The Enlightenment had gone to our heads. My, that was one heady brew! We staggered out of the Rural Idyll after three pints of the stuff, George the grammar school boy, Anthony the son of the local lord, and Tom and me, mere apprentices. I guess we were all too young to drink, but the barman at the Idyll had taken a shine to us and our few pennies a week.
Home was a couple of miles across the fields, and with my legs not obeying the simplest commands I wondered if we'd make it. After we crossed the second stile, I felt sure we wouldn't. There beside the hedgerow sat a sleek machine, white metal gleaming in the moonlight, four black wheels on the sodden turf and neither horse nor tracks in sight. We approached, timidly at first. Then two doors swung open.
"Well," George said, "it would seem rude not to."
He strode up to the machine and sat down in a soft leather seat, a great sloping window before him and a wheel of sorts at his lap.
Anthony sounded a note of caution. "Are you sure this is a good idea?"
"I don't think it is," said Tom. "There's no knowing where it might lead to. Besides, I've an early start tomorrow."
I agreed, but it made little difference to George.
"Get in," he said. "Where's your spirit?"
He smiled a wide smile. He could be very persuasive. I climbed into a narrow seat behind him and Tom followed me, shaking his head. Anthony sat down in the front, barring our exit. The doors slammed shut and we were off, a great roar coming from somewhere up ahead.
Off where? I don't really know. And certainly don't ask me how or why. In fact, I'm not sure we ever really moved, but things moved around us. Everything moved around us.
Up came the hedgerow, sending birds flying and rodents scurrying. Great chimneys erupted from the ground, black smoke billowing from the top of the stacks. A vast iron passenger ship sailed by, though I could have sworn we were miles from the nearest lake. Metal dragons swooped down from the sky, one barely missing us and the other breathing fire on the ship. I thought I heard screams coming from the vessel, but George was yelling so loud I could not be sure.
"This is great!" he shouted. "I told you! I told you! Let's go faster. Faster!"
"I don't know about that," Tom said. "Shouldn't we be getting out and going home?"
I wondered if we could.
Anthony gave us a worried glance then turned to George. "Tom might be right, you know."
George wound down his window, reached out and – somehow – pulled in a great wad of paper money. He stuffed some in his pocket and handed the rest to Anthony. "What was that you said?"
"He said that maybe we should stop," I shouted from the back.
Anthony laughed. "Let's not be hasty," he told me. "I'm sure George knows what he's doing."
George's seat blocked my way out. I tried to push it forward, tried to reach past it to the door handle, but to no avail. Tom started banging loudly on the window beside him and yelling.
"Shut up in the back," cried George. "I'm trying to control this thing for all our sakes."
He reached out and grabbed more money. He tossed a couple of notes to us, keeping the rest for himself and Anthony.
Tom picked them up and examined them. "That's an awful lot of beer money," he remarked and sat quietly for a while.
"Look," said George. "I can make things move. See that glass tower? If I turn the wheel this way I can move it over there. See? And I have pedals at my feet. If I press this one – like this – things happen faster. If I press the other one, the reverse. I can control it. I'm in control."
I looked through the window in front of us. Right now there appeared to be a forest of trees approaching, but before they hit us their trunks snapped and we were left to pass through unencumbered. We entered a landscape nothing like the one I remembered. Nothing grew but buildings, and they grew taller and taller and taller. In their shadows stood countless people, all staring back at us with sad, numb expressions on their faces.
Suddenly a building collapsed, crushing many people beneath it. More money fluttered down where it had stood.
George laughed. "Open your window Tony," he called. "It's time to clean up."
He managed to get our machine to circle the scene of devastation, and as it did Anthony and George pulled in more and more money until it was all gone. They didn't bother passing any back to us.
"Where are we going now?" I asked innocently.
"I don't know," said George, "but wherever it is I'm sure it'll be fun."
"Does that look like fun?" Tom asked.
He was pointing up ahead where a great wall of water, hundreds of feet high was surging towards us.
"Isn't that money beneath the wave?" George suggested.
"What wave?" asked Anthony without looking up. He was too busy counting his wad.
"Slow down," I shouted.
"What should I do?" said George.
"Slow down!" Tom and I shouted in unison.
"Okay. Okay. Oh! I can't. The pedal's jammed!"
"You must be able to do something," said Tom. "You said you were in control."
George turned the wheel frantically, but the water kept coming. I could hear a deafening rumble now. The waver was almost upon us, the rubble of civilisation carried up with the sheer force of it.
George wound up his window.