Caught in Willaburra by Margaret Pearce
Fourteen year old Kate isn’t clear who she is or how she had ended up as an assistant teacher in a stuffy old bush school. Why is she suddenly living in a world that resembles one huge antique shop? How can she escape this unpleasant world she finds herself in and return home?
GENRE: Mid-Grade Time Travel Word Count: 32, 740
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I opened my eyes to dull spaciousness, and a silence as muffling as cotton wool. I was in a hospital bed. Had I been ill? I didn’t feel pain or weakness. Come to think of it, I didn’t feel anything! I pushed back the grey-white covers and slid off the high bed. Although I only wore a skimpy hospital gown, I was neither warm nor cold, and the floor under my bare feet was just slippery.
Why did I have a hospital room to myself? I searched my memory. A fleeting touch of disbelief and horror as something hid from me; a kaleidoscope of spinning faces, but none of them slowed down enough to be identified.
Was I so important that I had been granted the privilege of a private room? Was I carrying some contagious disease that required isolation? I searched my body for a tell-tale ache or fever. There was nothing. My body seemed suspended in space, functioning on its own.
Was this sterile room a milder version of a psychiatric padded cell? That thought caused my breathing to quicken. A door set into one wall, polished as bare as the wall, and almost as unnoticeable, swung open at my touch.
My sense of unease grew. Where were the nurses, the doctors doing their rounds, the cleaners fighting the effects of dirty feet and sticky fingers and scurrying around for flower vases? Where were the visitors tiptoeing in and out of wards? Where was everybody–anybody? Was I alone in a deserted hospital?
As I went past I opened the doors lining the passage. All of them were identical: an empty bed, grey linoleum floor polished threadbare, and the square of threatening grey sky through the undressed window.
It was then I started running, desperately searching for the reassuring normality of the nurses’ desk. I was breathing noisily, more from panic than from running, when I finally stumbled to a halt.
The hairs at the back of my neck lifted as my eyes followed the perfectly proportioned lines of the endless corridor. Some basic instinct was repelled by the pull of that shabby grey corridor vanishing in the grey haze.
I wasn’t cold but couldn’t stop shivering. The fear grew and grew until my throat hurt and my stomach tightened into a knot. The world around me wasn’t real, but what was reality?
The word “lost” echoed around my mind. I knew I was lost, but in what nightmare world had I become lost? I edged back along the passage, aware that the silence had somehow become expectant and waiting.
I sensed I was being watched and spun around. Standing right behind me, as if she had just materialized out of nowhere, stood a girl.
“You scared me,” I accused.
“I didn’t mean to,” she apologized. “I’ve been searching for you for ages. I was frightened I wouldn’t find you in time.”
We stood in the corridor face to face. She looked normal enough despite the shapeless nightie. She was the same height as myself and looked about the same age. I relaxed.
“Why me, and where are we?”
Perhaps this was a psychiatric hospital! I was alone in the echoing empty greyness with a mentally ill person! My panic returned.
“And I’m not mentally ill, just anxious and so sorry for my stupidity,” she said indignantly.
“Where are we?” I repeated pushing away from the fear that she had read my mind.
“This is the place outside.”
“Outside when,” she corrected. She sighed at my blank expression. “Outside time! That’s why you have sloughed off your memories.”
I leaned against the wall. My knees felt wobbly. I knew she was telling the truth. I was a me without name or memories. Maybe this was death?
“Not death, just limbo.” She answered my thoughts again.
“Why have you been searching for me?”
“Because you’ve been raised differently from me, and it’s your one chance.”
I shrugged. I didn’t know what she was talking about. I didn’t have any memories, so how would I know how I had been raised?
“One chance at what?”
“To escape from here.”
“Escape,” I repeated
For a second the kaleidoscope of faces whirled around me again, and despite the anguish flooding over me I almost knew where I belonged, and then it faded back into the greyness of my non-memory.
“It’s my fault you’re here,” the girl facing me confessed. “I made a mistake and it has endangered your life.”
“I’ve made so many,” the girl said. She twisted her hands together with despair. “You’ll have to go back and discover which one it was before you can escape from here.”
“That’s okay,” I agreed. I felt happier. This was at last something positive to do. “Except I can’t find the way out of here.”
“This door leads back,” she said, gesturing to the door beside us. “Remember people have to fulfil their potential and don’t be as stupid and cowardly as I was and…”
I shoved at the door even before she finished speaking. It wouldn’t open. Strengthened by some hope I couldn’t analyse, I pushed harder.
Was it my imagination, or did it give a little? I slammed into it with all my weight. The door burst open. I fell headlong into the room, only then remembering I had forgotten to ask the mysterious girl exactly where I was going back to.
The sense of being muffled in silence was gone. The vivid colours closed around me, too bright and painful after the greyness. I put my hands over my eyes to protect them. A humming noise vibrated through my head and I lost consciousness.
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