Jerry swallowed, his hand closing tight around the stone.

‘Aye. Aye . . . right. Thanks, then,’ he added awkwardly, and heard the breath of a rueful laugh from the dark man.

‘Nay bother, mate,’ he said. And with that, they were both off, making their way across the stubbled meadow, two lumbering shapes in the moonlight.

Heart thumping in his ears, Jerry turned toward the stones. They looked just like they’d looked before. Just stones. But the echo of what he’d heard in there . . . he swallowed. It wasn’t like there was much choice.

‘Dolly,’ he whispered, trying to summon up a vision of his wife. ‘Dolly. Dolly, help me!’

He took a hesitant step toward the stones. Another. One more. Then nearly bit his tongue off as a hand clamped down on his shoulder. He whirled, fist up, but the dark man’s other hand seized his wrist.

‘I love you,’ the dark man said, his voice fierce. Then he was gone again, with the shoof-shoof sounds of boots in dry grass, leaving Jerry with his mouth agape.

He caught the other man’s voice from the darkness, irritated, half-amused. He spoke differently from the dark man, a much thicker accent, but Jerry understood him without difficulty.

‘Why did ye tell him a daft thing like that?’

And the dark one’s reply, soft-spoken, in a tone that terrified him more than anything had, so far.

‘Because he isn’t going to make it back. It’s the only chance I’ll ever have. Come on.’

The day was dawning when he came to himself again, and the world was quiet. No birds sang and the air was cold with the chill of November and winter coming on. When he could stand up, he went to look, shaky as a newborn lamb.

The plane wasn’t there, but there was still a deep gouge in the earth where it had been. Not raw earth, though; furred over with grass and meadow plants – not just furred, he saw, limping over to have a closer look. Matted. Dead stalks from earlier years’ growth.

If he’d been where he thought he’d been, if he’d truly gone . . . back . . . then he’d come forward again, but not to the same place he’d left. How long? A year, two? He sat down on the grass, too drained to stand up any longer. He felt as though he’d walked every second of the time between then and now.

He’d done what the green-eyed stranger had said. Concentrated fiercely on Dolly. But he hadn’t been able to keep from thinking of wee Roger, not altogether. How could he? The picture he had most vividly of Dolly was her holding the lad, close against her breast; that’s what he’d seen. And yet he’d made it. He thought he’d made it. Maybe.

What might have happened? he wondered. There hadn’t been time to ask. There’d been no time to hesitate, either; more lights had come bobbing across the dark, with uncouth Northumbrian shouts behind them, hunting him, and he’d hurled himself into the midst of the standing stones and things went pear-shaped again, even worse. He hoped the strangers who’d rescued him had got away.

Lost, the fair man had said, and even now, the word went through him like a bit of jagged metal. He swallowed.

He thought he wasn’t where he had been, but was he still lost, himself? Where was he now? Or rather, when?

He stayed for a bit, gathering his strength. In a few minutes, though, he heard a familiar sound – the low growl of engines, and the swish of tyres on asphalt. He swallowed hard, and standing up, turned away from the stones, toward the road.

He was lucky – for once, he thought wryly. There was a line of troop transports passing, and he swung aboard one without difficulty. The soldiers looked startled at his appearance – he was rumpled and stained, bruised and torn about and with a two-week beard – but they instantly assumed he’d been off on a tear and was now trying to sneak back to his base without being detected. They laughed and nudged him knowingly, but were sympathetic, and when he confessed he was skint, had a quick whip-round for enough cash to buy a train ticket from Salisbury, where the transport was headed.

He did his best to smile and go along with the ragging, but soon enough they tired of him and turned to their own conversations, and he was allowed to sit swaying on the bench, feeling the thrum of the engine through his legs, surrounded by the comfortable presence of comrades.

‘Hey, mate,’ he said casually to the young soldier beside him. ‘What year is it?’

The boy – he couldn’t be more than seventeen, and Jerry felt the weight of the five years between them as though they were fifty – looked at him wide-eyed, then whooped with laughter.

‘What’ve you been having to drink, Dad? Bring any away with you?’

That led to more ragging, and he didn’t try asking again.

Did it matter?

He remembered almost nothing of the journey from Salisbury to London. People looked at him oddly, but no one tried to stop him. It didn’t matter; nothing mattered but getting to Dolly. Everything else could wait.

London was a shock. There was bomb damage everywhere. Streets were scattered with shattered glass from shop windows, glinting in the pale sun, other streets blocked off by barriers. Here and there a stark black notice: Do Not Enter – UNEXPLODED BOMB.

He made his way from St Pancras on foot, needing to see, his heart rising into his throat fit to choke him as he did see what had been done. After a while, he stopped seeing the details, perceiving bomb-craters and debris only as blocks to his progress, things stopping him from reaching home.

And then he did reach home.

The rubble had been pushed off the street into a heap, but not taken away. Great blackened lumps of shattered stone and concrete lay like a cairn where Montrose Terrace had once stood.

All the blood in his heart stopped dead, congealed by the sight. He groped, pawing mindlessly for the wrought-iron railing to keep himself from falling, but it wasn’t there.

erry swallowed, his hand closing tight around the stone.

‘Aye. Aye . . . right. Thanks, then,’ he added awkwardly, and heard the breath of a rueful laugh from the dark man.

‘Nay bother, mate,’ he said. And with that, they were both off, making their way across the stubbled meadow, two lumbering shapes in the moonlight.

Heart thumping in his ears, Jerry turned toward the stones. They looked just like they’d looked before. Just stones. But the echo of what he’d heard in there . . . he swallowed. It wasn’t like there was much choice.

‘Dolly,’ he whispered, trying to summon up a vision of his wife. ‘Dolly. Dolly, help me!’

He took a hesitant step toward the stones. Another. One more. Then nearly bit his tongue off as a hand clamped down on his shoulder. He whirled, fist up, but the dark man’s other hand seized his wrist.

‘I love you,’ the dark man said, his voice fierce. Then he was gone again, with the shoof-shoof sounds of boots in dry grass, leaving Jerry with his mouth agape.

He caught the other man’s voice from the darkness, irritated, half-amused. He spoke differently from the dark man, a much thicker accent, but Jerry understood him without difficulty.

‘Why did ye tell him a daft thing like that?’

And the dark one’s reply, soft-spoken, in a tone that terrified him more than anything had, so far.

‘Because he isn’t going to make it back. It’s the only chance I’ll ever have. Come on.’

The day was dawning when he came to himself again, and the world was quiet. No birds sang and the air was cold with the chill of November and winter coming on. When he could stand up, he went to look, shaky as a newborn lamb.

The plane wasn’t there, but there was still a deep gouge in the earth where it had been. Not raw earth, though; furred over with grass and meadow plants – not just furred, he saw, limping over to have a closer look. Matted. Dead stalks from earlier years’ growth.

If he’d been where he thought he’d been, if he’d truly gone . . . back . . . then he’d come forward again, but not to the same place he’d left. How long? A year, two? He sat down on the grass, too drained to stand up any longer. He felt as though he’d walked every second of the time between then and now.

He’d done what the green-eyed stranger had said. Concentrated fiercely on Dolly. But he hadn’t been able to keep from thinking of wee Roger, not altogether. How could he? The picture he had most vividly of Dolly was her holding the lad, close against her breast; that’s what he’d seen. And yet he’d made it. He thought he’d made it. Maybe.

What might have happened? he wondered. There hadn’t been time to ask. There’d been no time to hesitate, either; more lights had come bobbing across the dark, with uncouth Northumbrian shouts behind them, hunting him, and he’d hurled himself into the midst of the standing stones and things went pear-shaped again, even worse. He hoped the strangers who’d rescued him had got away.

Lost, the fair man had said, and even now, the word went through him like a bit of jagged metal. He swallowed.

He thought he wasn’t where he had been, but was he still lost, himself? Where was he now? Or rather, when?

He stayed for a bit, gathering his strength. In a few minutes, though, he heard a familiar sound – the low growl of engines, and the swish of tyres on asphalt. He swallowed hard, and standing up, turned away from the stones, toward the road.

He was lucky – for once, he thought wryly. There was a line of troop transports passing, and he swung aboard one without difficulty. The soldiers looked startled at his appearance – he was rumpled and stained, bruised and torn about and with a two-week beard – but they instantly assumed he’d been off on a tear and was now trying to sneak back to his base without being detected. They laughed and nudged him knowingly, but were sympathetic, and when he confessed he was skint, had a quick whip-round for enough cash to buy a train ticket from Salisbury, where the transport was headed.

He did his best to smile and go along with the ragging, but soon enough they tired of him and turned to their own conversations, and he was allowed to sit swaying on the bench, feeling the thrum of the engine through his legs, surrounded by the comfortable presence of comrades.

‘Hey, mate,’ he said casually to the young soldier beside him. ‘What year is it?’

The boy – he couldn’t be more than seventeen, and Jerry felt the weight of the five years between them as though they were fifty – looked at him wide-eyed, then whooped with laughter.

‘What’ve you been having to drink, Dad? Bring any away with you?’

That led to more ragging, and he didn’t try asking again.

Did it matter?

He remembered almost nothing of the journey from Salisbury to London. People looked at him oddly, but no one tried to stop him. It didn’t matter; nothing mattered but getting to Dolly. Everything else could wait.

London was a shock. There was bomb damage everywhere. Streets were scattered with shattered glass from shop windows, glinting in the pale sun, other streets blocked off by barriers. Here and there a stark black notice: Do Not Enter – UNEXPLODED BOMB.

He made his way from St Pancras on foot, needing to see, his heart rising into his throat fit to choke him as he did see what had been done. After a while, he stopped seeing the details, perceiving bomb-craters and debris only as blocks to his progress, things stopping him from reaching home.

And then he did reach home.

The rubble had been pushed off the street into a heap, but not taken away. Great blackened lumps of shattered stone and concrete lay like a cairn where Montrose Terrace had once stood.

All the blood in his heart stopped dead, congealed by the sight. He groped, pawing mindlessly for the wrought-iron railing to keep himself from falling, but it wasn’t there.

Of course not, his mind said, quite calmly. It’s gone for the war, hasn’t it? Melted down, made into planes. Bombs.

His knee gave way without warning, and he fell, landing hard on both knees, not feeling the impact, the crunch of pain from his badly mended kneecap quite drowned out by the blunt small voice inside his head.

Too late. Ye went too far.

‘Mr MacKenzie, Mr MacKenzie!’ He blinked at the blurred thing above him, not understanding what it was. Something tugged at him, though, and he breathed, the rush of air in his chest ragged and strange.

‘Sit up, Mr MacKenzie, do.’ The anxious voice was still there, and hands – yes, it was hands – tugging at his arm. He shook his head, screwed his eyes shut hard, then opened them again, and the round thing became the hound-like face of old Mr Wardlaw, who kept the corner shop.

‘Ah, there you are.’ The old man’s voice was relieved, and the wrinkles in his baggy old face relaxed their anxious lines. ‘Had a bad turn, did you?’

‘I—’ Speech was beyond him, but he flapped his hand at the wreckage. He didn’t think he was crying, but his face was wet. The wrinkles in Wardlaw’s face creased deeper in concern, then the old grocer realised what he meant, and his face lit up.

‘Oh, dear!’ he said. ‘Oh, no! No, no, no – they’re all right, sir, your family’s all right! Did you hear me?’ he asked anxiously. ‘Can you breathe? Had I best fetch you some salts, do you think?’

It took Jerry several tries to make it to his feet, hampered both by his knee and by Mr Wardlaw’s fumbling attempts to help him, but by the time he’d got all the way up, he’d regained the power of speech.

‘Where?’ he gasped. ‘Where are they?’

‘Why – your missus took the little boy and went to stay with her mother, sometime after you left. I don’t recall quite where she said . . .’ Mr Wardlaw turned, gesturing vaguely in the direction of the river. ‘Camberwell, was it?’

‘Bethnal Green.’ Jerry’s mind had come back, though it felt still as though it was a pebble rolling round the rim of some bottomless abyss, its balance uncertain. He tried to dust himself off, but his hands were shaking. ‘She lives in Bethnal Green. You’re sure – you’re sure, man?’

‘Yes, yes.’ The grocer was altogether relieved, smiling and nodding so hard that his jowls trembled. ‘She left – must be more than a year ago, soon after she – soon after she . . .’ The old man’s smile faded abruptly and his mouth slowly opened, a flabby dark hole of horror.

‘But you’re dead, Mr MacKenzie,’ he whispered, backing away, hands held up before him. ‘Oh, God. You’re dead.’

‘The fuck I am, the fuck I am, the fuck I am!’ He caught sight of a woman’s startled face and stopped abruptly, gulping air like a landed fish. He’d been weaving down the shattered street, fists pumping, limping and staggering, muttering his private motto under his breath like the Hail Marys of a rosary. Maybe not as far under his breath as he’d thought.

He stopped, leaning against the marble front of the Bank of England, panting. He was streaming with sweat and the right leg of his trousers was heavily streaked with dried blood from the fall. His knee was throbbing in time with his heart, his face, his hands, his thoughts. They’re alive. So am I.

The woman he’d startled was down the street, talking to a policeman; she turned, pointing at him. He straightened up at once, squaring his shoulders. Braced his knee and gritted his teeth, forcing it to bear his weight as he strode down the street, officer-like. The very last thing he wanted just now was to be taken up as drunk.

He marched past the policeman, nodding politely, touching his forehead in lieu of cap. The policeman looked taken aback, made to speak but couldn’t quite decide what to say, and a moment later, Jerry was round the corner and away.

It was getting dark. There weren’t many cabs in this area at the best of times – none at all, now, and he hadn’t any money, anyway. The Tube. If the lines were open, it was the fastest way to Bethnal Green. And surely he could cadge the fare from someone. Somehow. He went back to limping, grimly determined. He had to reach Bethnal Green by dark.

It was so much changed. Like the rest of London. Houses damaged, halfway repaired, abandoned, others no more than a blackened depression or a heap of rubble. The air was thick with coal dust, stone dust, and the smells of paraffin and cooking grease, the brutal, acrid smell of cordite.

Half the streets had no signs, and he wasn’t so familiar with Bethnal Green to begin with. He’d visited Dolly’s mother just twice, once when they went to tell her they’d run off and got married – she hadn’t been best pleased, Mrs Wakefield, but she’d put a good face on it, even if the face had a lemon-sucking look to it.

The second time had been when he signed up with the RAF; he’d gone alone to tell her, to ask her to look after Dolly while he was gone. Dolly’s mother had gone white. She knew as well as he did what the life-expectancy was for fliers. But she’d told him she was proud of him, and held his hand tight for a long moment before she let him leave, saying only, ‘Come back, Jeremiah. She needs you.’

He soldiered on, skirting craters in the street, asking his way. It was nearly full dark, now; he couldn’t be on the streets much longer. His anxiety began to ease a little as he started to see things he knew, though. Close, he was getting close.

And then the sirens began, and people began to pour out of the houses.

He was being buffeted by the crowd, borne down the street as much by their barely controlled panic as by their physical impact. There was shouting, people calling for separated family members, wardens bellowing directions, waving their torches, their flat white helmets pale as mushrooms in the gloom. Above it, through it, the air-raid siren pierced him like a sharpened wire, thrust him down the street on its spike, ramming him into others likewise skewered by fright.

The tide of it swept round the next corner and he saw the red circle with its blue line over the entrance to the Tube station, lit up by a warden’s flashlight. He was sucked in, propelled through sudden bright lights, hurtling down the stair, the next, onto a platform, deep into the earth, into safety. And all the time the whoop and moan of the sirens still filling the air, barely muffled by the dirt above.

There were wardens moving among the crowd, pushing people back against the walls, into the tunnels, away from the edge of the track. He brushed up against a woman with two toddlers, picked one – a little girl with round eyes and a blue teddy-bear – out of her arms and turned his shoulder into the crowd, making a way for them. He found a small space in a tunnel-mouth, pushed the woman into it and gave her back the little girl. Her mouth moved in thanks, but he couldn’t hear her above the noise of the crowd, the sirens, the creaking, the—

A sudden monstrous thud from above shook the station, and the whole crowd was struck silent, every eye on the high arched ceiling above them.

The tiles were white, and as they looked, a dark crack appeared suddenly between two rows of them. A gasp rose from the crowd, louder than the sirens. The crack seemed to stop, to hesitate – and then it zig-zagged suddenly, parting the tiles, in different directions.

He looked down from the growing crack, to see who was below it – the people still on the stair. The crowd at the bottom was too thick to move, everyone stopped still by horror. And then he saw her, partway up the stair.

Dolly. She’s cut her hair, he thought. It was short and curly, black as soot – black as the hair of the little boy she held in her arms, close against her, sheltering him. Her face was set, jaw clenched. And then she turned a bit, and saw him.

Her face went blank for an instant and then flared like a lit match, with a radiant joy that struck him in the heart and flamed through his being.

There was a much louder thud! from above, and a scream of terror rose from the crowd, louder, much louder than the sirens. Despite the shrieking, he could hear the fine rattle, like rain, as dirt began to pour from the crack above. He shoved with all his might, but couldn’t get past, couldn’t reach them. Dolly looked up, and he saw her jaw set hard again, her eyes blaze with determination. She shoved the man in front of her, who stumbled and fell down a step, squashing into the people in front of him. She swung Roger down into the little space she’d made, and with a twist of shoulders and the heave of her whole body, hurled the little boy up, over the rail – toward Jerry.

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