Out of Time is the first in a YA (Young Adult) time-travelling four-book series that currently exists only as several pages of plot-notes. This is the first draft of the opening scene (about 1400 words.)
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Drowning was nothing like I expected it to be. And even as I think these words I can hear my mother’s voice saying ‘And why, pray, should the world always accord with your expectations?’ Of course, to be fair, I had no particular expectations as concerns drowning. Imagining that would have been morbid and a waste of my leisure. And I could not have dreamt up this in any case. (And here my mother would chide: ‘One must be ready for anything, as life can be very peculiar,’ though I cannot think of a single peculiar thing that ever happened to my mother.)
It was a golden hour in a golden afternoon. I was on a picnic with my elder sisters, Viola and Cordelia, my elder brother, Oberon, and my younger brothers, Romeo and Sebastian — only our eldest brother, William, was missing — and my friend, Louisa, came along, too. The most lovely thing, indeed that which made the whole afternoon glitter in my eyes, was that Louisa’s elder brother, Thomas, was with us. I had thought he was invited since he and Oberon were friends since childhood, but Louisa whispered that he had truly come especially to see me. And then, after we had eaten, Thomas asked if Louisa and I would like to row across the pond, and that was a double-pleasure for me. First, of course, I delight in any moment spent in his company, for he is in all ways agreeable to me: amiable, kind, keen-witted and handsome. But I must confess that it pleased me in a very unsisterly way that I could almost see Viola swell up with jealousy when he asked me. She is nearly twenty-two, and unspeakably lovely to look at, but I think she forgets that although I am only seventeen I am no longer so awkward as I was even last summer, when she spent every possible moment flirting with Thomas and utterly failed to make any make any notable progress. She hissed at me under her breath as I went by: ‘Do not imagine what is not there, Ariel. He asked you only because you are Louisa’s friend. You are but a child to him, you know.’
‘If you say so, Viola,’ I replied, and walked away, my head held high in triumph. I wonder if she regrets her words now.
I wonder if he regrets asking me.
The pond is a large one, and Thomas took us the long way, end to end. He spoke much with me, and I even made him laugh. He said that I was a very clever girl. Feeling bold, I replied that I had always thought it my advantage to apply myself to my lessons, as I would never be as pretty as Viola or Cordelia.
‘You are quite pretty enough, as I have no doubt you are aware, Miss Ariel.’ Thomas chuckled, and then added: ‘Though we are in a boat you needn’t fish.’ The he winked, which I think was to show he meant it not unkindly, and only said it to be clever. Still, I blushed, from an odd mix of pleasure and mortification, and I turned my head so he would not see.
That is when I saw it. In the water alongside the boat was a glow. It was not the reflected sun, for it was not bright like that. It was a peculiar dull red glow, like from the embers of a fire. ‘There! Under the water. What is that?’ I exclaimed, pointing. Thomas and Louisa turned to look.
‘What is what?’ Louisa asked.
‘Don’t you see it? It’s like a fire, burning under the water.’ I was amazed they were so calm. Louisa looked puzzled.
‘I am sure it was just a reflexion,’ said Thomas.
‘It isn’t a reflexion, Mr Garnet. It’s still there. Look!’ I tried to indicate more precisely.
‘There’s nothing there, Ariel,’ said Louisa, giving me a sympathetic, regretful look, with a significant nod towards her brother.
‘I know what you are thinking, Louisa Garnet! And I am not being contrary because I embarrassed myself. I’m not!’
‘Miss Ariel, you are with friends, and there is no need to become excited.’ Thomas’ voice was calm.
‘Mr Garnet, Louisa, if you would but look where I am pointing…’
‘We are looking, Ariel. There’s nothing there,’ Louisa insisted.
‘How can you not see it?’ I exclaimed, losing my composure and standing up. The little row-boat lurched. Thomas threw out his arms to steady us. The oars clattered. I pointed, leaning too far over.
‘Ariel!’ I heard Louisa cry.
‘Miss Ariel!’ Thomas exclaimed at the same time. He reached for me as I fell over the side into the pond towards the ruby light. I had no time to formulate expectations: would it feel like a hot flame? Would I hit something? Was it harmful? I had no time to think these things for I was gripped with terror: I cannot swim. My skirts and petticoats tangled around my legs, pulling me down. Farther and farther down. I would not have thought the pond so deep. It is not a natural pond, after all. It was dug out some ten years previously and there should not have been so far to sink. I waved my arms, grasping for anything in the water that could support me. I tried to find the bottom with my feet. I truly expected, with every breath I missed, to feel Thomas’s hands find me and pull me back to the surface, back to daylight. And some part of my mind too silly to panic even imagined the bond that would surely exist between us if he saved my life, tenderness and a life together ever after.
But Thomas Garnet did not rescue me. And I could do nothing for myself. I was not even sure which way was up, for when I opened my eyes, the rosy-red light seemed a very long way above me, and beyond it I thought I could just see the shadow of the boat and two figures leaning over the side. The next instant I was shivering with cold. The water, which had been tepid in the summer sun when I fell in was suddenly icy. All glimmer of light faded from above me. And I thought with unnatural calm ‘So I am drowned, then.’ Then all at once I found me feet. The suddenness made it more disconcerting than comforting. Although the ground was soft and muddy, I could stand, and the water was only a few inches past my waist. I gasped for as much air as my lungs would take, coughing between desperate breaths. But I felt no relief nor rejoicing. The air was whispering round me in a frosty breeze. It was nighttime, under a full silvery moon, and I was all alone.
“Louisa? Thomas…I mean, Mr Garnet?” I called in a rasping voice. I was shaking with cold and began to pick my way carefully to shore through the reeds and grasses that now surrounded me. I am sure that a drowning person, in their panic, can drift a long way on a current without realising, but there are no currents in a pond, so I had no notion how I ended up there. It could not have been where I fell in, for the boat could not have rowed through such thick reeds. I was shaking violently as I crawled out of the pond. I can honestly attest that I did not know if I was dead or alive. The cold and windy darkness did not accord with anything I had been taught of Heaven or Hell. I still felt very fleshy and solid, though on the verge of shattering with cold, but if I was alive I could make no sense of my surroundings. I appeared to be still by the pond in Mr Hale’s field, where we had set up for our picnic, but how strange was the landscape I could see in the moonlight! The trees around the pond were enormously tall and bare of their leaves, and across the pond where there had been a little copse of elm trees there was a rolling lawn, bare of defining features. Not knowing what to do, I turned for home, hoping I could walk the two miles without catching my death of cold, if indeed I had survived the water.