"The past is a foreign country—they do things differently there."
The first thing they noticed was the smell. Trudging along the muddy road they saw piles of garbage, animal bones, rotting meat and a stream of foul, lumpy water. It was an open sewer! A small brown pig that used to be pink was rutting around in the muck, while men took barrels from the back of a cart and poured the contents into the reeking slime.
A group of children with dirty faces and tousled hair ran alongside a small herd of sheep. Their clothes were filthy and their feet even filthier from manure droppings and oozing puddles smothering their path.
In the distance a church-bell chimed. Wagons creaked, cows mooed and a brown-robed friar preached against sin to a circle of admirers. Suddenly the sounds took over and the smells were forgotten. “Hot cross buns . . . if you haven’t got a penny, a ha-penny will do . . .” Medieval England rang in their ears.
Mickelgate Bar, York
Oma recognized Mickelgate Bar as they were jostled through the city walls. “We’re in York,” she said. Chloë glanced up and promptly screamed. “There’s a skull! Don’t look, Ashley!”
The blackened heads of criminals were stuck on spikes above the gate, their eyes plucked out by birds. Legs and arms hung by ropes, riddled with maggots and covered by flies. These were warnings to thieves and traitors that punishment for breaking the law was harsh.
It was as if Oma and the little girls were invisible. No one seemed to notice them. Ponies, laden with grain, ambled toward a marketplace in the middle of town, guided by peasants from local farms. Priests passed by, robed in their habits, with crucifixes and rosaries hanging from their girdles. Carts filled with eggs, milk and cheese lined the street; signs painted with pictures swung over shops, advertising goods to customers unable to read.
The Shambles, York
A servant opened an upstairs shutter and shook the dust from a rug. Wooden beams from the house projected out so far that a woman across the street fanned the dust from her face. She reached across and handed another neighbor a basket filled with strawberries. Shoppers below them couldn’t see the sky because the street was so narrow, and the houses so close together.
Wandering the crooked streets, Ashley heard the church bells again. “Wow, there are lots of churches,” she said. Oma looked up. “I wonder if the Minster has been built yet,” she said and walked a little faster.
Half-naked men were sweating in the sun, laying stones in a herringbone pattern on the ground. Over the hubbub of the morning’s business a town crier called the news of the day as he strolled through throngs of richly dressed merchants buying scissors and knives from the ironmonger. Chloë noticed that both French and English were spoken, and even some Latin. It was hard to understand anything the people said.
As they rounded the corner, bells sounded the hour. DONG! DONG! DONG! The air vibrated, and brilliant panels of glass glittered high on the side of a massive cathedral. “I’ll show you how to read a window,” said Oma.
Inside, the church was cold and dark, but it was easy to see the pictures made of stained glass high above their heads. “Do you recognize the stories? They’re from the Bible,” explained Oma. She seemed preoccupied. “Opa once climbed around that highest balcony, and examined the windows close up—after lightning struck the cathedral, ” murmured Oma after a minute. “We lived in York in 1985, hundreds of years after all this happened.”
Jessi had been thinking. “Are we time-traveling?” she wondered. “What are we doing in England so long ago?”
“It’s because of the magic Matryoshka doll,” whispered Ashley. “When Oma twisted the one that was stuck, it opened up a new world.”
“You mean an old world,” Chloë said. “I just hope we can get back.”
Oma noticed something in her pocket and realized she still had the two halves of the tiniest doll. “I don’t want to lose these,” she said as she put them back together. Instantly a musty smell of incense mixed with a dusty smell of smoke, and the spinning sensation swirled them back through leaves, lilacs, licorice and lemon.
Ashley’s eyes focused slowly, until she recognized assorted pieces of the Matryoshka doll scattered on the family room floor. “Wow, guys,” she said. “I just had the weirdest dream.” Chloë looked dazed, while Jess thought, "Was it a nightmare, or a dream come true?"
"It's too bad we didn't meet anyone," said Oma to herself. "I've got to go back."
~Write a paragraph describing a smell.
~List 5 things that conjure up memories for you.
~Tell me about something scary you saw as a child.