It was a cold and dark night, about a fortnight off from the winter solstice. Annabelle McAlistair could see her breath condense into ice clouds as she breathed in and out. She was shivering, even though she was bundled in multiple layers of clothing. A nice fur coat, wool sweater, and silk undergarments, all bought in excellent quality after all her parents were rich. Annabelle didn’t seem to mind the cold though, it was just one more obstacle that she needed to overcome to be successful. Besides, this wasn’t the first night she was sneaking out of her boarding room at Saint Helga’s College for the Talented to go to the local cemetery. However, she might have to be planning her trips more sparsely. Even with her lack of understanding of social norms, she could tell the dean and administrators were growing suspicious of her. She knew that if she got caught, she would be thrown out of school for sure and become a failure. Trudging along the familiar path with nothing but a lantern to cast a light on the paved flagstone, an iron shovel to dig up the bodies needed to continue her experiments and an old rusty wheelbarrow to deposit the bodies.
Arriving at the graveyard, Annabelle stopped for a moment, taking the orderly rows of gravestones. The methodically planned out graveyard pleased her, as something she could understand. This was one of the oldest cemeteries of New Albion, and one of the more well-known ones. The original city planners had much foresight because rather than just having dead from different former eras mixed in with each other like salt dissolved in with water, there was a plan to the graveyard. As one moved back towards the far end of the graveyard, the deceased were from an older period. The oldest ones did not even have grave-stones, just a crude stone poles indicating where the dead were buried. They were never replaced with gravestones later, as people did not want to disturb the sleeping departed. Scholars speculated that the famous gambler, the one who played the game with the monk, yet died too soon was buried somewhere near the back. The monk was buried in another graveyard, closer to the park on Criers Boulevard. Off to the eastern edge of the graveyard a small hut was built. Annabelle wondered occasionally what was in there, but the heavy oaken door was nearly impossible to bust down. Guess they didn’t want just anyone entering, Annabelle figured. The older bodies near the back of the graveyard, Annabelle had no use for, they would have already decomposed to dust by now. No, what she needed were the recently buried, as she continued work required at least something from the body to use, not just dirt.
Time later, the sky still dark, Annabelle was tired and weary from the tedious work of hole digging. It was tough work, requiring lots of stamina for the repeated task of lifting dirt and later replacing dirt in the holes. It also didn’t have the best smelling scent as well. But, she got what she wanted, a wheelbarrow stacked full of bodies, she could now return and continue to run tests and trials to perfect her formula. She was so close to figuring it out! She could feel it. But now, all Annabelle had to do was return back to St. Helga’s, try to get some sleep, go to classes in the morning and maybe talk to Jasper: her angel. The Only person who seemed to notice her and talk to her. She could still feel the sensation of his lips on her cheek. All her other peers just treated her like she was not there, like some ghost. The professors were barely better, only noticing her when no one else could answer a question posed during class.
As she was starting to pat the dirt on the final hole she dug, trying to make it look like no one disturbed it she stiffened. She could hear the barking of dogs, and the distant glowing of torches. The school and city officials had enough of whoever was disturbing the dead. This was the night they were going to find and punish whoever was doing it. Even though Annabelle was tired, she realized she needed to run away, using the last of her energy she pushed herself to flee, not abandoning her wheelbarrow. It would be difficult to trace it back to her. She just didn’t want to be caught. Picking a random direction, she ran.
You, dear reader, already know how this story would’ve gone. She would’ve been caught, the dogs and the men catching up to her. Expelled and embarrassed she would’ve returned in disgrace to her lab. Her parents and her beloved Jasper would have died shortly thereafter. Then after many years of endless numberlands and trials, her work would finally pay off as she would learn the secret to bringing back the dead, to put the spirits of the deceased in life-size mechanical dolls. Clever little Annabelle with her clever head. Eventually, these dolls would ignite a fad in New Albion in a few generation’s time, even inspiring a religion: the Voodoopunks. But like most fads, they would fade away, this fad was particularly devastating. Many Albionites grew to fear the dolls, and after a suicide, the city rioted on the infamous pyre night and eventually the constitutional monarchy would be replaced by an imposing and strict martial law.
But something was different this iteration, a meddlesome time-traveler, born far in the future of New Albion, had traveled back in time to prevent the process of bringing back the dead from ever being discovered. Without the dolls, the traveler hoped that the city would never fall to riots and martial law. He pinpointed this moment in time as the string to pull on the quilt of time. As Annabelle rushed by the abandoned little hut the heavy door swung open. What was even more astonishing was the sentence that was spoken but felt like it was shouted.
“Come in here, Annabella! You won't be caught!”
With butterflies causing a windstorm in her stomach, she dashed into the hut. The door was shut and closed behind her. She got a chance to see her would be savior: a young man, a young man around her age.