It’s Writers Island time again.
The prompt this week is TIME TRAVEL.
Here is my rather wordy story –
THE KEEPER OF THE HOURS
We are having an intervention of sorts. Four witches, all that remains of the coven, seeking desperate measures to save ourselves. We argue as we wait for the Keeper of the Hours to hand us the tools we require. If she says nay our fate is sealed.
‘It’s a suicide mission,’ says Eliza. She can command the wind to do her bidding. It rises like a snake, thrashing, biting the hand of our enemies. Always, she sees the dark side but she is more cynical than ever since the Dark One came. The Fiend. The Defiler. The Scourged One. He takes the wind she sends against him in his hand, turning it to black dust, powerless as tears.
‘It’s suicide if we stay too. Might as well be. The Fallen One will pick us off one by one like tin cans on a fence. We have no choice but to do this. It’s the only way we can destroy him.’ Hortense appears calm, even rational but sparks of exhilaration and fear flow from her fingers, coating the room like stars. She commands fire. When she is unnerved everything she touches turns to flames. We keep salt and water in large tubs in every room just in case she loses control.
‘It’ll work. I know it will.’ Merry is optimistic despite losing her right arm, her wand arm, to the Dark One in a battle that lasted three days and nights. The smell of bloodied bandages lingers in the room like a rush of air from an opened window. We try not to worry that the stump of arm still weeps blood after all these weeks. Merry commands the creatures of the woodland. They stand with her in every battle, more steadfast than an army of men.
‘Of course it’ll work. You think I’m going to go to all this trouble to have it fail?’ I try to sound upbeat but I feel like I am facing a firing squad. I am Corrie. I can walk between this world and the next. I can stop motion for minutes at a time. Theoretically, this should mean I can move forwards and backwards through time but I have never attempted it. Whether or not I am allowed to depends on the decision of the Keeper of the Hours as it is she who holds the instruments I need to travel into the past.
The enormous clock on the mantel which nestles on legs big as dragon talons, claws at our impatience. The Dark One came, without fear, merciless, blinded to any sight but our faces drawn in death, cutting through us as if we were mere paper ribbons hanging at a festival. Once there were over twenty in our number, a powerful collective watching over the Earth. That number has been reduced to the four in this room of errors, our hands dirty with regret, starting at shadows cast by our fear.
‘We should have acted sooner,’ Eliza paces, leaving a cold swirl of remorse in her wake. ‘We would not have lost so many if we had acted sooner.’
‘We did not understand the extent of his power until now.’ Hortense fidgets, sending a small flame onto the floor. It catches on the Persian rug, so old the colours are blended into one. I watch it rise, a blue and silver sigh, entranced, until Merry douses it with water, using the only able arm she has left.
‘We did not know why he was here until now.’ Merry says, not daring to look me in the eye. My hopes turn to ash in my mind. The Dark One is here because of me, to kill me. He mistook the others for me because he did not know my face. They died in my stead.
The curse that cast him into nothingness is older than my great great great grandmother but he seeks me, to destroy, to pull into the pit alongside him, for reasons of his own. I walk endless paths of stone, coated in my sisters blood, always at night, seeking him, urging him to find me, but he toys with me, enjoying my despair.
If the Keeper Of The Hours lets me I will traverse the mountains of time to the distant past when the Dark One was not yet aware of his power, where perhaps he was still human, and I will extinguish his life. It is the only weapon I have to even remotely match those he has at his disposal.
The Keeper Of The Hours enters the room. Her mood is sombre. She carries a dish of clearest water and the shadowmaker of Orion, a delicate piece fashioned from white gold. This instrument controls time. Only one before me has attempted to use it to travel beyond this present realm –Hendra the Brave – she never returned to the life she had always own. For more than six hundred years she has been lost to us.
The Keeper Of The Hours speaks. It is a rare event, she has no time for words. ‘The spell has been cast,’ she says, handing me the shadowmaker. It pulses like a live thing. I can feel it trying to split my energy. For the first time I realise in my heart how truly terrified I am.
The Keeper indicates that I sit, placing my feet in the dish of water. I hold the shadowmaker in cupped hands. It flutters, edgy as a bird. ‘Look to the oak tree,’ says the Keeper as she fills the dish of water with tiny black pebbles that begin to froth and foam under my feet. Merry, Eliza and Hortense watch me with eyes wide as children. I know that it is possible I will never see them again.
The black water rises, lapping at my knees, my breast, my head, until I am engulfed. My mouth is full of mud and fear and death. I choke, slipping under, deeper, deeper. I cannot see. I cannot hear. I cannot breathe, and then I plummet so quickly I can no longer be sure if I am alive or dead. I fall faster, ever faster and then land. All is still.
Nothing comes with you when you travel through time. It is not possible. I had landed at the base of an enormous oak tree, naked as a babe, with no potions, amulets or weapons. Disoriented, giddy, I could not be sure if the Keeper’s spell had worked.
I was in a forest. The canopy was thick. The light was dim but I could see a pathway leading through the trees. I followed it, keeping to the shadows, vulnerable, hesitant. A cottage lay at the end of the pathway. Clothes were drying on a line. I grabbed what I could to dress myself and merged back into the safety of the trees.
A woman arrived at the cottage, holding the hand of a little boy. She went inside, left him to play in the garden. He gathered rocks from the earth, placed them in a mound before him, clapped his hands once, twice, and laughed as the rocks formed into a house, a tower, a raven.
He plucked a flower from the earth, yellow as butter, and turned it black with one look. He plucked an apple from a tree and watched as it withered and turned to stone.
I am sick, distressed, undone. This boy is the Dark One as a child. Of that I have no doubt. With a momentary gleam of elation I imagine the boy’s bones fracturing beneath my fingers but I begin to panic at the cruelty of such an act. He is a child. I want to destroy the Dark One when he is evil, a parasite living behind the sun, not when he is a child. I cannot take the life of a child. I cannot. The Keeper has sent me too far back in time.
As indecision snaps at my feet the boy turns and looks directly at me. ‘I see you,’ he says, his voice plunging, ripping through my head like fever. I have no choice but to act, snapping a branch from the oak and plunging it clean and true through his heart. He doesn’t struggle, just looks at me with hatred so black I am flung backwards. He twitches briefly then lies still.
A keening begins, desolate as the cry of a storm-tossed sea bird. ‘My son. My son!’ The woman emerges from the cottage, running to the unmoving body of the child, face torn apart with anguish. ‘You killed my son,’ she screams at me. ‘You just came along and killed him. Why? Why?’ She holds the inert little body, so unthreatening and frail, rocking him as if he were still a baby and weeps. I am ashamed, devastated, raw. I think I have made a mistake. He was only a child. I took the life of an innocent child. In my panic I imagined his power. He was merely a child playing in the dirt.
I move to the woman, try to offer some comfort, but she pushes me away, picking up the little one and taking him inside. Her keening slices my heart into pieces. I fall to my knees stumbling onto the withered apple the boy left behind. It is heavy. I peel back the skin, dry as parchment. It is full of blood.
I drop the apple. Blood spills on my feet, red-black. It bubbles, clings, rises. Soon I am swimming in it. It is in my mouth, my eyes, my ears. I am drowning in it. I do not fight. I have taken the life of a child. I deserve to die.
Once more I begin to fall. I hope I fall forever. I do not wish to return to any place where I must face what I have done. The light is white, red, blue, yellow, black. I am pulled in every direction, trapped in a monsoon of pain and desperation. And then I land.
I am in the room from whence I left. It is early morning. I am lying on the Persian rug. Thin fingers of light caress the windows. Hortense, Merry and Eliza stand around me, unable to conceal their delight. The Keeper Of The Hours pulls me to my feet, her grip is stronger than the greatest of warriors. ‘A month has passed. The Dark One is no more,’ she says, expressionless, almost cold. Her head cuts triumphantly through the morning light as she leaves the room. My three sisters rejoice, applauding me like I am some kind of ancient heroine, but I am broken, torn apart with sorrow, for all I can see is the woman, chained to ages past, her soul crushed and shredded; cradling her dead child.