‘’I feel sick,’’ declared Sandra suddenly. (That’s me, by the way)
"No you don’t ‘’ muttered Jeremy, looking quite green himself.
"You had better not do it on me!" shrieked Isabell, shrinking away in horror at the thought of getting her best dress even slightly dirty. Nigel said nothing. Jeremy and I are twins, but we look nothing alike. I am tall and slim with long blonde hair and big blue eyes, whereas Jeremy is short, stout and freckled with red hair and green eyes. On the other hand, Isabell and Nigel are obviously brother and sister. Like me they are very tall and very slim, but unlike me they are of a dark complexion.
We were on our way to a museum of doll’s houses to collect information for a school project. None of us actually wanted to go, but our parents had told us to do some school work, and Nigel’s father had said that there was a museum of antique toys in a nearby town and so we were on a train.
The museum was quite a disappointment. Our map had led us to a narrow, winding street of old, dilapidated buildings that seemed so ancient that they had to lean against each other for support. One of them had a sign hanging above it that said ‘Museum’ in brown, peeling paint. We stood in front of it, silently drinking in the roof that was missing tiles, the prehistoric door that hung crookedly on its hinges and the jungle of weeds that choked the front yard. Finally, Nigel took a deep breath and said (in an attempt at an optimistic voice) ‘’Well then, in we go folks.’’
On the inside the museum was only a little better. We wandered aimlessly through room after room of doll’s houses that sat in glass cabinets that were coated in a thick blanket of dust. Their labels were hand written and nearly impossible to read. We appeared to be the only people in the whole museum, apart from an old lady who took our money when we went in and called us ‘sweet children’ with a toothless smile.
After a surprisingly tiring morning of looking at and taking notes of doll’s houses that after a while all looked the same, we decided to go and have our lunch. Once we had eaten our meal of sandwiches and biscuits in a quiet corner of the museum, we felt strangely drowsy. “Anyone mind if I have a quick nap?’’ asked Jeremy with a yawn.
“Not at all, in fact I think I might join you.’’ Nigel replied. Isabell and I agreed that this sounded like an excellent idea and so, using our coats as blankets, we fell into a deep sleep.
I was the first to wake. I looked around and was surprised to find that it was dark. I drew back the blind on the window and saw only darkness there too. My heart started thumping inside my chest. “Isabell, Jeremy, wake up!’’ there was something comforting about hearing my own voice penetrating the thick darkness, so I carried on, shaking the others to wake them. “Nigel, come on! Wake up.’’ Thankfully, they did. They looked around and were equally confused to see how dark the museum was. When they saw the night sky outside, they started to panic. Nigel’s watch confirmed that it was a quarter to nine in the evening. “We must have slept all through the afternoon!’’ Whispered Jeremy, wide eyed. We said nothing. Nigel, as the eldest, took charge.
“Well. We’d better gather up our stuff and catch the next train home.” He said in a voice that had a definite wobble to it. We nodded mutely and began to oblige. We put on our coats and picked up our bags, but when we made our way to the front door, we found, to our absolute horror, that it was locked! We stared at the door, silently imploring it to unlock itself, which of course it didn’t do.
‘”What are we going to do now?” I asked in a high, panicky voice.
“Sleep here?”--that was Isabell.
“Smash the door?” was Jeremy’s idea.
“We’ll look for a back door.” said Nigel firmly. And so we did. We walked through endless corridors, up and down stairs that didn’t seem to lead anywhere, until finally Jeremy called out “A door! It’s a door to the outside!” We came running and found him standing next to a door that, sure enough, looked like it led to the street behind the museum.
“Open it then!” cried Isabell. Jeremy did so and stepped outside into…broad daylight.
We stared in amazement at the incongruous scene before us. We appeared to have opened a door into a street from the Victorian era. Horses pulled carriages along the cobbled road and through the windows we could see gentlemen in top hats and jackets and ladies in beautiful dresses of red, green and blue silk. Walking on the pavements were people that looked more like servants of some kind, dressed in checked frocks and shawls, or liveries in hideous shades of green. The buildings on either side of the road seemed to be shops, judging from the various items displayed in the front windows. There were also children, some even younger than us, dressed in rags with faces smeared with dirt and grime, pleading with passers-by. Some offered small, wilting bouquets of flowers and some simply held out their empty hands, begging for a penny for some food.
“What…?” Nigel managed to splutter. “Where are we?”
“I honestly have no – what on earth are you wearing?” Isabell broke off. Then she looked at us and down at herself. We had been so surprised to find ourselves apparently whisked back in time, that we had entirely failed to notice that we were all dressed as Victorians as well. Isabell and I wore uncomfortable blue and white linen dresses and matching blue caps, and the boys wore ugly shirts and breeches.
“Where did all this come from?” exclaimed Jeremy. “We weren’t wearing this a moment ago.”
“We’re dressed as servants or workers or some kind,” I whispered “we’ve gone back in time and now we’re servants! Nigel, you’re the eldest, what do we do?”
“Simple,” said Nigel, “we’ll go back through the door and into the museum.” But when we turned around the door had disappeared.
“What now then?” demanded Isabell, trying to conceal the wave of panic that was rising within her. But before we could form an answer, a shout rang out from across the road.
“There you are! Come on, quickly or else you’ll be late!” a lady dressed the same as me and Isabell was waving to us. “What are you staring at? Come to the mill, for heaven’s sake. They might have missed you already!” She sounded impatient, almost urgent. After a quick whispered discussion, we decided that if we had been whisked back in time as mill workers, then we might as well follow this lady to the mill. Then perhaps we could find out a way to get back to the museum.
The textile mill was a large, imposing building. A stream of workers was making its way in through a side door. Some were adults, some looked barely over five years old, but none of them looked like they wanted to be there. The woman we had followed in (whose name we soon found out was Jenny) was reprimanding us for straying out of the grounds of the factory, but she sounded more worried than angry.
Inside the mill the noise was the first thing that hit us. It was the noise of machines roaring and crashing and of hundreds of people yelling orders at each other. It was so loud that it seemed to be more like a solid thing, hitting our ears over and over again, but the workers merely flinched, as if they were used to this sort of immense clattering and crashing. The second thing we noticed was the air. It was stale, as if the only draft that ever came into the room was when the workers came and went. It was also dirty. There were so many bits of fluff, dust and dirt floating around that it partially obscured our vision and made us cough. And then there was the heat. It was sweltering in there, and the smell of sweat made us want to gag.
“Scavengers over here! Oi, you two, scavengers!” An angry looking man was yelling to Isabell and me and beckoning to us. Standing in a line next to him were around twenty children, all of whom looked incredibly scared. Jenny pushed me and Isabell forward with a sympathetic look on her kind face. With one last imploring glance at the boys, Isabell and I shuffled to stand at the back of the line. Nigel and Jeremy were called over to be ‘piercers’.
The man we had gone next to was walking along the seemingly never-ending row of machines and each time he came to one he would shove two children towards it. We looked at what the children did, because we knew that when the man came to our place in the line, we would have to do the same. It did not look like fun. The enormous machines were moving back and forth, and each time it moved back, the children had to go on all fours and collect as much of the fluff and dirt that was collecting under there as they could. However, the machines moved forward again so quickly that the children had to use every ounce of their awareness to scurry out of the way in time to avoid getting sliced open by the blades on the bottom of the machines. We dreaded our turn.
The boys had not fared much better. They were taken to stand next to one of the machines, were there was a basket that had a long string of cotton in it. Or at least it was meant to. There was a child standing next to it who was fishing the cotton out and handing it to an adult who would feed it into the machine. Every time there was a weak point or a break in the string, the boys had to rub the two ends together until they joined up. After only ten minutes their hands were sore and cut. They kept an eye on us and saw that two girls were being pushed to each machine, but they couldn’t see what we were doing.
However, we and the boys were immensely relieved to find that purely by luck, we had been put to work at the same machine. We stood staring at each other for a few seconds, so surprised were we to find ourselves together again. Then one of the supervisors roared at us to “get back to work, you ungrateful mites, or it’ll be back to the work’ouse for you.” We got back to work.
After half an hour a lady came round and offered us a cup of water. Although we were sweating prolifically and were near parched we declined when we saw the black smears on the cup and the murky water that had fluff floating around in it.
We were beginning to panic. It was clear that there was no way into our time from here and me and Isabell had nearly lost our fingers several times, not to mention the boy’s hands. The constant roar of noise had given us splitting headaches and we had sore throats from coughing constantly. Each time we tried to catch our breath; the supervisor would force us back to work. After nearly two hours of horrific, gruelling work, Nigel whispered to the rest of us, “We’ve got to get out of here.’’ It was so loud that we had to lip-read, but we got the message all the same. We all agreed, but how to do it? If we so much as paused, the supervisor would bellow numerous threats at us, so how were we supposed to stop working altogether and sneak out? We were at a loss. It was difficult enough to communicate in such a noisy environment, much less form an escape plan.
Soon after our chance came, though it was not for a good reason. At the other end of the row, there came a scream. Isabell and I, peering between people’s legs and under the machines could see a boy, only around nine years of age, lying sprawled on his back with a huge gash on his arm. We gasped and stared at him, then pointed him out to the boys, who turned a sickly shade of green at the sight of the gaping wound. The supervisor was kneeling next to him, inspecting the cut. Jeremy was the first to recover his wits.
“Look, this is our chance. Let’s run for it whilst they’re distracted.” We blinked at him, and then nodded. We turned around in perfect unison and sprinted as fast as we could towards the door. People started shouting - someone had noticed us leaving – and we heard the thunder of footsteps as people tried to catch us. Driven on by the awful thought of having to go back there and face the wrath of the tall, strong and altogether terrifying supervisor, we quickened our pace. After sprinting down the stairs, out the door and under the fence, we dashed into an alleyway to catch our breath.
We leaned against the walls, panting. “Are they following us?” I asked. Isabell peered round the corner. “No.” She replied. We stood in silence for a moment until the inevitable question was asked: how were we going to get back home? We walked out of the alleyway and wandered through streets much like the one we had entered from the doll’s house museum. Suddenly, Jeremy stopped and stared up at the building next to him
“It looks like the museum.”
“So it does’’
“And it’s got blinds instead of curtains.”
We all looked at it. We had not noticed it before, but Jeremy was right. Each window had blinds, and now we looked, they seemed oddly out of place in the Victorian street.
“Hey, and it’s got an electric doorbell too!”
“Oh, and look, a television aerial.” We were really excited now. We looked at each other, nodded, and marched up to the door. We didn’t need to speak, but we all had the same thing in our minds: maybe this was the portal to the museum!
We open the door, stepped inside and… nothing. We were in a Victorian shop. But then Jeremy gasped. We looked in the same direction and saw that the old woman behind the counter was the same woman that had taken our money when we went into the museum. “Can I help you, sweet children?” she asked politely. And then there was darkness, and a feeling that we were being spun around and dropped from a great height at the same time.“Oof!” we had landed. Once we had sat up we looked around in surprise. We were back in the museum. We got up and brushed ourselves off. “Look at our hands!” exclaimed Nigel. He showed his and Jeremy’s hands to us. There, on his palms, were lots of small white scars, as if he had once spent the day furiously rubbing together the ends of cotton strings. We nodded and gave each other knowing smiles, relieved to find ourselves back in a time where all we had to worry about was being sick on trains.