Location: The Royal Infirmary, Edinburgh, Scotland, 28th August 1985.
Toby Jones apprehensively looked at the nurse who had entered his cubicle. From the manner, she had carefully opened the curtain, just enough for her to enter as well as the muffled conversation before entering – someone bad wanted to see him. He just wanted to be left alone, with his screaming wounds.
The nurse approached him with such care like he was some snarling beast waiting to wake up.
“How are you doing now Toby?” the nurse asked with exaggerated happiness whilst taking his temperature.
“Fine,” Toby replied with an obvious malaise.
“That's good, your temperature seems fine. Now, Toby, I know you are sixteen, but we have informed your parents of what had happened. They say they love you, and they will be here to see you soon.”
Toby choked back a tear, and gently bit his lower lip to stop him from protesting – he had specifically asked for them not be informed. This was their fault. Why was the nurse staring at him like that? Was that pity in her eyes? He nervously brushed away a strand of his sandy hair that had been irritating him.
“Toby, I know this is – difficult,” the nurse continued. “But there are a couple of policemen who want to ask you some questions about your attack. Can you be a brave boy and answer their questions?”
He looked up at the ceiling and started counting the tiles. One, two, three. Toby whispered, “Please, just go.”
Four – five – six.
The nurse clearly decided to hear her own answer, because she pulled back the curtain and told the policemen to enter. Toby stole a brief glance – nothing in their expressions showed any kindness.
Ten – eleven – twelve...
“Hello Toby, I am PC Hughes and this, my colleague, is PC Watt – we're both from the Lothian and Borders Police. Is it possible to ask you a few questions about your attack?”
Fif...teen – Six...teen – Like they cared? Sev..en..teen – Why couldn't they leave him? Eight...teen.
“We have spoken to the witness who stopped the attack. She said there were four men, aged between fourteen and eighteen, and they seemed to know you. Toby, were they from your school?”
Twen...ty – How will that help? Twen...ty...one... - Just leave me alone! Twen...ty...two... - Please. Twen...ty...three...
“Your school says you had claimed about bullying. Were the attackers your bullies?”
Twen...ty...six – The school could have stopped this, but they were not important enough. Toby closed his eyes, held out his left hand, and felt her warm fingers intertwine with his, her breath warming his neck, her head resting on his chest – where was she?
“Look Toby, we are trying to help you, I understand you've been through a traumatic experience, but if you don't answer our questions – how can we help you?” This time PC Watt tried to question him.
Gabrielle whispered in his ear that PC Watt looked like a horse, and she set off one of her laughter-fireworks, and Toby had to bite his lip to keep a straight face. He couldn't dare to look at him to check – but that was a typical Gabbyism.
But then Toby was brought back to reality. The nurse and the two policemen were in a hushed conversation, too hurried and emphasised to be good. Then he heard the nurse whisper, “he's already had a traumatic experience, this can wait until tomorrow.” Then the nurse stared at Toby with her eyes betraying her fear.
Back to the ceiling tiles.
“Toby,” PC Hughes began. “Your neighbour Dr Robert Hunter has phoned the local station to report his daughter Gabrielle has been missing since school. He said you might know where she is?”
...Six...seven...eight... What had those monsters done to her?
He could no longer fight it, his tears broke through and he raised his hands to hide his embarrassment. This was enough for the others to leave him alone. Once Toby heard the reassuring of the noise from the curtain closing, he slowly traced down his left arm with his right hand, feeling each self-inflicted wound: each insult, each trip in the corridor, each name, each traumatic moment. But with every single one – she was there. Gabrielle was the one positive constant.
Once Toby heard the reassuring of the noise from the curtain closing, he slowly traced down his left arm with his right hand, feeling each self-inflicted wound: each insult, each trip in the corridor, each name, each traumatic moment. But with every single one – she was there. Gabrielle was the one positive constant.
So where was she?
Location: Turnington Manor, Scotland, 29th August 1985.
Toby was discharged the next day, after giving the police the vaguest of statements – he had no intention of telling the police the truth – nothing would happen.
His parents did not speak to him during the drive home, although their mouths were continuously moving up and down. They were terrified of Toby, and he knew that. The drive was relatively mundane, with no life-threatening circumstances. This was what he wanted. So he could focus fully on Gabrielle.
During the drive back, he rhythmically rubbed his left arm.
It was about 1pm when they arrived at home – Turnington Manor. The name made the place sound grander than it was, whereas in reality it was nothing more than a rural estate valiantly defending clinging on against the encompassing and encircling urbanisation. It was simply a farming estate, but to Toby, it was magical escapist paradise. Not – it was his and Gabrielle's magical escapist paradise.
Mr Hunter had knocked on the front door, manically asking Toby if he knew where Gabrielle was, which Toby replied passively with a tiny shake of the head. Toby could not look at him, knowing where she was.
Once Toby had been allowed to retreat to his bedroom, he picked out the record of Gustav Holst's Planets suite and carefully placed the vinyl onto his record player, and carefully placed the needle – and let the music sweep him up. Once he had heard the ominous brass from Mars, he took that as his cue to carefully open his bedroom window and climbed outside. The he crawled under the lounge window, with the dew soaking his jeans causing his wounds to sting. After he felt he had gone far enough, he sprinted for the path.
This was the path to the words, guarded on both sides by cows who normally rounded up at the sight of humans, but today they were terrified at the sight of Toby and ran away. Approaching the woods, he briefly looked behind him – luckily there was no one following him.
Eventually he came to the giant oak tree they had called 'The Gatekeeper' – an ancient oak tree whose numerous branches swirled and swooped to shake the hand with every visitor to these woods, but Toby ignored the invitation. He ascended a hill, using the helpfully placed trees as leverage, and occasionally falling to the muddy ground. Then, after ten minutes, he reached the clearing at the top. The island in the seas of trees. Standing as a monument to everything, thirty seconds away – the summerhouse.
This was where Gabrielle was. Whenever there was a time of crisis, this is where they met. Why she had not gone home puzzled him, but both had done the same thing before. Where was she? She was not there. A wave of fear crashed through his body. He forced his legs to move. Left: the summerhouse was painted green. Right: no one knew when it was built. Left: except it was around in the First World War. Right: priest hole! There was a rumour a priest hole had an exit around here. Left: it was hexagonal in shape. Right: remember when he and Gabrielle had found this place for the first time? Left: how they had laughed, that was the first time he heard that firework laugh. Right: they had stolen, no 'borrowed' their parent's most pompous clothes. Left: then they had a tea party, pretending to both be the most aristocratic buffoons imaginable. Right: she had painted the roof for the hell of it. Left: there was a bizarre psychedelic gas giant with three ring structures, each at different angles. Right: later this was their time machine, the place all their stories began. Left: they would, come up, with a character, then a location...Right: then, a, first,...line. Left: Left: Left:
He couldn't move his foot. It was stuck in the mud, with no one to run through his legs. Left: Left: Left. It was no good. Stuck.
Toby closed his eyes. Breathed in. Inhaled the darkness. And tried to imagine – her. She would not come. He placed his hand over his mouth, massaging his miserable stubble. She loved that. Laughed at his explanation. It kept the imagination falling out of his mouth.
He scrunched his eyes even tighter. His fingers tingled, was that her?
“Be brave. Be brave for your little special Gabby...” an anonymous voice spoke.
Left: Left: Le-ight: L-ight: Right: Left...Right. His right foot kicked the beam. Open his eyes, and he was back in the summerhouse. All he had to do was open his eyes. A simple thing, and yet the hardest thing to do.
Snap! A noise behind him. His eyes sprang open. His legs gave way.
Lying on the floor, her wrists cut, two pools of dried blood, ..dead...was Gabrielle Hunter. Her head was tilted to the left, her hazel eyes looking for something, someone – Toby. Her fullsome lips were wearing the red lipstick she'd started wearing. Toby crawled to her, brushed away her wavy red hair from her eyes. Wrapped his fingers around hers, the rigor mortis shocking him. Stared into her eyes. And cried. The tears no longer had any resistance whatsoever.
Why had he never told her how he felt about her? All those days spent together, those nights, those embraces and secrets – why had he never told her? Fear. Fear of losing her. His rational brain said she loved him, his irrational brain was always louder, always gnawing away.
'I love you'. Three simple words. Three simple syllables. And with yet enough complexity to provide literature with enough source material from the birth of language to the end of time.
“Hello, Toby Jones.” a strange squeaky male voice spoke.
Toby stared deeper into Gabrielle's eyes – imagining.
“May I offer my most profoundest apologies for my lateness.” the stranger continued. “I really do not know where the time goes – pun definitely intended.”
They were at the beach, building sandcastles.
“Righty-ho. Itinerary. I-tin-e-ary. Syllabic juxtaposition. Item One, introductions. Yes, by definition, you are Toby Jones. A-ha, myself. Robert Mann, Toby Jones – my name is Robert Mann, a friendly representative from the Earth Detective Agency. And your friend Gabrielle Hunter – oh my, she appears to be motionless, and rather dead.”
Toby snapped. He launched himself up, grabbed Robert's shirt, forced him against a pillar. Snarled, ripped off Robert's red thick-rimmed glasses. Snarled. Smashed them, he enjoyed the sound of the glass smashed against the floor. Like the monsters had done to him countless times.
“Oy! Those cost a fortune. And I will have to synchronise them. Do you know how long that ruddy takes?” Robert protested.
“Sorry...Sorry....Sor-ry...” Toby sobbed, retreating to the floor.
Robert patted down his lilac shirt, looking for an imaginary pocket. After a ridiculous number of pats, he cursed his stupidity, and opened up his black rucksack – and withdrew an absurdly creased grey blazer, which he proceeded to put on.
Toby closed his eyes to focus on Gabrielle and not Robert, trying to ignore his manners and sensitivity that were the equivalent to swimming in a sea of bile. And everything about his appearance – from his gelled black hair, to his unsymmetrical facial hair, his expensive watch and his multiple-stained 'smart' shoes – he was the type of cocky git that somehow had won the popularity contest.
He removed from his blazer's inside-pocket a small black notebook, and he ummed as he flicked through a few pages.
“Aha, the old analogue solution. Righty-ho, I just need to do something called 'chronological calibration'. So appearance of Toby Jones, aged 16. Sandy hair, medium length. Check. Blue eyes. Check. An unfortunate attempt at growing stubble. Check. But that scar on your cheek, the thing that looks like a cross – that's not in your description.” Frantically Robert flicked through the pages until, “Darnations to Alpha Centauri and back again! The ruddy decimalised calender system – why does the agency insist of that stupid thing. Even from when I'm from, they still use the Gregorian calender. But this is rather awkward. I appear to be spectacularly late.”
“Can – can you shut up and leave me be. Please.”
“Oh, you don't see? When we meet, your friend Miss Gabrielle Hunter – she is meant to be alive.”
“She's dead.” Toby held her.
“Sorry, sometimes my ignorance can surprise me. Don't you understand? I can fix that.”
This was enough for Toby to look up at Robert again. “What do you mean?”
“I'm able to – oh – oh dear. I can't construct a suitable witticism...”
“What do you mean you can fix Gabrielle?”
“Time-travel of course. I am a time-traveller.” Robert flung his arms in the air in glee.
“You arsehole! How dare you manipulate me with some fairytale nonsense.”
“No seriously, I am a time-traveller. Only this morning I was swimming in the diamond seas of Altinak. A seabed full of diamonds – just imagine that.”
Toby placed her lifeless left arm under his neck.
“Now – now, where is it? I know it is here somewhere – aha, bingo. Check this out.” Robert threw an object onto the floor.
After a minute, the weak curious voice in Toby's head gained enough for his eyes to steal a look. It seemed to be a spectacularly tacky wedding ring – a gold ring with green emeralds attached. Why had Robert given him a wedding ring?
“That Toby Jones, is a Chronon Ring – a time-travel device. Put that on, and we can saved Gabrielle. Put that on, and you can see the stars together. Just let me check the bureaucratic red-tape...”
Staring into Gabrielle's eyes, Toby could see the spark of life. All those regrets gone, just like that. With time travel he could say “I love you” for the first time, he could kiss her for the first time, explore each other bodies, run away and love together. Everything he had ever dreamt off. If only time travel was real, if only time travel is real...
Toby could hear Robert frantically flick through his notebook – before finding the page he had been looking for.
“Ah. Oh. I seem to have made a teeny bit of a gargantuan error. You need to understand that this is my first unsupervised assignment – but I seem to have forgotten Rule 3, Paragraph 1, Bullet Point 4 – the dead can not be brought back to life using time travel. Sorry about that, but Gabrielle Hunter is dead. Righty-ho, I hope you understand...”
Robert could not finish his sentence because once again, Toby launched himself at him, pushing him against the pillar.
“How dare you! She deserves to live, she deserves to –“Toby screamed, pulling back his fist to punch.
His fist refused to move and Robert wriggled frantically as he found his watch, and pushed down on it's face for five seconds and disappeared.
Toby was left sobbing, clinging onto thin air.
He had yet to notice the strange bl0nde-haired woman standing ten metres away.