The markers were a diverse array of signposts each pointing in a different direction. Mostly the posts were constructed from wood, ramshackle and splintering, but one or two were elaborately created. Those were placed abreast of wooden stiles, though there was no path upon which to travel when one had clambered over. I plunged towards the first post and latched onto it by wrapping my arm around its imposing pointed prong. The letters inscribed there were huge and I had to tilt my head to read it.
Welcome to the Forties, it said.
Thank you, I said.
Slackening my grip, I drifted in the direction of less elaborate signs. They were branded with dates, deeply chiselled for permanency, years ranging from 1940 to 1944. Again I felt that sweeping chill. Vibes of bloody battles made me shudder. A curious burning smell made me want to puke. Lamentations filled the air and my cheeks were showered with watery drops. I glanced upwards expecting to see rain clouds, but the sun was shining as fiercely as before. Hastily, I averted my eyes, not liking the perception of such acute sadness. Anxious to find more agreeable surroundings, I pulled my cape closer and wafted away.
Flitting over a cheerless lake, I advanced towards a solidly constructed signpost, made of steel with wrought iron digits standing proud, each digit entwined with withered roses and sprigs of laurel. 1945. Waves of acclamation caressed me, yet the impression that someone had died was very strong. There were no mortals to whom I could attribute the echoing sounds yet I definitely heard laughter and muffled exchanges. And enunciated names: Hitler and Ribbentrop. My own impression was one of relief though I couldn’t explain why. It might have been the warmth, or the unexpected peace.
Ahead of me, descending slowly earthward, was an additional signpost. Enthralled by the method of descent I watched it alight on the brow of the hill, its arrow-like arm indicating the direction of the fifties. What lay on the other side? Would there be chaos, more gunfire and smoke, more flashing lights and despairing cries? I decided not to proceed. I had seen enough. All I wanted was to go home. If only I knew the way.
Swiftly, I arched away from the ghosts that occupied that extraordinarily desolate chunk of land, gathering about me the cape which seemed suddenly leaden. I panicked that the exit point might elude me, completely forgetting I could fly. I whirled round in my agitation and collided with a hitherto unseen monumental placard, suspended in mid-air, the size of the tract itself. I paced back, tortuously slanting my neck to behold the colossal red lettering. Red as blood, the only vivid colour in that dingy brown expanse.
YOU ARE NOW LEAVING OUR DECADE
WE TRUST YOUR VISIT WAS INSPIRING
Somewhere a clock chimed. Out of the remoteness came Ma's piping voice shouting me to wake. My eyes fluttered open. The silver cape was on the five-drawer chest where I had left it after the fancy dress ball. The mask was hanging by its elastic on one of the knobs. I breathed a sigh of relief. I was back home, in our matchbox-sized house, a bright and cosy property just big enough for Ma and me. We were unassailable. We were unaffected by past decades.
Or were we?