Time quake, p.33
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       TIME QUAKE, p.33

           Linda Buckley-Archer
 

  But such a course of action made her anxious and Kate procrastinated for a while. But then a calmness fell over her and her courage returned. Suddenly it seemed that this was the way it had to be. If Peter had not taken his hand from hers at that precise moment they would all be in a much worse position. She searched her own future again and still saw nothing. She searched Peter’s future and still saw him distraught at the top of this very building. There were no easy answers for her, there were no instructions to be plucked out of the sky. All there was to rely on was her own intelligence and her own judgement. Her father always told her to trust herself and that was all she could do. If anyone else had tried to stop Lord Luxon, they had clearly failed. She now had a chance to stop him – and she was not going to turn away from it.

  Kate marched straight up to Lord Luxon and, without hesitation, grabbed him by both wrists. Nothing happened. His flesh felt hard and smooth. She stared into his face.

  ‘Come on,’ she cried. ‘Surely you can feel that!’

  She carried on gripping him, indeed, she gripped him for so long that she grew bored, but then, all of a sudden, she realised that his hands had grown soft and then she saw his face crease in a violent spasm. Lord Luxon’s eyes, already open wide, opened even wider, and he turned to look at her. He opened his mouth to cry out but no sound came. Although she had willed it to happen, now that it had, she had the impression that a corpse had come to life. But when Kate tried to remove her hands from his wrists she could not. The two of them were stuck together like opposite poles of a magnet. She pulled and tugged and shook her hands and soon Lord Luxon was doing the same. When she looked down she saw that not only was her flesh transparent, now, so too was Lord Luxon’s. Her Law of Temporal Osmosis had proved all too accurate – she and Lord Luxon were accelerating through time together. Both of them struggled uselessly against invisible forces that fused them together.

  ‘Why can’t I take my hands away?’ cried Kate.

  It seemed to her that they were travelling through time faster and faster, and faster. Soon they were surrounded by a carapace of light. Lord Luxon tried to run away from Kate and his terror was so great he could not stop even though he saw that he was pulling Kate along with him.

  ‘Stop it!’ Kate screamed. ‘I can’t keep up with you!’

  But he continued to stagger sideways, dragging Kate alongside him when she lost her footing. They knocked into people and clocks and tumbled into the long gallery where Lord Luxon’s father and ancestors stared down at him from their portraits, as disapproving as ever. Now they were moving much faster than the floating shapes, and the crackling light that emanated from them was growing more intense. Around and around they went, leaving the long gallery and entering the Hall of Mirrors. Kate no longer had the strength to struggle against Lord Luxon and allowed herself to be carried along in this macabre dance. They were spinning around now at much greater velocity, though whether this was due to Lord Luxon or the force that held them Kate could not tell. Slowly but surely Kate was beginning to lose consciousness. Slowly but surely Kate sensed that she was drifting apart. Through half-open eyes Kate saw their dazzling double silhouette reflected from one mirror to another in an infinite crescendo of light. The Hall of Mirrors started to fade. Soon it disappeared altogether. Now they were lost in an unfathomable darkness. Kate struggled to keep awake for she was beginning to sense a change in the force that held them together. Lord Luxon must have felt something, too, and as he stared in horror into Kate’s eyes a final time, the force abruptly stopped. Lord Luxon fell away from her into the void. Her eyes followed his trajectory. He was a spark from a bonfire that rises into the night sky, caught by the wind, swirling, falling, burning more brightly for an instant, and then vanishing for ever in the velvet blackness. Kate’s eyelids closed. It was over.

  CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

  A Perfect Day

  In which all is lost for Kate

  The diaphanous shapes floated by. Sometimes a cluster of them would gather around her and she had the impression that they were tasting her, much as butterflies might sip nectar from a flower. Soon she would have so little substance that she doubted even she could see herself. She felt her eyes sliding shut.

  Then the memory came to Kate like a benediction. It was so strong it blotted out everything else. It was during those carefree days when the door of the future was still closed to her. It was the last day of the autumn half-term holiday, only a few weeks before the day that Peter Schock arrived in her life.

  She was perched on the narrow bench in the back of the ancient Land Rover, squashed up between Sam and Sean. She was so cross at being dragged off on a family outing when she had already made plans of her own. Kate felt every jarring stone and pothole as the Land Rover juddered up the rough track towards the main road, throwing her brothers and sisters around so that their shoulders thumped one against the other. All Kate’s friends had proper cars with springs and everything. Why did her family have to ride around in this bone-rattler?

  She had been feeling put upon all week. As the eldest, she felt she had done more than her fair share of the chores and the boring stuff and she had tons more homework than anyone else. Somehow, being deprived of her freedom on the last day of the half-term holiday before school started again was the final straw. She had upset Sam by stomping off up the stairs and slamming her door. Sam could not bear it when Kate and their mum fell out. They were each as strong-willed as the other so that when Sam tried to get them to make up, mother and daughter just got cross with him as well. Kate felt bad about it but was definitely not going to say sorry. She was entitled to her own personal space! Anyway, it was no big deal. Just a family squabble. A case of people getting on each other’s nerves. But now that Kate’s temper had cooled she was starting to feel miserable.

  ‘But it’s such a beautiful day!’ Mrs Dyer insisted as she drove them out of their valley. ‘Just look how blue the sky is. It’ll be winter soon. Let’s not waste this lovely sunny day. You never know how many days like this you’ve got.’

  ‘Don’t say things like that!’ exclaimed Sam. ‘I hate it when you say stuff like that!’

  Kate looked at him. He had tears in his eyes. The twins rolled their eyes theatrically towards heaven.

  ‘Poor ’ickle Sammy, he’s so sensitive,’ said Issy.

  Sam reached over and slapped her hand hard. ‘Shut up!’ he shouted.

  Issy burst into tears. He had hurt her.

  ‘Calm down, for goodness’ sake, Sam,’ growled Dr Dyer. ‘We do not – even when provoked – hit each other in this family.’

  Kate’s dad had not felt like a trip out either. He was in the middle of emailing a NASA colleague with some complicated data but he had come along because he did not want to disappoint Kate’s mother.

  Issy sniffed and Kate passed her a tissue.

  ‘For goodness’ sake!’ exploded Mrs Dyer. ‘I only wanted all of us to go on a family outing for a change. Is that too much too ask?’ No one answered. ‘Clearly it is!’

  The path that led from the gardens at Chatsworth House to the Hunting Lodge was very steep. Dr and Mrs Dyer walked ahead, holding hands and talking. Sometimes Mrs Dyer rested her head on her husband’s shoulder. Kate was on sheepdog duty, as usual, rounding up the four younger ones and giving Milly a piggy-back when she needed it for she was going through a stage of refusing to sit in the buggy. The atmosphere was still tense and Sam, who would normally help her, was dragging behind looking sad. Kate put her baby sister down and stood still for a moment to get her breath back. She looked down at how far they had climbed. She was beginning to feel better despite her mood. Her cheeks had turned rosy. Below them Chatsworth dominated the valley. The trees were fast losing their leaves and had turned shades of yellow, red and brown. The great fountain gushed forth a plume of white water high over the lake and, beyond, a silver river slid under the arched stone bridge.

  Suddenly Milly, exhausted from the climb, sat on her bottom and refused to budge.
She started to cry. Shrill, piping sobs echoed through the woods and the whole family stopped in their tracks and looked over at the tiny figure, her golden curls blowing in the breeze, her red corduroy trousers bulging with a nappy that no doubt needed changing, her podgy arms raised in the air waiting for someone to pick her up and make her feel better. There was a slight pause and then, moving inwards like the spokes of a wheel, everyone approached the toddler at the centre of the circle. Dr and Mrs Dyer started to jog towards Milly, Sam slid off the iron cannon at the foot of the Hunting Lodge and the twins and Sean abandoned their game of tag. Kate reached her tiny sister first and picked her up, holding her soft, wet cheek against hers. Mrs Dyer got there next and Kate realised that, inexplicably, tears were running down her own cheeks, too.

  ‘Oh, Kate,’ said her mother. ‘I expect so much of you, don’t I?’

  And Mrs Dyer put her arms around Kate and Milly and then Sam joined them and they all opened their arms to let him join the circle and the next moment they were all there, clinging silently on to each other, their hearts brimming over with some unnamed emotion. It only lasted a moment.

  ‘Why’s everyone crying? This is very silly,’ said Sam, sniffing.

  Dr Dyer laughed and ruffled Sam’s hair. ‘Human beings are very silly. Didn’t you know?’

  Mrs Dyer squeezed Kate’s hand. ‘I knew this would be a perfect day.’

  And then it was over. Sam and Sean and the twins went off to clamber over the cannon and Milly wriggled out of Kate’s grasp and started to crawl over the damp clover. With the last ounce of her strength Kate willed the memory of that moment to return and she felt the clutch of arms and warm breath on her cheeks and hard chins resting on her hair. And with the power of her imagination, for that was all that was left to her, she placed Peter, who she knew was so often lonely, and Gideon, who had lost so many brothers and sisters, firmly into the centre of that circle of belonging, too. Just for a moment. And then, as the scene started to slip from her grasp, she said goodbye to the people that she loved and who loved her, for she knew that she was now beyond help. Goodbye, she said. Thank you. I love you.

  Kate was going in and out of consciousness. ‘BELIEVE!’ whispered Dr Pirretti. ‘Remember what the Marquis de Montfaron said. Nothing is ever lost . . .’

  Kate murmured something which Dr Pirretti could not catch.

  ‘We did not mean to invent time travel,’ said Dr Pirretti. ‘Who would have wanted to open such a Pandora’s box?’

  Kate wanted to reply. She wanted to say that after Pandora let out all the evils of the world, Hope still remained. But she did not have the strength.

  Dr Pirretti’s voice was unsteady. ‘I swear that I shall not rest until I have undone the harm we have done to the universe. I shall never forget your sacrifice. Can you hear me, Kate? Kate? KATE!’

  But by now the only sound that Kate could hear was the faltering murmur of her own heart beating in her temples. And soon, too weak to resist any longer, even that was lost to her as the precious, unique structure that had been Kate Dyer was swept away by the ungovernable waters of Time.

  CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

  Mr Carmichael’s Homework

  In which the Tar Man lends some welcome

  support and Peter is reminded of the usefulness

  of homework

  No sooner had he put his hands to his ears than Peter realised what he had done. He stood on tiptoe, trying to see Gideon. He immediately held out his hand for Kate again.

  ‘Sorry!’ he shouted over the clocks. ‘Give me your hand. We’ve got to help Gideon—’

  But out of the corner of his eye he saw the two jackets they had draped over Kate drop to the floor as if balloons had been pricked beneath them. Peter froze, his hand still extended for her to take. Then he slowly picked up the heavy jackets one by one and stared in disbelief at the empty floor. He ignored the commotion coming from the other side of the room and searched frantically all around him for any sign of Kate. The air was thick with the chiming of an army of clocks whose relentless pendulums swung, measuring out the seconds since he had last seen Kate. He ran wildly through the crowd, pushing people out of the way, continuing to call out for her, yet all the while somehow knowing he had lost her. An invisible bond had been cut, a candle blown out. But, of course, he could not accept it.

  ‘Kate!’ he screamed, not caring what people thought. ‘Kate!’

  He ran towards the water clock hoping to find that she was helping Gideon with Lord Luxon. People were in a state of high agitation.

  ‘Did you see it? Am I dreaming?’

  ‘He just vanished! He vanished off the face of the earth!’

  ‘Should we call the police?’

  ‘Has a crime been committed?’

  ‘He said he was the ghost of Lord Luxon come back to haunt us!’

  ‘Did you know him?’ a woman asked Gideon. ‘You looked so angry!’

  Gideon was backing away. Peter stood next to the water clock trying to take it all in. Kate had gone. Lord Luxon had gone. Gideon glanced at Peter and immediately understood that something terrible had happened. Peter’s face was ashen. He needed to get him away.

  ‘’Twas a magician’s trick, that is all,’ Gideon called to the crowd as he pulled Peter towards the long gallery. ‘He has good timing, has he not, to vanish at the very moment the hour strikes? Doubtless he will be back soon to beg for your pennies . . .’

  Gideon took hold of Peter’s arm and led him firmly out of the crowd before anyone got any ideas about stopping them. He marched Peter through the long gallery and then into a corridor and then, when they came across a narrow wooden staircase, roped off and labelled No Entry he unhooked the rope and pushed Peter through. They climbed up five flights of stairs to the top of the building and found themselves on a vast roof terrace that stretched the breadth of Tempest House. There was a carved stone balustrade and Peter slumped onto the floor and rested his elbows on the sun-warmed stone, panting a little after all the stairs. Gideon sat down next to him.

  He waited for Peter to speak. From the movements of his back Gideon could tell he was crying. Suddenly Peter started to hit the balustrade with clenched fists.

  ‘I let go of her!’ he cried. ‘And now she’s gone . . .’

  He felt Gideon’s hand on his shoulder.

  ‘Then we will look for her,’ said Gideon.

  ‘How can we do that when she’s moving so fast she’s invisible?’

  ‘Then . . . Mistress Kate will have to find us.’

  Peter sat up and looked directly at Gideon, his eyes red from crying. ‘She would have found us by now!’ he shouted. ‘Don’t you understand? For her, it’s probably been a hundred years since she disappeared. If she was going to come back she would have done by now. I promised not to let go of her . . . and I did. It’s all my fault!’

  Gideon looked taken aback by Peter’s outburst and covered his own face with his hands for a moment. Peter saw that the truth of the situation had sunk in. Gideon’s blue eyes had misted over.

  ‘So Mistress Kate is lost for ever? She is beyond our help?’

  Peter nodded. ‘And wherever she’s gone, I think she’s taken Lord Luxon with her.’

  They both looked out through the gaps in the balustrade. The sun shone down on the water gardens and on a vast London neither of them recognised. Time passed. The two of them felt punch-drunk, overwhelmed, unable to take in the desperate reality of their situation. The hum of conversation drifted up to them. Sightseers enjoyed the warm weather and admired Tempest House and its magnificent gardens. After a while two uniformed attendants appeared on the lawn and Peter and Gideon watched them knock canes into the turf around the anti-gravity machine and tie striped tape around them. The two of them began to get thirsty, but still they did not move. For a while Gideon looked in fascination at the cars moving in and out of the car-park but finally grew tired of it and lay flat on his back, preferring to stare at the cloudless sky instead. Peter sat cross-legged lo
oking towards London. This isn’t my home, he thought. Once, in another world, I lived in southwest London in a house overlooking Richmond Green, with my mum and dad . . . And I had no idea how lucky I was.

  More time passed. It was Peter who broke the silence first. ‘Gideon, look!’ he exclaimed, pointing beyond the great arch that marked the end of the gardens towards London.

  Gideon heaved himself off the ground and stood up painfully. He scanned the cityscape that stretched as far as the eye could see. Peter heard Gideon’s sharp intake of breath as he saw it.

  ‘I had hoped never to see such a thing again . . .’

  A glowing, billowing mass pulsated over perhaps a quarter of the city on the eastern side. The sky had grown very dark over London, even though here, at Tempest House, all was blue sky and sunshine.

  Below them they heard frightened cries and when they looked down at the people on the terrace, they saw that everyone was looking in the same direction.

  ‘Another time quake!’ someone shouted.

  People began to hurry away from the house. They heard the sound of engines revving and tyres crunching on gravel. Soon there was a mass exodus and the drive was full of visitors and staff. It was not long before the car-park had emptied and the gardens were deserted. On the horizon, lurid green lightning streaked across the city like a skeleton’s fingers. As Peter watched, a strong sense of unreality came over him. He did not even feel frightened any more.

  ‘Kate was right,’ said Peter. ‘We’ve damaged Time – and who is going to mend it? Even if Lord Luxon can’t cause any more damage, the time quakes aren’t going to stop. It’s too late.’

 
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