(Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Time)
(The Amulet Chain - Book One)
Once upon a time somebody invented the idea of time travel, yet no one ever has and nobody really considers it possible… did I catch you pausing to see if your future self had just dropped in to prove you wrong? I did and it didn’t work. However, I did contemplate the effects of time travel on an individual and created Sean Peresil. Sean is a fairly boring individual in terms of personality. He is far too busy studying to socialize. Sean has invented a time machine—it is subtle and small and it has side effects, but he thinks that the risks are worth taking so that he can explore a world beyond his own. A world more modern with exploration and scientific discovery as its primary goals. Sometimes in life, actually more often than not, life throws up challenges that we just could never have predicted and although Sean Peresil prepares himself for such anomalies his world changes forever when his time device malfunctions and sends him backwards in time… Sean finds himself on a rollercoaster ride that requires him to think quickly and adapt and to grow a personality… and that is something that he never thought he would need.
I’m really proud of this one, it made my proof reader so angry that she almost refused to read on because of the challenges I set the lead characters (yes, there are more than one.) The story also compelled her to read on and although it runs to almost 120,000 words (or approximately 500 pages) she read it in a few days. I had so many ideas for the novel that I decided to leave the structure as I had first mapped it out one morning across a ten page synopsis and carry those ideas over into a sequel which I am currently writing. This is called Psychedelia (The Gargoyle Chronicles volume 21) and is currently tracking at over 10,000 words and counting and I have only reached the second chapter of about 12 planned… but as with time travel, things could change… never fear however, as P.S.R.T. is a complete novel in itself, the sequel is really a spillage, but you’ll understand that as you read on..
I remember shivering as the fog draped itself over everything around me like an undertaker’s sheet. A time piece would have been useful, but I had lost mine along the way. Accurate reporting about this particular night would have assisted my cause and the women concerned, instead of the vague myths that had drifted with the fog over the evidence through time. I knew where he had to be and on what night, but at what time?
The body wasn’t discovered until the landlord dropped by at 10:45 a.m.
The inhabitants of Whitechapel were nervous, so I couldn’t afford to stalk the lane. They wanted blood and anybody caught loitering would become an instant suspect. I cloaked my presence by moving on and then returning to the lane and my ploy worked perfectly, well almost.
“Well, well, well, if it isn’t our old mate Jack.”
“My name’s not Jack.”
“Could’ve fooled me, Jack, with your hat and your coat and your bag of lovely shiny blades.”
“What would you know about me bag, Mister, and what be your name if you think you know mine?”
“Call me Mr. N. Consequential, something more than appropriate for this day and age.” I could see his eyes undressing me as they had so many unfortunate women. The less he knew about me the happier would be my ending. “So, what would you be doing out all alone on a night like this? You don’t seem the type to be here on Dorset Street.”
“Do you seem the type?”
“I think you’ve got me there, but I’m not all dripping and splattered, am I Jack? Tell me, how is Miss Kelly? Am I too late? I suspect I am and that’s really bloody annoying because I’ve been on your trail for nearly six weeks.”
I watched the man’s face carefully. Even in that dim light with the fog hanging about all dank and mysterious, his eyes darted up and to the right ever so briefly. That was recall. We understood each other; we had met before.
“Berner Street... that was you on Berner Street. You got in me way then, but you’re a bit late tonight.”
“Must be Daylight Savings, I think I over compensated.”
Jack was becoming agitated. His hand was inching inside the medical case which he held tightly to his chest. I knew the contents and their probable state. It was a matter of time, as it had always been for me. A few minutes longer and Jack would be snared. The locals had been passing this spot all night, one of the few reliable aspects of the reports from the day. Someone was due any minute now.
Millers Court was a dead end. Jack was trapped. His hand slipped further inside his case until a glint of silver, inches long, caught my eye and a glint of a smile spread across his face. This knife was clean and searching for its maiden victim.
I flanked each of his sideway movements while keeping my distance. There were no weapons in my possession. With each failed strike his eyes became wilder. He bent at the knee in preparation of a final lunge...
“Murder, bloody murder! Jack’s been out tonight, murder!”
The hue and cry astounded me. Shuttered windows became eyes into the night. A police whistle cut through the fog in Dorset Street and the heavy clomp of boots echoed off the cobblestones. I had corralled Jack long enough for the policeman to witness our standoff.
“What’s all this then? I’ll have that knife and a couple of names while you’re at it.”
“You’ll not ‘ave this. I got ‘im I ‘ave, this is our fiend Jack.”
“Jack the bloody Ripper, who d’ya think?”
That was supposed to be my line, but my street smarts were never particularly good. He lunged at me one last time. I was on the ground with his knife at my throat before I had blinked; saved only by Jack’s case, which was wedged between us, and Jack’s pause to boast.
“God only smites the wicked, my friend.”
The constable stepped in at this point. It was a fool hardy attempt at policing, but it saved me. He grabbed Jack by the collar and pulled him up. The murderer swung out wildly with his left, catching his blade across the constable’s chest. It wasn’t fatal, but it forced him back into the Court and gave Jack an opening into Dorset Street.
Jack bolted. I saw the accusation on the constable’s face and I bolted as well, but after Jack. He was my evidence, my alibi. My face was now that of the Ripper’s. Although I had no name, I also had no history there. The real criminal would escape, his murders pinned on me.
Sean paused for a moment, the weight of history the torture of a thousand knives, the gravity of the nonsensical sucked out of the room through a black hole in time.
“So Sean Peresil, you’re telling me you caught Jack the Ripper?”
It wasn’t the way she said it that struck him as a moron, it was the actual words. They could have left anybody’s mouth in any time and in any tone and sounded just as ridiculous, yet he forged on.
“I didn’t catch him, Claire. They did that here, in Melbourne. My meeting him was just a consequence of selfish actions.”
“Looking for a woman for the night?”
“So where is he, where’s the Ripper, Sean?”
“He’s right here, right around the corner. Would you like to meet him?”
“No I would not, you lying bastard!”
Sean Peresil had not been slapped so fiercely across the face for a long long time. It felt like fifteen years, but it was more akin to six hundred. He smiled ruefully as he remembered the actual end of his story... and no, he would not have believed it either.
“Sean, Sean Peresil. Where the hell are you and why is my office a charred ruin? Sean!”
The culprit was somewhat smoky himself. His hair was singed, his fingers were blackened and his rabbit was a smoking carcass. It wasn’t the first time he had heard those words and he suspected it wouldn’t be the last. Sean steeled himself slightly, whilst trying to appear relaxed, as Professor Brennan stormed in.
“Who the fuck do you think you are, Peresil? And what the hell is that at your feet? Is that... a carcass?”
“Yes, Professor... yes, Professor! Don’t you give me a fucking yes Professor. My office is on fire, my desk is a barbeque.”
“Actually, Professor, there never was a fire, it’s all smoke and mirrors.”
The vein beneath the surface of the Professor’s temple assumed Everest-like proportions. “What the hell are you talking about, haven’t you studied your basic theories? Don’t you where there’s smoke, there’s bloody fire?”
“Not in your office.”
The insanity of Sean’s calmness was not infectious.
“Look, Peresil, I don’t care how many degrees you have, I don’t care how bloody brilliant you are. You can’t go around torching people’s offices. Your grant money can only buy you so much cheek.”
“Cheek, Professor? I wasn’t aware I was giving any such thing. I have answered you as factually as possible.”
“Turning the other cheek was my meaning. That’s what the University does in cases like yours and not because they like you, because they want your money you moron.”
“The fact is, Professor, there was no fire in your office. If there was any combustion it was contained in the entrails of the cuniculus.”
“In the what of the who?”
“I apologize for being too specific. It’s obviously a quality not prized in this institution. I was alluding to the innards or the stomach, if that is simpler for you, of my rabbit. I think in more common terms they’re known as a coney, for others I believe that is a footballer. Not that I would know, I’ve never been to a game. In fact, I don’t believe I’ve ever kicked one. Is that something you partake of in your spare time? I don’t have any spare time myself.”
“You do now. I’m terminating your experiments within this faculty immediately.”
“Let me make it simpler for you, Peresil… you’re fired!”
“You can’t fire me, I don’t get paid.”
“You’re damned right you don’t, and you never will.”
Sean remained seated in the midst of the smoking ruins. He had never been fired before. He had left a few jobs voluntarily. In fact, each year from the ages of 18 to 20 he had worked as an apprentice while he studied in the evenings for his second and third degree. He had gained experience and technical skills as a carpenter, an electrician, a fitter and turner. Each job had a bully for a boss, just like the professor, but with a lot more arse crack. This had been the template of his life. He had been bullied by numerous class mates. Sean found the term mate incredibly ironic, yet it was of no particular concern to him. His access to the University’s laboratories and computers was more of a concern. It was but a slight dilemma already solved as he stood apparently stunned and speechless.
“I’m surprised by your lack of fight, Peresil.”
“Fight? To fight is to waste valuable energy. Time I could use to think. Why would I fight?”
Like so many others the Professor did not understand Sean Peresil. He watched on dumbfounded as the student vacated his lab, hands in pockets and a whistle on his lips. His head was elsewhere. It should have been here at the university developing a remarkable future, but he had already moved on. Sean’s mind had been beyond the moment since he was twelve years old.
He didn’t pack his things; his notes were all copied and stored across multiple platforms in multiple destinations. Would anyone at the university understand them, he doubted it. Sean had proven his hypothesis at the expense of a rabbit, now it was time for a human trial.
The university dorm where he had lived for the past six years was a Spartan affair, yet it was an interesting read... wall by wall, layer upon layer, experiment after experiment, time after time. Sean sat down in front of the central wall. He called it the reflection. His eyes began darting from note to note, quickly piecing together past events with today’s events while creating a strategy for the following day. The success of this venture could not be judged by Sean’s face. There was no smile or a single frown; just calculation.
“Sean, you alright? The news is all over. Rumour says you torched Brennan’s office and he expelled you.”
Sean did not move. He was completely focussed on the task before him and on the task ahead. His visitor was not surprised; he had seen Sean like this before. Kevin had occupied the dorm room next door for two years. He had his opinion about Sean, but today he was more concerned than curious. The third year student stepped into Sean’s room, careful not to displace a single thing, and laid his hand gently on Sean’s shoulder. Kevin jumped back as Sean stood up, pointing to a particular place on the wall.
“You see, Kevin, I thought that this would be the outcome. Of course I did make provisions for the eventual outcome, and was not totally surprised, but I was hoping for this one. I’ll have to risk the P.S.R.T. don’t you think?”
Kevin was sort of glad Sean was still alive. His death would have made great Facebook and Twitter fodder, but then it might still. One couldn’t be too sure with Sean. One had to step into his world with care and Kevin followed procedure; placing his hands on Sean’s shoulders and slowly turning him around. Sean’s face was amassed with calculations. There was no emotion here whatsoever. This bothered Kevin more, even if he wasn’t totally surprised.
“Look mate, I heard they expelled you.”
“Expelled? No, I’ve already graduated three times.”
“Three times, then why do you live here?”
“It’s cheap, it’s convenient and it’s been six years. I don’t have to waste time thinking about where home is, because it’s right here where it’s always been. You should try that.”
“What if you meet someone, Sean?”
“I have, I met you.”
“No, I mean, like a girl.”
“Oh, a girl. I never had much time for that. They say it can be a pleasurable experience, do you find that?”
“Um, yes, but...”
“I did know a girl once. Miss Claire Newman. We went to high school together, before I finished at 16. She was not like the others. I could talk to her.”
“What did you talk about, science?”
“Yes, but it’s not all science. If it was I’d never get on. I have a construction wall over there. This is, as you alluded, the science, but over there, now that’s the interesting one... that’s history.”
“Don’t tell me, one of your three degrees?”
“A masters in fact.”
“So why do you go on and on about experiments and the future?”
“To know one’s past is to understand the ramifications of the future.”
Sean shook his head. He often felt many other students were brick walls in the path of knowledge; he had higher hopes for Kevin. “Humanity never really changes, people never really change; they just face different obstacles.”
“And what would you know about humanity, Sean?”
“I’ve studied it. I have masters in Science and Philosophy.”
“I thought you were doing pre-Med?”
“In my spare time.”
“So what the hell do you want to be?”
“Somewhere else.” The answer was indeed curious, but delivered with utmost conviction.
“Don’t you mean someone else?”
“I mean what I said.”
“Wouldn’t want to waste any words.”
“So if you weren’t expelled, what the hell happened?”
“I was fired, which is not technically correct because I don’t get paid.”
“How do you survive?”
“Apprenticeships, grants and the profits from the off-loading of my parents’ estate.”
“What will you do now?”
“I have no real need, especially if I’m right about this equation and the P.S.R.T.”
Sean turned back to his wall, back to the equation and was lost again. Kevin drifted back out into the hall and tugged out the mobile from his back pocket, more concerned than ever.
* * *
dry. Phase two had been a complete success. Despite the odd signs about him that was the purpose of the exercise.
Sean strode out to the middle of the oval. He could see the stands of Princes Park to his right; they didn’t play football there anymore. To his far left was the University of Melbourne and beyond the steel and glass of the C.B.D. The oval around him was vacant and although he could see a number of joggers on its outer rim and hear the constant crawl of the rush hour traffic heading across town, he was certain nobody was taking any notice of him. If he had pulled out a gun and shot himself they would have continued to run and drive as they did every evening.
Sean reached into his pocket and drew out a large syringe. It was already loaded; it had been for days. This was phase two. He lifted up his t-shirt and poked the syringe into his chest. The needle drew a shallow draft just under the skin as required before Sean released its contents into his system. He retracted it immediately, swabbed the wound and stowed the syringe responsibly. There was one more task, the final task of phase two; ten years in the making.
The gravity of the moment was not lost on Sean, yet there was no sentimental pause or monumental speech. He tugged the device out of his pocket, hung it around his neck and set it. Closing the case, he waited.
At first everything seemed as it should. The joggers trudged their way manfully along the tan, the traffic droned on beyond the park’s perimeter trees and a kookaburra laughed in an old gum tree.
Sean sighed. He reached for the device and his body began to shake, minutely at first. If he held his hand out in front of his face he could just see it vibrating. Another sigh. His body lurched back and forth in a series of sudden tempests. Sean’s heart stopped and his body dropped limply to the ground.
Sean was right about the joggers and the drivers, they didn’t notice his collapse. If they had, the doctor amongst them would have run to his aid to revive him, but he didn’t. The world continued to turn as the Mayan’s had predicted and everyone went about their business, their own personal business. Sean’s body lay limp on the grass. A hint of steam rose up about him as it had around his rabbit in Professor Brennan’s office. His eyes stared blankly into space, towards the heaven he had read about and debated into non-existence. He did not go there, as expected. His body gave a tremendous shudder from the chest outwards... and again... and Sean’s eyes blinked back to life.
The steam dissipated. This was duly noted as he rotated his head, careful not to make a sudden move. Everything was still as expected, only darker. The traffic was a little less obvious, as were the joggers, yet this was Princes Park in the Northern suburb of Carlton, Melbourne, Australia. The sky had an eerie feeling of impending doom; such was the blackness of the clouds.
The sky was clear before. How long had he been out?
Sean checked his watch; less than a minute. He sat up and leant back on his palms. The grass about him was sodden, yet he was dry and the ground was warm... an effect perhaps? Sean tugged his diary out of his day pack and scribbled a page of notes. He stood up and circled out from the drop zone. The grass was wet for as far as the eye could see and the storm was drifting south east. It was proof, yet he required more.
Walking to the park’s perimeter Sean had the urge to run, but he was wary of the shock. The P.S.R.T. theory had worked brilliantly, but what about the device? He couldn’t afford to go anywhere he might be recognized, so he made his way out of the park, away from the University grounds, and across Royal Parade where he hopped onto a passing tram. Sean sat down opposite a bearded man. His clothes suggested an intellectual; a pair of trusty jeans, sneakers, and a turtleneck skivvy beneath a reasonably smart smoking jacket complete with elbow patches. The attire was no surprise given his proximity to the University of Melbourne. The Age newspaper spanned the man’s outstretched arms. Sean checked the date and his heart skipped a beat. It was the extent of his emotion.
“Excuse me, sir, but is that today’s newspaper?”
“Well it’s not tomorrows.”
It was in Sean’s eyes, yet it was exactly the date he had expected. Hope was not in his vernacular. He did not bother the man again, he just sat on him. Sean had that slightly creepy stalking tendency, which eventually bore fruit. The academic pressed the stop button, stood up and dumped his newspaper in Sean’s lap.
“In case you haven’t finished yet.”
Sean hadn’t, so he unfolded the paper and continued reading the daily news. The Internet would have been more up to date, but this would suffice. Nothing much to report on page two, but page three, now that was something. Sean folded the newspaper and rolled it neatly as he prepared to disembark. He didn’t notice the looks from the passenger opposite who was hoping to score the used broadsheet.
A new band of storm clouds moved in from the south west as Sean walked back up Royal Parade to Princess Park. There was time to fill in his diary with an old-fashioned pen as he made his way back to the launch point; his electronic notepad may well prove useless in the future. He made it back to Princes Park before the storm hit, completed his diary entry and took stock of the evening. Things were moving far more rapidly than expected, yet he was not particularly surprised by the actual course of events. Everything was much as he had predicted. He prepared himself for the final element of phase two.
Sean reset his device and let it drop loosely around his neck. The sensations were just as they were before. His body vibrated and shook, then started to lurch back and forth as the rain came sweeping in with a hint of thunder. He closed his eyes this time and they were backlit by the lightning that struck in the playing field to his right. Sean raised his arms a little dramatically as the final vibration shook his body off his feet. He hit the ground accompanied by a single bolt of lightning. A searing pain shot through his chest, before he passed out.
The steam that rose up around Sean this time was accompanied by a slight acrid smell; something was burning. Sean did not notice; he wasn’t breathing. His eyes were wide open and blank. The cruciform he formed on the ground complimented the tattoo that was now burnt into his chest with intricate Celtic swirls. Sean’s device lay on the ground a few feet away. Not one of the remaining joggers noticed his prostrate form.
The node in Sean’s chest activated just in the nick of time.
It was not designed to cope with such a force of nature. Fortunately the lightning bolt had deflected off the device about his neck and as his chest heaved once... twice... three times... Sean coughed and spluttered to life once more. This was not the desired landing procedure, yet the grass around him was now bone
* * *
“Professor Brennan, I’m not sure if you know me? I board in the room next to Sean.”
“Then you would be Kevin. Did he send you?”
“No, I don’t think that’s his thing. Did you just expel him?”
“It depends on your opinion. What did Sean think?”
“He thinks you sacked him, but he said he doesn’t get paid and he’s not strictly a student.”
“Is that what he said?”
Kevin thought about his response for a moment. There was an intimidation factor in play despite lecturers teasing the students with adult responsibilities. He wasn’t sure how Sean managed to stand up to them, if that’s what he’d been doing. “Sometimes it’s hard to tell exactly what he says or means. Does he really have three degrees?”
“Yes, and at least one masters. His academic excellence is not the issue, and before you but in, nor is his personality. It’s his extra-curricular activities that concern me!”
“The University’s his life, Professor.”
“Well, it’s about time he discovered the real world.”
“I’m not sure that’s a good idea. I think he’s bottled it up, locked himself in a world of academics. He might be a danger to himself. I don’t think he’s ever failed before.”
“Perhaps, like everyone else, he needs to. Maybe someone like you needs to tell him that.”
* * *
Sean sat in his room pondering the match in his right hand. His body still tingled all over and the tattoo from his device still sizzled on his chest. A metal rubbish bin sat forlornly between his legs. It was filled to the brim with the notes that were once pinned to the walls. The item he placed on top was The Age newspaper he had procured on the city bound tram the day before. Sean looked up at his wall calendar; the only thing left on his wall. It suggested the date was April the 9th, 2015, and so it was. The newspaper he had collected on the tram suggested otherwise; April the 16th, 2015.
The newspaper was folded open to the page three story that had caught his attention on the tram. It was an interesting read, from a purely scientific point of view, and no doubt the reporter thought it was accurate at the time. Perhaps it was, but Sean knew better. Police on the 16th of April suspected foul play. The university student who had disappeared from his dormitory room without a trace may have been murdered. His accounts had been cleared some days before and there was a suggestion of drugs as a number of syringes were found in his room.
“You’ve got a few people around here on edge, Mr. Peresil.”
For the first time in his life Sean’s focus was captured by a single sentence. He lifted his head and was faced with a vision from his past; the one person who had ever listened to him.
“Hello, Claire, is that all I get from you after all these years? Did you even know I was studying here?”
“Um, no, what...”
“Archaeology of course, thanks to all those stories you used to tell about the past, all those amazing places and cultures. What did you expect?”
“I thought you liked animals?”
“I liked a lot of different things and the occasional interesting if slightly odd person. Don’t you remember high school?” Claire was not afforded a response, not even the single raised eyebrow Sean had so often allowed her in high school. “I used to follow you around like a sheep and I used to hang on every ridiculous idea you ever had about the future. I know high school was six years ago for you, but it was only three years ago for me. Don’t you remember me?”
“I was talking about you yesterday.”
“Fondly I hope?”
“That was the general banter of the conversation.”
Had Claire been more astute at the science of personality she would have noticed Sean’s eyes quickly flash up and to his right. Yes, he remembered her. She was the pretty young girl with the long flowing auburn hair that dangled with thick Celtic braids. They had spent many lunch hours between the ages of 12 and 16 discussing ancient cultures and languages. She was his one respite amidst the many hazings he endured during his early teen years. He had studied the bottom of many a toilet bowl, had his runners stolen, tied and tossed across power lines, and had endured many an atomic wedgy. Yes, he remembered her, besides his mother she was probably the only female who had ever given him the time of day.
“I heard you were in some trouble, are you OK?”
“I am what I am, Claire, and I’m where I thought I would be. In fact, I think I’m slightly ahead of schedule.”“What’s in the bin, and what’s with the match?”
“You should ask one question at a time, Claire. It’s quite a debilitating experience dealing with more than one, on a non-personal level. Which would you prefer me to answer first?”
“Never mind, would you like a coffee?”
“No thank you, I have something to attend to, something I’ve been planning for a very long time.”
Claire sighed. Her level of despair matched her level of fear for Sean. Why was he burning his things? She couldn’t remember him ever burning any of his notes; he always kept every thought he ever had. Why did he try to blow up the professor’s office? He had never been the sort to have a destructive personality... what had happened to him? Why was he being expelled? Was he such a danger to others, and to himself?
Sean flicked the top of the match with his fingernail and it burst into life. Claire didn’t like the way the flame danced in his glassy eyes. He had regained his distant focus. The face in the newspaper article from the following week stared back at him and he dropped the match. The newspaper smouldered slowly, Sean’s picture melted from shades of grey to black to embers which slowly flared and spread to the rest of his notes. He portrayed no emotion. This was merely his past... the future was everything.
The flames danced maniacally across his face portraying an evil that did not exist beneath the flesh. Claire viewed his actions from an alternate perspective. She didn’t see the article from a newspaper that couldn’t exist and he didn’t see the tear that escaped the fiercely proud and loyal clutches of her sparkling blue eyes. Sean also failed to notice her turn slowly on her heel and fade out of his dormitory room. Sean was already in phase three.
* * *
One hour later Kevin was running with Claire, Professor Brennan and two policemen by his side. The smoke detectors had been set off at the dormitory and Sean was missing. Less than a kilometre away Sean stood in the middle of the oval on the city side of Princes Park. There was no syringe required this time. He had everything he needed and he was ticking them off on his check list quite meticulously; diary, check... water, energy bars, cash, antique cash, flint, medical supplies, compass, portable GPS, pens, spare clothes, toiletries, gold... check.
He packed them all just as meticulously into an odd looking satchel. This was Sean’s own design. It was reversible, it could easily be converted into a shoulder bag, be strapped and concealed around his waist, and it could also be a back pack. Sean adjusted its straps and slung it onto his back.
The device was still around Sean’s neck, but the chain had been shortened somewhat. His chest was still smarting from the previous night’s burn. He twisted the device slowly until its shape defied itself and its possible use, before attempting to flick the nine notches hidden within; eight which calculated the date in binary and one for plus or minus... going there and coming back. He had successfully tested both of these; seven days forward and seven days back. Now he was attempting a longer journey, but always into the future.
The notches did not move. Sean flicked them again... nothing! He slid his Swiss Army Knife out of its pouch, chose an implement and worked at the notches feverishly. They did not budge, not a single one. They had been fused by the lightning strike and Sean was stranded in his own time.
Sean sank to his knees. Ten years... TEN YEARS! It had taken him two to fashion the prototype and even that was crude as his trade apprenticeships had all been short affairs. Sean fought the emotion he had suppressed for so many years, the volcano both Kevin and Claire had suspected. Logic succeeded. He spent an hour shaping and re-shaping the device, scraping at its edges and digging at its notches, careful not to damage the technology. Nothing. The lava fermented and he screamed with the pain of five wounded bulls.
Joggers on the tan track at the edge of the oval paused briefly before they resumed freely; too self-obsessed or too afraid to become involved. Sean was quivering with rage. His hands shook violently. He didn’t understand, he was usually such a measured character. Then his body lurched back and forth in a series of sudden tempests. Sean’s heart stopped and his body dropped limply to the ground.
Sean’s chest heaved. The ensuing gasp rushed down his throat, straining the sinews around his vocal chords and he coughed violently. He rolled onto his stomach and cased the immediate area. The movement was so quick, he was sure a few internal organs had switched sides. The surrounding parkland was not the same. The grass beneath him was coarse and sparse as were the perimeter trees, which were clearly smaller. There were no obvious joggers in Lycra was no discernible traffic noise.
Was this the future as he had planned? Had humans evolved beyond the need for exercise in parks? Were cars and friends electric? Did they hover to reduce road noise? What about the trees? They needed to be replaced every 100 to 150 years… was this the result of the next planting cycle?
Since he was a teenager, Sean had dreamt of travelling into the future to find a better world. Yes, he studied history and the way the world evolved as one had to understand the process of evolution, but had he succeeded in his ultimate goal?
Sean scanned the skies. The horizon was adrift with smoke. He breathed it in; high carbon content. His heart began to race. The buildings along Royal Parade were a mixture of the same Victorian structures he was used to, but to his left the city was shrouded in mist. He spun around; the Princes Park oval was in situ, but the stands were not right. The great curved Legends Stand no longer swept the southern wing with its curvaceous modern arc. There was one grand stand here; the ancient Alderman Gardiner Stand.
A new sound reached Sean’s ears. The time shift had deafened him slightly, yet as before his senses had returned quickly. The sound was familiar, but not necessarily pleasing to his ears; it was the clip clop of horse’s hooves on a hard surface. This was Kansas as Dorothy knew it, but not the one he or she would have expected.
Sean checked his person and the back pack. Everything was as it should be. He took a quick swig of water, checked his device and then tucked it under his t-shirt. He had chosen unbranded clothes so as not to stand out. His hair had been cut close by design to be non-time specific, but his runners although comfortable and not too fancy were a little conspicuous. They would have to do for now, but he would have to think quickly on his feet; something he was not particularly good at. Sean liked to plan to the nth degree and he already knew he would have no such luxury now.
He required information, a quiet place and a strategy. What if he could no longer control his time device? What if it began to randomly fire sending him further and further away in time? Sean needed to be somewhere else, not some time else; somewhere he could predict events based on his accumulated knowledge.
Sean marched off towards the C.B.D. of Melbourne. Crossing the park he soon reached the elms that graced its perimeter. They were younger than he remembered. He patted one fondly as he walked past before confirming his suspicions whilst crossing Cemetery Road West. The University was still here, but the traffic was of a more equine nature. Sean should have been fascinated, but his mind was elsewhere. It took all of his considerable concentration to focus on the road and dodge the incoming hooves. He made his way quickly to Lygon Street a few blocks away, avoiding human interaction. Anything he touched could change history as he knew it and that was not his agenda. He desired invisibility; perhaps he should have invented that as well.
The original design of his back pack was no longer practical, so he transformed it to a satchel and placed it under his arm. He dug inside and retrieved a few older pound notes from his extensive monetary collection along with a few contemporary coins. They had been a bit of a whim, collection collateral; he had no idea how practical they would be as currency.
The proliferation of hats caught Sean’s attention en route as he pieced together a possible date scenario. A news stand filled in the details, his antique coin collection depleted by one. Argyle Square on Lygon Street provided a park bench where he sat and thumbed through The Argus in the afternoon sun; it was April the 11th 1915. He had travelled back almost 100 years. The time device was in reverse; his dream, although slightly verging into nightmare territory, was now a reality.
Sean skimmed over the major stories of the day. Australian troops were stationed in North Africa, they were debating whether or not to cancel the football season, St Kilda had changed their colours to the red, black and yellow of Belgium instead of the red, black and white of Germany, and University had pulled out of the league; many of their young men had signed up. Sean had scanned many old newspapers on microfiche, but never felt the crispness of an actual 19th Century edition with ink that rubbed off on his fingers. He studied the blackness of the ink on his fingertips. Would he be charged with stealing time, or condemned with these prints? A nagging thought suggested the thrill of participation. Sean turned the next page and it seemed the answer was calling out to him as it had to so many men in 1915…
Your Country Needs You!
The Defense Department requires EIGHTY men per day to reinforce Victorians at the War
Will You Make One of this Number?
Possibly you believe you are justified in not volunteering. Examine your conscience carefully. Is it a valid reason or an excuse?
Which is Better?
To fight and perhaps die as AN AUSTRALIAN
or you and yours to live under the heel of
YOUR COUNTRY CALLS2.
He calculated the possibilities. The risks were enormous, but so were the ones already taken. Sean tore out the ad, ate an energy bar and enquired about accommodation for the night. The desired room with dinner was found for less than a pound a block along Lygon Street. He kept to himself through dinner, as usual, and found himself lying on a stodgy mattress at about 10 o’clock listening to the inner city sounds. There were no sirens, no air brakes from late night transports and no car horns. The sound of hoof on cobbles was accompanied by little else, besides the occasional drunken merriment. Sean missed the doof doof music of the disco cars that frequented Melbourne’s streets circa 2015 every night. This being a Sunday it seemed the streets were quieter; something 2015 would have mocked openly. Perhaps there were some things that 1915 could teach 2015.
* * *
The next morning Sean avoided breakfast queues and the crowded newspaper stands and walked directly to his desired destination; the local AIF recruitment station. He could not risk bouncing back any further through time whilst stranded in Australia. There was no known history of the region prior to 1788 and that was such a small window to play with. If he remained in Melbourne the timeline shortened to 1835, less than the 100 year bounce he had already experienced. Europe was the destination of choice and the most efficient way to achieve that was by joining up.
Travelling by ship would be dangerous. If his device activated he would be bounced in time over the ocean and that was not ideal; he wasn’t that strong a swimmer. Sean hypothesized secreting the device on a distant point of the ship as he knew it needed to be within 10 metres of the pellet in his chest to activate. He had the skills to join the Medical Corp, which would probably keep him out of the trenches. The calculated risk was acceptable given his situation. Keep his head down, avoid any major battles and perhaps even jump ship before the actual demarcation point. The authorities could not trace a man yet to be born. He could disappear into history to repair his device or wait for it to activate and transport him to another time in a place with a history he knew well.
There was an unusual buzz in the queue around him. Sean was surprised how excited the men were. He wondered if it was just false bravado, this was war they were talking about; if only they knew.
“Where you from, mate?” Sean had been addressed by a young man who looked barely old enough to shave. He didn’t seem nervous. He seemed almost electric with excitement. “James is me name, James Martin. Where you from?”
“Carlton, I spent the last six years in Carlton, working around the university.”
“Toff, eh, that would explain the duds. Not one of those artistic types are ya?”
“No, not artistic, just between jobs.”
“Well, I guessed that part, you’re the only bloke in line without a hat. Borrowed that lot did ya?”
“Nothing like the Army for a bit of regular pay and seeing the world. Reckon it might be over by the time we get there. Our boys will be showing the old Hun a thing or two by now.” James sized Sean up as he rattled on attracting a few curious onlookers with his next statement. “You know, you don’t look so happy to be here. Cheer up, mate, it’s only a war and it’s a long way away. We won’t be there for months.”
The young man patted Sean warmly on the shoulder, who for the first time in his life was just another bloke in line, not a freaky scientific genius. Their fellow prospective soldiers seemed to warm to him as they did their own fate. The banter along the line only subsided as the men neared the sergeant at arms. Sure they all wanted to enlist, but not all of them would make it. At this early stage of the war some would be considered too young, some too short and some would be rejected on medical grounds. Sean would have no such problems. He grew up with fluoride in the water, three square meals a day and hard labour for him had resulted in writer’s cramp.
“Sean what, speak up man, this isn’t an examination room, this is the army!”
“SEAN PERESIL, Sir!”
“I’m not a sir, Peresil, I have stripes. Want to join the Medical Corps, eh? Not one for the front line? Got any papers, son?”
“Medical degree, hospital experience, anything practical?”
Sean had not considered this line of questioning or the fodder aspect of the First World War. He had a portion of the Medical degree which should have been more than enough compared to most of the experienced medics from the Great War, but he had no proof on him.
“Don’t worry, Peresil, we’ll find a place for you among the cannon fodder. You’ll fit in well enough after you’ve dug a few trenches and mucked out a few latrines… NEXT!”
Sean wasn’t over tall at 5’10”, but he passed the physical easily. James Martin followed him in line and also passed initial inspection. They were both shipped off to the northern suburb of Broadmeadows and the 1st Reinforcements of the 21st Battalion.
* * *
Days turned into weeks for Sean. The Broadmeadows induction camp morphed into the Seymour training camp in central Victoria. He worked hard, kept to himself and out from beneath the Sergeant’s nose. It was not a wise strategy. The Sergeant was building a team of men who could rely on each other in extraordinary circumstances and he did not trust a man who was not part of the team, who did not conform, so he did not trust Sean, whose motives were obscure. The Sergeant saw him as secretive and solitary, everything a time traveller should be and everything a foot soldier in the Australian Imperial Forces should not be.
“Pick up your feet, Peresil; lift up that weapon, that’s not one of your fancy quills, that’s supposed to be a rifle. This is the army, Peresil, move it!”
Sean tried, but the physical was not his strength and he fell face first in the mud again. He struggled to extract himself as the Sergeant’s diatribe rained down on him venomously from behind. Sean felt a tug at his waist as his belt was grabbed from above, expecting the next motion to be forceful and back into the mud.
“There you go, mate, rather you up and in the line of fire protecting me than down there in the mud. You’re pretty useless to me down there.”
Sean righted himself and struggled on without flicking off the mud. He fell in line amidst a series of obstacles just like any man in any other unit. James kept his hand on Sean’s back pushing him through until they reached the wall, the most difficult obstacle of all.
“Want a leg up, James?”
“I was about to ask you that, mate. Age before beauty, eh?”
Sean smiled, cracking the mud that had dried on his face. James’ enthusiasm was a mystery. The lad already had his hands cupped and low ready to give his friend a boost. He was in the zone and for all intents and purposes it was a survival zone. Sean looked up at the wooden wall in front of him. Another private was struggling at the top, his feet were all that remained, his body was already over the other side.
“Come on, Sean.”
“Wait, just wait.”
“You can’t, the Sergeant.”
“Peresil, get over that bloody wall, now. That’s an order!”
There was a thud and a groan from behind the wall and the order was ignored. Sean raced around the base of the wooden wall; straight across the Sergeant’s path. He was ropeable.
“Peresil… wall… NOW!”
Sean pushed past the Sergeant with a good old fashioned footy don’t argue. He’d never managed one in his life, but this was an emergency, something the sergeant had yet to appreciate. Sean knelt just beyond the wall. The Sergeant pushed him aside and grabbed the private who had fallen off the wall.
“Get your hands off him.”
“What? Was that an order, Private Peresil? I give the orders around here, Private.”
Sean had forgotten everything he had learnt about the army during the past few weeks. He had switched back to the analytical student and he was in assessment mode.
“Shut the fuck up and get your hands off Henderson.”
The Sergeant let his tenuous grip on Private Henderson go and drew himself up to his full height. Sean stepped around the Sergeant and bent down over the fallen soldier. He was dazed and still lucid, but in obvious agony.
“Don’t move, mate, stay perfectly still.”
Sean loosened Henderson’s collar and felt around his neck and shoulders with more care than he had ever administered. He then took Henderson’s hand.
“Can you feel my hand, cobber?”
“Are your fingers tingling?”
Sean released Henderson’s hand and untied the laces on the private’s left boot. He slid the boot off before removing the sock beneath. It was not a smell he would wish on any man, let alone that man’s wife or mother.
“Same tingling in your toes, Henderson?”
“Don’t move, not one inch. Sergeant, we need a medic, now. James, we need something to stabilize his neck. Watson, Turner, find Henderson a stretcher and if you can’t, bloody well make one, quick smart.” Nobody moved a muscle as Sean positioned himself to immobilize Henderson’s neck. “Now you bloody morons or he’ll never walk again!”
The Sergeant moved first. Every man was watching him and they immediately followed his lead. Sean bent over close to Henderson and managed something he had not been able to in 22 years on this Earth; he was personable.
“OK, Henderson, here’s the thing. You can’t move, not one inch. You probably broke your neck in that fall, but you still have feeling, so you should be alright.