The Timekeeper's Apprentice
Young Adult Science Fiction
Chapter One: An Old Hag Escapes
On the rusting metal penal colony in an elliptical holding orbit above Raget 7 the alarms activated, and the old hag in Cell Number 932 cackled like a Rimini Hyena.
From amongst the trillions of multi-coloured wires behind the metal panel next to her bed she had at last found and disabled the bio-wire that powered the dampening device, which the Time Council had installed many years ago to prevent her from using her powers.
None of the guards on their annual rotation had ever heard the piercing noise of the alarms ricochet around the metal corridors of the penal colony before, and only the Captain of the Guard could identify exactly what the noise was.
‘Escape!’ Captain Tamberlaine shouted, but he didn’t really know what was going on. The Captain was one of four officers of the Raget 7 Prison Service who serve on the penal colony, and he had been the Captain of the Guard for so long that he was only a few days away from retirement. In a panic, he ordered his men every which way in the hope of finding out who was trying to escape, and even sent a slow-witted ugly skeletal looking guard to wake up the off-duty shift. But the one thing at the forefront of his mind was the thought that if someone did escape, then he would probably spend the rest of his life in the barren wastelands of the Hanging Desert on the dark side of Raget 7.
There were rules for such emergencies, of course, but they had been written thousands of years before in a forgotten language, and now no one knew where the rules were, or who was responsible for looking after them.
‘Don’t worry, Sir,’ Sergeant Pilton said. ‘Nobody has ever escaped from here.’
But Captain Tamberlaine did worry, and what worried him the most was the thought of the old hag in Cell Number 932 escaping. He was responsible for the six hundred and seventy-three prisoners on the dilapidated penal colony, but particularly the old hag in the specially constructed cell. She had been there for as long as he – or anyone else for that matter – could remember. No one really knew why the old woman was considered so dangerous, although the Captain had heard mention of the secretive Time Council.
What he did know for sure, was that if she escaped he would be in a whole heap of trouble.
Through the noise of the sirens the old hag heard orders being shouted, running footsteps approaching along the metal corridor, and the click of safety catches being released from weapons.
Having succumbed to the ravages of time she smiled a toothless smile, and knew it was time to go. A hundred-and-seven-years she had been dreaming of this moment. Locked up like a common criminal when she was merely a child for having the ability to shift through time, for being what her mother called ‘a special child’. The years had not been wasted though. Now she had a plan. A plan to control time, to control everything and everyone – forever.
It was time to live her life again. Time to take what was rightfully hers. Time for revenge. The old hag, who people once knew as Tix, shifted to a time ninety-eight years in the past, to a world where the sun shone all year round, and a beautiful sixteen-year-old heiress named Golana now lived in a sprawling house on a tropical island with her housekeeper Pollyanna.
Chapter Two: The Job Advert
‘Here’s something,’ Hiram’s mother said, pushing the folded newspaper under his nose. ‘Now that you’ve failed all of your GCSEs, you’d better get a job.’
He felt like puke. He’d had about a million hours sleep and he was still tired. The stress of failing all of those exams must have wiped him out.
She stood over him. Hands on ample hips, and bottle-blonde hair framing a scowling face. ‘Don’t think you’re going to spend your life sleeping or flopping about in front of the TV, ‘cause you’re not.’
Doesn’t she ever let up? He pushed the paper away without looking at it. ‘I’m eating,’ he said, spitting sugar puffs over the table as he spoke.
‘Don’t use that tone with me, Hiram.’ She clipped him round the ear and he nearly choked on his cereal. ‘I just wish your father were here to see what you’re like now that’s all I can say. He’d have sorted you out.’
He wished Dad were here as well. He could smell her cloying perfume. ‘Give it a break, Mum. I’m getting a headache.’
‘Headache! I’ll give you a headache, if you don’t do something with your life. Breakfast at three-thirty in the afternoon! You’re a slob. They must have swapped babies in the maternity ward that’s all I can say.’
I wish, he thought. Leaving the dish, sugar puffs and drops of milk on the wobbly table, he went into the living room. He flicked the light on, draped himself over the threadbare sofa, and put his feet on the coffee table.
Head resting on his front paws, Chewy gave him a doleful look. It had been ages since he’d walked the mongrel, but the dog didn’t look any the worse for lack of exercise and surviving on leftovers of chips, kebabs, and pizzas.
His mother followed him like a Rottweiler on the scent of raw meat. Two of the bulbs were out in the hanging light. He had to squint to see. The carpet was timeworn in front of the sofa. Dust coated everything. The living room, like the kitchen, needed decorating. Dad would have done it in his holidays if he’d still been here. Hiram often thought about doing some decorating, repairs, mowing the lawn, but it was too much effort. He had no energy for anything anymore. An overwhelming urge to cry swept over him. He forced it back inside, didn’t want Mum to see him crying. Everything had changed since Dad had died of a brain tumour two years ago. He’d only been thirty-seven.
‘Where’s the remote?’ he asked pushing his hands down between the gaps in the cushions in an effort to locate it. All he found were seven screwed up crisp packets, a hairy macaroon, and three mouldy chips. He passed the macaroon to Chewy and rammed everything else back where he’d found it.
‘Have you been listening to me at all?’ She positioned herself in front of the TV like the rock of Gibraltar. He stared at her. She had changed as well. She used to be really slim, easy-going, and fun. He knew she missed Dad as much as he did.
‘It’s Sunday, the day of rest.’
She leaned forward poking a finger at him. ‘Every day’s Sunday with you.’
‘Well, it is today, so leave me alone.’
‘You could at least have a shower, brush your teeth, and put some clean clothes on. You’re a disgrace.’
‘Later.’ He’d thought about it, but what for? It wasn’t as if he had a hot date or anything. His acne would still be there. He’d still have to go to the dentist to get his aching tooth yanked out next week.
‘Think of today as your last day of freedom, Hiram. Tomorrow you go for that job, or you’re out on your ear. I’ve had enough.’ She stormed out. He knew she would have slammed the door if one of the hinges hadn’t been broke.
‘Yeah, yeah.’ She always threatened him with that. ‘Where’s the remote?’ he called after her.
Thankfully, the old witch had gone out. She seemed to spend all her time in the pub now. He’d hear her come home, falling up the stairs, puke in the toilet, cry herself to sleep. Sometimes, he cried silently with her.
Die Hard II was due to start any minute. He went into the kitchen. The sink overflowed with dirty plates, pans and cutlery. She’d told him to make sure he washed them up before she came back. He’d do it later, after the film.
Rifling through the cupboards, he grabbed two packets of crisps, five chocolate-chip cookies, half a bar of fruit and nut, and just in case he got hungry before the end of the film, two macaroons. He helped himself to two cans of coke from the fridge.
Heading back to the living room, he noticed the paper on the table. Leaning over, he spotted the strange advert squashed between positions for a fast-order chef and a trainee solicitor – neither of which he was qualified for. The advert had been written in a spidery scrawl in a free paper he’d never seen before. He hadn’t heard Chewy bark when it slithered through the letterbox. Chewy always barked and ripped the free papers to shreds.
He struggled to read the scribble.
Do something interesting with your life!
Interviews between ten and twelve tomorrow.
23 Eternity Road.
He had nothing to lose. If he could get up in time, he’d go and see what they had to offer. And if he didn’t like it, well he could always go to the arcade in town.
Chapter Three: Swimming With Dolphins
Golana sat on the creaking wooden swing on her veranda dressed in her nightdress and watching the perfect clear blue sea run up and down the white sand. A little way out, she could see the Dolphins bobbing through the coral reef. She wondered whether she should bother herself to take a swim before or after breakfast.
In the end, she was so indecisive that time trickled by and Pollyanna called to say that breakfast was ready. Then she wondered whether she should have her breakfast on the swing, or amble inside to the breakfast room. No doubt, if she didn’t decide soon, breakfast would be cold and Pollyanna would not be happy. Golana grinned. She didn’t have to put her plan to rule the multiverse into action immediately. She could take a few days off. Lounge around, and get used to being sixteen again. Adjust to the glorious comfort of her sprawling wooden beach house after a century of living in a 9 x 12-foot metal cell, and sample all the wonderful food conjured up by Pollyanna. After
all, didn’t she have all the time in the multiverse? She giggled. Well, maybe not just yet, but she soon would have. Yes, she deserved a few days holiday to soak up the sun, to dangle her toes in the sea, to play with the dolphins, and to slough off the smells and sounds of that awful metal prison high above Raget 7.
The substantial Pollyanna filled the doorway and cast a shadow across the swing. She had her balled fists on the place that might have been her hips and pretended to be angry. Since Golana’s parents had died five years ago, Pollyanna had been more than a cook, more than a servant, Pollyanna had been her mother – the lovely, warm, and safe Pollyanna.
‘Young lady, I’ve cooked y’all rice and beans, patties and jungle bread, guava and Mammy fruit, callaloo rolls and duppy sour sop, so you best git your pretty little self inside this house and right now. Before I find the paddle that seems to have gone missing, as if you didn’t know.’
‘I’m too old for paddling, Pollyanna,’ Golana said with a laugh.
‘Ain’t never too old for a paddle, young lady, and don’t you go thinkin’ you is. Now come along, a beauty like you ripe for pickin’ needs to keep your strength up to fight off all those boys who come a-courting.’
Pushing herself up from the swing, Golana followed Pollyanna into the breakfast room. ‘Don’t you go worrying ‘bout me, Pollyanna,’ she said. ‘I ain’t interested in boys.’
‘That’s what you say now, young lady, but one day a boy will come along. Your legs will go all jellywobble, your face will burn up like the sun done exploded, and those pesky buttyflies will make it seem that you never learned proper words to speak with. All that will sprout from your mouth will be slippyslops that no one ain’t never understandin’ especially the boy you gone fallen in love with.’
Golana laughed, thrust her arms around the place where Pollyanna’s waist might have been and squeezed. There was no way she could ever get her hands to meet, but a hug was a hug after all. ‘I love you, Pollyanna. I ain’t never gonna leave you to be with some smelly dirty boy.’
‘Ha! I ain’t tellin’ you how many times I heard that, young lady. Now sit yourself down an’ get tuckin’ in. I done made your favourite Pink Cow to swishle it all down with.’
Golana loved the strawberry syrup and milk drink. Pollyanna mixed the Pink Cow perfectly every time.
After breakfast and a long cold shower, Golana twisted her waist length black hair into an impossible knot and skewered it with a wooden comb. She put on shorts and a T-shirt, and padded down to the water’s edge where she sat on the sand and let the warm water lap over her feet. She knew that if she went into the sea after the breakfast she had just eaten, she would sink to the bottom like one of Pollyanna’s rock cakes.
Her beach was private. She could see there were other people in the distance, but they were too far away to make them out. The dolphins called her name. Well, they weren’t really calling her name, but she knew that if she could translate the noises they were making, it would surely be Golana.
Once the breakfast had digested, she waded out with her mask, flippers and miniature oxygen breather until the water reached her waist, and then she ducked down into another world.
Holding onto the dorsal fin of one of the dolphins, Golana glided through the coral reef stroking the darting fish, touching the swaying sponges, and avoiding the poisonous molluscs. Sunlight speared through the water and lit up the honeycombed structure in a kaleidoscope of colours.
Her day was not complete until she had swum through the underwater rainforest with the dolphins.