It’s a small, red, leather cricket ball. I pick it up, turning it over in my hands, and get to my feet. My head hurts; I put a hand to my forehead and when I bring it back, it’s sticky with blood. I must’ve hit my head I think, but there isn’t any blood on the gravestones around me. Just then, a tall blond boy comes over to me, yelling: “Will! You alright? You’ve hit your head!” I nod, dazed. Why is he calling me Will? The boy looks down at my hands. “Good, you got the ball. You all right, mate?” He grabs my arm. “Quick! The Angry Abbot’s coming!” He pulls me up and we start running across the cemetery, then out through a low wooden gate.
As we cross the road, I look back and see a man in a cassock. He shakes a fist at us, and as I stare, I see a monastery behind him. But – I thought the monastery had been destroyed long ago, in World War Two? One night in early September, “the last days of summer”, Mum always said, a lone German bomber unexpectedly emptied its load of incendiaries. Five dead. Nobody saw it coming – not in a little nowhere place like Banwell. And as I mull this over, I notice the boy’s old-fashioned clothes – long shorts and socks and a tank top over a shirt, a satchel over his shoulder … My head starts to spin, and I stumble into the boy. He jumps and catches me. “Will! You don’t look so good old boy, you’re all pale. Come on, let’s get back to the lads.”
He leads me to a field, chucks the ball back to a group of boys – who shout “Ta, Jim!” – then he takes me to a sink in a cramped hut and goes outside. I splash my face, and when I look up to the grimy mirror, I almost scream. The reflection is of a dark-haired boy with freckles on his nose, wearing a knitted vest, a shirt and the same long shorts and socks as Jim. What has happened to me? I squeeze my eyes shut. I’m Tabitha, Tabitha Martin. On my way home from my first day at secondary school. Eleven today. Late for my birthday tea with Mum. I lean my head against the cool mirror, breathing deeply.
Just then, Jim, who is waiting outside, calls: “Will! Come on!” I dry my face on my jumper and run outside. He opens his grubby hand to show me a coin. “I forgot to buy the paper for Grandad. Want to come?” I nod, and we run down the street to a small corner shop. Jim grabs a newspaper from the rack outside and we go inside. “Can I see?” I ask. Jim shrugs and passes it to me. On the front, it says:
THE BANWELL CHRONICLE Wednesday 4th September 1940
BRITAIN GETS 50 DESTROYERS: U.S. 8 BASES
I stop reading and hand the newspaper back to Jim, because now I’m sure. Somehow, I don’t know how, but I am definitely in 1940. Which means the monastery could be bombed any time now. The shop bell rings. I snap back to reality and quickly follow Jim outside. He grins at me, then looks up at the sky. “It’s getting late. I’d better get back or…” he stops and pats his pockets. “My penknife! It must’ve fallen out at the monastery! Want to go, quickly?” And at that moment, I know why I’m here. This is the night Mum told me about – the night the monastery gets bombed. I have to get Jim’s penknife, so he isn’t killed in the explosion. “I’ll get it,” I say. “You go home, Jim. I’ll give it to you tomorrow.” He grins. “You’re a pal, Will,” he says, and pats me on the back. “See you tomorrow.”
I run into the cemetery. I can hear a droning sound above and then, suddenly, the silence shatters like glass and there is fire and smoke all around me. Then, near the monastery door, I see Jim’s penknife and stumble over, and then there are more explosions and I choke in the thickening smoke. There are flames all around me and my vision starts to blur. I stagger forward, gasping and coughing; I’m burning on the inside and the outside. My fingers close around the knife and I try to stand up, but I am standing in a ring of fire – I can barely see my hand in front of my face. I slip and fall and close my eyes because I can’t bear it any longer; I wheeze and choke, and then I take the breath I know will be Will’s last.
I can feel grass. Slowly, I open my eyes. I am in Banwell cemetery, and there is no monastery behind me. I look at my watch: 8:30pm. Exactly the time I fell. Then I see it out of the corner of my eye, on the nearest gravestone:
13th August 1929 – 4th September 1940
We will remember him always
I take Jim’s penknife out of my pocket. “He saved my life, you know.” I turn around: it’s a tall old man with thin white hair under a flat cap. He has bunch of bright yellow tulips clutched in his hands. I nod respectfully and watch as he places them on Will’s grave. I look down at the penknife in my hand, ‘JB Rogers’ carved into the dark wood. As the old man turns to go, I touch his arm, and he turns around. I show him the penknife. “I think you forgot this,” I say. “At – at the monastery.” Jim’s eyes widen and he reels back, and, taking a deep breath, rubs his eye with the back of his hand.“Oh no,” he whispers, and smiles at me, his eyes shining with tears. “I never forgot. It was the last days of summer …”