“Your homework due for next week is as follows,” everyone groans as Miss Harrell addresses the class, “write an essay on where you see yourself in twenty years’ time.” I pull a face; how am I meant to know what I’m going to be doing twenty years from now? “Cara George, what do you mean by that rude gesture?” Oh dear, I’ve been caught out, again. “Sorry Miss, I was just itching my nose,” I try it on as a new ploy to avoid being lectured. Miss Harrell shakes her head and with irritation in her voice, says, “I’m fed up with your feeble excuses Miss George, see me after school.” I can’t believe I’ve got another detention; I’ve had plenty this term already. For the last few minutes of the lesson, I mull over what I’m going to do when my mum finds out I’m in trouble yet again. I could just say I was doing my homework for Miss Harrell. A little white lie can’t do much harm.
After scurrying to the English classroom for my detention so as not to be late, I knock rapidly on the door. “Come in,” I hear her voice and it makes me shudder. I go inside and wait to be told what to do next. “Well, are you going to sit down or just stand there like a lemon?” Miss Harrell’s voice cuts through me like a knife. Wounded, I sit down. “Frankly, Cara, I’ve had enough of your tricks and I want this detention to be a lesson that lying gets you nowhere in life except into trouble.” There’s a long pause as I shuffle uncomfortably in my seat, pondering whether to reply or not. “Sorry Miss,” I mumble whilst staring at the faux wood table. She appears to be unsatisfied and forces me to apologise again, “With meaning this time.”
After possibly the most awkward fifteen minutes of my life, I’m released like a bird from a cage and I rush home to recount the sorry tale to my mum, disregarding my previous resolution to fib. Not that Miss Harrell’s right about lying, but I feel like I deserve a bit of compassion.
As soon as I got home, I spilled out the whole tale of my detention to mum who didn’t seem to have much sympathy and merely asked if I needed to get on with my homework. “Probably not,” I replied but she was clearly in a bad mood, “It was a rhetorical question Cara, go and do your homework.” I didn’t budge. “NOW!” I recoiled and hurried up to my room for some peace and quiet.
An hour later, I heard a soft knock on my door, “What?” I asked crossly. “It’s only me,” I could perceive my mum’s apologetic tone. I spoke softly to show I was sorry too, “I’m doing my homework like you asked.”
“That’s good darling,” she pushed open my door, “what’s it about?”
“Oh, just some stupid thing about where we see ourselves in twenty years’ time.”
“Doesn’t sound stupid to me,” my mum is clearly trying quite hard so I give in, “I’ve tried loads of different things but none of them feel right, I know they’re not true. Can you help?”
“Well, the only way to know for sure is to go and see for yourself.” I am really confused now, “How could I ever see for myself?” I ask incredulously. “Time travel of course!” My mum seems excited but surely she’s only trying to cheer me up by playing around. She appears to see my doubt and attempts to reassure me, “I’m serious Cara; I’ll give you the instructions and you need to read them carefully. But, when you get there, even if you forget everything they say, the one thing you mustn’t do is change your future. Who knows what might happen if you do?” I have no idea what she’s talking about but if it’s going to please Miss Harrell, I’m all for it after today’s events.
A few minutes later, I’m standing outside in our overgrown garden, ready to see my future. I clasp the clean, white paper mum gave me in my hands as I begin to follow the commands. ‘Clench your fists,’ it reads, ‘then imagine an older version of yourself,’ in that moment, I couldn’t think of anyone but my mum, ‘now focus on that older self and close your eyes as tightly as you can.’ I focus on the darkness and the tightness of my hand, then picture my mum and I think it works.
The strangest sensation begins to envelop me as I feel as if I’m rolling down an infinite hill into a dark valley. I can see blades of grass all around me and hear rushing water in the distance. I’m not sure whether it’s a river or a waterfall, but either way, I don’t want to land in it. I try to slow down but I only end up rolling faster and faster. Eventually, I give up trying to stop myself from rolling and let my body fall over the land. Oddly, this seems to have the opposite effect and I stop unexpectedly with a hard ‘thud’ on what at first appears to be a grassy bank. However, it suddenly disappears and I feel very enclosed as if I’m in some kind of box, specially designed for human bodies. It’s as if I’m lying down and, feeling around, I touch cold, unforgiving wood at my sides. I have no idea where I am or what I’m inside but I don’t like it.
Panic begins to rise in my stomach as I get the impression that the box I’m in is being picked up and carried towards something. I then hear what I recognise to be the ‘Funeral March’. It finally dawns on me. I’m in a coffin. This is my funeral; twenty years from my fourteenth birthday, I’m going to be dead. I don’t know what to do. If I scream and try to get out, my future changes and that’s the one thing my mum told me not to do. Her words echo through my head, “The one thing you mustn’t do is change your future. Who knows what might happen if you do?” But if I don’t, I’m going to be killed. Straining my ears, I listen for clues as to where I am exactly. I can just make out some shoes click-clacking across the floor and I know I’m inside. It’s a crematorium. I’m going to be burnt alive if I don’t get out of here.
I can’t think of a way to escape without changing my future but I’m going to have to ignore my mum’s advice. I try to comfort myself by thinking about all the times I haven’t listened to her and everything’s been fine. I begin to scream, “AAAAAAH! GET ME OUT OF HERE!” I start pounding my fists against the side of the coffin and realise they’re still tightly wrapped around my mum’s instructions. Reminded of her order not to under any circumstances change my future, I shout, “Sorry mum, I don’t know what else to do.”
What feels like hours later, I detect a scrabbling sound at the coffin and light begins to pour in. “Oh my goodness! She’s alive!” I squint and see my auntie standing over me, her face as pale as a ghost. “Auntie!” I exclaim, “I thought I was going to be burnt alive.”
“But … we thought you were … gone.” She is clearly bewildered by my appearance but I don’t have time for explanations. I’ve seen enough of my future to write an essay worth A*, even from Miss Harrell, I think it’s time I went home. But hang on a minute, how am I going to get back? Mum never gave me those instructions.