Children’s Literature Festival 2019 writer: Syeda Sarah Zuha Age: 13 : Word Count: 1994 ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- .2019 This story, written by my daughter, is selected as short-listed in the CLF Event TITLE: MISUNDERSTOOD A Tale of Time ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Misunderstood: A Tale of Time “Please! Just this once?” She pleads. “All right, fine! I’ll come.” I give up. A unanimous cheer erupts from the crowd. 3 incomplete assignments due Monday and I’m going outside. Anyway, I still have 7 hours till dawn, meaning I can get Physics and Literature done. That means I’ll have Chemistry, Mathematics, and History left. That’s not so bad. I fall asleep around 3 A.M. It feels like only a few minutes have passed when the alarm clock starts beeping like crazy. I throw something at it, and it stops. Briefly. After a few minutes, I give in and rise from the table, then change and pour my coffee into a travel cup, heading towards the car. About 20 minutes later, we’re at the beach. My glasses fog up as I step out of the car. It’s been about an hour when we’re sitting on the sand and playing Truth or Dare. “Walk at least 15 meters into the water.” I get up and walk around 25 when Antares whistles for me to return. I don’t. I’m at the 35-meter mark when I notice something on the wet sand. I walk a little farther, until I’m waist-deep in water, and pick it up. It’s a vintage-style box carved out of tinted, frosted crystal. I turn around and carry it back. “You guys. Look at this.” Their attention turns to what I’m carrying. “What’s that?” “It’s a box… I think. I mean it’s probably locked, but…” I trail off and pull out a floral pin from Karen’s hair and insert it in the keyhole. There’re a few clicks (the lock’s pretty much useless now) and the case swings open. Yellowed and torn with age, a piece of parchment rests inside. I pick it up and read. I shouldn’t be able to, but I do. Something forgotten, but not entirely so. Something deep from the past, and yet it has a modern touch. The texture of the paper is uneven and coarse, yet has an ordinary, everyday feel. The text has an Aegean blue sort of color, the exact shade of the ink in my fountain pen. The color drains from my face. “What is this?” “I… I don’t know. But it’s so… familiar.” “Uh-huh. And what does it say?” Disbelief is evident in Maria’s voice. “Carrieth this, faithful waters, across realms divine, Weaving in and out through the fabric of time. The past hath already been changed once before, Reality, by the depraved, hath been caged once before. A limitless abyss, time knoweth no bounds, Time and time again, cruel it hath been found. This I giveth to the waters, as now darkness prevaileth To be shifted to thee, lest it is hindered by untimely death. Received by the one truly destined for this My faiths in thee hope none will ariseth amiss. The message I asketh for the waters to delivereth, A secret meant to protect until the last dying breath. Christened after the stars, the line is cursed Into destruction, forcefully coerced Just as the stars are, ‘tis both hot and cold, As the truth unraveleth, the mystery unfolds. Those who lookest once to be steadfast Desert thee as time unveils thine past Allies, by the curse, drawn away forever It approachest as the binding cord is severed Those who deliverest that which times giveth them Those that the unchosen choose to condemn C. A. Altair Dated. 12. 10. 1832” “Yeah, no.” I ignore Maria. “Well, it’s genuinely old… and… it’s written in this ancient language, so…” Damien cuts me off. “Yeah. And it should make the Guinness World Record for Least Authentic Document.” “And you should make the Guinness World Record for Least Helpful Person.” I wonder for a moment. The pure, smooth texture: It reminds of something... It clicks and I pick up my keys and turn on the laser, directing the light towards the box. I look up triumphantly but he stares at me. “The critical angle of diamond is 24. See? I have trouble believing someone would go to such lengths just for a prank.” “I might.” He mutters, which I successfully ignore. “So your holy ancestors wrote it?” Clearly, no one’s believing me. “Hmmm… Not necessarily. Plenty of people are called Altair.” “Hey. I’m generally a nice person to be around, but if you start any drama about this, I will officially disown you.” Karen threatens. “Ooh, scary.” is my listless reply. It feels like a few more hours have passed when the sun dips into the horizon and I’m driving back home. Or not. I drop off Karen and head to Rivergate University, 18th street. I get out of the car and break off the latch from the case. A few minutes later, I’m in the laboratory, to which I have gained access by copious amounts of pleading, dripping nitric acid onto the latch. No effect. Solid gold. I take my cell phone out and find an Anglo-Saxon translator and type in the text. The translation is rather similar to what I thought it was. Distractedly, I drive back home. I spend a few hours researching the word Altair. Turns out it’s a star: Twelfth brightest in the sky, in fact. A part of the Shaft of Aquila. The word Altair is derived from Arabic, meaning flying. The tradition of naming people after stars, of course, has been in existence for years. I then spend a few hours researching my family line. Then I recheck the date at the end of the page: 12th October 1832. Exactly two hundred years before my birthdate. I look at the date in the corner of my screen: 7th October 2032. 5 more days and exactly 200 years would have passed since this was written. Then I try to trace back my family line. By midnight I have 6 generations. So far, only one person who will fit the initials C. A. Altaire: My great-great-grandmother, Claire Annaliese. That’s when I wonder what Arynne means. It was derived from the name Aryn, which means ‘messenger’. I reread the poem. “Those who deliverest that which times giveth them.” … The morning of 11th October dawns dull and cold, another monotonous Monday. Upon return from university, I’m considering reviewing my essay when I notice something: A word file named ‘alttair]researchh,.docx’… As far as I recall, it was named ‘New Microsoft Word Document (3)’. I double-click the file. A Word file opens up. The text inside is something I’ve never seen in my life: ‘altair..altaire?proper.noun,spelled[with/e,no12.10.2016.birThday16?.tuesday.]centauri\\aftersecond,nearest-star2earth[[proxima;centauri_shafft|of|Aquila..clai-re.annaliesse=messenger?/messenger+centaUrii,,Antares,withnot[Cephei_2032birthdate,,st/oct;;12..to-morrOw;>’ I definitely did not write this, so…? This question consumes me until midnight. After that, I have a whole new array of confusing queries sauntering around in my mind. I’m sitting on my worktable, glaring at my Chemistry textbook, wondering why the equation refused to balance itself when a huge headache makes its way into my head. Sudden jolts of pain continue to rack my brain for a few seconds. It clears up almost immediately, but it leaves me in a bedroom that's not mine. I notice I’m not alone: Two more people are lying on the wooden floor, presumably unconscious, probably having been dumped into the room, in the same pitiable predicament as mine. I stand up and a piercing headache shoots through my head. “Ow.” Good to see my eloquence is unharmed. The other two figures get up, of which the first is Cephei, the second Antares. "Hey." Still unharmed. Nice. "What are we doing here?" Cephei addresses the elephant in the living room. Well, it actually looks more like a bedroom, but… whatever. "Presumably we have been rudely deposited in this chamber by unknown means.” Returns Antares, mildly disconcerted at the impossibility of his situation. His eloquence, present even during the likeness of such circumstances, annoys me. “Well, I gathered that much.” is my discourteous reply. Bored, Cephei starts to look around the place. “Hey. Look at this.” I follow her to a portrait displaying a smiling woman in a silken white dress and a veil. Her eyes shine a striking grey. I look at the rest of the wall: An array of family portraits adorns the room. Another picture shows the woman surrounded by a group of others the same age. Another shows her in the same bedroom we’re standing in, smiling and holding a young infant in her arms. The next shows her in a garden, surrounded by luscious green foliage. A young boy peeks from behind her. I recognize this picture. The woman whose bedroom we’re invading is Claire Annaliese. The door handle turns and the door swings open. In unison, we dive behind the silken drapes on the bed. The woman from the portraits enters. She walks to the dresser, opens one of the compartments, fumbles through the contents, and, upon finding the object of her requirement, walks away. The door clicks and we tumble out of our refuge. This makes no sense. Was I magically teleported to an ancient mansion after finding a mysterious diamond box that contained some strange poetry written by my great-great-grandmother? I realize I’m tightly clutching my pen, which I had brought with me through the space-time fabric (which, at this moment, we have successfully reduced to shreds). I take a few moments to compose myself, then proceed to walk towards the shelf and take out a box: A vintage-style box carved out of tinted, frosted crystal, to be exact. With a smile, I look through the woman’s belongings until I find something akin to a paper. I write the poem from memory, then tweak it and make it old English, then translate it and write it on another piece of paper in old-looking handwriting. With a smile, I review my work proudly then fold the piece of paper and put it in the case. I lock the unbroken gold latch, pick it up, walk towards the window, and climb into it. I jump out into the courtyard. I climb up the familiar wrought iron gates and climb down on the other side. 48 seconds flat. That’s a new record. Well, it’s actually an old record, but, you know… Antares and Cephei join me in 15 minutes. “You guys should really practice climbing,” I comment. I walk towards the direction I drove to only a few days ago. An hour or so later, we’re standing at the beach. I lower the crystal box into the water. As it is carried away by the retreating wave, a headache weaves its way through my mind. “Ow.” My timeless eloquence persists. It clears up, but I'm not in my bedroom. Of course. When I reach home, I look at my phone, greeted by an enormous tsunami of texts from Cephei and Antares. Predictably, they demand an explanation for my behavior. I tell them that ‘christened after the stars’ didn’t mean the Altair family line. We weren’t cursed. ‘Christened after the stars’ means us: Centauri, Antares, and Cephei. We were the ones named after the stars. We were cursed. To violate the peaceful continuity of time. To disrupt the rules of life itself. I wasn't supposed to just write that, put it into a box, and let it float away. I was supposed to be in the past for a longer amount of time. But I didn't. I deceived the rules of time itself. But keeping me in the past was an extreme measure. Now that I had done what needed to be done, I could no longer be kept out of my initial time-zone. A smile plays on my lips as I proceed to balance the equation. It's fairly easy. I wonder why I couldn't get it the last time. Perhaps it was the mystical insight I have gained through the brief amount of time I have spent in my past. It has greatly broadened my outlook on time (albeit to a questionable degree), so I fail to see a reason it should not have provided intuition regarding my Chemistry homework.