Art by David Revoy/ Blender Foundation

Memory Book

By Sean Monaghan

Candace watched the big plane arc around the outside of the bay. Up on Rothan Promontory, the highest point overlooking the village, the breeze carried to her the heady sweet smell of pollen from the ocean of flowers that covered the hill between the rocky crest and the sand of the beach below. Spring had come in warm and bountiful; the flowers were blooming and the orchards, if the weather kept up like this, were going to bear a vast crop of fruit.

The seaplane leveled off, aiming almost right for her as it dipped towards the calm waters. Candace could see Jake’s boat heading in around the breakwater. He would have seen the plane coming in and wondered why they were getting a visit.

Candace sighed, wishing they hadn’t argued first thing. He wanted to take her on a sailing vacation, but she just didn’t want to get on the boat. Partly it was fear of the water, but mostly it was guilt. She didn’t deserve Jake’s loyalty, not after Richard. There was no way she could tell Jake, either. She’d tried writing, tried talking to the memory book, but nothing worked.

Yet Jake just kept on being a good husband, loving her, providing, encouraging. Some days it made her sick inside, what she’d done.

She hoped he’d caught some good fish. Some red gurnard or snapper. He would have gutted them; then she could scale and fillet the carcasses and throw them on the grill. Nothing better than seared fresh fish for dinner.

The plane kept dropping for the water. Jake’s boat looked so small in comparison, even with the plane so far off.

The city was a hundred and eighty miles away, off back around the rugged coast of the ocean road, making it tricky to get there. It took over a week with a good buggy and a strong horse, much longer with a wagon and bullock team. For the most part Candace and the few others in Selvenge were self-sufficient. Sometimes Jake or one of the other sailors would take a boat around to get mechanical equipment for the pumps or vehicles.

A plane coming in meant something was up. Something bad. And Candace knew it was her fault.

If only she hadn’t mentioned the memory book.

With a sigh, she sat down on the rock, feeling its hard rough surface against her backside. She debated with herself whether to just stay up here for the afternoon or to traipse down to the village and face up.

It wasn’t really so much of a village: six houses and a few outbuildings, a mill running from piped water out of a stream, an old abandoned lighthouse, and the power turbine spinning away behind her.

As a child she’d explored the secret passages in the lighthouse. Once hidden behind moveable furniture, the passages were narrow and led through to caves below. For a joke, Jake had even built a passage behind their bed in their house. “For the kids,” he said. “When they arrive.”

The city — Melton — where the plane must have come from, had hundreds of thousands of homes. Candace found it hard to imagine such throngs. Sealed roads and carriages with engines.

The plane touched down just beyond the breakwater, sending great plumes of water splashing out on either side. The thing slowed quickly, but still outstripped Jake in his boat. With its six big propellers whirling, it pulled its way toward the beach.

It was a huge thing, dwarfing the boat, dwarfing even the breakwater. Candace could tell that her whole house would fit inside the plane’s cavernous belly. It had two sets of big wings, one near the nose, with two propellers on each side, and another set, raised up from the narrowing fuselage on a pylon, with the last set of propellers, one on each wing. The engines, even at this distance, set up a constant deep roar.

She was glad that Jake and Maria had told her about the outside world and how things worked. On occasions, when planes would pass over, they would explain how such a massive construction could float through the air. Even though she’d never seen one so close before, she knew the parts, knew the tail plane from the undercarriage, the cockpit from the cabin.

On the top, behind the cockpit but ahead of the main wings, a hatch opened and someone climbed out and up. Candace thought it was a woman, though from so far away it was hard to tell. She had a way of moving, a fluidity and delicacy that a man wouldn’t. She wore a long black coat and had her hair tied back under a brimmed hat. She raised something to her eyes and looked around.

Binoculars. Jake had a set.

As the woman looked, Candace noticed something else.

A gun.

The long muzzle pointed skyward from behind the woman’s shoulder.

As Candace stiffened, the woman turned and looked up, swinging the binoculars directly up at her. Candace suddenly felt cold. She could only see the shape of the woman, but with the lenses the woman would have a much clearer view of Candace. With guilt written all over her face.

She had to hide.

Candace stood. The aircraft — now a boat with wings — had almost reached the shore. Jake had his head down and headsail up. He would arrive on the beach no more than five minutes after the visitors.

The woman had dropped the binoculars to her side, but she still seemed to be staring up Candace’s way. The gun stayed where it was, but Candace imagined that the woman could probably kneel, aim, and fire accurately from where she was. Candace would collapse in a bloody heap and the woman would get back in her behemoth of a plane and fly off.

But the woman didn’t shoot. She adjusted her footing as the stern propellers came to a stop. The plane shuddered as its prow rose up onto the beach.

People were on the boardwalk now, and some on the jetty. It looked to Candace as if the whole village had come out.

Candace knew she had to find a way back to the house and get the memory book without the intruders seeing her. She should have gone as soon as she’d seen the plane, instead of just watching. Should have known they were coming for her.

Clambering up over the rock, she ran into the forest and followed the path back around to the village. It was the long way, but at least she wouldn’t be seen.

It had been raining lately, and the path was still slick, wet, and muddy in places. She heard some boars snuffling away, and the sound of birds singing.

In her rush, she slipped on some leaves lying on the path. She fell on her side and rolled. Stones poked her, and wet mud oozed through her clothes. She sat up quickly, cursing and wiping herself down. Her breeches and shirt were brown and soaked all down her right side. The mud stank.

Not a good start to evading the visitors.

Picking her path more carefully, she hurried on. Five minutes later she came to the edge of the forest. The village ran some cattle in a big paddock fenced with stone walls. The cows stayed out of the forest and Candace stopped at the edge of the grass, peering over toward the houses.

The droning hum from the aircraft’s still spinning propellers seemed suddenly louder. From her vantage point Candace could see the top of the plane, the wings and propellers. The aircraft towered over the houses, bigger than Stacey and Daniel’s home. Even bigger than the mill. The leviathan, still moving, looked as though it was going to roll in and demolish the buildings.

And standing on top, the same woman with the gun.

Candace could see her more clearly now. Her long ponytail whipped around in the wash from the propellers. Her lips were a strong red, and her eyes lined with kohl.

She looked like a princess.

The plane’s engines abruptly shut off and the world seemed suddenly quiet. The cows had clustered across the paddock and were staring up at the new arrival. One of them mooed. The unpowered propellers continued to scythe the air, but Candace could see they were slowing.

The woman climbed down into the cockpit.

Candace ran. Leaving the forest, she sprinted across the paddock, avoiding cowpats and thistles. She stopped behind the water trough, hunkering down out of sight to catch her breath.

From the village came the sound of shouting. Candace raised her head up above the trough’s edge. She saw people running between a house and one of the mill outbuildings. Toby and Clare. A moment later Jenny followed.

A momentary lapse had brought all this down on them now. Foolish woman, she thought to herself.

Jake had been gone a week, riding to Copperton to sell a wagonload of dried fish, and a troubadour team had come into the village. The juggler had winked at her during the show, and then after. The team had only planned to stay an hour — there wasn’t much money to be made from such a small village — but he’d stayed the night, telling them he’d catch up in the morning.

Richard. He was slighter than Jake, but had dark eyes and a thick day-old beard along his strong jawline. With a smile, he’d touched her cheek in a way that made every resolve and memory of Jake drift away like spilled flour. It was as though she’d never become engaged.

In the conversation, that went almost all night, he’d shown her tricks, both from his show and others that left her breathless. Excited, overwhelmed, she’d let it slip about the memory book and let him talk her into showing it.

His sudden quiet look had told her it was a mistake.

He left before she’d woken.

Candace could never tell Jake what happened.

Another cow lowed, making Candace jump.

She waited, but no one else came. Despite her break she was still breathing hard, heart pounding. She took another glance and sprinted toward the houses.

She stepped in a hole, rolling on her ankle. With a yelp, she collapsed to the grass. Lying still, she stared at the open sky. Pain spiked from her ankle, but she could feel it abating. Twisted, not sprained or broken then.

Back on her feet, she hobbled toward the nearest house. Toby and Clare’s place, where they raised their kids Damon and Wilma. Candace felt exposed and vulnerable, moving slow, but she made it to the building wall.

People were still shouting. Candace crept along the wall, running her hand along the rough surface as she went. A quick look around the side, and she ran across to the next house, trying to ignore the twinge from her ankle. She moved along to the kitchen window of John Miller’s place. She could see right through the living room and out into the front yard. The plane’s sloping prow rose over the picket fence. She could see an opening and the edge of a ramp. People filed out. Soldiers.

Candace’s breath caught. So much trouble over a little memory book.

She needed to get home. Fast.

Darting from the side of Miller’s house, she ran across open ground. Her ankle sent constant twitches up her leg and felt like it might give out any moment.

Shouting. They’d spotted her.

Behind Jessica’s place and then there was her and Jake’s, last house in the row. It was a small home, just the one bedroom. Jake had plans to build another room, between the house and his separate workshop, for when they finalized their wedding and decided to start a family.

Candace came up to the back door. She could hear the soldiers nearby. She put her hand on the latch and turned it slowly. The door creaked. Holding her breath, she stopped. No one had noticed. She pushed the door open and slipped inside.

The kitchen was as she’d left it, tidy and clean. The smell of the morning’s bread baking still lingered, doughy and sweet. Keeping low and close to the walls, she went to the bedroom.

The memory book was under her side of the bed. Instead of walking around — which would have mean going near the window — she rolled over the soft covers and dropped into the gap. Stretching her hand out, she found the leather-bound block of the memory book. It felt cool and soft. The cover had aged well, with just a few stiches failing.

Her mother had said to keep it secret. It was old, self-sustaining, very different to most anything else in the world.

Candace had known that, only taking it out very occasionally, always when she was alone, just to look at the images and texts about a long-gone kind of life. Craft without wings that lifted beyond the atmosphere and traveled to the stars. Carriages that traveled roadways as ripples, appearing thousands of miles away in a matter of minutes. The idea made the ocean road seem so laborious and coarse.

But more than any of those things, the book had made its own images of her family. Of her mother and father, and of Samuel, the brother she’d never known. There were some pictures that moved: Samuel as a boy running around a fountain; a little older working with her father — looking so young — to build a bed from slats and posts. Samuel the teenager not long before he drowned, rowing his boat back in filled with gurnard and snapper.

Richard had seemed so odd at the moment he’d seen the book, but she hadn’t thought of it until a few days later. She’d remembered then her mother’s admonition to never reveal it to anyone.

“Bad things might happen.” Her mother had been baking for the village, the smell of scones wafting through the kitchen. “If they knew we had it. There are so few such things from the old world. And this is a treasure.”

“I won’t,” Candace had promised. “Not ever.”

Now look what happened.

The memory book showed its subtle green telltale. It was fully charged. Once she’d left it in the bottom drawer for weeks and taken it out to look at images and history, only to find it dead and blank. Her mother, still alive then, had shown her how to keep it hidden in a place where it could receive at least a little sunlight. It was like a fern; it could hide away under a forest’s canopy, but still needed a little sunlight to function.

Someone rapped on the window, making her jump. A male voice shouted, “No one back here. Just another field.”

Candace tucked the memory book into her jacket. She tried to get to the secret passage, but it was blocked by one of the trunks of summer clothes.

From further away she heard another voice, the words indistinguishable.

“Just going inside now,” the man answered. “Is this the last of them?”

Candace couldn’t make out the reply, but knew she had to get out of the house. Back to the forest.

She hoped Jake was okay.

Rolling further under the bed, she squeezed between the trunks and crawled out to the narrow hallway between the bedroom and the bathroom.

Someone burst in the front door.

Candace ducked into the bathroom and closed the door behind her. She threw the bolt into place.

There was ceiling access in here.

Standing on the toilet bowl, she reached up and pushed the hatch aside. Grabbing the edge of the hole she pulled herself up.

A knock on the door. Candace’s foot struck the cistern with a thump.

“Open up in there.”

Caught.

“Kind of busy,” she said. “Give me a minute.”

“House to house. Open up now.”

She dropped back to the floor, whipped her pants down and squatted on the bowl as the lock broke against the soldier’s charge.

He stood in front of her. Young, gun in hand, green helmet with straps hanging loose. He had a bad moustache and thick eyebrows.

“You are going to be in so much trouble,” she told him.

“Finish your business and get out.” He stepped back into the hallway, but kept facing the door. “And don’t flush.”

“Eww,” she said. She didn’t have anything to flush anyway. And she couldn’t squeeze out any pee with him standing right there.

“Don’t speak. Don’t try to be funny.”

She didn’t answer. Tearing a wad of paper, she dropped it in and stood, turning away from him as she pulled her pants back up.

“If you looked,” she said, facing him at the door, “you’ll be in trouble for that too.”

The young soldier sighed. “Keep quiet I need to take you to the others.” He grabbed her arm and pulled.

Candace wrenched from his grasp. “I can walk. I’m not going to run away.”

“Sure you’re not.” But he didn’t touch her again, just followed closely as she went to the front door.

The aircraft seemed even bigger. Two of its propellers were still rotating slowly and she could feel the weight of hot air rolling back from the engines. It had gun turrets up its flank from the waterline to the wings. She counted eighteen, four high at the front. That was just this side. It was a battleship, designed to fight other nations.

It stank of oil.

She saw the other villagers, standing in a row in front of Jenny’s chicken run. Jenny was there, Toby and Clare too. Their flight to the outbuilding hadn’t been worthwhile.

Soldiers stood at either end of the row, while others walked purposefully around the village. Most everyone was here already. Were they searching houses? Candace was glad she’d been interrupted and stuffed the memory book back in her jacket. If they were thorough in their search they would have easily found it in the small ceiling cavity. Her first intention had been to hide herself in there, but that would have made things worse.

She could hear the others talking, some demanding to know what this was about, others saying they had nothing to hide. Two of the smaller children were crying. Candace didn’t see Jake among them.

Slipping into the row, she leaned up against the fence.

“I saw you on the hill,” Clare whispered, moving closer. Her cloying potpourri scent washed over Candace.

“Gathering flowers.”

“You should have stayed up there.”

Candace shook her head. “You would have nothing for your centerpiece.”

“Please, I saw you running down empty-handed. At least Jake had the sense to stay away.”

“Where is he? I saw his boat coming into the bay.”

Clare shrugged.

Candace looked around for the woman she’d seen on top of the plane. She was probably still inside the aircraft. The soldiers with the villagers weren’t doing anything other than standing around. It wasn’t as though anyone was being interrogated. The soldiers ignored all the shouts and abuse.

“Did you see the woman?” Candace said.

“Who?”

Candace stepped away from the line, heading for the nearest soldier. The one who’d walked her over. “Who’s in charge here?” she asked.

“You should step back into line, please.”

“So it’s not you then.” Candace walked by him, heading for the plane. There was a single soldier standing at the base of the ramp, but other than that the aircraft was unguarded.

“Hey!” The young soldier took a few quick steps and grabbed her again.

“You’re going to get a fat lip, buster.” She turned on him. “You’ve got to stop doing that.”

“You have to stay wi—”

“Who’s in charge? I need to talk to them.” Part of her wanted to get away, to run back up into the forest and lie down among the flowers, out of sight and bathed in their scent.

The villagers had fallen silent, watching her. None of them stepped out of the line.

“You can’t—”

“Of course I can,” Candace interrupted. “You can’t come in here and start marshaling us around. Where is she? Is she a princess? Is that it?”

“I …”

“Then take me to see her.” She turned again and marched toward the ramp. The soldier there lifted his rifle. Not aimed at her, but he was ready to swing it around.

“We already spoke with the mayor,” the young soldier said, matching her pace.

“And who is that?” Candace looked at the boy, and he stared wide-eyed back at her. They didn’t have a mayor. Copperton did, she knew that, but they were far bigger and needed some kind of political voice. “Is it Kevin Birt? Did you talk with him?” She glanced back and saw Kevin with the others. He had stepped out now, but had a soldier facing him.

“Who?” the young soldier said.

Candace sighed. At least as she kept talking and walking he wasn’t trying to stop her anymore. “Kevin. He’s kind of the head of the village, but he’s not the mayor. That’s way too fancy and involved.”

The boy swallowed. “Someone called Jake?” he said, unsure.

Candace swallowed. She was only a few yards from the bottom of the ramp. Jake knew about the memory book.

“Hold it there,” the soldier guarding the ramp said. He took a step forward and raised his rifle a fraction.

“He’s taking me to see her,” Candace said, indicating the young soldier.

The soldier at the ramp inclined his head. He had a moustache too, but he was much older, probably old enough to be the boy’s father. There was even a family likeness to them, similar noses and brows.

Candace kept walking.

“Mitchell?” the old soldier said. “Why would you be taking this woman inside?”

“I’m not. I’m trying to get her back into the line while we search for the book.”

The old soldier sighed and closed his eyes for a moment, exasperated. “So take her back then.”

“I demand to see her,” Candace said. She was only a couple of feet from him now and she angled to go around him and get onto the ramp.

He put his rifle out to block her. “You don’t get to demand anything. Do you even know who she is?”

Candace pushed the rifle aside. “Where’s Jake?” She kept on for the ramp. This was either the most stupid thing she’d ever done, or the most brilliant. There was always the chance that they were here for something else, but what the boy, Mitchell, had said made it clear that they were definitely looking for the memory book.

A vessel like this, so powerful and ready for war, she hated to imagine what it might be like if they could harness the book. She had no doubt that was their intention. Even though it was such a small thing, such a simple thing, it had a subtlety and elegance that this brute of an aircraft lacked. And even though the two seemed worlds apart, there would be things they could do with it that she couldn’t and wouldn’t imagine.

The old soldier raised his rifle. “I should make an example of you.” He jabbed the rifle into her belly. “But Princess Ettaclara would frown on that.” He rubbed his chin.

“Where’s Jake?” she said, gritting her teeth. The barrel hurt. But she smiled to herself, knowing she’d been right thinking the woman royalty.

“The mayor? Okay. He’s inside talking with the princess.”

“He’s not the mayor. You should let me talk to her.” Candace cringed inside. She shouldn’t have said that. If they thought he was the mayor then she’d effectively called him a liar. They were tolerant, to an extent, but how far could that be pushed? She didn’t want to find out. Not with all the guns. She glanced up at the side of the plane again. Bristling, like a big pinecone.

“Not the mayor, huh?” the older soldier said. “Maybe you better come talk with her then.”

“Good.” She kept up the front, but inside she felt like a fool. Praying that she hadn’t just endangered Jake, she followed the soldier up the ramp.

Inside the plane was harsh and cold. The ramp led into a short companionway lined with pine sheets bolted to long metal crosspieces. The wood had been polished to the point where it almost glowed. It smelled of linseed. A ladder with rough rungs at the end took them up to another floor, with another hallway that led fore and aft, lined with sealed doors.

“Next ladder along.” The old soldier pointed.

Candace saw an alcove with another ladder. She climbed and after that they went up another ladder. She was starting to get a sense of the internal scale of the machine. It seemed extraordinary to her that such a vast piece of equipment could stay aloft. She’d had trouble enough, as a child, with kites. This heavy, ungainly thing, bigger than any building she knew of, seemed like it ought to remain earthbound.

As they moved through the vessel, she caught glimpses into some rooms and openings. Big metal machines and functional storerooms. They looked like the internal mechanisms of the mill — industrial wheels, cables, and cogs. Like some big factory at Melton.

The last ladder led them to a room with windows. Candace went to one right away. Through the thick glass circle she could see out across the village. All her friends were still standing, corralled by the chicken run.

“So, did you bring the memory book?” someone said.

Candace turned and saw the woman standing in a doorway. Ettaclara. She was taller than Candace had expected. The woman’s hair was out now, long and black, flowing down over her shoulders. She was no longer in the big coat, but was wearing a short red dress and leggings. Her tall boots laced through at least two-dozen eyelets on each side. A princess.

She no longer had the gun.

“Well?” she said.

“Memory book?” Candace said.

The woman smiled, showing teeth whiter than any Candace had ever seen. “Won’t you come in? I have crumpets and tea. I believe that I’m speaking with your husband.”

“Jake?” Candace said without thinking.

The woman’s smile widened and she turned, slipping into the room.

“Come on then,” the old soldier said.

Candace followed and found herself in a room vastly different from the other parts of the plane. There were thick patterned rugs covering much of the polished wood floor. The walls were hung with bright tapestries, swirling brocades showing people on horses or riding planes, buildings and flower gardens, maps and strange devices she didn’t know. After the bland wood and metal of the plane, the assault of reds and blues and golds made Candace blink.

There was something about tapestries she knew. It was in all the fairy tales. Just like the lighthouse.

“Surprising, yes,” the princess said. She moved to a big plush armchair, red velvet, trimmed with gold tassels. Not quite a throne, but no regular chair.

On the left, Jake sat, bound to an ordinary dining chair.

Candace moved toward him. A soldier she hadn’t noticed stepped from the wall, coming between her and Jake.

“What’s going on?” Candace said. She went to one of the tapestries and touched it. Heavy. She lifted it enough to see a gap in the wall at the bottom. As she’d suspected.

The princess sighed and studied her nails. “Your husband has been most helpful. And, I think, has saved us a lot of time.”

Candace took another step toward Jake. The soldier drew his sword. From behind she heard the sound of another sword sliding from its scabbard: the old soldier, still at the door.

“You should hand over the memory book.” The princess inclined her head. She reached to her waist and drew a long dagger. “The Arnhemlanders are massing for an attack on Melton. They are far bigger and far stronger than we. Our people will be wiped out.”

“Then surely,” Candace said, meeting Ettaclara’s eyes, “you should have your warship there and ready to repel them.”

The princess smiled. “Brassy. That’s good.”

“I don’t possibly see what my old scrapbook could mean to you.”

Standing, Ettaclara looked at the dagger’s edge. “Obfuscation does not suit you. With that kind of technology we could protect Melton.” She lowered the blade and met Candace’s eyes again. “Protect Selvenge.”

Candace laughed. “It would take years to decipher what the old technology means. How it works.”

The princess nodded. “Months, my scientists tell me. Time enough to bolster our defenses.”

Candace shook her head. “What makes you right? What makes you better than the Arnhemlanders?” She’d seen maps, knew of the vast country to the north where hundreds of thousands lived. The desert always kept them separate.

“Don’t give it to them,” Jake said.

“Perhaps you should choose,” Ettaclara said.

Candace was about to ask what she meant when the soldier raised his sword to Jake’s neck.

The princess walked right up to Candace. The woman smelled of flowers and oils, doubtless from bathing. Candace imagined the aircraft had a spa and sauna, decorated with more gold and stone. The kind of opulence she’d only read about.

“Choose?” Candace said, aware of her own farm smell. She’d fallen in the mud and probably stank.

The princess sighed and glanced at the soldier.

“Ettaclara?” Candace said.

The princess’s eyes flew wide.

Both soldiers drew in breath. Candace felt a hand on her shoulder and saw the old soldier’s sword flash, felt its cold steel on her neck.

“You will address her as ‘Your Highness’.” The old soldier’s voice was quiet, raspy, his breath hot on her ear.

Candace stayed very still. She wasn’t going to be dictated to. “You come charging in like this and then demand how I should address you?”

“Off with his head,” the princess said.

The soldier holding the sword to Jake’s neck hesitated. “Princess?”

“Now!”

“Wait,” Candace said.

“Too late, sweetums.” The princess turned to face the soldier.

The sword swung out away from Jake, ready for the decapitation blow.

“Love you,” Jake said. His green eyes stared at Candace.

She dropped, collapsing her knees. As she went she drove her elbow back into the old soldier’s belly.

The man grunted.

Candace sprang as the sword swung in at Jake.

“Stop!” the princess commanded.

The sword struck as Candace tackled the soldier. They both fell back into the tapestries. The sword clattered to the floor.

Candace had the breath knocked out of her as she fell. The soldier landed beside her and quickly scrambled to his feet. The tapestry, torn from its hooks, fell on top of them both.

Candace lay under the heavy fabric trying to catch her breath. She felt emptied out.

She hadn’t made it in time.

Jake was dead.

The fabric moved. They were pulling it from her. With effort she sat up as it came away. She looked for Jake.

The chair had fallen and he lay, still tied, in a wide pool of dark coppery blood, his neck half-severed.

“Well,” the princess said. “All this over a silly book.”

Candace looked up at her, the woman who’d ordered the murder of her husband.

“Now hand it over.”

Without breaking her gaze, Candace reached behind and found a latch on the little door. It clicked open.

Of course. There was always a secret escape route. Too bad for Ettaclara it was going to be used to allow an enemy to escape.

The princess took a step forward. “You want to make this worse?”

“Ettaclara. How could it be any worse?” She pushed the door open and kicked back, sliding into a narrow hole.

“Grab her.” The princess’s voice was almost a scream.

Candace shoved the door closed, plunging herself into darkness. She felt for a lock but found nothing. The door shunted partly open, pushing her back.

They were going to get her, going to find the memory book. All the images of her family, of Jake and the world.

“Come out of there.” The soldier must have kicked the door open without immediately coming in. Candace closed it again and scrambled backwards. Squeezing between the narrow walls she turned and crawled through a kind of tube. The floor was flat and the ceiling low. She couldn’t stand. She crawled as fast as she could. Ahead she could see a dim light.

Another crash from behind and light from the princess’s chambers washed over her. Candace kept moving.

“Get her out of there,” the princess yelled.

Candace moved as fast as she could.

Jake was dead.

Dead.

She’d never even gotten to tell him about what she’d done, never been able to ask forgiveness. She felt like weeping, but could hear the soldier scrambling along behind her. No time for grieving.

The floor dropped away and she tumbled down. She cried out as her elbow cracked against the wall, sending jabbing pain up her arm.

The soldier laughed.

Moving around, nursing her elbow, she had a clearer view ahead. Light from a narrow grate.

The passage changed. It squeezed into spaces in the aircraft, between the wing structures, rooms, and the mechanical parts. It had to be secret.

From above a hand grabbed her collar, yanking her back. Candace jerked away and rushed as fast as she could toward the grate. Her right elbow was too painful, and she had to keep her arm curled up against her belly as she went. Hobbling, she came to the grate and found herself looking out towards the breakwater. The plane’s nose had pulled up the slope of the beach, but the stern still stuck out into the bay.

The grate was fixed with a split pin that was bent around, holding it in place. She managed to twist one of the ends almost straight before the soldier reached her.

He jabbed with the sword, enough to prick her but not quite draw blood.

“All right,” she said. “I’ll come.”

Still facing the grate she slipped the memory book out of her jacket and lifted it.

“Let’s move then,” the soldier said. “You have to squeeze by me.”

“Yes.” She held the memory book up to the lowest opening in the grate and pushed. The book hung half outside the plane.

All the images, all her memories.

Perhaps it was best gone. After all, if she’d gotten rid of it before Richard she never would have created this entire problem now. She should have hidden it in the lighthouse passages and never ever shown it to anyone.

“Come on.” He pushed the sword again, cutting this time.

“Ow. All right then.”

With a shove, she let go of the memory book. It slipped out the side of the plane. She heard it skitter down. Pushing her face up to the highest gap, she peered out. She saw the book bounce, catching some projection in the plane’s side. The memory book spun through the air. For a moment it looked like a bird that might take wing and fly for the forest.

It landed in the bay with a tiny splash. Gone. The ripples vanished among the waves.

Candace turned and squeezed by him, and he made no effort to avoid touching her. She felt vindicated. Perhaps it was arrogant to destroy something from the old world — and she did feel sad over the loss of pictures of Samuel and her parents — but if these people could murder Jake, who knew what they would do if they could make their war machines stronger with old technologies?

They might find them elsewhere, but at least she’d done something to slow them down.

Back in the princess’ chamber, Jake still lay on the floor. Two more soldiers were mopping up his blood. Others held her in the room and stripped her, searching for the book. She couldn’t look at his body.

The princess was nowhere to be seen.

They let Candace dress again and escorted her back to the others at the chicken run.

“Candace?” Clare said. “You all right?”

She shook her head. “Jake,” she whispered, her voice hoarse.

Clare registered surprise, then pulled her into a hug.

The soldiers continued to search. At one point she saw Richard. He was at her house. The soldiers knocked the walls apart, pulling everything down. They even crawled into Jake’s secret passage — the one he made for children who would never come, now — hunting for the memory book.

They searched for hours in Candace and Jake’s house, all but demolishing it, leaving just parts of the frame.

As the sun headed for the horizon, they brought Richard to her. The princess came to stand with him.

“Where is it?” he said. “The memory book.”

“Stolen,” Candace said. “The Arnhemlanders came here. With a plane bigger than yours. They asked nicely, and I had to give it to them.” She should have said that at the very start, she thought. Then Jake might still be alive.

“I’m done,” the princess said. “She’s lying, but it’s not here.”

“Are you sure?” the old soldier said. He looked at Candace with a frown.

“It’s not.” Princess Ettaclara fixed her gaze on Candace. “You’re very lucky.”

Candace shook her head. “Murderer.”

“I could have killed you too.”

Candace held her arms wide. “Why not?”

The princess laughed and turned, walking back to the plane. Richard frowned at Candace, staring for a moment before following.

It took almost an hour for the soldiers to load up. The plane’s engines started and idled. Two soldiers came down the ramp carrying Jake’s body. They dumped him on the beach. The ramp closed up and the plane turned, heading out into the bay. The engine pitch rose to a scream, and the aircraft sped away across the water, finally lifting and swinging away to the east, the last rays of sun glinting on its flank.

[divider]
The next afternoon they buried Jake in the village plot up on the hill among the flowers. Candace sat with him after the others had gone back to work.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “Sorry this happened to you.” She felt heavy and tired. Waking in the morning had been the worst, worst day of her life. All over the memory book.

At least Ettaclara didn’t have it.

Sitting and looking over the bay, Candace told Jake about Richard. It felt so hard to tell him now, as a ghost. She knew she would never feel forgiven.

She had the memory book back. The best swimmers among the village boys and girls had found it just off the beach. It still worked.

As she told Jake about her indiscretions, she let the memory book record it all. Would it help? Would she feel purged? She didn’t know.

What she did know was that she was going to take it up to the lighthouse and go into the deepest passage and hide it away. If she ever needed it, ever needed to remember Samuel and Jake and the others, it would be there.

Somehow, she didn’t think she would need it.

——————————————————————————————————————————————————————
——————————————————————————————————————————————————————
Sean Monaghan is a New Zealand writer. His stories have appeared in Aurealis, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, and Takahe among others. You can find him at seanmonaghan.com

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *