“Mac love, you ok?” There was Sal, laid in bed beside him, as pregnant as ever and tapping him gently but firmly on the shoulder as he came to his senses. With a massage from his fingers he cleared the sleep from both eyes, rubbing at them a little longer than need be to buy some time. Sal asked again. “You bin dreamin Mac?”
“Yeh! A walk down to the park to feed the ducks. One was wanting my last piece of bread.”
Sal laughed uproariously. “It’s that duck again Mac, it’s haunting you. Remember the one at Burdett Hall?” He joined in with the laughter in recalling the antics.
“Mac, Mac!” His mother now, shouting up the stairs. “Mac, you awake love? Want a cuppa you two? Bessie’s here to see ya if you’re up to it?”
“Five minutes,” he shouted back. Though he wanted it to be sooner he dare not appear eager in the eyes of the rest of the family. “Be down in five minutes.”
And he was. Sat outside the kitchen door, the closed kitchen door, sat at the outside table on the the patio decking, the scent of cherry blossom in his nostrils and a mug of chamomile tea in his hand he was in the sole company of Aunt Bessie, the only person who had any idea of what had happened to him. In a shimmering, ankle length dress of silver grey she sat, cuffs and neck of garnet red velvet to match a tied material belt at her waist she looked for all the world the part Mac now recognised in her. It was obvious, why had he not seen it before? Her hair, a different shade, call it molten silver, was down and cascading to either side of her fair complexion framing a face of concern but compassion.
“But no one need know dear boy, don’t ya see,” she was explaining. “With your bracelet activated you will be able to travel at your own convenience, decide on the destination and actual time of arrival there. Find the portal where the membranes touch that matches where ya want to be. No one need ever know you’re away for more than half a day at the most when you choose the time of travel.”
Now he was interested. “How can that be Aunt?” Up to then he had honestly thought to decline this gift laid at his feet, but with this latest revelation, well the opportunity was there to experiment a little, maybe even do some good. Mac listened to what Aunt Bessie had to say and quite extraordinarily he had an inclin on her thoughts as well, the first time ever he had been able. It could possibly be the first time that anyone had for that matter. There was an understanding within the family, community, that a certain number of the cunning folk could not be read, and Bessie had always been one of these. His Gramps too come to think of it. Questions were never asked or comments ever passed but Bessie had up to press, and as far as Mac was aware definitely been one of these people. Up to now that is. For now all manner of her thoughts were on the wing. So many in fact that he could not determine whether it was her spoken words that were explaining to him the concepts on the table or her own imaginings. He tried desperately to keep up with everything as visions kept pace with her speech. Dreamlike scenes of worlds far away, huge planets set by barren landscapes, misty lakes and broken down ruins all competed for attention while the undercurrent of her verbal explanation went on at some pace.
“The membranes are…….corrugated for want of a better description, corrugated, yes, and they move towards each other and apart again, together then apart. Do ya see. Sometimes they touch, often if the truth be known, and in that touch worlds collide. Now, the membranes in touching may have years separating the worlds, decades, centuries, millennia, or just days or hours even, so it is possible to wait the opportunity and pick your time of travel. I have never needed to satisfy anyone’s questioning of where I am so I do not bother that much, though I don’t miss out a millennia, well sometimes I do, but I can always get back here, understand, you can always get home at some point and at a time to suit you.”
“We just assume you’re about your business Aunt.”
“Exactly, although I try never to have more than a month or two difference back here between going and coming home.”
“So how do we return back to the same world, the one we’ve left and not some other?”
“Each portal will always join the same two worlds only, and never any others, the bridge is the doorway to Margaret’s world if that’s the one you seek, you just have to watch the forecast and pick the time to use it in order not to be missed either side.”
“The forecast?”
“The bracelet, remember I told you about its function once chosen, once activated.”
The charm, about her ankle, that uniquely fashioned bangle which shimmered and shone so perfectly, unlike his own which never had and although he had worn it for so many a year since she had gifted it to him as a child it had never had the allure of her own. If anything his had always remained a dull affair, lacking any lustre at all, and if it had not been for the fact that his aunt had given it him in the first place he may never have worn it at all, but being the sentimental type he had taken to it with some pride of it being from her, his own Aunt Bessie, a woman so well respected and thought after within their small community that answering any who enquired on seeing it always filled him with love and belonging.
“So how do I know the forecast, what is it?”
“By the reaction of the bracelet at each portal at the time of travel.” Now he was totally confused. It showed on his face. “Ssh Mac. Sal’s here,” Bessie insisted.
“You look elegant today Aunt Bessie,” Sal began, taking a seat next to her.
“Thank you my dear, I have a meeting with my publishers in a half hour, a video call so I like to look the part of the mysterious don’t ya know.” She winked at them both, making more than one wrinkle appear at the outside corner of her eye.
Sal just smiled back unaware. “What we gonna do with this one?”
I believe he’s fine and healthy, just being Mac that’s all,” Bessie answered. “We all have our little idiosyncrasies don’t we children, it’s what makes us unique don’t you agree?”
With his free hand he felt for the bracelet around his left ankle. “It was only a feint I suppose, I’d probably only been there a few minutes when Aunt Bessie came upon me,” he explained. Was this attempt putting his wife’s mind to rest.
“Quite possibly,” Bessie said in agreement. “Had ya been crouching or bending to look at something Mac, I know I get dizzy if I stand quickly on occasions.”
“Yes but you’re…….” Sal stopped short of stating the obvious and upsetting Bessie who they all knew did not recognise her own age or expect any comment upon it from others at any time. As far as she was concerned she was going to go on for ever and a day and if any person had an opinion on that suggestion they should keep it to themselves. “You’re bound to feel dizzy sometimes Aunt Bessie,” she quickly corrected herself, “we woman do at certain times don’t we?”
Bessie smiled at the two of them. “Well recovered my dear,” she said with an affectionate pout of her lips.
“I thought so,” Mac added, laughing slightly at Sal’s embarrassing predicament.
“We woman do indeed feel a little off colour on occasions I must say,” Bessie went on, “and as you note Sal, especially at my years.” The last words were said in a whisper that hardly left her mouth. If it were not for the words being spelled out so clearly by her red painted lips then the comment might have gone totally unnoticed.
“Aunt, that’s not at all like you.” Mac insisted.
“There is a time in everyone’s life when we must accept our destiny dear boy. Though you are both sworn to secrecy,” she said, again in a more rapid a whisper. Sal, relieved she was off the hook, gathered up the empty cups and set off to return them to the kitchen.
“The forecast?” Mac asked eagerly.
Aunt Bessie hurried a reply to him. “The brighter the glow the nearer the membranes are Mac, and the yellower the tint then the nearer the time to the previous visit exit. Gold and vibration and the time slip between the worlds is perfect to enable a continuation of the previous, you’ll get used to it if ya take it on.”
“So to get back and forth to Margaret’s time and here what should I look for?”
“Your bracelet will soon be activated.”
“Yeh it just felt warm.”
“Take it to the bridge in a few days. The bracelet will glow and resonate when worlds are near, then shine magnificent at the touching, blue through green and red give centuries to years apart but yellow and especially golden yellow is the time to make your passage through and preserve the timescale.”
“Is it possible to go backwards in time?”
“Oh yes, that too my boy.” Bessie had a huge grin across her face now. “By employing an event horizon and bending the cone of our own particular future, manipulating it, the power of a black hole will bend our future around to our past, any past.” Mac looked on in awe, he had read of such theories but had no idea it was a possibility. “Oh Mac, the things I have seen, truly magnificent things, I tell you it’s a privalage not to be ignored. If you’ll take my advice you’ll take up the mantle, you will never ever regret doing so. There are also these.” Bessie threw a few knucklebone pieces, the six pronged metal objects about the size of a grape that he and Megan had played with so often on this very table, a childhood game that had given them such joy and laughter. “If ya wish to return to an exact location within the world that the portal leads to,” she went on, “then if you leave one of these beacons at that certain spot before shifting worlds the bracelet will take you to join that beacon on your return by means of the portal and not just deposit you at the other side of the join. Good eh!” Now Gramps came out the kitchen door to join them. Bessie scooped up the knucklebones just like in the game. “There’s some of these in your bedroom drawer Mac.”
“Well met Sister Elizabeth. What you about this fine day in Ostara?” the family elder began as the siblings met, “when Crow Luna is nearing her time to give way to Grass Luna, what items occupy you?” Sitting down at her side he rested both arms on the table and took hold of her hand quite affectionately within his own.
Bessie picked a piece of fluff from off his olive green suit of wool. It was a piece of chicken down caught up in the weave of the material which made up the shoulder. “Well met Brother Joshua James,” she replied. “The usual occupations you know.”
“Only the usual Sister?”
“Yes, just those today.”
“Very glad to hear it Bess. So you’ll be staying a while then?”
“Yes indeed I will Joshua.”
“You always have the knack of being in the right place at the right time don’t ya now and finding Mac was no exception. Thank you.” Gramps gave his sister a kiss on her rouged red cheek.
“Just good fortune that’s all.”
“More than that I’m sure,” he insisted. He had a knowing look of appreciation and delight about his spring fresh face, and he pushed up his dimpled exuse for a chin as if to say he did have an idea but was not about to disclose anything. “Ok. Time to feed those hens.” With that he stood and headed over to the run.
Bessie continued her talk about the bracelet, still whispering across the table. Mac was not owning any of her words though, instead revelling in the industry of her imagination. Mistletoe found wrapped about oak, and then on the sixth day after the next new Luna phase of Mater the plant being cut down by the golden sycle held in the hands of a priest dressed in white robes. The gathering of it ready to be made into medicines. Energetic ring dances, the circle transmitting energy by the power of stone, water, in dedication to The Morrigon, Great Queen, She the source of life giving, death and transformation, regeneration and renewing. She, maiden, mother and crone, represented in Mater, new, waxing and old. The Morrigan Herself. Gray haired Morrigu. Now spirals came to his minds eye, crows and ravens, lunar circles and snakes. The triskele, three conjoined spirals, soil, air and water, carved into stone since time immemorial, on great standing stones of the past, on smaller petroglyphs, incorporated into ancient burial chambers, on tombs of his own family present in this era as all that have gone before. Triluna now.The first crescent the waxing phase of Mater, new beginnings, new life, and rejuvenation. The center circle symbolic of Her full aspect, the time when magic is at its most potent and powerful. Finally, the last crescent, the waning, a time to do banishing magic, and to send things away.
“So what say you?” He had not acknowledged a word spoken but knew everything that had been said. “Do you wish to take on the travel?” Gramps was making his way back to them as she posed the question. “You said that you wanted to meet the hierarchy Mac?” she asked sweeping her free hand over her shoulder and leaning back to take hold of her brother’s arm. “Well here is one of them. Grandad Joshua, your grandson would like to know of the heirachy.”
Gramps looked a little concerned. “The heirachy indeed,” he replied. “Which heirachy would that be then sister?”
“Oh come on Joshua, Mac nearly has the bracelet activated…….”
Gramps stopped his sister in her endeavours. “Let’s allow our Mac a little of his own time eh Bessie, he’s had a bit of a fright this mornin after all.”
“Yes, of course you’re right Joshua. Mac needs time to himself.” The two elders looked to their loved one, both giving a smile of support, though one offered what looked like an expression of wait and see, only this time it was his Gramps.
“Do ya mean to tell me that you……….” Mac asked him as both of them stood slowly to leave him. Gramps said nothing, maybe he had not heard. He was slightly deaf in his left ear. Mac repeated his question this time a little louder. Again no verbal reply just the raising of his Aunts dress to reveal that bracelet again about her ankle. Gramps noticed her action and put his arm around his sister’s shoulders. It looked like an act of approval on his part.
Bessie smiled back at him and took her own leave. “Well my call is due so I’m going to pop over to the barn if that’s ok?”
“There’s a couple of ewes in there to keep ya company,” Gramps said giving her one more peck of a kiss.
“Just look at these silver locks JJ.” She was stroking a finger affectionately through his lengthy hair as she passed him by. “Silver in our hair dear brother…….”
“And gold in our hearts dear sister,” he added.
“That too Joshua, that too.” Bessie paused for a moments reflection, staring at the cherry tree for a second or two, then she burst into a tuneful description of intent. “Right, my critics await my most recent findings so I’ll bid you all farewell for the moment my dears.” With that she was off at some pace, almost skipping across the courtyard to the haybarn and a little privacy, a place to gather her thoughts.
“Didn’t you have a videocall to do this aft Mac?” Sal asked as he turned from one side to the other. He sat up with a start, somewhat taken aback at seeing the inside of their bedroom. Sal was dressed and sat to the mirror doing her hair.
“Oh yeh!” He had no chance of finishing the brief now and he knew it, but he must not forget that apparently he had only been away a few hours. It was taking some adjusting to that revelation. “Yes I did.” He repeated pretending to recall with some difficulty. “But it’s not finished now with what’s happened.” Again he could not believe his good fortune, to be returned here to his wife and family with only a few hours separating them for the months spent in Margaret’s time. “Good job ya reminded me Sal,” he added, “I’ll email ’em, tell ’em I’ll finish it off tomorrow.”
“Ok! You rest up here a bit, I’m meeting up with the girls in an hour, baby talk ya know.”
“I’m off to fetch some spuds.” Gramps could be heard shouting to his daughter on the patio. Mac caught sight of him on the monitor as he set off up the garden path to the black iron gate at the rear of the property. Fetching potatoes was the last instruction he had been given he remembered, on setting out for his walk walk those weeks ago, no hours actually. Mac shook his head. He must come to terms with all of this and soon.
The black gate clattered to, that black gate Mac had longed for, yearned to see on that first day back in that other world now so many miles away. Miles away! More than that. Worlds away in fact. What kind of a man was he going to become by taking on this invitation to visit these worlds. He reached for the top drawer of his bedside cabinet and opened it. There they were, in the very back of the drawer, the knucklbones Megan and he used to play with, there they were. So the truth still remained in place. The unbelievable truth of what had happened to him, what was still happening to him actually, for it was becoming more acceptable that his bracelet, this very bracelet about his left ankle was going to play such a part in his life in the future, futures. He had more than one now, future, perhaps even more than the two he already knew, countless futures to explore, involve himself in. Futures, yes and pasts too, for according to Bessie it was possible to go back in time as well. Bending of space and time! How fortunate was he to be able to enjoy that particular fantasy and see it become a reality.
Why was it him who had been chosen? The thought bothered him. Why him and not his sister Megan, or Beth his mother, why should it be him? And why was he contemplating all of this at this moment anyway? He had a recovery to make, a body to heal, satisfy the families interpretation of events, and in spite of that he was still weary. The return had taken its toll. He was still so very weary. Before he succumbed though he needed to secure his apparent ongoing normality.
“Quantum, email the office,” he instructed.
The house computer replied. “What would you like to say?”
“Sorry. I shall not be able to attend the conference this afternoon, I’ve had a fall while out walking. Will have it done for tomorrow. Sorry again Dan.” Dan was his coordinator, a nice man and very relaxed and laid back. The delay would not worry him in the slightest. Mac knew he would deliver on his promise for the next day, and Dan would know that too.
“Ready to send,” Quantum replied.
“Send please,” He instructed, walking down the stairs to go outside for some fresh air.
So, here he was, back in the safety of his own home, garden, world! No one suspected any of what had happened to him. How much time did he have to decide, presumably this hierarchy would not wait forever, and what if they bestowed the gift on someone else instead. His Gramps! Suddenly he remembered. Was he truly part of all this? And if he was what about Sal and the family? He wanted them all to know about it, although coming home now without any major incident to speak of he wondered if that might be too much to ask.
The garden was more beautiful than ever. The lawns a magnificent shade of green. The flowering cherry displayed all the mists of pink that could be imagined. Yellow daffodils, red tulips, bells of blue, white water crowfoot around the waterwheel turret all competed for attention. Mac walked the shale path around the boundary of his beloved sanctuary basking in its care and security. Pink purslane and sorrel reflected each other’s beauty from across either side of the stream. He was back in his element, sovereignty, even the dandelions and buttercups seemed to be more of a cheerful yellow than he had ever seen before. To say a thank you for his deliverance he wandered up past the off white hawthorne and purple fairy foxgloves to the garden shrine. Here he stood for a moment finally able to clear his mind of troubles. He asked Arianrhod to continue her sponsorship of his recovery and he basked in Her protection.
A range of other mysteries, concepts also came to him. Could he actually be older in himself than when he disappeared? He must be, after all for him time had passed by normally, and by more than a couple of hours. But on the other hand when his Aunt went away and came back to them with time missing she did not look any older? He corrected himself. No! That was not the correct way to imagine it for when Bessie went away she chose the amount of time she was away to match the amount of time she spent in her other worlds, did she not? It was all very confusing, diffucult to come to terms with but the bottom line must be that for the traveller a normal timescale and therefore age must pass and have to be accounted for. Another worry was the more recognised, one running through all science fiction, the one of what if he met himself while on his travels. Would he cancel himself out, could he alter his own destiny. So many answers he needed from this hierarchy, his own Aunt and Gramps included.
Concerns such as these aside he felt so refreshed. For the first time in a long while he was at one with himself, a clarity within his mind seemingly washed through by his ocean of dreams. No headache, no aura, no nausea and certainly no muscle strain. He felt on top of the world. All sense of doubt had left him, there was no melancholic apprehension rattling around his mind demanding attention, reminding him of what he had been through, no nagging worry or fear for the future pervading his soul. No, he was back up to full strength both in body and mind, chomping at the bit and raring to go, a feeling of being able to move mountains once again, happy with his lot.
Making his way back down the garden the water from the stream turning the wheel about its axle babbled her song of nature, of liquid state coming to terms with what was expected of it, to provide movement from the energy held within its silky surface, to rotate the wheel, pass on its gift to be harnessed and stored to power the farmhouse. And apart from that pleasing distraction, the twitter of a robin and the clucking from the hens over in the run there was no other interruption. No other sound whatsoever. That infernal humming had gone, he was home afterall.
The pink canopy of blooms about the cherry tree played host to another welcome sight too, a crow, her black feathers unmistakably obvious within the vivid colour which surrounded her. His request had been answered and he now knew the path he would take.