The Adventures of Charlotte Corday – Warp Wizard

Chapter One – “Wot? No Breakfast?”

The Adventures of Charlotte Corday - Warp Wizard Chapter One - art by Keith Page

“Oi!” shouted the bus conductor. “This is as far as you go.” Charlotte pretended not to hear him, but now everyone on the bus was looking at her as the red-faced man with the look of a sergeant-major about him bore down on her.

She looked out the window, but all she could see was his reflection. “Sixpenny fare takes you this far and no further.”

Well, there was no getting around that logic. Charlotte sighed. She had no idea where she was and no idea where she was going. The day had started oddly and showed no sign of letting up. Only two hours ago she had been safe in the orphanage.

And it had been her birthday. She was sixteen. Being sixteen is an excellent way to begin a day, she thought to herself as she rolled out of bed and into her best skinny jeans. Well, her only skinny jeans. A white t-shirt and her black leather jacket completed the ensemble. And yet…

…And yet no smell of breakfast sausages swam happily through the air to her awaiting nostrils. Nor was there any sound of kettles merrily whistling and lids clattering onto fresh pots of tea.

Charlotte combed her hair and stuck the comb in the back pocket of her jeans, zipped up her jacket two-thirds of the way and stuck her nose out the door of her little room.

The corridor was empty. That, in itself, was unusual. Saint Feasance’s Home For Lost Little ‘Uns was usually buzzing with the clatter of morning activity by this time.

And what time was it? The clock above the door to the refectory said quarter to eight. But when Charlotte looked at it again a few minutes later it still proclaimed that time. The clock in the kitchen had stopped too. And stranger still, the big frying pan was hanging on its hook and the kettle, when she lifted it, was empty. And where was the kitchen staff?

A quick sniff around revealed that not only was the kitchen empty, but it appeared that the entire premises had become suddenly uninhabited by all save one person. Charlotte Corday.

She checked herself in the long mirror in the hall. Yes, at least she was still there. But then she saw a movement behind her inside the reflection and spun to see a person she had never seen before. He was thin and carried a briefcase, wore an old-fashioned suit and, Charlotte suddenly realised, no shoes!

“Charlotte Corday?” he piped, popping open the clasp on his case and looking a bit surprised to find a small sheaf of documents inside.
“Yes?” answered Charlotte dubiously, looking at the man’s feet. For some reason she counted his toes. She looked up at the sound of a ball-point pen clicking in the man’s hand and saw that the documents were now laid out on the hall table.
“Sign in the spaces indicated, and I’ll want the pen back,” he said, and something seemed to be swimming inside his eyes. “We’ll have you on your way in a jiffy.”

Now, Charlotte wasn’t about to let on that she was even the slightest bit mystified or otherwise puzzled by all this, but she felt she had to ask one or two questions. “Where is everybody?” was the first one. “And what happened to breakfast?” was the second.

The man regarded her silkily and she noticed that he was still offering her the pen. So she took it. To be polite. But she didn’t sign anything. Not yet.
“The Home is being wound down,” he finally explained, matter-of-factly. “All residents have been discharged or otherwise processed and the premises will be recalibrated presently.”

What sort of talk was that? Charlotte was about to shout something when the man headed her off with a line that silenced her good and proper. He said, “We’ll soon have you on the way to your relative.”

Talk about a spanner in the works! As far as Charlotte knew, she was an orphan. Always had been. The only life she’d ever known was within the walls and grounds of Saint Feasance’s Home For Lost Little ‘Uns. All her pals were here.

Or had been. Until now. Until the whole place had suddenly become deserted and this bloke with – were they little fish inside his eyes?- turned up with news of- of a…relative?

Chapter Two – “A Bus to the Beyond”

The Adventures of Charlotte Corday - Warp Wizard Chapter Two - art by Keith Page

“Well, more of a friend of the family than an actual relative. But he has agreed to act as your guardian until-“

Charlotte interrupted him. “What family?” She simply had to know. But the man had no information on that score. He professed that it was beyond his brief, but offered that the best way for Charlotte to find out was to sign the documents and get underway for- he checked the papers- “Number 83 Fire Ant Lane.” He also coughed up sixpence for her bus fare.

Which wasn’t enough, of course. And now she found herself on an unknown street in an unknown corner of London. She watched as the bus drove away, then zipped up her jacket all the way and turned to see what was what.

A couple of pubs. A greengrocer. A TV rental shop. All useless to a penniless Charlotte, of course. But she could ask directions, she supposed.
Of the two pubs, the Noisy Oyster was closest, so she warily pushed open the door and ventured into the saloon bar. There was lots of polished wood and nice brass fittings, but not a single customer.

Charlotte looked at the framed pictures and photographs around the walls. One, in particular, caught her eye. The photo had obviously been cleverly faked. It depicted a very cheerful octopus playing a piano and, from the look of it, singing. He was also wearing a cap with shiny buttons all over it. Charlotte looked at the piano in the corner of the empty pub. It was the same piano. “Can I help you?” said a voice.

Wherever he had sprung from, there was now a man standing behind the counter, polishing a glass with a towel. His eyes shone. To be fair, he looked a bit mad. He identified himself. “Archie Blood,” he said. “And you are..?”

Charlotte gave her name and this Archie Blood fellow put down his glass. “In that case,” he said, “you’d better have a pint.”

When she pointed out to him that she was only sixteen, Mister Blood looked at her for a moment, winked, and then offered her a small bottle of red lemonade, which tasted quite nice. Then she remembered to make it clear that she had no money. This, apparently, was not a problem. She took another sip of red lemonade and reached for the scrap of paper in the other back pocket of her skinny jeans.

As well as the address – 83 Fire Ant Lane – there was a name on that paper. John Dee. Mister Blood laughed when he heard it and helped himself to a little glass of something from under the bar. His eyes grew, if possible, brighter.

“Old Johnny – or Mister Dee, if you want to call him that – lives just around the corner.”
“But the bus conductor told me I was still quite a distance from Fire Ant Lane,” said Charlotte, enjoying another drop of red lemonade.
“Depends how you look at it,” replied Mister Blood. “Go out that door,” he said, pointing to a different door to the one by which Charlotte had come in, “turn right and keep going until you come to Oil Drum Lane. Then turn left and you’ll find Fire Ant Lane handily enough. And tell Johnny I said hello.”

Charlotte was almost surprised when the directions turned out to be correct and accurate, and soon she was standing by the garden gate of a very odd house indeed. The handle of the gate was stiff and rusty, and the hinges squealed loudly as she pushed it open, straining against the wild overgrowth of the garden which seemed to be trying to push the gate shut again. However, she got in. But now crazed hedges and bushes and overgrown shrubs pushed in on the path from either side, as if trying to conceal the way to the front door.

Again, Charlotte prevailed, and soon found herself looking at a big wooden front door with a small window set into it, the whole business set into an ornately tiled porch at the top of three big steps. Around this, the house shot off in all directions, in all sorts of styles.

It had turrets, she noticed, and windows made of dark coloured glass. A surprising number of drainpipes too. Charlotte looked for a doorbell. How, she wondered, could she be related to someone who lived here?

Well, not a real relative, apparently. A friend of the family. Was that what the man with no shoes had said? She pushed the doorbell. It made a noise like an old brass band. But nothing happened.

So she pushed it again. It made a noise like a lifeboat splashing into the waters around the Titanic, and somewhere above her, one of the windows made a slow glassy cracking sound. Then Charlotte became aware of activity on the other side of the door. Somebody was trying to open it. The door appeared to be almost welded to its frame. It must have been ages since it had been opened. Charlotte supposed that the milkman must deliver to the back door.

But how would he get through that… that jungle? To say nothing of the postman. And if the door was never opened… then how did this John Dee get out of his house?

The letterbox suddenly screeched open and a racked voice coughed out a plaintive “Well, don’t just stand there- push!” from inside.

Charlotte put her shoulder to the door. After some time the door began to give inwards. But it was a good half hour until there was space enough for a startling head to look out around the frame and demand, “Well, what d’you want?”

The question met with a good shove from Charlotte. The door flew inwards before she even heard the words. She had just time to notice that the man was wearing a bowler hat before the door hit him and sent him sprawling. “Oops,” she said. “Sorry.”

The man seemed very old, at least thirty, as he clambered to his feet. The strange thing was that, apart from the bowler hat, he seemed to be wearing some sort of old-fashioned robe and shoes with buckles on them. He wasn’t pleased.

“I’ll have you know, young man-“ he began, but Charlotte had to stop him there. She granted that her short hair might have confused so old a codger but she was definitely a girl. So he raised a sort of monocle to his eye and took a look at her. After a moment, a look of shock set up shop on his face. His eyebrows went up and his monocle went down, dropped from a shaking hand. Luckily it was on a string around his neck so it just sort of swung around rather than smashing to the floor. It looked quite expensive.

“It’s you”, he said, finally. “You’ve come back. Again.”

Chapter Three – “A Quiet Room on the 99th Floor”

The Adventures of Charlotte Corday - Warp Wizard Chapter Three - art by Keith Page

“Yes,” answered Charlotte. “It’s me. But that depends on who the you to whom you refer might be…”

“Your name!” the ancient demanded as he leaned against an Elizabethan telephone table for support.

“Charlotte Corday,” was the simple reply. What else could she say? She was indeed herself, unless this mister Dee had someone else in mind. Luckily- perhaps! – it turned out that he hadn’t.

Mister Dee looked at her. She ultimately found this quite rude and challenged him with a sharp “Get yer eyes back in your head, granddad, or I’ll give you a punch up the bracket.”

“It is you!” The crumbling old ruin of a man – mid-thirties, at least – clasped his hands together with a loud slap. “Can I offer you the hospitality of my lodgings?”
“Well, a cup of tea wouldn’t go amiss.”

Some minutes later Charlotte was settled at the table in a kitchen with a very high ceiling as her host poured two cups of tea. “Milk?” he inquired.

“Just a drop”, said Charlotte, thinking that the kitchen reminded her of the old chapel at Saint Feasance’s Home For Lost Little ‘Uns”. Something like a bat fluttered overhead and settled in a nook up near the top.

Charlotte noticed that this John Dee was still looking at her very intently. She gave him a get-out-of-it look.

“My apologies. It’s been a while since you visited. I had almost forgotten -“
“Stop right there, mister.” She put down her tea. “I’ve never been here before. I mean, I’d know if I had been, wouldn’t I?”

“Not necessarily,” was the response. “More tea?”

“Yes, please.”

He poured and saw to the milk and sugar. He saw that she was brimming with questions, but wary of asking them. He smiled. That was just like her! “Mister Dee?” Her voice called him back from a quick but deep remembrance of all the times they had met before.

“Doctor Dee”, he corrected her. “Chief astro-finagler to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth.”

“You’re a bit daft, aren’t you?” She didn’t mean it unkindly. “You mean to tell me you’ve been to Buckingham Palace?”

“I was referring”, he said, “to Queen Elizabeth the First.”

“Look, mate. Can we agree on one thing? It’s nineteen sixty-eight, right?”

He admitted that, yes, most days it was, indeed, nineteen sixty-eight. At which point Charlotte tapped a finger on the table and drew his attention to the fact that Queen Elizabeth First was… oh, years ago.

He could not disagree with this. The last couple of hundred years, he admitted, had been a bit of a downhill slide for him.

“Look!” Charlotte was determined that good plain sense should win this one. “You can’t be hundreds of years old! What year were you born?”

“Nineteen twenty-eight.”

“See? That’s only forty years ago!” The case seemed concluded. Charlotte drained the last of her tea and sat back in her chair.

“Forgive me”, came the resigned response. “I’m forgetting that you’re not the same Charlotte with whom I formerly adventured.”

It was around then that Charlotte decided he was, indubitably, mad. He spun her some yarn about adventuring with “Charlotte Corday” in the fifties. Then he had fallen – or been pushed – into a time-shaft and wound up in the sixteenth century! Only the noise from upstairs stopped the stream of rubbish from his lips. Eventually, he heard the noise too.

“I forgot,” he said, “that I was in mid-battle when you called. Can you excuse me for a moment?”

He didn’t wait for a reply before leaving the kitchen with an umbrella in his hand. He wondered who had sent her, was she really herself or was she somebody else looking for trouble?

Charlotte, for her part, conceded that it certainly did sound like a battle was in progress upstairs. And perhaps the old fool needed help. So she stepped out into the hall and set about joining him. There were, however, several staircases. It was only when a figure burning with incandescent green flames tumbled down one particular flight of stairs, landed at her feet and then vanished that she knew which way to go. Something sounded like lightning up there too.

The stairs creaked under Charlotte’s steps. Despite the sounds of terrible combat, she took moments to regard the many old paintings lining the walls. And there she found- or thought she did – the answer to the puzzle of the day. The figure in one of the pictures did resemble her. But older. And wearing some sort of a naval uniform. But with… a spaceship in the background?

Putting aside the matter of the spaceship for a moment, Charlotte concluded that she must resemble some old acquaintance of Doctor Dee’s and, being mad and everything, he thought she’d come back to him.

Fine, but that still left the fight on the next landing to be dealt with. Charlotte was quite unprepared for the sight of men with what looked like worms dangling from their eye-sockets shooting what could only be described as magic spells at Doctor Dee. Luckily, the old nut gave as good as he got, and something seemed to wobble within the resolve of the attackers when they saw Charlotte. Just then, Doctor Dee fired a big lump of purple lightning and disappeared most of them.

The rest were carried away into a flickering gap in the air by men wearing overcoats and complicated pilots’ helmets. It seemed that the battle was over.
“For now”, stressed Doctor Dee, tilting his bowler hat to an angle and closing his umbrella. The house was quiet again, with just the smell of burnt magic to hint at what had occurred. “Can I offer you a drink?”

“I’m only sixteen,” stated Charlotte. He had one anyway, sitting on one of many sofas in what seemed to be the sitting room, with his feet up on an Assyrian coffee table, revealing skinny white legs under his robes.

Charlotte contented herself with a glass of pop. He watched her as she studied his many souvenirs and mementoes: a Martian sword on the wall above the Lemurian sideboard; a framed poster issued by the “British Resistance”, swearing to liberate the country from Nazi rule; a toy rocket-plane…

He corrected her. It wasn’t a toy. It was a model. Charlotte Corday flew the original prototype, sometime back in one of the forties decades.

This was all getting very confusing. Charlotte sat down on another sofa and considered the fact that she knew very well that Britain had never been conquered by the Nazis. Nor had such things as rocket planes ever blasted off into space. “And what’s that?” she asked, pointing to an object housed in a glass case on a Venusian card table.

“That”, said Doctor Dee, “is a Royal Space Navy blaster. Charlotte – another Charlotte- wielded that about seventy years ago. All through the Iron Moon business and the First Worlds War, in fact. Well, I’m off to bed.”

So he stood up and tottered out of the room, pausing only to let Charlotte know that a bedroom had been prepared for her on the next floor. He, or so he said, slept in the attic. Or the ninety-ninth floor, as he called it. Which was just completely mad, really.

Charlotte sat on the sofa for a while, enjoying the quiet without knowing what time of the day or night it was. She noticed a Sumerian television set, and switched it on. She flicked among the various channels. She saw Napoleon’s army invading England by means of a Channel tunnel. She saw a strange donkey puppet who actually seemed able to see her too and shouted all sorts of things at her. In French, she thought.

Then she saw herself. There she was – or a version of her – flying into space. There she was, punting across a future flooded London with three children, possibly hers. There she was, walking the Martian deserts, the Venusian jungles and the Lambeth asteroid belt.

There she was. Whoever she was.

Chapter Four: “Overheard in the Oyster, and Other Transcriptions”

The Adventures of Charlotte Corday - Warp Wizard Chapter Four - art by Keith Page

The pub that never shuts was just closing when the door opened and a bowler-hatted eminence slid inside out of the cold. The gentleman self-identified to Charlotte as Doctor John Dee cast an eye around and found the Noisy Oyster as apparently empty as ever.

The echoes of past, present and future pub talk, the chinking of glasses and the odd bit of a song swam into the ears that kept the bowler from falling over the eyes of the magician. As ever, the wavelengths were co-existing and only occasionally overlapping. In other words, Doctor Dee stood alone in the saloon bar, but every soul to ever cross the door of the Noisy Oyster had left a trace, a noise, a smell. He might as well have been standing in Piccadilly Circus on VE Night, for in that small, twisted space of dark wood and marble countertops thronged millions.

It would be incorrect to call these presences ghosts, as many of them were still at large elsewhere in the city, huffing and puffing and scratching their arses, while just as many had yet to be born and had wafted in from one or more of the main futures.

The current licensee, Archie Blood (late of El Alamein and all points between) sent an habitual hairy eyeball over the bar to greet the incomer. He followed this with an unwashed wink as he reached for a pint tumbler with one hand and the ale-tap marked “Old Fuhrerbunker” with the other. “You read my mind,” allowed Dee.

Another wink. The extent of their cerebral inter-penetration was unclear even to themselves. Theirs was a long game of hints and guesses, swings and roundabouts, noughts and crosses. They had often been on the same side. They might be now.

Blood knew what was on Dee’s mind and his knowing had nothing to do with any head-trickery he may – or may not – have picked up in his travels. Hadn’t he seen Charlotte Corday earlier that day, on her way to Dee’s house at No.83 Fire Ant Lane? She had looked bemused and a little off. But then she always did. Meanwhile, the sorceror’s pint was ready.

He was always curious to see what class of coinage Dee might produce by way of payment. A couple of small copper triangles dropped from his hand onto the counter. Everybody in the empty pub looked around curiously. Blood scooped one of the coins up and took a look. There was a head on one side but it certainly wasn’t the present Elizabeth. Too many eyes, for one thing. And the crown was all skew-whiff.

So the game kicked off. “Where’d you happen across that bit of change?” asked Blood, knowing full well that the answer would contain anything but a straightforward response.

Dee gave the impression that he was thinking as he raised the beer to his lips and took a lovely sup. Finally he said, “London, I think.” Which was very well-played indeed. Didn’t narrow it down at all. He didn’t say which London. He just left it hanging there. He looked up at the stuffed Martian in the glass case above the spirit optics and smiled vaguely.

At last, Archie Blood could stand it no longer, broke every cherished principle by which he lived and spoke directly: “She’s here, isn’t she?”
For an answer he got the quiet thud of Dee’s empty glass on the counter. “Stick another one in there, old cock. There’s a gent.”

As the beer was pouring, Blood revealed that it had been him who had given Charlotte directions to the House of Dee, “Although she had the address, scribbled on a bit of paper. Have you figured out which one she is yet?”

The carnomancer accepted ale number two and said that it was early days yet. He was going to need all of his extraordinations to get to the bottom of this. But a feed of pints was a good start. The appearance of a Charlotte Corday in one’s life was always followed by a severe intrusion of the Great and Frightful Other.

“Fire,” he mused. “The flapping of vast wings beneath bruised and worried skies.” Archie realised that another pint was going to be needed, and soon.

“Great ships listing in tentacle-clogged seas,” he continued. The ale appeared to be drinking itself. “Frogs and terrapins of uncommon size marauding in Spitalfields and refusing to stand their round in the Ten Bells.”

“Cripes,” said the man called Blood, reflecting. But that wasn’t the worst of it.

The beer glass – empty – was tapped repeatedly on the counter as its former contents took a good tight hold on Doctor Dee. “What troubles and puzzles me,” he ruminated, “is that piece of paper with the address written on it.”

He indicated the ale tap with a jut of his head and revealed that when he had asked Charlotte if he might examine the paper she had been unable to find it. It wasn’t in any of her pockets. So he’d sent her off to bed with a mug of cocoa and the new John Blackburn novel, assuring her that it didn’t matter. Everything was alright.

For a moment, his insistence on all and sundry being tickety-boo had seemed to give her an inkling that the opposite might just be true. But she was tired and his repeated assurances prevailed. And the cocoa was nice.

“Are you thinking what I think you’re thinking?” asked Archie Blood, helping himself to a double from the whiskey optic.

“I don’t know,” said the arch-ellipsist, for a moment using all his power to ascertain when the next pint might make its appearance. “Certainly it bodes ill.”

The pint appeared. Doctor Dee looked into it deeply. Then he looked up and saw that the merest wisp of a smile was threatening to make an appearance on the face of his old adversary on the other side of the bar. And in a moment of intense, mutual cerebral inter-penetration both multifarious gentlemen realised that if Charlotte had been in possession of a bit of paper with No.83 Fire Ant Lane written on it, then somebody had given it to her.

So somebody had wanted her to find the House of Dee. Charlotte Corday, eternal catalyst of mayhem and chaos, had been aimed like a cheeky little missile at the man currently living under the name of John Dee, chief astro-finagler to Elizabeth (the first one) in this year of our lords and ladies nineteen sixty-whatever-it-was.

“The game,” observed Archie Blood,” is a foot.”

Chapter Five: “All Planets Stand Ready. Subject X97 is Up and About”

The Adventures of Charlotte Corday - Warp Wizard Chapter Five - art by Keith Page

Finding herself unable to step into the (presumably) kindly offered pyjamas had been the start of it, thought Charlotte. The room was nice enough. The blue and white stripes on the eiderdown cover generated a sort of seaside feeling in her heart, which she had to admit was quite pleasant. But had she even been to the seaside? Had she ever even seen it evoked outside the pages of a book?

The little bookcase drew her eye. The madman who ran the house had pressed a copy of For Fear of Little Men upon her, but she had placed that on the bedside table unopened and now her attention fell upon the top shelf where she spied (between a Martin Siegel paperback and the autobiography of Jack Hawkins) the unmistakeable blue spine with yellow lettering of Augustus Dave’s “Rumblings”.

Now, Charlotte had been a good way into the very same book when the strange events at Saint Feasance’s had catapulted her out the door and landed her here. Reaching for the little volume her fingertips told her, a second before they connected with it, that this was not just another copy of the book but the very same one that she had previously possessed.

Which was impossible, of course. So she investigated. The cover was the same, but why shouldn’t it be? She’d always liked the illustration, which depicted a figure (the author) sitting with her back to us on the deck of a little barge, raising a glass to the lock-keeper (a badger) who had just opened the gate ahead in order that she may pass through.

Charlotte hadn’t reached that particular part of the book yet, and was most eager to discover how a story (claiming to be an autobiography, no less!) that began with an account of a disastrous mission to the planet Mars could somehow involve a pleasant waterborne trip along the English canals. She opened the cover and was about to look for her place among the pages when a bookmark brought her to the exact spot she needed to find.

This was strange. Not as strange as the magic battle she had witnessed earlier that evening (Or had she? Was she going off her rocker?) but certainly noteworthy. Further (and Charlotte was rather startled at how easily this next small fact slid into place in the top drawer on the left of the roll-top desk of her mind) a quick inspection revealed that it was (Why bother pretending otherwise?) the very same raffle ticket she had been using to keep her place in her various readings since it had brought her no luck at last year’s Saint Fantog’s Day fete.

Ten prizes were listed. None of them made any sense to her. Nevertheless, something told her that she should keep the ticket, so into her pocket it went.

So now: Back to the mystery. This was indeed the same book she had read under the bed covers with a torch. The name of a former owner, written in blue ink on the inside cover, was the clincher: Pompey Snurg. Was that a girl’s name or a boy’s name? Charlotte returned to the bed and sat down on it. The springs made a nice sound. She looked at the stripes on the eiderdown cover until she could smell sea air and hear the clacking of deck-chairs being set out. She suddenly fancied some fish and chips.

Stop that, she ordered herself. She reached for her mug of cocoa. But it had gone cold. For a moment, it had represented the possibility of a re-connection with…something or other. But now it was cold. But, practical as ever, Charlotte knew that what was cold could be heated up again. And that was what kitchens were for.

It was only when she stepped outside her little room that she realised she was slightly anxious about travelling downwards through this strange house. But, cup in hand, she steered herself to the top of the stairs and gathered herself. It was dark, but the moonlight (was it?) that flooded in through the many stained-glass windows cast enough illumination to be going on with, even if it gave the place a sort of underwater botanic gardens feel.

Charlotte looked down at her feet and was pleased (and only slightly apprehensive) to see that they had already begun carrying her step by step down the stairs. She chanced a glance or two at some of the many pictures that clogged the walls along the way. At some points in her journey, particularly on the various landings, the pictures had clearly been hung over other pictures, like one jigsaw puzzle glimpsed through another one. Or something. And in the meantime the cocoa was still cold. So down the stairs she continued.

It was a big house. Well, she knew that already. But now she was processing and filing the information. Did her host really live here alone? Did he have other guests? Charlotte stopped that thought in its tracks. She didn’t wish to think it. Not this side of a nice cup of cocoa anyway.

Many of the landings behaved as if they might be the ground floor, only to suddenly reveal another set of stairs plunging further downwards. Right, so. For a moment, Charlotte worried that she might have accidentally passed underground, but the moonlight through the stained-glass reassured her. She found the kitchen.

Big it was, and used for more than cooking by the look of things. She couldn’t find a light switch, but at least the moonlight had got in here too and allowed her to see what she was doing. The cocoa was quickly transferred into a little saucepan and set upon the very large stove. A matchbox was found with a single match in it. This was lit and its flame applied to the gas ring, and soon things were warming up nicely.

As Charlotte waited, she reflected that it was convenient that the moonlight penetrated the house from more than one side. And then she realised that this wasn’t a normal state of affairs at all. She crossed to the window. Pots and pans and cleavers and things were hanging on a rail before the glass, all silhouettes. Leaning forward, Charlotte chose one particular pieces of the irregularly-arranged stained-glass as the lens for her inspection of the outside. Yes, there was a moon out there. Several, in fact. Probably best to return her attention to the cocoa, she decided.

This turned out to be a good move. Safely back in its mug, the wonderful beverage was raised to her lips and sipped. She enjoyed it more than she had ever enjoyed a mug of cocoa before. It tasted of… galaxies.

Charlotte Corday © Keith Page | Story © Keith Page and Stephen Walsh