In a cottage by the sea, in the picturesque English town of Bridlington, afternoon light filtered in through linen drapes, casting shadows into a bedroom where a girl of twelve, Alice Carter, furiously dug through a wardrobe, throwing things out on the wood floor, searching for something—anything—to keep her occupied.
As a child, Alice loved coming to her grandmother’s cottage. At twelve, it now felt like a prison, her sentence to endure boredom until death. She had been here for two weeks already, since her parents had sent her away once again while they “took time to sort things out.”
How did her grandmother exist without a telly? Nothing but books and old antiques and not a thing to do, nothing to distract her, not a single thing to take Alice’s mind off what she saw.
She stormed out of her tiny room, past her grandmother, who sat in the living room—unstirring, unperturbed, playing solitaire with the same set of ancient playing cards she’d been playing with since Alice was a child.
“Where’re you going, dear?” her grandmother murmured as she placed a card that depicted a dragon taking flight while breathing fire upon a giant.
“To town,” Alice called as the screen door slammed behind her.
Her grandmother briefly looked after her, then set down a card with a storm engulfing a rocky coast.
Alice stomped along the dirt path high above the shore. She was too consumed with her thoughts to notice the dark clouds gathering on the horizon. A single question ran through her mind: “should I reveal what I saw?” She had seen it almost a month ago, and she had tried to forget it since. Tried and failed. That person’s secret had become her secret. It was eating at her, a little more each day. Each day it became harder to distract herself.
Alice didn’t notice the first drops of rain that fell on her sandy brown hair. By the time the drops trickled down her freckled forehead, the winds blowing in from the sea were almost strong enough to bowl her over. And yet she barreled on toward the town, determined to get to shelter where there was actually something to do. Rain soon drenched her hair and the wind tugged at her, then tossed her off the path, sending her stumbling. She stopped, taking in the scene, and for a moment, panicked. The tiny town was still much too far away and the storm was growing stronger by the second.
She was so close.
But she’d never make it in time. Disappointed, she turned and began jogging back toward her grandmother’s cottage, careful not to step on a loose stone along the path. A gust blew her to the ground, rolling her across the turf in several directions before she came to rest. She sprang back to her feet, ready to set out again, but the gray and white clouds had grown so thick she could no longer see the town or the cottage. There was only the dirt path, with two directions. But which way to go?
Another gale caught Alice, spun her skinny frame, and tossed her once more to the ground. A cross wind caught her, rolling her again, this time over the path, toward the cliff. Her eyes locked on the rocky descent, on the white cap waves crashing into the dark stone fifty feet below. She clawed at the damp grass, trying to find a hold, but the wind kept her from gaining purchase. It seemed to be whipping her, tumbling her like a bundle of weeds through a ghost town. She was ten feet... now eight... now four feet from the cliff face.
I’m going to go over…
From nowhere, a bush seemed to appear out of the clouds—a dwarf willow shrub, the same kind that grew outside her grandmother’s home. Alice grabbed for it, caught it with her left hand, then her right. She squeezed tight. The force of the wind fought her, though, pulling at her, and her grip slid along the wet branches. Twice more the wind tugged at her, but Alice held, ignoring the pain as the knobby bush cut into her hands.
I’m not letting go! she thought, as if the wind could read her mind. And, perhaps it did, because just as suddenly as it had come, the barrage of gusts withdrew, leaving her lying on her stomach in the soggy grass. She pushed up and looked around. The rain still raged. She wiped drops from her face and focused.
The mist parted for an instant, just long enough for Alice to make out a rock outcropping off the path. A dark mouth, perhaps the opening to a cave, seemed to yawn at her. But then the clouds brushed past it, hiding it once again.
Alice bound for it, running, slipping in the wet grass, only slowing when she reached the rocks. Her eyes had not tricked her: there was a cave! She paused at the opening. At just over five feet, Alice was a bit tall for her age, and the entrance to the cave barely cleared her head. Dark, cramped spaces scared her.
But so did being tossed over a cliff to her death.
She remembered something her grandmother liked to say: “Fortune favors the bold.”
She took a tentative step into the cave. Cool air seeped past her. The wind tickled at her back, tugging at her wet, matted hair. Another step. Inside, the cave cut to the left. She stepped deeper into the cave, just out of the wind’s reach. She shivered, and she wasn’t sure whether it was from the cold or the darkness or both. In her rush to escape her grandmother’s house she had only put on a light cotton coat, far too flimsy for the late October chill. Tomorrow was Halloween, and the weather was even colder this year than usual. She hoped she would be home soon, warming herself by the old stone fireplace in the living room.
The roar of the storm faded, replaced by the occasional howl as the wind whipped across the mouth of the cave. It almost sounded like a siren.
Her grandmother was probably worried sick. A pang of guilt crept into Alice’s stomach, about how she had acted the past few weeks and about how she had stormed out of the cottage. It wasn’t her grandmother she was angry with. She loved her grandmother and appreciated all she had done for her, how she had always been there for Alice. And she had been so sad since Alice’s grandfather had passed away several years ago.
The wind was gathering again. It seemed to reach further into the cave, as if reaching inside, grasping for Alice. She stepped further into the cave, toward the darkness, and plopped down on the ground. Her eyes adjusted after a moment, but still all she could make out were the black stone walls and filtered light drifting through the clouds covering the cave opening.
As she sat, her mind wandered to that familiar subject she couldn’t escape. The scene around her morphed as the memory she had tried hard to forget returned. The howling storm transformed to the sounds of horns on the streets of London. The faint light from the cave mouth was replaced by fog-shrouded street lamps. The stone walls of the cave became towering stone townhomes lining the busy street. She was skipping home, giddy. Then she saw it—the thing she couldn’t unsee and couldn’t tell a soul about.
Alice pushed herself to her feet and trudged deeper into the cave, trying not to think, trying to outrun the memory. The light behind her slowly faded, and she was engulfed in darkness.
Seconds later, the only sound was her footfalls echoing in the tight space. She slammed into a stone wall, turned, felt another, and then another, her fingers desperately grasping for a way out. It was as if she were trapped, as though the walls had closed around her. Her heart pounded in her chest and her breath came fast. Panic consumed her. She tried to calm down, but that only made her more afraid. She needed to get back to the light, to the opening.
She closed her eyes, trying to relax, trying to clear her mind. When she opened her eyes, she was once again in the memory, standing on the street in London, the lamps casting a glow through the fog. She was truly trapped—in the only place a person can never escape: their own mind.
Alice shook her head, wishing for a way out. A way to forget and get past it.
With each passing second, the scene on the London street took shape, became more real. It would happen soon.
The streetlamp at the end of the row grew taller and its light cast a longer, brighter beam than the others. Alice turned to it, wondering what was happening. That wasn’t part of the memory, had never happened before. Beams of yellow light sprang forth, carving through the foggy, gray night. The tall lamp seemed to be destroying the memory, ripping it apart with its light. The tall stone townhomes crumbled and melted. They tumbled into heaps of rock that stacked like the flow of a volcano coming to rest, its surface a mix of smooth molten rock and jagged, dark pieces with protruding edges. The sound of waves erupted around her, and she thought for a moment that she had somehow exited the cave. Looking up, Alice finally realized what it was: the tall lamp. A lighthouse. A towering lighthouse rising from rocks buried beneath violent, rushing waves. But it spilled forth its light, circling, calling to her. It was dead ahead and it illuminated the dark, rocky cave, showing her a path. The rock walls around her flowed into the rock at the base of the lighthouse as if they were one.
Alice ran forward, toward the lighthouse in the darkness, but it always seemed to be far away. She quickened her pace, but she never reached the waves or the striped tower.
A new sound emerged, cutting through the roar of the waves, but she couldn’t make it out. She turned another corner... and then the lighthouse was gone. She again found herself in the darkness. But she was no longer alone. Voices, far off. And something else: warm air pushing past her.
She charged on, the warm air her only guide in the darkness. Three times she collided with the stone walls, and finally she slowed her trek through the cave.
Not just voices now.
Alice was so focused on the sounds that she was blinded by the bright light around the next turn. Squinting, she could make out beams of sunlight breaking past an exit to the cave.
The storm must have passed, she thought. Or perhaps it skipped the village.
No matter what, she was glad to be out of the darkness. Alice bounded for the sunlight. Around the next turn, it seemed to explode around her, blinding her once again. For a moment, she simply stood there, her eyes shut tight, waiting for the powerful rays to become bearable.
She could make out the sounds now. Metal banging. More specifically, someone hammering metal.
Clop, clop, clop.
Horses trotting past. And voices, speaking in a strange dialect.
Alice slowly took a peak, careful of the sun, which seemed brighter than it had been in weeks. And at first, she was pretty sure her eyes weren’t fully adjusted yet: the scene was incredible. A blacksmith hammered away at a horseshoe while his partner drew a glowing orange sword from the coals of a white-hot fire. A horse-drawn cart loaded with hay rushed past. And everyone was dressed in funny clothes.
A festival, Alice thought. The town is having a medieval festival of some kind. Or maybe it’s part of the Halloween festivities.
But she couldn’t shake the feeling that it was all so real. The voices... they spoke English, but their accents were so different from her grandmother’s village. And some of the words were strange.
Through the cacophony, Alice heard the unmistakable sound of her name. A man’s voice, gruff. Old.
She spun, following the source. The man stood in the shadow of the closest building. He wore a brown robe with a hood that shrouded his face.
She stepped closer to the man. Something about him...
“Come quickly, Alice. Best get out of sight before you’re seen.”
She paused. “Who are you?”
“Your grandmother said you would be along. Hurry now, child.”
The man slid his hood back, revealing a face Alice hadn’t seen in four years. She couldn’t believe it. She hadn’t seen her grandfather since his funeral, yet here he was, in this strange place, calling for her. She ran into his arms.
He hugged her back and whispered into her ear, “We must go, Alice. The Secrets of Eternity are waiting.”