Summerhouse land, p.40
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       Summerhouse Land, p.40

           Roderick Gordon
 

  Hopkins’ men all crowd around to see the illustration on the album cover. ‘That rat,’ one of them says, as he notices it leaping onto the bed, ‘it is a familiar.’

  ‘This was found in the coven we flushed out.’ The boy points accusingly at Damaris. ‘We believe that she was the leader of that coven and maybe others across this isle.’

  ‘Who’d ’ave thought,’ the lieutenant mutters. ‘She being just a bairn.’ However he’s more intent on the naked women depicted in the illustration the boy’s holding.

  The boy suddenly lurches, dropping the album cover and clutching his head.

  ‘What is it?’ Hopkins asks.

  The boy removes his hands from his head, and there is blood seeping from his nose.

  ‘Are you ill?’ Hopkins asks, concerned because the boy is having difficulty standing.

  ‘Being near these evil beings has taken its toll on me. And the pain I’m feeling now is very powerful. The force is strong in this witch, the force of the dark side,’ the boy says, speaking hurriedly.

  ‘The force of the dark side?’ Hopkins repeats. He’s never heard that expression before and makes a mental note to use it in the future.

  The boy continues to speak, one hand pressed to his forehead as if in great discomfort. ‘Now you must listen and listen carefully – on no account allow her near water. Move her as far away from it as you can. We misguidedly held an assize on the bank of the Thames. It was a tragic mistake. We discovered too late that these witches can replenish their foul magic from bodies of water. Indeed, many are born near them.’

  ‘The mill,’ the lieutenant realizes, because it was Damaris’s birthplace. ‘T’is true.’

  ‘One of the brothers from my church collapsed as a witch uttered an incantation. When we went to his aid, he was dead,’ the boy says. ‘He had water in his lungs as surely as if he had drowned.’

  Hopkins’ men mutter among themselves at this.

  ‘And two of the witches we’d captured turned into fish and escaped. I tell you, water gives them their power. You must move this sorceress well away from here before you put an end to her.’

  ‘It will be done this very moment,’ Hopkins replies without hesitation.

  ‘But the ducking st—’ the lieutenant begins.

  ‘No, we heed Brother Skywalker’s advice. It is fortunate that he is here to give us counsel.’ Hopkins steps toward the girl. ‘Untie the witch and take her away from the lake and into the fields. There we will burn her at the stake instead.’

  ‘Shall I raise the townspeople?’ the lieutenant asks.

  ‘No, we will not tarry. It will be done now, without delay,’ Hopkins replies. He supervises his men for a moment, then watches as they follow out his orders. When he turns around, the boy has gone. There is no sign of him anywhere, but Hopkins notices the album cover is still on the ground with his blood on it. ‘And we will burn that ungodly icon with her.’

  ‘I only just made it back to London, what with the lawless rabble on the roads, and the mother of all migraines,’ older Sam said.

  ‘You ...!’ Sam snarled, his chest heaving with anger as he sprang from his chair. ‘You have to undo what you’ve done … bring her back again.’

  ‘Not in a million years,’ older Sam replied. ‘I don’t want her anywhere near me, or near you for that matter.’

  ‘But how could you do that to Damaris? You’re not … not human!’

  ‘Human? Hah!’ older Sam sneered. ‘You really think you’re still human when you can live forever? But that’s neither here nor there.’ He thrust a finger aggressively at the floor. ‘You should be down on your blimming knees thanking me. You have no idea what I’ve spared you.’

  ‘But it’s not your life! It’s my life! What gave you the right to change anything!’ Sam yelled, and the elder doppelganger also leapt up from his chair.

  ‘I had every right!’ he shouted. With his voice raised, it was the first time that the other boy hadn’t seemed to be completely in control of himself. ‘Every darned right. Far into the future …’ he went on, ‘far far into the future after you’ve built your whole life around her and she calmly tells you that it’s not working and wants to move on, it’s the worst pain you’ll ever know. Worse than any physical pain. And it’s an unremitting torture because she’s still here in the valley, and will be for all eternity … a constant reminder of how utterly miserable and alone you will be forever more, world without end.’

  ‘Nothing excuses what you’ve done. You’ve totally lost it,’ Sam shouted, his blazing eyes locked with older Sam’s. ‘You’ve gone mad.’

  ‘If I have, it’s because of that witch,’ the other boy shouted back. ‘Ever wondered if she was using her magic on us, too?’

  In the momentary lull that followed, Curtis cleared his throat. ‘We all need to take a deep breath and calm down.’ He cleared his throat again. ‘How is it you both still remember this girl and nobody else does?’

  The two boys were glaring at each other like prize fighters about to go another round, but older Sam began to answer, his mouth hardly moving because his lips were drawn back in a scowl. ‘It’s a quirk peculiar to us … we retain the original branch memory alongside the new. The old one dims.’

  ‘He’s talking rubbish,’ Sam said, with a quick glance at Curtis. ‘I only remember my life with Damaris in it.’

  Older Sam appeared to relax a little. He smiled without humor. ‘Concentrate. The new one’s in there. I can already see it, and it’s so much better.’

  ‘That’s not true. If you can really remember it all, tell me what I’m thinking right now?’ Sam challenged older Sam.

  ‘Temporal adjustments are near-instantaneous, memories can take longer to catch up. And as this point in time isn’t fully resolved yet, I can’t see it clearly yet, but I will soon enough.’

  Sam was beside himself with rage. ‘I’ve just found out you’ve murdered the one person who means the most to me in the whole world,’ he shouted. ‘So tell me, what’s going to happen now? You think we’re going to be friends or something?’

  ‘We will be, yes. Just think what we can achieve together, even if we can never hold hands. You’ll be the brother I should have had.’

  ‘You and me – brothers?’ Sam spat. ‘You’ve got to be darned well joking. That’ll never happen!’

  ‘Don’t be too sure.’ Older Sam turned to Curtis. ‘Do you remember what you always said – sooner or later, everything that can happen will happen. It’s only a matter of time. That couldn’t be more true.’

  Sam wasn’t having this. ‘What if you’re wrong and I want nothing to do with you … forever? Then what?’

  ‘Then I’ll keep you under lock and key somewhere safe with a load of books. Somewhere comfortable, because I don’t want your unpleasant memories filling my head and, anyway, it’ll be a good opportunity to catch up on some reading. And I’ll supervise you through the cliffs every now and then to discharge the energy so you don’t combust. But that’s not the way it’ll be. You’ll come round.’

  ‘You’ve got it all figured out, haven’t …?’ Sam started to say, but then something occurred to him. ‘What you say doesn’t add up. Damaris pulled me into the valley from the lost gap. If she hadn’t been there, I would never have made it through, so I wouldn’t be here now.’

  ‘Way ahead of you on that one, bro,’ older Sam said, grinning. ‘Concentrate on that moment. See if you can remember the new version.’

  ‘Don’t be stupid,’ Sam replied. ‘I know what happened.’

  ‘Sure you do – so go on, tell me,’ older Sam dared him.

  ‘Fine.’ Sam closed his eyes and delved into his memory. ‘Someone … someone behind me. Someone pushes me!’ His eyes flicked open in surprise. ‘And Damaris isn’t on the other side. She wasn’t there!’

  ‘No, it was me there instead in the lost gap, helping you. I gave you a push with a big stick,’ older Sam said, laughing dryly.

  Sam was shaking because ha
ving recalled that moment it was as if an irreversible reaction had been set into motion. An alternative and ultra-vivid version of his life was unreeling in his mind at a rate of knots.

  Older Sam could see what was happening. ‘You’re getting the new memories, aren’t you? Much better ones too. That twisted little cow isn’t around to sour them up.’

  ‘She’s going,’ Sam cried. His recollection of all those happy days with Damaris was growing fainter as it was overlaid by new memories. He saw now how his relationship with Rachel had blossomed after he’d rescued her, while Tom barely figured in his past, and Vek was a complete stranger. ‘No. No! She’s fading!’ he shouted, holding his head with both hands.

  ‘It won’t matter to you soon. Your old life will be buried under the new, and you’ll see things differently,’ older Sam said. ‘Unfortunately it never goes completely.’

  ‘But I don’t want it to go at all. I want it as it was. I want Damaris there.’ His knuckles turning white, Sam was gripping his head with all his might as if he was trying to stop his original memories from leaking out. ‘This is my life. You have no right.’

  Older Sam was watching his previous self suffering, but he was unwavering. ‘One day it’s my life and she ruins it. This is for the best.’

  Still clutching his head, Sam stepped toward older Sam, and with each step he spoke. ‘I … won’t … let … you … do … this.’

  ‘Stay away, Sam,’ Curtis warned. ‘You know you can’t go near him.’

  As he drew back from the chair in front of the screens, older Sam was being forced into a corner of the dark chamber. ‘Morgan, stop him,’ the boy ordered.

  Morgan raised the heavy rifle, training it on Sam, but he was having trouble holding it steady. His arms weren’t up to it because his physical recovery was far from complete and he simply didn’t have any reserves of energy to call on.

  ‘Morgan, pull yourself together and do something!’ older Sam said urgently. He’d reached the corner and there was nowhere to go, Sam still advancing on him.

  ‘Give that to me,’ Curtis suddenly shouted, snatching the rifle from Morgan. He aimed it at Sam. ‘Stop, Sam, or I will fire.’

  Sam glanced at him, shaking his head, then took another step.

  ‘I warned you,’ Curtis whispered.

  The sound of the shot was deafening in the enclosed space, but as the smoke cleared Sam was still standing upright, a hand raised toward Curtis. A small trickle of blood ran from a cut on his palm. He closed it into a tight fist.

  ‘What the heck …?’ older Sam said. ‘Was that a misfire?’

  Curtis didn’t wait to find out. He fired again.

  Sam had raised his other hand. Again the slug hadn’t seemed to have any effect on him. As he’d done with the first, his second hand was now clenched shut.

  Sam crossed his arms, opening his second hand toward Curtis. It was difficult to see precisely what happened in the semi-darkness of the room. As if a tire had been punctured, there was the hiss of escaping air and something flashed from his palm. It struck Curtis in the neck with some impact. As he flipped backwards, he dropped the rifle.

  Morgan squatted beside him. ‘He’s been shot. With a slug.’ Morgan looked up at Sam. ‘What did you do?’

  ‘The slugs are ferrous,’ Sam answered. ‘I simply shifted them in time.’

  His other fist was still toward older Sam. He opened it. There was another rush of displaced air and the slug reappeared, hitting older Sam in the chest.

  He slumped against the intersection of the walls in the corner of the room. ‘I’ve never been able to do that,’ he gasped after a second of stunned disbelief as the blood spread down his chest. ‘How is it you can?’

  ‘Maybe you never wanted it enough,’ Sam said, advancing on the boy. ‘Maybe you forgot how important Damaris was to you. Once.’

  Sam took a final step, stretching a hand toward his future self.

  ‘This is the end,’ older Sam exhaled, cringing with the realization that he knew what was about to happen because he had no inkling what was about to happen. ‘The end of all things.’ He coughed and blood washed over his lip. ‘You really want that? Does she mean that much to you?’

  ‘Yes,’ Sam replied, tears in his eyes. ‘I do. She does.’

  He rammed his fingers into the wound on older Sam’s chest.

  Time st …

  Chapter Twenty-Seven

  … ops.

  There was nothing.

  There is nothing.

  Time re …

  Chapter Eleven

  … starts.

  Intense pain.

  It’s a pain he knows.

  Sam’s felt it before. His skull is shattered, the metal plate piercing the fore lobe of his brain.

  There’s very little light as he tries to move.

  His bare feet scrabble over gnarled roots and old ivy.

  The clouds shift and he makes out something ahead. A tree?

  He hears a dog barking from nearby – on the other side of the fence.

  I’m back here again.

  ‘Maxie!’ Sam tries to call out, but only manages a croak. He knows without any hesitation where he is – in the lost gap.

  In the world.

  His world.

  He should be pleased, relieved, but the pain is just too great. And it only means one thing.

  I’m dying.

  Is this the penalty for touching the future version of himself? For bringing the same matter together? And is the penalty for time to rewind and then replay, but without any Summerhouse Land to save him? For fate to take its natural course this time around, for him to die here alone?

  But again there’s that feeling he’s not alone – the same feeling from last time.

  The last times, he corrects himself. His mind reels because he has two parallel memories; one in which Damaris pulls him through, and another in which the future Sam gives him a helping hand with a push.

  The pain is so overwhelming it’s as though his vision is splintering, but as far as he can see there’s no second him lurking close by. Nobody to shove him through with a stick this time.

  So is this a repeat of his first memory, with Damaris on the other side to help him into the valley? Has he saved his friend, or has that demented future self still managed to eliminate her back in her time? Sam needs to know so badly that he feels as though he’s going to burst.

  ‘Damaris!’ he cries.

  So much pain, but he must keep moving. He forces himself to take a step despite the numbness in his leg, then another, and another.

  He’s at the ivy-covered tree, his dressing gown snagging on the branches.

  He does all he can to drive himself through the tree, but try as he might, he’s stuck, one side of his body almost completely useless.

  I’m going to die here.

  ‘No,’ he shouts, ‘No, I’m not.’

  He forces another step from his failing legs, then reaches out his hand.

  There’s a moment when nothing happens.

  I’m going to die here.

  He thinks of his parents. He thinks of that grainy newspaper article.

  This is where it ends.

  For real this time.

  He feels something.

  Someone has his hand and is pulling, pulling him into the light.

  Yes!

  A glimpse of the sun and green meadows. He was through into the valley. He flopped face down, welcoming the low buzzing sound and billowing white vapor.

  ‘I’ve made it!’ he tried to shout, but his voice wouldn’t work. Although the pain was quickly receding, he was impatient for the healing to come to an end, for the white clouds around him to lift.

  Unable to see because of the brilliant light, he heaved himself into a sitting position. That was when he caught the first glance of the girl standing there with the surprised face and gleaming blond hair.

  ‘Um,’ he said, to test his voice. It worked this time.

  She inclined her
head to one side, eyeing him with a mixture of curiosity and alarm.

  ‘Hi, Damaris. I’m Sam,’ he said. ‘We end up together.’

  ‘What?’ she exclaimed.

  ‘You need to duck … right about now,’ he advised in a croak, the pain in his head suddenly flaring up again.

  The first rivet sprang out from the plate on his forehead.

  ‘Ohh,’ she gasped.

  ‘Really, move!’ he said through clenched teeth, waving her back.

  Frowning, the girl retreated several steps.

  With the sound of twanging metal, the remaining rivets came free and the plate on his forehead shot away. It missed Damaris by a safe margin this time, spinning into the long grass. Fresh blood poured down Sam’s face, then as the flesh knitted together it stopped, the pain with it.

  ‘That was gr—’ the girl began.

  ‘Gruesome. Yes,’ Sam interrupted.

  ‘Are you okay?’ she asked, concern on her face.

  ‘Don’t worry about that … you have to get me to the village, and quick. I’ve got to see Curtis,’ he told her urgently, trying to get up but failing.

  Damaris shook her head. ‘Curtis? Nobody knows where he is. And you’re not well enough to go anywhere yet.’

  Sam suddenly thought of something. Although his eyes were still adjusting to the bright sunlight, he squinted at the surrounding grasslands. ‘Where are the dogs?’ he asked, choking as a filling caught in his throat. He was forced to cough it up.

  ‘That’s usual,’ the girl said. ‘Everything’s m—’

  ‘Yeah, I know – my teeth are mending. It’s normal,’ Sam interrupted her, then proceeded to spit out all the other pieces of amalgam on his tongue. ‘You told me last time.’

  ‘I did?’ she asked, bewildered.

  Sam struggled to his feet, only just managing to stay up. ‘Help me, please,’ he begged. ‘Can you see any dogs?’

 
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