Stop and Listen

by: Rob Moran

‘And whatever you do, don’t press the blue button on the headset. I’m still working on the rolling drive parameter. I still haven’t…’

Those were the last words I heard Pete say as I placed the headset and googles on. It felt like I had been blasted by a bolt of lightning an ear-piercing whistle rang in my eardrums. Flashes of white horizontal criss-crossed in my vision forcing me to try and look away from the pain of the sound and vision torture I was experiencing. The pain was unbearable as I stood motionless on the spot, unable to move. When suddenly it stopped.

I gasped for breath in a brief moment still unable to see or hear but I could smell the scent of stale booze. The aftereffects of the deafening whistle, distortion of vision and heightened smell hit me like a hammer to the head and I immediately vomited.

“Better out than in lad. No good having bad guts before night shift lad,” a man in a flat cap said to me.

I wiped a fleck of vomit from away from my mouth. I tried to compose myself. My head was spinning like it’s never done before. Far worse than the Covid 19 headaches.

“Had a few too many light ales by the look of it lad,” the flat capped man mocked.

I looked at the man and he looked like someone who volunteered at Beamish Museum in his working clothes. I put my hand to my head only to find I’m wearing thick black glasses. I think of Michael Caine in the 1960s. “Where am I? I ask the flat capped man.

“Blimey you have had a few if you can’t remember the Sterling Castle!” he exclaims.

“Sterling Castle? Where’s that?” I ask.

“Give over lad. Here landlord can you get this lad a brandy to sort himself out.”

The landlord looks at me with distain and slams the glass down in front of me.

“After that son, you had better leave. You won’t putting a shift in at the works in a state like that.”

I put the glass to my mouth and take a sip. Brandy isn’t a drink of choice to me. But after my ordeal I find this liquid oddly comforting.

I look around at the strange narrow bar and I have no idea where I am. Nothing looks familiarly. I drink up the brandy and leave the pub on the orders of the landlord when a red brick church which I have saw in photographs hits my vision.

“That’s the old Baptist Church that was knocked down in the 1970s,” I say.

A man focused on lighting a cigarette overhears my comment and laughs. “The 1970s! Blimey lad, that Vaux Beer hasn’t half affected you. Time travel beer! This is 1950s son. Seventies my arse lad, next you’ll be saying we’ll be flying to the moon!”

I ignore his comments and look up the road and I recognise Albert Road, only the big car park has been replaced with rows of housing, though I can still see Christ Church as the clock reflecting the time. But looming over the entire view unable to hide from view is the imposing Consett Steelworks. Smoke bellows out of huge chimneys. I can’t believe what I am seeing, and I reach into my pocket for my smart phone. I have to take photos and videos of this, only to find that my iPhone has been replaced with a packet of Woodbine cigarettes. I hold the packet in confusion. Where is my phone? And I don’t even bloody smoke. I know I have to document where I am for Pete’s invention. For it worked. It actually worked! It was then I realised I had no idea what year I had arrived at. I run back into the pub only to be shouted at by the landlord.

“I told you lad; you’ve had enough! Now get out!”

“Sorry, I just need to know todays date,” I reply.

“1st July 1950, now out!”

The flat capped man downs the remainder of his pint and runs out of the door heading down Berry Edge Road towards the Power Station. I stand dumbfounded as I remember that this is the day that eleven people die in a carbon monoxide leak. I know I have to do something, and I run after the flat capped man shouting at him. I am shouting at the top of my voice, but he doesn’t hear me. As I run my hands suddenly look transparent. I can see my bones and blood pump in my veins. I shout once more for the flat capped man to stop and listen, but he does neither when suddenly I am immobile. Frozen in a moment of time. I have no idea how long I am frozen, but I can hear people in the past talking about the disaster and I can hear Pete swearing as he tries to bring me back. I constantly shout to everyone a warning to the impending disaster, but no one can hear. I feel tingling in my arms then suddenly I am back in the computer room sitting next to Pete.

I take the headset and googles off and throw them down as I find myself back in the computer room with Pete looking directly with a serious stern face.

“What hell did I tell you? Don’t press the blue button! Jesus it’s been a nightmare trying to reconfigure the software. I wish you would just stop and listen to me sometimes. You have no idea what I have had to do to get you back!”

I nod at what he says. Too stunned and shocked to comprehend what had just happened.  He looks at me and he can see something is wrong.

“I tried to warn them, but they wouldn’t stop and listen. No one stopped, no one,” I say as I grab his brandy from the shelf.