2nd Prize Winner - Grades 9-12
Judges’ comments: An incredibly fun and well-researched time-slip story. We loved that Mariam explored the differences in language and behaviour between 1874 and current day.
The Past is in the Past
by Mariam Quanitah
Ava and Olivia slinked through the streets, hiding behind every object they could find. They looked out of place with their unfamiliar -- and quite exposing -- clothes. She grabbed Olivia’s arm, ducked behind a postbox and picked up a newspaper. “We’re in eighteen-freaking-seventy-four?!” Olivia hissed.
She peeked above the postbox, properly taking in her surroundings. The whole place looked like it came out of an old movie. The buildings were small and shabby; only a few sprouts of greenery were visible. The women were wearing crinoline skirts with corsets. Most of the men were wearing trousers and blouses, there were a few who wore suits.
“Boy alert,” Olivia suddenly hissed.
“We can’t be found looking like this. We have to hide.”
“Too late.” Olivia shook her head as the boy spotted them.
A boy with black hair and green eyes, wearing trousers and a simple shirt scrunched up his nose as he came closer.
“Well, hello there.” Olivia straightened her posture and flashed a flirtatious smile at him. She forcefully held his gaze.
Ava raised an eyebrow when she realized what Olivia was doing. She let out a surprised and exasperated grunt. Her lip twitched. She heard something clattering as she snatched the girl’s arm and ran to take cover in a deserted alley with grime and puddles everywhere.
Olivia let out an angry grunt. “I can’t believe that we time travelled to the stupid past! And not even with magic or freaky science or even a phone box! No, all you had to do was click a stupid pen, which undoubtedly is from the future, and boom! We’re here. Here in the freaky past where I’m considered disgusting in these clothes, and where flirting with boys isn’t appropriate. How are we supposed to find our way here without a guide, huh? At least that kid could have helped us. But no, you had to drag me away from the one chance of getting back.”
She paused for breath and looked over to Ava who sat against the wall, struggling to breathe. Olivia immediately grabbed her hand which was trembling so hard that she was afraid that it might combust. Ava shook her head and muttered something which she couldn’t understand.
Olivia paused. Ava was clearly having a panic attack. And there was no one there to help. She tried to get Ava to listen. “Ava, hey. Ava. Over here, listen to me. Do you know your name?” That was a pathetic question, but she pushed on.
Ava nodded and muttered her name. Good. At least she could respond.
“Do you know where we are?” She asked slowly.
“The past,” Ava gasped.
“That’s right. Have you ever had a panic attack before?”
“Okay, do you think you’re having one now?”
“Clearly,” Ava choked out.
“Okay okay. Now, listen very carefully okay? I’m going to recite a few numbers and all you have to do is repeat them, okay?”
Ava nodded slightly.
“I want you to breathe in, say 3, breathe out, say 7.”
Ava obeyed. Olivia then asked her to breathe in and out while repeating numbers from 1 to 10, out of order until she could breathe properly and calm down. The two girls sat in silence for a while. “Thanks,” Ava finally said.
Olivia gave her a smile. “Not to rush or anything, but I just lost the time travelling pen…” Her cheeks flushed with embarrassment. Ava gave a sigh and rested her head against the wall. After a while, Olivia was starting to think that she had fallen asleep when Ava suddenly opened her eyes and stood up.
“I have a plan,” she stated. “First, we have to blend in. Who knows what they might do if we try to tell them the truth? Next, we look for clues as to where the time travelling pen has gone.”
“I think I spotted a boutique somewhere,” Olivia piped up.
Ava smiled softly, “Lead the way, Rarity.”
They snuck into a boutique behind a group of women. They snatched a couple of skirts, blouses and hats, put them on and snuck outside. Miraculously, they hadn’t been caught.
They made their way to a stall which was selling newspapers. Ava grabbed a copy of the new (or old according to whichever time you consider) ‘Adelaide Bulletin and Lantern’. The year was indeed 1874. A name caught Ava’s eye. She frowned and read the title: “Thomas Elder, supporter of education, refuses to donate to university”.
“No way,” Ava whispered.
“What is it?” asked Olivia.
“My brother goes to the University of Adelaide.”
“And my whole future is set up to go there after graduation. But here-- it-- it says that the university won’t be made if this guy, Elder, doesn't donate money. Because he had some fight with another guy, Hughes, who also donated.” Ava explained.
“And we should be worried, why?”
Ava put the paper back and turned to glare at the most popular girl in the Year level. “Olivia, this is big. This is the whole future we’re talking about! Our future. Thousands of people’s futures! If we don’t do something about it, here in the past. Our whole present would be changed and our future would be destroyed! Everything which is happening right now--” she gestured around “--might be a paradox!”
Olivia blinked. “Yeah, I don’t follow.”
Ava let out an exasperated gasp. “A paradox is when something like people travelling back in time and doing the events they are doing are meant to take place because it’s destiny.”
Olivia blinked again. “I still don’t follow.”
Ava was about to tell her to google it when she remembered that Google didn’t exist yet. And they had their phones taken away by the usher. She sighed as she remembered how they had ended up here. In simple words, she and Olivia had bumped into each other at the re-run of ‘Avengers: Endgame’. Ava was a huge fan. Turns out, Olivia’s boyfriend was a huge fan too. When they ended up seated next to each other. It was a matter of time until the two of them got into a yelling match. Ava and Olivia continued yelling until the usher came in and took everyone’s phones and made them sit in a room till the manager came. Olivia tried to escape, but Ava followed. She had accidently bumped into Olivia and knocked a table which caused a pen to fly out and hit Olivia on the head. She picked it up and ran when they heard voices and--
Olivia snapped her fingers in front of her eyes, causing Ava to lose her train of thought. Olivia rolled her eyes and said, “I was saying that if we do go up to these guys and convince them to make up their bromance, then maybe the paradox thingy will sort itself out and we might go back to the present.”
“Sounds good.” So the two girls walked on the alien streets they had walked on many times. Olivia suggested asking someone about Walter Hughes. So they walked up to a gentleman. Olivia cleared her throat and asked, “Excuse me, but do you know where Walter Hughes is?”
The man blinked slowly.
"Ugh! Stupid ancient talk!" Olivia exclaimed in frustration. She turned to Ava, "Tell him something in Shakespeare or something."
Ava was actually surprised that the girl had the brain capability to even remember Shakespeare, but instead said, "Thou direct us to Walter Hughes or remind me thus, that I should pay my dues. To call upon thee straight and shred thy shoes."
The man simply stared.
"What did you tell him?" Olivia leaned in to whisper.
"To direct us to Walter Hughes or I would march up to his house and shred his shoes."
Olivia gave a fantastic snort which made the man snap out of his trance and glare at them, offended. "You're staring at him," the man replied.
Ava’s mouth turned into an ‘O’ of surprise. A few minutes later, the group was in a coffee lounge in front of where Unley Shopping Center was going to be. For now, it was a plain space with a few trees and barren grounds with children playing. The two girls watched as Walter sipped his coffee. They refused to drink any as they didn’t have the right money.
Walter took another sip of coffee and sighed. The sigh went around and escaped out of both the girls. Walter took another deep breath as if about to sigh again until Ava hissed, “If words don’t come out of your mouth soon, I’ll burn you with that coffee.”
Walter shook his head. “You two are very queer ladies. I’ve never heard one speak that way,” he said.
“I guess you can say that we are… special cases,” Olivia suggested.
“Indeed,’ he muttered. He took another satisfying sip of coffee and smiled a contemptuous smile. “What brings two fine ladies such as you here?”
“We were just wondering what fallout you and uh-- Mr. Elder had and if that would affect the development of the university,” Ava said.
Walter asked, “Excuse me, but why would you want to know? Women are meant to be in the house, not outside studying.”
That was the last straw for Olivia. She slammed her fist on the table with fury, stood up, grabbed Walter by the collar and growled, “Mr. Walter, you are on your last string of mercy. If you don’t tell us what happened… Well, things ain’t gonna look too frickin’ good for you. I happen to be a brown belt in karate. Don’t insult me or any women as incapable of anything.” With that, she plopped him back on the chair and took her own seat, ignoring the curious and astonished stares.
Ava hid a smile. For a person who wasn’t too keen on studying herself, she sure was defensive of other women’s education. She supposed that was a good thing that Olivia was a feminist. After all, Mr. Hughes here wouldn’t be rubbing his eyes and telling his side of the story.
“Thomas Elder and I… we shared acquaintances a year ago while funding an expedition by Peter Egerton-Warburton. I was running a bit low on money as I needed to purchase some material for my mines. So I may have mixed up a few things and made it look as if Thomas and I had given the same amount, when I had given a smaller amount.” Walter looked a bit queasy while relaying the memory.
“Bruh--” Olivia rolled her eyes. “You two are like best buds or whatever right?” Hughes looked confused. She gave an exasperated sigh and said, “You and Elder are close companions, correct?” Walter nodded. “You could’ve just asked him to pay your share. After all, he’s a rich dude-- uh, person. You could have paid later.”
“Uh, that’s the thing. You see, I don’t quite like being in debt with someone…” he trailed off.
“You’re friends. Friends look out for each other. Let’s go find Mr. Elder.” Olivia got up and Ava followed.
“I’m sorry ladies,” said Walter, standing up, “but I can’t. I would love to, but I don’t indulge in broken companionships. It’s a waste. If you’ll excuse me, I’ll be on my way.” He left the lounge, leaving the unwilling time travellers in his wake.
“This is BULL--” Olivia started to scream, but got cut off by Ava’s hand clamping her mouth.
“I know, but there's not much we can do other than go and talk to Elder.” Ava said apologetically. They sighed and left the coffee lounge in dismay.
They followed Hughes to ask if he knew where they could find Thomas, but a time flux struck. The boy who was handing the papers to his father who was selling the newspaper, tripped over the newspaper Ava and Olivia had dropped before. The poor boy fell on his father, whose tobacco fell on top of the newspapers which lit up on fire. Walter, who had just noticed the girls following him and had turned around to ask why, had moved too close to the flames.
“I thought I said that we were done? Why are you so intent on following me? And why are you staring with those wide eyes? It’s quite rude to stare. And-- do you smell burning?” He turned around and saw his coat bruning yellow and orange, and let out an utterly blood-curdling shriek then ran around, panicking.
Ava’s quick-thinking kicked off and told Ava to grab Olivia’s unnecessary and extremely long scarf. She ran upto Walter and wrapped him in it. But Walter’s shrieking and thrashing made the job quite difficult for Ava who burned her hand. Despite the searing pain, she continued to push Walter down and roll him over which doused the flames.
Walter sat up, hair ruffled and head spinning, but otherwise unharmed. He looked around and spotted Ava unwrapping the scarf. He clasped her hand in his, which made her wince, and thanked her profusely. Ava smiled and nodded, trying to make him let go of her stinging wrist.
Olivia walked towards them, “Look, the people have put out the fire and are applauding. Many passer-bys who had witnessed the event were clapping while some children were cheering and laughing. After a few moments, the crowd dispersed, leaving the three of them to brush themselves up.
“You saved my life!” Walter exclaimed again.
“It was noth--” Ava got interrupted by Olivia who had kicked her in the knee. She furiously turned to her.
“Make him believe that he owes you,” she whispered.
Ava’s eyes widened in realization and she cleared her throat. “Mr. Hughes. Since you owe me a great debt, and since you don’t like owing people debts, why don’t you repay me by leading us to Mr. Elder?”
Walter paused. The two girls held their breath, fingers crossed. Finally, Walter shook his head “Fine.”
Olivia and Ava let out a squeal and hugged each other. They suddenly realized what they were doing and separated, embarrassed.
As they sat with Hughes in the double-deckered horse drawn tram, the thick walls between popular girl and shy loner thinned. One thing was for sure, Ava thought, after this, things in the future would be eerily different.
“Thomas loves horses,” Walter said as they entered a horse ranch and racing track. “Wants to be a race horseman one day. I suspect a very good one too, you should see him in action.”
They stopped and joined a little crowd which was cheering and yelling at two horse-riders riding horses without saddles around a large field. They urged the horses to go faster, moving only an inch back and forth. In the end, the one wearing a brown scarf won by merely 2 inches.
The crowd burst into cheers. Olivia’s eardrums exploded when Ava let out a huge scream. “I love horses!” she exclaimed.
“Yeah, I think I got that,” said Olivia, rubbing her ears.
Thomas Elder led his horse with a grin over to the stables. He walked past Walter Hughes and the girls, ignoring them calling his name.
Walter opened his arms and greeted him cheerfully, “Thomas! How are you doing, old friend?” He was met with silence. Hughes sighed and shook his head. With an urging glare from Olivia, he reluctantly said, “Listen, I’m sorry. I should’ve just asked you to lend some money instead of cheating.” Silence.
“Say something ‘horsey’ to him,” Olivia whispered to Ava.
Ava rolled her eyes and took a step towards Elder’s horse. She stroked it’s mane and whispered, “He’s beautiful.”
Thomas smiled, “Her name’s Sky.” He paused, then asked, “Have you ever ridden a horse before, my lady?”
Ava stuttered, “Uh- I- no…”
A few minutes later, the horse saddled by a grumpy Walter, she was ready to ride. Ava looked unsure, but suddenly, Thomas slapped the horse on the back and it galloped into a full run.
Ava screamed, while Thomas, on a different horse, rode beside her, laughing. Ava’s eyes widened in fear and exhilaration. She clenched the reins tight and straightened herself. Eyes up on the horizon, she laughed.
After who-knows-how-many-minutes, they put away the horses and fed them. Walter approached them with Olivia by his side. Elder ignored him.
“I promise to give you the share I stole and offer a horse as a gift.” Walter said with a deadpan face.
Olivia sent him a glare and hissed, “Speak from the heart.” Ava raised an eyebrow in amusement.
Walter sighed, “Look, Thomas, I maimed our friendship. I didn’t realize what friendship meant. But I do now. So please forgive me. The university shouldn’t need to collapse because of my insolence. I- I apologize.”
Thomas looked up at Walter’s hung head. He gave a slight roll of his eyes, “Took you long enough to realize.”
The two men looked at each other then shook hands. “Consider the university to be already built. And expect to have many donations. For a place of education where men are made, it deserves the best,” Thomas smiled.
“And women,” Olivia muttered under her breath. Ava laughed.
They were back on the streets, clueless.
A boy wearing shorts and a nylon red shirt, thrusted something into her hands. He had black hair and green eyes. Ava unfolded her palm to reveal a black pen.
“You!” Olivia gasped. “You’re the doofus who stole our only way to get back home! You--”
“Please, no. Just no. The future is horrible. I’m staying here.” With that, he shook his head and trudged away.
“Olivia!” Ava whispered. “We can go home!” Olivia’s eyes widened in realisation.
With one last look around, they nodded and clicked it. Taking away the memory and a newfound friendship with them, but leaving an ever-lasting legacy behind.
Everyone in the future was surprised to see them being friendly. When confronted, they refused to say anything. After all, the past is in the past.