Well, that started well. The arguments were pretty much a non-stop feature of our lives after we decided to depart. You see, in our adult lives we had made this trip before, and in the considerable comfort we chose to afford. This time round, we were teenagers, and so unable to be seen to have access to such luxury. Also, the fucking internet had gone, and that rubbed us up the wrong way.
Life with access to the internet is a pleasurable existence, with the world of knowledge and the universe of shopping at your very fingertips, all without having to interact with another human being. It was something we had treasured in the future, and we were rather miffed to have to do things in person again. Cheques, too. Who on earth thought they were a good idea? I digress.
Personally, I’m just grateful that we didn’t have to go through the whole ordeal of acquiring a passport for either of us: obtaining the signature of an upstanding member of the community was not something I was exactly in the mood for. Instead, we dusted off our existing passports and climbed aboard the boat. The ship. The sailing vessel to take us across the sea, and beyond.
We were in an inside cabin; and we fought about that. We were unable to have a drink; and we fought about that. The sea was rough; and we fought about that. We were stepping in to the unknown on a mission, the outcome of which neither of us was entirely sure about; and we fought about that. Pretty much the only thing we didn’t fight about was the “International Buffet”.
What internet that did exist in the world at that point in time was rudimentary at best. We made the assumption that anyone who was stranded back in time would reach for the internet as a primary tool for finding out what had gone wrong with the world. That was the ethos of the era we had come from, and anything unusual would stick out like a sore thumb. We found a very sore thumb indeed.
We didn’t know what the cause was, but we did have a location – more or less – and we were making our way towards it. My question was about time: when would whatever happened happen, so that we could be there to stop it. Her question was about logistics: given that it has already happened, assume that it has always happened: how do we stop it with what we actually know?
Both questions were best answered by actually being in the place, rather than going round and round in circles, in the kitchens, dining rooms and living rooms of our mothers. While they were on one level happy that we had each other, they were on a different level bloody furious with us for all of the incessant bickering. Us leaving for a while, perhaps undoing what had been done, was an acceptable compromise for a bit of piece and quiet. We were both teenagers, after all.
And so we found ourselves in Belgium. At least it was a start, and we knew that we could get trains through and from there to anywhere in Europe. Quite how we did that we were unsure as yet, but we assumed it involved some degree of human interaction; it usually did these bloody days.
Europe is a large place – not as large as the vastness of space, I’ll openly admit, but it’s pretty bloody large. We thought we had nothing better to do than to set off, grab a couple of trains, and we’d find our way where we needed to be in a day or two. An absence of cash and the conspicuous sight of two English teenagers travelling across Europe was a barrier to a lot of what we wanted to achieve.
We could have stayed where we landed, in the Netherlands, but we wanted to make headway. And we thought that the magnetic pull of the vices of Amsterdam would be a very destructive force on the body and soul of a fourteen year old boy, even if only in physical appearance. Belgium is a safer choice all round. From there we could devise our routes, and the ways we would make some cash.
We had disavowed stealing unless in the most extreme of emergencies. That would risk too much attention, and that would destroy the whole plan. We needed to be temporal backpackers, earning our way across both the land and the intervening time, paying our way with odd jobs and bar work. I gave it five minutes, and put some much needed chocolates in my pocket. We were both feeling rather sad that it couldn’t be chips, but that may have burned through the fabric somewhat.
Or hostel room was spartan, but it suited us. We had found a place which allowed families to share rooms, and so we posed as brother and sister. At least we bickered like siblings, if we didn’t exactly sleep like them. As long as no one came in while we were alone we would be perfectly fine.
We were never going to be perfectly fine. Someone either wanted to use us or take pity on us, because we both found work at the hostel. It was rudimentary cleaning work, with a bit of computer advice along the way, but it reversed the flow of our liquid assets and gave us time to think. On the other hand, an eighteen year old girl and a fourteen year old boy had been separated from each other, and were being asked a lot of questions by colleague and guest alike. It would end in blood.
While I scrubbed pots and heated up baskets of bread in the subterranean kitchen, my partner was tasked with generally Cindarella-esque cleaning duties both above and below stairs. She and I toiled on, our new friends unaware that we were the oldest residents of this amorphous community by far. We were hoping that our experiences of human nature at work would give us a head start on it all.
It didn’t. I was woken in the middle of the night by a nudge in the ribs and a finger on the lips. She had heard a sound outside, and it did not strike her as good. We quickly dressed, bundled up what meagre belongings we had, and snuck out of the window. From below we heard screams.