Chapter 1: Future Present
Jessica Lazarus ran down the decrepit hallway at break-neck speed, bounding over broken furniture and barely slowing down as she made a sharp left turn onto an ancient, rickety flight of stairs. She flew down the upstairs corridor so fast that she nearly missed the library door, which she pushed open with a great heave and then took her place opposite Edward, puffing like a girl three times her age.
“They’re coming,” she said through short gasps of breath. “I don’t think they’re happy, Edward.”
Edward Graves pulled a set of bronze goggles over his eyes and then straightened his cravat. “Yes well, I don’t suppose they would be.”He crouched down to fiddle with the controls of a small machine that lay at his feet. “All’s well at my end,” he said.
Jessica had regained control of her breathing and was now lowering her own goggles into position. She kneeled down and examined her own machine, identical to Edward’s and set exactly thirteen metres opposite it, with a ring of brass connecting them. “Ready at my end,” she said.
Suddenly there was an ear-piercing scream and Jessica’s hands immediately rose to her ears, trying to protect her from the offensive audio. She couldn’t think clearly but she could feel the wood beneath her shoes beginning to vibrate and she could have sworn that some of the floor boards were beginning to splinter.
She dropped to one knee, barely able to keep herself upright and managed to open her eyes and cast a glance at Edward. He too was down on one knee with his teeth grit tight, but one hand was reaching for a red lever on the machine in front of him. Jessica came to her senses and looked down at the machine in front of her and its identical red lever. The sound intensified tenfold as she extended her right hand and grasped it.
She looked over at Edward who managed to give a nod and then, just as she was sure that her skull was beginning to crack, they both pulled their levers and the machines began to pulsate with calming, blue energy. The energy rippled out in waves, passing through Jessica’s clothes and leaving her skin cold and covered in goose bumps.
The light began to intensify and expand until it was a burning white, rather than a cool blue. Then with one final pulse, the light shot up into a column that passed through the ceiling and into the night.
The light sent out a shock-wave which sent Jessica tumbling back and shattered the already broken windows of the old house...
The funny thing about time is that it doesn’t necessarily happen in chronological order. It doesn’t happen in any order really, it’s just there. There is no such thing as the past or present or future, those are all just concepts that have been invented to explain time in a linear and understandable way.
The fact of the matter is that every point in time is happening at once. Therefore, while Jessica Lazarus and Edward Graves were working on a case inside a haunted house in the 1970s, they were also just about to meet for the first time nearly fifty years later...
Jessica Lazarus was bored out of her mind. She had mentally recited the title of every book on all twenty seven bookcases in the shop. She had organised the files and folders stored behind and beneath the desk. Yet no matter how hard she tried to distract herself, she was just unable to ignore the pounding of her mother’s voice, which persisted like a trumpet in Satan’s orchestra.
“Yes mother I’ve been eating well,” she said with a roll of her eyes. “All food groups present and accounted for.” She looked at her watch and made the frightening discovery that she’d been on the phone for nearly fifteen minutes.
“Listen Mum,” she said, “I’m sorry but I’ve really got to go, I’m at work.”
There was a sigh on the other end of the line that carried more meaning than a thousand words could have. It was a single sound; a single exhalation of breath which told Jessica, for surely the millionth time, that her mother was disappointed with her choice to remain working in a book shop at eighteen years of age, rather than attend university, wasting what she often described as her daughter’s “untapped potential.”
Finally she ended the call and slid her phone back into her handbag. She was just about to pull out a book to read when she heard a smooth, English accent drifting from beyond the shelves. “Tough call?” said the voice.
Jessica hadn’t even heard anybody come through the door so she was a little startled. She must have failed to see him while her mother was forcing her to contemplate jumping under a moving van.
“Just my mother,” she said. It was only now that she saw the owner of the voice, and he was a remarkable man indeed.
He looked to be in his mid-twenties and was a good ten centimetres taller than her - probably around one hundred and seventy-five centimetres tall. He had a full head of light brown hair which hung down to his eyes in parts; eyes which were the brightest blue that she’d ever seen. Most noticeably though, he was dressed in Victorian Era clothing: a green frock coat, grey waistcoat and matching trousers, spats, a red cravat, a white wing collared shirt and a silver pocket watch. The Victorian look was completed by a cane which he was clutching behind his back.
He smiled gently as he placed two books on the counter, one was The Time Machine and the other was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
“Hello,” he said warmly.
“Hi,” responded Jessica. She couldn’t help but notice that his eyes were lingering on her, but the gaze was more like that one of an old friend than that of a man on the prowl.
She scanned the barcode of the first book. “Oh I love this book,” she said, “I’m pretty sure that it was the first book that I ever read, well the first novel anyway.”
“I’ve always liked it,” the man said, “Fantastic bloke, Wells. Didn’t have a particularly realistic grasp on time travel but he knew how to spin a good yarn. Sharp dresser too.”
“Yes, well,” said Jessica a little tentatively, “everybody loves a good time-travel story don’t they?”
“Oh they do,” said the customer, “in fact I think that time travel provides the single greatest plot device in the history of literature. With time travel all of the rules can be thrown out the window; narrative structures can be arranged however the author sees fit.” He looked into her eyes with a sly smile on his face, “With time travel anything is possible.”
Jessica just smiled politely as she scanned the second book, “So you’re finally catching up on how it all ends, eh?” She held up the Harry Potter book before she placed it in the plastic bag and printed out a receipt.
“On the contrary, I’ve never read any of the Harry Potter books in all my life.”
“Oh so is it a gift?” It made sense, maybe he was going to a fancy dress birthday party.
“No, no, it’s for me. I just find that sometimes endings can make the best beginnings.”
Jessica forced a laugh, “But you won’t be able to follow what’s happening if you haven’t read the other books, nothing will make much sense. I wouldn’t depend on the movies too much either if I were you. A lot gets left out when they make the movie versions, not that I’m biased or anything.”
“No, it’s not that young lady,” said the man, “I simply find that sometimes to fully understand how something began, we have to look at how it’s all going to end. Then we can better see the paths that are laid out before us.”
Jessica smiled at the strange man, he was odd but interesting; she liked him. “Well you’ve got a very unique way of looking at things, sir. That’ll be $33.80 please.”
The man handed Jessica a fifty dollar note but told her to keep the change. “Oh” said Jessica, genuinely stunned, “thank you sir, that’s very nice of you.”
The man waved his hand, “Think nothing of it; I just can’t ever be bothered with change.” He grabbed the bag that contained his books and thanked her, yet he didn’t leave, he just kept looking at Jessica for a while, smiling. It felt a little bit creepy to her. “Well, have a nice day,” she said, trying to move him along.
“Time travel,” he said. “It would be a wonderful thing, don’t you think?”
Jessica was surprised that he was returning to this again but thought it best to humour him. “Yeah, like I said, everybody loves time travel stories.”
“Yes,” said the man, “but what if time travel were real, don’t you think that would be amazing?” He spoke with a kind of awe and wonder rarely heard in the voice of an adult.
“Oh of course, it’d be great, I’d love to time travel, wouldn’t you?” said Jessica, hoping that the conversation wouldn’t take too much of a turn for the strange.
The man just lowered his head and smiled, “Well you never know, you may get your chance one day.”
She laughed, “Yeah maybe, you never know, somebody might invent a time machine one day. I know,” she said with mock enthusiasm, “if time travel’s ever invented then I’ll come back to this point in space and time to prove it to us.” Jessica just stood there smiling for a few seconds while looking around the store. “Oh well, I guess not.”
The man gave a chuckle, “Well you never know, maybe your future self just got the dates mixed up.”
“Maybe,” she said with a smirk.
“Anyway,” said the man, “I have a feeling that things are going to change for you very soon.” He started walking towards the door, “and I think that you’re really going to enjoy it.”
Jessica wasn’t sure how to interpret this statement. “Ah... thanks?”She said.
Suddenly he doubled over and grunted in pain.
“Are you alright?”
“Fine, fine,” he said through gritted teeth. He straightened up and smiled. “I think it’s time for me to go.” He looked at his left hand, flexing his fingers.
He gave her one last smile before opening the door, but he kept staring at her and Jessica couldn’t help but stare back. There was something familiar about him, she felt at peace as she looked into his blue eyes. She felt safe, like he were an old friend. “Excuse me?” she said, “Have we met before?”
“Yes,” he said. “But also, no.”
“What do you mean?”
The man stopped looking at her and stepped out the door. “Goodbye Jessica,” he said.
She was startled to hear him say her name and wracked her brain trying to figure out how she knew him and how he knew her. She ran out the door and looked up and down the street, but he was gone.
For the rest of the day her mind was occupied by thoughts of the Victorian Englishman. He was there when she served customers, he was there when she closed up the shop and he was there with her on the walk home. But eventually she was able to push him out of her mind so that she could focus on another, more present man.
She arrived at La’ Amore at 8pm sharp, precisely as agreed and was directed to an outside table for two. Sean was already seated and perusing the menu and Jessica didn’t mind thinking that he looked rather fine in his bespoke suit jacket and silk shirt. She ran a self-conscious hand down the front of her black dress, trying to smooth out any creases that had stowed away. It was tighter than what she usually wore and she was worried that the material would cling to her in all of the wrong places. She walked clumsily and without experience in her high heels and noted how her skin looked even more pale than usual in contrast to her dress, oh the woes of being a redhead.
“Hey,” said Sean as he stood up and pulled her chair out for her.
“Hey,” responded Jessica, “I hope you haven’t been waiting for too long.”
Sean waved his hand dismissively, “Not at all. Well, actually yes. Between you and me, I was a little nervous so I arrived a bit early. But it gave me a chance to get all of the excessive sweating out of the way.” He looked Jessica up and down as she took her seat and said, “Wow you look amazing.”
“Oh I just threw something on,” said Jessica modestly. She neglected to mention the twenty minutes she had spent applying make-up, a practice which she wasn’t accustomed to. Nor did she tell him about the hour and a half that she had spent trying to style her flowing red hair which she usually just let lay over her shoulders. Nor did she mention the three days she had spent shopping for the perfect dress and shoes.
Jessica stared at Sean for what seemed like entirely too long so she picked up the menu and decided to stare at that instead.
“Would you like to order some drinks?” asked a brunette waitress with glasses.
“What do you think, Jessica?” asked Sean, “Champagne? Wine?”
“I’m not actually much of a drinker,” said Jessica, “so I think I’ll just stick with lemonade.”
“Well, alright then,” said Sean, “a Lemonade and a Scotch please.”
The waitress left and again they were alone, but they had yet to choose their meals. So they spent their time browsing the menu and then the waitress returned with their drinks and they ordered their meal and then, for the first time for the evening, they were alone in awkward silence.
“So,” said Jessica as she drummed her fingers on the table and her right leg danced a jig beneath it.
“So,” echoed Sean. “Are you always as nervous as I am on first dates?”
Jessica laughed and took a sip from her lemonade. “Well I’d like to answer you but I wouldn’t know, seeing as this is my first ever date and all,” she said.
Sean looked taken aback and gasped, “No, really? Well then it is my honour to take you on your first date ever. I’ll do my best not to disappoint you.”
As the rest of the night moved on Jessica became more and more comfortable with Sean. They laughed and exchanged stories - some interesting, some embarrassing, even some sad. By dessert she felt like she had told Sean everything there was to know about her which felt odd because she was usually such a guarded person.
“So,” said Sean as he scooped up some Chocolate Mousse, “let me get this straight. Your mother is disappointed in you because she thinks that at the ripe old age of eighteen, you’re too old to be working in a bookshop?”
“That about sums it up,” said Jessica. “She thinks that I’m wasting my time and my mind in that place. She was alright with me working there part time while I was in high-school but she thinks that I should have gone to university and studied, gone into academia or at least attempted a career of some sort.” She paused to take a bite of cheesecake and then continued, “but despite what she thinks, I’m not unmotivated or unfocused, I’m just happy doing what I’m doing. I love books so there’s no job that I’d rather have.”
“Your Mum’s not a big reader then?” asked Sean.
“On the contrary,” said Jessica, “she’s a Professor of literature at Sydney University. It’s just that she’d much prefer if I were writing books or teaching about them, rather than just selling them.”
The conversation continued and then it began to wear thin and eventually the cheque arrived at the table and the night was all but at a close.
Sean drove Jessica back to her unit but before she got out of the car he told her that he wanted to give her something. Now, being a wary young lass, Jessica wasn’t sure what to make of this and as such she grabbed the door handle with one hand and formed a fist with the other, just in case she had to quickly make an exit or clobber him.
“I want you to have this,” said Sean and much to Jessica’s surprise and relief he produced a dazzling blue pendant, a gem of some kind, suspended from a slinky silver chain.
“Oh my goodness,” said Jessica in genuine amazement, “thank you! But it’s only our first date, I can’t accept this.” She was still wary of what strings may be attached to the gift. Her mother always told her that there was no such thing as a free meal. Metaphorically speaking of course.
“I insist,” said Sean as he moved to put the necklace around her graceful neck. “Don’t worry about my intentions either; I assure you that this is just an honest to God gift, no strings attached.”
Still feeling a little unsure, Jessica nevertheless lifted her hair up and allowed Sean to pull the necklace around her neck. It felt cold and hard against her chest and it looked like it was glowing in the dark with a pulsating, azure luminescence.
Letting her Ruby hair drape back down to its resting place, Jessica thanked him, gave him a polite kiss on the cheek and walked up to her second floor unit, No. 4 at 42 Hitchhiker’s Street, Adamsfield.
She entered the unit, switched on the lights and threw her horrible heels into a dark corner, hoping to never see them again. Then she went into her room and admired the mesmerising glow of her new necklace for a while, contemplating the connotations of being given such a gift on a first date. Just as she was about to remove the gem to put it in her jewellery box, she heard an odd sound. She walked out into the lounge room and yelped.
“Welcome home, young lady.”
A group of three men stood in the middle of the room. They were stocky men in old-fashioned pin-striped suits, the type that old gangsters wore in movies. What was it with people in old-fashioned clothes today?
One man stood casually before the others with his hands in his pockets. He was a bald Asian man with a thin moustache and a smile as fake as a car salesman’s.
“Please forgive us for the intrusion,” he said with a faint accent. “We did not intend to startle you.”
“Who the Hell are you and what are you doing in my home?” snapped Jessica. She looked over at her phone sitting in its cradle on the kitchen counter and then considered her mobile which was sitting on her bedside table. She wondered whether she would be able to make it to either one before being grabbed and came to the conclusion that it was best not to try anything rash. Not yet, anyway.
“Please stay calm,” said the bald man, “we aren’t going to hurt you. You were given something tonight - a blue gemstone necklace. All we want; all we need, is for you to give that necklace to us.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said Jessica.
The bald man lowered his head and pinched his temple. He looked tired. “Please do not waste my time Miss Lazarus.”
The other two men, both Caucasian and dark-haired, produced guns from their jacket pockets and began to move towards Jessica. Guns, real guns! Jessica had never seen a real gun before, much less had two of them pointed at her. She began to slowly back up towards her bedroom as her heart pounded faster than it ever had before, threatening to break free of her rib cage.
“You’re such a pretty little thing,” said the bald man, who was now meandering around the lounge room, looking disinterested and almost bored. “Smart too, I wager. So why are you being so stupid? Give us what we want and that’ll be end of it, you’ll never see us again and you’ll be free to carry on with your merry little life.”
Jessica couldn’t help but see the logic in his argument and she stopped backing up and stood in her bedroom doorway. The men with the guns also stopped but kept their weapons raised.
She swallowed hard and tried to steady her body as best she could, she didn’t want to display the intense fear that was currently seizing her. She tried to distract herself by focusing on the feel of the soft carpet beneath her feet. “Alright, I’ll give you the necklace but can I at least know why you want it? What makes it so special?”
The bald man walked slowly up the short hallway, keeping his hands in his pockets the whole way. “That really isn’t any of your business, now is it Miss Lazarus? But I will tell you that you need to keep a better brand of company. The man who gave you that necklace has wronged us both, first by stealing from my boss and then giving the stolen item to you.”
“Wait, you’re saying that Sean stole that necklace from you? An up and coming investment banker stole a necklace from a bunch of guys who break into a girl’s flats and wave guns around?”
The bald man ran a hand over his head as if to smooth back hair that was no longer there. “I have no interest in going into the details of the situation any further Miss Lazarus.” He held out his hand, “The necklace, please.”
Jessica gave a slight nod and turned to enter her room then turned on the balls of her feet and slammed the door shut and slid the latch into place.
She ran to her phone and started dialling triple zero but then realised that she didn’t have a signal, which was weird and more than a little alarming.
Brilliant! She thought. Now what, genius?
There was a continual thumping on the door and the occasional swear word or threat from the angry men on the other side.
Panicking, she looked around her room for something, anything to help her. She ran to the window and looked down at the garden below. There was a hedge that ran along the side of the building and she was pretty sure that she could jump onto it relatively unscathed.
The door began to shake and splinter, it sounded as though they were ramming it now. Panicking and knowing that she was short on time, she grabbed her phone and clutched it in her left hand, before opening up her bedroom window and making the two story drop to the hedges below.