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The Blitz Experience

Written by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Illustrated by Jennifer Miller


Tenesha McGuire towers over her great-grandmother Littleton. Tenesha's great-grandmother, whom she has called Grand since childhood, used to be the tall one. In fact, Tenesha can't quite believe that the short but sturdy woman before her is Grand. They haven't seen each other since Tenesha graduated from high school—and that is six years now—but still, no one should change quite that much.

They stand awkwardly in the living room of Grand's house. The living room, at least, hasn't changed. It's narrow, with a small fireplace and furniture littered with handmade quilts and pillows. The end tables are the same—square spindly things that her great-grandfather had made as a young man—covered with a sheet of glass so that no one can ruin the surface.

This living room was always a place of excitement for Tenesha. Here, she first imagined World War II—practically seeing how suffering Londoners survived. She heard tales of kings from Henry the Eighth to the Edward the Eighth, who married an American divorcee and stepped down. History came alive here, and Tenesha still loves this living room—small as it now seems—for giving her that gift.

The living room smells of tea, old socks, and some kind of ointment, just like it always has. The only difference now is a flat-screen television in place of the old console model that once stood in front of the picture window.

"Come along," Grand says. Her voice is the same. Strong and veddy veddy British—not quite the posh, clipped tones of the queen, but reflecting a strong upper-class education. "Let's have some tea."

She meant the mid-afternoon meal that the British insist upon. Tenesha has never understood how the British have managed to keep their figures while eating four meals per day, one of them mostly made up of baked goods and sweets. Americans have gone to fat, all except a diligent few like her, and they don't have as many scheduled meal times.

Even though she lived in London from the ages of six to eight, England seems foreign to her. She isn't sure why. She also spent summers here until she graduated from high school. But each June when she arrived, she had to reacclimatize herself to all the little differences.

At least this time, she doesn't have to deal with Grand's neighbors. They always tut-tut when they see her, as if they can't believe she and Grand are related. Tenesha looks like a lighter version of her father. She has his brown eyes and curly brown hair, but her skin isn't conventionally white or black. Grand's neighbors would often ask Tenesha if she was Greek or Italian. She would answer that she was American, which irritated Grand.

You must never forget who your people are, Grand would say. You come from good British stock.

And good American stock. Her father was born in Chicago, and still lived there, loving its blunt sameness. He rarely came to England with the family, preferring to stay in Chicago.

Grand has papery white skin, so pale that her veins show bluely through it. Her eyes are, even now, a vivid blue, and she has the Kewpie doll lips so in vogue when she was a girl.

Tenesha and Grand look nothing alike, but Grand has always insisted that the only person in the family who takes after her is Tenesha.

No one—not even Tenesha—can see the connection. But it still pleases her whenever Grand says it.

Grand hasn't said it this visit. Not that they have much time. Tenesha is on a strict schedule. For the first time, she's acting as a chaperon. She agreed to help her best friend, Kara Edwards, with a class of high school students on their senior class trip.

Tenesha hadn't thought it would be so much work. This is the first afternoon Tenesha has to herself. Grand knew she was coming and also knew they wouldn't have a lot of time together, and Grand says she's all right with that.

Tenesha isn't. Money is tight. She expected that. She majored in history, and as her advisor said, no one majors in history and expects to be suitably employed upon graduation—even if they graduated magna cum laude, like she did.

Tenesha did manage to find work as a researcher for a well-known historian, on the very campus that she had just graduated from. But the job barely covers her bills—which includes the minimum payments on the $100,000 in student loans. That kind of money would make Grand gasp.

"Life is all the education I ever needed," Grand used to say. Then her eyes would twinkle. "But the world was different back then."

Tenesha slips into the kitchen, with its dowdy cabinets and dull white appliances. Grand is pouring hot water from a kettle that she has used all of Tenesha's life. The teapot Grand is pouring the water into, however, looks new.

Grand's hands, gnarled with age and arthritis, don't shake. Her back is straight—something rare in a ninety-year-old woman. She sets the pot in the middle of the table, then sets biscuits and teacakes on plates nearby. She places a matching plate in front of Tenesha's seat, the one that's been hers all her life, and sits across from her, in front of the window overlooking Grand's backyard.

This is what Tenesha wishes she could show the students. Not the changing of the guard or the Tate Modern. This small house, with its two gardens—the welcoming flower garden out front and the nourishing vegetable garden in the back. The heirloom tea set that Grand hauls out every afternoon, whether she has guests or not, a tea set that, Grand says, miraculously survived the Blitz.

Tenesha has heard the Blitz stories—hiding in shelters, the blackouts, and the god-awful rationing. When Tenesha was young and a plane flew over, Grand always grabbed her arm and looked up, as if she were prepared to drag them both to safety.

"It can't be fun," Grand is saying, "shepherding children over hill and dale."

"High school students, Grand," Tenesha says. "Teenagers."

"Oh, dear," Grand says as she pours. She goes through the entire ritual, offering milk and sugars, then shoves the plate of biscuits forward. Tenesha takes two of her favorites, with a chocolate layer in the center. "You must be having some fun on this trip."

"I am," Tenesha says. "I'm seeing things I probably should have seen when I was a kid."

Grand's lips purse and Tenesha realizes that Grand took that last comment as a criticism.

"I'm doing all the touristy things," Tenesha says to cover over the awkwardness. "You know, Buckingham Palace, and the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, and all that."

Grand's smile returns. She clearly remembers Tenesha asking to go to the Tower of London every year, and Grand's response: No family member of mine is going to the Tower ever again.

"You know," she says to Grand now, "Maybe you should come with us tomorrow. We're heading to that war museum in Lambeth. The kids have studied World War II from the British point of view, and they're actually looking forward to it. They would love to hear from someone who lived through it."

Grand takes a cookie and sets it on her plate. The movement seems deliberate, polite, as if she's using it as cover to give her time to think.

"There are volunteers who do that," she says finally.

"Yes, but they're not my Grand," Tenesha says. "The kids'll see them as some kind of lecturer. You'll be the real thing, someone who can remember it all."

Grand taps a biscuit against the plate, a habit that Tenesha has forgotten, but now, as she sees it, seems old as time. Grand is knocking the crumbs aside.

"No one remembers it all," Grand says.

"You know what I mean, Grand," Tenesha says. "You'll tell them things they can't get from a textbook."

"I haven't ever visited the Museum," Grand says.

Tenesha is about to say, Well then, maybe you should, when Grand continues.

"I lived through that. Musty relics simply can't tell the tale, not well enough for me, anyway."

"But the museum isn't for you," Tenesha says. "It's for me and those kids, so we understand what you went through."

Grand raises her head. Her eyes seem brighter than usual. "You can't know. Not unless you go through something like that yourself. And I fervently wish each and every day that no one I love will ever experience anything approaching those years. Although one can't control history, now can one?"

"No," Tenesha says. Her face heats. "I'm sorry, Grand. I didn't realize—"

"How could you, child?" Grand says. "It's my past, not yours. You're building a new past, all your own. Speaking of which, I have something for you."

She puts both hands on the table and leverages herself upward. That movement is new, and is the only sign besides the loss of height and the wispy hair that Grand has begun her tenth decade on this Earth.

Tenesha stands up, but Grand waves a hand at her.

"Sit, sit. I won't be but a moment."

So Tenesha sits back down. She takes a bite of her own biscuit. Biscuits here are sweet—cookies, in American terminology, although no one in the States makes cookies like this. Even the chocolate tastes different. Richer, sweeter, darker. She's missed these, just like she's missed Grand.

Grand comes back, her right hand clenched into a fist. She opens it and shakes it ever so slightly, and a tiny gold cross on a matching gold chain hangs between her index and middle fingers.

"I've been saving it for you," Grand says.

Tenesha isn't sure how to respond. She's never been religious. No one in the family is. Not even Grand. In fact, Grand only goes to church once a year, on Battle of Britain Sunday.

The cross shines with its own internal light. It has cuts along the center that look like small leaves. They glow redly in the sunlight filtering in from the window.

"It's lovely," Tenesha says, cupping the cross in her own hand. And it is. It's also heavier than she expected, as if it's made of real gold.

"We chose it when you were very little. Do you remember?"

Tenesha felt a glimmer of a memory. Adults everywhere, peering down at her. Crosses hanging from necklace trees. She pointed to one, but Grand grabbed her hand before she could touch it.

"I think so," Tenesha says.

"I'm sure you do," Grand says. "I remember getting mine."

She pulls a larger, ornate cross from inside her blouse. This cross looks ancient. It's slightly warped, and reminds Tenesha of nothing more than the Crown Jewels she saw the day before.

"I've never seen you wear that," Tenesha says.

"I never take it off. But I don't display it either, unless I need to."

"Why would you need to?" Tenesha asks.

"I hope you never find out, child." Grand goes behind Tenesha and attaches the thin chain of the small cross around Tenesha's neck.

Tenesha clasps the cross in her right hand. The metal is warm against her skin. "If we picked this out so long ago, why are you giving it to me now?"

"Because you'll need it," Grand says.

"For what?" Tenesha asks.

"Those awkward little life lessons," Grand says with her puckish grin. "The kind from which the most powerful memories are made."

* * *

Rupert Lowe has always been ambivalent about his job at the museum. He has never seen himself as a museum sort of bloke. And he's not that fond of the museum itself. Not the displays, but the actual building.

It's old and large, made of stone, and once served as a hospital for the insane. While it looks very different than it had in its hospital days, it still makes Rupert think of an institution.

He tries not to think of this as he goes to work every day, but he has more difficulty controlling his thoughts on Sundays.

That's partly due to his Sunday assignments. Rupert was hired as an-all-around employee, filling in the gaps, helping where needed. Usually that means taking coats or carrying displays, moving tables, or helping young children find the loo.

That's his job.

Except on Sundays. On Sundays, he begins the day at the Reception and Enquiries Desk and must respond with professional courtesy as people ask him all manner of silly and repetitive questions. Public interaction is not a personal strength, as his bosses well know, and so they try to use him in other capacities, but in these days of uncertainty, a man simply can't say that he isn't suited to the task at hand.

Rupert got his job because his uncle Clyde believed that Rupert needed some toughening up. Uncle Clyde had served in the many military actions that followed the Second World War, including the Iraq mistake that bloody bastard Blair had blundered into.

Uncle Clyde believed in King and Country. He never voted for Blair or the mealy mouthed Gordon Brown, but he didn't like Rupert's opinion on them either. They're our leaders, lad, Clyde would say. Best you listen up and follow orders.

Rupert was never very good at following orders, but he does attempt it here, even on the Reception and Enquiries desk. He doesn't smile at the families coming in but he doesn't tell them they're daft, either, when they bring their five year olds and ask if it's all right to take them into the Holocaust Exhibition on the second floor.

Instead, he politely informs the families that neither the Holocaust Exhibition nor the Crimes Against Humanity Exhibition are designed for children, and he simply can't allow anyone under the ages of sixteen to view those exhibits.

By afternoon, he's exhausted by his stint at Reception and Enquiries (truthfully, by the politeness required of him), and he still has six hours of work to go. No standing allowed on Sundays. He actually patrols, making certain that the children are touching only the things they're allowed to touch.

At least, that's how his boss described Sunday afternoon duty. Rupert has found that children generally aren't the problem. It's their parents who want a piece of this and a bit of that. The museum is quite friendly—most of the exhibits allow touching or sitting or leaning, but a few are clearly marked with a Do Not Touch sign, and those are always in trouble from a handful of people who believe signs do not apply to them.

Those people seem to come on Sunday. Sunday's crowd is truly what does him in. Parents with children looking for an educational way to keep the little buggers entertained; ancient blokes who did their time in the service, come to complain that the exhibits don't accurately represent what happened; and the usual gaggle of tourists, all trying to squeeze the maximum viewing in the minimum amount of time.

This afternoon, a flock of American students have joined the usual suspects. Generally, he likes Americans. They're open and forthright and blunt in ways he could never be.

But he likes them on weekdays, when the museum isn't so crowded. On Sundays, the Americans just add to the noise. And their lack of education shows. At Reception and Enquiries, they ask ridiculous questions such as why the Revolutionary War doesn't have a display.

Our subject, Rupert always says primly, quoting the museum's mission, is conflicts involving Britain or the Commonwealth since 1914—and some wag always asks what the Commonwealth is. It took him nearly a year to realize that more than half of the Americans actually don't know.

Now, he sees to his disgust that the Americans are queued up at the Blitz Experience. The Blitz Experience is his favorite place in the entire museum, partly because it was a revelation to him when he went through it.

It's a reconstruction of an air raid shelter and a bombed-out neighborhood in 1940, complete with sound effects and smells. The little room even shakes as the "bombs" fall from above.

His family has talked of the Blitz for years—Uncle Clyde claims that suffering through it as a tot inspired him to become the man that he is—and Rupert has always tried to imagine the difficulties and the heroism. So when he, as part of his training, was allowed in the Experience, he had the shock of his young life. Not the discomfort of the scratchy walls or the faint whistle as bombs fell outside. The room's shaking disturbed him and so did the faint smell of smoke, but it was designed to disturb him.

He planned for that, and sat at attention as he imagined his grandparents—his grandmother, pregnant with his mother, and his Uncle Clyde in short pants, his hands clasping his chubby knees, all enduring.

But they probably hadn't endured. That's what so surprised Rupert. The Experience showed it all—the good and the bad—the way that the stress made the people in the shelter snap at each other and snipe, bitterly complaining about their lot.

He hadn't ever imagined that, and later, when the lights come up, and recorded voices spoke of helping the injured and fighting blazes, it wasn't enough to overcome his shock.

For some reason he had thought it hadn't been that divisive, that everyone had come together, and clearly they hadn't—not willingly at least, and not every single night.

He'd stepped out of that experience a changed man. He thought of that every Sunday afternoon, when he spent the last ninety minutes of his day guiding patrons into and out of the Blitz Experience.

This afternoon's influx of Americans doesn't really please him. Two groups of Americans went through the Experience earlier, when he wasn't monitoring the rope, and he was glad of it. Since he started monitoring the Experience this afternoon, he'd watched the remaining Americans filter their way here. Now they stand at the end of the queue. Four boys and three girls, along with three adults, two men and a younger woman.

These people will be the last he can put through before closing time.

He grabs another metal sign and carries it to the end of the queue. As he walks, he counts aloud. He wants them to realize he has a quota. He also wants to remind the Americans to read the plaques on the wall before they enter the Experience. That way, at least, he will have fewer questions when they emerge.

Only as he walks around the rope, with its Do Not Pass, sign, he realizes he doesn't need to remind the Americans to read the plaques.

Some are already doing so. The rest are listening attentively to an attractive young woman with dark hair and snappy black eyes. She wears a gold cross around her neck that catches the light.

"The London Blitz," she's saying, "began in the Docklands on September 7, 1940 and continued, unabated, well into 1941 . . ."

He likes the word "unabated." It suggests an excellent education. He can't stop to listen. He's counting his way down, and no one is even paying attention. Not even the pair of gentlemen standing just behind the young woman.

Rupert made a mistake earlier. The two men aren't Americans. He recognizes the older of the two. He's brought family and friends telling them about the war with an air of authority only experience can give.

Even he is listening to the young woman, remarking to his friend as Rupert passes, "She's quite the thing, for an American."

Isn't she though? Rupert thinks.

His mood lifts. He's nearly done, and the day no longer seems as dismal as it had in the morning. He's made it through and seen a pretty girl as well. A pretty, educated girl. A pretty, educated American girl, something he finds unusual and attractive at the same time.

Maybe he'll speak with her when she emerges from the Blitz Experience. Maybe he'll get Alfie to cover the door so that Rupert can escort her to another part of the museum, get to know her a bit, see if she's staying in London longer than the usual two weeks.

Then he stumbles slightly, feeling silly. Even if she is, what interest would she have in him? He's just a day worker with big dreams, none of which he's pursued yet.

By the time he makes his way back to the rope, he's decided not to seek out Alfie. If the girl wants to chat, she will. But most likely, she'll be like the other visitors to the museum, who see him only as a roadblock in their haste to see every part of the building before they're asked to leave a few minutes before six.

* * *

"Blitz," Tenesha says, "is short for blitzkrieg, a German word meaning lightning war."

Denver, Hitch, Fox and Gianni are watching the girls while they listen to Tenesha. She has a hunch they've come just to be near the girls. Neither Bailey nor Ali or Jada have boyfriends at the moment. They're not looking at the boys at all.

"The Germans," Tenesha says, "used the blitzkrieg style of attack to great effect in World War II. When it came time to turn their attention to England, the Germans decided to send aircraft in great numbers and have them bomb selected targets."

"Britain," says the man behind her. "They turned their attention to Britain."

Tenesha turns toward him. He's as old as Grand, with a weathered face and tired eyes. He stands with a much younger man, who has the look of someone who is being dragged through an experience he'd rather not have.

"I beg your pardon," the older man says with delightful courtliness. "I'm a stickler for accuracy about this war."

She doesn't mind. The students should know about the Blitz before they go into the so-called Experience. She has no idea what they have and haven't studied. They seem more informed than most kids their age, but they have big gaps. She doesn't want this to be one of them.

"They listen to me all the time," she says with only a slight bit of exaggeration. "If you would like to tell them about the Blitz, go ahead."

His eyes light up. He glances at his companion who shrugs. Then the older man steps forward as if he's been asked to give a speech. "I suspect, since your young lady here is so knowledgeable, that you've been to the area we call Docklands. But let me tell you what it was like on that September night . . . ."

She listens long enough to realize the man is an excellent storyteller. He takes them from the bombing raids and the British response known here as the Battle of Britain, and into the night raids that followed. His hands move as he talks. Even his companion leans forward, suddenly interested.

Then she looks at the exhibit hall beyond. The museum is much more than she can see in one day. She wishes she had come here earlier. On this trip, she's discovering a new London, tourist London, and she's beginning to understand why her American friends like coming here. It's not gas fireplaces and narrow living rooms, cold shops and mediocre food.

There's life here that goes back so far she can barely imagine it. The Ancient Romans built walls and roads here. People have lived and died in this place the Romans called Londinium for centuries.

" . . . they call it the Second Great Fire of London," the man is saying.

She turns.

"There was a first?" Denver asks before she can stop him. He's a big kid who's very smart but also very awkward. She doesn't want her students asking stupid, ignorant questions. Even though they aren't her students, and she can't expect them to know everything.

"In 1666," the man says with good humor at the question, as if he doesn't mind at all, "most of London burned. That's why we have laws now that require buildings within the city limits to be made of stone . . ."

He handles the questions well. Her students have gathered around him. They're lost in the story, like she used to be as a child, when Grand told her about London's past.

The young man who divided them into groups has returned to his place in front of the ropes. His gaze meets hers, as if asking if she's ready to go inside.

She smiles at him and shrugs, inclining her head at the old man, who has now riveted the group with his story of the destruction of the Square Mile shortly after Christmas 1940. The Square Mile is where London actually began. In 1940, buildings that survived the Great Fire of 1666 still stood, as did several famous churches, untouched by flame of three centuries before.

Of course, in the center—then as now—is St. Paul's Cathedral, beautifully redesigned after 1666 by one of the world's greatest architects, Christopher Wren. Wren's Cathedral, considered one of the most beautiful in the world, was the tallest building in London in 1940.

The old man's story holds the kids in awe as he teases them with the idea that the St. Paul's they saw only days before might be another rebuild after fires of December 1940.

Of course, it isn't. There's a famous newspaper photograph that Grand has framed in her home of St. Paul's poking out of wisps of billowing smoke, under the headline: War's greatest Picture: St. Paul's Stands Unharmed in the Midst of the Burning City.

Her hand creeps to the cross Grand gave her. It still feels warmer than it should. When she sees Grand again—and with luck, that will be before she leaves London on Friday—she'll ask what the cross is made of, why it always feels warm.

The old man has moved onto the attacks after the new year, and how Hitler missed his opportunity to destroy Britain by focusing instead on Operation Barbarossa, his disastrous invasion of Russia.

"He was an excellent tactician," the old man says, "but an impatient one. If he had followed his strategy all the way to the end, we probably wouldn't be standing here today."

"Or we'd be speaking German," says his companion.

"And heil Hitlering each other," says Denver, clearly trying to curry favor.

"Some of us would never have done that, lad," the old man says. "No matter who won the war."

* * *

The pretty American looked at him as if she could see through him, and then he blushed. Rupert hates blushing, but he can't control it. He feels like one of those ridiculous blokes whose every emotion shows on his face.

Rupert wants to close his eyes in shame, but he doesn't. He can hear the last echo of the voices from inside the Experience, and he knows this round is about to end. He moves to the exit door, waiting to guide the newly educated to the next part of the museum.

They emerge like they always do, heads down, silent. This group has no American school students. It's a normal Sunday mix of Londoners bringing family and European tourists, who clutch their belongings as if someone is going to steal them. An elderly couple holds each other up.

He waits until the last of this bunch leave, then he closes the exit door. He turns.

The Americans are watching him with expressions of eager expectation on their young faces. Normally Americans are shifting from foot to foot. Generally, by the time they discover the Blitz Experience on the lower ground level, they've seen the rest of the museum. They're here to be entertained or because some completist feels they must experience this too.

Rupert moves the rope aside, then opens the door. A bit of light falls on the faux stone benches. By this time of day, the Experience smells faintly of nervous sweat. Some people—even those who never lived through the Blitz—do find this intense. More than one bloke of his own age clapped him on the back on the way out and said, This is bloody scary, Mate. Not at all what I expected.

Rupert likes the look of disappointment on the faces of the Americans as they file in. The Experience looks so innocuous.

The pretty American waits until her students are inside and then she follows. She nods at Rupert as she passes him, and his skin heats again. It's as if the Great Fire of London has started inside of him. He pretends it isn't happening and nods back, feeling like an utter fool.

The elderly gent's companion steps inside, but the elderly gent stops at the door.

"There's room," Rupert says.

The elderly gent shakes his head. No one inside seems to notice that he hasn't gone in. His companion is shuffling after the Americans, looking for a spot on the bench.

"Are you sure, sir?" Rupert asks.

"Quite sure," the elderly gent says. He reaches for the door, but Rupert grabs it first. As it swings shut, the elderly gent's companion looks up, startled, as the door closes in his face.

* * *

For a moment, the room is in complete darkness. The utter blackness is breathtaking. Someone on Tenesha's right takes her hand. She doesn't pull away. She finds comfort in the warmth. She gropes a moment in the darkness with her left hand, finding bench, and then someone else's hand. She touches it tentatively. That person grabs tightly.

She has no idea who she's sitting beside. At the moment, she doesn't care.

In the distance, she hears church bells—and she remembers what the old man said: London used church bells to signal the start or end of an invasion. That entire fall, winter, and spring, the bells didn't call the faithful to services. The bells warned of grave danger.

She supposes the bells now are to indicate an invasion. She expects a siren to follow, but wonders at the accuracy of it all. Could the people in the shelters actually hear a bell?

Then there's a scratchy sound, like a voice over a public address system. She thinks she hears someone take a breath, and then it stops. Lights come up ever so slightly, and she gasps.

How did they do this?

She's in a basement with twenty people she doesn't recognize. Her students sit around her, as does the companion of the old man. But the old man himself isn't here. The companion looks shocked. He's glancing about as if unable to believe he's alone.

The kids are simply going along with the ride, but the hair has risen on the back of her neck. Something has changed. It takes her a moment to realize what that something is.

This basement smells of cigarettes and sweet pipe smoke. Overlaying that is the smell of mold and damp. The bench she's sitting on isn't stone after all, but some kind of rusted metal.

Rusted metal slats. When she groped with her left hand, she could swear she felt a solid bench beneath her.

When she stepped inside the Blitz Experience, she got the sense of a narrow space with a low ceiling, not something this big and wide. The museum building is huge, but could it accommodate something of this size?

She isn't certain.

The people—actors?—inside the basement are staring at her.

"This is not a public shelter," says a man near the door. The door is a gray metal with a handmade sign on the interior which reads Shelter.

He's speaking to the elderly man's companion. She looks at the man. He looks as baffled as she does.

She hasn't given him much notice until now. He's slender, with black eyes and an angular face. He has a dimple in the middle of his chin. He's wearing a shirt over a t-shirt that advertising the name of some British sports team. He wears tennis shoes—what the British call trainers—on his feet.

The other man, the one who spoke, is staring at the companion in distaste. The man who spoke is wearing an old fashioned suit with pleated trousers, a vest, and a matching coat. His white shirt has a starched collar that looks so stiff Tenesha wonders if it's hurting the skin on his neck.

"I'm terribly sorry," the man continues, "but this shelter is for no more than fifty persons."

"There's only thirty-five of us down here," Denver says. "We could squeeze in fifteen more if we had to."

Everyone looks at the boy in shock, including Tenesha. He's been outspoken throughout this trip, but she didn't expect him to willingly participate in any role-playing.

"You're American?" a middle-aged woman asks. She sits on the room's only chair, her sturdy legs crossed at the ankles. Tenesha can see a black line running up the back of her calves and thinks it odd, until she remembers Grand saying that women painted the black line on their legs to make it look like they were wearing stockings.

"Yeah," Denver says. "We're American high school students. We're here to learn something."

"Denver," Tenesha says. "Don't."

He looks at her, frowning. Then he looks back at the others in the basement—the ones who were here first. Can't he feel it? The strange tension, the almost palpable sense of fear?

The entire building shakes. Dust falls from the ceiling on the head of a bald man sitting across from Ali and Jada. The girls giggle as he brushes off his skull.

"Stop," Tenesha says to them.

"You're in charge, Miss?" the man who first spoke asks.

"Of this group, yes," she says. She almost adds, all except for the man at the end, but she doesn't.

"You cannot stay here. We simply cannot allow it. Should something happen—"

He stops himself, then looks down.

"It's all right, Mr. Pintner," another woman says. She's younger, prettier, than the woman on the chair. She's wearing a brown dress with sensible shoes, but the arms of a bright red sweater are tied around her neck, giving her a jaunty air. "We all know what might happen."

"No, we don't," Denver says, then he looks at Tenesha.

"Denver," she says. "That's enough."

He flops backwards, but the gesture lacks conviction. He does feel the oddness. Maybe that's why he's speaking up.

She glances at the rest of her little troop, all wide-eyed and a bit scared now. If this is a re-enactment, designed to make everyone uncomfortable, it's working.

Mr. Pintner, the man who seems to be in charge, says, "If something happens to the shelter, and they need to identify . . . us . . . somehow, they won't know how to go about it. They'll think you work here."

"They'll sort it out," the companion says. He sounds calm enough, but his entire body is rigid. He's clearly frightened.

"There are public shelters right next door," Mr. Pintner says. "Perhaps no one explained this to you at your hotel, but just follow the signs. The warehouses—"

The building shakes again, silencing him. More dust falls. The bald man wipes off his head, then moves aside. No one glances at the ceiling except the companion.

"Is that safe?" the companion asks.

Now they all look up. There's a jagged crack, running from one wall to the other.

"That wasn't there before," the middle-aged woman says. She sounds a bit breathless. "Do you think we've been hit?"

"If we have, the Watch will come and find us," Mr. Pintner says.

"Not if it's an incendiary," the bald man says.

"What's an incendiary?" Denver asks, then bites his lower lip.

Everyone looks at him. Then the middle-aged woman turns to Tenesha.

"It's terribly inappropriate for you to be sightseeing in London. I don't know who brought you to the city or why, but when this is over, you should return to America post-haste. And to bring children with you . . . ."

She shakes her head.

One of the men pats her hand. "Now, now, Felicia. They're here. The decision's been made, hasn't it. There's no sense in recrimination."

"Someone will come if we're in trouble," the younger woman says. "That's what the Watch is for."

"Besides," the bald man says, "if it is an incendiary, we'll know within five minutes."

Everyone looks up again, as if that crack in the ceiling has changed somehow.

"What's an incendiary?" Denver whispers.

"A bomb that starts fires, I think," Fox whispers back. He's slender and dark, and usually tries to fade in a crowd. It's a sign of his own discomfort that he's speaking up.

"Christ, and we're trapped in a hole?" Gianni asks, a little too loudly. He's square-shouldered and tall, the only athlete in the group.

"Young man," the middle-aged woman—Felicia—says. "It may be customary in your country to use foul language in times of crisis, but it's not here."

Tenesha hadn't even noticed Gianni's slip, not until Felicia spoke up, but now she needs to do something about it. She's about to ask him to stay silent, when he bows his head.

"I'm sorry, ma'am," he says. "I didn't mean to be rude. I'm just surprised we're here, is all."

"As are we all," she says. "I'm not even sure how you got in. Isn't Mr. Ludgate monitoring the door?"

She asks this last of Mr. Pintner.

"He's on fire watch," Mr. Pintner says. "If he had to deal with an emergency, he would have stepped away."

"Letting these Americans in," Felicia says.

"I'm not an American," the companion says. "My name is Edmund Hennel. My people have been in London since William the Conqueror. I most certainly do belong, and I resent the implication that I do not."

"I'm sorry, Mr. Hennel," Felicia says. "But you don't work here. This is a private shelter."

"You'd send us out there?" he asks. "With bombs falling everywhere? Simply because we don't work in your facility?"

"I've explained it to you," Mr. Pintner says.

"Yes, you have," Hennel says. "And it doesn't suffice, now does it? You'd send us out to die just because we might die in here and muck up the record-keeping?"

The bald man clears his throat. "When you put it that way, it does sound a trifle unreasonable."

"Yes, considering your man let us in," Hennel says.

Tenesha leans forward in surprise. Hennel seems completely sure of himself. Does he really think that awkward museum employee works with these people?

Then she realizes that Hennel must be bluffing. Someone is bluffing, since this can't be real.

Her eyes hurt from the dim light. She feels the beginnings of a headache. Bailey, the girl on her right looks pale.

"Ms. McGuire," she says softly, "I smell smoke."

Tenesha sniffs, realizes that smoke is what's bothering her eyes, not the light. But all the smoke, from the cigarettes to the pipe that an older man, barely visible in the far corner of the basement, holds in his right hand.

"People are smoking," Tenesha says.

"You'd think a place like this would be designated non-smoking," Ali says.

"No, no," says Bailey. "Wood smoke. Like something's burning."

"I smell it too," says Felicia with a touch of panic in her voice.

"It's your imagination," Mr. Pintner says. "We've been talking of incendiaries, after all."

"No," says a thin young man sitting near a pile of boxes. "I smell it as well."

"We have to get out," Felicia says, the panic no longer a touch. "We'll die in here."

"If there's smoke, we'll die out there," Mr. Pintner says. "Trust the Watch. They'll get us if there's danger."

"And if they can't get to us?" Hennel asks.

"Then we'll burn alive," Denver says, with just enough tremor in his voice for Tenesha to realize he's not play-acting. He's frightened.

"Do something," Hennel says, and it takes Tenesha a minute to realize he's talking to her.

"Me?" Tenesha asks. "What can I do?"

"I don't know," he says. "You're the one with the cross."

Everyone looks at her. She puts her hand on the tiny gold cross. It's hot, but then everything is hot, including her.

"My Grand gave that to me yesterday," she says, feeling confused. "It's hers, not mine."

"Should we be praying?" Ali asks. "Is that what you mean?"

"No," Hennel says. He's still staring at Tenesha. "You know what I mean."

She shakes her head. She doesn't know and she's about to say so when someone pounds on the door.

Bailey emits a tiny shriek. Felicia crosses her arms. "We can't take anyone else in here. We can't fit anyone. We already have too many, and most don't belong."

Mr. Pintner ignores her. He pulls the door open. An older man—Tenesha can't even begin to guess his age—stands outside. He's wearing some kind of uniform with a big black belt and boots, and he has the most ridiculous tin hat on his head that she's ever seen.

The smell of smoke has grown stronger now, as if it wafted in through the open door.

"Quite so," the newcomer says. "I thought perhaps someone might be down here. We need to get you out. The buildings are burning on both sides."

"I told you!" Felicia says, but Tenesha can't tell who she's saying it too.

Tenesha's heart is pounding, hard, and it's hard to catch her breath, but whether that's from nervousness or the smoke, she can't tell.

"Where're we going?" Mr. Pintner asks.

"We'll find somewhere," the newcomer says, but he doesn't sound reassuring.

Mr. Pintner moves beside the door. "You know how it works. Women and children first."

"That's sexist," Bailey says.

"It's 1940," Denver says.

"Still," Bailey says.

Tenesha shushes them. She guides them out, struggling to get the boys to move.

"We're not children," Fox says.

"Just go," she says.

As she steps out into another basement room, this one white with smoke, Denver grabs her arm.

"Ms. McGuire," he says. "Something's wrong."

Yes. This scenario is too realistic. She doesn't like it at all. But she doesn't say that to him. Instead, she says, "What do you mean?"

"There's only one door in that room," he says. "And it's in the right place. We came in that door."

She turns.

It looks nothing like the door to the Experience. The museum personnel must have designed the room to spin around in the dark. Still, that odd sensation, the one she felt as the darkness lifted, has returned.

"I'm sure they just moved us," she says with conviction she doesn't feel.

"I don't like this." Denver's voice trembles again.

She puts her arm around his shoulders. They're surprisingly thin.

"I don't either," she says. "We'll complain when it's all over."

"Yeah," he says. "But to who?"

* * *

The first closing announcement ends on the museum's public address system. Rupert silently curses himself. He hates it when his timing is off. The poor people inside the Blitz Experience have just had the magic of the moment interrupted with a bit of reality. Go to the gift shop, collect your coats, it's time to leave.

He glances at his watch. The Experience will complete its run in less than a minute. The elderly gent is still hovering near the door. He looks nervous, although Rupert has no idea why he should.

"So you were there, eh?" Rupert says to him.

The elderly gent nods.

"Seems to me it would have been awful," Rupert says, "never knowing what's about to happen next."

The elderly gent looks directly at him. There's power in the elderly gent's gaze and just a hint of contempt.

"We never do know what's about to happen next, now do we?" the elderly gent says.

Rupert's poor face heats again. "You know what I mean. That you could die at any moment." Then he realizes that the elderly gent could say with the same contempt that all of them could die at any moment, so Rupert adds, "At the hands of Jerry, I mean."

The elderly gent nods. That powerful look has left his face. "It wasn't pleasant," he says. "But we survived."

"Against all odds, they say," Rupert says.

"Yes," the elderly gent says. "That's what they say."

He stares at the exit door. Rupert glances at his watch. They're done. He waits a half second—he likes giving the Americans an extra moment of darkness—then pulls the door open.

And feels his breath catch in his throat.

The room is empty.

* * *

The smoke is thicker near the stairs. Tenesha's eyes are watering.

"Come along," the man in uniform says. Somewhere along the way she has figured out he's the Watch they mentioned. The comments from earlier finally made sense. Grand had spoken of Watch commanders. They were part of the Home Guard—at least, that's what Tenesha remembers. She doesn't ask for clarification, though. She just follows along.

"How do we know we have everyone?" Denver asks.

"Mr. Pintner will make sure everyone's out of the room," the Watch says. "Come along. We don't have much time."

It's warmer as they rise, but it's an odd warmth, like the warmth from a fireplace. Tenesha can feel the pockets of coldness around it, and she sees bit of ash. Her heart is pounding so hard that it might come out of her chest.

This is not a play. No one has created this. Somehow, she has stepped into the London Blitz, and she doesn't know how she got here.

She reaches the top of the stairs. In front of her is a large room, filled with metal desks and gooseneck lamps, none of which are on. Another man wearing a tin hat—apparently another member of the Watch—stands near one of the desks, holding a lantern that's tinted red.

Tenesha can barely see the lantern. After a moment, she realizes that's not because of the smoke. It's deliberate.

She wonders why they're all so worried about the light when through the windows, she can see fire burning across the way, lighting the night sky.

Her realization—confirmation, really—that this is actually happening focuses her. She stops at the top of the stairs, even though the man in the tin hat wants her to go forward.

"I'm a teacher," she says because it's easier than explaining she's a chaperone. "I want to make sure my students get out."

Oddly, he accepts that, rather than asking her why she's brought students down here.

The smoke is making her dizzy. She rips off the bottom of her shirt and ties it over her mouth and nose. As the students come up the stairs, she instructs them to find something to cover their faces as well.

And she counts: Bailey, Ali, Denver, Fox, Hitch, Gianni, Jada. Her charges. Then the companion, Hennel, who glares at her.

"Do something," he says.

"Like what?" she asks.

"I don't know," he says, "but you're the one who brought us here."

The man in the tin hat grabs Hennel's arm and yanks him away from her.

"Talk later," the man says. "We have to get out and we don't have much time."

Tenesha corrals her students, arms around them, moving them forward. But she stops in the middle of the room. Flames rise around the windows, and it's warmer the closer she gets.

"Where are we going?" she asks.

The man points to her right. She turns. There's a darker corridor there, barely illuminated by firelight. She pushes the students forward, but they don't need much encouragement.

She keeps her eye on all of them, always counting, getting so she can recognize them by their hair or their height. She follows them to two massive steel doors, one of which stands open. Through it, she sees more smoke and ash raining on a cobblestone street. Little fires burn, but they're caused by flaming bits of wood that have somehow found their way to the cobblestone and are now burning themselves out.

"I don't want to go out there," Bailey says.

"We stay in here, we die," Hitch says, and while Tenesha doesn't appreciate the harsh assessment, she knows it's true.

She moves to the front of her students, then she turns and looks behind her. The man in the tin hat is hurrying toward her. She's suddenly worried he's going to tell her that she can't leave that way, that they're trapped inside.

Her breath catches, and she coughs. Her chest hurts. She's not getting enough air. The ripped part of her shirt covering her nose and mouth is wet from the dampness of her breath.

"Follow me," says the man in the tin hat and then he scurries through the door. The thick air doesn't seem to both him.

"Let's go," she says to the students. They don't have to be told twice. They follow the man into the streets.

The air is alive with smoke and bits of burning paper raining down on them. The sky—what she can see of it—is a brilliant pink and red, both beautiful and terrible at the same time. The smoke doesn't smell horrible, like she would expect. It smells like incense, sort of, or some kind of weird tobacco in a pipe. Only the entire street smells of it.

Then she realizes where she is. She's in the Square Mile.

The firestorm of late December 1940.

"We need to find shelter," she says.

The Watch turns along another cobblestone street. Fire hoses litter the ground, pumping water from a truck that doesn't fit on the narrow street. Tenesha squints. The firefighters are one more block over, working a blaze that is so close, it terrifies her.

Above, planes scream by. She can't tell who they belong to—the Germans or the British. But no one around her ducks. To her left, a building crumbles as if a giant has pushed it.

One of the kids squeals and leaps toward her. The air is nearly too hot to breathe.

They have to get inside, but there seems to be no inside. And Tenesha knows enough about firestorms to know that soon the fires will create their own wind, and then everything in their path will become fuel. No one's lungs will be able to stand the incredible heat.

She can barely make out the shape of buildings. Nothing looks familiar, but if she's in the Square Mile, it wouldn't look familiar. Most of it burned decades before she was born.

Her skin itches from the dry hot air. Her eyes ache. She stumbles forward. The students are still moving as well.

Ahead, barely visible in the smoke and ash, one of the Watchmen—recognizable only from his tin hat, waves at them. He grabs the arm of the man in the lead and pulls him out of her sight. The students follow, disappearing into the miasma.

Her stomach twists. What if there's nothing beyond? What if this illusion ends there, and they step off the face of the Earth like the old sailors used to believe they could?

They're all going to die, and somehow, that companion—Hennel—thinks it will be her fault.

* * *

"They're not here," Rupert says, his voice echoing in the narrow space. "How can they not be here?"

Rupert has gone inside just to make sure the Americans haven't hid somewhere—not that there's any place to hide. The Experience is pretty small. People sit on benches, and then as the lights come up, they see a replica of a London street—before the Blitz, during the Blitz, and then afterwards. They ease out through the second door.

Had they gotten out when he wasn't looking? Why would they do that?

Then again, why do Americans do anything?

"They should be here," he says stupidly. And they're not here. They're not here at all.

He feels a mixture of anger and panic. People don't just vanish, now do they?

He makes himself take a deep breath.

"Or mayhap they do," the elderly gent says.

Rupert looks up. The elderly gent is blocking the exit.

"What?" Rupert asks.

"You said, 'People don't just vanish, now do they?' and I said, 'Mayhap they do.'" The elderly gent clasps his hands behind his back.

Rupert swallows hard. He could have sworn he hadn't spoken aloud. But he does tend to mumble to himself when things get difficult. Maybe he had been talking.

"After all," the elderly gent says, "I didn't see them come out. Did you?"

"No," Rupert says. "But I wasn't looking the whole time."

The elderly gent gives him a disbelieving look. "You think nine people can simply slip by you and you wouldn't notice?"

Rupert shrugs. "There's the corridor and then the exhibits . . . ."

His voice trails off. He isn't even convincing himself.

They haven't slipped past him and they aren't in the Experience. Where are they?

"You tell me, lad," the elderly gent says.

This time, Rupert knows he hasn't spoken aloud. He supposes his expressions are speaking for him.

"I don't know. They can't have gone this way." He looks at the back of the Experience, the fake storefront, and the broken cobblestone street. There are lighting effects behind it, and maybe a maintenance tunnel or something. He doesn't rightly know. He's never been behind the Experience. Only inside of it.

And it would take someone very determined to break through the illusion. Besides, what would be the point?

"Why aren't you worried?" Rupert snaps. "Your friend was inside."

"He came to learn." The elderly gent rocks backwards slightly. "And I'm quite sure that he is."

* * *

There's a rumbling behind them. Tenesha turns. Stones have fallen across the road, blocking the way that the group has just come.

"Is everyone through?" she asks.

Then she sees Mr. Pintner. "We have an accurate count, Miss," he says. "Keep moving."

She has no choice. She scurries forward. She can feel something in the heat—a stirring—as if the breeze is about to start.

Hennel grabs her arm, his grip so tight that it's painful. "Your students are inside," he says. "Let's go."

They step into some kind of yard. It looks bizarrely normal in the reddish light. A garden, some statues, and a mausoleum, the stone shining redly at them.

The students are ducking inside. She follows, and hurries forward, wiping at her suddenly tearing eyes. Hennel and Mr. Pintner follow.

It's cooler in here, and that makes all the remaining moisture in her body emerge. There are electric lights, thin, but real. For a moment, she thinks the blackout is over. Then she thinks maybe they've all realized it's pointless. And then she realizes that no, this building has no windows, so no light can escape.

She stops, leans on a pillar, and looks ahead.

Arches. A series of stone arches around a granite casket.

She's been here before.

Just a few days ago, as a matter of fact. A few days before seventy plus years from now.

"We're in St. Paul's," she says.

"Don't you Americans know anything?" Hennel says. "This is the Crypt."

The Crypt is a separate building from the great church, but it's on the church's grounds. And she was here, a few days before.

She turns, and grabs Hennel's arms, shaking him. "We're in St. Paul's!"

"No," he says stubbornly. "We're—"

"St. Paul's," she repeats. "It's the only thing around here that survives."

He stares at her for a moment. His mouth opens slightly. "But we're in the Crypt," he says.

"And that's the Duke of Wellington," she says, pointing to the granite casket. "Hasn't he been here since 1805? You've seen him before, haven't you? I certainly have."

Hennel looks like someone has awakened him from a nightmare. "My Lord. So it is. We're in the Crypt and the Duke has been here since 1805 and St. Paul's—St. Paul's was built for eternity."

It takes her a minute to remember the quote. Their guide had spoken it on the tour of St. Paul's. Sir Christopher Wren's boast, "I build for eternity," turned out to be true. And it doesn't feel like a boast now, because for the first time since the world turned on its head, Tenesha can catch her breath.

"Let's not stand here," says Mr. Pintner. He puts his hand on Tenesha's back and moves her forward. "I'm told they often have a cuppa and I don't know about you, but I could do with one."

Then he walks forward, so staunchly British that Tenesha can't help herself. She grins.

Hennel smiles with her. "We're in St. Paul's," he says.

"We're in the Crypt," she says with an involuntary, relieved giggle. "And somehow it all survives."

* * *

The second closing announcement echoes through the public address system. Rupert runs a hand through his hair. How can he tell his superiors that he lost nine visitors, seven of them American? He can just see the story on CNN International now. Americans raise a fuss whenever anything happens to one of them. Imagine what will happen when they found out that eight of them have disappeared, seven of them school age.

His stomach is twisting.

"I don't know what to do," Rupert says. "I'm not even sure if we have procedures for this."

The elderly gent smiles at him. He's still leaning inside the Experience door, as if he's expecting to find all nine on the benches. "Give it a moment, lad. It'll all work out."

"What do you know?" Rupert asks. "Has something like this happened to you before?"

"Not to me, lad," the elderly gent says reprovingly. "And it really hasn't happened to you either. Haven't you wondered where they've gone?"

"I expect they've left somehow," he says. "They snuck out when I wasn't looking. Or they broke part of the Experience and went exploring."

"You don't really believe that," the elderly gent says.

Rupert flushes. The truth is, he doesn't believe it. He's much more willing to believe they've disappeared.

It's that imagination, boy. He can hear his Uncle Giles's voice in his head. It'll get you in trouble every time.

"It makes more sense than them vanishing in thin air," Rupert says.

"Does it really?" the elderly gent says. "A group of Americans, with their teacher no less, and one very conservative British citizen, decide en masse to ruin a display in a museum. They unite and assault the display within five minutes of meeting each other. Does that make sense as well?"

"Maybe one of the Americans has a gun," Rupert says. "He forced them."

"How did he get in then?" the elderly gent says. "In fact, how did he get into England? I presume they flew from the States. Can you imagine a firearm making it through Heathrow?"

Rupert hasn't flown out of Heathrow. He hasn't been to the airport since 7/7/07, not that he went often before that either. The train stations are difficult enough for him and ever since those July bombings, he hasn't been comfortable on a city bus or in the Underground. Every time he travels through King's Cross he thinks, not of Harry Potter but the way the entire place shut down that terrifying morning.

"This isn't terrorists, is it?" he asks the elderly gent.

The elderly gent chuckles. "No. It's not terrorists or anything else that's easily explained. Just be patient."

"Be patient?" Rupert says. "We're closing."

"In five minutes," the elderly gent says. "They'll solve it before then, I'm sure."

"Who'll solve what?" Rupert asks.

"Mr. Hennel and the pretty young American lady. They'll bring everyone back safely. You'll see."

"What exactly's going on?" Rupert asks.

"A tiny demonstration of power," the elderly gent says, "and nothing more."

* * *

Someone had put the kettle on. But no one had made tea. Instead, one of the Wardens hands out chipped mugs filled with cocoa to anyone who wants it.

Cocoa, if Tenesha remembers correctly, is hard to get with rationing coupons. It's a treat. She whispers to the students to be grateful, but she doesn't have to remind them.

"This is the best hot chocolate I've ever tasted," Ali says after taking a sip. She slips onto a wooden folding chair.

Some people Tenesha hasn't seen before are playing cards off in the corner. Others have blankets spread out on the floor.

Tenesha shudders a little. The floor isn't solid at all. Each stone is marked with names and dates. This is a crypt, as she and that strange man Hennel kept saying back and forth to each other, and the names and dates mark where someone's body rests—usually someone famous to the British, because she hasn't heard of them.

She takes a cup of cocoa, says polite things, trying to sound as grateful as she feels. Mr. Pintner gets his cup last, and doesn't complain at all that he has cocoa instead of tea. Someone has brought biscuits, and a few of the students take more than their share.

She doesn't reprimand them. She's not having any and neither are many of the adults.

Instead, she carries her cup to the side where Mr. Hennel stands. He's leaning against the wall, watching the group.

"You said I know how to get us out of here," Tenesha says. "Why would you say that?"

He looks at her in surprise. "Because you brought us here."

"I did not," she says. "I'm not even sure where here is."

"You do know," he says. "We've come to St. Paul's on December 29, 1940, in the height of the London Blitz."

"All the way from Lambeth?" she says. "In science fiction stories, time travel doesn't work that way. Either you move in time or space. Not both."

He tilts his head slightly, as if she's said something cute. "This isn't science fiction. This is real life."

She lets out a little laugh. "This isn't real," she says. "The smoke smelled like incense. Smoke doesn't smell like that."

"Oh, but it did that night, luv," he says. "Mr. Maplethorpe told me many times that—"

"Mr. Maplethorpe?" Tenesha asks.

"The man I came with. The one who lectured your students."

She nods. The old man Hennel had arrived with. The old man whom, she just now realizes, never entered the Experience.

"Mr. Maplethorpe told me that on the night the Square Mile burned, the smoke smelled of seasoned oak. Some compared it to perfume or pipe tobacco. And some thought it smelled of incense."

"Seasoned oak?" she asks.

Hennel says gently, "We walked past buildings that were more than three hundred years old. Burning buildings, some made from trees even older than that. We were smelling the great forests of England as they vanished forever."

That brings tears to her aching eyes. She's tired, she decides. Or maybe she's overwhelmed.

"What makes you think I brought us here?" she asks.

He reaches forward and she nearly backs away. But she decides not to. He takes the cross that Grand gave her in his hand.

"This," he says. "It's not a regular cross, you know."

"Is that why it's hot?"

It's his turn to look surprised. "I thought it was hot from the fires."

She shakes her head. "It's always like that."

Or at least, it has been as long as she's owned it, all of twenty-four hours.

"Hmm," he says, as if that's a revelation. "I didn't know these things had a power of their own, but it makes sense."

"These things?" Tenesha asks. "I thought it was just a cross."

He shakes his head. "Mr. Maplethorpe explained it to me. Take it off and I'll show you."

She reaches behind her head and unclasps the cross, then hands it to him. He stares at it for a moment, as if it's unfamiliar, then points to the ridges in the middle of the cross itself.

"See how they reflect the light?" he asks. "It's always in this pattern and the reflection is always red, never yellow or white. But red."

She takes the cross from him and moves it around. The gold doesn't reflect at all, and the little cuttings do reflect red no matter where she moves the cross.

"What does it mean?" she asks.

"That the bearer is magical," he says with the utmost seriousness.

"A cross?" She raises her voice in disbelief. People look at her. The students frown, and Denver makes a gesture which means You okay? She nods and continues the conversation, this time in a lower tone. "Crosses are the opposite of witches. The Church hates magic."

"That's why this cross is different," he says. "To the untrained eye, it looks normal. It was designed as the Church went after pagans. Mr. Maplethorpe says that's why the poor souls burned at the stake and persecuted during the Inquisition had no magic. They weren't protected."

"With a cross?" Tenesha asks.

"Think through, luv," he says. "If you have magic and you lived around the ancient church, wouldn't you do what you could to blend in? It's silly to think that the magical would get captured. They've survived for centuries, or so Mr. Maplethorpe says. They wouldn't have done that if they didn't have a few brains."

She laughs. "This is a present from my great-grandmother. She must not have known what it was, because I have no magic."

"You must," he says. "This has to have happened to you before."

"Coming to the Blitz? Not highly likely."

"Going to some past event," he says. "You've done it before. Everyone's power manifests young. Yours has to be to travel in time."

She stares at him. Even as she starts to shake her head, she remembers Grand's living room, how Grand's stories always came alive in that room, so alive that Tenesha could actually see them.

"You have, haven't you?" he says and he sounds excited. "You have done this before."

Grandmother. The words came out of a very long ago past, her mother talking to her grandmother on the phone. She sent an entire sandbox of children to the bar where I met her father. I'm not even sure how they came back. But I can't have a four-year-old running about unsupervised through all of human history.

That first trip to Grand—the first that Tenesha can remember—came right after that. But before it, Tenesha had to wear—what? Some kind of hated necklace. Not a cross, but something that made her heavy, that weighed her down.

And then Grand: She'll only be able to practice here, Liv. In my home. Under my supervision. Send her summers. She won't even know she's preparing.

"You remember something," he says.

"If you know this," Tenesha snaps, "then you're magical too."

He shrugs. "That's what Mr. Maplethorpe says, but I don't know what my abilities are. He says I have to believe that magic exists before I can tap my own powers."

She closes her fingers around the cross. "You believe. You're trying to convince me."

"Oh, luv," he says, "you're the one who's convinced me. Now we have to get back home."

"What do I do? Tap my ruby slippers together three times and say, 'There's no place like home.'"

His mouth opens slightly. "That's it!" he says.

"C'mon," Tenesha says. "The Wizard of Oz isn't true. Now I know you're teasing me."

"Mr. Maplethorpe hated that movie. He says it revealed too many things. He said they had to add the ruby slippers to the film or everyone would know how to do a location spell."

"What?" Tenesha is growing more and more confused.

"Just try it, luv," he says. "What can it hurt?"

She thinks for a moment. What could it hurt? Nothing if it doesn't work. But if she tries it and it does, she might leave the students behind and she would have no idea how to retrieve them.

"Get the students," she says to Hennel. "I guess we're going to give this the good old college try."

* * *

"Tell you what," the elderly gent says to Rupert. "Let's pretend this hasn't happened at all. Come out of there and close the exit door."

"Why?" Rupert asks.

"Let's just try it," the elderly gent says.

The third and penultimate announcement echoes off the public address system.

"What can it hurt?" the elderly gent asks when the announcement is over.

Probably nothing, Rupert thinks. He scrambles out and pushes the door closed, adding a fervent little prayer of his own.

"When do I open the door again?" he asks the elderly gent.

The elderly gent shrugs as if the answer's obvious. "Why, the moment they return, of course."

* * *

They've moved deeper into the Crypt, away from the others. Mr. Hennel retrieved the students on the pretext of showing them some famous person's tomb. Only Bailey protested. She didn't want to see anything ghostly on an already scary evening.

No one holds hands. They won't give up their precious cocoa. So Tenesha has them huddle around her, touching shoulders. She makes sure she's brushing against Hennel, who is brushing against the students.

She taps her heels together, eyes closed. She can't quite bring herself to speak aloud, and she's afraid if she is magical and she thinks about home, the entire gang will end up in her parents' house in Chicago.

So she thinks, I want to go back to the museum. Please send us all back to the museum. We want to return to our time and the museum.

She opens her eyes to complete darkness.

"Damn," Denver says. "The lights are out again."

"Do you think the fires burned through the lines?" Bailey asks.

"Fires can't burn down a stone building, can they?" Ali asks.

Then the lights return. All nine of them—students, Mr. Hennel, her—are crammed together on a street corner.

Rubble has fallen in front of a shop. On the shop's unbroken windows, someone has written Dried Eggs Today. Fresh Cheddar, followed by a price per pound. Through the open door, she can see the empty shelves inside, but nothing lies broken on the floor, even though something should be there. After all, there's rubble to the left of the shop, the remains of some building not quite as fortunate.

Tenesha's breath catches. She did it wrong. They've arrived somewhere else, somewhere that might be just as bad.

Then she realizes that the faint odor of smoke is coming from her clothing, not from the building. There's no dust or ash in the air. In fact, someone has glued the rubble together.

The street corner isn't real. It's been done up to look real. She lets out a small sigh.

A voice overhead says in a firm brook-no-quarrels British accent that they must leave immediately.

"Now where are we?" Bailey asks.

A door opens and the poor redheaded museum employee looks inside.

"They're back," he says with some relief. "They've come back."

* * *

Rupert knows that he sounds like an idiot but he doesn't care. As the first Americans step out, heads bowed, he sighs. He did hallucinate all of this. They're just fine, leaving the Experience like everyone else does, just a bit subdued.

Then one of the girls looks over at him. Her face is smudged with black and her hair is falling out of its barrette. Her eyes are irritated and red.

He glances at the other Americans. They're covered in dirt as well, and a few of them have ripped clothing.

A young man grins at him. "That's the best ride I've ever been on, man. I don't know how you guys did it, but that was cool."

He lifts a mug to Rupert. The mug is battered and old, and smells faintly of cocoa.

Rupert doesn't say anything. The American students file out and then their teacher, who doesn't meet his gaze at all.

The elderly gent's companion has his hand on her back, leading her away from Rupert to the elderly gent.

"This is Mr. Maplethorpe," the companion says. "I figured you should meet him."

The elderly gent bows to the young woman. "I've known your great-grandmother for a very long time," he says. "And you're just as lovely as she said."

Rupert frowns. They set something up, to play him for a fool. They all knew each other.

He glances at his watch. The museum is nearly closed.

"I beg your pardon," he says, struggling to keep his anger at bay. "But the museum will close in less than two minutes . . . ."

"There's an exit down here into the gardens," the elderly gent says. "I suggest we go out that way."

And then he leads them away from the Experience without a fare-thee-well to Rupert. Rupert stands for a moment, feeling hurt, and then he realizes he'd better follow lest they try something again.

He totters after them, staring at those mismatched cocoa mugs, wondering where those came from. The students are laughing and talking, looking happy and unconcerned as they go through the door.

He watches them wander into the garden, then he closes and locks the door after them, leaning on it.

He isn't sure what to make of his last half hour. He wants to chalk it up to his evil, vivid imagination, just like Uncle Giles would.

But not even his Uncle Giles would have an explanation for those mugs. There were no mugs in the Experience, and the mugs in the cafeteria look nothing like that. He knows the Americans didn't bring the mugs with them because backpacks and anything larger than a small purse has to be left at the coat check. No one carried anything large enough for the mugs, and no one had a way to make cocoa.

He shakes his head as the final announcement airs on the public address system.

He just wasn't paying attention, that was all. He had been struck by the beauty of the American teacher, and he hadn't looked at the students closely enough.

Now he has to go inside the Experience with the lights on full to make certain that no one spilled anything in there.

He's going to have to report the elderly gent. The elderly gent was part of this whole thing. He probably shouldn't be allowed near the Experience again.

* * *

The gardens are lovely, the air fresh and so very welcome. Tenesha is still holding her mug of cocoa, made seventy years before in another part of London. She's still holding it, and it's still warm. That's got to be some kind of miracle.

Although she's not feeling very miraculous. She's sweaty and covered in soot. Her clothes reek, and she feels oddly betrayed.

The students seem happy enough. They think they went on the best ride ever, better than Disney World, better than Universal Studios, something so real they'll talk about it for the rest of their lives.

Hennel and Mr. Maplethorpe know better. Mr. Maplethorpe walks alongside her. He seems to sense her mood, since he says nothing.

"You and my great-grandmother planned this, didn't you?" Tenesha asks as they pass beautifully manicured rose bushes.

Mr. Maplethorpe looks straight ahead. "She's been waiting for you to return to London. It's put a strain on our magic."

"Our magic?" Tenesha asks.

He nods. He puts a hand on her arm and stops her. Then he looks around to see if the students are following. They've huddled together, comparing notes. Hennel stands a few yards off, looking awkward, as if he wants to join Tenesha and Mr. Maplethorpe, but isn't sure he's welcome.

Tenesha's not sure he's welcome either. She wants to have this discussion alone.

"We have a group, you see," Mr. Maplethorpe says. "It's best if you have a group."

"Great," Tenesha says with sarcasm. "You have a group. I just discover that I have the power to travel through time and space, but you have a group, and my abilities strain your magic. I'm sorry."

"We didn't want you randomly traveling without understanding what happened," Mr. Maplethorpe says. "We put a protect spell on you, placed you in your own little bubble so that you'd be safe. But we expected you to come back to England before you entered university. Instead, you did not return for six years. We've barely been able to control your magic."

She almost sips the cocoa, then wonders if she should. Not because she suspects it will poison her, but because it's oddly precious now, a relic of the past, of the experience that she has just had and doesn't entirely understand.

"Maybe if you'd been honest with me. Or flown me out yourselves," she says.

"We're mostly pensioners—"

"Pensioners," she says. "With no funds I suppose."

He nods.

"I thought you were supposed to be magic. Why don't you conjure up some diamonds or something?"

"It doesn't work like that," he says. "Our gifts don't give us a choice. We're not like you Americans portray in the movies. Our magicks are usually small, and often inconsequential. Yours, it turns out, is neither. The ability to travel through time is rare and valued. And your ability clearly spans longer than your life, which is the normal limitation on these things. You'll be quite valuable, should you allow us to press you into service."

"Service," she says. "What kind of service? Something that'll turn me into a pensioner when I'm old?"

He winces. "No, my dear," he says. "Our guild has existed long before there were guilds. We split into several factions. There are the mercenary types—they run several corporations, including magical ones—and then there are those of us dedicated to service. We also split. We have those who do good works, and those who make certain we remain untouched. We haven't had a time traveler in our guild in nearly three hundred years. And we could use one."

He stares at her.

"I have a job," she says.

He takes the mug from her and sets it on a nearby wooden bench. Then he takes her hands in his own. From a distance it probably looked like he was proposing.

"Whether you return to America or not," he says, "you'll need training. We no longer have the resources to keep your abilities under wraps."

"I'm sure someone there can train me," Tenesha says.

He sighs. "We have very few members of our guild in America. The corporate groups are much stronger, and they will charge you for lessons. We will not."

She shrugs. "It'll be expensive either way. I'd have to move to England."

"It's not the expense so much," he says. "It's the time it will take for you to find the proper instructors. You'd probably have to move there as well. Time travel is the most difficult to control. That's part of our problem. It takes only a willingness to slip into someone else's memories, and then you're there. So if someone's telling you an emotional story about the day their first child was born, you might conceivably find yourself at that birthing chamber."

She doesn't move, but her heart has started to pound. This sounds familiar. Lately, it has felt as if she's stepped a little too close to her friends.

"Why do you think you're a history major, my dear?" he says. "Because you have the ability to imagine history thoroughly? Bosh. You would hear a lecture and partially slide away, because our magic can't quite hold you any longer. That slippage will get worse."

"Why didn't Grand tell me this?" Tenesha asks.

"She planned to when you visited. Then you gave this gift of the museum visit, and even asked her along. She would have come if I hadn't needed someone to prove to Mr. Hennel that magic exists as well. His talents are smaller than yours, but no less valuable. He can convince people that he's right when he speaks with conviction."

Like he had with her when they discussed the Wizard of Oz.

"His powers can be dangerous if left alone. We're hoping to train him to use them for good."

Tenesha pulls her hands from Mr. Maplethorpe's. Then she takes her mug back. It doesn't even feel like a modern mug. It's too thin. Nowadays, mugs have substance.

"You talk a good game," she says. "You use all the right words—service, working for the good, making the right choices. But how do I know that you're not some kind of opportunist or . . . ."

She let her voice trail off. She almost said a scam artist, but she knows he's not that. Because she really was in the past. So that much is true: she wouldn't have believed anything if she hadn't traveled back to the Blitz.

"Do you believe your great-grandmother would ever work on what you Americans would call the wrong side? She's no opportunist, is she?"

Tenesha looks at him. Grand is a good woman. If Tenesha believes anything, she believes that.

"I'll need to talk to her," Tenesha says.

"Of course you will," Mr. Maplethorpe says.

"You people are asking me to change my life."

"Actually no. The moment you realized you have abilities your life changed. You now have the choice of direction. Of course you must proceed with caution. We would expect no less."

He bows to her, a curious little movement that seems both courtly and dismissive. Then he walks back to Mr. Hennel, presumably to deal with that man's reluctance with whatever scheme Mr. Maplethorpe has proposed to him.

"Hey, Ms. McGuire!" Denver walks toward her with the rest of the group with him. "We were wondering if we can go through the Blitz thing again tomorrow."

You could, she thinks but doesn't say, but you wouldn't like it.

"I'm afraid we won't be anywhere near the museum tomorrow," she says, unable to remember their exact itinerary. Not that it matters. She now has an itinerary of her own.

She must see Grand again, and she has to talk about her future. She has to now learn and understand her own abilities. She has to decide who she is going to become.

Although that part isn't as hard as she made it sound to Mr. Maplethorpe. She decided long ago that she's not interested in money—no one who majors in history is—and she realized with her first summer job that she's not suited to the corporate life.

Besides, Grand won't live much longer, and Tenesha has always wanted to spend more time with her. Tenesha will learn about this guild and the abilities of everyone in it.

They can teach her how to prevent time-traveling to places like the Blitz. She doesn't want to go through anything like that again—at least, not unexpectedly.

Then, if she doesn't like what this guild stands for, she can strike out on her own. She is an American after all. A believer in the rights and powers of the individual.

She'll make her own choices.

But they'll be informed choices.

She smiles to herself, feeling better than she has in months. She feels like she has a direction now. She's still not sure where she's going, but she has time to figure that out.

A lot of time.

All the time in the world.

* * *

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