Timeston is known for Timeston Well. It doesn’t have a bottom, and the gulls that wheeled and cried in the square would fall silent when they flew over it. Whether it was that squawks never reached the bottom of the well or that the birds made no noise when they flew over it, it was hard to say.

Stones dropped in the well never made a sound, even if you threw them against the sides.

No echo and no bottom, and also no founders or builders. Timeston had been built around the well, which itself has no original builder. It was just…always there.

Timeston also has a craft market, a gigantic old oak forest and 19 different beers exported to several of the other villages. The fields of Timeston, for whichever reason, make a certain type of barley that can’t be replicated anywhere else. When malted, the resultant beer tends to make the drinker sombre, sometimes nostalgic, and generally happy.

Drinking too much of this beer, however, has been said to have a very different effect. An Earl that owned a small freehold outside of the village had a tendency to day-drink. Stanley, the man who made all of Timeston’s beer, told him to perhaps cut down and that he appreciated the business, but as lambing season was approaching he should probably spend a few days a week sober.

The Earl grinned at him, leaning on a rotted fence post. He pointed at his barn, just behind his home, raised his hand to the air, wiggled his dirty fingers that were marred yellow by years of rolling tobacco. He made a light hissing through his broken teeth.

He shook his head, his grin never leaving his face.

Stanley left the keg of beer and climbed back onto the carriage. As the horse reared up and began a steady trot back to Timeston Commons, he couldn’t help but look out of the window of the laughing drunk man waving at him.

Two days later, lightning struck the Earl’s barn. A group of peasants with water buckets from all over local shires tried to put out the fire, but to no avail. The fire had already spread.

The Earl was found in the charred wooden remains, surrounded by the dust of his possessions. His charred and blackened body was sitting on the remains of his study chair and flicking casually through one of his many books, now a square of charred paper and ash.

He hadn’t even tried to escape.

Something is in the crops that is deep within the soil of Timeston. Nobody knows who founded Timeston, only that its founders disappeared soon after establishing the town. According to village elders, they wore splendid clothes that glowed, but not from torchlight or moonlight or from sunlight, Something else entirely.

And they had not come from outside of the village.

They climbed out of the well.

Timeston, as I have said, is known for its well.


The well itself sat in the centre of the village, surrounded by several stalls that sold jams and juices and scarves and sundries.

And next to the well lay a small orphan.

Nobody knew his name, not even the orphan himself. He had run away from home, been taken in, left again as soon as the food ran out or the beatings started. At twelve years old, he already had the experience of a boy three times his age.

He lay out the tree branch as the cart trundled by. It was dusk, and he knew Stanley’s rounds quite well. The clank of the bottles could be heard as the rickety cart clanked over the cobblestone.

As the cart wheels went over the branch, the entire cart jolted and two bottles fell out of the back of the carriage. Stanley cursed from atop his seat as the horse whinnied.

The bottles came to a rolling stop by the small orphan as Stanley cracked his whip and the horse kept going. The night was going to be cold, frosty, and the bottles of beer provided a certain relief. If only for a little while.

He wrapped his small stubby fingers around the cork and tugged. The cork barely budged. He stood up and began to tug hard, wrapping the beer bottle around his armpit. It still wouldn’t come loose.

“That wasn’t yours.”

The orphan jumped and almost dropped his bottle, catching it with his fingertips at the last second.

He whirled around to find the source only to find that he was alone in the town square. He could hear a whining from the well, the sound of air rushing.

Something was coming up.

The orphan dived away as a gigantic square surged out of the well and landed with a thunderous ‘WHACK!’ next to him. If he hadn’t moved, it would have certainly crushed him.

The orphan stayed still for a moment, waiting for something to burst from the square. But nothing happened.

He got to his feet and shuffled over to the square. It was solid oak wood, carved into intricate roses with thorns that criss-crossed the—

“It’s a painting,” the orphan muttered to himself, amazed. He turned it over with a great deal of effort and stared at the blank and grey glass. The orphan thought it might be a dull or broken mirror before he realised that it was a sheen of dust perhaps an inch thick. He ran his hand across it, brushing off as much of the muck and detritus as he could.

Behind the dust was the picture of an old man smiling back at him. He sat in front of a roaring fire in a large leather chair. Behind him was a bookcase chock full of strange tomes and odd volumes. Across the wall were several paintings of strange and exotic lands and the shelves were full of interesting artefacts and other icons that must have been from hundreds of different cultures and societies. Small skulls, neatly arranged, medals, certificates, taxidermy and other objects that the orphan couldn’t identify.

At the bottom, engraved on a gold plaque was a name.


The orphan didn’t recognise the name, but something about the image made his heart turn. A fraction of an iota of a memory passed through him. The man in the image was important to him. Somehow.

He looked from the painting to the two bottles of beer laying on the cobbles and back at the painting. He picked the bottles up and made his way across Timeston.

It was late night when he found Stanley’s hut, nestled amongst the many brick houses piping out thick black smog. A stray cat was curled up on the front porch and blinked at him with wet yellow eyes as he knocked on the front door.

The orphan heard noise from inside, a scuffling as Stanley came to the door.

As the door opened, the orphan looked in at the warm candlelit rooms. Half-eaten bowls of stew steamed away on the dining table and Stanley still had his spoon in his hand as he answered the door.

The orphan felt his stomach rumble as he held out the beer bottles to the man. His small hands shook and the glass bottles clinked together. It wasn’t unreasonable to consider an incoming punch He’d had many in his short life so far.

Stanley looked down at the orphan, his bedraggled clothes, his dishevelled shoes with dirt-caked pink toes sticking out of them.

“My bottles?”

The orphan opened his mouth to apologise but Stanley interrupted him.

“Oh, thank the Gods that be! My gratitude to you! Come right in; we’re just in the middle of dinner. Would you like some stew?”

The orphan’s stomach growled again.

Three stacked bowls of stew later, the small orphan was still picking at the strings of onions and fragments of shallots at the bottom of the wooden bowl. Stanley’s wife watched in amazement as he demolished each one, as it slowly dawned on her that perhaps it wasn’t her diced spring onion that was the culprit for the orphan’s seemingly endless appetite.

Do you have a name?” Stanley asked him, as the small boy licked the remaining dregs and began to pick out the chopped chives with his fingers.

The orphan chewed thoughtfully and then pointed at a painting he’d dragged in with the beer bottles. He opened his mouth to speak, already having decided on a “name,” when Stanley spoke up.


The orphan nodded.

Stanley looked at him, then back at the painting. There was something…

“So be it. Tell me Titus, do you currently have parents worried about you?”

A head shake.

“A place to live?”

Another head shake.

Stanley looked over at Nora. The two little ‘uns had got bigger, had moved to another village. These were the twilight years they deserved. A crate moved here or there and a fence repainted, but otherwise settling down.

Nora gave him a look. He knew that look. As his wife turned and climbed the rickety stairs of the hut to sort-of a simple hay bed, Stanley already sized up Titus to see if there was anything from the rag basket that might fit.

And after all, it was already dark out.

Titus proved to be good with deliveries, already knowing all of Timeston inside and out. He soon became the go-to courier for not just Stanley’s bottles of beer, but soon became a runner for all sorts of preserves and clothes. Stanley had never been more profitable, even before his retirement.

Titus learned arithmetic, learned how to count the money he was given where he’d previously pocketed it.

Soon, he learned weights, measures, and cost-prices. Before too long, Stanley was more than happy to lend Titus the reigns to his horse and carriage.

Soon, Titus was in charge of most of the process, from the vatting to the transport to the payment.

And soon after that was when Stanley started coughing.

Titus was 30, and he was at his bedside. The dark plague had got to Stanley’s stomach, a plague of which there was no cure. But he was old, very old.

Nora had passed the year before and as Stanley struggled to sit up in bed, sloshing water down his front from a wood cup, he tried to get a better view of a painting of his late wife.

“Had it commissioned when I was your age,” said Stanley. He coughed, a mixture of green sputum, bile, and blood. He sipped at the water gently and managed to hold it down. Titus adjusted his pillow, took his water, placed it to the side.

“Are Greta and Theodore coming?” Stanley asked, his shining eyes looking up at Titus.

“I don’t think so, pops.” Titus said. “I’m sure they tried to make their way here, but the roads haven’t—“

Stanley gave one shaking hand a weak and contemptuous wave.

“If they wanted to be here, they would.”

He coughed again and then cleared his throat, trying to focus.

“Frankly, family is family and all, but some things are more important. If they’re not here—“


‘I’m not negotiating, I’m informing.”

His sick voice grew steely as he gripped the thin bedcovers. Outside, the birds tweeted in the bright green trees and flew in the sunny skies as a 30-year-old leaked noiseless hot tears and insects chirped merrily as an old man was eaten away by himself.

“You may not be my child, but you will always be my son. Your name might not be Titus, but your name will be with mine. With my family, and with my wife. Nobody else can run this the way you can. I pass the legacy on to you.”

He coughed again.

“This gift is a responsibility. You’re going to have to make all the choices from here on out.”

His wrinkled mouth turned up at the corners of his kind mouth.

“No more handholding, kid.” He winced.

“Say, can you freshen up my water?”

“No problem, pops.”

As Titus went outside to get the water, he felt a sinking feeling. Something of dread. He filled the wood cup and then headed back into the hut, wavering outside the bedroom door.

He considered not going in. If he didn’t open the door, then it hadn’t happened.

He pushed.

He dropped the cup and began to cry.

Stanley had gone.

The next 30 years for Titus went smoother than he’d imagined. There was the odd year of crop failure, several innovations that eventually ended up with Titus ditching the horse for two new “automobiles,” and he even picked out two apprentices who helped him during particularly busy periods, mostly months of intense rainfall which always seemed to settle a certain gloom upon the residents who’d up their weekly delivery of seven bottles to fourteen.

The business thrived, as did Titus. He eventually accumulated so much money that he spent his spare days away from business activities to pursue the man in the painting. He wanted to thank him, personally. He even went as far as to travel around, and found the various books and artefacts that he could see in the painting, and even got a small glass loupe and spent some of his downtime poring over it, searching for clues of who the older man called Titus was and how he came to be.

He at least felt he owed him an explanation. How he’d come to inherit a business, built up a distillery and why he’d found himself using his name.

But he never got any closer. The clues and the trails would always run dry, even after he collected everything that man owned and arranged it on a wall of his eventual home he purchased at 45. And then, before he knew it, he had other problems to occupy him. Just three days before his 60th birthday.

“It’s a simple signature,” said Alexander. He pushed a gold-plated pen towards Titus as he sat in his leather high back chair. “Just sign it and I’ll be on my way. If not, then I’m afraid I have two men downstairs who will be more than happy to—“

He stroked his hand across the air, above his almost comically obese frame. The chair itself threatened to break under the strain of holding him.

“Make you more accommodating, shall we say?”

“You’ll beat me up?” replied Titus, gruffly. The face of the orphan was wrinkled and the hair had turned from brownish-grey to a snow white, but the eyes never changed. They were still the eyes of a boy who had once fought a tomcat for a bowl of milk.

“Let’s not get nasty about it,” Alexander replied. He clicked his perfectly-manicured nails together in a way that made Titus nothing but contemptuous of him.

He adjusted the silver-painted hop badge on his buttoned up waistcoat as Titus eyed the pen.

“Did Theodore put you up to this? Is he getting some sort of cut?”

Titus felt his eyes move away from the pen and towards the object next to it, still out from opening the morning post.

Alexander laughed. “Theodore made himself more than comfortable at Greenland Imports. We, as you probably know, have a—“

“I don’t care how much money you fucking make, Alex.”

The well-manicured man sighed.

“Please show some courtesy in business proceedings, sir.”

“Okay. I don’t care how much fucking money you make, sir. It’s not my business to give away.

“Well, you’re correct there. Theo was telling me he’d settle for a two percent cut of the deal. I’d have offered him five percent, but people are so—“

He bit his lip.

“So hesitant to dicker, you know? They don’t like the game and sport of it.”

“I can’t say that I know, Mr. Greenland. I have a business, I provide a service, I have given two men their livelihoods. I don’t think that’s a game.”

“Well, your cut is 20 percent. Or we can go through a very short but swift trial and you’ll find that zero percent is urgh!

The letter opener pressed deep into Alexander’s fat jowls as Titus climbed over the desk, his knees sweeping off papers and toppling an ink pot to the floor. He had manoeuvred over the desk in a fraction of a second with the speed and agility of a man half his age, having spent the past week preparing himself.

Alexander opened his mouth to speak.

“No,” said Titus. “It’s my turn to speak.”

Alexander seemed flummoxed and his mouth opened and closed like a goldfish out of water until, seconds later, he capitulated.

“You’re going to leave my office. You’re going to leave my house. You’re not going to come to Timeston ever again. What you’re going to do, Alexander fucking Greenland, is you’re going to keep making your piss-water out of wheat and bulked with carpenter’s sawdust.”

Alexander’s eyes opened. Titus couldn’t see why; everyone across the provinces knew of Alexander’s bulk purchases of miller’s flour, sawdust, and plant matter left over from harvest.

“You’re going to keep getting fat until your heart gives out and one of your horrid little frog children inherits your business which pays workers in grain alcohol or street walkers rather than coin.”

Alexander looked up at him with frightful eyes.

“The man I took this business from is twice the man you’ll ever be. And not a single gold coin in all of Albion will change that.”

A drop of blood beaded out from the letter opener.

‘Do you understand me?”

He pressed.

“Do you fucking understand me?

Alexander’s neck folds did not allow for nodding, but his fat head bobbled in fear. Titus pulled away the letter opener and sat back down.

He lead the man downstairs and, after he’d talked to his two men who’d noticed the redness around his neck, all three of them left, scowling.

As the door shut, he heard a rattling from the distillery room off to the side. Sidney walked through, crate in hand, walking slowly so as to avoid scratching the wainscoting as he’d used to do before Titus got him clean.

“Who was that?” Sidney asked.

“Nobody,” Titus replied. He suddenly felt very tired. “It was nobody, Sid.”

The carriage outside drew away into the evening as Titus thought of evenings and of employers. Of fairness and of beer. Of people and of lessons.

He turned away from Sidney and returned upstairs. The painting hung on the walls, nailed gently in. Titus ignored the nails and wrenched the whole thing off, his eyes sparkling with tears. Part of him had always known, but tonight somehow solidified it. The guiding hand had been closer than he’d thought the whole time.

He set off into the night, leaving Sidney to deal with the crates, several invoices, and shipment information. He was good with numbers, was Sidney. And when his time came, he’d make a damn fine owner, too.

He didn’t notice Sidney watching him trail off into Timeston with an old painting in his hand, trailing plaster across byroads and small scrubby patches of grass and dirt.

Titus dragged the painting up to the well with his ancient hands and held it up, struggling with the weight of it. He thought of the kid, alone and lost next to the well, two bottles of Timeston beer in his hand. Just two bottles rather than a warm home, people who cared about him and a full and happy life.

And he’d almost only had two beers instead.

He leaned over the well and shouted down as loud as he could.


The scream left him like a jet engine, but the well swallowed the sound. The night was quiet and soft.

He dropped the painting, watching as it fell down into the blackness.

It never made a noise. Not on the sides, not on the bottom. Titus held in his mind that young boy. Eyes clenched shut, tears still running.

He wished he had talked back, said something across all that time. But that wasn’t how it worked.

As he walked away from the well, he thought of that lonely orphan.

The future speaks to us.

The past never makes a sound.