It’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday again and this week’s writing prompt is “bone”.
The Field Trip.
Hackney, London, 1986.
“I’ve told you already constable, Terry didn’t come home. I’m worried sick, the teachers said they didn’t notice he wasn’t on the coach until they got back to the school.”
PC Dixon sighed, looked skeptically over his glasses at the woman in front of him and tried to gauge whether her apparent distress was, in fact, fabricated.
She seemed to be genuinely upset that her little darling was missing, but he knew the score, the Job made you cynical and the Hackney Towers estate had a bit of a reputation, kids weren’t necessarily the angels their parents thought they were.
“So he went on a school trip into the City and you didn’t know he’d gone missing until you went to meet him this afternoon, is that right?”
“Yes, that’s what I’ve been trying to tell you for the last ten minutes, why’s that so hard for you to understand?”, said Gladys Baldwin, fussing with the belt on her floral dressing gown and glaring at PC Frank Dixon, as if the whole thing was his fault personally, “The last time anyone remembers seeing him was at the science museum. One of his friends said they saw him in the science fiction exhibition, but they don’t remember him getting back on the coach.”
This drew Frank’s attention straight away, “The Wells exhibit? That’s interesting, that’s why I’m here, we had a report from the museum that the exhibit has been tampered with and we’re talking to all the kids who were on the visit today.”
She looked shocked, taken aback,
“What do you mean? I thought you were here about my son. I rang the station as soon as I discovered him missing. And now what are you trying to say? You think my Terry pinched something, broke something? Terry’s a good boy, he wouldn’t do nothing like that.”
“I don’t know anything about any missing persons report Mrs Baldwin, I only know I was asked to speak to all the children who were at the museum today. If and when Terry returns, would you be so good as to let us know, thank you.” And with that, Dixon tucked his notebook into his pocket and made his way down the dingy hallway to the front door, only stopping in the doorway to ask one final question, almost an afterthought really.
“Does Terry have any special interests or hobbies? Archaeology, collecting old bones, that sort of thing?”
“He’s always been very bright, a clever boy is my Terry” she looked smug, “Didn’t get it from his dad’s side, that’s for sure, Ha! He’s always loved dinosaurs and stuff, yeah. Why d’you ask?”
Dixon paused, thinking, “Hmm, nothing, just a thought. We’ll let you know if we hear anything, good evening madam.”
Bound to turn up sooner or later, Frank thought, probably boasting to his mates about it right now.
Still, getting it inside the sealed case like that, he had to admit, it was bloody clever…
Science Museum, London, 2065.
“…and this is the world famous H.G. Wells’ time machine,” the guide had reached his favourite part of the tour now, he enjoyed telling the story, liked the fact it was still a mystery, “including, of course, the finger.”
Which was what they really wanted to hear about. Terry’s finger.
The rest was old news by now.
“The rest” was the discovery, ten years earlier, that old man Wells hadn’t in fact been writing a future sci-fi classic in 1895, more a sci-fact memoir.
His machine had been real.
Time travel was possible.
And it had taken 170 years of invention, ingenuity, creativity and sheer bloody-mindedness by some very clever scientists, to realise he’d already beaten them to it, before they, or even their grandfathers, were ever born.
But the finger, that was a different matter, nobody knew if it was true, that was the thing.
And everyone loves a mystery.
“…so the story goes that, back in the late twentieth, some kid gets separated from his class on a trip to this very museum,” the guide spread his arms to indicate the ornate marble hall that housed the Wells Machine, his audience gazed around them, presumably visualising the scene for themselves, not difficult since the building had changed little in the intervening years, “and what we think happened was, Terry, his name was Terry Baldwin, somehow managed to get into the sealed security case, possibly during routine maintenance by staff, and got himself locked in there.”
He waited, knowing a question wouldn’t be long coming and he wasn’t disappointed.
“So what happened to him then, how did he get out?”
It was a studious-looking teenager, his expression one of cynical disbelief, obviously ready to refute whatever explanation was offered for the allegedly unsolved mystery of Terry Baldwin’s disappearance.
“As far as we know, he didn’t. Not then anyway, not in 1986,” said the guide, noting with some satisfaction the look of confusion on the kid’s face, “in fact we have no real way of knowing exactly where or when Terry Baldwin ended up. All we do know, or can at least safely assume, is that Terry inadvertently managed to activate Wells’ machine, somehow trapping his finger in the controls.”
The tourists craned their necks to peer up at the complex series of control rods that bristled from what appeared to be the machine’s dashboard and, only visible if you knew what to look for, the narrow white bone from a child’s finger could be seen, firmly wedged between two levers.
“How do we know it’s his?” asked his teenage inquisitor in a sneering tone.
“That’s one thing we can definitely confirm, the digit was tissue-typed and DNA tested against material obtained from his family home, it was a 100% match for Terry Baldwin. As for the rest of Terry, nobody ever saw him again.
The most popular theory is that he eventually got free, wherever and whenever he ended up, at the cost of losing his finger, then the machine returned to its starting position, here and now. Or rather here and then, but you know what I mean, right?” The guide laughed, they were all having to get used to a lot of new grammar that came with time travel, he still hadn’t quite got his head round it.
But if old man Wells had managed to build that, he looked up once more at the gleaming, silent machine, he guessed he could make the effort and learn a few new tenses.
“Anyway ladies and gentlemen, if you follow me, we’ll move onto the Mars colony exhibit…”
South Kensington, London, 1899.
The boy sat in the room, staring blankly at the white wall.
Occasionally he would glance nervously around him, as if taking in his surroundings for the first time and when he became agitated, he would rub the rough stump of scarred skin where his middle finger should have been.
He barely registered the approaching sounds in the corridor outside his room and appeared not to notice when an observation hatch slid open in the door and after a few seconds somebody spoke.
“I say Wells, the boy doesn’t look right in the head if you ask me, you say you found him sitting in one of your machines? Where’s he from, who is he?”
“That’s just it, he hasn’t made a sound since that first day three years ago. I freed his hand, had to lose the finger of course, too badly damaged. Then, just after that, the machine malfunctioned and disappeared. Since then, not a word has passed his lips.”
The boy rubbed the scar on his hand and stared at the wall some more.
He had nothing else to do.
He had all the time in the world.