When I woke, I was in an unfamiliar house, lying on a sofa with a hand-knitted blanket tucked around me. It was alien and yet, something assured me that I wasn’t in a nightmare any more. I was safe here. Blearily, I took in the scene. It was a quiet and cosy little room, with a dark brown carpet and blue wallpaper. An old-fashioned corded landline phone sat in the corner, on a small coffee table. The TV, too, looked like a relic from a bygone era: a great bulky brown box with these massive buttons and dials on it, and an absolutely tiny screen. My initial thought was that this person must really be into retro stuff.
In addition to the TV, there was a wireless radio in the room, sitting proudly in the centre of the mantelpiece. As the clock on the wall struck six, a news bulletin played from the machine.
This is the BBC light programme. Here is the news… the ridiculously plummy voice announced. I almost choked on my own laughter. What on earth…was this some kind of throwback house? Was this person stuck in his or her own nostalgia?
I tried to sit up but, no sooner than I did, a tall and slim young woman with wildly curly brown hair came charging into the room and immediately tried to stop me.
“Don’t move, your ankle’s sprained!” she cried, grabbing me by the shoulders. “You were in an accident, sweetheart, and I don’t want you to get up before you’re completely well!”
“What the – accident – where am I? What’s going on? Who even are you?” I demanded to know.
“Oh God. Don’t you remember?” she asked fearfully.
“Stop this. Stop this silliness. The doctor checked you over, he said you weren’t concussed, just a bit shell-shocked,” she said, in a manner that suggested that she wasn’t sure whether I was joking or not.
“What are you talking about?!” I said.
The woman sank down onto the sofa beside me, taking my hands in her own and looking me straight in the eyes. For some reason, I found my face steadily growing redder and redder. I assumed it was because of the weirdness of the situation, but I couldn’t help but notice that she had the most beautiful brown eyes I had ever seen.
“Listen to me, Charlotte. You were in a road accident, just outside my house,” she said in that slow, calm, ‘everything-will-be-all-right’ voice that you use to calm down hysterical people.
“I brought you inside, and phoned the doctor to check you over. He asked you your name – that’s how I know it’s Charlotte Ray, see? – and then he asked you what year it was, and that’s when I got worried, because you said it was two thousand and fourteen.”
She spoke as though I would be just as shocked as she was that I had told her that this year was this year. She even pronounced it oddly, as though it didn’t sit right on her tongue: as though she couldn’t ever imagine such a year existing. And she thought I was confused!
“It is 2014! And you still haven’t told me where I am or who you are!” I said.
The woman looked legitimately scared now.
“My name is Natalie Heath. It’s 1963 and you’re in my house recovering from an accident.”
I was still in the nightmare. I had to be. This couldn’t be real.
“For God’s sake!” I cried, my breathing becoming shallower and tears starting to sting my own eyes. “You’re completely mental! Get me out of this nuthouse! It is 2014, and I want to go home!”
Was I going mad? Was I still in the nightmare? Would red-eyed demon man be coming back soon to remind me that I was in a horrible, horrible nightmare?
I started pinching my skin and even slapping it, hard, feeling it sting and knowing it was real. In desperation, I started to cry, shrieking please, please, this can’t be happening!
Natalie cried out and ran from the room in a panic. She returned with a newspaper, which she shoved into my hands, with cries of stop it, for goodness sakes!
“Look at the date! The date!” she pleaded. I stopped flailing long enough to do just that.
28th September 1963.
That was it. I burst into floods of tears, and didn’t even bother to put up a fight when Natalie swiftly took me into her arms and hugged me tight, letting me cry into the shoulder of her pale blue dress.
I was so confused, I didn’t care what she did. I just clung to her like a baby to its mother.
She seemed so kind. So beautiful. Please God, I prayed, don’t let her be a psychopath.