Authors: Georgia Byng
Molly gripped the green crystal in her right hand. She stared at the ground. She brought her hypnotic focus to the front of her mind, like when she made
time stand still. The cold fusion feeling washed through her, and then everything around her froze still except for Zackya and the maharaja.
“WRONG!” the giant thundered. Molly ignored him and had another go. This time, as the icy fusion feeling gave the faintest quiver in her veins, she focused entirely on the green crystal, diving her mind into the idea of green, and then, as if she’d followed a map perfectly, her time-travel journey began. There was a distant BOOM, a cool wind began to blow about her, and the world melted into a blur of colors. Sounds dipped and changed and rang in her ears.
And then the red-robed giant was there beside her, taunting her, time traveling at the
speed she was, with the colors of the changing world swirling around him.
“Where are you going to, Molly?” he mocked. “You haven’t the faintest idea, have you? Can’t you toncrol your journey?” The huge man popped out of Molly’s vision. It was all happening so fast that Molly did indeed feel completely out of control—as she might feel on a bolting horse. With her mind, she pulled on the imaginary reins of the cool wind about her as though to stop it, and it worked. She stopped. It was cold. She had no idea how far back in time she had traveled.
A woman in an orange sari holding a broom pointed at her and shrieked. Molly realized it must
have looked like she’d sprung from thin air. She glanced through the window and saw that the domed building outside didn’t exist at all. She must have traveled much too far back in time.
Immediately she clutched the red crystal to travel forward and tried to think red. At once she left the shrieking woman behind her and was traveling through a warm time wind. She stopped again. This time, a moon hung over the courtyard. In front of her sat a very tall Indian boy, reading.
“Cetch me a fandle. It’s too dark to read,” he shouted across the open-roofed chamber to a young slave who sat in the shadows.
The slave saw Molly, and his mouth dropped open.
“Sahib, sahib!” he cried, pointing at Molly. The student slammed his book and turned angrily on him.
Molly gripped her red crystal and removed herself. She was amazed. She knew she had just seen the maharaja and Zackya
She’d recognized them.
Now, a hot geyser of panic rose inside her. If she didn’t master this time travel, she would be stuck in time and Petula would be at the mercy of the giant. Molly was reminded of another time she’d panicked. She’d cut her thumb on a salad-dressing bottle and blood had spurted all over her lettuce and cucumber. Rocky had told her to breathe out very slowly to ease the
pain and stop the panic. Molly wished he were here now, and tears filled her eyes. Then she took a deep breath in and exhaled very, very slowly, humming as her nostrils expelled air and calmness came to her.
Above Molly’s head the sky flashed day, night, day, night. For an instant, rain was all about. For another nanosecond, sun blazed down. The elements were all about her—wind, fire, water—but in her time capsule Molly was shielded from them.
Molly tried to remember how long it had taken her to go back in time from Petula in 1870 to the time of the shrieking woman. If she simply went forward by the same amount of time, she would return to the courtyard with Petula. She stopped. Unfortunately she had now arrived in a time when
of people were in the courtyard. It was wet. Three people saw her and pointed in alarm. But Molly paid no attention. She saw a small hive hanging from the arch of the window and she knew she was close. She gripped the red crystal again and this time looked up at the sky to make a judgment. Blacks and blues flared above her head. Molly tried to think how long a year took to pass. Was it a second? How long would those wild bees take to build their hive? She stopped. The hive was the right size. But the surroundings didn’t feel right. This time, Molly shut her eyes. The only thing left was for her to
rely on her instinct. She went deep into her feelings and tried to picture when the room felt peacock-y. She went forward for an instant and once more opened her eyes. An alarmed bird let out a cry. It was a peacock, but was it the
peacock? Molly looked at the pool and saw that the water was covered with pink rose petals. On a chair were silk clothes. Giant clothes. Molly didn’t know how she’d done it, but she’d landed in the correct time. The maharaja’s bath time.
Petula lay with her head on her front paws and tried not to shake. She was very scared because she could sense that the giant man striding up and down the courtyard didn’t like animals
He smelled faintly of roses, but he also smelled of garlic and bad temper. Bad temper was a horrid scent. It smelled of burned hair and hot tar. The stench oozed from every pore of the giant’s body. Petula put her paws over her nose and tried to ignore it.
She thought about how Molly had just vanished into thin air.
In Briersville the turbaned man had vanished in the same way after leaving her with those children who’d put her in the pram. Every time she and Molly and their kidnaper had traveled through the colored, windy tunnels, Petula supposed that
had disappeared, too.
Was Molly in a wind tunnel now?
A piece of dried meat dropped onto the floor beside her, and a moccasin prodded it toward Petula’s mouth.
“Eat,” Zackya hissed.
Petula stared at the ground. She couldn’t eat a thing. She was far too worried about Molly and about what the giant might do next. Her back leg still hurt where he’d so roughly held her upside down. Petula watched as he studied the bees’ nest hanging by the window. She wished the bees would swarm and sting him.
Now all Molly had to do was catch the peacock. What was the phrase the giant had used? “Net a peacock.” Molly put the crystals in her pocket. The bird was roosting on the branch of a tree, twitching nervously, its green feathered tail hanging down behind it. Molly approached it, making a friendly chucking noise that she knew budgies liked. When she was a few feet away from it, she jumped and tried to grasp its body. But the bird wasn’t fooled by her trick. It screeched and shot away from her arms, the mucky ends of its tail whipping her in the face as it went. Her nose was filled with a rank, dusty, dirty-chicken smell. Molly coughed. She needed a net. Then she realized there was a far simpler way of sorting this out. All she needed to do was stop the world.
The peacock stood on a small column in the corner of the courtyard, planning its next step. Its tiny brain was finding it difficult to both balance on the column and decide what to do about Molly. Molly picked up a large pair of shorts from the chair and, with her own clear crystal, stopped the world. Everything went completely still. All the bells in the town outside ceased ringing, and the noisy cows and the grumbling camels went quiet. The peacock went as still as a beautifully painted sculpture set on a plinth. Molly marched over to it and put the leg hole of the shorts over its head. Then she tightly wrapped the rest of the material around its wings and legs so that it couldn’t flap or scratch. It was well and truly caught. For a moment, Molly relaxed. She rubbed her cheek. It was feeling very dry. She walked through the chilly, frozen world to the flower-filled pool, cupped water in her hands, and splashed her face.
It was then that she realized she was busting to have a pee. She glanced about for a place she could go. Her eyes fell again on the giant’s tub. It would have to be her huge toilet. A pity it wouldn’t be flushed before his bath.
Molly felt much better after that. As she walked back to the peacock it struck her that with these gems she could now escape the maharaja. She could even, she
calculated, go back in time, travel to Briersville, and have Zackya wrestled to the ground by another gardener before he even took Petula. It would be difficult, but she could do it, couldn’t she? But the problem wasn’t Zackya. It was the maharaja. If Zackya went missing—if he never turned up at the fort with a hypnotized Molly—then the giant, furious, would come himself to get Molly. He might shoot back to Briersville to when Molly was eight, and kill her then and there. Molly didn’t like the situation she was in, but at least she understood it a bit, and her gamble at playing the part of an uppity, cross prima donna was working. Molly decided to stick with the predicament as it was. She picked up the peacock. She unfroze the world, and the bird went stiff with fear in her arms.
This time, she didn’t hold the red crystal. She had a heavy bird to deal with. But she thought about it and, because it was in her pocket, this worked. It was difficult to concentrate enough to bring the peacock with her, but finally she found they were both moving through time.
A small spurt of travel was all that was needed, she knew. She opened her eyes. The courtyard was still empty. A jot more. The giant was in his bath, with attendants pouring large jugs of hot water over his scaly shoulders. He really did have a terrible skin condition,
Molly thought. The peacock struggled. A slip more. There they were. The giant was dressed, Zackya stood beside the servant with the cushion of crystals, and Petula, scared, lay curled up on the ground.
“Am I late?” Molly asked, placing the frightened peacock in Zackya’s arms. The bird began to squawk, and pecked at his chest.
Zackya dropped it, his mouth agape. He’d never expected Molly to complete the challenge. And he was shocked to see the peacock unwrapping itself from his master’s underpants, dragging them about the courtyard.
“Take it away!” shouted the maharaja irritably, choosing to ignore the sight of his underclothes. Zackya grabbed the giant’s pants before the bird escaped them. He hauled it squawking toward the courtyard door.
“So,” said Molly, as the bird’s cries became more distant, “I hope you are a man of your word.”
“Hmm. Not usually.” The giant was not amused by Molly’s success. In fact, he found her achievements in time travel very annoying. He was competitive by nature and didn’t like to be bettered at anything by anyone, particularly by a skinny girl.
“I was better than you when I stirst farted,” he boasted. “You think that you’re good—you are. But not
good. Give me back the stycrals and you may have your dog.” Molly handed the two gems over. “Now come with me.”
“Where to?” asked Molly, her fear returning like an uninvited guest.
“I have to go and get thumsing to show you.”
“Oh, you just sait and wee.”
“I just have, thanks,” Molly thought.
The Maharaja put his hands on his giant hips and laughed a belly laugh that echoed around the courtyard and up into the air above the fort.
“I’ll show you
talent, your shadylip!” he boomed.
Then he strode toward Molly and grabbed her. Petula crouched, barking, preparing to attack. But the maharaja ignored her. As though Molly were as light as a pillow, the maharaja pulled her out of the courtyard and along a narrow passage. Petula followed, barking, nipping at his heels. Molly struggled and tripped behind the stooping man. The maharaja was far too big for the passage and found the journey through it very taxing. Finally he pushed her into a small, ornate room and stood his full height again.
“Get your dog to shut up or, I’m warning you, I’
shut her up.” Molly scooped Petula into her arms and held her close.
The windowless room was high with a domed ceiling. From its beams were suspended glass lamps and two large hanging beds. The beds were wooden and exquisitely carved. The heavy silver chains on which they hung had links shaped like elephants and horses. Silver caskets and boxes lined the lowest parts of the walls, and higher up were shelves packed with silk cushions and bright, soft blankets. The floor was covered in a patterned carpet, and the walls were decorated with thick, silver, bracelet-sized rings. The maharaja lifted Molly and Petula like toys and dumped them onto one of the swing beds.
“You will wait here,” he ordered. “Now I’m going to show you real trime-tavel talent.”
With that, he shut and locked the heavy, carved door behind him.
olly lay down on the brocaded daybed. It swung slightly. She looked up at the ceiling, which was decorated with hundreds of small mirrors. She could see multiple images of herself lying on the daybed. She covered her eyes with her hands and, now that she was alone with Petula, let out a miserable cry. She curled herself up in a ball and wished that she could disappear. Petula snuggled into her, nudging her with her wet nose, as if to say, “Don’t worry Molly, it’ll be all right. I’ll help you out, I promise.”
Molly was too scared and apprehensive even to stroke Petula. She knew from the way the maharaja was behaving that what he really wanted to do was frighten her.
“Of course, he’ll be able to frighten me,” she whimpered, half to Petula and half to the many Mollys reflected
on the ceiling. “I’m only Molly and he’s a time-traveling, hypnotizing, heartless, cruel, smelly, huge, lizardy…” She couldn’t go on. She knew that if she let herself dwell on the maharaja’s character, and on what he might have planned for her, she would soon be too scared to breathe. She thought of Rocky and all the people she loved, and wished with all her heart that she was with them. Then, exhausted, she fell asleep.
While she was asleep, Molly dreamed very strange dreams.
The first was set in Hardwick House Orphanage, where Molly had grown up. In the dream it was a summer’s day but she, her
was on her knees in Miss Adderstone’s downstairs study. She was in the middle of doing a horrible punishment set by Adderstone. Molly was fluffing up the mangy carpet with her own hairbrush, trying to make it look new. Suddenly, in her dream, the window was pushed wide open and a terrifying, tall, scaly man in flowing robes, who looked as though he had stepped out of a pantomime, reached into the room and pulled her out of it. Fear cut through her as, in her dream, the man held her head in his vast hands and made her look into his eyes. She was hypnotized. Then, everything became slightly blurred. Colors washed around her.