Looking over her shoulder, I saw Jack spring to his feet, the candlestick in his hand. It seemed as if time slowed down for those few seconds, and I opened my mouth to warn her but I felt sluggish and out of sync. Jen’s head also turned and I watched as her eyes widened. I wanted to speed up the scene, race to the final conclusion, but I couldn’t.
‘Halt! Hold your hand!’ The voice didn’t belong to any of us. It was a male voice, and not Jack’s. I saw him flit his eyes behind us but still keep on moving, brandishing the weapon as he came. Jen gripped hold of me, and I fully expected to hear the clunking sound as the metal holder made contact with the side of her head. But no. Instead, Jen lifted and swung me out of the way, making us pirouette in a staccato rhythm. Jack’s hand innocently brushed past my face, but the force of it made it complete its full cycle. The crunching sound of metal on bone ricocheted around the room, and Jack, as they say, was hoisted by his own petard. A scream released itself, and thankfully it belonged to the squirming writhing mess that was now on the floor.
Booted footsteps surrounded and passed us, and a blur of uniform engulfed the room. Turning my head I saw a man standing in the doorway. I knew his face from somewhere, but I couldn’t place him. By the way he was acting, and throwing orders around, I knew it was the Sheriff, but one thing puzzled me. How did he know where to find us?
Emotions raced through me. There, standing to the side of the man in the doorway was Thelma, or Themis I should say. But it was so different to the last time I had seen her. This time there was no blood coating the front of her, no blood drying on her arms. Here stood the innocent girl with no crime to haunt her face. All that was there was a mixture of panic and relief. I had to go and see if what I was seeing was true, and that the woman who was standing there waiting for me to make a move was, in fact, real and not just me wanting her to be there.
As I was turning, something extraordinary happened. I know you are thinking that all the events leading to this moment have been anything but realistic, but this was even weirder. The arms I had felt around me seemed to feel different somehow. They didn’t seem as strong ... didn’t seem as much like Jen’s as they had. To top it off, when I looked into the face of Jen, it was different too. Blurry. Out of focus. Her mouth was moving, but the words were hitting air in muted abandon. The shape of her body was changing also ... not as firm ... not as dominating.
‘Jen?’ The word I uttered seemed as if it had been slowed down, like a cassette tape chewing up.
The face in front of me was coming back into focus again, but this time there were bruises scattered all over it – the same kind of bruises I had seen the last time I had been here. Why had Mary reappeared and I was still here? Once again I felt panic slipping up and over me. What if I was stranded here in the sixteenth century? What if because I had come back and changed the events of the past and this was it? I had to stay here?
‘Lizzy?’ Mary's voice broke through, but it didn’t stop me wanting to go into panic mode. I loved Jen ... and this wasn’t Jen. I know I slept with this woman, she had told me so, but if I had been in my right mind I wouldn’t have. She may look like her, sound like her, even smell like her, but she wasn’t her ... wasn’t the woman I had given my heart to. This was the woman who belonged to Elizabeth Day not Libby Armitage. They were meant to be together, live out their lives together, share their past, present, and future together. And more to the point, if I was Libby, where was Lizzy? Was she in the twentieth century wondering where she was and what the hell was going on?
‘Mother?’ Thelma said the word again. The same word I was beginning to believe I would be hearing for the rest of my life.
Springing away from Mary, I turned to face the woman who believed I was her mother. Mary's expression showed one of hurt, but then understanding. She thought I was moving away to speak to my daughter. Truth is I couldn’t seem to move once I had become separated. I could hear Jack shouting in the background as the officers were trying to get him up and out of the door, but I couldn’t even shift my focus to the place where I knew he would be struggling like a crazed man.
‘Lizzy?’ Once again I looked at Mary. ‘Are you feeling all right?’ No. I wasn’t feeling all right. Far from it actually. ‘What is it? Are you hurt?’ Mary moved towards me as if to take me into her arms, and I knew I couldn’t just shy away from the contact. As she moved, so did Thelma and I was feeling as if I was being suffocated. Why, I don’t know. If there was any place I could be when not with the woman I loved, it would be with these two women.
But I loved Jen. I wanted Jen. I needed to know she was ok, and being here in a place I didn’t belong wasn’t the way I wanted my life to pan out.
Then it happened. The contact. The feeling of two different hands making a connection with me. And just as it happened I heard Jack yell and panicked voices shouting for him to stop. I turned and saw everything begin to slow down, as if I was on seeing the world gradually come to a standstill. Jack was moving closer, his arms raised ... his expression one of fury and hatred. He was coming straight at us, jaggedly, his body moving in spasms like when you flick through a stack of photographs. A glint of metal caught my attention ... the sparkle of a blade raised and ready to get his pound of flesh. How had he got that? He hadn’t had a knife before, or else he would have used it, wouldn’t he?
Instinctively, I wanted to push both Mary and Thelma out of the way, but it didn’t seem as if I had the strength. It seemed that none of us could move, for some reason or another, and we were standing there like sitting ducks. Had they noticed? Was it just me who had seen the danger? They must have realised – the cry should have warned them. So why weren’t we stopping him? Why was the room full of men trying to arrest him and he was lunging towards our side like a man possessed? I didn’t know for sure who he was aiming his wrath at, but I had the distinct impression that it was me he was going for. Or Elizabeth.
The effort it took for me to step forward was unimaginable. It seemed as if I had lead weights strapped to my ankles, but there was no way I could stand there and let anyone else get hurt. Even though the main reason I had come back was to stop death, I didn’t even consider that I might be the sacrifice needed to make everything balance once again. And once again, I didn’t consider it. If I had to die, then so be it.
As my foot hit the floor the world around me seemed to expand, then shrink, and then expand again. Colours whirled and mixed in front of me, and I shook my head in attempt to clear it, but found it made it even worse. Sounds were becoming shrill and seemed to rip through my body ... smells were hitting my senses like sledgehammers ... but my vision ... my vision was totally fucked up. Brightness danced and cavorted with the colour, and pain seared through my brain and raced down my spine leaving me defenceless.
I knew I was falling ... knew it before the thud on the ground. Had Jack stabbed me? Was I injured? Were all the sensations I had experienced because I was lying in a mass of my own blood and waiting to see the light ... the bright light that was in my eyes right at that very moment? Voices surrounded me. I could hear concern for my welfare but I couldn’t respond. I should have felt panic, but I couldn’t. I was numb – physically and emotionally.
‘Is she all right?’ A male voice that sounded very much like that of the Sheriff broke through all the chaos racing around my head. Valiantly I tried to open my eyes. I needed to know everyone was ok ... that Jack hadn’t attacked Mary and Thelma ... that it was only me injured. It was so hard ... so damned hard just to peel back my eyelids and see for myself.
Fingertips touched my face, and I knew they didn’t belong to the person who had spoken. They were gentle, warm, feminine. And as they cupped my cheek I finally managed to open my eyes. There in front of me was Mary ... but not Mary. This woman looked like her, especially those blue eyes that were so close to my face, but it wasn’t her.
Pulling my head back, I needed to take in the scene more fully. Standing around me were faces I remembered ... Steve and Sharon ... people from work ... the mediums ... Jen. The room was the room I remember from the twenty first century, and not the front room of Mary Bennett’s house. I wanted to feel relief, but I couldn’t. I had left the drama unfolding from four hundred years previously without knowing what happened and a part of me believed I had failed.
‘Libby?’ Her voice was like nectar, and so was the sound of my name. I was back with her at last and hopefully Lizzy was back with Mary. A smile slipped onto my face shortly followed by the sensation of my insides lifting as she smiled back at me with that beautiful crooked smile she had. Leaning forward slightly, Jen closed the gap and pressed her lips against mine. I had come home, and I don’t just mean the year. Snaking my arms around her neck I pulled her closer to me. To feel her close when I had thought I would never see her again was nothing short of bliss. I didn’t care that the room was full of people watching our display – all I cared about was claiming her as mine again.
A cough sounded from behind, shortly followed by someone saying, ‘She looks ok to me.’ I recognised the voice, but not from earlier in our evening. I want to say it was the Sheriff I could hear, but that would be impossible. Wouldn’t it?
Breaking off the kiss, I looked past Jen’s head at the people behind. Most of them were engaged in small talk, probably to stop themselves staring at the public display of affection. But it wasn’t the Sheriff who had spoken. It was Simon. The very same Simon who had an uncanny resemblance to the man I had seen from the past. The Sheriff, if you were wondering. What the fuck? I knew I had thought I recognised him from somewhere when he had stood in the door way, but I never in a million years thought it was from my time.
Then it hit me. All the times we had tried to do this before, it had never worked ... I had never been able to replicate the events of the very first time I had gone back in time. The reason? Easy. Simon hadn’t been able to come on the previous attempts, but I had never given that a thought. I believed that as long as Jen and I were there, everything else would fall into place. I hadn’t even thought that Simon had been the only one who had actually heard Themis when she had asked a question, especially when no one else had remembered she had been there.
Then another thing hit me. Themis. Themis should be here shouldn’t she? If everything had worked out the way we wanted it to, then she should be standing there with the others.
Sitting up sharply, I tried to see past all the people, but the other side of the room was too dark to see things properly. When I attempted to sit up, my head whirled in defiance and I felt myself falling backwards. Jen’s hands grabbed my arms and held me steady, her expression showing worry.
‘Just lie still for a little while, ok?’ But I couldn’t. I had to see if Themis was there. ‘Libby ... she’s ... she’s not back.’ Scrunching up my face in confusion, I opened my mouth to speak, but she shushed me. ‘I don’t know, Lib ... I don’t know.’ I felt my whole body sag. Had it all been for nothing? We had done this so we could get Themis back, and that hadn’t happened. Looks like I had answered my own question. It had all been for nothing after all.
Steve crouched next to me and I knew he was waiting for my attention. Turning towards him I thought I could see the same disappointment reflected in his eyes as the one I was feeling. What could I say? I was the one who had insisted that we keep on doing this until Themis was returned to her rightful place ... until the events of the past had been changed and Thelma had escaped execution. So what had gone wrong? Why wasn’t she here? Was it because she hadn’t felt the need to come in the first place?
‘We need to check.’ Jen opened her mouth again, and I was sure she was going to tell me she had already checked, and Themis wasn’t there, but that’s not what I meant. ‘No ... not here. I mean the history.’ I knew I wouldn’t have to explain to Jen, but I would to the rest of them. ‘We need to see if anything has happened. See if Jack Day got his just desserts.’
‘What do you mean, check?’ Steve looked at me, confusion evident. ‘Check what?’ Was he taking the piss?
‘Check if the past has changed, obviously.’ Even though my tone of voice told him I wasn’t joking, his face indicated that he thought it was me who was the piss taker and not the other way around. ‘Jack Day?’ Steve shrugged as if the name rang a bell but it wasn’t very important. ‘Elizabeth Day?’ Blank expression. ‘Thelma Day?’
As soon as I mentioned her name his face broke into a smile. Looks like Thelma jogged his memory. But why didn’t he know about Jack? The Falstaff Experience had made its name on being the place where people came to have the shit scared out of them by his spirit ... and to remember his daughter but not the psycho serial rapist?
‘Ah ... I see you’ve read our leaflet.’ What the fuck? I turned to Jen who shrugged her shoulders as if to say ‘Beats me.’ I looked at the other people in the room, but they were looking right back at me as if I had smacked my head on something extremely hard. Steve chuckled – yes – chuckled. ‘Thelma ... the wife of the Sheriff.’ I shot a look at Simon, who by this stage was making his way down the stairs. ‘Are you ok? You seem a little out of it.’ A little out of it! That was an understatement. This was not what I was expecting when I opened my eyes. Not by a long shot. I had thought that Steve, Jen, and everyone else for that matter, would be dying to tell me what had happened whilst I was fighting for mine, Jen’s and Thelma’s life four hundred years ago. But no. They were more concerned about going outside, probably for a crafty fag. And why did Steve not really remember Jack – the evil fucker who had tried to punch my lights out on more than one occasion?
It seemed as if an age had passed before Jen spoke. ‘Have you seen us before tonight?’ A simple question and it should have been a stupid question if things were going to go my way. I did feel a sense of relief when Steve laughed. Had he been winding us up? Or was he waiting for the others to leave before he went into detail?
‘Of course I have.’ Thank fuck for that. ‘You first came here a couple of years ago.’ Once again ... thank fu ... ‘And I’m glad you wanted to come again. At least tonight has been a little more exciting for you.’ A little more exciting? ‘At least you had the chance to meet our resident spirit. William Shreve doesn’t always appear.’
Who the hell was William Shreve? I thought the resident spirit was Jack.
‘William Shreve?’ Thankfully Jen had the ability to ask the question I just couldn’t say. I was too stunned to speak.
‘Sheriff Shreve. The man who this house is named after.’ Steve began to stand up. ‘Look. I think you’ve had a bit of a knock. You went down like a bag of spanners earlier.’ The only way I could describe his body language would be with the word uncomfortable. ‘Would you like me to get a doctor?’ I just shook my head. ‘Fancy a cuppa, then?’ He attempted a smile, but it seemed weak. Maybe he was worried that I was going to sue him.
Jen once again answered him. ‘That would be lovely.’ She gave him one of her fantastic smiles, and I knew what she was going to say next. ‘Would you mind if I had a bit of time with Libby ... just to make sure she’s ok?’
‘Sure ... sure.’ I think he was relieved, as this gave him the perfect opportunity to escape from what he believed to be a fucked up situation.
As soon as he left the room, Jen turned to me, a huge grin splitting her face.
‘Why on earth are you grinning? No one remembers fuck all.’ A laugh came rushing out of her, and at that point I wanted to shake her. ‘Jen! Will you stop fucking about? This is not funny.’ When she started laughing even harder until tears were rolling down her cheeks, I thought I was going to lose it big time. All I could do was stare at her, because if I had attempted to shake her I think it would have taken a few people to get me off her.
‘Sorry, love.’ More laughter. More glaring from me. ‘But don’t you see?’ No. No I didn’t. ‘We’ve done it.’ Leaning forward, Jen pulled me into her and held me close. ‘We’ve done it.’ Done what? Made everyone we worked with, and more besides, think we are crack pots?
Then it struck me. And God, it felt good. If Steve and the others couldn’t remember Jack Day, couldn’t remember the events of the previous times, then we had done it. We had changed the past. Why I had never thought of it before that moment is beyond me. In retrospect it was so simple. When I first came to, after all what had happened, the thought of the present having changed never entered my head. Well, it did ... as I wanted Themis to be there, but I didn’t think other factors would change also.
With that thought, I started laughing too. Well, until I remembered that the reason we had done all this was still nowhere to be seen.
‘What about Themis?’ That stopped the smile on Jen’s face, too. ‘Why isn’t she here?’
Minutes later, we were on our way to the dining room. Maybe Steve could help us understand a little more, because obviously, everyone else’s perspective of the last two visits was decidedly different to what both Jen and I knew to have happened.
Part of me still believed when I reached the dining room everyone would laugh and say they were only pulling my leg. But that wasn’t the case. If it had been then I could honestly say that I knew a bunch of wankers. However, when Jen and I reached the room, the only people there were Sharon and Steve.
It wasn’t until Steve placed the leaflet advertising the Falstaff Experience did some semblance of understanding begin to sink in more fully. Underneath the heading something else had been added. Shreve’s House.
‘William Shreve was the Sheriff in Stratford at the time Jack Day was about.’ Steve explained. I still didn’t get the connection. Call me thick, but remember I had been through quite a lot. ‘He lived here.’ And? I should think quite a few people have lived in this place. ‘Let me make it clearer.’ Thank God for that. ‘Here. Read this.’ He opened the leaflet and pointed to a section on the inside page.
Sheriff Shreve of Stratford
William Shreve (Sheriff of Stratford 1593 – 1621) made his name when he caught and brought to trial the infamous Stratford rapist, Jack Day. After the trial and execution, Shreve married Day’s only daughter, Thelma Day.
Shreve lived in this house from 1595 and continued to seek justice until he retired as Sheriff to become Mayor in 1521.
And on and on and on the leaflet babbled about what a fantastic man Shreve was, how many kids he had, and then on and on and on and on some more. It was the final paragraph that got my attention once again.
Shreve’s spirit has been seen at The Falstaff Experience, but only appears as a guiding presence. For some reason, he only seems to materialize when there is injustice, or someone needs protecting.
It was the word ‘injustice’ that stood out from it all. That was the reason why Jen and I had done what we had done in the first place ... the injustice of Thelma’s execution ... the blight on her name ... the fact that Jack Day had never had his just desserts. But ... that had all changed now, hadn’t it? The leaflet seemed to signify that Day was brought to trail, that Thelma had got married and had children. Jesus! This was becoming more and more like Total Recall. What was the truth?
Looking up I saw Jen smiling at me. She knew what had really happened, although my fucked up brain couldn’t understand why it seemed it was only her and me that could. However, if there was one person who I wanted to know the same as me, it definitely would be her. Turning, I looked firstly at Steve, who was waiting for me to say something, then at Sharon, who was trying her damndest not to demand I tell her why I was acting like a lunatic.
Part of me wanted to open up and tell them both the truth like I had done the last time I had been here, but last time I had a reason to. I could remember the same things as they did when I woke up, for one. I needed to establish what had happened in their version of events before I could even consider blurting out what would appear to be a whacked out story.
‘This might sound weird ...’ although not as weird as what I was initially going to say, ‘but could you tell me what happened up there?’
Steve gave me a ready smile, whereas Sharon looked even more concerned.
‘Do you want me to call a doctor, Lib? You were out for quite a while, you know?’ Actually, no, I didn’t know how long I’d been out for, or what preceded the time warp. ‘It must have been at least five minutes.’ Five minutes! I had done all that in five minutes! It had seemed like hours when I had been running around in the streets of sixteenth century Stratford. ‘See? You’ve gone white again.’ She moved closer and leaned over me, her warm breath hitting my cool cheek. ‘You hit the floor hard, you know. Almost like you had been pushed.’ Steve coughed behind her making her turn to him, ‘I’m not blaming you, ok? But it did seem as if someone shoved her over.’
That was the problem, you see? This time no one had shoved me – I had been sitting on something soft and comfortable when I had been regressed. As for Jack, he hadn’t even appeared straight away.
‘Maybe I should call for the doctor. Five minutes unconscious is a long time after all.’ Steve moved as if to leave, but then turned back. ‘And it wouldn’t hurt for you to be checked over too. You fainted at one point.’ Steve had directed this to Jen, who like me, was open mouthed and staring at the now retreating figure.
‘You were there. I knew it was you ... knew it.’ Jen’s expression seemed confused, and her mouth was working wildly as if she were trying to form the words that just wouldn’t come. ‘Mary Bennett’s house ... you kicked the shit out of Jack.’ I could hear Sharon repeating what I was saying, and I knew she thought I was batty, but I didn’t care. I’d known Sharon for years, and if she didn’t know I was nuttier than a fruitcake by now ... ‘You do remember don’t you? Fighting?’ Still more mouth moving, still the human echo from Sharon.
Grabbing her hand, I pulled her to my level so I could look into those wonderful blue eyes. ‘Jen. You came back with me ... you came back to save me.’ Leaning forward, I brushed my lips over hers.
‘I ... I ... remember seeing you lying on the cushions, seeing you distressed ... feeling so helpless.’ Jen gulped and I saw her throat bob up and down. ‘I don’t know what happened really, as it all felt like a dream ... like I was slipping inside your head, or something.’
‘Is someone going to tell me what the hell is going on?’ Sharon sounded well and truly pissed off by this stage.
‘And me too.’ Steve was back, and I wasn’t sure how long he had been standing in the doorway. Jen and I looked at each other, and I saw a small nod come from her as if she was giving me the go ahead to blab out all the events leading up to this moment. ‘The doctor will be here in twenty minutes ...’
‘Can we wait until he’s looked us over? Then you might believe what we have to say if he has already told you I’m not crazy.’
Well, it seemed like the right thing to do after all. At least it gave us time to get ourselves sorted out, you know, allow Jen and I to discuss our experiences before we had to tell the other two. Maybe in the process make some sense of it myself. Although I think I would need a damn sight more than twenty minutes.
The doctor gave both Jen and I the all clear, saying that it might have been the excitement of the evening, lack of oxygen, or tiredness that made us flake out the way we had. After he left, Steve and Sharon sat down with us to listen to our tale. The others had decided to carry on with the vigil, as for all they knew that was the reason they were there in the first place.
It was strange to watch the reactions of the two people as I told them the reason why Jen and I had been there that evening. I could tell they didn’t believe a word that slithered out of my lips – and I also knew that if it had have been me sitting in their place, I wouldn’t have believed it either. Part of me did hope that they might have remembered Themis from the previous time, but no. Not a spark of recognition. I was going to continue and mention about her being the girl with the guitar, but if they couldn’t remember her being in the séance, and then me demanding to know where she had disappeared to, I doubted they would remember that she had been singing round the camp fire. At this point I remembered Simon – would he remember her? I hadn’t had the opportunity to ask him before, as I had only recognised him when I had woken up from what appeared to be a fainting episode. I hadn’t seen him since and thought he that he would more than likely be enjoying the evening back with the others. There would be time to ask him later, though.
It was when I mentioned Mary Bennett that events took a different turn. Steve gave us one of those wonderful spontaneous laughs he had before repeating the name of Elizabeth’s lover. I stopped my story and waited for him to continue, but he seemed happy enough to sit there.
‘You’ve heard her name before, I see?’ He nodded. Why are men so dense? ‘Where? And, more to the point, when?’ I fully expected him to say I had been shouting it out from my pseudo coma from earlier, but he even surprised me.
‘From the glass cabinet upstairs.’ Both Jen and I leaned closer. He leaned back. I didn’t blame him, if the way I was feeling was reflected on my face. ‘The book ... upstairs.’
‘What book?’ Jen and I said it together.
‘The ... the book ... Mary Bennett’s book.’
I don’t think he had even finished the sentence before Jen and I were on our way back upstairs, through the Tavern, right through the middle of a séance, and into the room at the back which housed all the museum showcases. As we searched we could hear all the other people saying delightful epithets of ‘for fuck’s sake’.
It wasn’t me who found it, it was Jen. Considering how dark it was in the room, I’m still surprised she saw it, but then again, I was beginning to believe the emotion of surprise was overrated.
‘The door won’t open.’ Jen was tugging at the glass that separated us from the small brown book lying on a dark piece of what appeared to be velvet.
A jangle came from behind us, and I turned to see Steve and Sharon standing there, a set of keys dangling from his fingertips. ‘I think you might need these.’
As you may guess, Steve didn’t open the cabinet and hand the book straight over to us. I don’t blame him either. For all he knew we were in fact the nutcases he thought we might have been and either destroyed the piece of the house’s history or done a runner laughing hysterically into the night. So, it wasn’t until we were back downstairs in the dining room that we were allowed to open it and look into the past ... the past Jen and I had been a party to.
Tentatively, Steve handed over the book. The title made my stomach ache with longing to read what was inside, although I knew enough already to write a book of my own.
The Trial and Execution of Jack Day by Mary Bennett
‘See if she mentions anything.’ Jen’s voice came out excited, and I looked at her before answering.
‘That’s not vague at all, honey.’ Her eyebrows dipped in confusion, so I continued. ‘Anything? Care to be more specific?’ A nervous laugh bubbled out of her making her appear to be childlike. God. I loved this woman.
Opening the book, the smell of it made my eyes sting initially, but I continued to plough my way through. The first few chapters were putting things into perspective, as far as I could tell. Information and facts from the reign of terror Jack held over the people of Stratford, the names of his victims, how the officials had no idea who it could be, and how helpless they felt. Not as helpless as the women he attacked, that was for sure. The women who survived the trauma couldn’t seem to put a face to the culprit, as he always attacked them from behind, covered their eyes with either a piece of cloth or a hessian bag, and they always ended up unconscious. People were getting antsy ... obviously, and demanded the previous Sheriff to step down and make way for new blood. William Shreve took over and made catching the rapist his number one priority.
‘We know all this.’ I pushed the book away from me, my eyes smarting from reading so quickly and from something that had not seen fresh air since God knows when. ‘What’s the point of wasting our time reading it all out?’ Jen sighed and stretched her hand out to take the book.
‘I know, Lib. But remember why you got so excited in the first place when you realised there was a book here.’ I couldn’t remember. All I knew was the book was regurgitating all the information we already knew, and it was the same information that anyone could get from Google if they could be arsed to look for it. ‘It must mention something.’ Blue eyes shot up and stopped me ribbing her about the vagueness. ‘I mean ... something about how he was caught ... about Thelma ... about you, even.’
‘Me? Why would she mention me?’ Then it dawned on me. I had tried to tell Mary about Jack being the killer ... mentioned about the regression and all the other words she didn’t understand. Maybe she could have put that bit in the book, although I doubted that her publisher would’ve thought time travel was the genre of the day. Would she mention the part when I had confessed and told her I was Libby Armitage from the twenty first century? Would they have allowed her to write a book from the mental institution? They let the poet John Clare, so why not her? And why am I once again having an inner monologue? And who gives a fuck about John Clare at this moment in time?
‘It mentions Elizabeth Day ...’
Snapping out of my mental meanderings I saw Jen, Steve and Sharon with their heads over the book, their faces deep in thought. Why they were interested in the name Elizabeth Day was beyond me. It was his wife! She was bound to be mentioned at some time or another, and not only because Mary was sleeping with her.
As I opened my mouth to highlight this gem, I was stopped short.
‘Here we go.’ Jen leaned back and allowed the other two to lean forward and look at the page in the book. Then they both looked at me ... then back at the book before standing straight and looking at me again. I felt like a monkey in the zoo who has just realised there are people staring at him.
‘What?’ Did I have a monkey booger on my face? No one said a word ... two were looking at my green Gilbert that must have been hanging from my nostril, whilst the other sat and grinned. Furtively, I swiped the back of my hand over my nose before asking again. ‘What?’
Pushing the book forward, Jen’s slender index finger pointed at a place on the page. Two words stood out as if magnified.
‘That’s my name.’ Yes. I sounded like a two year old, or a very bad imitation of a two year old. So, I went for gold. ‘That’s my name.’ Well done. Bravo. Kudos. And a flying congratulations to me for being so fucking obvious.
‘Read it all, Lib.’ Jen’s tone reeked of amusement, but I knew it wasn’t because her girlfriend had regressed to infancy.
Tentatively, I refocused on the book, my heart was hammering inside my chest, and I was sure everyone in the room could hear it – or see my top bouncing outwards as if it contained a midget on speed.
‘ ... but it became apparent that Day’s wife, Elizabeth, had information the Sheriff couldn’t ignore. After I visited her on Friday afternoon, October thirty first, as was my usual past time each week, I became concerned with her lack of rationality. I had known Elizabeth for a long period of time and had never seen her so distressed. The poor woman was agitated and rapidly declining in health. At one point she even told me she wasn’t Elizabeth Day; her name was Libby Armitage and came from another time. Having a good knowledge of Elizabeth’s life, I knew not of anyone who had a name as such, and this gave me even more cause for concern.
When I had arrived, Elizabeth gripped the tops of my arms and indicated it was not safe to be on the premises, declaring Jack would kill me as he was the rapist and the killer of Stratford. Many women of this time had accused someone they knew to be the unknown attacker, mainly out of vengeance or spite. However, I knew Elizabeth to be an honest woman, one who would never accuse another person of a bad deed unless she had the evidence to support her claims.
Therefore, if not only for the sake of Elizabeth’s mental state, we left the premises almost immediately ...’
At this point I looked up at Jen, whose eyes were fixed on my face. Bugger. And not just because my name was here in black and white. It was more of a case of knowing I had made love with Mary Bennett after I had tried to convince her I was not who she believed I was – if that makes any sense whatsoever.
‘Tell me, Libby.’ Shit! She knew and was waiting for my admission. ‘Is that what happened?’ Crap. She knew there was more to the tale than Mary Bennett was letting on. I know, and you know, that Mary couldn’t have written ‘and then I took her upstairs for mind blowing sex’, but the words ‘almost immediately’ screamed out something else happened before they went to spill their guts.
Wait a minute! I know, and you know, again, that at the time of all this going down, I was both Elizabeth and myself. The things I did with Mary as Elizabeth were clear to me now, but that’s exactly what they were - things I did as Elizabeth Day and not Elizabeth Armitage. I reacted and acted as both these women who were, by some strange worm hole in time, thrust together in a mish mash of personality and personal assignment. In a nutshell: I would tell her later.
I coughed to clear both my throat and my head. ‘Near enough.’ I saw a twinkle in her eyes and knew as sure as eggs are eggs, Jen knew already. Maybe it was because I was glowing like a bolisha beacon – or could it have been the telltale line of sweat gathering on my top lip?
‘Let’s get this straight.’ Thankfully, Steve interjected and saved me having to explain my time travelling tryst with the author of the manky book lying in front of us. ‘Are you saying that the woman Mary Bennett is talking about was you?’ Put it that way, yes. I nodded. ‘That tonight you went back in time and changed history?’ I nodded again. ‘Ok.’ Steve lifted his hand and swept it through his hair. ‘I think I need a drink. A stiff one.’
I think we all needed a stiff one. Or maybe two. The evening had given us all more than what we had expected, and sitting down nursing a drink whilst explaining everything both Jen and I had experienced seemed like the way to move forward. Although when I say everything, I didn’t mean everything. Some things are better left private, don’t you think? Well, for now.
By the end of our tale there were only two things I still couldn’t understand. Firstly, why hadn’t Themis reappeared? Secondly ... even though our tale sounded fantastical, Steve and Sharon seemed to be convinced. I don’t know whether it was because of the book, or the fact they had been told by someone from the medical profession that I was not suffering from mad cow’s disease.
It was only when Karen from accounts appeared at the doorway did we realise we had totally left the other people out of the evening’s activities. There was no way I could tell all those people too, and not just because I thought they would think I was crazy. It was late and we were all knackered, for starters. Maybe one day I would try to tell them – maybe on the next work’s outing after consuming vats of alcohol. Then after they had taken the piss for the remainder of the night, they would forget. Come to think of it, maybe I wouldn’t bother telling them after all.
It wasn’t long after that we were all arranging to leave. Everyone seemed excited about what they had experienced, but it all paled in comparison to what I knew to have really happened. Gathering at the door, people started to say their farewells, and one by one people left. In no time at all there were only the four of us once again. Just as I turned to speak to Steve, I heard a familiar voice from behind me. When I say familiar, I wasn’t going to say Jen’s or Sharon’s. It was more familiar than that. In fact, it was my own.
All the hairs on my arms stood to attention. What the fuck? How on earth could I be hearing my own voice from behind me? Part of me wanted to turn around, but the more mortal part of me refused point blank.
‘Elizabeth.’ The voice again. But still I refused to turn. The other three stopped chatting and looked at me. Jen’s face contorted in question, and I knew she was going to ask me what was wrong. ‘Here. I’m here.’
‘I know you’re ...’ Jen stopped mid sentence and stared at my mouth. I could see the realisation dawn on her that the voice she had heard was not coming from me. Looking behind me I watched as her eyes widened in shock, shortly to be followed by audible gasps from all of them. ‘Lib. Lib. Turn. Lib turn around.’
It was so hard to do. So bloody hard just to swivel one leg and face the opposite direction. I knew what I would see even before I saw it, or should I say saw her? Her, as in me. Her, as in the woman I knew I used to be. Her, as in Elizabeth Day.
In the darkness near the doorway there seemed be an ethereal glow emanating from the place where I met Mary Bennett in a previous lifetime ... a previous lifetime which in fact had only been a matter of a couple of hours before. The shimmering light seemed to tighten, and the shape of a woman began to appear. After everything that had happened to me in the last two years, I believe this was the weirdest, but it was wonderful too. The face of the shape was becoming more defined and it felt as if I was seeing a reflection of myself through fog. Jen was standing right behind me, and I felt the warmth of her hand on my shoulder. At least that meant I wasn’t dreaming it.
Green eyes. She had green eyes. And those very same green eyes were looking straight at me. Although I would say this woman could have been my twin, she looked more pure than I could have ever looked. The expression on her face seemed to emanate a virtuousness that seemed almost angelic. Seeing her standing there seemed to put everything into some kind of perspective. This woman had been married to one of the country’s most evil and cruel men. How on earth did she survive? How on earth did she keep that wonderful sense of virtue and goodness that cloaked her when she had been witness to such wickedness?
Stretching out her hand, it appeared as if she wanted to touch me, but before I had the chance to move she uttered two words. ‘Thank you.’ I can still remember the sight of her smile as she began to fade away, but the smile was only half aimed at me. Part of that smile was also aimed at Jen – I’m sure of it. However, it was the way Elizabeth turned her head before she finally evaporated that made my heart clench. I knew that she was turning towards someone else ... turning that amazing smile she had onto someone she really loved. And although I hadn’t actually seen Mary Bennett, I knew she was there in the background waiting for the woman she loved just as much to come back to her.
For the first time in two years I felt light. I felt free. I felt that the world had actually started moving forward in the right direction ... that everything was in its rightful place.
‘You ok?’ Jen’s voice trickled into my head and made me want to turn back and into the arms of the woman I loved just as much as Elizabeth loved Mary Bennett. So I did. You don’t blame me, do you?
You don’t need me to tell you about the conversation after the appearance of Elizabeth Day, do you? Thought not. I should imagine you are more than capable of filling in the blanks at this part of the tale. Let’s just say that the appearance of the woman from the past put some weight to mine and Jen’s story.
Sharon’s car was parked, badly, right outside the building, so it wasn’t long before Jen and I were on our own with a promise to speak to her and Steve again sometime over the weekend. Thoughts were whirling inside my head as her car pulled out of the space and tore down the quiet street. It seemed strange to see Sheep Street now, as the last time I had seen it there weren’t cars parked along the kerb, weren’t shop lights flashing their wares, weren’t anything but bad smells, people and animals. It was so quiet now, and so different. Even though I hadn’t experienced life at night time in the sixteenth century, I fully believed it would still hold that rowdiness from the day time.
Walking along, I slipped my arm through Jen’s and rested my head against her. It seemed so natural to be here, seemed so natural to express how I felt about her in public. I couldn’t begin to imagine what life must’ve been like for people in a time where being ‘different’ could hold such hatred. I know that life is not perfect, and I also know there are people still in the world today who hate others who do not conform to what they deem to be ‘natural’. But I also know that slowly and surely the world is moving forward. More people are not so quick to judge the lifestyle choices of others. Hopefully I will be alive to see a world that can accept everyone for what they are and who they love. And hopefully I will also be young enough to fully appreciate it.
As we moved along, I felt a soft kiss on the top of my head and couldn’t resist looking up into the face of the woman I hoped I would spend the rest of my life with. A half smile hung on her lips, which soon blossomed into one of those crooked ones that I loved the most. My heart expanded and pushed my rib cage into some kind of submission, and I felt the sigh leave my lungs and hit the autumn night.
A laugh came from the other side of the road, and I glanced over to where a pub was letting people leave through the side door. It never occurred to me to move my arm away from Jen’s, never occurred to me that leaning my head on her shoulder was the wrong thing to do. Amazing how times change, isn’t it? And it’s only been two paragraphs.
From the other side of the road there was more laughter, and the sound of it made me smile in return. I felt good. I felt as if the night had given us nearly everything we had ever hoped it would. Here I was, with my woman, walking arm in arm and dreaming of our future together. What more could a girl ask for?
‘Hey!’ A male voice shouted to us, and lazily I stopped and turned to see what was happening. Jen’s arm became tighter in mine, and for a split second a jolt of nervousness shot through me. ‘Libby! Jen! Wait!’ The man who had shouted turned his back to us as if he was talking to someone, before turning around and running over to our side of the street.
As he passed under the light I could see it was Simon. What was he still doing here? He left the Falstaff house over forty five minutes before. However, I didn’t get the chance to think through anything else, as before I knew it, he was standing in front of us grinning stupidly. ‘Did you have a good night?’ I tried to reply, but he cut me off. ‘Sorry I didn’t get to stick around, but I was meeting my girlfriend.’ Girlfriend? Simon had never had a girlfriend, well, in all the time I had known him. ‘She was playing with her band at The Rose.’ He gestured to the pub across the road. I could see his chest puff out with pride. Bless. ‘I know it’s late ... but I’d like you to meet her.’ His eyebrows were nearly in his hair, and I could feel the expectation hover between us. It was adorable how young he looked standing there waiting for either Jen or I to say we would love to meet his girl.
‘That would be lovely, Simon.’ Jen had taken the initiative; as I was too busy feeling all motherly. I was having difficulty stopping myself from ruffling his hair before giving him a spit wash. Instead, I pulled Jen closer and hugged her arm into me. Simon turned as if to leave, and I took the opportunity to lift my face up to Jen’s and brush my lips over hers. When I looked back to where Simon had been standing, he was still there. I could just make out some words he was saying and realised his girlfriend had got fed up waiting for him to collect her.
‘Lib. Jen. This is my girlfriend, Therese.’ He stepped back to reveal the woman standing behind him. If it hadn’t been for the fact my jaw had thumped onto my chest, and my eyes were on stalks, I would have said the only obvious thing I could’ve said.
‘That’s not Therese.’
But, you see, I couldn’t. I couldn’t do anything but stare, as I had completely lost the ability to formulate any kind of rational thought or word. I heard Jen grunt from next to me, and I couldn’t even tear my eyes away to see if she was as stunned as I was.
‘Hello again.’ Again? But ... ‘Although I doubt you remember me.’ Fuck that. Of course I remembered her. How on earth could I forget? ‘I was at the last vigil you did.’ She gave a small laugh, and pulled Simon to her. ‘That’s where we met, actually. I was the in-house entertainment.’ The slight accent was still there, but I couldn’t even ask where she came from. I was too scared she would say ‘Your imagination.’
A cough came from the side of me, and Jen jiggled me slightly, as if she was trying to get both of us out of our stupor.
‘Yes ...erm ... yes ... you were the singer, right?’
‘Singer.’ I sounded, as well as looked, like an idiot.
‘Playing the guitar.’
‘Guitar.’ At this rate Therese, or formally known as Themis, would think Jen was my carer and I was on my way back to the mental institution after my day release.
‘At least someone was listening.’ She gave out a delightful laugh, and I felt my heart crack just a little. Then I remembered I had asked Steve and Sharon about her, and I opened my mouth as if to speak but found there were still no words ready to come out. ‘You two were the only two ...’ a cough came from next to her, and she turned slightly to play push Simon, ‘Ok ... and you too.’ Simon grinned stupidly – again. ‘As I was saying, you two, and Simon, were the only ones who actually listened.’ At this point, she pulled him closer to her, the love she felt written all over her face.
Part of me wanted to run back, hammer on the door, and ask Steve if he remembered the singer from two years previously, but I think that would have drummed home the point that Therese thought I was the village idiot. Straightening my back, I knew I had to do something ... and that something would have to show her I was capable of sentences over one word. ‘I thought you were wonderful.’ Turning, I decided it was time I brought my other half into the conversation. Jen was still staring at her, so I prodded her stomach with my finger. ‘Didn’t you, Jen? She was wonderful, wasn’t she?’
‘Wonderful, yes.’ I was nodding frantically by now, and had to physically rein myself in from repeating wonderful again.
Both Simon and Therese were staring at us with amusement, you know like teenagers do when you are trying to talk to them about text messaging and computers. And the reason why they do that is because they are being polite to the old folk. Jen and me, to be precise.
‘Wonderful.’ Bugger. It slipped out.
Thankfully, Jen saved me from my repetitive tourettes and asked a very good question. ‘So ... how long have you two been seeing each other?’
They looked at each other and grinned again, and then Simon squeezed her to him. ‘Actually ... it is two years ago today.’ He looked adoring at her before continuing. ‘After Therese did her set, she had to go onto another gig. I asked if I could go with her.’ Therese blushed furiously. ‘And the rest, as they say, is history.’
Yes. It is Simon. History.
It wasn’t long after that Jen and I said goodnight to the couple, swearing to come and see her perform in the near future. How could we not? Here, in the twenty first century, was the woman who had been the reason Jen and me had decided to have another crack at trying to change the past. By the looks of it, we had changed it quite significantly, and for the better. If we wanted to get technical, she was the reason why Jen and me had spoken in the first place. If it hadn’t been for Therese singing Chasing Cars, would we have ever got past the ‘I hate you’ stage? I wanted to talk to Jen about it ... talk about meeting Themis, I mean Therese, when we both thought that was it, but I knew there would be plenty of time to talk about the past when we got home.
Silently, we walked arm in arm back to where we had parked the car, and it wasn’t until we were seated and buckled up did Jen speak.
‘So.’ I turned to face her, and I saw those blue eyes twinkling with amusement. ‘Tell me what you thought about Mary.’
Ok. I’m nearly done. ‘ Thank God!’ I hear you cry. But I can’t leave without giving you my two cents worth, can I? All this and not even a thought for the day? Never. I’m just too gobby for that, and after all I have been through to get to this point, and you too, I think I would be cheating you if I didn’t go on for a little while longer and get my ‘thoughts’ out into the open.
So. Here goes. This is what I think. You may not agree, but as I said – it’s what I think.
Firstly, it is amazing to think how our past shapes our future, isn’t it? How history can determine what and who you are? However, so many people live in the past and fail to see that it’s there as a guide only, not something to live by. When we think of the holocaust, do we think ‘That seems like a thing to do’? Definitely not. We look at those kinds of atrocious happenings and pray to God they are never repeated. When we remember all the people who have died fighting wars, died protecting the freedom of others, do we think ‘That seems like a good cause’? That is a difficult question to answer. Some people will say it is a worthwhile reason, whereas others will adamantly refuse to acknowledge that war can bring nothing but pain, terror and heartbreak. Looking back in history, do we rejoice in the slave trade? Do we clap and say bravo to acts of terrorism? Do we dance and sing and gloat when we think of the suffering of people throughout the world through government tyranny – through ignorance of other people’s religion? No.
But, consider this. History, as they say, boils down to three things; blood, politics, and religion – although, we could mention the toilets – people are always fascinated with toilets. But that is history as a subject, and although we can learn from that, we need to bring it home a little. We can’t go back into the past and change what has happened, however much we wish we could. We can’t take back the harshly spoken word, or the cruel comment flung out in anger. Nevertheless, there are things we can do. We can recognize the world we live in, the time we are living, the people who are living it with us, for a start. We can be aware of the people we love, the people who make us who we are today. We can show them, tell them, that they matter, that they are important to us ... that we love and admire them, and not rely on their memory to remind them – the history of the relationship you have with them to inform them they are your everything.
You see, our history comes from our present ... our present and past shapes our future ... our future is something we can mould and nurture, just as we hang onto and nurture those old faded photographs. If you don’t know where you’ve been, how can you know where you are going? Fortunately, I was one of the lucky ones. I had the opportunity to go back and do the impossible. And with my own eyes I have seen the changes I’ve made to more than Therese’s life. Jack Day got his just desserts, I got my woman, Lizzy got Mary, and even Therese got Simon. However, we don’t usually get the chance to change the past, but we have the opportunity to shape our future through what we do today.
Personally, I think that’s the most important thing, don’t you?
I hope you liked this story, and if you did you drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you want to check out my printed work, then you can find details at www.pdpublishing.com – you’ll find me under L T Smith. No, I don’t mean under LT Smith ... that would be impossible. Grin.
Thank you for reading, and enjoy your Halloween.