I Time Traveled Through London For My Birthday
It is vital that you read this. Wherever you are right now, whatever the hour. My name is Réka Kaponay. I am a traveler. A world traveler. Over the course of my four and half years of globetrotting, many of my dreams have come true. I’ve zip-lined through India’s stunning Blue City and experienced midnight in Paris. But never in my wildest dreams would I have ever thought, that I would travel through time.
Right now, I am writing to you from the future. I don’t know where, I don’t know when, and I don’t know how. But what I do know is that I have managed to bend the will of time. Before you decry my story and condemn me to the looney bin, let me tell you that I am just as confused as you are.
The thing is, none of it was supposed to happen. It was supposed to be my 15th birthday and now… I think it’s pretty safe to say, I have no idea what my age is at this point, or if I’m actually alive. The reality is, I am fluctuating through time, real skin, blood and bones in one moment and non-existent the next. This has allowed my biological makeup to slip through the cracks that hold our world together and manipulate the sphere of time, not just of the future, but also of the past.
I don’t know if anyone ever travels through time prepared. I certainly didn’t, and now I am about to embark on one last escapade that just might return me to 2016. I feel somewhat consoled knowing that if I don’t make it back, then at least you will know my story. But to understand all of this, to even have a sliver of a chance of comprehension, I have to go back. Back to the beginning. Back to London. Back to shifting skies, and shadows through the rain, and the magic of the talismans. Back, through time.
Chapter 1: The Pearls of Time
Deep in the countryside of Kent, it is a beautiful morning, green in a way that I hadn’t seen in a long time, the sun setting the grass aglow with a rare vibrancy. It is a stark contrast from when we had arrived last night at Luton amidst pouring rain and mist and the depressed statement of a man sharing the airport shuttle with us who had droned: “There is no summer here.”
Mud squelches under my boots as I step out of our rental car and a slight chill seeps in through my sweater, not the unpleasant kind, but a crisp jolt and goosebumps… like something magical is about to happen.
The lady in the entrance booth smiles as she hands us our tickets. “Welcome to Hever.” The twinkle in her eye is instantly contagious. We enter into the parkland and immediately I feel as if I have been rejuvenated by the tall oaks and bushes of curling pink flowers. After a few weeks of dry heat in the arid climes of the very South of Spain, this foliage is like paradise. I look up across the green lawn to the majestic stone outline of Hever Castle. The exhilaration that most people feel just before a roller-coaster ride ignites in my stomach. “Let’s go!”
We descend into the miniature village, consisting of a cafe/restaurant, an information centre and a gift shop, all decorated exactly like the delightful country cottages we had passed on our drive over here. We take a quick break to use bathrooms, marvel at the view, pound our feet impatiently and shake our fists at the sky. (That last one was only me.) While I wait, I decide to go to the gift shop to pass some time. The moment I enter, my face stretches into an uncontrollable smile. The walls and shelves and cases are all filled with historical memorabilia ranging from coveted books and journals with genuine ink and quill feathers to jewellery, trinkets and music boxes.
But of course, the main theme of the room is Anne Boleyn. After all, Hever Castle is her childhood home. Diaries, postcards, pillows are all adorned with her face and copies of her final letters are strewn across the shelves, available for purchase. A giddy feeling passes through my spine as I pick one up and let my eyes wash over her cursive handwriting, but a glint of gold distracts me from my reading. I follow the shine to a clear glass box displaying a necklace. I sigh with delight when I see the design, fashioned as a replica of Anne Boleyn’s infamous ‘B’ choker.
Immediately, I gravitate closer. I can see my reflection in the golden B, the ring of pearls transfixing my eyes. I lean forwards, my hands pressed against the glass. A sharp flash whips outwards. I stumble back, nearly crashing into a display of books. I wince, waiting for someone to reprimand me. But slowly as I open my eyes the tension slackens from my shoulders. The staff member on duty is inside the stock room and everyone else is on the other side of the store. With one last glance at the bewitching necklace, I hightail it out of there.
Outside, we cross paths with a particularly curious family of ducks torn between bathing in the creek and joining us for photos on the bridge.
The sun shines out again and Hever instantly retains its charming country lure. I forget all about the gift shop and the necklace within and we advance towards the castle, my heart pounding with a fervour that I have recognised over the years as my “Historical Heartbeat.” By the time we cross over the drawbridge and into the courtyard, I can barely contain my excitement. All I can think about are the people who walked these steps before us, the people who crossed under the stone arches stained green with time and called Hever their home.
We step into the inner hall and instantly my cold fingers turn warm, the Italian walnut panelling igniting such a mellow heat within the room that the fireplace is almost unnecessary. I press my hand against a column and trace a Tudor rose. Against the wall, framing the fireplace, are two paintings, one of a man and one of a woman. Instantly I recognise them, a thrill of anticipation running down my spine. It is none other than Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. The King and his Queen. Together they ruled the cut-throat Tudor court, a deadly pair for anyone that dared to cross them, untouched by rumours and undeterred by enemies until at last those very rumours and rivals tore them apart. They each met their match in the glint of an executioner’s sword. Anne died at the hands of a man who had sworn to love and care for her in sickness and in health… and then had ultimately signed her death warrant. Henry, in turn, lived the rest of his life in perpetual agony, a slave to his injuries and a prisoner to his conscience.
Many would call them both cursed.
I linger behind as my family returns to the corridor, my thoughts running rampant, wondering what exactly the artist must have thought when he was painting Anne Boleyn’s likeness. Did he ever imagine that his work would still be here, on display 500 years later? Beside me, a little girl dressed in a traditional dress of the Tudor Era enters the room and I can’t help but smile as I think about how much I would have loved to have a costume like hers at that age. To my surprise, she walks right up to me and the two of us gaze at the paintings in silence. I try to sneak another glance at her but am mortified when she catches my eye and stares right back.
“I’m Anne.” she smiles. She is English, her accent instantly lilting against my ears.
I smile back. “Anne. Like her?”
I raise my head and momentarily our gazes are turned back to the painting, the golden “B” around Anne Boleyn’s throat suddenly ominous before our eyes.
Anne giggles. “Yes. Exactly like her.” She turns full circle to face me. “I want to be one of the first to wish you a very happy birthday! You do look different from the last time though. Did you do something to your hair?”
I furrow my brows with mixed confusion. “I’m sorry… Have we met before?”
Anne looks at me in disbelief. Then she reaches into her skirt pocket. “I need you to take this to him.”
“Take what? To who?”
“Why to Henry of course.”
“Henry? Henry who?”
Anne sighs. I can feel her patience waning. “Henry Tudor. Here…”
My hands are suddenly encased in her own and when she pulls away, a blood red rose remains cupped in my palm. I step back and my bones suddenly go wobbly and jelly-like. “Look I’m not sure exactly what you’re talking about so I’m going to go find my parents… maybe you should too.”
Anne sniggers. “I know you were always one for jests but time is of the essence. The rose should activate at any moment. Now remember, you may experience a twinge of discomfort between the coatings of your mind.”
Anne frowns as if she wasn’t expecting this outburst.
A bout of nausea erupts in my head, gradually piercing to pain. The petals in my hand suddenly feel razor sharp. “Who told you that?! And who told you it was my birthday?!”
Anne stares at me aghast. “Why, you did.”
“This can’t be happening.” I start to back away.
“Listen to me.” Anne snatches my arm with an iron grip. Her brown eyes are suddenly vicious. “You also need to tell him something for me.”
“Wha…” My tongue goes numb.
“Tell him…” she hesitates. “Tell him… all is forgiven.” She steps back. “He’ll know what it means.”
My eyes are wide in shock but simultaneously my vision is blurred. Suddenly, all I want to do is cry out to my family, to anyone within hearing range and tell them to make it stop.
Anne nods at me, a look of determination on her face that is bizarre for someone so young. She lets go of my arm and steps back. “Good luck and God speed.”
A blinding flash ricochets through my head.
Then all goes black.
Chapter 2: The Eltham Of My Eye
I am alone, fluctuating through a void, wavering through darkness. My stomach swoops and I feel as if all my internal organs have decided to join a Zumba class simultaneously. Ahead, there is a flicker of light. I surge forwards, trying to grab onto it like a drowning man flails at straw. The light floats closer and closer until finally, it is within my reach… I launch myself across the ether and pass through the void. The wind is knocked out of me as I collide with a stone wall, the thick tapestries doing little to cushion the impact. I land on rows of scented rushes of lavender and sandalwood, laid over the stone floor to mask any unpleasant odours. I moan with pain and sit up. My vision returns. Any breath that I had managed to retain is instantly snatched away. I am inside and the torches on the walls burst into flames. Light filters down from a variety of stain glass windows, casting a radiance of blue, red and green across the tapestried walls. The architecture is breathtaking and for a moment all I want to do is stay curled up on the floor, bathed in the brilliance of the hall.
Suddenly, a man and a young boy enter the room, deep in conversation. I realise with amazement that unless I have stumbled upon an elaborate cosplay theatre, I am longer in 2016. I flatten myself across the wall hoping that I will remain unseen. The voices of the man and the boy float across the room. “Of course, your Royal Highness. I will prepare those books for you to read tomorrow. It is surely a sign of brilliance that you are already so advanced in your education.”
My mind seizes hold of the words, piecing them together like a puzzle. If I believed anything of what Anne had told me, I was here to find Henry Tudor and deliver her message. Judging by these man’s words, ‘His Royal Highness’ was my target.
I take a deep breath. Should I pretend to be a jester? No, I could only be a messenger. A messenger drastically out of her depth. Impulsively, I decide to take a leap of faith. After all, I think to myself, What is the worst thing that could happen? I slip out from my hiding spot and march across the room. My courage falters with every step I take but I push forwards until I am right beside both of them. The tutor and the prince turn to face me. It is at this moment that words decide to fail me.
“Can I help you? Or do you simply wish to burden Prince Henry and I with your silence?” the tutor’s words are dripping with disdain.
“I’d like to express my deepest apologies at this interruption, but I have a message of the utmost importance and urgency for His Royal Highness’ ears only.” I am shocked at my own confidence.
There is silence. Instantly, I wonder if interrupting a prince makes you guilty of treason. Would I be beheaded for this? Or burnt at the stake? Or hung, drawn and quartered?
“Who is the message from?”
A sturdy voice breaks my panic and I realise skittishly that Henry VIII just spoke to me. Henry VIII. or simply Henry Tudor, since he hadn’t yet lived a decade of life by the looks of it. I face his enquiring stare.
“Um…” It’s too late to lie. I tense and prepare myself for the worst outcome. “It is from Anne.”
Henry inclines his head. He then turns to the tutor on his left. “Thank you. That will be all for now.” The man bows and backs out of the room, giving me a strange look as he passes. I scowl back.
Henry smiles. “Right then, what does Cook Anne say? I did request lamb and pheasant for the feast but if she can only do venison, it’ll be fine.”
“No, no, not that Anne… Um, this is from Anne… Anne Boleyn?” I wince, waiting for Henry to do something. To burst out laughing or to order my arrest or to blissfully tell me that this has all been one big misunderstanding and I just passed out from not eating enough for breakfast and am now dreaming. Instead, a look of revelation dawns on his face.
“Oh! Ohhhhh! It’s you! I can’t believe I didn’t recognise you!”
“No Henry… I’m not Anne either, I’m-
“Of course you’re not Anne! Do you think I’m blind?” Henry scoffs but then he looks closer. “Did you do something with your hair?”
“No! Wait! I mean… were you expecting me?”
“What’s the message from Anne?” he ignores my question. “Oh and happy birthday!”
My jaw goes slack as I open my scrunched right fist. Inside the red rose is still perfectly intact. I give it to Henry. His pampered face suddenly turns a shade as red as the flower. I feel like I’m forgetting something.
“Oh! She also told me to tell you that all is forgiven. She said you would know what that means.”
I didn’t think it possible but Henry turns a shade redder. He gingerly strokes the petals of the rose. “Yes, well… I mean… She knows-
A sharp set of footsteps approaching from the hall interrupts him.
“Quick, they can’t see you!” Henry pushes me to the right and into a wardrobe I hadn’t realised was beside us until now. “Stay here until I come back!” He slams the door shut before I can protest. I stand still, holding my breath as the set of footsteps enter the room. I try to listen in to the conversation but the wood muffles the words. It suddenly occurs to me that a ten-year-old just pushed me into a closet. While it was a very nice closet, and would probably be worth a fortune in around 500 years, I wasn’t going to sit around and do nothing just because some boy, (King to be or not) had told me to. I was going to face whoever was out there with dignity and demand an explanation to all of this. I was going to return to 2016 and hopefully, still make our birthday reservation for afternoon tea. There was a chocolate brownie with my name on it waiting for me. I felt for the wardrobe handle and twisted it to the right. This was it.
I stepped out into the light and instantly felt the blood drain from my face. I certainly wasn’t in and Henry was nowhere to be seen. Instead, a woman with dark brown hair cropped into a stylish bob, enters the room, walking delicately over the brown carpet in dainty heels and a fashionable cream dress. Immediately she notices me and my ‘deer caught in headlights’ expression and freezes. For a few agonising moments, we just stare at each other. Once again I am unable to summon words to our aid. Finally, the woman smiles and takes a step towards me.
“Hello! I don’t think I’ve met you before. Are you here with Mollie? Or August? Or is it Betty? No, wait! You’re here with Rab and Sydney, aren’t you?
My mouth feels numb again. “Henry sent me.” I manage to croak out my deception, desperately wishing I had stayed inside the wardrobe. “Am I in Narnia?”
“Narnia? I don’t know what that is but Henry… Is that one of Peter and Paul’s friends? My nephews are always inviting people over without telling me!” The woman presses a perfectly manicured fingernail to her forehead as if this is an argument she’s already had a number of times, but she composes herself quickly.
“I’m Virginia. But you seem quaint so you can call me Ginie. I’m afraid the luncheon isn’t being served in here anymore, it’s been moved to the lawn behind the hall. Did no one tell you? Anyway, they’re all having a mock tournament of tennis at the courts so you can join them there or you’re always welcome to take a swim in the pool. We just had it cleaned so if you don’t know just ask Peter or Paul to show you the way. Oh, and watch out for Jonggie. As today is such a special day, I’ve let him out of his enclosure. He’s hiding somewhere around here and he always likes fresh meat.” Ginie gives me a look that is half warm, half hesitant, almost as if she was expecting for me to say something. But then the moment passes and she blinks rapidly before smiling. “ands for the dinner party.”
“Thank you!” I find my voice to call out to Ginie but she is already gone, out the door to a waiting automobile. I hear the engine start and the wheels roll away. It is only when the car is out of sight that I realise with a piercing shock that by looking at the model of Rolls Royce, I was in the 1930’s.
Unless Ginie was just a vintage car collector. That was also possible. But I was still at Eltham and Ginie had called it her home… I sit down on an art-deco style, retro white leather futon, trying to stop the painful whirring as my brain works to figure out exactly what’s going on. It races frantically back and forth until just when I think I’m going to pass out, it latches onto a memory: A warm summer night back home in Australia when I was just seven and had first read about Eltham Palace.
After its initial glory as a royal palace during the time of King Henry VIII, Eltham Palace fell into decline and narrowly avoided complete destruction. In 1933, Stephen Courtauld and his wife Virginia Courtauld (née Peirano) acquired the lease of the palace site and restored the Great Hall (adding a minstrels’ gallery to it) while building an elaborate home, internally in the Art Deco style. Keen gardeners, the Courtaulds also substantially modified and improved the grounds and gardens. The Courtaulds’ pet lemur, Mah-Jongg, had a special room on the upper floor of the house, which had a hatch to the downstairs flower room; he had the run of the house. The Courtaulds remained at Eltham until 1944. During the earlier part of the war, Stephen Courtauld was a member of the local Civil Defence service. In September 1940 he was on duty on the Great Hall roof as a fire watcher when it was badly damaged by German incendiary bombs…
The words melted in my mind.
Fell into decline… 1933… purchased by wealthy couple Stephen and Virginia Courtauld. Virginia. Ginie.
I had just met Virginia Courtauld.
I closed my eyes.
A mixture of intense excitement and horror injects itself into my veins. My line of reasoning was falling through like the shifting sands of an hourglass. The logicality of it had abandoned me the moment I stepped through the halls of Hever. There were only two possibilities to contend with. Either I was asleep and this was just a dream or… it was all real.
The pain in my head amplifies to a peak until I realise that the pain isn’t coming from my head but rather, from my ankle. I look down. A stripy black and white-tailed lemur looks back. My eyes catch sight of the small bite wound on my ankle and the blood. All that blood…
I open my mouth to scream but before a single sound can escape my throat, the world tips upside down and all goes black.
When I wake I am lying on a brown camp bed. An ear-splitting crash echoes through the room and a cold hand presses against my forehead. I see a woman’s blurry outline.
“Is the sky falling?” I ask groggily.
“Just about.” comes the shaky reply.
I force myself to sit up. I immediately realise that the woman standing over me is Ginie. A calm feeling passes through my body. Another deafening boom destroys it.
“What’s going on?!”
“I should be asking you the same question.”
“What do you mean?”
“You just appeared out of thin air and collapsed! Then the blitz started and you slept through that for an hour until now.”
I felt sick. This couldn’t be happening. I must have contracted rabies when the lemur bit me and now I was hallucinating.
Ginie placed her head in her hands. I suddenly notice just how much older she looks. Her luxurious brown hair is now streaked with grey and strained grooves line her eyes.
I trace back her words to me.
Wait… blitz? As in London blitz? As in World War II bombing blitz? A dead cold pit erupts in my stomach, threatening to consume everything inside.
“It’s been over 6 years. My god, you haven’t aged at all.” I look up to see Ginie scrutinising me. “How do you do it?”
I search wildly for an excuse. “It’s a face cream… from Paris.”
Ginie leans back into her seat. “I don’t think so.”
“What are you talking about? It’s a very reputable brand of face cream and-
“You can drop the act. I know who you are.”
“You do?” I squeak.
“Yes, or at least I know that you are the one sent to take the message onwards. I have been waiting for you for a long time… for 15 years to be exact.”
“What is the message?”
“It was supposed to be a cipher… a code of some sorts for something of great importance that will come in the future. Something that will save the world.”
The loudest explosion yet ricochets through the room and suddenly everything falls silent. It takes a few moments of agonised pain throbbing through my ears to realise that the tympanic membrane in my ear drums had been burst. Dust falls from the ceiling above us and for the first time, I notice that we are below Eltham, inside its war bunkers. Ginie struggles to her feet. “The Great Hall has been hit!” she screams but her voice is distant.
My mind jounces through time back to my history books… In September 1940 Stephen Courtauld was on duty on the Great Hall roof as a fire watcher when it was badly damaged by German incendiary bombs…
Instantly I feel Ginie’s fear.
“Go!” she yells again.
I close my eyes and like Dorothy, begin to click my heels together. “There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.” I open my eyes. I’m still in the bunker and Ginie is looking at me as if I’ve lost my mind.
“Maybe I need sparkly red slippers-
“Listen to me! The message is-
Ginie’s words contort as the floor cracks open. But they almost sound like “190601”
Then the stones under my feet swallow me whole.
Chapter 3: The Globe
This time, when I crash into the steely stroke of stone there are no tapestries to shield my impact. I groan as I stand up, the block of pavement I collided with no worse for wear. I blink rapidly as the blurred corners of my vision clear and look around. A tingle of excitement buzzes through my head as I spot the coppery waters of the Thames. I was definitely in London, that much I could deduce, but the modern icons and attractions of the city are nowhere to be seen. I look up to the stout building beside me (that appears to be an unused brewery) and fervently hope that no-one saw me drop from the sky.
First things first, I have to figure out exactly what time I’ve landed in now. I step forwards without looking and ram my shin into something flat and metal. I grit my teeth as sharp stabs rush up my bones and I look down at the cause of my pain. My eyes wash over a blackened plaque slowly crumbling, the carvings gradually fading in the warm breeze. For the first time since Hever Castle, I stop shivering. I lean closer to the chipped words, tracing the letters one by one.
“In honour of the original Globe Theatre and the bard William Shakespeare.”
A thrill of uncontrollable exhilaration runs through my spine. Immediately I drop to my knees running my hands over the fading stone, ignoring the cry of protest from my shin.
I look up in surprise to see the shadow of a man cross my own. He walks closer until he is right beside me staring down at the stained memorial. I realise with a start that my fingers are blotched with grime and scramble to my feet trying to wipe it off nonchalantly.
“I can scarcely believe it.”
I am caught off guard. “Believe what?”
The man points towards the crumbling plaque. “I can’t believe that this is all they have left of a glorious era of theatre. That this is all that is left of Shakespeare’s London legacy. He was the greatest bard of all time and now his name crumbles away on a dirty, unseen slab of stone out the front of a run down brewery.”
I wince at the vulgarity of it all.
The man sighs deeply. “You know, sometimes I dream about recreating it.”
I raise my eyebrows. “What?”
“The Globe Theatre. Sometimes when I’m walking down the bank of The Thames I dream about recreating it. Imagine it… rising out over all these grey buildings in a burst of new life. The stage would open again and on it the spirit of Hamlet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Henry VI, Romeo and Juliet would dance again. The soul of darkness and the essence of light… the walls would hold the perfect combination of Tragedy and Comedy and Shakespeare’s legacy would live on as he would have surely intended it.”
I feel a lightness enter my head. It pounds in rhythm with my heart. “What did you say your name was?”
“I didn’t, but it’s Sam.”
“How did you know?”
“Just a wild guess,” I reply hoarsely. My internal clock speeds ahead until it cannons to a stop in 1949. I feel a strange heat overtake me as I realise I’m talking to the man whose vision will indeed reconstruct The Globe… unless I’ve already done something to muck it up.
“Have you seen me perform on Broadway?”
“Something like that….”
Sam gives me a funny look.
“Tell me more about this vision of yours.”
He scoffs. “It’s just an idea.”
“No, it’s not.”
“Do you have any idea how much something like that would cost? How long it would take to build? How much support would be needed to bring something like that to life? And look around. Do you see anyone else flocking here to this plaque? Do you see anyone else here paying tribute to the William Shakespeare?” There is a slight disgust to Sam’s voice as if he was trying to mask disappointment.
I look around. The street is empty. I can see the bustle of city life a few hundred meters away on the bank of The Thames but besides a few preoccupied shadows hurrying on their way, we are alone.
“See what I mean?”
“Nevertheless, it is still a vision.” I can see Sam shaking his head. “Come on, just humour me… Please?”
“Well… It would be built it to be as faithful as possible to the original, a replica in fact! Constructed entirely out of English Oak with timber frames and thatched roofs. But this time, we would add fire retardants and sprinklers so that we could use pyrotechnics in the performances but wouldn’t have to worry about the theatre burning down again. There would be a museum dedicated to Shakespeare and artwork on display and performances would play every night…”
Sam’s voice fades to the back of my mind but his words intensify. They begin to paint a picture, weaving their magic, entwining, yarning a tale that is untouched by fear of failure, but all the more threaded with uncertainty. The words start to burn, blazing into a white hot ball of light. But out of the corner of my eye, I see a sleet of sharp-edged snowflakes blowing towards the fire, trying with all their might to douse the flame. They collide in a fiery spark and I cover my head as they fizzle and burn until at last there is no more sound. I raise my head.
I am sitting inside the completed Globe, the light shining through the open roof casting the unmistakable glow of Sam’s dream come true.
I feel tiny pinpricks of emotion sting my eyes because I can see it: Millions of people from every corner of the world flocking through the gates of Shakespeare’s Globe, inspired by the craft, enchanted by the art and dared to dream by the dreamer.
They walk in and out of the doors with a look of rapture embedded in their souls. I am one of the crowd.
I see the names of all those that believed in the dream, that had the courage to make a difference and now lie together side by side, submerged in stone. I see the vibrant colour of stage makeup and feel the buzzing excitement of a performer, seconds before he is to go onstage. I hear the thundering applause of the audience, filled with emotion and yet detached all the same, like the eye of a storm.
I look up to see Sam lost in thought. “I think you should do it,” I say.
“Follow your dream.”
Sam smiles. “It is not in the stars to hold our destiny, but in ourselves. He said that you know.”
We stand in silence, letting the eternal words of Shakespeare wash over us like the calm Thames and the summer breeze and I can feel deep in my heart that it is only the very beginning of something magical.
“I almost forgot why I came here today.” Sam steps back from the plaque.
“To be inspired?”
“No, to give you something. It’s strange… I almost didn’t recognise you. It must be the new hair.”
I am rendered speechless as Sam reaches into his coat and pulls out a brown paper package.
“Here you are.”
I feel a migraine blasting towards me as the package drops into my hands. “I don’t understand.”
“You don’t need to. Not yet anyway.” He smiles. “Good luck. You are getting ever so close to the end. And yet, in so many ways, it is still only the beginning.”
Then as quickly as he had appeared, Sam Wanamaker disappears down the lane.
I look down at what he gave me. The brown package is peculiarly shaped like a dented cylinder and my eyes widen when I realise that it is glowing an unmistakable dark red. I rip away the paper until I feel the cold kiss of metal against my hand.
It is a sonic screwdriver.
I feel for the button. I somehow know that when I press it, my time here in 1949 will inexplicably come to an end. I take one more look around the street I am standing on, the trumpeting horns of far-off automobiles converging to the crescendo. I close my eyes.
Then I turn it on.
Chapter 4: Doctor Who
My eyes open in a dark alleyway. It is night time with not a soul in sight, a thick shroud suffocating the black sky. The sonic screwdriver in my hand is buzzing incandescently as if it has been possessed by a thousand bees. I hit it against my leg, trying to make the noise stop. Somewhere down the street, a shadow moves. The shadow lopes closer whispering over and over again what seems to be one word: “Doctor…”
A silver gleam reflects in my eye.
Suddenly, I glimpse a group of men dressed in what appears to be clothing of 19th Century Chinese origin. Advancing towards me, they try to encircle me as I step back towards the edge of the alleyway I try to summon a scream but all that comes is a pathetic guttural rasp. I stumble backwards as the deadly glint of their talons advance closer and closer until my back hits a wall and there is nowhere to go.
This is it. The end.
Just when I’m about to take my final breath, the cold wall behind me melts into a warm embrace and I fall through it, stumbling backwards until I collide with the framework of a body and finally, blessedly come to a halt.
In that instant, night turns to day, dark turns to light and the unmistakable eyes of a perfectly normal human being stare back at me.
“Oh, I’m terribly sorry! I didn’t see you there.”
My words gurgle like a cauldron of soup boiled to an oblivion. I cannot fathom what has just happened. The dark alleyway was still here… but not, if such a thing was possible. The deadly talons had vanished and instead, I was standing in front of an entire group of… of… tourists?
The man I collided with notices the sonic screwdriver in my trembling hands. His eyes widen with recognition. “Oh, cool! That’s a 4th Doctor Original! I have one just like it.”
My head tilts into something in-between a nod and a shake.
“Would you mind just standing with the group over there? I just want everyone to have a clear view. Is that alright?”
I teeter backwards, my face frozen in a state of agitation. To anyone watching, I might as well have just had my brain fried. The man continues talking.
“As I was saying, Clink Street, now also housing The Clink Prison Museum – is one of the action-packed locations used when Doctor Who was filming the thrilling episode: The Talons of Weng-Chiang.”
He quickly whips out a blue folder, filled with still shots from the filming. The tour members ooh and aah in delight.
“As you can see by these pictures, this was the only episode in which Tom Baker was not wearing his trademark scarf, his attire instead resembling that of Sherlock Holmes.”
The man flips to another page in his folder passing it around one more time. “The Doctor was attacked here during the episode and as you can see by this little conglomerate of light…” The man frowns. “Well, that’s strange…” He tilts the folder to the left, then to the right, then upside down. He looks up searching through the crowd… his gaze rests on me. A silver glimmer passes through his eye. He blinks it away.
“Never mind… On to our next location! Please do try to keep up and look both ways when crossing the street. I’m sorry but if you get run over we do not have time to wait for you to regenerate. Regeneration is known to cause personality disorders and I am the only one on this tour who should have personality disorders. After all, I am a mad man with a blue folder.”
A low laugh ripples through the crowd as they surge forwards and before I can step away, I am swept along with them. To my left, I am stunned to see the ethereal white outline of The Globe.
My mind is turbulent, jumbled with the excitement that I have somehow managed to cross back into more modern times… and stumble straight onto a Doctor Who Tour. As we reach the mouth of Millennium Bridge, the crowd seems to part and the man who I recognise as the tour guide leader suddenly appears beside me.
“Salutations! I’m David, Code name Dewi.” He looks at me intently as if this is supposed to mean something to me. When there is no response, he continues on. “It is an honour to meet you Agent Star. We’ve been waiting a long time.”
We zigzag through a particularly rowdy crowd of tourists and suddenly my view clears on the right. I can see Tower Bridge on the horizon and diagonally to my right, the glass torso of The Shard.
“What year is it?” I ask before I can realise what a strange question it sounds like.
Dewi hesitates. “2016.”
A surge of unimaginable relief runs through me. “I’ve done it! I’ve made it back! Oh, thank goodness! Everything is going to be alright!
“I wouldn’t count on it.”
I turn back to Dewi’s sombre expression. “What are you talking about? I’m going to find my family and then we are going to make our reservation for afternoon tea and I am going to eat a chocolate brownie!”
Dewi looks at me as if I’ve gone mad. In his defence, I had no idea what all this time-hopping has done to me, so maybe I have. Or maybe I was just hungry. And angry. Hangry? I try to calm my agitated belly.
“Look, I don’t know who Agent Star is but she’s definitely not me. I’m just here in London to celebrate my Birthday and somehow I got mixed up into something obviously bigger than me.”
“I’ve been noticing my still life photographs changing. Morphing from the original. You saw it too, back at Clink Street. At first, I thought it was sunspots or simply age but then the same things began happening to the photos taken at night.”
Suddenly I have no idea where this conversation is going.
“I researched and consulted and researched some more until at last, I found the agency. They didn’t want to tell me anything at first, but my knowledge of the time-space continuum won them over.”
I nod absentmindedly. Dewi grabs my hand. All at once, the air is knocked out of me and my mind is invaded with images. Pictures of London, of iconic places and attractions, places I have been and yet… haven’t. The Shard and Southwark Cathedral meld through my memory. I gasp and rip my hand away.
“Something drastic has happened. Something that is causing my photographs to fade. Something that has caused a time rift in London. Something that has allowed you to travel through time. ”
Dread settles over me like a heavy fog.
“The bottom line, my photos are fading and it can only mean one thing.”
“What?” I squeak.
“Time has run out.”
I meet Dewi’s terrified stare.
“Can you imagine a life without Doctor Who!?”
“No,” I whisper numbly.
“Me neither! Please, you have to help us! If not for your own sake then for that of the Sci-Fi community! You’ve come so far and seen so much! I’ve been waiting for you… waiting to give you the final piece of the puzzle.”
“Yes! You simply can’t give up now.”
I sigh. A world without Saturday night Doctor Who did seem extremely dire and I had already made it this far. It would indeed be a shame to give up now.
“What do I have to do?” I mumble.
“You’ll do it!? Oh, marvellous! First things first, do you have the code?”
“I was told you would have the code and another messenger, uh… ‘VC’ would have given it to you.” The distress on Dewi’s face is evident.
“I don’t know… perhaps? Did she give you a code?”
My mind flashes back to the bunker. The dust and rock that pulled me under and the distorted…
Dewi’s face lights up. “Keep that in mind. You’re going to need it where you’re going. Now take the tube to Kings Cross St Pancras. They’ll be waiting for you.”
I nod. The half-frightened, half-exhilarated beat of my heart returns. We reach the end of Millennium Bridge and as I step off the white giant, Dewi gives me a tiny, almost unnoticeable smile. “You were right Agent Star. You’re now part of something that is much bigger than you could foresee.”
I look up to St Paul’s Cathedral and for a moment my vision blurs with static. For a millisecond, it is almost as if the entire steps up to Ludgate Hill are overrun with shiny silver men in suits. The static disappears and my sight returns.
Next to me Dewi gasps. “You can see it too?”
I nod. “But… but… Doctor Who isn’t real… The invasion of Cybermen never happened!”
Dewi inclines his head. “A forgotten memory does not guarantee a forgotten event.”
My jaw drops.
“You don’t have much time.” He presses something papery into my hand. Go now.”
He gives me a slight push and I stumble away from the enthusiastic group. Dewi is instantly swallowed by the crowd.
I slowly breath out. I look down at the paper in my hand. A metro ticket stares back. Maybe now I would finally get some answers. I take one more look at London, the sturdy white arms of Millennium Bridge, the majestic outline of St Paul’s Cathedral shrouding me in my own shadow, and across The Thames the striking framework of The Globe.
I take a deep breath and walk the 11 minutes to Mansion House Station.
There I enter the Underground.
Chapter 5: Operation BlackSheep
The lights of the metro flash rhythmically, slowly lulling me to sleep. When I wake, all signs of the rush-hour I encountered are gone and I am sitting alone in the carriage. An artificial voice sounds over the speaker. “Next Station: Kings Cross St Pancras. Please watch your step.”
The moment the doors of the tube slide open, a swarm of figures in black suits and black masks surround me. One steps to the forefront. “Agent Star?”
I feel the muscles in my neck nod. “Yes.”
“Please come with us. We need to get you to the agency immediately. Time is of the very essence.”
The figures form a circle around me and we march up and out of the metro station. It is nighttime outside but from the holographic interactive advertisements sparkling around us, it might as well be midday. As I catch a glimpse of my surroundings, I feel a lightness come to my head that I had only experienced once before when we were at 5000 meters in the Peruvian Andes.
I get it. I am no longer in the past or the present.
I am in the future.
We barrel through wooden doors out of the cold night and into a warm room. If I didn’t know any better I would have mistaken it for a boutique hotel lobby, but the gadgets that decorate it, tell otherwise. I try to wrap my head around the sights I saw outside, just as a young woman approaches me.
“Welcome! I’m Special Agent Jemina and on behalf of Mr. Q and everyone here at clueQuest Agency, I would like to express our utmost appreciation at your arrival.”
“Oh… um… thank you?”
With the formalities over, Jemina drops the dignified facade and immediately I see the panic in her eyes. “Thank goodness you’re here Agent Star, the safety of our world is at stake. You’ll have to excuse Mr Q. His safety cannot be compromised at the moment and so he has put me in charge of this operation to take Professor BlackSheep down.”
To my left, I notice two paintings, one of a mouse and one of a sheep, both in lab-coats.
“Professor BlackSheep?” I query.
“Yes. For years he has toiled away in the darkness until at last, he was ready to exact his revenge. Now we finally know what we are up against, for he has built and launched a satellite into Earth’s orbit, capable of controlling all human minds.”
Jemina turns to me as the surrounding agents step away and I realise with shock that I am now suited in the same gear as the agents that retrieved me from the metro.
“You will be sent behind enemy lines with the mission to infiltrate into the Professor’s command centre, hack into his system and obtain the missile codes in order to destroy the satellite once and for all. But beware, launching the missile into the satellite will trigger the command centre’s self-destruct sequence. You will have only an hour to destroy the satellite until it goes online and then to evacuate the command centre before it self-destructs.”
I nod but inside all I can think about are all the things that could go wrong in 60 minutes.
“We have to sneak you into the command centre. Once you’re inside, we will be able to disable it from here and then you will destroy the satellite before your time runs out.
We enter a portal that somehow transports us directly to the location of the Command Centre. This must be some new technology of the agency, part of a future I am now in. I follow Jemina and with the greatest of dexterity, we slink down a corridor and manage, by the skin of our teeth, to penetrate the facility undetected. It is here that I must go on alone.
Multicoloured beacons spark every few seconds and through the spasming light, I see the coils and machinery of the abandoned mission control centre. I feel the blood drain from my face as my eyes clear. A strange buzzing vibrates in my ear. “Agent Star?” I realise instantly that it is a radio and by the menacing iron bolts that are sliding into place around the room, it is now my only link to the outside world.
I struggle to fathom the complexity of it all. My ear buzzes once again.
“Agent Star, you have 60 minutes to save the world. Good luck.”
I hear the hiss of the door locking behind me. The lights of the room switch on.
My time has begun.
The minutes pass by in a flurry. Somehow my muddled brain manages to work. Not just work. But thrive. I am solving problems, unlocking padlocks and calculating equations, the supporting voice of Jemina always in my ear, and over the course of 60 minutes, we piece together the fragments of the elaborate puzzle that Professor BlackSheep has left behind.
At last, I reach the final obstacle. A menacing keypad blinks at me, its cursor flickering like a dying heartbeat. I look to the clock. I have 48 seconds to go.
“Enter deactivation code.” Even the robotic voice sounds desperate. “Enter deactivation code immediately.”
I step forward, my hands hovering over the keypad, summoning Ginie’s words to the front of my mind.
190601. 190601. 190601…
The 19th of June, 2001.
I feel my blood run cold. My fingers freeze. I cannot move.
“Agent Star? Agent Star! What are you doing?! You have to-
The harsh shriek of an alarm screams through the room.
My time has run out.
A burst of smoke explodes beside me, knocking me off my feet. Through my radio, I can hear the panic in Jemina’s voice. “Agents in pursuit! Launch counter attack. Agent Star, get out of there! The control centre’s about to explode!”
The door blows open and I race outside, seconds before it all collapses. In the haze, I find it difficult to find the portal out, back to clueQuest central. There it is. I jump just before it all goes up in a flaming ball of fire.
Jemina is waiting for me.
“I failed.” I feel devastated. All that time and effort… for nothing.
I am shocked to see Jemina smile down at me kindly. “Our other agents will pursue and complete the task at hand but without your efforts, they wouldn’t be able to. It is thanks to you that Professor BlackSheep’s satellite will never transmit its evil message.”
I nod but hardly feel consoled.
“Remember, you can’t win everything alone Agent Star. This was only a single battle, not the entire war.”
I frown. “What are you talking about?”
Jemina hesitates. “Come inside. Why don’t you just sign out in the logbook?” She waves me towards a large black ledger. I hobble over and select the first pen that comes to my fingers and swirl my name on the paper. Suddenly, I am overtaken by a curiosity to see who else has come and gone through this agency. I realise that I know nothing other than the fact that it is run by someone called Mr Q. I flip through the book, page by page until the touch of the paper makes my blood run cold. My name is already printed neatly on the slot, decorated with the exact same flourish and written with the exact same pen.
My hands begin to shake as Jemina returns to the room. It could only mean one thing.
I had been here before.
“What’s going on here?” I spring from my seat like a Jack-In-The-Box.
Jemina’s eyes fly to the ledger. She pales slightly. “Nothing at all. You need to-
All my pent up confusion suddenly bursts out. “No! Not you too! You can’t ignore my questions as well. I want answers!”
For a moment we stare at each other in a silent standoff. Then she nods, unperturbed by my outburst. “Alright, alright. After everything… you at least deserve that much.”
We both settle down onto the couch.
“I imagine this journey is all very confusing for you. The truth is… you have traveled through time before.”
I try to calm my heartbeat.
“It was during the infamous staging of PLAN52. We succeeded in retrieving our lost agents, thanks to your inter-dimensional assistance, but you insisted on having your memory wiped in order for you to be able to return to your own time unharmed. We knew that in time, you would return to help us again with Operation BlackSheep, but what we did not realise was that the wormhole we summoned you through, would take you so radically through the past.”
Instantly, I remember Anne, Henry and Sam. I had met them before. Slowly, I place my hands to my hair and smile; They had known all along. My mind speeds ahead to Ginie and Dewi, waiting for me across eternity. Waiting to show me the way…
Jemina’s sombre voice brings be back to the moment and I take a sip of water to clear my head.
“But this is not where the story ends. Our intel shows that the wormhole will open one more time for the prophesied Revenge of The Sheep.”
Suddenly, I feel as if I have been hit by a ton of bricks. I stumble and Jemina reaches out to catch me. A strange metallic pang echoes through my head. I gasp as I feel my body becoming lucid, and suddenly, I am slipping through the cracks of time once more.
“I’m so sorry. But your time is up.” Jemina’s voice sounds distant and yet so close, all at the same time.
“But no… You can’t! Not now, not yet. I have so many more questions-
“I’m sorry.” Jemina smiles sadly. “But I cannot answer any of them.”
“Because I was told not to.”
Jemina walks me to the door, but before I can say a thing, I am plunged into the darkness outside. I hear her voice one final time.
“Goodbye Réka. Keep yourself safe. This isn’t the last time you will walk through these agency doors.” Then the last of the light fades and I am all alone.
Chapter 6: London From A Girl’s Eye View
I wake without ever having been asleep. My arms rest on those of a wooden bench, warmed slightly by the sun. Looking around, I realise that I am in London’s Jubilee Gardens and I take in the green grass, red flowers and buzz of chatter with a slightly preoccupied mind.
Suddenly everything comes flooding back.
But… had it actually happened? The roses, the smiles, the bomb? Had I really met Sam Wanamaker and had young Anne Boleyn really wished me a happy birthday? No… it couldn’t have… could it have?
Slowly, ever so slowly, I look down at my ankle.
The tiny pink mark of a lemur bite stares back.
“I can’t believe it,” I whisper.
A familiar voice breaks through the incredible thrill racing through my body.
“Réka! Where have you been!?” I look up to see my family. My mum, dad and brother all looking down. The happiness that washes over me has more power than a tsunami.
“Where did you go?” my brother repeats.
I hesitate. What could I say?
Oh yeah, sorry about that, I just thought that it was a beautiful day to travel through time, so I decided to visit some of my favourite historical characters and then take the London tube to the future where I helped a top secret spy agency defeat a cloned, genetically modified professor, who was also coincidently a sheep. Just a nice, calm, perfectly ordinary afternoon if you ask me!
So instead, I say nothing as they fold me into a ginormous bear hug. It feels better than any chocolate brownie that this world could ever bake.
“How long have I been gone?” I tense myself, preparing for the worst. Had my family been searching for me for hours? Days? Weeks?!
My brother shrugs, “I don’t know, two or three minutes… It doesn’t matter now, we almost missed our time slot!”
“Come on, we have to hurry.”
Together we race across the park, dodging pedestrians and pets until at last, we come to a stop at the start of a line.
I look up. The glass shadow of The London Eye glitters back.
The four of us climb the ramp to the entrance to the world’s tallest cantilevered observation wheel and walk through its sliding doors to a waiting capsule. They close without a sound and then we are whisked away, up into the sky and for the next 35 minutes, we level our eyes to the glass and fly.
I watch the bronze architecture of Big Ben and Westminster Palace encrust the horizon. London stretches out before us in a stunning expanse, scarlet-red double decker buses dotting each street.
All at once, as if riding on the wings of the seagulls that playfully dodge each capsule, a flourish of words hurtle towards me.
“It’s all a manual that we’ve been writing,
A future instructional guide
If we skipped ahead to our pre-fulfilled dreams
We’d be lost without our own advice
We’ll be alright
We’ll be alright.”
The words from Lucius’ Dusty Trails calm my heart and suddenly everything seems to click into place. I had been stumbling through the dark this entire time, lamenting my lack of answers and yet… by the messages scattered for me throughout time, something told me I already had them.
For as long as I could remember, I’d loved to imagine what life would have been like hundreds of years ago. Even as a little girl, I would wish with all my might to travel through time to medieval England, ancient Egypt or Imperial Rome, to see what it was really like without the pages of a history book limiting my imagination. I’m sure I’m not alone in dreaming about the past or wondering about the future. It’s always fun to ‘relive’ a certain experience or look forward to the comfortable refuge of the weekend. The problem comes, however, when we become addicted to the sweetened thrill of memory lane and how we shade it with our own hues of hindsight, so that when it’s time to return to the present, we don’t want to.
This way, yesterday always looks so much nicer through these new rose-tinted glasses and the notion future is always much more appealing than having to face the fact that maybe we’re not entirely happy in our current day-to-day lives. The curse of always looking either back or ahead, either reminiscing about the past or waiting for the future, always wishing we could relive yesterday or skip ahead to tomorrow. Never being in the now. Never being present.
But now, after everything that has happened, if my experience of time travel has taught me anything at all, it is to be happy in my own time. To appreciate every moment given to me and never, ever take it for granted.
All at once, a peculiar lightness enters my body and there is only joy seeping through my veins. It isn’t just because of the fact that it is my birthday, or that we are 135 meters in the sky, it is that finally, I am present in the moment. My life is happening, here and now. And I am present for it.
I look around the clear, crystal, capsule of the Ferris wheel and smile.
All this realisation has taken, is a different point of view from an Eye.
I look out over the city. From above, it glows of tranquility and yet I know that down below it is an entirely different world of blaring cars, resounding conversation, and the tolling of a Westminster clock. Once again, it is all perception. Indeed, everything in our world is. And yet it is the convergence of both the quiet and the noise, the light and the dark, the charm and the grit that makes it so beautiful. In the reflection of the glass inclosure, I see a tiny sliver of a rainbow light, caused by the sun refracting on its curved frame. I lean closer and all at once the colours overtake my iris and I am flying across the dimensions of time and space one more time.
I am above the countryside of Kent and I can see Anne running through the castle, out into the gardens, the roses of Hever, oblivious to anything but her joyous laugh and she, oblivious to anything but the summer day. Across the city in the green sanctuary of Eltham Palace, Henry is also outside, riding his horse across the miles of acreage, over babbling brooks and blossoming shrubbery until at last, he slows to watch a solitary deer lope away. In the same tranquil woodland 400 years later, Ginie is strolling down the path, her hair flying in the wind, her arms filled with gorgeous bouquets from her beloved Eltham. Next I see Sam working diligently away, drawing up plans so late into the night, so that only the moon and stars are witness to his schemes. Down below, leading his troupe across London, Dewi is humming the captivating melody of Doctor Who, and finally there is Jemina spreading the joyous word that victory is theirs… for now.
Their lives go on and now so does mine.
My vision fades and I know that it is, at last, time to close the window, and pull the drapes. I have somewhere else to be.
The sun burns down through the afternoon clouds, casting its heavenly gleam across the Thames. In that moment, the cheerful buzz of our capsule is silenced and I press my hand against the cold glass of The London Eye. Once again, the words come to me like a gift sent from above the clouds. 135 meters in the sky I am close enough to hear it echoing through eternity.
“There is truly no place like London. Here and now.”
“So Réka…” My parents smile in between their sips of Peppermint and Camomile tea. “Did you enjoy your birthday?”
We are seated inside a popular restaurant/cafe located in the now ‘hip’ burrow of Soho. I lean back in my seat, the remnants of a chocolate brownie speckled across my plate.
“It was perfect.”
“The photos look really good.”
“What photos?” I ask.
“What do you mean ‘What photos?’” Mum scoffs. “You mean all the ones that we took? The ones you stood for?”
A strange chill crawls down my spine but I brush it away. “May I see them?” My hands are slightly shaky as I take the camera. I click the gallery and my vision is flooded with colourful, radiant pictures, the greenery and alluring architecture of Hever Castle and Eltham Palace, a gorgeous backdrop. I see a girl in the photos with brown hair and brown eyes just like mine. She is smiling, walking around The Globe, then climbing the steps to St Paul’s Cathedral and at last, standing in front of a mural of Mr. Q and Professor Blacksheep.
My veins turn to ice. That girl in the pictures is indeed me… so how did I have no memory of them being taken?
“Well? Do you like them?” Mum asks again.
“Oh yes,” I reply and hand the camera back. All at once I find it hard to breathe.
“Well then, come on, we better get going if we want to have more than just an hour to explore!” My parents and brother rise from the table. I stay sitting.
“I’m sorry but where exactly are we going?”
There is a peculiar glaze over my parents’ eyes. “Why, to Hever Castle of course.”
I tilt my head to the side in surprise. Suddenly that chocolate brownie doesn’t feel like the best of decisions.
“What are you talking about?” I whisper.
Before my mum can reply, a vicious wind blasts through the room and stalactites appear on the roof.
Jemina had told me that the wormhole would open one last time.
I just didn’t think it would be this soon.
A resounding crack splinters through the room. I look around in shock to see the glass outline of the restaurant floating into the air, a single fissure streaking the thin sheet.
It shatters into a million tiny pieces, raining down on the tables and chairs like a deadly snowstorm. I rise from my seat unharmed. Everyone in the restaurant is frozen still. I look over at my family, their eyes glazed over, their fingers ice cold.
I take a deep breath.
“Blacksheep. I’m coming for you.”
My name is Réka Kaponay. I am a traveler. A world traveler. Over the course of my four and half years of globetrotting, many of my dreams have come true. I’ve ridden horses through the Ecuadorian Andes, zip-lined through India’s stunning Blue City and experienced midnight in Paris. But never in my wildest dreams would I have ever thought, that I would travel through time.
But on my 15th birthday… I did.
I want to express a most heartfelt thank you to all at Hever Castle, Eltham Palace, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, Brit Movie Tours, clueQuest:The Live Escape Game and The London Eye for their incredible hospitality, all of which made this story possible and my birthday dreams come true.
For your chance to have a date of destiny with Professor BlackSheep and receive a discount on your next adventure booking, follow this link for the clues he has left.