The book still sings to me, and that's when I pull it from under my bed and stroke the cover. But I never open it, because I know what happens if I do it wrong. It's still blank; but only of ink. I know the secret, you see. It's how I understand the songs, and know the melodies it echoes up to me, through time. There are impressions hidden in the pages- spilled mead and raucous laughter, summer sunshine and frost on dead leaves. The last time I tried feeling them from start to finish, I passed out from the sheer weight of knowledge, and it left my brain scrambled for ages.
I found out things about my past and my family's past. I have Irish on my dad's side of the family, stretching back generations. I'd have said I was surprised when I found out, but that would have been a lie.
People say I've changed since last spring. My face is thinner, my eyes are brighter, I've been "brought out of myself." What they don't know is that I've actually met myself. I've taken to wearing rich, deep colours. Once, I bought a red velvet dress with gold trim, and when I put it on and twirled in front of my mum, she said I looked like a Celtic princess. I didn't say "That was the idea", but I thought it, secretly, in my head. And smiled.
So my past caught up with me. I have the other girl's memories in my head, but the irritating thing is that I can feel them without knowing what they are. I catch them in dreams, little snippets of image and scent and noise. There were Romans, once, and fire. Not like the campfires I've learnt how to build, but a huge, roaring wall of flame, like the ones in Australia. I woke up coughing and sweating.
There was a group of boys in another, four of them, and they all had the strange shimmer-flicker of werelight green to their irises as well. That was the dream I cried for when I woke up, because they were so close, and gone so soon. I was happy when I was with them.
There are other things, besides the dreaming. Things I couldn't do before are autonomic now. I categorise scents and sounds into little boxes, without even having to think about it, notice little stains and tears in clothing, and in-discrepancies in movements. Whenever someone comes near me, I orientate myself as if for a fight. Apart from these rather worrying developments, I've had a sudden urge to get exercise. This is most certainly not normal for a 21st century teenager; or, actually, suddenly being able to run several miles cross-country, for example, is not normal, and nor is the yen I have for the woods.
But I go with it, because if I didn't, then I would never be happy again.
Four months later, I decided to go boy hunting.
I was professional about it, like the other me. I chose a place in the book, slid my thumbs inside first, took a deep breath and flipped it open.
Fur, shadows, arrow, black, claw, moon, grey, breeze, night time, running, hunting, deer, leap, jaws, snap.
Close. So close.
I opened it again, a little further on. This time the flood of impressions was slower. Crackling fire, a hand, a man's hand, throwing another log on and sending copper sparks dancing in the air, cold stars above and a blanket round my shoulders, low voices heard through tired ears, the taste of chill and the feel of a sword by my side. I concentrated, and the image swam into focus. It was lying on the ground, half covered by a fold of material, but I could see the hilt. Bronze coloured and patterned with tiny flowers, and definitely, irrefutably, mine. I guided my once-eyes forcibly up across the fire, pushing against the tide of time.
Green eyes, under winged, dark brows in a pale skinned face, and dark hair lapping at his temples. Elbow rested casually on his knee, with the elastic elegance born of fighting and living wild. I couldn't keep this up much longer, so I looked round the circle, drinking them in. White blonde hair and deep blue eyes, brown hair and aquiline profile, black hair and loud laugh. I know you. I know all of you.
And then I had to jerk my head out of the book, and press tissues beneath my nose to absorb the blood.
I took things further, too far. I wasn't even certain that they existed, but, oh, how I prayed they did! If I dreamt of them, if they're in the book, then surely they exist? They must do, because if they didn't, I didn't know what I'd do.
I managed to conceal most of my nosebleeds in the girl's toilets, hiding in a cubicle until the bleeding stopped. I was a fool in form one day, though. I had the book on the desk, half-hidden by my bag and my sleeve, when a gout of blood gushed from my nose and over the pages. Within seconds, the desk was dripping.
The school had me rushed to hospital, where I was put through a whole Weakest Link quiz about whether I had ever broken my nose, hit my head, taken drugs. I decided that telling them I'd been sending my mind through time was probably not the right thing to do.
I laid off the search for the next few months, and they put the bleeding down to school stress. It's amazing how that covers everything from schizophrenia in a really extreme case, to theft. There were still bloodstains on the page, but thankfully they barely obscured the impressions. It was probably just as well I stopped for a bit, because, to be honest, I had no idea how to find the boys, even if they did exist.
During the Easter holidays, I went to the National Heritage Park. It's just outside the town, about ten miles down the road, so I started early and took my own sweet time. About a third of the way there, it started drizzling, but since that would probably amplify the impressions, I didn't mind.
Once you climb over the stile by the side of the road, you can walk over low hills until you come to a flat-ish area, which drops away on the right to a path some fifty feet below, covered in brown gravel. The cliff itself is clay, with ferns sprouting from it at random intervals. The day I was up there, the drizzle had put water-pearls on the wide grass blades, and made the heather dripping and dank. The ferns were glorious, though, emerald green and glossy from the water.
The cliff begins to climb, and there's a line of trees that stretch across the crest of the hill, making a screen. Behind the screen, if you're brave enough, there's a low wall of stones and mortar. It's actually the remains of an old fort, and in the summer, kids play soldiers there, and tell ghost stories in the evenings.
It was empty that day, and the whole park was lonely under sullen clouds. In one corner there's a half circle where the wall is a little higher, and that's where there was a tower once. I settled myself on the sand there, and rested the book, still shut, on my knees. I tapped my fingers on the leather for no obvious reason, and then flipped it open.
Immediately, the impressions hit me between the eyes. I dimly felt my head flop back and rest on the stone behind me, watching the images before me. It moved quickly, but jerkily, like old videos fast forwarded.
Trees sprang up and rotted, stars wheeled, sun and moon chased each other across the sky for what felt like forever. And then, with heart-attack suddenness, normal play resumed.
There was a town, built of wattle and daub and dry stone walls. Stone rose up around me, re-building the hall. There were spears and shields hung on iron hooks, and wooden tables and benches. People in Saxon clothing passed before me, lean, bristly dogs tussling before a roaring fire. There were trampled reeds beneath my feet. This was impressions on a major scale.
I stood up, and moved like a ghost through the fort, the book open in my hands. It took me out of the vast wooden doors, and down the mud street. No one paid me any attention, but I hadn't expected them to. There were woods on the far side of the village, and the hut closest to them had a scrap of fluttering, woven cloth across the doorway. It seemed brighter and more solid than any of the other buildings, and I walked to it as though in a dream. Which, technically, I was.
I pushed the cloth aside with one arm and stood there, trying to see in the gloom. There was furniture against the walls, and an empty fireplace in the centre.
There were also four pairs of eyes, watching me. That threw me any way, but then I saw the green glow building in them and I froze. They shifted a little, and I wasn't sure if it was to see me better, or to spring. The one closest to me on the left had sharp features and silken brown hair. His friend opposite was white blonde, and his hand was slowly moving towards a dagger by his feet. The third, black haired, spoke in ancient Gaelic, but I understood the meaning, if not the words.
"A faerie, maybe? Shall we kill it?"
"I'm not a faerie." The words were out of my mouth before I could stop them. They barely reacted to that, but the last one leant forwards so his elbows were on his knees.
I shivered as his voice echoed in my ears, and then I realised he'd spoken English. His voice was familiar, and evoked a memory of leather and lime, and sea salt.
He stood up, and strode towards me, stopping just before the edge of the fireplace. His eyes were green like summer, and his hair was loam brown. There was a tiny frown on his eyebrows, which I suspected reflected mine. He was staring at me as though he'd seen me before but wasn't sure where. His eyes drifted downwards, to my hands, and when he saw the book, he started and looked back up my face.
A name swam into my head, along with the sensation of sunshine on my skin, and wet leaves, and laughter, and learning how to fight, and I blurted it out. "Robin!"
He swayed, and then the pages of the book begin to blow in a non-existent breeze, and our surroundings changed. The walls fell away and became stone pillars, and he was wearing a Roman toga, then chain mail, then old fashioned, Victorian clothes. I took a trembling step forwards, saw his mouth open in a shout I couldn't hear, and then I was tumbling, the book snapped shut and I was falling past a clay slope, ferns whipping at my skin.
When I opened my eyes, I was looking at the white-and-institutional-blue ceiling. There was the sound of hospital bustle coming from miles away, and the much closer sound of breathing, not mine,
I turned my head, and the book was lying on the bedside table, alongside my bag and one, long stemmed fern leaf, still fresh.
I looked round, into eyes the colour of sunshine through leaves.