The Ghost Train
Halloween 2022 is fun but Halloween 2050 will be fantastic. There’s a not-to-be-missed event at E-College-E, with a funfair and disco billed the best of the century. I’ve been conjuring it in my head to such fine detail I’ve barely slept all week. I don’t do fancy dress so I’m wearing my favourite off-white retro tracksuit with a cotton skinsuit underneath so it doesn’t itch at all. Under the right lights it will glow in the dark. 2050, here I come.
It’s Monday the 31st of October 2022, 7.30 p.m., and The Infinites are in Room 4D at my school. It’s a perfect cube; the walls, floor and ceiling the same pale cream. I’m a chameleon, blending in with the decor. We just finished youth club, run by Mrs C Eckler, where we watched a black-and-white film about time-travel made by a Leapling film-maker. When I first joined the school they used the room exclusively for leaping, but they changed the rules at the beginning of my Tenth Year to allow us to use it for extracurricular activities too. Room 4D is named after the fourth dimension, space-time. The first three dimensions are height, breadth and depth.
The Infinites are standing in a Chrono, a circle for leaping, in order of rank: MC², GMT, me, Big Ben and Portia. We’re meeting Kwesi and Ama in 2050, the year they’re based. Portia and Ama had their Infinite ceremonies last month so now we’re seven strong.
‘Does anyone have a spare leap band?’ I say. ‘I left–Oh, my phone!’
It’s the deep buzztone that means another Chronophone is calling, not a regular mobile. I grab my silver Chronophone from my bag in time to see the name GRANDMA. She must be celling from work. I press the green button and her face fills the screen, all big-eyes and blue-green zigzag headtie.
‘Elle, it is me, Grandma. Enjoy the party. Have a dance for me-o!’
I smile. Grandma has trouble walking, let alone dancing, but she still likes to have a go.
‘Thank you, Grandma. Have you taken your tablets?’
She gives me a twisted smile which means no. Grandma has to take tablets for high blood pressure but she often ‘forgets’ to take them.
‘Don’t turn into a toad,’ she says, which means be back by midnight.
‘Grandma, I’ll be back by 10.’
I mean it. Some days I don’t like leaving Grandma alone for too long. She’s become a bit confused about conversations she thinks we’ve had. I’m worried her memory’s playing tricks on her.
‘Greet that your friend, GT.’
Grandma has a soft spot for GMT because she’s vegetarian, but always says her name wrong.
‘I will, Grandma. She’s here, right next to me. She can see and hear you!’
GMT leans over. ‘Greetings, Mrs Ifíè.’
‘Know thine enemy to defeat him. Godspeed!’
I say, ‘Yes, Grandma!’
and GMT says, ‘We sure will,’
at exactly the same time.
As soon as she’s gone, MC² frowns at me.
‘What’s your gran on about? An’ since when did she keep a Chronophone?’
‘Nothing, really. Typical Grandma. She’s always quoting stuff from the Bible about good conquering evil.’ I pause. ‘When I promised to get her a Chronophone so we could stay in touch when I’m on a mission, it turned out she’s had one for years. She’d been hiding it in her room.’
He raises his eyebrows. ‘Respect to Grandma. The gold came out in 2050; most reliable for a century. Your gran’s a dark horse, Elle.’
Big Ben’s frowning now. ‘What’s that mean?’
‘Means,’ says MC², ‘she got talents she’s keeping under wraps. Like us Leaps. Time to fast-forward.’
We hold hands. Big Ben is on my left; GMT on my right. I squeeze their hands and they squeeze mine back. We close our eyes, concentrate on the Fantastic Forest, E-College-E, the 31st of October 2050, 8 p.m. My fingers, toes, whole body fizz with energy as tiny white numbers begin to spin in the black vortex. I try to focus only on 2050 to stop myself feeling so nauseous. Grandma’s call distracted me from borrowing a leap band to prevent it. Finally, the numbers slow down and stop.
I feel the mild, still air on my cheeks, smell pine and smoke, hear the rhythmic bass, howls and growls of beast beats in the background before I open my eyes. It’s dark. The sky is dotted with what look like fluorescent giant bees but are actually people arriving via eco-jet. We’re at the edge of the forest and ahead of us is a large field full of light and life, spiky marquees and bright white rides spinning so fast, they’re almost invisible: the futuristic funfair. I can’t wait!
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Excerpt from THE CIRCLE BREAKERS published by Canongate Books. Copyright © 2023 by Patience Agbabi.