Emily sat bolt upright in her bed and turned on her bedside light. You always seem to remember things you forget when you’re falling asleep.
[You have to help me! I need to write a story about what life was like in the Middle Ages for a girl my age.]
I’m sure you can do that.
[Well, I mean, I did some reading, but it didn’t tell me what a 12 year old might experience.]
I think I can help. Take me in your hand. Lie back down on your bed. Close your eyes and...
I opened my eyes. It is very cold. I am in the attic of a house with a grass roof. A thatched roof they call it.
My bed is very small. It is made of small logs tied together with long strips of leather. Leather strips are wrapped back and forth over the logs to make a kind of net for my mattress. My mattress is a big rough bag full of leaves and hay. My feet stick out of the end when I stretch out, so I have to sleep really curled up. My blanket is very rough and greasy and smells like a sheep.
The whole room smells like old gym socks and wee. I can feel other people. There are a lot of other beds in the attic. My mother and father are in one. My eldest brother and his new wife are in another. He is only 17. My two other brothers who are just older than me share one bed, sleeping end to end. I am in my own small bed in the corner.
I have to wee ... really badly! I look around for the toilet, but there is just the night bucket. It is a wooden bucket with a lid. It smells awful, but I am busting. I take off the lid, lift my rough nightdress and squat over the bucket. I must have made lots of noise, because everyone else woke up and most of them use the night bucket after me. It is just too cold and dark to go outside and use the privy.
We all dress and go down the narrow stairs. My father takes the night bucket and empties it outside. My mother stokes the fire and soon it is roaring. My brothers go outside and wash. I fill an iron pot and iron kettle with water and hang them beside the fire on chains.
The room already seems warmer, even without the fire. That is because all of our animals live underneath the floor. Their bodies and their poo create heat.
My mother sends me down to fetch eggs. My father lifts a trap door, so I don’t have to actually go outside. The smell of the cows, horses, chickens and sheep combined is almost as bad as the night bucket, but not quite. I take a small basket and find seven eggs under the hens. I hurry back up to the main room.
My mother makes a good hot breakfast because the men have to work hard all day. She makes boiled eggs, slices of fatty winter bacon, some potatoes cooked in the coals overnight and the last of yesterday’s bread warmed by the fire and spread with dripping from a roast. We also have boiled milk with honey and spice. You had to boil milk in the olden days to kill the germs because they could kill you.
Father says the blessing, “May the good Lord bless and keep us. Bless this food we are about to eat and make us thankful. Bless this house and all who live in it. Bless good King Harry and keep him safe ... and damn the filthy French bastards to hell!
“Francis!” warned my mother.
Hardly chastened, my father continues, “And may we be delivered from the hundred years of war soon and may the press gangs spare our sons. Amen.” We echo, “Amen.”
My father was in the war many years ago. He was captured and the French cut off two fingers from his right hand so he could no longer shoot a longbow and then released him back, so he would still be a mouth to feed in the English army. But he fooled them … he was born to use the Devil’s hand on his left, so he kept fighting and killed many French soldiers. He was discharged and given five gold sovereigns for his heroic service. He bought this farm in Essex and took my mother as his wife.
Mother and I spend the entire day making bread, milking the cows and sheep ... twice ... churning butter and making cheese. We sell or trade some of the butter, cheese and extra eggs for money to buy the few things we can’t make ourselves, like salt, spices, thread, lamp oil and once a year some candy. We also have some fruit trees and a few beehives for honey and wax for candles. My father and three brothers work the fields, growing hay, oats, wheat and flax.
My sister-in-law is heavy with her first child and due soon, so she can’t do much heavy work, but she sews and mends. Everyone has to contribute. She is fifteen. Sometimes she lets me touch her belly and feel the kicks. I hope it is a boy.
I know I will be married and having a child in a few years, though the thought scares me. I really have no choice, because I am only a girl.
I take a break at midday and wander outside while my mother takes the midday meal to the men in the fields. It is warmer now. I use the privy properly and then wash myself, mostly without taking off my clothes. I only have a proper bath once a month, in front of the fire, although everyone else has used the water first, starting with the men.
There are three little gravestones in a row in a graveyard beyond the fruit trees. I don’t notice the other stones for my grandparents. I pick poppies and buttercups and place them in front of each of the three stones and take away the wilted blossoms from yesterday. One is a younger sister who died a few days after birth and two are brothers who died before me of the winter ague. My mother is lucky, really, because three dead and four living is doing well. I hope my sister-in-law is as lucky.
Mrs. Evans led the applause. She had tears in her eyes. Happy tears. Emily went back to her seat.
Emily’s best friend Genevieve, who sits next to her, leaned over as she sat down and said, “That was amazing! It sounded so real, like you had really been there!”
“It kind of felt like I was, actually,” replied Emily.
Mrs. Evans gushed, “Please, Emily, let me publish that in the school paper. It is the most remarkable thing I have ever had from any student. A Plus Plus!”
The other students groan, knowing the bar has been lifted pretty high.
[You’re the greatest.]
So you say.
After school, Emily took her time walking home, savouring the success of her history project.
[It really did feel like I was there, back in the Middle Ages. How did you do that?]
Well, partly I created an illusion in your mind, based on historical research I had found on the Internet. I have had to catch up on the millions of years I was underground and I also wanted to search for evidence of other Stones.
[You said “partly” created an illusion. What was the other part?]
Well, there seems to be a certain amount of genetic memory in humans that you cannot knowingly access. Many creatures can pass down important information and memories for generations, through their offspring. Humans no longer seem to use this function, along with many other natural abilities, but the remnants are still there.
[There are nut jobs that think they are reincarnated. Like that?]
No, they are not remembering their own previous life, but possibly that of a predecessor. I simply found the right area of your genes to stimulate this function.
[Gosh, it’s like a time machine! You mean I can go anywhere that I had an ancestor?]
Yes, I suppose it is possible. You are not actually there, and it will always seem like a very vivid dream, but with physical memories, like smell, taste and feel. It is something we might try again.
I’m afraid I don’t understand the reference. Are we gambling?
[Never mind. Have you found any other Stones?]
Not specifically, but I think I may have found evidence of people or events in history that have either been caused or influenced by a Stone. These people may not have even known, as The Mission does not specifically require direct contact.
[Why did you contact me?]
Emily, before you touched me, the only direct contact I had was with prehistoric amphibians ... ancestors of your dolphins and whales ... and recently some superstitious gold miners. The amphibians were intelligent, but limited. The miners were ignorant and superstitious. You were my best chance to avoid spending another few million years amongst rocks and water.
[Why couldn’t you talk to other people through the water, like you did with me?]
I was able to observe the growth of your society through the water, listening to people’s thoughts. I could also receive radio and then television transmissions for the past 80 years, and in the last 20 years masses of digital data has permeated the atmosphere.
I could observe human life through the water, but not communicate. When you touched me, I had your imprint. I could communicate directly with you. Like a telephone number.
[I am glad you contacted me.]
As am I, Emily.
[So, who do you think are some of the people who had Stones or touched one?]
There are many references in your religious texts ... the Bible, the Koran and the Torah ... that could relate to Stones. These are all fundamentally the same books that are now used as religious guides. Creating a harmonious society is a large part of The Mission, and I believe religion and your Ten Commanded moral codes could be part of this. Moses could have had a Stone, using it to cause the seven plagues and other events. Jesus was another who may have been influenced by a Stone, with his healing powers and other abilities. As could the prophet Mohammad.
[Like a Stone could create miracles?]
I can help you walk on water, if you would like.
[Let’s not go there. They used to burn people at the stake or stone them for saying stuff like that.]
Yes, I know. Some of your great inventors and philosophers may have been influenced by a Stone ... Leonardo Da Vinci, Galileo, Isaac Newton, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein. Many gods and spirits over the centuries have manifested themselves in stones. Shiva, one of the Hindu gods, was thought to have lived in a crystal.
Some great historical advances may have been because of influence from a Stone ... Alexander The Great, Genghis Kahn, Julius Caesar.
[What about now? Can we find some now?]
That remains to be seen.
On that note, Emily was home.
In an effort to make the EAU School appear to be like any other, even though it was buried inside solid rock, all of the classes had windows that looked out onto a virtual world. In fact, they actually looked out onto the grounds of a real school somewhere back east in a small affluent community straight out of National Geographic.
Everything was just right. The seasons changed, the days passed and familiar people walked by at particular times of day. If you didn’t think about it, you could almost believe it was real.
But Sam did think about it, all the time, and that made the windows seem even more fake. Every chance he got, Sam would hack into the system somehow and disrupt the perfect little community outside.
Sometimes it would rain Big Macs, a 747 would land on the soccer field or a squad of Galactic Empire storm troopers would attack the school. Everyone just tolerated Sam, partly because he was actually mildly amusing in a nerdy genius sort of way, and also because he was “Point-O-1,” son of the EAU Director. In fact, his computer teacher used to give him extra credit for particularly ingenious hacks, until the Principal found out.
Cat and her cohort had an even greater appreciation of Sam’s talents since confronting him the other night. They cornered Sam at the morning break.
“You haven’t been avoiding us, have you? I was just thinking I am feeling a little wanderlust, like for an excursion to the Evidence Room. What do you say, Sammy?”
“Uh … tonight?”
“No, next year, stupid. Of course tonight! I’ve got a little bet going that this place really does exist, and I’m hoping I don’t have to pay.”
Sam felt all eyes on him and it caused him to squirm. “Yeah, it’s there. It’s like a museum show for visiting big shots, Senators and stuff.”
“And curious kids. OK, at the Cubby Hole, 10 o’clock. Don’t be late.”
“But it’s a school night!” whined Sam, seeking an out, if not a delay.
“Like that really mattered to you before, Einstein,” Cat called back over her shoulder, as she was already walking away.