While the rising sun burned off the last of the early morning mist promising a scorching day ahead, our gang of kids set about an audit of themselves and their belongings. Their 1965 possessors had left behind no obvious injuries, some jumbled kit bags, and a handful of secretish messages. Pete headed out for a long, long run to digest his experiences. Robbie read her message, exclaimed “that little shit!” and headed out after asking her mates to cover for her. Terry the twitcher had left a note which got Kin worried about wildlife depletion, but he lacked the knowledge to look into it any further. Fortunately Ash did and took on the task of doing a nature survey in the area. Susan’s note apologised to Tank for messing up his relationship with Nellie. Tommy got a few words about an American link to PGL, and a lot of words about keeping in better shape from Tim, who they deduced was not going to be best pleased about waking up in 1965 with a diabetic crisis. Andy got exasperated by a set of terse sentences from Maggie which didn’t tell him much new except that she’d covered an awful lot of ground in her two days.
The remaining four kids nervously joined the rest of their PGL teams over breakfast to try and glean some idea of what had been going on. Mostly them, it turned out; acting all weird, not knowing stuff and generally being dumb. In addition Tank had done something to break up with Nellie and make her cry, Robbie had managed to get into trouble in Drayton village. The adult leaders of Green and Gold teams had been swopped around to deal with ‘girl problems’. Also Andy had to charm away a threatened mutiny in Gold team where Des and Gary felt that they’d been much better team leaders these last few days. The fractious teams headed out to Thursday’s activities where many of them were strapped into harnesses and helmets for various clambering and high ropes pursuits. Tommy discovered an unexpected flair for fencing foil and ended up as Blue team champion.
The entire day was cloudless and scorching hot with all the grass meadows turned brown. Adults made sure each kid took frequent water breaks and rested in the shade. Even the swimming holes at the brook were shallow and slow flowing. After a very late evening meal the camp wasn’t up to much and all of the kids ended up splashing around in the stream or resting under the willows, except for Robbie who had a formal interview with the police. She said as little as possible but her prospects for avoiding Nazareth House Children’s Home in Mrs F’s absence were looking poor. The rest of her gang tried to act as normal as possible while avoiding their bedtime drink of hot chocolate which they suspected was drugged. Kin reminded everyone of their “Objectives and Maintenance of the Aim” – finding Mrs F. They agreed that their best target was the derelict mill upstream in the woodlands.
Early the following day, long before the rest of camp stirred, the gang crept out to investigate mill. Following Ginge Brook upstream they eventually came to the diminished woodlands and the ruins of an old water mill hidden within it. Armed with a toolbox, crowbar, clips and ropes borrowed from the PGL workshop they surveyed the collapsing wooden building. It looked even more derelict and dangerous than they remembered. The ivy had pulled the roof in, the chimney had fallen, and the waterwheel was off its axis and stuck at a slant in its channel. Nonetheless they clambered through the debris and inevitably Tommy disappeared under a collapsing pile of timber. They dug him out, dusted him off and set him outside to ‘act as lookout’. Kin was particularly keen to get back into the water channel to investigate the thing he’d glimpsed under the wheel in 1965. With the water level so much lower in 1985 they found it much easier to get under and dig around in the mud. Tank found something under the old wheel, slightly metallic with parts rotating slowly in the stream. It also had the slippery field and ozone smell they’d encountered before near the junkyard.
They decided to call in their geek and reinforced a safe path into the mill before sending Andy off to escort him in. Now when Andy went out the other side of the mill he found Tommy admiring the same view, more or less, across the open meadow to the army depot that he’d seen in 1965. Trouble was, it wasn’t the same view that Andy remembered at all. When the Bluebell patrol had penetrated the security fence in 1965 they’d come in through the north fence and seen something else entirely. The others came out of the mill to compare. Kin and Tommy (as Terry and Tim in 1965) had looked out from both the mill on the west edge, and Froghole gate on the east edge, to see the half kilometre square hay meadow. Andy and Tank (as Maggie and Susan in 1965) had hacked through the security fence and conifer plantation to see the depot almost in front of them but a kilometre stretch of ditch between the military fences on either side. There was no visible distortion of any kind but a large fold in space/time appeared to exist in the meadow and both Tommy and Kin deduced that it was powered by whatever weird widget was turning in the mill stream.
Much speculation ensued, mostly based on popular Sci-fi stories they’d seen or read. Tommy was more than keen to conduct a thoroughly scientific survey of the meadow out in full sight of the army ordnance patrols. He was eventually persuaded that this was a Bad Idea and was distracted enough to inspect the weird fractal turbine inside the mill instead. Kin and Tommy described the path that they’d seen a ghostly Mrs F follow in 1965. Andy decided to go and look through the collapsed window she’d gone through and got the same view of the meadow. The dawn chorus started up; dawn light crept across the meadow seamlessly. They turned their attention to the widget in the water which Kin wouldn’t let anyone take out of the water yet. They compared it to other fractal alien tech they’d seen that were somehow more organic and unsettling than this item which appeared to be more machine-like in nature. They speculate that Mrs F is somehow inside the pocket universe and they need to rescue her first, cos if they fish the widget out then either the pocket pops out and everything is OK, or it shuts off the pocket which disappears forever. Tank strongly requests option A. Tommy points out that he doesn’t know which button that is.
Andy retraced Mrs F’s path through the mill and verified this with disturbed dust within the mill. Stepping across the collapsed window there were no further tracks in the grass beyond. Kin tracked solar progress through shadows, and Tommy started a methodical survey of the distances around the mill. As dawn progressed Tank insisted that they should leave at 6am sharp in order to return to camp and replace their purloined kit before any adults stirred. However, at 05:54 hrs precisely they noticed that a fog was starting to form inside the mill. Cold air poured in from upstream and thick fog layered all across the stream and the floor. Past the collapsed window they can see nothing but white fog, no sign of the sunlit meadow that was visible moments earlier. The kids surged forward but Tommy insisted on tying a rope to a beam in the mill and trailing it behind them as they crossed the anomaly. Stepping across they found snow and ice on the ground and bare twigs and leaves on the hedgerows overgrowing a narrow footpath with footprints going down it. They hurried onwards, laying marker sticks flat in the snow.
The lane opened out, becoming better kept as it went on. Snowy fields appeared on their left as the fog thinned, while the hedge on the right became higher and was replaced, after a quarter mile, by an old brick wall beyond which was a graveyard and a medieval church. The lane reached an actual road where the snow was much more churned up; a few pedestrians were hurrying homeward and a vintage car was sliding its way down the High Street. The kids were very cold in their summer clothes. The cottages were mostly red brick and tile, with a few of old stone, timber and thatch. There was the Red Lion pub opposite the church, a post office further along and, through the trees, they could see a big brick manor house. Tommy hurried towards Milton Post Office, which was closed, but luckily down the side entrance a lady was handing out the Sunday papers to two lads about to begin their paper round. Mrs Ferris was appalled to see kids out in such unsuitable clothes and hurried them inside out of the winter snow. They purported to be orphans from a Scout camp and in the care of a Mrs Fossett. Mrs Ferris didn’t recognise the name. Titch was inclined to treat the postmistress as an annoyance, despite the fact that she had just saved him from frostbite and hypothermia. Andy shushed him very firmly and deployed considerable charm to reassure her. Nonetheless she insisted that they stayed put while she gathered some hand-me-down winter clothes from her neighbours before the kids ventured out again. Kin read the newspapers of Sunday 20th November 1955. Tank recollected that the professor owned a postcard from this village and time which mentioned a frost camp. Kin reckoned the camp location would have been the same as in 1965.
Mrs Ferris bustled back in with an armful of good thick trousers, long sleeved shirts, thick knitted pullovers, and woollen coats. Soon they were as bundled up as the paperboys. Marge Ferris wanted to know who to phone to come and collect them, but the kids assured her that they just needed to get back to the scouts’ frost camp and would be fine if she could point them on their way. Mrs Ferris fetched out a Bartholomew’s map of Berkshire from the shop and showed them the local roads. They only had to go north up the High Street and carry on for a half mile or so and the road would go right past their camp. They could not possibly miss it so long as they stayed on the road. Still worried, but assuming that boys will be boys, Mrs Ferris set them on their way and watched them hike north along the High Street and out of sight into the fog. Tommy pocketed a rock from the church wall as a memento. The kids trudged on up the road past the allotments and last cottages, on the assumption that Mrs Fossett would have noticed the signpost and gone that way too. After about a kilometre they noticed that they were re-entering Milton village from the south side.
As they came back in up the High Street, passing a Hillman Minx heading out of the village, they noticed the Morris Minor seen earlier now pulled up at the bike shop and garage. A man in coveralls came out to hand a can of oil to the driver but no money changed hands, and after a brief chat the driver continued on his way south. Halfway up the street they worry about meeting Mrs Ferris again but the church clocks indicated that time had moved on at roughly the same rate as Kin’s watch. They intentionally bump into a well-dressed gentleman with a large carpetbag hurrying across to one of the old cottages. He expressed disapproval that scruffy scouts might disturb villagers with their antics and advised them to bring their games to a close before church service started at 10 o’clock. The kids continued to look around the village but felt that Mrs Fossett would probably try for a job at the manor house if possible. Just about at that time the bellringers began to sound out a summons to prayer, and Tommy expressed a desire to burn the church down. Suppressing his urge to create yet more anomalies, the kids instead dragged Tommy closer to see if Mrs F was among those attending church. They had not been lurking in the churchyard long before they were rounded up by Rev. Dennis and herded inside. At least it was cosy and warm. Ironically, this church turned out to be dedicated to St Blaise.
Just before the clocks struck 10 there was a sudden flurry of activity as the final parishioners hurried in at the last possible minute, among these was indeed Mrs Fossett who was too busy chatting to the people around her to notice them immediately. She was still in the same sensible walking gear. They stayed polite and respectful throughout the well-attended, one-hour C of E service with traditional hymns, various readings from the approved King James Bible, and a sermon about the good Samaritan. As soon as the service came to a formal close the Kids swarmed past their supervising churchwarden to greet Mrs F on the way out. “We’re with her!” they asserted loudly. She looked surprised, pleased and appalled in quick succession, but agreed to knowing and indeed being responsible for these ragamuffins. She checked that they hadn’t been a problem and ushered them all outside, thanking the vicar on the way out.
With no reluctance at all Mrs Fossett followed the kids as they turned left and left, heading down the bridleway helpfully labelled Mill Lane. As soon as they were out of earshot of any villagers everyone exchanged stories. The kids learned that Mrs F had been in the village several days, unable to find a way out. The trouble was it was always the same day, resetting at some point overnight. She’d blended in by making herself scarce or useful, as occasion demanded. On prodding from Tank, Mrs F confessed that she’d been set to find Milton Manor by the Tucker twins, who had come across an account of its treasures at some point during their detention in Reading, the County town of Berkshire. She’d only taken a job at PGL in order to explore the area and is very relieved to hear that Robbie is no longer a hostage. After only a few minutes the group came to the overgrown end of the lane and a trail of marked sticks pointing the way home. However, none of them were particularly surprised when the markings stopped, the fog thickened, and they found themselves re-entering the village from a path to the east. The link clearly opened up only at particular times. Mrs F was very disappointed. The kids resolved to return at 5.54 am (by Kin’s watch) the following morning.
On the way back to Milton village Mrs Fossett appeared sombre and thoughtful. “What we are going to do next,” she asserted firmly, “is have a hot meal at the Red Lion. We are going to talk about nothing unusual for a while.” The kids realised that they were indeed very hungry. She led them into the village pub where, due to the winter weather, they were reluctantly permitted to eat in the lounge. Mrs F presented a chit of credit from the manor house and sat them down in a remote nook to enjoy a meal of roast pork washed down with a mug of sweet tea. Sounds of hearty drinking and many male voices came from the public bar on the other side of the entryway. The kids were bursting with questions but Mrs F made them wait until they heard the sounds of a car sliding off the road outside and into someone’s fence. The blokes in the bar cheerfully headed out to heckle and push the car back onto the road. Inside the emptied pub Mrs F confirmed that the villagers remembered nothing of the previous day. To avoid trouble she’d been making use of an empty apartment above the manor’s old stableyard each morning. “but the most important thing to remember,” she added, “is to be indoors and away from windows at 1.15pm every day. There will be some severe explosions. There will be refugees coming to the village, we can blend with the refugees and get food and drink and shelter for the rest of the day.”
This got the kids very excited. They were very keen to know more about the explosions, but all Mrs F could tell them is that there’s a bad train crash just south of the village; they won’t see any bodies but there will be injured and upset refugees. She checked the church clock again and stood between them and the window just as two big explosions were heard across the village, less than a minute apart, the second one much bigger than the first. Munitions, Kin and Tommy deduced. Bits of brick and metal shrapnel splattered down around the village. When those stopped Mrs F let them go outside again. Menfolk were heading south out of the village at a run. After several minutes some large Police Wolseleys went past, followed by a big ambulance. Mrs Fossett suggested that if they want to find out what happened they needed to make themselves useful at the church, but they’d better be OK with the sight of blood. Sure enough, by 2pm villagers were returning, helping many shocked and injured passengers from the train crash. The latter were mostly women. The rest of the village hurried to turn the church into a warm shelter for the survivors, under the supervision of the vicar and Mrs Mockler from the manor house. Warm blankets, clothes and of course hot tea were distributed. Dr Longstone set up a minor injuries unit in a side chapel.
Three of the kids opted to circulate amongst the survivors, being sympathetic and pretending to also be passengers separated from their parents. They quickly learned that the majority of passengers were all members of one branch of the Women’s Institute on a group outing to London for Christmas shopping. These ladies came from one community in south Wales called Treherbert. Careful questioning revealed that their Scouting lads go to Pontypridd, about 10 miles outside Newport. Andy suspected that this crash is what the 1965 memorial service was all about. A few of the women were still in shock and could only speak Welsh, but Tommy resolutely stayed in the small kitchen and kept the tea urn working. Kin was interested to discover that the majority of passengers believe they caught the 9.30am train, but a significant minority thought it was the 8.30. He postulated some sort of time loop causality for the crash. Mrs F dropped the hint that they needed to get their stories straight for the coming investigation. Sure enough, by mid-afternoon a trio of plain clothes inspectors turned up to take names and statements. The kids deploy fake amnesia, shock, confusion, and partially false names to evade interrogation. Since the injured and those needing a translator were of more urgent concern to the inspectors, the kids were left as a problem for another time and probably some junior policewomen.
Towards the end of the afternoon the sky darkened. Mrs Mockler gathered all officials and the more important villagers into a private meeting to discuss what to do next. There was a general consensus that no further passengers would be expected at this location that day. Inspector Keble confirmed that other passengers had been taken elsewhere and undertook to return with a full list the following day. The vicar made an announcement from the pulpit that Mrs Mockler invited all the refugees to take supper and sleep overnight at her manor house across the way. He then led a brief prayer for the safety of all involved and thanked the villagers and rescuers for their efforts. There was a slow exodus from the church across to the manor, where Mrs F firmly established herself and the kids as refugees and suggested that they take attic rooms near the servants’ stairs to avoid accidental damage to any antiques. Milton Manor was lavishly furnished and indeed stuffed to the rafters with valuable antiques of all kinds since Mrs Mockler was the last of a family which had lived there for hundreds of years. These days she only kept a couple of staff, so Milton’s W.I. set to in the kitchens to make a simple but hearty supper for all the new guests.
Mrs Fossett insisted that everyone needed to wake up early and get out of the house before they’re discovered next morning. She suggested that they all meet up in the stableyard by 7 am as a default. Tommy was keen to get out to the anomaly early, before 05:30 hrs by Kin’s watch which was running roughly two hours behind the 1955 village clocks. Those inside the manor had a subdued evening but by 8pm Dr Longstone was able to leave his patients comfortable enough to sleep. The kids tried to avoid him since he’d met them before the train crash. They explored their attic rooms and Tommy carved his name into the upper side of an old, thick rafter. Kin created kit rolls with the army blankets. The church clock donked 9 o’clock and Milton Manor settled down for an early winter night. While activities continued in the village for another hour or so, by 11 there were no more noises or lights visible.
They woke up at 05:00 hrs by Kin’s watch. It was pitch black and snowing hard outside. There was a rock in Tommy’s pocket but no name on the rafter. Mrs F appeared holding an old oil lamp and hustled them quietly downstairs and across the kitchen garden to the old stables. She showed them the stairs up to empty groomsman accommodation where there’s a small stove and she was able to hide out until the village got going every day. This time though, everybody headed out and down Mill Lane by the light of the lamp and their torches. They reached the end of the lane but there was no trail of marked sticks. They marked the area as best they could, knowing they were early, and made a campfire and shelters with the blankets. They briefed Mrs F on the PGL situation as they knew it and Robbie’s difficulties with whatever Colin had done. She pushed them to think about what they wanted to do about the people in Milton. They didn’t yet know but they debated this right up to 05:54 hrs when the portal once again failed to open.
This very worrying situation sent them into a frenzy of recalculation and brainstorming. Andy and Kin were much too cold to be coherent, but Tommy and Tank were pretty sure there was something about that exact time that was bugging them. Tommy reckoned it was tied to the elevation of the sun or some other planetary bodies and wondered at the time/date coordinates. “It must be tied to something,” Kin insisted, “where is the moon?” Alas, they couldn’t see the moon. Tommy was very scared at the idea of being trapped forever in this pocket universe but kept working the problem. He felt he was on the right track for… “Tides!” he yelped. Tank dived for his Filofax and opened it to the previously useless pages on tide tables. Low tide for Saturday 10th August 1985 was 06:29 hrs. They were almost there! Right on cue the smell of hay and the unseasonal sound of a Chiffchaff drifted out of a nearby hedge. They scrambled for it and emerged into the early morning light inside a foggy mill. The only thing that worried them slightly was that the mill stream looked completely frozen for a moment until they stepped over it.
There was a brief but very noisy celebration. “There you are, Mrs Fossett, nothing to worry about!” Tommy exclaimed with evident relief. They then realise they’d been missing an entire day and may need an alibi. “That’s what I do, dears,” Mrs Fossett reassured them. Andy reasoned that with Robbie in trouble they might have been expected to go fetch Mrs F from her Bournemouth holiday. So that’s where they’d all been, they agree. They buried their 1950s paraphernalia a little way off. They walked over to Drayton village and caught a bus for two stops down so that they could be seen getting off and walking back into PGL with Mrs F. The camp was in uproar, but everything geared up another notch when they caught sight of their missing charges. There were many reunions but none with quite the understated intensity of that between Mrs Fossett and a relieved Robbie. As most of their worried parents were already present, PGL staff agreed that it would be perfectly fine if the kids in the senior tents went home a day early. Mr Lawrence privately resolved to take further thought on how teenagers should be managed at activity camps in future.
Episode 1: Life on Mars Bars
Episode 2: Twix a Rock and a Hard Place
Episode 3: SCreme Egg Scramble
Episode 4: Time for a Picnic
Episode 5: Marathon Man
Episode 6: Careless Wispas
Episode 7: Bar Noir
Episode 8: It Takes Allsorts
Episode 9: Jolly Tots and Candy Bots
Episode 10: Double Deckers and the Trusty Tube
Episode 11: Bounty Hunters
Episode 12: A Ripple in Time, Part 1
Episode 13: A Ripple in Time, Part 2