Authors: Georgia Byng
Molly didn’t know what he was talking about, but in her trance she didn’t care.
As they sped along, she recognized where they were heading. They were on the road to Briersville. Of course, it wasn’t the Tarmac road she was used to but a rough country lane with daisies growing along the middle of it in a long, grassy tuft. Half a mile on they came to a cart pulled by an ox. The cabriolet had to stop while the oxcart slowly pulled up on the shoulder to let them overtake it. For a moment it was quiet, except for a lark singing in the air above. And then Molly heard the juddering beat of hooves on the road behind. The man looked back to see the angry gardener and groom galloping fast toward them. Cursing, he leaped haphazardly onto the horse that pulled their carriage and forced it to trot on past the oxcart. Now the chasing riders were only yards away. Molly’s kidnaper once more froze the world.
Since his body was in contact with the horse beneath him, the creature continued to move forward and away. Molly had focused her mind, so she kept moving, too. Gripping Petula, she glanced behind her and looked with calm interest at their pursuers. They were
brilliant statues of charging horsemen on their steeds. Even the dust kicked up by the animals’ hooves was stuck, motionless, in a still cloud.
She watched the elderly man bobbing about in front of her as he rode the horse that pulled the cabriolet and she was struck by how remarkably dextrous and nimble he was for his age. And the frozen nineteenth-century world passed by. Molly no longer felt like questioning him. She smiled as if her changed surroundings were just a delightful show for her entertainment. Sweet guitar music could have been playing, the way she smiled.
A motionless woman, dressed in a long brown dress, drew up water from a well. They overtook a scruffy young boy who drove a gaggle of geese along the ditch. All were still as sculptures.
As they reached the outskirts of Briersville, Molly looked up to the hilltop where the orphanage she had grown up in would be. That very building stood all gray and sad-looking, exposed to the elements. She wondered whether it had been an orphanage in 1850, 1860, 1870—whenever it was now.
Her captor drove the horse on into Briersville. They passed the town hall, with its pepper-pot roof. Everywhere was stock-still. The women wore long, bustled dresses and hats. The men’s headwear ranged from
top hats to caps to floppy woolen hoods. The turbaned man urged the horse on, ignoring its alarm at the immobile world. Grumbling to himself, he weaved the cabriolet through the obstacle course of horse-drawn carriages and wagons.
A busy market was taking place in a side street. There were cake stalls, bread stands, and cages full of live chickens that could be bought and slaughtered on the spot. A meaty-faced butcher held a chicken in position on a chopping board, his other hand raised with a cleaver ready. Petula’s sensitive nose picked up the scents in the air of blood and beer and baking and straw and animals and smoke, and she tried to understand why everything smelled so different.
Finally they arrived on the other side of the town, near the common. Molly’s kidnaper dismounted and let the world move again. Disheveled from his ride, exhausted from the effort of freezing time, and impatient, he beckoned for Molly and Petula to get down. He held his hand out. In it was another metallic purple capsule that he’d removed from the side of his silver gadget.
“Swallow this,” he ordered, his words spiced with a strong Indian accent. Molly paused, tried to refuse, and then did as she was told. The metal pill felt uncomfortable as it made its way down her throat. The
man consulted his device, which had a flashing dial on it and a keyboard. He squinted at the tiny buttons and, with a pin from his turban, began tapping in numbers. Molly watched. Finally he pressed a silver button and took her hand.
“You are exhausting me!” he grumbled. Then he raised the silver mechanism up to his neck and with his little finger cupped the
crystal that hung there.
His face strained and reddened with concentration. There was the familiar distant BOOM and the world around Molly and Petula began to shift and melt and change again.
A warm wind blew. Molly realized that they were now moving
in time. A rapid succession of noises whizzed past her ears until the silver gadget emitted a bright flash of light. The disgruntled man brought them to a standstill. When the swirling stopped, Molly saw a familiar world. The common was a modern playing field. Two boys in dark blue sweat-suits were kicking a football about, concentrating so intently that they didn’t notice the three time travelers popping up.
“Haap!” Molly tried to shout, but her voice was locked in her throat.
The ruffled man ran his hand over his dry, wrinkled face and walked toward a wooden bench. He
retrieved another purple metal pill, which Molly deduced he must have hidden there earlier to help him find the exact place again.
Then he shouted to the boys, “What is the time by your watch and chain?”
One boy stopped with the ball under his foot. “Talkin’ to me?”
“Yes, you, boy.”
The boy gave his friend a look as if to say, “Cor, we’ve got a right one here.”
“Ten to four,” he shouted back. As he did, Molly recognized him. He was from Briersville School. He’d been in the grade above Molly and sometimes he’d played football with Rocky. Yet he looked younger—
younger than when Molly had last seen him. They must have landed in a time way before she’d ever found the book about hypnotism, the book from which she’d learned her skills.
Had she not been hypnotized, she might have laughed in amazement or yelped with fear. For Molly was in a time that she herself had already
“Mweal,” she grunted, trying to call his name. She glanced over her shoulder at the fields and woods that were the hilly shortcut from Briersville School to Hardwick House Orphanage.
The hill was the route the children from the
orphanage often took. If it had been a school day, they would already have been walking home, as tea was at four o’clock prompt. Sure enough, a group of children was near the top. And, lower down, two small figures emerged from the woods. One had black hair, the other was wearing a brown raincoat with a swirl on the back. They were too far off to be distinguishable. And yet, as she saw how the first one strode on and the other walked sluggishly behind, Molly was distinctly reminded of Rocky and herself. What was more, she had once owned a raincoat with a spiral design on its back.
In her hypnotized state, Molly matter-of-factly concluded that, miraculous as it was, there was a possibility that the person lagging behind on the hillside was herself from
three years before.
Then she noticed a mechanical whirring that was getting louder and louder.
A helicopter was landing on the playing field. The chopping noise from its blades and engines was deafening.
The footballers covered their ears and watched as it touched down. With the rotor still spinning, her captor ushered Molly in. Her hair blew about as she mounted its metal steps. Petula curled up in her arms, afraid, and burrowed her face into Molly’s armpit.
Both wondered where they were going. The hypnotic peacefulness she’d felt before had worn off. Again, Molly attempted to talk. “Wha—ar—yaa—taaaken—ma?”—but her captor ignored her.
As the insect machine swung away and up, Molly tried to see the faces of the children on the slope, but it was impossible. However, over the orphanage she did manage to pick out Adderstone, the orphanage mistress, sitting at a garden table, being served tea by Edna, the orphanage cook. Adderstone looked up sharply at the helicopter and covered her ears while Edna raised her fist and shouted. Molly could just imagine the swear words that were flying out of her mouth.
Below, the fields were a patchwork of green. In twenty minutes they were at the airport. The helicopter landed and, as if all was prearranged, they were met by a white golf buggy, driven across the runway to a private jet, and ushered aboard. Molly, with Petula alert under her arm, walked numbly on.
ine hours later the jet touched down. Its doors opened and warm air that smelled of bonfires, herbs, and spices rushed in. A hot sun hit their shoulders. Molly squinted as she looked about.
The whole airport, with its control towers and orange windsocks, quivered in the heat. On the runway waited a shiny black car with a flag with a peacock on it.
“Ar—way—an—Andia?” Molly asked, but her words fell on deaf ears.
Soon they were driving, and within a short time Molly knew her guess had been right.
The roads were crammed. Camels and horses pulled wagons and carts. Brightly colored trucks with decorated cabs, hand-painted with pictures of flowers and elephants, were unlike any trucks Molly had seen
before. On the back of each was written “Use Your Horn.” The driver of their car certainly did. He pressed the horn constantly. And other drivers blew their horns at him. Camels and water buffalo pulling their loads moved close to the edge of the shoulder, where bicycles clattered by, while the noisier, faster traffic was in the main lane. Tiny auto-rickshaw taxis, yellow and black like giant wasps, buzzed past. Women in colorful saris rode their mopeds or traveled on the back of motorbikes.
It was very busy. They passed a huge playing field where hundreds of children played cricket, and then a clearing where gypsies lived. Above their homemade shacks a billboard advertised silk wedding saris. Soon they were in a city.
“Wha—ar—yaa—takan—may?” Molly managed to ask, but her captor stared out of the window at the dusty road and the buildings. Molly felt sticky and hot.
Petula panted. With great effort, Molly took a bottle of mineral water from the pocket of the car seat. She cupped her hands and gave Petula a drink.
She noticed that the roads were getting wider and the buildings grander. They drove down a long avenue with smart embassies on either side. Flags hung outside them in the windless air.
Molly thought how limp she felt, and how this was
what it felt like to be hypnotized. She was tired, too. Time travel was tiring.
“I’m on my own in India with Petula and this complete stranger,” she thought. “Why?”
Molly shut her eyes. She urged herself to not be imprisoned by this hypnotism, but it was impossible. Her mind simply couldn’t break through the shield that surrounded it. She was reminded of nightmares she’d had of crossing a road, of a big bus coming, but of not being able to move. Of her feet being stuck and her body being paralyzed. Her mind felt paralyzed now.
When she opened her eyes again, they had stopped outside what seemed to be a tourist site. It was a magnificent red fort, crumbling in parts, with tourist shops at its entrance and a taxi stand by its gate.
“Out,” the turbaned man said rudely. Molly opened the car door. Petula sniffed about inquisitively and the man picked her up. Again he took out his silver time-traveling device and began fiddling with it. Satisfied that it was programmed correctly, he squeezed Molly’s arm.
“Here we go again,” Molly thought. “Where is he taking me this time?”
With Petula hooked under his right armpit, the turbaned man felt for his green crystal. The veins in his neck stood out as he concentrated. There was a BOOM,
and the world flashed with color. The noise was almost deafening as they shot back in time. A cool wind rushed around them, playing with the ends of Molly’s hair and ruffling the man’s mustache. The silver box flashed. They stopped.
A painted festival elephant stood beside them. The man growled and stamped his foot crossly. He pressed a button on his silver time gauge and clasped his red stone. With another BOOM and a hot whirl of windy color they moved forward in time. This time when they stopped, it was raining—pouring.
“Aaaahhhhh!” roared the man, now in a terrible rage and soaked. “Why can’t I ever get it right? These time winds will send me early to my grave!” He clasped the green crystal.
Molly realized that he obviously wanted to be at the gates on a particular day, at a precise time, and he was finding it extremely difficult. As they lurched forward and backward through time it was as if he was trying to dock a time-travel ship in a particularly tricky spaceport. Molly didn’t find it amusing. She didn’t find it scary, either. She didn’t feel much, but her curiosity was still active.
“Plas—tal—may—wha—wa—ar—gawing,” she tried again.
The silver box flashed. They stopped. It was a morning.
Another fiercely hot sun blazed down.
A look of grateful relief washed over her captor’s face. Now ten palm trees were growing by the red fort’s walls, and near its entrance, instead of the tourist shops, stood two forbidding, sword-bearing guards. Molly’s escort indicated that she should wait. Brushing rain water from his shoulders, he walked over to a large parasol and, from the iron-hard ground, picked up another one of his strange purple pills. Handing a wet Petula to a servant, he took a few moments to straighten his clothes. A bowl of water and a towel were brought for him to wash and dry his face. A servant produced a small pot of something and a mirror in which he checked his appearance very carefully. He rubbed some ointment on the dry skin on his cheek, exclaiming, “Worse, it’s worse. I’ll rot before I’m young again!”
Then the servant brought him a tray of small green candies. Molly’s escort spat on the ground, leaving a gob of red spit there, and he popped one of the candies into his mouth. “Ah! Paan! At least there is
good in this world,” he muttered. Then, chewing, he gathered up Petula, came back, and tugged at Molly to follow him.
The whiskered guards bowed low as they passed. When they walked through the high arched gates other
servants bowed even lower. Molly’s escort was, she realized, quite important.
“Not important enough to be
at ease in this fine palace, though,” she thought. For as they walked down the cool marble passages, it struck her that her companion was getting more and more nervous.
When they climbed some pale green steps to a giant amber and gold entrance, Molly noticed that his hands were shaking. He twitched nervously on the top step, as if trying to make his mind up about something, and then he thrust Petula into Molly’s arms. Petula, sensing the tense situation, dived under Molly’s baggy T-shirt and wriggled up inside to hide.