FICTION FRIDAY PROMT: Your Main Character is a time traveller. He/She arrives at a destination but not all is as expected…
William Fort seemed like any ordinary boy, living with his Aunt Bette in an ordinary semi-detached in a very ordinary town. He went to an ordinary school, with painfully ordinary teachers, who were all in the job for the long summer holidays. The circumstances of his parents’ deaths seemed also very ordinary, a car crash on their way back from a wedding in Scotland. No children, the invite had said, so William’s parents had left him at home with his Aunt Bette, which is where, of course, he was today.
William, however, had a secret, as all little boys in stories like this one do. William was a time traveller. No one could remember the first time that William stepped into the cupboard under his stairs and was transported to a different time, and though many people had tried (and the cat, Kafka, too) no one else had ever been able to travel through time just by stepping into the dark cupboard. William was special.
Perhaps it was that William was an orphan, living in a home with a woman who didn’t know how to talk to children, or to kiss them better after a fall. Perhaps William’s parents had also had this special power, but of course they weren’t around for him to ask. How William had become a time traveller, and why, remained a mystery, but one that William intended to find out.
Today, coming home from a particularly ordinary day at school (Mr Higgins had called him ‘useless’ during javelin practice and Miss Spacey had held the whole class back because Billy Cooper wouldn’t stop humming while she was talking) William decided to find out once and for all how he had come to be a time traveller. In recent months, his time travel had become much easier. Now, on entering the cupboard, he could fix his mind on a specific time period, hold his breath tight in his chest, and then open the door, finding himself exactly where he had wished. This revelation had been a happy one for William, who had previously gotten himself in all sorts of trouble having no control over where he was going; his trip to the time of the Aztecs being a good example (he thought they were all really rather lovely, until it turned out they intended to cut his heart out with a stone).
And so, William got himself a cup of milk, grabbed a biscuit from Aunt Bette’s secret biscuit jar, and opened the door to the cupboard under the stairs. He took a swig of milk, crammed a biscuit in his mouth, shut his eyes, held his breath…. And opened the cupboard door.
The wonder of William’s time travelling was that he could also travel in space. When he opened the cupboard door, he might find himself in a vast green field, in a market place in 16th century Venice, in a far off planet inhabited by small purple caterpillars. This time, however, William was surprised to find that he was exactly where he should expect to be. The cupboard door opened onto the hallway of his ordinary semi-detached house in his ordinary town. The stairs, still covered with that horrid green carpet went, as you would expect, directly up to the landing and into his bedroom. The kitchen still smelled of lino and those plastic plants that had been there as long as William could remember. Perhaps something had gone wrong, thought William. Perhaps he had lost his powers, perhaps he was just an ordinary boy after all.
And then he heard it. The unmistakeable sound of a baby crying. And a mother, gently humming as she paced, and jigged, and try to rock the baby better. William recognised the sound. The same song his mother had hummed to him when he couldn’t sleep, when he woke in the night after a nightmare. “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine…”. William’s breath caught in his throat. Had he managed it? Was he here? Would he get to see her again? He had thought about this day often. What good was time travel if he didn’t use it to see his parents, even one last time?
He looked up from the bottom of the stairs, holding his breath for fear he would be discovered. He didn’t want to frighten his mother. How would she even know who he was? Would she think he was a neighbourhood boy, breaking into the house for a laugh? He thought for a while about how he would begin to explain to her how he came to be there. He hoped that she would know, that she would understand and finally he would know the answer to the question he had wondered about for so long: were his parents time traveller’s too?
Suddenly, William was surprised by a key sounding in the lock behind him. He darted to the cupboard under the stairs and jumped in, careful not to close the door fully behind him. “Hey there! Where’s my beautiful family?” said a voice that William remembered well. His father.
“Up here!” called his mother, “William’s a little grumpy, I think he’s teething”.
William’s father dropped his bag by the stairs and climbed them two at a time. William heard the sound of his father kissing his mother on the cheek and cooing over the baby. Baby William. He crept out from under the stairs.
The hallway, now he came to look at it properly, was different to how he remembered it. Photos on the wall showed a smiling couple, recently married and a baby William, in a hospital cot. The photos of hideous cats that Aunt Bette had brought with her after his parents death, were nowhere to be seen. The carpet, too, looked different, new. The purple stain that had been there since his accident with a pot of paint and a rusty bicycle was yet to be made and the kitchen, despite smelly of those same plastic plants, was less meticulously clean – baby food and cutlery littered the sideboard.
“… a tough day…” William heard from upstairs “… worried… have to… Scotland, they say…” William moved nearer to the bottom of the stairs.
“I’ll come with you” he heard his mother say “It’s about time I got back to work, anyway, William’s nearly old enough to be left with someone. Bette, maybe?”
“I don’t want your sister coming round here, bringing those godawful cats. Stay home with William a little longer. Maybe until he goes to school?”
“I’d love to, Charlie, you know I would. But the cause! I miss feeling like I’m fighting for something. I feel like I’m letting you all down”.
“No one thinks that, Luce, you know that. They’re just all glad William’s safe”. William heard his father say. He stood stunned. Aunt Bette had told him that his father had worked in the city, and that his mother had been a librarian. What was this cause they were speaking of? Why were the others so glad he was safe? William began to suspect that the story he had been told about his parents, about his life, was not the whole story after all.