Niagara changed, reduced, became a trickle, a drip, drip, drip, and Maude tasted what seemed to be nitrox in the air she was breathing, was this some kind of scuba-mask on her face? when had she gone to the sea-side? oh Christ, her chest ached like she had walked into something, what was it? a lamp-post? or a door, maybe? she heard Oyzell's voice above the babble of the waves but it was just unconnected sounds, a mish-mosh of vowels and consonants, she tried to ask Oyzell to speak slower, more clearly, but wasn't able to formulate any words, let alone articulate them any better than Oyzell, who, when she saw the two girls run into the shop, knew at once that something bad had happened to Maude and she got there herself even before the imperturbable Loch brothers and Bernie, but they quickly took command and formed a cordon round the shambles of papers and magazines where Laura was doing CPR and John, the Duty Manager was still on his phone, then recognized Oyzell and said: "ambulance on it's way, three minutes," which was when Oyzell saw the front page tightly clenched in Maude's fist, was able to read the headlines and knew at once whodunnit to her friend, even though she didn't understand the story they referred to, the words Virus and 40,000 UK Deaths were enough for a Holocaust survivor, the rest would follow, she scanned the faces and grabbed young May and Cristo: "go with Maude in the ambulance to A&E, I'll go up to the house and tell her cousins what's happened, you take one of the brothers, they know my number, ask him to call once there's news, okay with that?" and the girls, faces drained by the shock of seeing the older, later, version of Maude—their cousin, too—so vulnerable, so death-like, as the girl in working-clothes pressed down on her chest, one, two, three, four, five, pause, one, two, three, four, five, nodded and Oyzell grabbed their hands, kissed them, chill fingers, then, saying "tell Maude we need her home," hurried out, taking Bernie and Duddingston, as the two paramedics bustled into the store and homed in on their patient, and she explained that something terrible seemed to have happened, affecting the whole country, maybe the whole world, and she had to get to Maude's home where—with any luck—she would find Daphne, May and Cristo, and their niece Teri, and God only knows what other waifs and strays they might have given house-room to, so with the two men following in her wake, she set off at a steady pace, past Gibson Park, the original Fire Station, Police Station, new Fire Station now headquarters for Tweed Valley Mountain Rescue, and then the slightly curving slope up towards the rambling old house where her friends lived, squabbled, loved and welcomed people like herself, and for the first time in who knew how many years, decades, she said a brief, silent prayer, to the God of Abraham, if he was listening!
The others spread themselves about the surprisingly half-empty car park, while Maude headed for the entrance, only to be told by one of the staff, positioned just inside the doors, to wait until another customer comes out, and although slightly surprised by this, Maude did as she was bid, assuming that there may have been an accident inside, or perhaps one of the elderly customers—thinking not of one like herself, but rather someone like old Mrs Mauleverer, whom she usually referred to as an Auld Biddy, though Millicent Mauleverer was actually a year younger than Maude—had been taken unwell, but then Mrs Mauleverer, in the flesh—or skin and bones, for she was always skeletal, even as a schoolgirl—came out, wearing a surgical mask and wheezing and pushing her shopping trolley and Maude bit her tongue for thinking such unkind thoughts about someone who had never done her any harm, well, not deliberately, at any rate, and then the Co-op staff member was waving her in; first she went to the newspaper section and selected one of her eclectic mixes: The Guardian, Farmers Weekly, Daily Record, Scotsman and Morning Star, which was when three things caught her eye: today's date, on all the papers so it couldn't be a misprint, or a fictitious April Fool joke, the kind The Grauniad does in Spades, is Friday 12th June 2020, near enough five months since she and Oyzell had been whisked off to Glen Glum, less than a week ago; a photograph of the Wendelstein X7 Tokamak Fusion Reactor, which reminded her of the interior of the TARDIS accompanying an article about today being Russia Day; and a piece about something called Covid19, which she soon found was the name for a Global Pandemic which had put Britain into what was referred to as Lockdown, after wreaking havoc in continental Europe! her heart did a Niagara, she could feel her blood-pressure dropping like a stone, coming out through her boots, she swayed, held onto a shelf, her mind racing: would Daphne, May, Cristo, be okay? what about Teri? she almost spoke out loud, Jesus! thousands, tens of thousands, over forty thousand dead in the UK! and in Italy, she scanned the pages, while others fluttered to the floor, Spain, France, the USA, the entire Northern Hemisphere, and a patchwork South of the Equator, she discovered an image floating into her mind, an image of May, sitting dead in the kitchen while the three-legged Barnstaple Oven that was her pride and joy boiled dry and burned on top of the old range, smoke belching out from the vent in the lid, and she slowly sank to the floor, knowing she was being hysterical, neurotic, they were probably all fine in this Lockdown, or Quarantine, but the tears ran down her cheeks and it was Laura, the friendly Check-out girl from Gala who spotted her and called for the Manager, and that was when young May and Cristo, wondering what was keeping Maude, just happened to glance in through the automatic door as it slid open to allow a customer to leave and they saw Maude, sprawled among a drift of newspapers, and—knowing nothing of Social Distancing—rushed in and reached her as a woman, wearing a doctor's mask and with a clear plastic visor over her face, was trying to resuscitate Maude while a man, similarly kitted out, seemed to be calling for an ambulance!
The little group became strung-out as they meandered past the Corn Exchange and the Ormiston Institute, Burt's Hotel, walked out of The Square and, passing Martin Baird's butcher's shop, strolled down the High Street, occasionally one or two crossing the road to look in a shop window on the other side, or at the menu outside a hotel bar, Oyzell pointing out this or that, Maude making a mental list for the Co-op, Bernie nosing into the alleys or wynds as they passed, but there weren't many other people about and a number of the shops were shut already, and they all seemed to luxuriate in having escaped from the Nazified town, as if having shed something physical, an outer skin, leaving them feeling esquamulose, smooth and soft to the touch, so when Cammy laughed out loud at the photos of Ladies' Styles outside Hetties of Melrose, Hairdressing Salon, seeming to imply that the provincialism of the name and presentation was somehow below the standard he, a city boy from Glasgow, would accept and acknowledge, it wasn't just Maude and Oyzell—long-time patrons of Hettie's—who bridled, May and Cristo were quick to accuse him of vilipending their Home-Town and even his brother Dudd and Bernie, too, advised him to be less brash: "there's Glesca fowk wud cry ye a Keelie, cummin fae the Gallagate," Dudd reminded him, "dinna be sic a scunner, when yer a visitor tae sumdy else's patch," which Cammy accepted without demur, and apologised, with a nipe of his head, for his rudeness and they moved on down the hill.
After Maude, Oyzell, Bernie and the Lochs had told May their story and explained that they were from a parallel Melrose—or Universe, who knows?—Oyzell said: "really, this place gives me the creeps, it's not the Melrose I know and love, I can't stay in a world where the Nazis won the war, that's a Rubicon I won't cross, I'm going to have to go back up the Hills and try to find the way home," and May exclaimed: "can I come too?" which gave Maude a fillip, remembering how determined her cousin had been all her life—still is, back home in their Real World—but she asked: "what about your Ma and Pa, honey, we live in 2020, our parents are long gone, the May who still lives in this house, with Cristo, sometimes Daphne and I, when we can get away from Edinburgh, we're all really old now—not that I am inside my own head, but we are, truly—and there's your Cristo, Maude and Daphne, could you really leave them all?" and May stood up, fists clenched at her sides: "from what you say, about parallel worlds, I believe you, there may be hundreds, millions, with some things the same and others different, are they all equally real? or just phlizz, if you're not there to experience them? let me come, and maybe some-time, I could come back and fetch the rest of the family, if that's possible, is it?" which put Maude in a quandary, a real quadrivial quandary, but it was Oyzell who decided it: "for sure, May, for sure, if the boys are okay about it, we should head straight up to the Cavern while the Collaborators and Quislings are busy with AKA and his cronies, dontcha agree already, Maudie?" and Maude did, so, leaving a brief note for her parents and Cristo, and taking nothing of her own, May quickly locked the house, pocketing the key, and they set off, taking a more direct route to save time, while in the distance they caught the strains of a troubadour's guitar and his voice as he sang a rather rude song about Hitler having only one something or other, in the wind it was difficult to be sure what, and there was another surprise ahead, for as they neared the shoulder between the North and Middle Hills, May caught sight of Cristo, knapsack swinging, as she strode down towards them, and the younger girl ran up to her cousin, pouring out the story in a torrent which had Cristo looking confused, excited, distraught, perplexed, resolute, and triumphant as she embraced Maude, staring hard into her eyes before saying: "yepp, same glint, you're Maude alright, put on a bit of weight, but it suits you, so where's this portal the kid's yapping about?" and between them, Maude, Oyzell and the boys retraced their steps until they were certain, then Oyzell took off her beret and threw it ahead, and it vanished, so, holding hands, in case any one of them take a misstep and end up alone somewhere else in the Universes, they filed through and found themselves standing on the same hillside, just a few yards further on, gazing down at the old Dingleton Hospital site, now a modern housing development, and a Borders Buses vehicle coming up Dingleton Hill, and when Maude checked her watch she said: "we're home, Oyzell, give or take a day or so, look," and she pointed out the white cliffs at the top of the Langlee Estate in Galashiels, cars on the Bypass below them where in the Melrose they had just come from the railway still ran between Edinburgh and Carlisle, Oyzell hugged her, tears streaming down her face, and the two girls from another Dimension stood, obviously nervous now, but also itching to rush down and rediscover the only house they had ever lived in, and that was when Bernie, in a sombre voice, said: "okay, Ladies and Gents, Boys and Girls, let's act responsibly here, we don't want to draw attention to ourselves, so. . . . .last one down's a sissy!" and he was off, like a goat, leaping from tussock to tussock, not far behind were Dudd and Cammy, with May and Cristo who knew every sheep-track and rabbit hole, soon passing them as in turn the boys tripped and fell, rolling and laughing, and holding hands for safety, stepping quickly but carefully, Oyzell and Maude brought down the rear until they all stood on the pavement, just above the old railway bridge which now carried a stream of cars, vans, lorries and tractors going in both directions and Maude explained to Bernie and the other two that they would turn left at the Square and go down the High Street, she and Oyzell wanted to pop into the Co-op for a couple of bottles—of what, she didn't specify—and a paper, to check the date, and then it would only take five or so minutes for them all to walk up to where the Old School House stands in the fork of High Cross Avenue and Waverley Road: "and May and Cristo can meet themselves," she said, laughing uncertainly, but the two girls gave the older ladies a hug each and lead the way down to the Square, while Oyzell pointed out things which they would see had changed since the war.
After Maude, Oyzell, Bernie and the Lochs had told May their story and explained that they were from a parallel Melrose—or Universe, who knows?—Oyzell said: "really, this place gives me the creeps, it's not the Melrose I know and love, I can't stay in a world where the Nazis won the war, that's a Rubicon I won't cross, I'm going to have to go back up the Hills and try to find the way home," and May exclaimed: "can I come too?" which gave Maude a fillip, remembering how determined her cousin had been all her life—still is, back home in their Real World—but she asked: "what about your Ma and Pa, honey, we live in 2020, our parents are long gone, the May who still lives in this house, with Cristo, sometimes Daphne and I, when we can get away from Edinburgh, we're all really old now—not that I am inside my own head, but we are, truly—and there's your Cristo, Maude and Daphne, could you really leave them all?" and May stood up, fists clenched at her sides: "from what you say, about parallel worlds, I believe you, there may be hundreds, millions, with some things the same and others different, are they all equally real? or just phlizz, if you're not there to experience them? let me come, and maybe some-time, I could come back and fetch the rest of the family, if that's possible, is it?" which put Maude in a quandary, a real quadrivial quandary, but it was Oyzell who decided it: "for sure, May, for sure, if the boys are okay about it, we should head straight up to the Cavern while the Collaborators and Quislings are busy with AKA and his cronies, dontcha agree already, Maudie?" and Maude did, so, leaving a brief note for her parents and Cristo, and taking nothing of her own, May quickly locked the house, pocketing the key, and they set off, taking a more direct route to save time, while in the distance they caught the strains of a troubadour's guitar and his voice as he sang a rather rude song about Hitler having only one something or other, in the wind it was difficult to be sure what, and there was another surprise ahead, for as they neared the shoulder between the North and Middle Hills, May caught sight of Cristo, knapsack swinging, as she strode down towards them, and the younger girl ran up to her cousin, pouring out the story in a torrent which had Cristo looking confused, excited, distraught, perplexed, resolute, and triumphant as she embraced Maude, staring hard into her eyes before saying: "yepp, same glint, you're Maude alright, put on a bit of weight, but it suits you, so where's this portal the kid's yapping about?" and between them, Maude, Oyzell and the boys retraced their steps until they were certain, then Oyzell took off her beret and threw it ahead, and it vanished, so, holding hands, in case any one of them take a misstep and end up alone somewhere else in the Universes, they filed through and found themselves standing on the same hillside, just a few yards further on, gazing down at the old Dingleton Hospital site, now a modern housing development, and a Borders Buses vehicle coming up Dingleton Hill, and when Maude checked her watch she said: "we're home, Oyzell, give or take a day or so,
And that was when Bernie and the Loch Brothers appeared, apparently they'd been watching everything from the shelter of the old Parish Church across the avenue and wanted to know the details they couldn't pick up from their hide, so Maude/Arabella introduced them as friends from Glasgow down for some hill-walking, and May—who in her radiant lissome youthfulness seemed to brighten the drab winter day—suggested they all go into the house for tea and scones after the excitement, about which Duddingston said: "when those vans came roaring up the street, it was like the Klondike Gold Rush, so it was," and Campbeltown suggested: "well, if they get a pat on the head and a bone, they'll probably roll on their backs and let their Master tickle their bellies, guys like that, less interested in gold than praise from on high," and Bernie said: "strange number—ennead—you guys know of any other police who would send out a squad of nine for an operation like that?" and as Dudd and Cammy shook their heads, he explained to May that most police forces have protocols for sending men into an unknown situation, "after all, there were four guys, possibly armed, pistols, automatic weapons, bombs even, and the minimum in a full frontal attack would be three for each suspect, which is twelve," and May rolled her eyes, which Bernie noticed, "sorry, I didn't think you couldn't do the math, but I did want to explain the chain of command—two men go for the target, a pincer move, one each side, while the third is ready to shoot to wound or to kill if the target tries anything offensive or defensive; ideally, there should be a fourth member of each team coming in from the back of the premises, so you're up to sixteen, plus a radio operator, and the Commander, and they had two vans and the Commander's car, three drivers—except the drivers were three of their nine—so for an operation like that, twenty-one, and they're SS? yes?" at which May looked embarrassed, "they're all local lads, I was just a kid when the war ended, but my parents told me the country went down like a house of cards, once Churchill was dead and the Royal Family surrendered, of course there were Germans here, probably nothing like you would all see in the cities, it's pretty quiet here in the Borders, but after a year most of the ordinary soldiers were sent somewhere else and were replaced by local boys like them, there's only a dozen or fifteen—separate from the civilian Police Constabulary—they live in barracks, get decent pay, all their food and shelter, it's only the NCOs and Officers who're German and if everything stays peaceful, they'll probably go as well, they held an election for the Mayor and next there's to be a Council elected, my Pa says they're a pack of sunshiners, you know, little beetles in their black, brown, green, grey uniforms, scurrying about and afraid to say anything in case they say the wrong thing, and most people here are happy enough, well, the Duke of Buccleuch and the other aristos were all pro-German before the war and once that Mosley chap was released from prison and appointed Prime Minister they told everyone to get back to work and get the country into shape, there will be peace in Europe for a thousand years, unless the Russkies start something, but nobody believes they will after the drubbing the Germans gave them, and Americans are happy it's all over," and Arabella asked: "but you aren't, May, are you?" and there was a hush in the room before the girl shook her head.
Which was when they heard the sirens and roar of vehicles coming up from the direction of the Police Station, opposite the Greenyards; May clapped a hand to her mouth and ran out to see what was happening, then called Arabella and Oyzell to join her at the side of the house, from where they could see a squad of beefy prop-forwards in paramilitary uniforms charge into the Church Hall, yelling at the top of their voices: "Police! Police! GET DOWN! GET DOWN!" which echoed around inside the building where Maude and Oyzell were regular Domino players, until the shouts of "Clear! Clear!" spilled out of the open doors, followed by: "Four Suspects, Male, one Impersonator!" and a shrill voice screamed: "you yarra-banker! who are you? what's your name? what's your game?" followed by different voices, competing to be heard, someone making a speech but trailing off, and thumps like a sack of potatoes being kicked, hard! then a croaking: "you can see I am Reichsmarschall Herrman Goering, you scrawny dummkopf!" followed by another kick and a hoarse groan, and: "take them to the Station, and inform HQ that we have rounded up a nest of them!" and four men—who Maude and Oyzell could recognise as MacFarlane, Doubleday, Elginbrod and Goering AKA MacDonald—were dragged out, none too gently, by the burly officers, still punching them and shouting obscenities: "fuckin arseholes," and "we oughta deep-six ye in the polynya," which produced a roar from Goering: "we're fifty miles from the sea, schweinhund!" earning him a truncheon to his face and, from the man who had struck him, hissing: "never been tae Cauldshiels, eh? it's bottomless, an last time ah wis fishin there, ma hook got untied aff the line, whittevva's doon there could tak ye tae bit's wi it's fingas!" and the four uniforms laughed, as they pitched the men into the back of a low-loader and two, now carrying automatic weapons, climbed in behind them; several senior officers had already left in a van with another group of heavies, but one of the policemen who had loaded the prisoners saw Amy and the two elderly women standing watching from the gate and sauntered over: "hi May," he said, doffing his cap to the others, "hello, Angus," she replied, a little frostily, but he seemed not to notice, and she continued, "what was all that about?" at which he glanced up and down the Avenue, as if to check no senior officer was watching, or listening, then explained: "we got a tip-off, sumdy alang here telt us some fat geezer lookin awfy like Reichsmarschall Goering wis bein held prisoner in the Ha' by three richt dodgy scumbags, an we kent it wisnae the Big Cheese hissel, cos the Super saw him aff on the train tae Embra jist a noor ago, so when we rolls up, there the fower o them wis, plyin cairds an drinkin guid malt, in the Church Ha', no richt, thon!" and although the truck had now been turned and was revving to show the driver was getting impatient, Angus waved an easy signal, then said: "ses he's some kind of histrion, the fatso, ye ken, a Ac-tor," he winked, "tried recitin a gest, but couldna mind the words, so the Super poked him in the gut wi his swagger-stick and telt us tae shut them aw up, whit a racket! then he claims he really is Goering, wud ye bleevit? probly some kind o plot," he turned to the elderly ladies: "pologies fer disturbin yeez, Misses, snevva usually ony trouble here, no in High Cross, Miss Somerville'll tell ye that, best be aff afore oor boss's askin ony questions, see yeez, see ye May," he turned and jogged back to the truck, climbed into the cab and waved as it drove back down towards the Police Station, and as May turned toward them, her face crimson, Maude—or Arabella—asked her: "who was that?" and May replied, "Angus Boland, my pal Bessie's big brother, he's a complete Nazi like his father, full of swagger and pose," and she broke off, as if unsure whether it was safe for her to talk like that to the two visitors.
So May left—as she thought, but we know different—her Aunt Arabella and her Russian friend Oyzell sitting in the snug while she went to clean up and change out of her gardening clothes, which gave Maude and Oyzell a chance to discuss the situation: "it seems that the Nazis won the war, God what a horror!" said Maude with a shudder, and Oyzell asked: "does that reference to Reichsmarschall mean Goering is in charge of Britain?" but Maude couldn't say: "either way, if that AKA fellow who was tagging along with MacFarlane and his pals turns up here, that would put the cat among the pigeons," and Oyzell nodded: "two Goerings! that would be unacceptable, presumably one would be regarded as a usurper, or a plant,"which might be good if it starts an internal war, some kind of seppuku which would give the Resistance—surely there has to be a Resistance?—an opportunity, to divide and rule or at any rate encourage the people to rise up," but Maude wasn't convinced: "we like to think that the British would, as Churchill put it, fight on the landing grounds, on the beaches, in the hills, but if in this Universe, the Germans won the war, that can't have been enough, presumably they control all of Europe, have a look for a newspaper that might tell us something, we can't very well ask May, there'd be too much explaining," and they each began to look around the room, Maude in the magazine holder that stood on the floor beside the large radiogram, while Oyzell checked the drawers in the sideboard, which is where she found a copy of the Border Telegraph for the week before and flicking through it she said: "a lot of rubbish about keeping a lookout for unusual men behaving badly, and informing the Mayor, someone called Roland Boland, ever heard of him?" and May laughed, actually I do, I think his daughter was in my year at High School, he was something of a local Percy Edwards, used to give renditions of bird calls, whenever there was a show, alongside the singers and dancers and jugglers and comedians, there'd always be Roland Boland doing the Robin, Blackbird and Heron, it was ever the same, he never added any new ones, or branched into animals, just birds—oh lots of them—but once you've heard his routine three or four times, that's enough! so he's the Mayor, then, is he?" and Oyzell nodded, and something else, it says here that there is a newly opened Dataveillance Unit in the Corn Exchange, who are charged with rooting out Enemies of the State in Whatever Form they Come!"
The Old School House, Maude's childhood home, seemed bathed in a sidereal light when she saw it through the open gateway and in the garden she spotted a younger version of May, with her perfect posture, weeding among the rose bushes, but at this time of year the plants were skeletal, the origami-like blooms still months away, and Maude's stomach lurched as though ghrelin peptides were telling her that she hadn't eaten for hours—years even, as if the six and a half since they had left Antarctica just an hour or so ago were real—and she walked between the stone gateposts and approached her cousin, who glanced up from under the brim of the hat she still wore, in the real world 70 years later; Maude tried to remember what May would have been doing in 1950 and realised that she would still be a schoolgirl, with eight months or thereabouts till she could begin her medical studies at Edinburgh University; May's face had a puzzled look, perhaps she saw in Maude an imperfect image of her young cousin, aged and frail: "Aunt Arabella," she said, with a smile brightening her face, "what brings you here, did you write? oh the post is terrible, isn't it? unless Cristo took your letter to her room, she does that, you know and usually forgets to tell me anything—Maude's gone back to Edinburgh, is she alright? there hasn't been an accident or anything, has there?" but Maude shook her head, quite speechless at being mistaken for her own mother, although, on reflection she realised that she probably looked as Arabella had, 70 years ago—after all, at that time she had thought that everyone of her parents' generation looked ancient and once over forty they all looked much the same to teenagers, whether they were parents or grandparents, so she decided to play along: "no, May, everyone is well, I just decided to come down on a whim," and motioning to Oyzell to join them, she said: "this is my dear friend, and cousin, Madame Oyzell Alexeievna Romanova, from California, she's one of the Haight-Ashbury Romanovs, you remember, the ones who got out of Russia just before the Revolution, I promised to bring her to Melrose and we had a free day so just decided on a whim to come down today," and she could feel Oyzell's eyes boring into her, but May smiled brightly at the darkly foreign looking woman: "hello, Madame, I'm sorry, I can't shake hands, I'm filthy," and getting up, to Maude, "come on through, Aunt Arabella, and you too, Madame Oyzell, we'll go round to the kitchen and I can get washed and give you a cup of tea, there's no-one else in, Pa's operating at Peel today and Ma's helping out at the Cottage Hospital in Newstead, Daphne's gone up to join Maude—they're planning a trip in the Spring to Egypt, a new Dig in the Valley of the Kings, has she told you about it? the Reichsmarschall's Office has approved the funding and the travel—and Cristo is up on the North Hill, she's managed to get hold of a metal detector, actually it's an army surplus bomb detector, and she's going over the old Hill Fort, where the Roman Signal Station was too, she's terribly keen!" but after hearing the word Reichsmarschall, the rest of May's words washed over Maude, who felt quite faint.
Agreeing that they would take the longer way to Maude's home—as they didn't want to draw attention to themselves until they knew exactly what had happened here—they split into two groups: Maude and Oyzell set off first, hoping to look like two elderly ladies out for an afternoon stroll, although Bernie was concerned that clothed as they were—in Royal Navy undress uniform, complete with Antarctic boots and duffel coats—their appearance might result in questions, but Maude waved that aside, while Oyzell explained that eccentricity was almost de rigueur at their age and that it was the Boys who needs must be more circumspect in how they disported themselves, said "sayonara, or au revoir, or TRRN," and they set off; before the first two had crossed Dingleton Road, Bernie, Dudd and Cammy, engaged in a detailed—and necessarily heated—discussion on the relative merits of Association Football and Rugby Union, ambled along in the same general direction, followed the ladies at a considerable distance down Chiefswood Road, passing under the railway line and turning right at the beginning of High Cross Avenue; meanwhile, Maude and Oyzell had agreed between themselves that if things came to the worst, they would have no compunction about drawing attention to themselves and thus giving their young friends an opportunity to escape: "you must remember, dear Maude, this is like history repeating itself for me, after 75 years," she said with considerable vehemence, "and they are the generation who must ensure that such horrors never can be repeated, in our own world, if this one has already succumbed!" and Maude reminded her that they were actually of almost the same generation, "we were probably ages with them in '47," and that produced a much more distracting conversation about who might have done what with which to whom if they had all met up back then, and they were both giggling mischievously when they passed Holy Trinity, each scanning the church for any clues, but so far as they could see it looked much the same as it had on the day they had walked out of town on the Pilgrimage to Lindisfarne, "which was only about five days ago," said Oyzell and Maude pointed to the Services Board, "give or take seventy years," and Oyzell saw that this was the week beginning Sunday 8th January 1950!
"What do you know of parallel worlds, or Universes—or lives?" Maude asked Bernie, trying to keep the tone of fear from her voice and he looked levelly at her: "I didn't only study Law, you know, I have read much of other religions than my own, Western and Eastern Philosophy, and my sensei at Uni encouraged me to discover what I could in the Sciences, and knowing exactly how the war ended, just a couple of years ago in my Time, our Time," indicating the two brothers, "the only explanation for that," waving towards the town sitting in the valley below, "is a parallel world, or history, some alternative to what we should see, and your reaction, Maude, and yours Madame Oyzell, they tell me much and the only question is—do we turn back and hope to re-enter the Worm-Hole, and perhaps find the destination you were expecting, or do we go down the hill and discover that this is indeed where MacFarlane and his friends have come?" at which Maude and Oyzell exchanged anxious glances and Maude was acutely aware of the implications for her friend if they made the wrong direction, but Oyzell gave a decisive nod, and said: "we may be crossing the Rubicon, if we go down, but I am already an old woman, and I have had the good fortune to live far longer than anyone in my family, but you are a young boy, Bernie, with a good life stretching ahead of you, so there is no need for you, nor for Duddingston and Campbeltown, to accompany us, if to do so puts your lives in danger," but it was the two Lochs who chuckled, and Cammy who said: "daen a bit o the auld reverse psychology there, wis it Missus? we micht be young enough tae be yer bairns or gran'bairns, but yer no goanie send us back tae freeze wur baws aff at the Sooth Pole an ne'er ken whit's been gaun oan here, so yer no!" and Maude looked at the other two for confirmation and when Bernie and Dudd both nodded, she shook hands with them all as did Oyzell, and said: "at least let us take the lead here, whatever has happened, or is still happening, in the Country, this is our Home Turf, we both know our way about the town and the local countryside and we can drift in and around corners, down lanes, like eolian leaves carried hither and thither on the breeze, almost invisibly so, but our first call must be to the Old School-House, carefully and discreetly, to find out if my cousins are there—who knows, perhaps the local Gauleiter has claimed it! but family ties are strong, and no hypothetical alkahest can dissolve the bonds between me, Daphne, May and Cristo, and I know dear Oyzell here will confirm that, no?" and Oyzell nodded firmly: "even Rabbi Burns says the four of them are like Siamese Quadruplets, inseparable!"
"Can you see it?" whispered Maude, "what?" asked Bernie, "the bokeh," she replied, "just beyond the two Naval Policemen, it's like an area of soft-focus," and he nodded, "oh, yes, what about it?" and she nudged him, "it's the portal they must have used, MacFarlane and his buddies, it looks odd because some of the snow is drifting in and out of it, but those two haven't noticed, they're too busy with the footprints," and Bernie inched closer to her, "do you think we could all get through it?" and she looked around, "we'd need some kind of distraction, there's five of us, even that pair would notice if we all walked past them!" at which Bernie grinned, and had a word with the two brothers, who then peeled away from the group, and Bernie whispered: "I'm going to put my hand on your shoulder, you do the same with Madame Oyzell, tell her, she feels the slightest stiction, move straight for it, you follow her, I'll be behind you and the Lochs will come after me, but no mad dash, move smooth and light—we can't do it oxishly either, we've only got one chance—ah!" they both heard the sound of a window being smashed, then a shout: "there they go!" and the two Naval Police Officers heard it too, came running past the group of onlookers and disappeared round the corner of another hut, which was when Maude felt the slight pressure on her shoulder, passed it on to Oyzell, who set off, with that ballet-dancer's grace she still carried, Maude close behind, didn't look back, she kept her eyes on Oyzell until she disappeared right in front and Maude took the next step, felt something like a spider's web brush across her face and was stumbling into blazing sunlight, dazzled by the view, gasped as she recognized it and turned to Bernie, Dudd and Cammy, who popped out of nowhere just beside her, "where are we?" asked Bernie, and with a distinct pride in her voice, Maude said: "that's Melrose down there, we're on the Eildon Hills, and I live just there," pointing towards the house which she and Daphne shared with May and Cristo, and even though he couldn't identify it from that distance, Bernie clapped her on the shoulder and said: "simili-hometown, parallel," and that made Maude look again, and see what Bernie had seen, and at that same moment Oyzell cried: "oh fuck, no!"
The men seemed to have vanished into the night: there were their footprints, a melee outside the hut door, then a shuffling line to the left, close to the exterior of the wall, suddenly veering off at an oblique angle, but after just three or four steps, the prints clear under the floodlights, nothing, virgin snow! and that was what Lieutenant Nigel Oxford, the Lieutenant at Arms and Warrant Officer Graham Cambridge, Master at Arms, together being responsible for security and the orderly running of the Base, examined while most of the crew - and the five authorised visitors - watched from outside the cordon: "what's your name?" asked Cambridge, "Phineas MacPhee," said the man addressed and he watched as the Master at Arms wrote Finneas McFee, then objected: "na, na, mon, it's a P an a h baith times, an a a atween the M an c," and waited patiently while the Englishman laboriously corrected his original spelling, and then re-corrected it, saying: "and what's your name?" to the other witness and resident in the hut, "Freddie McFadden," he replied, twa Fs, watched closely as Cambridge wrote Ffreddy MacPhadden, and pointed out the heterography, going so far as to spell out his Christian name and then his surname so that they would be written correctly in whatever report the cops produced, before asking: "div ye think ye'll manage tae nick thum agen - an keep thum nicked?" which brought a scowl in reply, and he was pleased that the Warrant Officer was so easy to assail and needle with such innocuous sounding barbs.
In the few seconds when time seemed to stand still—and let's not get into a discussion about the Nature of Time—and the clock ticked once, McFadden and MacPhee gazed at the four arrivals: the bulky one, the Edinburgh lawyer, had the look of a second-hand car dealer, the kind who could homologate knowingly on what lies under the bonnet of a motor, a mistress, a mansion, yet has no idea of the price of fish; the Highland Laird was one they knew only too well, empirically, from the physical evidence as well as the folk tales, reminiscences of their grannies, and laments on the Clearances and they both had family strewn around the Eastern Provinces of Canada and the East Coast States of America; the Laird's man had one of those lumpy muscose faces, like a muckle boulder struck by lightning and sheared from the mountain, that rolls and bounces down through scree and storm burn, moss and bracken, to embed itself deep in the glen, forcing the running water to detour around it while it acquires a beard and burnishing from the sun; and the German! with his expertise in pyroballogy, his reputation as an air-ace, his loyalty to his Fuhrer! him, they would each gladly impale on their bayonets, if they had bayonets; the clock on their mantelpiece ticked a second, or was it a third time? and like something out of a Marx Brothers comedy, the four pushed and squeezed and fought their way back out of the door, turned left and were gone, McFadden grabbed his Lee-Enfield, MacPhee seized the Very Pistol and they both hurried out, McFadden covering the direction the bastards had taken, while MacPhee raised the pistol and pulled the trigger, the bursting flare in the sky illuminating the whole Camp and causing the Night Watch to switch on the searchlights and the Klaxon!
In their own hut, in the section for ratings, Freddie McFadden and Phineas MacPhee were passing the longueurs of the Antarctic night, neither in watching the Southern Lights, playing billiards nor engaging in philosophical debate, the preserves of Angrez aesthetes and heteroclites—as they tended to consider English Officers, which also included Lowland Officers, all of them unco strange articles—but in the much more manly pursuits of draughts, darts or dominoes, the traditional pastimes found in Highland public houses or mountain bothies and score-sheets littered the table, the floor and bed, and in drinking single malt whisky, which may not have sharpened up their intellects but did wonders against the all-pervasive chill; but they did hear the door open and both looked round in surprise, to see four familiar figures enter, although so engrossed in their own conversation were the visitors that they did not immediately realise where they were: "fer fuck sake!" said McFadden and, "them again!" said MacPhee, which did cause four pairs of eyes to swing up and towards them, and the leader to rub his eyes so fiercely that it looked for a moment as if he might gouge them out, then he stopped, stared at them and snapped: "fer fuck sake, them twa, we've ta'en the wrang turnin, again!"
Quadrivial Quandary (QQ) is owned and operated by Rudi Seitz.
Sentences submitted to QQ are the property of their authors. See our page on Copyright Information for details.
Dictionary definitions are the property of their respective sources, presented here via public RSS feeds or otherwise with permission.
All other material is copyright 2015 by Rudi Seitz, all rights reserved.
Use of this site is governed by our terms of service.
Contact: rudi at quadrivialquandary dot com.