Well, 2016 isn’t getting off to the greatest of starts – I’m sick and unable to write. So here’s a piece of prose I wrote literally two days ago on the subject of nostalgia and time.
It was somewhere here, Dory was sure, the shift and change in time. That wouldn’t be enough, of course, but finding the place – that was the first part of the puzzle.
Sometimes, you got lucky, and the rest didn’t matter. Sometimes, you got hideously unlucky, and it was a specific day of the year. And sometimes, of course, it was once every thousand years. Some routes would never reopen again – the day they opened was once, only once, and then they shut for eternity.
Some routes only opened if it were sunny; some if it rained. Some routes only opened if you sang a certain song. Some only consented to let you pass if the scent of lavender were in the air and some, well, some only consented to open for people of a certain age, height and blood.
Where they led you? That was a different matter entirely. The Paths led everywhere forward and backwards in times, to places where something had happened. Of course, history was a bitch, and it was hard to find Paths that would take you where you wanted to go exactly, but that was no trouble for Dory. Dory wasn’t looking for a specific place anymore – Dory was just looking for somewhere to hide. And run. And hide again.
The Path Walkers didn’t like her much. But then, no one did.
The shift, the Door through which she would find the Path, it was right here, at this crossroad. There was a scratching of chalk on the ground – it had been found and Tamed by one of the Walkers.
Untamed Paths were dangerous – well, not exactly. Dory had left before they’d taught her about Untamed Paths. Only that Paths should be Tamed, though they’d never quite explained how one did that either.
The chalk scratching had no numbers, only an ‘X’ with a circle at the centre, and a full sun. Excellent – the Door was at the centre of the crossroad, and the only requirement for it to open was full noon, which was five minutes away. Dory’s luck was holding. Confidently, she strode to the centre of the crossroad, feeling the dizziness that came from standing at a Closed Door, and waited.
Noon came. Sweat trickled down her brow, and she heard – somewhere – the ticking of a clock, the turning of the world, and her feet fell out from under her.
She awoke to find herself in a different world.
She awoke to find herself in a different world; one of grasslands and silence. Pre-industrial at least, if not pre-colonial. She smiled; Doors would be plentiful here; no huge buildings built over them, and no one to stop her from accessing them.
Possible Untamed Paths…
She’d always wanted to see what it was like to make her way through one, to solve the puzzle of an Untamed Door.
“This should be fun,” she whispered to herself.
This is somewhere else – it doesn’t really matter where.
An older woman stares – glares, really – at the computer monitor before her.
“She’s gone pre-colonial, ma’am,” reports a technician beside her.
“I can see that, dolt.” snaps the woman, before sighing, “Apologies. This was not what we accepted when we asked her to join us.”
“She’s the first to go rogue in…what?” asks a man standing beside her. He sounds disinterested, but his eyes tell a different story.
“Eighty years, Gentleman,” the woman rubs her closed eyes, as if massaging away a headache, “If she’s pre-colonial, we need only to wait; she’ll find an Untamed Door, and Dory has no idea how to deal with Untamed Paths. Keep track of current Untamed Paths; if one becomes activated, I want to know about it. Then we’ll be able to find Dory.”
“Will she even be able to activate an Untamed Door?” asks Gentleman.
“Of course she will,” snarls Ma’am, “Untamed Doors want to be open. They call to the soul.”
Dory found a twisted, withered old oak tree, and beneath it, an Untamed Door.
She smiled, delighted with the find, yet, oddly, nostalgic. The tree reminded her of the one at her home, before she joined the Walkers. She walked forward to the Door, and the tree, hands outstretched, wanting to touch the bark, wanting to climb it, a tree that looked as old as time itself, a tree that looked as if it could carry her home, and she didn’t even realize she was crying until the Untamed Door opened and set her on the Path.
“Got, her, Ma’am!”
Clocks tick, somewhere. Dory distantly hears her mother chastise her for burning the milk, and her cheek stings with the slap she is given.
When her feet touch the ground, she is by the old oak, looking at the window, seeing her younger self swallow tears as her mother and father rage at one another.
She knows this day.
Soon, the younger Dory will run out and be found by Gentleman, who will take her to the Walkers Academy. Her parents will think she has been kidnapped; Dory will never correct them.
Dory watches, as a ghost, as her younger self runs out, into the shadow of the tree, where Gentleman waits, somewhere where Dory cannot be seen.
“You really never told them, did you?”
There is silence in the wake of Ma’am’s question.
“Is this why we Tame Paths, Ma’am?” asks Dory.
“Yes. True time travel happens within the mind. An Untamed Path takes you to the day you are reminded of; the day you are most drawn to. I should have known an Untamed Path would lead you here. Taming it is, of course, a simply task. Harder, in the wilds of pre-colonial times, but possible. I should have realized that the day you would inevitably be drawn to would be the day you escaped your parents.”
“But…Ma’am…I just wanted…”
“I know what you just wanted. You wanted freedom. But freedom and responsibility go hand in hand. You have left a trail of destruction that we have to clean up.”
Dory lowers her head.
“Am I in trouble?”
“Dory, you’re barely a child. You’ll get chore duties, I imagine, and your friends will no doubt be in awe of your gall, but you’re in no more trouble than if you played a prank on Gentleman.”
Tears start to run down Dory’s face, and she’s not sure why.
“Come along, Dory.”
It is later – it does not matter how much later – but Ma’am sits in her office, regal as a queen, as the Head of Walkers visits her.
“You brought young Dory in?”
Idly, he sits opposite her, and taps her Newton’s Cradle into motion.
“Did you tell her?”
Ma’am’s eyes narrow.
“Tell her what?”
“The nature of our staff.”
“I don’t see the relevance.”
“Well, of course you wouldn’t. Then again, you could have solved the entire problem. After all…eighty years. You would have known exactly where to go, Dory.”
“I don’t answer to that name any more.”
“Of course you don’t. Ma’am.”
Sir leaves. Ma’am looks troubled as she stares out her window, and taps her fingers out of sync with the Cradle.
The shadows melt and form the image of Gentleman, who regards Ma’am with curiosity.
“May I ask a question?”
Ma’am regards him coolly.
“Does it matter whether I say yes or no?” she asks.
Gentleman chuckles dryly, before returning to his usual sombre apathy.
“If Dory is your younger form, why didn’t you tell us where to search?”
Ma’am regards him, her eyes dark, and slowly props her feet up on the table, knocking the Newton’s Cradle to the floor. Her eyes have narrowed to slits.
“Because I have no memory of these events.”
Gentleman’s eyes widen, minutely, then narrow.
“Something…or someone…is disrupting causality, and it is not Dory.”
“Who do you suspect, Ma’am?”
The older Dory resettles herself in her chair, her eyes focussed on the door through which Sir exited.
“…At the moment? Everyone.”
Dory does not know that this conversation is taking place, and it will never occur to her to wonder how Ma’am knows of her feelings towards her family, or that Ma’am, head of the Academy, knows so much about her. Nor will it ever strike her as strange that Ma’am knows, intimately, how strongly she feels about being rescued from her family.
Dory is simply thankful to still be free, even as she longs for the greater freedom of the wide plains of Time.