The newspaper headlines across Britain exclaimed the devastation left by the February storms. ‘Millions of pounds of damage’ and ‘Hundreds left homeless’ were the most frequently read headlines for weeks. But buried much further inside the papers, in the personal stories of destruction and loss, were the only fragments of the real story. Edison Street in Worthwold, Oxfordshire was almost completely missing a small bungalow, one old lady, a large tabby cat and a goldfish.
Lilian woke up as Milly delicately picked her way across the duvet. She expected the cat to stop inches from her face to sit and wait. This had become their routine over time as they slowed down heading into their twilight years, comfortably and graciously. But instead, she felt the soft furry face pushed insistently into hers. The low continuous rumbling purr, a trademark of her furry housemate, felt like a warm summer washing over her. She had not heard the purring for at least 5 years.
Lilian sat up quickly, dislodging Milly in the process. She was undoubtedly hearing that fantastic sound, and loud enough to be a tractor parked on her bed. She reached up to her ears thinking she must have left her hearing aids in again, but they weren’t there. Milly sprang back up on the bed and resumed her persistent nudging and purring. That was odd too; neither of them had moved that quickly in quite a few years. Lilian leaned back on the headboard of the big bed and scratched Milly’s soft head. She was trying to work out what could have happened and wondered about the new cat food she’d given Milly. Had it delivered on its promise to revitalise a senior cat?
The house felt a little chilly as Lilian padded out into the kitchen. She stopped at the thermostat and tweaked up the dial. Continuing towards the bathroom Lilian bent down to pick up Milly’s bowl. She straightened slowly in anticipation of the pain her stiff back caused every morning. But there was none. Lilian smiled in relief; a good night’s sleep is all it takes.
There was a loud creaking groan from the pipes above when Lilian turned on the hot water for a shower. What’s that about? Feeling the warm water coming through she didn’t dwell on the noise. Instead she slipped out of her robe and into the shower. Picking up the shampoo she closed her eyes to enjoy the luxuriously warm stream. She was savouring the massaging rhythm of the rainfall shower when the noises from above began again, in earnest.
This time she couldn’t ignore them; the pipes were chugging and gulping just like they had when the water had been cut off a few summers back. Lilian turned off the taps and grabbed a towel from the radiator. It wasn’t warm. Did I oversleep? She quickly towelled herself off.
It was then she noticed her skin. It wasn’t the dry, papery thin and slightly translucent skin she went to bed in last night. It was, nice. She couldn’t think beyond that. The brown age spots on her legs and arms were gone. Her skin was smooth and soft, tinged pink by the warm shower. Confused, she rubbed her short hair dry, and stood to look in the mirror. It was steamed over, and no amount of wiping would give her a clear view, but she was sure her hair was darker. Lilian’s hair had been a striking black, over 30 years ago, but a soft silvery grey had steadily replaced it. Surely its return wasn’t possible?
Lilian grabbed her robe from the floor and quickly walked back to the bedroom. Forgetting about the pipes and ignoring Milly’s loud chattering, she rushed to look in the mirror. The face staring back at her was one she’d almost forgotten had ever existed. It was her, but the twenty-something her, not the eighty-something she was now.
‘What on Earth?’ She reached out and touched the face in the mirror, checking to make sure it was a reflection and not…what? What else could it be? Pulling her hand back she touched her face, watching in awe as she inspected herself. Dropping the robe to the floor Lilian looked at her body in the bright daylight of her bedroom. Despite her disbelief she felt a surge of joy. Reaching her hands down her smooth muscular legs, she bent easily and touched her toes.
‘Wow, this is…’ amazing, Lilian finished the thought in her head. Looking once more into the mirror, she couldn’t help smiling broadly. Memories of friends telling her how smiling suited her breezed through her mind, making the smile even wider. She felt strong and fit, the happy feeling spreading into her very being. Whatever this is, it’s bloody lovely.
She dressed in double quick time, checking the mirror several times to be sure the miracle hadn’t worn off. No, her ebony black hair was still there, and her younger self continued to stare back out of the mirror. She even pinched herself to check she wasn’t dreaming, or dead.
Once back in the kitchen she opened the cupboard to grab one of the new ‘miracle food’ pouches for Milly,
‘Maybe it’s not so much of a miracle food eh, Milly? I didn’t eat it and look at me!’ She carried a glass of cold orange juice to the garden room and stopped dead.
‘Wha… Oh my God’. The beautiful garden was gone. She quickly moved to the wide glass doors which now over looked a meadow, a stream with a small stone bridge and a hill in the distance. Lilian sank down on to the sofa; all her new-found strength deserting her.
Mas-hū and Deemer met over five years ago in the library at Telion. Deemer’s stories and collection of otherworldly objects had fascinated Mas-hū. He had been a young apprentice then, and his friend still intrigued him now. He wasn’t sure he believed his friend’s claim to be from another world, but Mas-hū knew Deemer would want to know about the bright falling light he’d just seen.
Deemer had been sleeping when he got Mas-hū’s call. Sure this was the one, he had pulled in the last of his favours to buy enough transports to get him to Etar by morning. He was shattered and broke. Mas-hū had better be right about this.
It had taken Lilian more than a few moments sitting and staring before her thoughts began to order themselves. She realised there were tears falling from her face and Milly was staring up at her. The cat’s fluffy tail was sweeping through an expanding puddle of orange juice. Seeing the spilt juice Lilian recalled the drink slipping from her hand. Grateful the glass hadn’t smashed Lilian picked it up, fetched a tea towel and mopped up the mess, drying Milly’s tail too.
Lilian rinsed the stained towel in the sink, and the pipes began their protest again from the loft above. Suddenly the noise made sense; there was no water main to refill the tank which she was emptying rapidly. Lilian quickly shut off the taps and wrung out the worst of the watered-down juice. A shiver of apprehension crept through her.
Taking a moment to catch her breath she gathered the inner strength she’d known all her life. Her gaze drifted back to the new world outside and curiosity about it drew her to a window at the front of the bungalow. The view from here too had changed. In the distance she saw a collection of buildings. A strange corona like glow enveloped the settlement. The sun, she could see, was climbing in the sky over to what had been the West. Lilian felt a mixture of optimism and fear. Maybe she wasn’t alone.
Resting on the window seat, she watched the village in the distance and noticed the glow change from fiery orange to a brighter glistening gold as the sun reached its apex in the sky above. The sky was different too. Instead of the pale blue of an English Spring day it was richer, with a touch of green. Azure, like the sea around Malta.
Lilian saw two figures in the distance. Her excitement edged towards fear; she could see it was two men approaching her home. She suddenly felt the need to be prepared and find shoes, but her comfortable old-lady Hush Puppies didn’t make her feel any braver. She dug through the hall cupboard and came up with a pair of very dusty trainers, and brushing away the years of disuse, she slipped them on. It felt amazing to be wearing the bright pink Nikes again. Returning to the front window, she saw the two men were only a few minutes away.
One was dressed in patchwork trousers, neatly cut and stitched from soft looking materials. He was also wearing a short sleeved pale t-shirt, and over it he had an old brown waistcoat. His younger companion was similarly dressed in trousers, though plainer and almost black in colour, and he wore a full-length sleeveless coat of a fine silvery material.
Feeling confident and deciding they looked friendly enough, Lilian opted to go outside and meet them. Grabbing her keys and opening the front door she found she couldn’t go any further. Beyond the doormat the ground was at least a metre below the doorstep. The path, she supposed, was still on Edison Street, leading nowhere. Lilian leaned around the side of the house, hanging on to the assistance handrail, watching her visitors’ approach.
Deemer had spent the walk filling Mas-hū in on the few other falls he had found since the friends had last met. This one was bigger and both men were eager to see whatever had come down in the night. As a Weaver, Mas-hū’s connection to the natural Ēteru of Doron guided them towards the right place. Mas-hū could feel the world’s bruised surface and as they came closer a small house with a low, shiny roof came into view.
‘This is it?’
‘Doron’s surface is pulsing from the disturbance; this is definitely it. Weird looking house.’
‘A whole house…’ Deemer’s voice trailed off.
‘I said it was big.’ Mas-hū felt his mind reaching, already smoothing the disrupted threads. The Ēteru was calling him to help Doron repair. Just then Mas-hū caught sight of something moving inside the house. ‘What was that? Did you see something…’
‘Impossible, it can’t…there can’t be…’ His voice trailing off again.
There was no further activity until they came within a few paces of the strange building. Deemer put out his hand to stop Mas-hū when he saw a flash of movement halfway down one side. As they edged forward a woman’s face appeared from the same spot, leaning out of a doorway. Waving with one hand, she cautiously spoke.
The two men drew level with the doorway. Thoughts raced through Deemer’s mind. This couldn’t be what it seemed; she must have gotten here from the village before them. He hurriedly looked at Mas-hū, searching in vain for any sign of recognition from the Weaver. Looking back at Lilian he took in the pink Nikes and knew she wasn’t from the village, or even this world.
Lilian didn’t know what to say beyond hello and stood dumbly staring at the two men as they walked up the side of the bungalow. Forgetting her renewed youth, she suddenly felt fearful of them, and stepped back into the hall, her hand resting on the door ready to slam it shut. The younger of the two gathered his thoughts first.
‘It’s okay, we’re not here to hurt you. I’m Mas-hū.’ Holding his hands down at his sides, Mas-hū spread his palms trying to reassure her. Deemer stared open mouthed at Lilian. Sensing something not right with his companion, Mas-hū turned to him.
‘You okay? You look…like you’ve seen a wraith. Deemer, what’s the matter?’ Mas‑hū gently shook Deemer from his trance.
‘Yeah, no. I don’t know. Can you…I need…’ He stopped, looked up at Lilian and then back at Mas-hū, ‘I need to talk to her,’ nodding up towards Lilian, ‘alone.’ Stung by his friend’s dismissal Mas-hū’s internal hackles automatically raised. Deemer sensed it. ‘Doron needs your attention. I’m just asking for a little time.’ The Ēteru was getting more insistent, tugging almost visibly in its need for help. Deemer pulled a parcel of food from his bag and tossed it to Mas-hū. ‘Lunch. I’ll be back soon enough.’ Calmed, Mas-hū caught the offered food and set off to the rear of the strange little house.
Deemer turned his attention back to Lilian and found the door firmly shut. He sighed, grasped the edge of the doorstep and pulled himself up. Tapping on the door he waited. Lilian had withdrawn to the kitchen. The way the older of the two men had stared, as if he saw a ghost, had unsettled her. When the gentle knocking repeated, she relented and returned to the hallway.
Lilian studied the magnified face through the tiny peephole.
‘Who are you?’
‘My name is Jon Deemer. I’m from Exeter.’ Pausing momentarily he continued, ‘well, I was.’
‘In Devon.’ Hoping for a response he waited. The silence stretched on. Deemer knocked gently on the door again. A few seconds later Lilian opened the door.
‘Lilian, Oxfordshire.’ Stepping aside she beckoned him in.
Deemer followed Lilian through to the garden room. Taking in the familiar objects he remembered from Earth, Deemer relaxed. Lilian watched with curiosity as he devoured the room, before insisting he sit down.
‘So, Jon from Exeter, are you searching my home for something in particular?’ She smiled as he focussed on her face, ‘or just anything valuable?’ Her serenity surprising them both.
‘Sorry, it’s been a while since…since I saw normal things. I miss home.’ His voice contradicted his practical appearance. It was almost wistful.
‘How long since…’ Lilian’s eyes dropped from Deemer’s face, her thoughts trailing off.
‘Over ten years.’ Deemer waited until she looked up again. ‘I fell asleep in an armchair. Woke up, still in the chair, but I was in the middle of a field of golden corn.’
‘Wow.’ Lilian breathed, unsure what to say. Deemer quickly outlined his story. In his seventies before he’d arrived on Doron, he now looked as if he were in his mid-thirties. Lilian explained her own age reversal, relieved to find it wasn’t temporary. They discussed the lives they had led back on Earth. Deemer had been a successful plumber, Lilian an electrical engineer in the aeronautical industry.
Lilian had no family of her own and had never married. Her life had been filled with friends, her work and her pets. Milly was Milly the fourth, and the goldfish, well, she’d lost count after 10.
In contrast Deemer’s life had been full of family. His wife had died of cancer in her mid-fifties, but he had a son in Australia and a daughter, Poppy, in Cornwall. It was Poppy, and her son, that Deemer desperately missed. Poppy had been widowed just 3 months after the birth of Ben. As her world crumbled, Deemer had stepped in. He had to get back to them.
‘That’s why I’m here at your house.’ Deemer finished.
‘You think there’s a way back through here?’ Lilian peered around the room which showed no signs of anything other than being her home.
‘I need insulated wire and batteries.’ Deemer’s eyes settled on a large Maglite torch Lilian always kept handy in bad weather. She had pulled it out of the drawer in case the storm knocked out the power the previous evening.
‘They don’t have those here?’ The confusion washed over her face distorting her smooth forehead, foreshadowing the wrinkles she had just lost.
‘No, there’s no electricity.’
‘But they’re not primitive. Far from it.’ Deemer added sensing Lilian’s concern.
His goal was so close, after years of finding dead batteries and scraps of furniture, here was everything he needed. He could feel it.
Questions tumbled through Lilian’s mind. No electricity. How were they advanced?
‘What do you need the batteries and wire for?’ She couldn’t cope with the other thoughts yet, so she left them fizzing beneath the surface of her mind.
‘I have a way…a device. I hope it will work. To get home, back to Earth.’ The pleading look on his face betrayed the seventy years he’d professed to. Lilian softened towards him and thought of the equipment she’d had in the garage. She wondered if it was here or back on earth.
‘Did you happen to see if my garage made the trip as you walked up here?’ Her head tilting to one side very slightly as she spoke. Deemer glimpsed a spark in her eyes as she stood and walked towards a door at the side of the kitchen.
Lilian unlocked the door and held her breath ready for there to be nothing the other side when she opened it. Pleasantly surprised she found the garage largely intact. Lilian quickly found a coil of heavy duty insulated earthing wire, some wire cutters and a motorbike battery. She didn’t know what sort of battery Deemer needed but knew, once charged, the bike battery would be the best she could offer.
Returning to the garden room, Lilian found Deemer looking for a way to open the bi-fold doors.
‘Do these windows open? I could do with checking Mas-hū is okay. This world needs a fair amount of help to recover from your house landing. It’ll be taking a lot out of him.’ Lilian unlocked and opened the end door. The gentle caress of the warm fresh air felt wonderful. Unlocking the remainder of the doors, Lilian folded the entire glass wall back.
The ground was almost level with the floor at the doors so Deemer stepped out. Mas-hū appeared to be bouncing a small ball of blue light on the end of his fingers, passing it from one to the next across each hand. Lilian watched in fascination as Mas-hū accompanied Deemer up to the house; the ball of light continuing its dance until Mas-hū stepped into the house.
Lilian passed Deemer the wire, tool and battery. His initial burst of pleasure waned quickly as Lilian explained the battery would need to be charged. She picked up on his disappointment,
‘Should only take a couple of hours.’ Lilian meant to reassure him. Not wanting to be ungrateful, Deemer harnessed his frustration and asked if she had any full batteries.
‘That will give you more power than any others I can spare combined. I’ve got a charger if that’s what you are worried about.’ Deemer’s response was a little curt and he regretted it immediately; remembering how bewildering it was to arrive in a place which had no electricity. A place where the power came from another source.
Lilian wasn’t offended by the gruff response; she was a couple of steps ahead of him. Her plan might still need some tweaking but her life as an electrical engineer reassured her, she knew enough to make it work. She left the two men bemused and returned to the hallway. Opening a cupboard, she checked the solar invertor and to her relief it showed the 14 shiny solar panels on the roof were generating at full capacity. The large power storage cells were both almost charged too.
Lilian returned to the garden room and both Deemer and Mas-hū looked up at her expectantly. She walked to the wall switch and turned the light on. Deemer’s face immediately flooded with confusion. How is that possible?
‘Solar panels.’ Lilian laughed. Deemer still looked confused. ‘They provide more than enough power for the house, when they get enough sunlight.’ She took the bike battery back to the garage and plugged the charger into it.
Deemer had trouble understanding the presence of solar panels on a house roof. No one he’d known had this technology when he’d left Earth. Had things moved on that far in his absence? Lilian talked about the government funding scheme, which had recently popularised solar in the UK.
Returning to Etar to collect his device, Deemer was happy he would now be able to finish it. Mas-hū stayed with Lilian; he still had work to do and needed to rest. Lilian was happy to have company and a chance to find out about Doronian life and Ēteru.
Mas-hū was as intrigued by the gadgets in the house as Lilian was of all things Doronian. The strange flat surface on which Lilian cooked as well as the dishwasher appeared to be magic to him. There was no Ēteru inside the house; where did the power come from?
Night fell quickly, and it began to rain. As if poked, Mas-hū suddenly pulled back his sleeve and tapped the skin. On it appeared an interface, and above it a miniature projection of Deemer. Lilian was seeing at first hand the Doron equivalent of FaceTime. Expecting never to return to Etar, Deemer decided to tie-up loose ends. He would return to Lilian’s in the morning.
They had long since closed the wide glass opening, but Lilian looked out across the meadow uncertain what the darkness held. Mas-hū tested the couch and concluded he would sleep well; if Lilian wanted him to stay. He had an easy likeable nature, and Lilian felt comforted by his presence. Accepting his offer, Lilian showed Mas-hū the small second bedroom and the bathroom. Remembering the lack of water she wondered how they would be able to use it.
Mas-hū went out and collected buckets of water from the stream which ran close to the bungalow’s new home. Using his own magic, he made sure the water was safe to drink before bottling some to add to Lilian’s cold cupboard. The rest he left in the bathroom.
Lilian still had questions buzzing around her head about this new world she’d found herself in, and they talked late into the night. Dropping off to sleep Lilian hoped this wasn’t all a dream, and she wouldn’t wake up wrinkled and worn out again.
Instead of waking to Milly picking her way across the bed, Lilian woke to the cat yowling and hissing. Calling out as she pulled on her robe Lilian dashed out into the kitchen. She found Mas-hū and Milly in a standoff. Mas-hū, looking like some wild creature ready to pounce, was focussed on his opponent. Milly’s back was arched so high she was on tip toes, and her considerable fur was standing to attention. She looked twice her normal size.
‘Stay back, I can handle this Yōkai.’
‘Yōkai? Demon? You think Milly is a demon?’ Stepping alongside Milly, Lilian pacified the cat before scooping her up into her arms. Mas-hū held his wary stance.
‘This is Milly, she’s my cat…my pet? She’s friendly, here.’ Lilian stepped forward to Mas-hū, Milly now floppy and purring excessively in her arms. Cautiously, Mas-hū reached out a hand and touched the cat’s soft head. Milly responded by pushing into his hand for more.
‘Hmm. What’s with all the fur? And not speaking? That’s not what I call friendly.’ Speaking? Lilian realised there was so much more to discover about life on Doron.
‘Mas-hū, if Deemer manages to get his device working and goes home, will you help me understand more? About Doron?’ Flattered by the request and eager for any opportunity to learn more of Lilian’s world and electricity, Mas-hū nodded. Deemer had always been reluctant to teach him about it.
‘You’re not going with him? To Earth?’ Concern leaking into the Weaver’s voice.
‘No.’ Her tone told Mas-hū her mind was made up, and he dropped the subject.
By the time Deemer returned, Mas-hū and Lilian had inspected the outside of the bungalow. Lilian had opened the garage and was pulling out tools and materials to attempt the repairs she’d identified. Mas-hū was at the back of the house where Lilian had left him muttering to himself. He was weaving the ethereal threads of Doron up to the edge of the building, and just a few on to the large glass doors. The bungalow was beginning to blend into the ground as the land reshaped to accept it. Doron was reluctant at first but Mas-hū had been able to coax it in the same way Lilian had coaxed him into accepting Milly.
Deemer had a small floating platform moving just ahead of him as he arrived. Lilian watched, drawn by the otherworldliness of the floating transport. On it appeared to be the device Deemer had created; his way home.
Exiting the garage as Deemer approached, Lilian smiled in triumph. She handed the battery over.
‘Fully charged as promised.’ The flush of hope on Deemer’s face was all the thanks Lilian needed. She saw how much this meant to him, but something bothered her about his returning to Earth. She couldn’t define it. Yet.
‘I think I have everything we need. I am sorry we are not going to have enough power to take your home back, but if you have a box for Milly…’ Lilian interrupted before he went any further.
‘We’re staying here.’
Open mouthed and unable to speak Deemer took a few moments to wrap his head around what Lilian was saying. Then suddenly he was talking at nineteen to the dozen. Was she mad? She had seemed sensible enough yesterday. How could she not want to go home?
Lilian’s reasons were not complicated; unlike Deemer she had no one to go back to. Her life on earth was over and this felt like a second chance. Hearing about life on Doron from Mas-hū, Lilian knew this could be her new home. It felt right; new life, new adventures and a new world.
Determined in his own course, Deemer selected a spot a few hundred metres behind the bungalow and began setting up his contraption. He was glad of Lilian’s soldering skills as she reinforced his crude wiring. She admitted to not having the faintest idea about the Ēteru elements but was impressed by his circuit design. On top of the transport platform, at the centre of the device was a tattered old armchair; the one Deemer had fallen asleep in, on Earth, in 1985.
Mas-hū helped Deemer reinforce the magical elements of the device, and then rigged up a crude communication terminal, using one of the glass panels in the bi-fold doors of Lilian’s garden room. It was limited and could only connect with his or Deemer’s terminal. He assured Lilian that given time the thread of Ēteru would strengthen and she would be able to communicate freely. For now, she could watch and talk to Deemer while he worked out in the distance.
Deemer’s invention was intended to introduce a static charge into the atmosphere during the rain which fell every night on Doron. Lilian remembered the storm which had raged on her last night on Earth. Mas-hū could only vaguely grasp the concept of thunder and lightning. It never occurred on Doron. Deemer’s device would change that, for one night only, sending Deemer back.
Lilian’s concerns about Deemer returning home came into focus as they talked. How could he be sure that his reversed age wouldn’t disappear if he went back? Being in his eighties suddenly, wouldn’t be easy. Deemer didn’t care; Poppy needed him.
Lilian thought more practically; where would he land? If location here corresponded to location on Earth, he would land in Oxfordshire, not Devon. How he would get from there to Poppy? Lilian offered him cash, but he confidently pulled out several large purple twenties from his wallet. Lilian recognised the old paper notes.
‘Those won’t work. Money is plastic now.’
‘Debit cards mainly, but no, I meant the paper money. It’s not made of paper anymore.’ Lilian pulled out a plasticky ten-pound note from her purse and held it up for him to see.
Deemer finished up and returned to the house; he would have to wait a few hours for the rain. The plastic bank notes and the funny little microchip in the debit card Lilian showed him added to Deemer’s excitement of getting home. Unable to discourage him, Lilian gave him all the cash she could find, wishing she had more to give.
Once the rain started Deemer thanked Lilian, and she pressed something into his hand.
Mas-hū walked out to the platform with his friend. Lilian watched as they hugged goodbye before Mas-hū returned to Lilian’s side.
They watched Deemer on the window terminal. He connected the battery and began the Ēteru weave to activate the device. Once the weave was complete, silence fell, and the tension ratcheted up. The magical connection to the door-screen wavered like a TV in a storm, and Deemer’s image flickered. Lilian’s doubts got the better of her again.
‘Are you absolutely sure about this Deemer? Ten years is a long time. Things have changed.’
‘I have to go.’ They could see the wind driving the rain across his face as the device started to generate the storm. Small sparks of lightening flittered above Deemer; the power was building.
‘It can’t be that different.’ Deemer looked down at the shiny penny Lilian had pressed into his hand. ‘2019? Wait, that’s not…’ Deemer’s voice was whipped away by the wind and Lilian never heard the end of his sentence. The thunder roared as the lightening grew to full power.
Seconds later everything was silent. The rain resumed its passive downward motion.
Deemer and his device were gone.