My sweaty hand slipped from Dean’s as we stopped running. I bent over, hands pressing to my knees and trying to draw in enough air to fill my burning lungs. I shut my wet eyes, squeezing out the last of the tears, even though I was still sobbing. Without really caring, I sat down and drew my legs up. I curled into a ball, my head to my knees, my arms around my legs and the satchel digging into my side.
‘It’s all right,’ Dean whispered, ‘that whistle was the morning alarm. I didn’t hear the break out one whilst we were running. I think we’re going to be okay.’
I rose my head, pulling in long shaking breaths, which misted on exhale. The stitch in my side throbbed and ached alongside my legs and arms. I felt dampness creeping under my bum and wiped my eyes to take a long around. We were in some kind of alleyway. The walls of tall red brick houses loomed over us and the cobble stone floor was wet and mossy. There was a line of overflowing iron bins towards the end and scraps of rubbish around them.
Dean came back to me and crouched down. I sniffed and wiped my face again as he looked me over. I was still crying and the pain in my chest was growing worse. Dean rubbed my back and said soothing words. I pressed my forehead to my knees again and shutting my eyes, waited till I had calmed down.
Lifting my head up, I put a hand to my chest and felt something hard under my fingers. I pulled out my chain and clutched the gold cross and red Hagstone together. The Hagstone burnt my fingers and I quickly let go. I looked down at it, wanting to pick it up to look through it, but worried it would burn me again.
Dean got up and walked to the end of the alley, where he looked about. When he didn’t come back, I picked the Hagstone gingerly and pressed it to my left eye. The colour changed to black and white, but I saw nothing in the alley with us. Letting go I left it out to lay on the stripy tie.
‘Where are we?’ I called.
‘Not sure,’ Dean said back, he came over to me whilst slipping off the leather rucksack and opening it. He rummaged through and pulled out a large folded map.
I moved so he could lay it down between us. We both looked at the hand drawn details and I couldn’t help but think of Victorian London. Dean put his finger tip to the area marked Constance Mine and traced it along the road we had run down. He paused at the road’s end then turned right and began trying to track the way we had come.
I looked back at the small drawing of the mine and saw that it was quite detailed. There were rows of squares to one side which ended in a bigger one with a red cross over it. Opposite were small rectangle and blocks of grass then the entrance to the mine itself.
‘We are here, I think. Which is okay, but we need to get….here…’
I looked and watched his finger go across the map and to a large area. There were a number of enclosed buildings and trees. Dean lifted his fingers away and pressed them to his chin, which he rubbed as he began musing. I stared at the area and saw it read Academy.
‘Is this London?’ I blurted.
‘A London,’ he corrected, ‘it’s just one of many running on a different time and under different events. I want out though and to go back home.’
He nodded, ‘to what is left.’
I frowned and looked at the map again, so many questions came to mind.
‘Let’s go,’ Dean cut in.
He folded the map away and stood up. I got slowly to my feet and fixed my clothes. With a glance towards the alley entrance, he strolled out and I tagged alongside him. We walked for a few minutes in silence and I admired the buildings around us. Most were red town houses with three or four floors; some were white painted with black iron fences and steps down to basements.
We turned a corner and saw two policemen walking towards us. Dean grabbed my hand and shot me a-keep-quiet-look. We slowed our approach and I saw that the policemen were wearing dark green uniforms and carrying pistols at their hips. They eyed us up with dark eyes and then stopped before us, blocking the way and forcing us to stop too.
‘Bit late, ain’t you?’ the one before Dean spoke in a thick south London accent.
Dean stayed silent.
‘Lost are you?’ the second policeman who was before me asked.
Dean gave a shake of his head and nudged me in the ribs.
‘We’re fine thanks,’ I rushed in, ‘just late like you said.’
They policemen looked at each other, cocking eyebrows before they turned back to us again.
‘Where’d you live? Visiting family, were you?’ the second asked me.
I nodded eagerly, ‘and now we’re going back to the Academy,’ I glanced at Dean, who also nodded, but didn’t speak.
‘You seen any undesirables about? We heard there might have been a break out at one of the mines,’ the first spoke after a slight pause.
‘What about you, me lad?’ the second cut in.
Dean shook his head.
‘Speak up, speak up!’
‘No, sirs,’ Dean squawked in a fake cockney accent which made me cringe.
The policeman paused, their hands going to their pistols.
‘We really haven’t seen anyone,’ I jumped in, ‘we should be going now, but we’ll keep an eye out.’
‘Where are you from originally?’ the first sneered.
‘West Yorkshire,’ I breathed, ‘but you know how it is there.’ I clamped my mouth, not sure why I added that on and what it meant.
The policemen eyed each other again and seemed to relax a little.
‘Those crazy sisters,’ the first policeman hissed, ‘writing all those thought provoking novels.’
The second just shook his head.
‘Well, we shall…’ I started, but stopped as the second man flung his arm out to halt me side stepping him.
‘What’s that?’ he pointed to my cross.
I pulled up the chain and showed him, ‘I’m a Christian. A vicar’s daughter,’ I said without even thinking that there might be no religion or they might be against Christians in this dream world.
‘Why didn’t you say that before?’ the first one gushed.
‘We’re terrible sorry to have trouble you, Miss,’ the second added.
‘Please pardon us,’ they said together and bowed.
‘Oh,’ was all I could reply.
‘We shall be on our way,’ they chimed together and with a tip of their hats, walked around us and down the street.
I held my cross in both index fingers, the Hagstone dangling loose and heavy as I inspected the gold.
Dean half-twisted to watch them leave then turned back to me and in his own hushed voice said, ‘well done.’
‘I guess vicars are especial in this time?’ I questioned.
‘You don’t know the half of it,’ Dean laughed.
He grabbed my elbow and we walked down the street. We walked for what seemed like a good long while and didn’t see anyone else. The streets and houses seemed dead and though I wanted to ask Dean about this I didn’t. My body was aching and my head thumped with a headache. To make matters worse the Hagstone felt like it was burning through my clothes and melting my skin away.
We turned down a long twisting road beside some kind of factory and began making our way down it. Water dripped from a broken guttering on the roof and I heard the sound of cotton machines bashing away from inside the building.
‘I think we’re lost,’ Dean muttered.
‘What’s that?’ I asked pointing to something lying on the ground ahead of us.
Dean gave a shrugged and we walked over. There was a strange tool lying on the ground. It looked like a large Swiss penknife with all its parts pulled out. I stepped closer, putting my head to the side as I looked down at it. I could see something that looked a like a screwdriver with a wretch next to it, some scissors were jutting out and a bottle opener? And a few other things that looked familiar, but their names wouldn’t come.
‘What do you think it is?’ I asked.
Dean pulled a face but didn’t reply.
I bent to pick it up, but as my fingers touched it I felt the pull of the blue haze. I reached my other hand out quickly to grab Dean’s, but I wasn’t fast enough and tumbled head first into another dream. I landed in a soft a pile of snow, which drifted up around me before falling lightly on my hair and face.
‘Dean? Dean!’ I shouted and thrashed around.
I scrambled up and looked but could see nothing but snow. My right hand clutched around something and I looked down to see the multi-tool penknife. My bottom lip trembled and I thought about throwing the thing away. Loud laughter drew my attention and I looked up.
Coming out of the snow was a shopping trolley with someone sitting in the cart.
I put the tool in the satchel and dug my boots out of the snow. Noticing, I was no longer wearing the school uniform but was back in clothes I had set out in and hurried over. Getting closer I saw that there was actually a line of five shopping trolleys strung together by a red twine rope. Inside each cart sat a child and they were all dressed for winter weather.
‘Hey there!’ I called and stumbled through the snow piles.
One of the children spotted me and began waving. The others joined in a few seconds later.
I ran on and approaching saw something really odd. Behind the last trolley was a tall purple rectangle object attached to a wooden go kart like frame. There was a plastic funnel with purple balls inside of it on the top and lots of tubes running around the box.
‘What’s that?’ I asked as soon as I could.
The children, who hadn’t got out of the shopping trolleys, greeted me then the oldest who was a boy and sitting in front of the contraption said, ‘it’s plum travel.’
I looked up, but due to the swirling snow couldn’t see the details of the machine.
‘Who are you?’ the girl in the next trolley asked.
‘Abigail. I was traveling with Dean and were….I am looking for the Dream Web. I need to fix it,’ I explained.
‘I’m Flo. Nice to meet you.’
‘You too,’ I said.
‘I’m Bert,’ the boy answered, then point down the three other children introduced them, ‘That’s Dash, Bo and Fawn. We are all brothers and sisters. Do you have any family, Abigail?’
I looked at my feet, my hand going straight to my cross. The Hagstone felt cold beneath my fingers, ‘my adopted parents,’ I muttered, ‘it’s just my parents and me. But they’re not my real parents. They found me on the church doorstep, hours old and with only this cross,’ I faded off, my thoughts tumbling and my chest hurting with emotions.
‘Would you like to come with us?’ Flo asked.
‘There’s a storm coming and we’re getting out of here now,’ Bert added and the other children nodded.
‘Stand on the back of Flo’ s trolley.’
I did as he said and stood up on the back bar of the trolley and lent over the handle bar. Flo put a woolly hat on my head and give me some gloves.
‘Hold on, no matter what,’ she said.
I nodded and clutched the bar tighter. Snow started to whip around us and the wind howled in my ears.
‘Everyone ready?’ Bert called, ‘plum travel!’
There was a flash of white then blue light and I felt myself lurching forward on the trolley. The delight screams of the children blasted around me and my stomach got the feeling of being on a rollercoaster. More coloured lights flashed then were racing along a river of ice and under a bridge. The trolleys ploughed into a snow drift then out of the other side and into the air. We flew for a few seconds then landed heavily in the middle of a wasteland.
Small piles of snow were dotted around, burying large objects or groups of things. I waited till the line of trollies and the plum travel machine had stopped before having a proper look around. We where actually in a junkyard and I could see the remains of cars, kitchen appliances and furniture poking out of the snow.
The children’s excited cried faded and they began to get out of the trollies. I pulled of my almost frozen gloved hands and stepped down. The children had run to gather around the machine and I joined them, feeling slightly shaky.
‘Abigail!’ Flo shouted and hugged me.
She only came up to my stomach and I patted her bobby hatted head. She turned her face up to mine and I saw glowing red round cheeks, a cute button nose and pink smiling lips. I hugged her back and she snuggled into my white jumper.
‘Let’s go inside,’ Bert called.
Flo took my hand and tugged me along. We walked around two crushed cars and I saw a house built out of scrap metal.
To Be Continued…