chinese hill in the latest days of planet Earth was her one remaining refuge from police, assassins and enemies. How much longer would it take for them to find her? She sank onto her couch again, sighing heavily, aware that although she had all the time in the world, she was slowly starting to run out of it.
CHAPTER 12: Stealth
“We’re going back in there. She’s got a time machine in there and we’re getting it. She’s probably got two.”
Mark stared at Gwendolyn and marvelled at how she always took control (bossed everyone about and screamed and shouted and swore until she got her own way).
“You’re kidding aren’t you? That goon with the shotgun will kill us as soon as we set foot in there!” Mark exploded.
“And? The way I see it we have absolutely fuck all to lose.” She did have a point there. Sooner or later they would be killed or badly injured or simply fall ill with no hope of recovery, and quite frankly the quality of life on this broken Earth was a load of balls. Mark thought he had it in him to kill right now, for the sake of a hot bath with all the strawberry bubble bath anyone would ever want, or a piping hot plate of spaghetti bolognese. His mouth filled with saliva at the mere thought.
“All right,” he said warily.
He glanced up at Gwendolyn and was stunned to see moisture in her dark eyes. He was even more astounded when she suddenly threw her arms around and held him tight in a quick embrace. She had never shown him that king of affection before and the sudden intensity of it scared him a little. It brought a rush of tears to his own eyes.
“I’m sorry, Mark,” she muttered into his T shirt. She pulled away from him and smiled, which soon transformed into her usual little cocky grin, “I’m going to get you out of this. I’ll get you home if its the last thing I do.”
“Yep. Promise. I’ll get you both home.” She turned to glance at Nancy, who was disconsolately throwing stones into a tiny pond which was really not much more than a puddle. “Poor kid…” she mumbled.
“So, do we have a plan then, Gwendolyn?” She shrugged and peered over his shoulder at the house. They had put enough distance by running in terror to give the building an almost doll like appearance. The sandy coloured house, really more of a mansion but not grand enough to be called that, was framed by a few sparse tress, neatly pruned and there was a short hedge growing in the front garden of the house, so it obscured the bottom part of the house up to the lower part of the ground floor windows. There was no possibility of hiding in the gardens. The hedge was too risky a cover.
“I don’t know…” Gwendolyn said, still looking up at the house thoughtfully. A minute later she said, “Did you see any one else in that house, aside from her Ladyship and the guy with the gun?”
“I saw a maid.”
“Apart from that sort of thing. I mean someone clever - an associate of hers, someone who would know we were up to no good if we went back in there.”
Mark cast his mind back. Nothing. “No,” he said.
“Right. So there’s two of them and three of us.”
“You’re not thinking of fighting? Not with him having a gun - God knows what else she’s got in there.”
Gwendolyn shook her head rapidly. “No. No, that’s not what I was thinking. I thought, one of us could distract him, and one of us could distract her, and the other one could go and pinch the machine. And some food.”
“I don’t like it. There’s the gun to consider. She told him to shoot us if we came back.”
“No she didn’t. She just said, ‘Don’t let them come back here’. It don’t mean he’d shoot us.” She nodded her head at Nancy, who had wandered up to listen to their discussion curiously. “He wouldn’t shoot her. No one would shoot you, Nancy. The guilt would be horrendous.”
Nancy smiled in a confused sort of way. “Thanks…”
Mark looked back at Gwendolyn. “Ok, get back to this distracting business. How on Earth are we going to go about it?”
“Get back to me on that one. I don’t know.”
“We’ll need something pretty fool proof. I want to get home, but I don;t want to do it as a corpse.” He thought of something else a second later, “You won;t know how to fly a time machine anyway will you? How would you go about learning something like that?”
“Let’s just get it first all right?” Gwendolyn snapped at him. He backed off, his hands in the air, palms pointed towards her and fingers spread out in a ‘ok, back off, I’m sorry’ gesture.
“I’ll leave you to it.” He looked to the Victorian teenager, “Hey, Nancy. Do you want to learn how to fish?” There was a decent sized lake about half a mile away from where they now were and he had improvised a fishing line out of a spring willow sapling and a strip of cloth made into a rope - the jacket Gwendolyn had used to kill the strange human beast - and used worms to catch the fish, which were surprisingly plentiful. “Find some shelter while you think will you?” he said to Gwendolyn, “You don’t want anything to come and pick you off…” she ignored him. Mark hovered doubtfully, but in the end figured that she was probably capable of looking after herself, and she would have plenty of warning if something was to creep up on her, with all this open space.
“I wonder who she lost…” said Nancy quietly, as the two of them sat under the shade of a large oak tree near the lake. She had taken to fishing like, well, like a duck to water. Mark couldn’t help grinning when he thought that. She liked the tranquility of it, the sitting back and relaxing until she felt the pulling of the fish on the other end of the rod. Mark had no patience for that, and prowled around the trees looking for other sources of food and creeping up to the waters edge to see if he could catch a glimpse of fish in the clear greenish depths. After a while he grew bored of that and they now sat side by side under the oak. He craned his neck to look at Nancy curiously when she spoke. Not because of what she said, but because she had opened her mouth at all. The girl wasn’t very talkative. Mark wasn’t sure if that was a habit with her, or if she was still suffering from shock at being here, or if it was because she didn’t want to upset him and Gwendolyn’s dynamic. For her to have voiced that statement must have meant she had been thinking it for a while, because Nancy wasn’t given to impulsive speech.
“What makes you say that?” he asked.
The girl shrugged. “I don’t know. I suppose its the way she’s so…annoyed all the time. She’s trying to look after us both. Even though you’re older than her, she keeps telling you what to do.”
“She was in wars. People who have lived through wars tend to value life more than other people, because they know how easily it can be lost.” An image of the old dying man came into Marks head again, and a ghost stab of pain bit into his hand from the healed cut the man’s nail had given him. “She doesn’t talk about it much though.”
“It’s not a good thing to talk about is it? I wouldn’t talk about my father’s death.”
“No,” Mark agreed.
“Wars…You would have thought it would be different in that time. You would think that all the wars we were ever going to fight would have been fought. Did they find new things to fight about or was it the same things all over again?” Nancy asked then.
Mark smiled sadly at her in pity. This girl was from before the first and second world wars, before Vietnam, before the invasion of Iraq. Mark hadn’t even brought up this topic with Gwendolyn because he already knew what he would have heard from her: mankind would always have something to fight for and about, and if they didn’t, they would find something. He had no desire to learn the details. That was the unspoken condition of their continued co-existence; she didn’t tell him anything he didn’t want to know, and he didn’t bore her by talking about Earth in the twenty first century. So far it was working. “There’s always something to fight for.” he told her. It was meant to sound reassuring - humans fighting for a good cause instead of mindlessly killing each other - but the girl looked at him doubtfully.
“And what do you think caused this?” she swept her thin arm around, taking in the whole world.
What had happened to cause humans to abandon the Earth? That was another thing Mark would rather not dwell on. “I have no idea. Gwendolyn’s the one with all the theories.” As soon as he had said that, Mark suddenly wondered if Gwendolyn actually did know what had happened here and why the only real humans were those strange tall enigmatic beings up on the space station. She had spoken of having time travel, so she must surely have taken a trip into the future, or at least someone from her time had and could tell others about it. But that also fell into the category of things he didn’t want to know.
When the two of them returned to the grassy area where they had left Gwendolyn, bearing one large fish something like a cross between a trout and a salmon except that it was smaller than a salmon, and three small fish, Gwendolyn was sitting on the bare earth, cross legged and and scrawling something in the ground with a sharp pointed stick. Mark peered at the lined etched into the brown soil and decided that collectively, they looked like a crudely drawn map.
Gwendolyn noticed him before he had a chance to speak and said, “I thought I’d make a map of what we knew of the house.”
Mark crouched down beside her in the soil and looked more closely at the lines. The ‘map’ was not particularly illuminating - a few bare lines, which he guessed represented the hallways they had walked through on their ways in and out. A small square was the hall, and another larger square was the room in which they had met Silvia Doyle. Gwendolyn had marked off all the doors that she could remember with a small circle, and then added a question mark to show that she didn’t know what was behind them.
“It’s better than nothing,” she snapped almost accusingly, in anticipation of a derogatory comment from Mark.
“It’s helpful…” he said, not sure what else to say.
She looked round at him dubiously, but her expression cleared when she saw that he was completely serious. “Ok,” she muttered.
Mark looked at the crude drawings again. “Do you… do you have a photographic memory or something?” he asked her hesitantly.
“Sort of. They made us do all these mind exercises at school. Expands the power of the brain.”
“Oh, that’s good.”
“I suppose so. I just took it for granted when I was a kid - I never thought that you, I forgot that you-”
“From the dark ages?” Mark smiled at her, tried to make it into a sort of joke.
Mark sighed. “That I’m an uncultured yob of a human being with no concept of technology.”
Gwendolyn burst into a broad grin. “The ‘dark ages’.” she said, trying the phrase out for size, rolling it around in her mouth. “I like that. No offence though…”
“None taken. You’re the boss.” He stood up to leave “Just yell if you need a hand with anything.”
Gwendolyn watched him go and join Nancy, and then she picked up the pointed stick again and studied her map of Silvia’s house.
“We haven’t got much,” said Gwendolyn later that night, as the three of them sat huddled together against the cold, chatting, and, in Mark’s case, whittling restlessly at a piece of wood. “In fact, we’ve got hardly anything, but that’s better than nothing right?” She glanced at her two companions nervously, aware that she was performing for their lives, and for her life too.
“First off - what have we got?” asked Mark.
“Well, there’s the fact that we are fairly sure there’s only the two of them in that house - her and the butler.”
“There’s maids as well. She’s got all sorts of staff I bet.” Mark was quick to point out.
“All right then. But there’s no one else. So that makes it two against three. Good odds.”
“I like those odds,” said Mark.
“The thing we need to do is cause a distraction like I said earlier.”
“But how are we going to do that?” asked Nancy. Her brown eyes were huge and lit with the bright light of near constant fear.Gwendolyn glanced at her was saw for the first time that the younger girl really did look quite ill. She hadn’t got any better since she had met up with Mark and Gwendolyn.
“That’s where she’s stumbling,” Mark whispered in Nancy’s ear.
“No it’s not! There is an answer. I just haven’t found it yet!” Gwendolyn protested.
“Whatever you say.”
“Oh, frick off will you Mark? You couldn’t do any pissing well better. Shut up.”
Mark grinned at her - Gwendolyn was strangely endearing when she was riled. She gave him a withering look and then said, “Well…what I was going to say was this - If either of you two has any ideas on how to break in, and separate those two, and then create a good enough diversion so someone can go and nick a time machine and guarantee that we all get away clean afterwards, there’s a suggestion box in the lobby.” She cast a sarcastic look in Mark’s direction and carried on grinning at her.
“Get away?” Nancy said. She was clearly very unsure about all of this. “How likely is it that we will be able to get out of that house and still be alive to tell the tale?”
Gwendolyn wouldn’t catch her eye and instead stared at the sad looking branches of a straggling tree a couple of metres away. “We’ll have to see what we come up with,” she said quietly.
“That’s avoiding the question,” commented Mark coolly.
“Excuse me?” Gwendolyn looked up and narrowed her eyes at him.
“Why can’t you tell her the truth? It’s not going to do any harm now, and then she’ll know what’s at stake.” Mark despised the fact that Gwendolyn had a tendency to treat the Victorian girl as if she was a child, or less intelligent than herself. She spoke to him that way sometimes as well, as if she was doing him an honour by even speaking to him, but it was less obvious.
There was a short pause and then Gwendolyn said slowly, almost seeming like she was forcing the words out. “I’m sorry Nance. We’re probably going to die doing this.”
“I guessed that.” said the younger girl with a wry smile.
Gwendolyn smiled back at her gently. “But we haven’t got anything to lose. Frankly. I’d rather go out with a bang.”
“Yeah but how?”
“Would you stop arguing the point Mark? I’m trying.”
“Doesn’t seem like your trying hard enough to me.” He snapped and abruptly stood up. Gwendolyn followed him.
“Yeah - because you’ve made me responsible for everything.”
He wheeled round to face her, and she stepped back a couple of paces at the look on his face. “You immediately take charge everywhere we go and everything we do. You swan around being an arse because your from a more advanced time, and then when you find to your horror that you don’t know something you don’t tell anyone. That’ll get one of us killed. We need to work together - not just you telling us what to do.” He paused to catch his breath, staring at her all the time.
Gwendolyn had taken his outburst quite well, and was still standing in front of him, waiting for what he was going to say next. She was looking down at the ground, fully prepared for another outburst and trying to control her own anger.
After a minute or two, Mark said, “Got nothing to say for once?”
She looked up at him and scowled, her eyes glittering purple in the dim moonlight. She said nothing. Mark hadn’t really left her with much scope for a reply.
“Good,” said Mark, and stalked back off to sit next to Nancy again.
After a short time Gwendolyn walked back to them and stood before them.
“What now? Another speech?”
“No. I’m going. I think we’ll all do better if I go off on my own.”
Mark stared up at her. “What?”
Gwendolyn looked straight at him as she said the next words. “If I stay with you, you and me are going to end up killing each other. It’s probably for the best.”
“I’m sorry Gwen.”
“What did I say about calling me ‘Gwen’?” she asked dangerously.
“Oh come on! Gwendolyn, I’m sorry.”
“It’s my fault. You’re right. I’m treating you like shit Nancy.”
The younger girl blinked at Gwendolyn but said nothing. “It’s best if I go, then you can’t blame me for anything when it all goes fucking horribly wrong.”
“It won’t go wrong. Gwendolyn, don’t be stupid. Come back,” Mark felt helpless. If she left they would have no chance of getting off the planet. She might be a bitchy little idiot, but she was more technical and knew a hell of a lot more about time travel and space travel than Mark could ever hope to learn.
She looked at them for a good few minutes and no one said anything. Eventually Gwendolyn wandered back over and sat down, a little way away from Mark and Nancy. Nancy stood up and walked across to where she was sitting, glaring angrily into space. “Gwendolyn?”
“May I sit down?”
“If you like…”
The girl obliged. “Mark was right. The three of us need to work together. And we need to be able to treat each other as equals, no matter what era we are from or how old we are.”
“That’s a good point, yeah. Good point Mark. Thanks for pointing that out.” muttered Gwendolyn. “All right Nance. Just…help me get the hell out of this.”
“I’ll do my best.” Nancy held out a hand for Gwendolyn to shake. “Work together then?”
Gwendolyn smiled, a sweet but rather guarded smile. “Ok.” The two girls shook hands and then hugged briefly.
“Do I get one?” Mark was standing above them smirking, “You ladies can’t have all the fun you know.”
“Fuck off you little Welsh gumber.” She glared up at him and then broke into a small smile. She reached her hand up to Mark and they shook hands slowly and somberly.
Gwendolyn grinned suddenly. “You know, I could really do with a drink. What have we got?”
“Water.” Mark seemed to take pleasure in saying that as the girl rolled over on the ground and moaned in despair at the lack of alcohol.
CHAPTER 13: Gravedigger
“It’s the only way.” Gwendolyn told Mark as they crept up to the house under cover of night, the darkness blanketing them like black shroud. The moon was totally gone now. Gwendolyn missed it when she looked up at the sky and could see only the stars, so far away. She’s been to the moon. For her, it was so close, she could almost reach out and touch it.
He sighed as he scraped further at the soil underneath the hedge that was outside Silvia Doyle’s house. “Yes, I realise all that, but we can’t see anything. Go and check on Nancy will you? I don’t think she’s really strong enough for all this.”
When Gwendolyn came back, Mark had the feeling that he dug out a good deep hole in the earth using his hands and a sort of home made rough trowl that he had made with his penknife. He ran his fingers over the dimensions of the hole - it was as long as his body , but it was not as deep as it need to be, and that was going to be the problem. “I’m going to take over from Nancy for a bit. will she distract you if she comes over for a chat?”
“No.” replied Mark a little too shortly. But of course that was the problem of being around the two women ll the time, It made you paranoid and convinced that each of them thought that you were having sex with the other 0one. In Nancy’s case, Mark wouldn’t even have considered it - she was too young, and too afraid and too run down, and she didn’t make him want to rub himself all over her and kiss her and do all those other things that he found himself wanting to do when he looked in Gwendolyn’ direction. The 29th century woman was so fucking inaccessible, violet eyes shielding her soul, her snappy attitude her protection against tenderness. He became aware that his cheeks were burning, and that tears of frustration were pricking at his eyelids, and both were strange sensations in the cold night air. But luckily Gwendolyn was gone, to be replaced by that little Victorian , who was suddenly so much more like a sister to him than anyone had ever been. He supposed it made sense that we felt closer to Nancy than he did to Gwendolyn, because he and Nancy were only 140 years apart, while there was a good 800 odd years between him and this enigmatic future female.
“All right, Nancy?” he asked. Yes, that’s right, don’t let them know what’s wrong with you. They wouldn’t understand that all he felt he needed was a good shag, and to feel like he was the one who was relied upon for protection. How would it feel, how would it actually feel, to hold Gwendolyn in his arms and have her snuggle up to him, and then to fight off any harm that could possibly try to befall her?
“I was saying that you are very distracted. You’ve been so strange for the last couple of days… is it something you can tell me?” Nancy’s quiet voice came through the blackness of t e night.
Mark giggled. What the hell was he supposed t say now? “Think about the situation we’re in, Nancy. I thin I’m entitled to be bloody distracted.”
Mark carried on digging, and after a few more minutes of silence, in which they could hear t he sound of Gwendolyn scraping t the soil on the other side of the gap in the hedge, on the left side of the house, Mark said, “Do you think this is actually going to work?”
“I don’t imagine why it wouldn’t. You and Gwendolyn lie in one of those holes each, I bring out the man with the shotgun, then you two go in there and sort her out. And then I hide somewhere and come back to join you two when I have counted up to three hundred. I think we can pull it off.” Nancy said.
Mark smiled at her, but in the darkness, Nancy couldn’t see the tinge of sadness that was evident in his face. “You’re starting to sound like her. I think that’s good thing. You ever thought bout how you;re going to explain all this when you get home?”
“I might not be going home. I think there’s so much more out there for me to see. Its after meeting you two - how you naturally act - you are both so free. You’ve got so much in your worlds that I have never even dreamt about and I’d like to see some it. Cause it’s got to better than this.”
“Oh, it is. There’s things in my world that would blow your mind away,” Mark said, smiling.
“Music. Is there any live music when you come from?”
The girl nodded.. “Yes. There’s the folk band that play in the town hall every second Sunday.”
“Well, imagine that, a hundred times louder, and thousands of people all together, and imagine the instruments sound like heaven or hell or something absolutely divine crashing down on top of you. Do you have the gramophone yet?”
“You’ll love it. You could have all your favourite sings together on a record -as though it was printed on paper, and you can put it on a machine and listen to then whenever you want.”
“That’s amazing. But i believe it. I think I could believe anything now I’ve been through all of this.” Mark smiled at her and opened his mouth to tell her more.
Suddenly a light came on in the house. Mark instinctively flattened himself in to the ground he was digging into, and Nancy crouched down low, managing to blend into the hedge. Mark struggled to find Gwendolyn, in the dim light. He couldn’t see her, which meant that no one from the house would be able to see her either. He pressed his head to the damp soil and concentrated on keeping his body as quite as he possibly could. He could hear Nancy breathing quietly beside him.
Gwendolyn was behind the hedge so that t was between her and the house, and so she had a better vantage point for watching what was going on when the light came on. She peered through the thick leaves of the hedge, able to see everything quite clearly, but assured that no one would be able to see her form inside the house, unless they knew exactly where to look and had seen her moving. Silvia Doyle put the light on - a battery powered thing, Gwendolyn thought - and then came to stand by the window, looking out, past the gardens of the house and then on into the grassy meadows and copses of trees beyond her home. Once she glanced down at the garden in a rather alarmed way, but the expression on her finely lined face son cleared and she looked back out to the meadows. Gwendolyn let out a sigh of relief and craned her neck forward slightly, wanting to check that Mark and Nancy were ok and that they were well hidden. Unable to see them, she looked back at the window. Silvia was still there.
The woman cupped her face in one hand and was just staring into the night sky. She looked wistful, almost sad.
Gwendolyn kept on watching, ignoring the nagging cold that was seeping into her bones as she was trying so hard not to move in case Silvia saw her. She thought it must have been about an hour, when Silvia finally stood up from her seat at the window, and the light went off. Gwendolyn relaxed, and waited, counting a hundred heart beats before she went back to her digging. She heard a flurry of activity in the hedge to her right, and when Mark touched her arm gently, she almost screamed.
“it’s all right, it’s me.”
“Of course it’s you!”
“Are you all right?”
Gwendolyn let out an exasperated little sigh “Of course I’m all right. I was watching her through the window.”
“What was she doing?”
“Nothing. Just looking outside. It was-”
The two of them flattened down into the ground again as the sound of a door opening startled them. Gwendolyn could see the open door out of the corner of her eye - Silvia was leaving the house. Mark realised that his foot was coming out of the hedge, and if she looked down she would be able to see him. Carefully, trying desperately not to make any sound whatever, and knowing that his life probably rested on that ability, Mark lifted his foot slightly so it wouldn’t scrape against the dead leaves on the ground, and pulled in to the hedge. He was conscious of the sound it made as it rustled against the sharp twigs. It sounded like the whole world was crashing down on top of him and he winced in terror, knowing that any second, Silvia would come up to then and haul him out by the leg.
Neither of them dared to even breathe for fear of disturbing the peaceful night. Silvia’s footsteps were moving down the path - an over grown crazy paved mess. It was the only in all of the night that they could hear and it was as though a giant had come down from a mountain and was walking among them.
At last the sound of the footsteps passed them, and still Silvia went on walking. She was heading into the grass, the mixture of cool greenery and groups of trees where the three lost humans had come from. Gwendolyn waited for the sound of the woman’s footsteps to diminish slightly, and then she dared to move he head slightly so she could out and watch Silvia’s progress. “I wonder what the hell she thinks she’s doing. Do you think she’s after us?” she asked Mark after a couple of minutes of thoughtful watching, by which time Silvia had almost disappeared from sight in the near complete darkness. Mark moved a little and tried to catch sight of the strolling woman but she was too far away for him to see her. “Maybe she wanted a walk. It is quite nice around here you know.”
“Bollocks. She could do that in the day.”
Gwendolyn then said, “Go and get Nancy would you? she must be fucking terrified poor thing.”
“All right boss.” in answer to calling her boss, Gwendolyn decided to kick him in the ankle. “Ow!”
“You kicked me.” Mark snapped back at her, still whispering but indignant.
“You were being sarcastic. You called me ‘boss’,” replied Gwendolyn.
“Well, sorry. Boss.” He sneered at her playfully under the cover of black light.
Gwendolyn hissed at him from below, “Just be quiet about it will you? She could be back any second.”
Mark pulled himself all the way out of the hedge, scratching himself along the arm as he did so, and walked across Silvia’s driveway space (although he couldn’t really call it that as sh didn’t have a car, or any form of transport that he could see) over to where Nancy was. While he was gone, Gwendolyn kept an eye on the house, and kept an ear out for Silvia returning. Thanks to the quietness of the night, she would be given plenty of warning.
“Come on,” she said, when she heard the sounds of Mark and Nancy making their way over to her. The three of them pushed into the hedge. Gwendolyn looked slyly at the house - no lights, no sounds, no signs of life in there whatsoever - and listened carefully for the return of Silvia. Hearing nothing she said, “We’re going in there.”
“You are kidding.” was Mark’s incredulous reply.
“No, actually.” The two of them stared at each other for a moment, a sort of battle of wills between them. “Mark. We might not get another chance.”
“You’re mad. You are absolutely insane.” he said quietly.
“Welcome to the jungle.”
Nancy piped up, “What about what’s his name? Reed…”
“We’re breaking in, we’ll listen out for that kind of thing,” Gwendolyn was trying to sound reassuring, but she just ended up sounding reckless.
“We are going to die aren’t we?” said Mark gloomily.
“No. Shut up.” she looked around her, a last check that the owner of the house hadn’t finished her walk and was now strolling back up to the beige coloured building. She wasn’t. “Come on, let’s get this blinking well over an done with, ok?”
“We’re going to die.” said Mark firmly, a glazed sort of look in his eye. Gwendolyn had to haul him into the house, and once in there, he stood looking around himself blankly. “What’s your big massive amazing plan then? Now we’ve broken into the house of the woman who would kill us if she found out we we’re in here?”
“Now we go back to the original plan,” she looked round at the front door. It was a big solid oak thing, about three inches thick. Quick as a flash she had grabbed hold of the keys and turned them in the lock. The door locked with a healthy clunk. Gwendolyn tried the door handle, and grinned to herself when it wouldn’t budge. She yanked the keys out of the door and shoved them into her jeans pocket. “That’s her dealt with, unless she’s going to want to try and climb in through the window.” she said, in response to her companions confused looks. “Frankly I wouldn’t advise it with her hips.” She began to move stealthily through the room, taking care to place her feet carefully on the carpet so as not to disturb any floorboards and call attention to their presence. The other two followed her.
“Do you think he’ll be asleep?” whispered Nancy hopefully.
“People like that don’t sleep much,” said Gwendolyn. She paused and listened again, and three pairs of ears strained for the slightest sound in the house. There was nothing. “She could have someone guarding the time machine,” Gwendolyn commented, walking slowly and quietly to the door and trying it, wincing with every tiny squeak it made. When the door was open enough for her to push her head through the gap she peered through and saw a bare corridor, painted in pale coloured paint. She couldn’t make out much more because of the darkness. “Let’s go. Coast’s clear.”
“This isn’t a game,” said Mark as he followed her through the door sulkily, followed by |Nancy.
“Shut it, will you?” she snapped back at him in a whisper, punctuating every word with venom.
“Then don’t get us killed.W he replied, copying her tome exactly, only in a deeper whisper. Gwendolyn only scowled in reply this time and carried on walking. Luckily this corridor was thickly carpeted, as most of the floors in Silvia’s mansion seemed to be. The woman certainly liked her creature comforts. She’s probably a chocolate addict as well, thought Gwendolyn as she looked at the woman;s decor. There was an awful lot of purple and silver and blue in the colour scheme, from what little she could make out in the poor light, although their eyes had grown used to the dark quickly inside the house. It seemed almost as though it exuded a kind of dim natural light of its own, fro the ceiling. Gwendolyn looked up curiously, and sure enough there was a dull sort of yellowing light that automatically came on whenever they entered a room. A sudden little shock of fear ran down her spine. Could Reed somehow be able to track their progress though the house by watching which lights came on and when. Maybe everything was on a circuits and he was sitting somewhere watching ll the lights become activated as they moved. Instinctively she drew closer to Mark, and reached out for Nancy’s arm to make sure the younger girl didn’t go astray.
Mark had also noticed the lights and was having similar thoughts. his were more along the lines of thinking that Reed would all of a sudden burst through the door brandishing an enormous shotgun and start laying into them with it At least it seemed like a quick way to go. He also noticed Gwendolyn moving closer to him out of fear, and he smiled inwardly. So she did protecting after all, he thought, happily.
They walked through two rooms and then they found themselves in the same room they had brought to the previous day. It looked a lot more sinister in the dark, and Gwendolyn shuddered as she looked around her dubiously. She was suddenly reminded of the strange ghosts she ad Mark had seen a few nights ago and shivered slightly. “What we need is a plan of this damn place,” she whispered, out of a desire to break the silence more than anything.
“I think the first thing we should do is find that Reed fella. If he catches us in here, and he’s got that gun in his hand, he’s going t-”
“He’s going to what exactly?” a deep voice came from behind them.
“Shit.” said Gwendolyn, “Did you really have to talk so loudly Mark? Now look what you’ve gone and done.”
“I’d like you both to put your hand in the air and sit down nicely on the sofa. No, don’t turn around. If you turn around I’ll shoot. Just sit on the sofa and be quiet and everything will be fine.”
Mark and Gwendolyn sat down without speaking, or making any sudden movements. They heard quiet footsteps move across the room and then Reed cam into view.
“Lights.” the man said. A harsh white light shine down from the ceiling and the two prisoners blinked in shock as the brightness. The man grinned at them “Now…perhaps you;d like to tell me what on Earth you have done with the Mistress? She doesn’t appear to be in her bed where I last saw her.”
Mark and Gwendolyn gave each other dubious glances at this comment but neither of them replied.
“Are you going to answer me?” the man sounded impatient.
Gwendolyn took a deep breath, and at the sound of it Reed stared at her and levelled the gun so it was more secure in his grip. Aware of how closely h was watching her, Gwendolyn said, looking him in the eye herself, “WE haven;t done anything with your mistress. She is outside. She went for a walk.”
“She came out of the house and went for a walk, probably looking for us, as a matter of fact.”
“Why on Earth would she do that?” asked Reed.
“You tell me. What’s she got hidden in here?” Mark gave her a warning glance. but she ignored him.
“What did you mean?”
“You can tell us. I mean, you are going to kill us anyway aren’t you?I wouldn’t blame you.”
“why did you come here?” asked Reed, changing the subject, ensuring that is was him questioning her instead of the other way around.
Gwendolyn looked at him steadily, “Have you seen how thin we all are? We are all suffering from starvation, we’re going to die if we don’t get any proper food, we had to leave our friend Nancy behind while we came looking for food because she was too weak. You saw her the other day - she looked like a skeleton didn’t she?” throughout all this, she never took her eyes off the man once. While she was talking, a dark shadow, thin and small and lithe, slipped out of the room. Reed only had two prisoners.
“What are you going to do with us now then?” asked Mark. Reed wavered slightly, and looked at them. Gwendolyn thought sh could see all the thoughts running through his head as he considered his next move.
“I’m going to lock you in.” he said finally.
“Are you?” asked Gwendolyn. She was staring at him and had a nasty smug little smile on her face.
Th man stared at her impassive. “Yes. And then I’m going to find out what you have done with the mistress. She can decide what she wants to have done with you then.”
“Terrifying.” said Gwendolyn, dryly. Mark glanced at her worriedly. Ok, so she was playing for time. That was fine. But this guy did have a gun. And how far would she be able to push him?
“I’m glad you think so. Can I have the keys for the front door please?” The suddenness of his question took Gwendolyn by surprise. She started and her pupils dilated as fear took hold of her at last. May be he had been watching them all along.
“How did you know?”
“It was the first thing I checked when I knew you were inside the building. Hand them over please, but slowly. All right? I don’t want any quick movements from you,”
Gwendolyn smirked as she reached into the pocket of her jeans, “Are you sure? You might like it.” he moved a little bit closer with the gun so he get a better look at her. Mark found himself glancing at the door, searching for the same shadowing thin figure that had left the room some minutes before.
There was a clink of metal as Gwendolyn handed the bunch of keys to their captor. He pocketed them as swiftly as she had done and walked over to the window, backwards, never taking his eyes or his gun off them the whole time. He pulled up the blinds, and mark saw that they seemed to be triple glazed. Tough to break, but by no means impossible. Neither of the prisoners were prepared for what came next.
He pressed a button at the side of the window and a metal screen came crashing down to cover the window. IT was a think metal grid, rows of steel a centimetre in diameter, one row going down and one row going across. Gwendolyn would probably not have been able to poke a hand through one of those squares. “Now that is clever.” she whispered in his ear.
“Told you,” he whispered right back.
Reed walked back to t he window. “Where did you say the other one was?”
“She’s sick. She can hardly walk from the lack of food.”
“I don’t think we need to bother too much about her then. I’ll leave it to Silvia to decide what wants doing with you two.”
“So you’re going to leave her to die?” aksed Gwendolyn agrily. Reed didn’t answer, glanced round the room to make sure there were no other means of escape, and walked smartly out of the room.
“I told you we we were going to die,” said Mark quietly, once they were alone.
“Will you stop saying that?”
“It’s keeping me sane.”
“Really? I would have thought it would have done the opposite.”
She was looking around herself busily, eyes bright and confidant. “What are we supposed to do now then?” he asked.
“Wait for Nancy. There’s nothing we can actually do. I suppose we could have sex if you really wanted.”
“I was kidding! Although I guess we could bear it in mind.”
CHAPTER 14: Rent
Nancy knew they would be in trouble if she couldn’t find some way of getting her friends free before Silvia Doyle came back. She didn’t see why the woman couldn’t crawl in through a window if she had to. Besides, That man, Reed, would probably have searched them and taken the keys off Gwendolyn so he would be able to let his mistress back in anyway .
She kept close to the walls if the big dark house, in case there was anyone else wandering around who know she wasn’t supposed to be there - Mark ha dmentioned something about seeing some maids so Nancy was very cautious as she prowled around the house, What she need was a weapon. A knife or something. , or at the very least, a big hard object for hitting. In this endless maze there was no way of telling where the kitchen was, and she didn’t think there would be a lot of point hoping for a smell of cooking or anything, because the who,e house smelt so completely clean and sterile. Sure enough, she heard the sound of the heavy front door opening from where she was hiding out. Nancy couldn’t be that far away from the front of the house then, if she could hear that. She crept to the nearest door and found that she could hear the sound of Silvia and Reed talking.
“I’ve got hold of two of those intruders form the other day, Ma’am. I’ve locked them up. They seem quite resourceful though.”
“Where’s the other one though. There were three of them!” snapped his mistress indignantly. Nancy’s heart sank and she gulped nervously looking around her to see if there was anywhere she could flee to if she needed to. There was nowhere - the room she was in was empty except for a few bookcases and a chair and a few oddments. Nothing large enough or immovable enough to safely hide behind. She took hold of the old fashioned poker st the side of the empty fireplace. Than Nancy looked closer at the fireplace, glancing up the chimney to see if she could possibly clamber up there. No. There was no way she would be able to scramble up those cols grey stones. Heart thumping horribly in her chest, she went back to the door. Reed and Silvia Doyle were still there.
“I didn’t see anyone out there. She could be in the house.” said Silvia.
There was a pause. “I haven’t seen a third human wandering about the place. Ma’am?”
“Why did you leave the house?” he sounded confused. Nancy press her ear up to the door a little closer.
“I’m not like you, Reed. I#m still human. I…wanted to feel the air.” She sounded ashamed. Ashamed of wanting to be with nature? Nancy wondered, confused.
“I don’t see why…” muttered Reed.
“You’re not human are you? You don’t feel the same as I do.” she snarled. Nancy heard a flurry of movement and jumped away from the door in alarm, and eventually sprang behind the chair after a few seconds of staring around the room. She waited behind the chair trembling and listening to her ragged heart beat for what could ave been two minutes or could have been half an hour, and no one came in.
She waited a little longer, just to make sure, and then crept out of her hiding place and moved towards the door. he pressed her ear against the the painted wood and listened for any sounds of movement outside. She went so far as to place her hand on the door handle but hesitated, having the sudden paranoid fear that Reed was waiting for her just outside the door, shotgun in hand. Nancy took her hand off the door, noticing that she was trembling again. She stood and stared at the door in horror, sure she could hear someone outside shifting around, waiting for her to dare to come out of hiding. Then Nancy began to think of all the dreadful things Gwendolyn would would say if she was here to see her dithering about like the pathetic little Victorian she was. Taking a b deep breath Nancy grabbed hold of the door handle again and yanked the door open. She opened it all the way and nearly vomited with relief when she saw that there was no one there. She poked her head out of the door and peered cautiously around the hall way that lay beyond the door. It was too dark to see the colours of the carpet and walls, but Nancy guessed that they probably the blue or purple that Silvia seemed to prefer for her colour scheme. Everything was a medium greyish colour in the bad light, the carpet a little bit lighter than the wall. . A dark wooden railing ran along the length of the wall, halfway between the floor and the ceiling . The hall way terminated in a another door and there was also a door om the left. The door at the end was the door Nancy had come through to get into this room. She figured that the door on the left was to the front door.
She took another deep breath and stepped out of the room, suddenly remembering that she had wanted to find her way to the kitchen in order to find a knife for a weapon. Mind you, she had the poker now…
Nancy decided that the best thing she could do now would be to retrace her steps and try to free Gwendolyn and Mark, and then realized that Reed would probably have locked them - had to have locked them in - and taken the keys with him. Ok…maybe she could wander around the house and try to find the time machine that Gwendolyn had said must be here somewhere, but dismissed that option on the grounds that: a) she didn’t have a clue what she was looking for, and b) that wandering around aimlessly would probably mean that she would be found by Silvia or Reed sooner rather than later and end up trapped along with Gwendolyn and Mark. That wouldn’t help any of them. They were relying on her being free.
Nancy knew that what she needed to do was free Gwendolyn as soon as possible - the older girl knew what a time machine looked like. Nancy set off to find the room her friends had been imprisoned in. At least she could wait outside, look for some keys lying around - yeah right - or attack Reed when he came back to feed to check up on or interrogate his prisoners and force him to give her the keys. Pleased with her ability to make her own decisions - no stupid brainless nineteenth century girl was she! - Nancy set off.
“Since when has something as stupid as a barred window ever stopped you?” muttered Mark.
“Since now.” replied Gwendolyn. “You go and get me a welding gun and I’ll gladly break us out of here.
Mark snorted irritably and Gwendolyn came to sit beside him,.
“Sorry,” she muttered. “There’s something else we could do though.”
“Dig up the carpet?”
Mark was too stunned to do anything more than stare at her, stunned. “Seriously?”
“Yeah. Dig up the carpet, get under the door. Shouldn’t be too difficult in an old house like this.” Then she realise what she had said - old house… - and giggled. Mark smiled sarcastically at her.
“I’m glad you find it so funny.”
“Yep.” she walked over to the door and prised a section of the carpet up,to reveal plain brown floorboards underneath.”
How are we gonna get through that then?” grinned Mark bitterly strolling over to join her.
“Shut up.” Gwendolyn lay down on the floor and pushed her head up to the door. Mark was going to make another derogatory comment and then realised that she was trying to look under the door to the other side.
“What did you think I was doing?” she snapped suddenly.
“I said…what did you think I was doing?”
“I didn’t…I didn’t even say anything,” stammered Mark, staring at his companion in horror. Ok…she could read his thoughts. That did not bode well for him.
“I heard you! All right, your lips didn’t move but I clearly heard you speak. Shit!!” she said.
“what?”Mark closed his eyes in an agony. Had she just read what he was thinking a couple of second ago?? In that case, shit was the word…
“Mark!” she remonstrated.
“Sorry! Just….don’t uhhh….”
“Be female?” she supplied for him.
“No! I don’t know.”
She shook his head at him. Then suddenly she sat up and grinned, “Hey, let’s see if you can read my thoughts!!!” She closed her eyes Mar stood still and listened. Nothing. Nothing whatsoever.
“Nope. Can’t hear anything.”
“ok…how about….” She opened her eyes and stared right at him. Mark looked back into her eyes and received the faint image of a palm tree with a luscious sea and beach and blue skied background.
“A palm tree?” he asked doubtfully. Gwendolyn grinned.
“That’s so cool,” she said, but quietly, conscious that someone could be listening to the on the other side. “I can read your thought and you can see pictures I send you mentally. Coooool!”
“I don’t really see how that helps us in our current situation though… ” said Mark, looking at the door.
“No, neither do I…” A piece of paper was slid under the door. Gwendolyn snatched it up immediately and held it up so that both she and Mark could read it at the same time. The piece of paper read: “Don;t make a sound. That $Reed man us still wandering about and I don;t want him to find me as well. I’ve found a weapon and I’m going to try and get the keys off him. I’m not going to talk because I don’t want them to find me either, He’s let Silvia back in. I don’t know what they are going to do now. I will try and get you out. Nancy.” the message had been hastily scribbled on a piece of Silvia’s pleasant purple wallpaper.
“Good girl!” said Gwendolyn, just loud enough for Nancy to hear if she was close enough to the door. “Do you have a pen, Mark?” she asked next.
“Why would I have a pen?”
“Forget it.” replied Gwendolyn and rubbed the edge of her nail against the paper. A blue mark appeared and she grinned. She scrawled a few words on the piece of ripped off wall paper, painstakingly, shaping the words carefully using her unruly medium. Eventually she had a series of blue smears that managed to form words. Mark read it over he shoulder and read; “Great. Good luck.” and there was a little smiley face underneath the final word, except that it was square instead of round and seemed to be grimacing rather than smiling but Gwendolyn hoped that she would be able to get her point across anyway. She bent down to push the note back under the door but hesitated as the corner of the paper was slipping under the door. She raised her hand to the wood of the door and scratched the door very deliberately making as much noise as she could, three times. A second later there was an answering scratch, three of them again, in an echo to Gwendolyn’s own. Still unsure, but a little more confidant Gwendolyn put her eye to the keyhole and was greeted by the sight of a large blue eye peering in at her. An ye that was unmistakably her friend’s.
“It’s all right. It’s me. Are you ok?” Nancy whispered.
“Fine. We’re both fine. Thank you Nancy.”
“It’s all right. I’m the one who’s free aren’t I? I’ll get you out of there,” said Nancy.
Gwendolyn smiled at her through the locked door. “You’re brilliant aren’t you? I take it all back. Thank you.”
“Do you want me to go and look for them?” Nancy asked.
“No. It’s more risky.”
The eye flicked away from the door, looked around briefly and then came back “But they might not come back for hours,” she said.
“We could smash the door in.” suggested Mark suddenly. Gwendolyn was so surprised at his contribution to the conversation that she turned round and looked at him.
“Kick the door in,” Mark said, and nodded at the door in question.
“That is a good idea.” said Nancy from the other side of the door. A whisper neither of the two prisoners heard
“We’d never be able to. It;s too strong,” said Gwendolyn, “The door sin this place are about three inches thick and solid.We’d never break it.” Then she realized that Mark was looking at the sofa in the middle of the room. She smiled gently, wickedly. “Ok, it’s worth a go. What about the noise?”
“Bugger the noise. We’re getting out,” Mark said. Together they went to the sofa and began pushing it to the door, positioning it so that it was lever with the door and would hit it straight on. They looked at one another. “Ready?” asked Mark. She nodded. The two of them backed up against the opposite wall and ran at the sofa, pushing it into the door as hard as they could. The door screamed in protest, caving in slightly. But only ever so slightly. The impact chipped a sizable chunk off the front of the door and it went flying across the room.
“Great,” said Mark. “We’ll just do that two hundred times and in an hour or two we won’t have any door left, No problem.” Gwendolyn sighed
“Let’s try again.”
“they’ll hear something if we don’t get a move on.” he muttered.
“They’ll have heard that wherever the hell they are in this house. It sounded like we were trying to knock a wall down.” said Gwendolyn.
“I thought that was the bloody point,” muttered Mark.
“We’ll try again. Come on, before Reed comes back.”
“And shots us,” Mark said gloomily.
“Well, I didn’t want to mention that part,” she dragged him back over the end of the of the room and they there themselves at the sofa again. This time the door gave a less robust sounding thunk than before and they hoped that they might have loosened it a bit.
“Once more?” asked Gwendolyn looking at the door. Mark went to the door and put all his weight on to it. It sagged slightly outwards, but they could see that it was going to hold on a bit longer. Twice more they hauled the sofa back into position and rammed it at the door. After that they could see it was going to take quite a while to loosen it.
“I don’t think it’s going to come off easily.” said Nancy from the other side.
“Fuck off Nancy!” snapped Gwendolyn, “That’s it then - I’m officially giving up,” she said. She started walking through the room opening cupboards.
“What are you going to do now?” Mark asked, scowling at her.
She looked behind her and turned away again dismissively. “I’m going to see, if I can quite possibly, conceivably, maybe, get myself drunk…a ha!” she reached into the cupboard and brought out a bottle of Cognac in a fancy square decanter. She pulled off the top, sniffed the liquid, winced, grinned, lifted the bottle to the ceiling, said “Here goes nowt,” and took a large swig. Mark watched her do all this and sniggered unkindly when she nearly spat he liquid back out of her mouth at the taste.
“I don’t think now is the most appropriate time, Gwe-”
“Bollocks! After all I’ve been through I think I deserve to have drink.” Mark dubiously watched her take two more swigs and then he held out his hand for the bottle.
“Come on. I think I deserve to get pissed as well,” he said. Gwendolyn grinned and handed it over. It went on like that for a few minutes, the two of them sharing the bottle and taking it in turns to guzzle the brown liquid from the neck and getting happily into the party spirit.
Gwendolyn was busily rooting around in another of Silvia Doyle’s cupboards, arranging silver candlesticks and delicate porcelain ornaments in a row outside the cupboard door. She was half listening to him and half lost in her own world.
Mark strolled over to take the bottle off her, and held it up to the dim light of the bulb that was inset in the ceiling. “What is this stiff anyway?” he slurred.
“God only knows. It tastes sorta like sherry, and sorts like Cognac and sorta like…oh…um….port. That’s the one. It tastes like a mixture of all three of them.”
“Cool,” aid Mark and took another healthy swig at it, despite his companions best efforts to snatch it off him. Suddenly there was a shirt startled squeal from outside, where Nancy was. Mark dropped the bottle in shock, but Gwendolyn managed to catch, albeit a little shakily, and shoved it back in the cupboard. She looked at the door nervously and hauled out the bottle again and drank down another two mouthfuls before she stood up. Then she had another idea, whipped out the bottle again and pured the entire contents, not down her throat but down the back of the cabinet.
“What are you doing?” Mark mouthed at her in horror.
She smiled at him. “Shhh….” she casually tossed the thick glass bottle on the floor. It made a heavy noise but didn’t break, just lay there, empty.
Reed came in, clutching Nancy in one large hand. She was unconscious and her body sagged to the ground. Reed was holding er by her collar of her coat, and dropped he on the floor unceremoniously.
“What have you been doing in here?” he asked when he spotted the empty bottle and saw the contents of the cupboard it was in scattered all over the floor.
Gwendolyn giggled, putting her thumb to here mouth coquettishly, and Mark cottoned onto what she was up to. “Playing soldiers,” she said,managing to sound a hell of a lot more drunk than she could possibly have been. Mark smiled at he gratefully and turned it into a pissed bray of mirth. Reed stared at them uncertainly, surveyed the room, and stepped in.
“You two really are a cut above the average aren’t you?”
“Yup,” Gwendolyn said contentedly, and lifted one of the burgundy candles out of its holder and began to nibble on it appreciatively. She caught Reed watching her in disgust and faint suspicion - of course the idea that they were faking it was running through his mind. It had to be - and she narrowed her eyes at him, swayed and giggled again.
Mark looked at Nancy. He was terrified in case she had been hurt badly - she wasn’t exactly in tip top physical condition to begin with - but to keep up the pretence of being drunk he said to Reed “What you done to our little mate? She’s been drugged by God!” He crawled over to the girl all theatrical, and moaning, and tried to lift her. He could have done so easily, but he had to maintain his act. He lopped one of her arms around his neck, lurched up, and tumbled over, snickering. Throughout all of this he still managed to check Nancy’s pulse. It was weak, but regular, and he counted 13 heartbeats in ten seconds. How may human heartbeats were there in a minute? God….biology was so long ago now…wasn’t it 70? Or was it 78? One of those, surely. The alcohol he’d drunk fugged up his head a little bit and he started swaying uncertainly for real. Mark shook his head to try and pull himself together, and heard Gwendolyn talking to Reed.
“Why don’t you come and join the party? I think we need some more booze.”
Reed was just staring at her.
“Oh come on….a little bit of beer? what about a banana daiquiri?? Come on now - everyone loves bananas.”
Mark watched Reed. He clearly had no idea what to do in this sort of situation. At least the mild suspicion was gone fro his glare. “I like bananas.” He said, simply so that reed wouldn’t cotton on to the fact that Mark was watching oh-so-carefully. Reed looked down at him distastefully.
He poked at Mark with his neat brown shoe. “Get over there you, where I can you.”
Mark to once tried to lift up Nancy again, and fell on to his front, trying to look as helpless and pathetically drunk as he could. Reed half kicked him half nudged him over to the middle of the room, and picked up Nancy himself and put her on the sofa, which he moved back t o its rightful position.
Gwendolyn lifted her head from where she was playing with some coasters ad asked, “What are you going to do with us then? If you’re not going to let us have a party? It would be earn to not let us have a arty.” she wheedled, smiling up at Reed.
Reed looked down at her disdainfully. “The mistress Silvia hasn’t got time to see you at the moment. When she returns she will have to see you. Do you understand?”
“Where’d she go? Did she go to get some more booze?” asked Mark, wandering up to Reed and leering at him, hoping that he smelt enough of the alcohol to lull Reed in an even more false sense of security. He must have done because Reed backed of, wrinkling his nose slightly.
“It’s none of your concern as to where she has gone-”
Gwendolyn suddenly burst into peels of laughter. “Oooh. Posh - have you heard how he talks, Marky boy?” she shrieked with laughter again. Reed fixed her with an unflinching stare and she casually flipped a coaster up at him. Reed dodged it coolly and reached down to haul Gwendolyn to her feet.
“No!” she wailed, kicking out at Reed, and almost knocking him to the ground. “No!” she wailed again, but it sounded too much like ‘now’ for Mark to ignore the signal she was trying to give out. He picked up the glass bottle and swung it at Reed’s head.
Without having to look at the bottle, Reed reached out and picked out of the air, out of Mark’s grip and threw it at the wall where it smashed into thousands of tiny crystalline pieces. Mark backed away in sudden fright from the mans superhuman strength. Gwendolyn had watched the whole thing raptly and now started to struggle. Mark wasn’t sure if she was being deliberately weak, still trying to keep up the pretence of being drunk, or not, because he’d managed to hold her firmly down without any obvious effort at all on his part. “That’s a good trick. You nearly pulled it off too.” said Reed. He clapped his free hand against his other wrist sarcastically and grinned. “Are you going to run?”
Mark shook his head. How far would have got anyway? Apart from that, there was no way that he was going to leave Nancy and Gwendolyn to their fates with out him. He hovered uncertainly until he heard Nancy begin to stir, making a low moaning sound.
“Let me go.” Gwendolyn said to Reed, looking up at him and fixing him in a cold stare with her unsettling dark eyes. Reed pushed her away from him roughly and stood. “Get over there with your companions,” he snapped at her.” she complied and the three of them watched him.
Reed smiled at them happily. “Good. That;s the three o you all cooped up in here. I hope you have a nice time. I’ll be waiting outside the door until Mistress Silvia gets back.” with that, he crossed to the door opened it, gave them a raised eyebrowed look at its pained creaking noise and locked them securely in again.
CHAPTER 15: Sober
“Sorry,” said Nancy. when Reed had left them. None of them any doubt that he was being true to his word and was hovering outside the door and they were still whispering.
Gwendoyln smiled at her, “It’s not your fault.” She was watching the door distractedly.
“Gwendolyn…” started Nancy.
“What is it?” her tone was a lot kinder than it usually was. That frightened Nancy - it either meant that Gwendolyn was scared, or that she was worried about Nancy. Neither were good at all. Nancy leaned closer to Gwendolyn and whispered in her ear. Mark bent and put his ear close to her mouth as well, so there was no chance of anyone overhearing them.
“It’s odd, that Reed calls Silvia ‘mistress’ and yet he doesn’t treat her as such when they are alone together,” she said.
“How does he treat her?” Gwendolyn asked dubiously.
“More like he is her master. He was telling her off for going outside. She said she went because she was still human…” Nancy looked at Gwendolyn for clarification. The older girl had a wondering look on her face and was looking at the door - beyond which Reed was waiting - and nodded her head briefly.
“That could explain a lot,” she said.
Mark looked confused. “Like?”
“His strength for one. That’s not human strength. It’s more than that.”
Behind her, Mark groaned. “Oh Christ. Don’t start all that stupid conspiracy theory nonsense again. You sound like Matt Bellamy!”
“How dare you talk about Matt like that!” stormed Gwendolyn. Apparently, the band Muse were quite a big thing on 29th century Earth. “You know it was all true. All those things that you speculated about in the 21st century were discovered to be completely true in the 29th. There were aliens and the Earth Governments were trying to keep us form knowing about them.”
“Why?” asked Mark quietly. Nancy was just watching the scene part horrified and part fascinated at what her two companions were saying.
Gwendolyn shrugged, “Because they didn’t want us to know anything. There’s so many secrets up there. Some of them we haven;t even begun to find out - not even in the 19th century. Or I don’t know…maybe they the Government knew something we didn’t. Some people say that they were warned away from visiting other planets.”
Mark was looking at her thoughtfully with a faint grin on his face. “So you’ve got yourself a conspiracy theory with in a conspiracy theory?” he asked.
“Sort of yeah.” She turned to look at Nancy suddenly. “Sorry Nancy. You probably didn’t want to know all that…”
“I don’t even know what you’re talking about,” said the Victorian, quite honestly.
Gwendolyn smiled, “That’s all right then. She lowered her voice again - they’d been speaking almost normally for the last few minutes with out even realising it, “I think we ought to move on to more pressing matters now,” she whispered to them both, gesturing at the door.
“We need to get out of here - I know that. But i don’t know how,” said Nancy.
“Do we know if that guy out there - Reed - do we know if he has any weaknesses?” asked Gwendolyn.
Th other two shook their heads, unable to think of anything. “Gwendolyn looked at them irritably. “Everyone’s got a weakness. Just think….”
suddenly heard Gwendolyn suddenly head Mark speak , except she looked up at him and his mouth didn’t move once. She was hearing his thoughts again. A small smile spread across her face. “I know one thing that he can’t do. “She thought of a door. Reed came through that door and the three oft hem beat the hell out of him.”
Gwendolyn noticed that Nancy was looking at them rather oddly and she smiled awkwardly. “I suppose we had better explain…me and Mark have been able to hear each others thoughts for the last half and hour. Its weird.”
“Yes, it is.” said Nancy, “But I found out that I could do this…” she looked at a piece of glass from the smashed bottle, that was still lying on the floor. She looked at it steadily, concentrating on nothing but that bottle. Mark and Gwendolyn saw it lift from the floor, hover uncertainly for a few seconds, and then it slowly started to drift towards the trio. Nancy held out her hand to catch the glass and it floated softly and gently into her outstretched palm.
“Wow,” said Gwendolyn, unable to
Being an atheist means you have to realise that when you die, that really is it. You've got to make the most of what you've got here and spread as much influence as you can. I believe that you only live through the influence that you spread, whether that means having a kid or making music.Matt Bellamy, Muse
Sunday, January 07, 2007
This is the complete first part of the novel I wrote for this years NaNoWriMo.