The people populating Destination aren’t real. They’re ghosts, yea? Yet, as Julia says, what ghost hurls a stone-headed spear at you.
The look Fliss gave me was riddled with hate. And the one she shot Kenneth wasn’t much lighter. What, she thought we’d something going between us? Now there was a risible thought—which, apparently, was yet to hit Kenneth.
“Look, Fliss-babes, it’s Sunday, the bus service lank; I’m just gonna run her home then I’ll be right back. Half-hour? Most?”
I had hoped Fliss would invite me to stay. My belly was rumbling, and though the Lady’s fridge was sort of sorted I didn’t trust it and there was nothing in it that would qualify as Sunday lunch. But Fliss merely rolled her eyes and waved us away as if, like troublesome kids, she wanted rid of us. I gathered together my overnight bag and laptop, patted my jeans’ pocket to confirm I had the USB-stick, and heaved myself up into Ken’s very posh, very new, very clean 4×4. As he pulled out of the Priory driveway I turned back to wave to Dave. I knew he’d wanted the ‘honour’ of driving me home. I’d seen it in his face, the way it dropped.
As soon as out of the gate, Ken said—confusing, unprefaced, “You acknowledged them. Mega bloop.”
I looked at him. “Wh—?”
“The indies,” he said. “You have to keep walkin’, don’t turn round. That way they believe you’re a deity and, as per, they leave you alone. Though they might make an offering. Eatables—fruits, a baked youngling. Beast, id est, not human. And never face-on; they won’t approach. They’ll leave it wherever last they saw you. So always worth a return. Saves a rumbling gut when you’re there several days.”
I stared, jaw slowly dropping. I was flabbered. “But . . . You’ve kept quiet on it. Why?”
“Nix, I said the first time (you weren’t there). Thereafter . . . Her Imperious Highness doesn’t want to know, and you’ve suffered her caustic tongue. Just now: ‘My, what a rich imagination you have, Jules-darling, must be your indie genes.’ Which way?”
He turned right, heading for Lydeway, before I could tell him to turn left. By cutting across, via Hartmoor, he could have avoided the town and saved time and fuel. Still, I suppose that wasn’t a consideration for him.
“Of course I’ve clocked them. Dave too.” He sounded suddenly angry.
“But . . .” I didn’t understand. “Kenneth, these sightings are as valuable as Dave’s plants and those earthworks.”
“Ken,” he said.
It took me a moment to realise he was offering me his shortened name.It had touched me, deeply. I struggled to again find the thread. “Ken . . . But you must know archaeology is about people as much as places. No people, no places.” Oops, I sounded like one of my ‘interactive lectures’. But it’s true. There would be no henges, no standing stones, barrows round or long, no causeway camps—nothing—without first there’s the people to make them. And the latest drive was on discovering why these people made those particular features.
“Her Majesty has the mazoola,” he said, his anger subsiding into resignation. “And, quote, ‘One puny person leaves piddling relics’.”
“She said—Nonsense! That’s all archaeologists have to study: those ‘piddling relics’, that and their various constructs. So what have you seen?” I asked, trying to calm the agitation.
“Starters? Same settlement you saw,” he said. “But listen—advice, Julia—don’t lay your neck; tell her what she wants. Hard facts, to sell the project. That’s what Dave and I do now.”
I groaned. “That’s . . . frustrating! Doesn’t she realise, with so few domestic remains the archies would bite off her arms for this.”
He shook his head at me. “Not when it’s buried deep beneath a modern village. Even if we recorded it, there’d be no digs there.”
“If we record it? Don’t tell me you’ve not even recorded it?” How lax could they be.
Again, he shook his head at me. “Upstairs—where Boud’ in her chariot can’t go. And don’t bother to record it on her office bizzo. As soon as found she’ll delete it. You want to record it? Do as we do and keep it on your person, on your gizmo.”
“But . . .” this was confusing. “She accepted my sighting. She was as excited as me.”
“That’s called humouring: ro keep you interested, give you something to report, get the feel.”
I couldn’t believe it, and I was in danger of shrinking into myself. Well I wouldn’t allow it. “So what else have you seen? You’ve been pod-tripping for—how long?”
I was glad, now, he’d taken the longer route. I wanted to thoroughly pick his brains. He’d been pleased when I confirmed his report on the earthwork, though I could see he’d still like it to be a burial barrow. He’d been relieved, too, that I’d failed to find sign of the cursus. We both agreed it had to be a later creation. It therefore didn’t qualify as a cursus, and if the archies knew that then they might be tempted into a more thorough investigation. That, at least, had pleased Her Highness (I rather liked the way both Dave and Ken mocked her like that. But, that aside,) it was for features like this cursus that her time-pod technology would be invaluable.
And now we were hitting the town. Sunday, it wasn’t as busy as weekday traffic; instead, tourist season now beginning we had the idiot-drivers now emerging from hibernation. I suppose most of their idiocy came from not knowing the roads and not wanting to miss a snip at the sights. Ken blasted his horn at a driver who’d cut across him just as he was turning onto St John’s Street.
“We have two cultures here, north and south of the Vale.” he said once calm again in the traffic.
“Indigenous Wessex and intrusive Cotswold-Severn,” I labelled them.
“And that Cotswold-Severn? Peachy; it’s matriarchal. Not that I’ve ventured far onto Marlborough Downs to know how wide its spread. And I reckon, even there, they’re rubbing parts with your Wessex indies.”
I’d pulled back, enough to look at him. I don’t know whether he saw me frown.
“How’d you know they’re matriarchal?” Ever since the feminist movement there had been frequent claims of matriarchal societies in all kinds of places. Avebury, the Sanctuary and Silbury Hill were particularly favoured.
“They don’t have the Big Man—as far as I see. You know, the Big Man? Gathers in the goods, issues them out again. Nope, for them, the Big Man’s a Big Woman—and before you ask, I’ve seen it. Sleds, heavy with grain-sacks, hauled through the hills to the banks of the Kennet. There’s a store-house of sorts. I don’t know—a granary? A communal affair but controlled by three women.” He suddenly laughed. “You know the feminist myth of the three phased moon: woman as nymph, as mother and hag? Well that’s these three. But try telling Fliss all this and you know what she’d say. Straight out of fantasy—the collective unconscious—the Fates, fairy tales, whatever. Guarantee she wouldn’t believe me. So, shtoom.”
But, I frowned, what he was telling me couldn’t be right. “There shouldn’t be communal granaries, here, at this time. We’re not talking Egypt or Mesopotamia. These people aren’t supposed to be sufficiently organised.”
“And we aren’t supposed to be really there—yet you won’t deny it, those buggers can see us.”
“They think us ghosts,” I said.
“Only if we ignore them.”
We were through the town. “Turning to the mooring coming up. Your side.” I waited then till he’d crossed the traffic, although here it was minimal. “So what are you saying? You think we really are there? Forty-six hundred years ago. But how? I mean, how can water and rock transport us?”
He was quiet for a while. He had to pull in to allow a cherry-red Citroen to pass us and the road was narrow. It was loaded with a family of teenage kids. “Looks like your idyll is about to be shot.”
“Na. They’ll stock up on food and move straight out—the challenge of the Caen Hill locks. But, listen, Ken, I desperately want to get to Durrington Walls. And I don’t want to get there just to have the ‘pod grab me back before I’ve explored. I need at least two days at Destination—preferably three. Will you support me in that? Put in a word so Fliss will allow it?”
“Three days? You up to that? You won’t get yourself wiped as, almost, you did today?”
I didn’t answer. I’d been so willing to believe we didn’t actually transport, that we weren’t really there. Now Ken was telling me otherwise.
“This brown bucket yours?” he asked as he pulled up alongside the Lazy Lady.
“Yea, I know, she needs work. But I’ve just so much money and so much time, I can’t do it all at once. I reckoned internal repairs and renovations come first. She’ll be painted and spruced by the end of the season. And you haven’t answered.”
“I asked if you’re up to it. Answer enough? Babes, I saw how you looked when we hauled you out of that ‘pod. I’m not going to advocate, if you’re likely to die there.”
“Our clothes, trainers, jeans, they ‘transport’ with us?” I didn’t like that word, smacking of time-travel. The greatest scientific brains in the world had been working on this these past two decades and they hadn’t yet cracked it. Yet Fliss . . . No, I didn’t want to believe it. She, herself, denied it. But Fliss hadn’t tried it, she hadn’t been there.
“I don’t know where your head’s taking you, Julia-babes, but I’d say for a cert I’m not there in the buff. How about you?”
That week I spent my lunch hours shopping, mostly at an army surplus store hidden away in a backstreet. I bought a canvas-web belt with a water-bottle and pouches clipped to it. I bought combat trousers, more comfortable than jeans, lighter to wear and equally durable. I bought an army-green bucket-hat and a waterproof poncho, and a thermal blanket that folded almost as small as a tissue. In a second-hand store I found an ancient pair of army gaiters in khaki canvas, excellent condition and incredibly cheap. They’d serve both as protection and support for my ankles. Better than boots that I’d have to break-in. From more conventional shops I bought an Ordinance Survey map of Salisbury Plain, and photocopied, the relevant area enlarged. I considered a compass but didn’t think that I’d need it. I bought a box of matches, a Dictaphone (the one I’d been using belonged to Fliss), and a chunky notebook with a supply of short pencils. Then I’d a thought, and returned to the army surplus for a penknife, small and light but eminently functional. Then, before leaving the store for a second time, I bought a pencil-slim torch.
Having equipped myself for most eventualities, I then shopped for food. I passed on the cheese crackers. Though they’d pack small and wouldn’t go off in the three days away, they weren’t exactly high in nutrition. Instead I went for muesli bars and ready-to-eat dried fruit. I didn’t know what form of protein to take. Everything I thought of just wouldn’t survive three days of heat without refrigeration. I looked at the dehydrated foods, but they needed hot water to reconstitute them, and I didn’t want to take a pan, not even an army-issue that would fit into the pouches. If I had really believed I wasn’t to be there, back in two thousand five hundred BCE, then it wouldn’t have mattered. But Ken had raised doubts, and I was anxious not to take anything that might survive four thousand years to contaminate the archaeological record. Yea, sure, the Dictaphone, the penknife and torch, but these are so obviously modern, found in a dig they’d be dismissed. Besides, it wasn’t my intention to drop them. But for said reason, although tempted I passed on tinned tuna and mackerel. In the end I bought a pack of dried milk. Unimaginative, uninspiring, unappetizing but, in the circumstances, the only form of transportable protein I could find.
By now it was Friday. I arranged my provisions about my body. I stretched, contorted, jiggled and jogged. Yep, everything stayed neatly in place. I was ready, though I wouldn’t be using the gear until Sunday (Fliss permitting). Dave had texted to say he’d collect me. We were to spend the night at the Priory. Ken wanted an early start.