This story copyright 2002 by Julie Bihn. Please do not modify or distribute without permission.
Silas actually went inside and made excuses for Andrew's absence. Mom and Dad didn't seem amused or convinced in the least, but they had to behave in front of Silas. For his part, Silas tried to stay as long as he could, asking how everyone was doing, repeating several times that he and Andrew had gone off to bring back his expensive tennis shoes, and occasionally mentioning that if it weren't for his suggestion, they never would have found Andrew when he went missing a few days before. It was a half hour later before Andrew finally got up the courage to take Silas aside.
"Just go home. You can't keep them off my back forever."
Silas gave Andrew a comradely smile. "Call me as soon as you're free again," he said. "Good luck," he added. He turned to Andrew's parents. "Please don't go so hard on him. Most of it was really my fault."
Once Silas was gone, Mom and Dad lectured Andrew, laying a guilt trip on him, as well as yelling at him. Andrew felt a little bad. What right did he have to leave his parents to worry about him, when Silas would probably kill to have a parent who might feel a little concerned when he stayed out late or got in a fight.
(11/18/02) (1692 words) (cosmetic revisions 11/19/02)
And then Mom started crying, and Dad looked like he was about
"I'm sorry," Andrew said quietly. "I can't tell you how important it all was--how much I need to go back."
Mom's anger showed through her tears, though Dad almost seemed to understand. Regardless of Andrew's pleas, though, he was still grounded for another month, and Dad threatened to buy a deadbolt for the front door, without giving his son a key. In the end, Mom and Dad just agreed to keep a close watch on him, and to admonish Mary to do the same. Andrew and his parents all knew Mary would tell on Andrew if he did anything wrong.
Mom and Dad fed Andrew a cold dinner, then sent him to bed. Andrew laid down dejectedly. He might get out of the house once or twice, but then, he might not. And he certainly wouldn't see Ruth every day, probably not every week. He took out the drawing of Ruth, careful not to smudge the graphite.
And Ruth didn't even have that much to remember him by.
Andrew closed his eyes, sighing. He heard a gentle knock on his door. He didn't answer, but Mary came in.
"Leave me alone," Andrew said, turning away.
"I did some research," Mary said, sitting on Andrew's bed. "Don't you want to hear about it?" She sobered. "Maybe you don't."
"Is it bad?"
"What were you planning to do for Ruth?" Mary asked. "How were you going to help her through the Depression?"
That thought hadn't crossed Andrew's mind. "How could I?"
"You didn't imagine getting a job and bringing money to her? Or at least going back to give her food once in a while?"
Andrew curled up on top of the covers. "She--she didn't go hungry, did she?"
Mary shrugged. "I'll know more when I go to the library tomorrow."
Andrew shuddered. "They were worse off than Silas, weren't they? Once the market crashed?"
"If you see them again, just tell them to get their money out of the banks and the stock market and try to get their gold certificates cashed in. But tell them to be quiet about it. If they cause a panic..."
"They'd change history?"
"I don't know," Mary said. "I don't know if it works that way." She took a deep breath. "I don't know."
Andrew had a vague idea that something was wrong, but he really wasn't in the mood to hear about it. "Can we talk tomorrow? Or maybe next week? I've got nothing but time for the next two months."
"Only one day passes there when a day goes by here, right?"
"When you went back to see Ruth today--"
"I didn't tell you I did that!"
Mary rolled her eyes. "Where else would you have gone? Ruth just thought you were gone for a day when you came back here, right? Not a month, or a year?"
"Yeah. Mr. Alcott said everything was parallel--does that mean anything to you?"
Mary bit her lip. "Well, if you think of their time and ours like train tracks--Ruth's on the left rail, you're on the right, and each time she goes over a trestle or a bridge, and every time she gets a year older, so do you. But parallel lines never meet, and you're skipping from rail to rail like it's nothing. And besides, it's more like a loop, because Ruth's time will eventually roll over onto ours. Won't it?"
Andrew didn't look up.
"Don't you get it? If Ruth was married with kids in the 1950s, she might have met one of our parents. Her timeline isn't isolated from ours. If she lived long enough, you could go to a retirement home and talk to her. And she'd remember that when she was young, she met someone just like you."
Andrew started to get it. "You think she's in a retirement home now?"
"She'd be 86 today," Mary said.
"You counted?" He imagined Ruth as an old, old lady, with wrinkled skin and dull eyes. He shuddered, not really thinking about the alternative to growing old.
"I'm just saying, she might not be alive in our time. But I guess she could've been when you were born. We're in a loop, all right? I'll think about it more and try to explain better tomorrow."
"Thanks," Andrew said quietly. It was kind of weird to have Mary helping him instead of trying to make him miserable, or competing with him. In the back of his mind, Andrew wondered what she wanted from him.
Mary smiled. "You still look awful, you know."
"Don't remind me." Andrew didn't really care how he looked, but he was still in a fair amount of pain, which increased when he thought about his stitches.
"Good night, Andrew," Mary said, smirking.
"Hey--do you have any history books or anything I could borrow? You know, something you checked out of the library?"
Mary laughed. "You've confirmed it--this whole rift in the space-time continuum is a miracle! Anything that'd get you to study must be straight from the heavens."
Rift. Andrew didn't like the sound of that. But his expression probably showed Mary that he didn't know what that word meant, anyway, because one of the books she brought back for him to read was a dictionary.
A rift was a split or a break. But Andrew didn't think Mary knew what she was talking about anyway.
He learned a lot that night, though not much of it would help Ruth's family, and none of it would help him on his tests next semester. Between reading three whole chapters of The History of the Modern World - 1900-1950, coupled with having spent time with Ruth previously in her house and her world, he thought himself quite an expert on the 1920s by the time he went to sleep.
Since he was up late reading, he didn't get up until past noon the next morning. Mary was already gone, so Andrew snuck into her room, looking for something else to read.
Mary's room was unusually clean. There wasn't a single spare paper on any of the room's many flat surfaces. In fact, there were only two book son the bed, set there as if Mary meant for them to be discovered. One was an old-looking children's book, and the other, a pictorial history of the United States before World War II. Though Andrew looked forward to thumbing through all the photographs, he couldn't help but feel a little insulted that she hadn't left any books with words. He searched the room for the other books, and finally found nearly a dozen tucked under the bed. Most of them had folded pieces of paper or Post-It notes marking different sections, and most of the books looked extremely dense and dull. Andrew separated them, one by one.
In-between two of the books was a single sheet of paper, folded into quarters, as though it was hidden there.
It was a copy of a newspaper article, and began with the words, "Three Presumed Lost in Fire."
Andrew felt faint, and rested his head on Mary's bed, dreading to look past the headline. It took him about five minutes to gather the courage to keep going. He couldn't bear to read the details, but in ten seconds of scanning, he saw the name "Alcott," and the number 17. He folded the paper back into quarters, then into eights, and put it back where he had found it, shoving all the books back under the bed. He sat with his arms on his knees for a few minutes, trying not to think, until it struck him how important it was to know the date this had happened. So he pulled the books out again and unfolded the paper. he had to search to find the date, and couldn't help but read the phrase, "burned alive." But he finally caught the date of August 29th.
What if Ruth just skipped forward three months, while he stayed stuck in June? She could already be dead.
Well, she was already dead; she'd died before September 1929. Burned to death.
He couldn't help it. He had to shed some tears onto Mary's fuzzy bedspread, tears of fear as much as sadness. He'd been worrying about the Alcotts being poor, about them maybe having to live in a horrible place like Silas's--not about--
Mary might come home, if she had found whatever she was looking for at the library. He managed to put everything back the way it had been (even though he had trouble controlling his hands). He grabbed the books that Mary had left for him, and got out of the room.
"About time you got up," Mom said, smiling at Andrew. She apparently didn't notice his pink eyes, running nose, or haunted expression. But Andrew was rather glad of that. "I did your clothes. They're downstairs. Go fold them."
Andrew grimaced, and headed downstairs, with no intention of folding anything. The clothes were in a huge pile on the couch, but Andrew just shoved them over to one side and sat down, using a pile of underwear, socks and T-shirts as a pillow. It would be at least ten minutes before Mom came down and yelled at him, so he turned the TV on to the Preview Channel and thumbed through the pictorial history book. There wasn't really anything interesting there, although a picture of a happy couple driving in an old car (not a model-T) caught his attention for a while. The book might have been more interesting if Andrew didn't have a blank and empty feeling in his stomach and chest. But every time he saw a girl with short hair, or in an ugly hat, or even smiling, he just got a horrible image of Ruth in his mind, Ruth suffering, screaming, trying to get out of the house through a locked door, being consumed by the flames.
He buried his face in his clean socks and breathed in the stifling smell of detergent through the clothes, trying hard not to think. It didn't work.
(11/19/02) (1708 words) (cosmetic revisions 11/20/02)
It didn't work.
A hand fell on Andrew's shoulder. "Honey, it's all right."
Andrew didn't move. His mother wasn't making him feel better.
"Don't cry. It won't be so bad. Tell you what. I'll take you to the mall tomorrow. Maybe you'll see one of your friends there."
"I don't want to go to the mall!" Andrew yelled into the socks.
Mom's hand left Andrew's shoulder. "Get up and fold your clothes."
"I will!" Andrew yelled back.
Mom switched off the TV, and didn't say anything for a while. Andrew finally looked up with dry eyes, but Mom had left. He was alone again.
After a couple minutes, he picked up the pictorial history. There was a photograph of dozens of hungry people, in ragged and patched clothes, waiting in line for soup. He closed the book.
The children's book looked interesting enough, but there was a date of 1937 on it--eight years too old. So Andrew set it down too. Since there was nothing better to do, and so he could show Mom he would do his work without being nagged, Andrew picked up his clothes and lugged them upstairs, cramming them into his top two drawers. But he quietly slipped back downstairs. If Ruth somehow got to his house, she might not even see him unless he was on the ground floor. So he watched TV for a couple hours, not really paying any attention to what was on.
Mary walked in on him as an infomercial for a never-dulling knife came on. She sat down on the end of the couch, avoiding Andrew's legs. She leaned forward and watched the TV. "Can I change it?"
Andrew handed her the remote, still looking straight forward.
"Reading about the horrors of the Great Depression really sobered you up, huh?" Mary asked.
"Why didn't you tell me?" Andrew asked softly.
"About the Great Depression? I thought you could read about it yourself. Besides, I'm not an expert on it myself."
"No! About Ruth!"
"What about her?"
Mary muted the TV, looking at the carpet. "I just wanted to get everything figured out first."
"It's only two months away and she'll be dead! I can't go back to an earlier time than hers, can I? I mean--she's living her own life, and it's continuing on in its own way. Once it's September here, it'll be September there, right? And she'll be dead forever? If I don't fix it by then...how long were you going to wait?"
"What did you see?" Mary asked. "Did you have a bad dream?"
"No! That stupid newspaper article! And you didn't even warn me!"
"Look, calm down," Mary said, scowling. "I shouldn't've expected you to read a full story anyway. I guess that was my fault. Ruth didn't die in the fire."
Andrew grabbed the arm of the couch with both hands, but leaned towards Mary. "What?"
"She didn't die. The article says she somehow escaped, but was completely hysterical. All they got was that three people were inside--they weren't even sure about that--and that two of them were her parents. I wanted to find out who else it was before I told you, and I was gonna say it more gently. So it's your own fault you got so worked up."
"How are we going to stop it?" Andrew asked quickly.
"I don't know that we can," Mary said slowly. "For us, it's history. If we had changed it, it would already be changed by now. And if we somehow could change things, it might completely change the future--our present. You know, keep us from being born and everything. Or maybe create a paradox and destroy the whole universe."
"Who cares? What would Ruth do without her parents?"
"She'd live," Mary said coldly. "Hundreds of kids lose their parents every day, most of them younger than Ruth. She's your age, isn't she?"
"So it's worth messing with space and time to save the lives of two old people and a stranger?"
Silas managed without parents, but he'd never loved them in the first place. Andrew had a hard time picturing life with Mom and Dad dead, and if that happened, Mary would be his legal guardian. Ruth wouldn't have that much.
"What happened to Ruth, then?" Andrew asked weakly.
"I couldn't find any records at all. I'm still looking."
"Well, stop it! Just give me a ride to Ruth's house! I have to tell them everything!"
"Oh, no," Mary said. "I don't need Mom and Dad to ground me too. Think of how much worse it'd be if we were both trapped at home!"
"Yeah--then I'd have to put up with you all day."
Mary thwacked Andrew. "We've got plenty of time. If you behave, Mom and Dad'll probably let you go out in a couple weeks."
That might be true, but Andrew felt he'd go crazy if he had to wait that long. He tried to get up, but Mary hit him again.
"We've still got two months! If you go tell them now, they might forget by August! If some stranger told you your house was going to burn to the ground two months from now, would you listen?"
"I'm not a stranger. They'll trust me!"
Mary got up. "I've got some more research to do. I just stopped by to check up on you." She shrugged. "Since you saw that article I was hiding from you, you might as well go up and finish it."
"Can't you just tell me what it said?"
"Lazy," Mary said, smirking.
"I am not! Do you think you'd be able to just read a newspaper story about your friends' deaths? I'll bet you couldn't stand to look at the words."
Mary sat back down, resting her hands between her knees. "It was about nine at night, and the house caught fire. No one knew why. The whole house was wooden, so it burnt in no time at all. The flames blistered the paint on the neighbors' houses. Ruth escaped, covered in soot and coughing, and the house practically fell down after her. Someone called the fire department, and they saved the rest of the neighborhood, but Ruth's house was a total loss. Not a thing was left. Her parents were inside, and from Ruth's words, the authorities guessed there was someone else as well, but they couldn't understand any more than that. Ruth had to be put in the hospital. It sounded like she had a mental breakdown, and she might have been institutionalized. I'm trying to find records of what happened to her after the fire. But there's no other newspaper articles about it, except for the Alcotts' obituaries, and that just says they were survived by their daughter Ruth."
Andrew was numb.
"You okay?" Mary asked.
Andrew's eyes and head burned. "Would you be? If you just heard about two people you cared about dying? Of your friend's parents being burned to death?"
Mary yawned (though she didn't look bored, exactly). "People don't usually burn to death. They die of smoke inhalation and then their bodies get burned. But it doesn't hurt so much."
Andrew shuddered. "Where were Mr. and Mrs. Alcott buried?"
"The obituary didn't say. I couldn't find anything at all about Ruth, not in the local papers. I'll look for her obituary too, if you let me go out."
"Yeah," Andrew said softly. Mary left, and Andrew sat in front of the television all day, not paying attention, or even bothering to un-mute it. He just hoped that somehow, Ruth might come to him.
"I asked you not to tell me the future!" Mr. Alcott said, his face pale.
Ruth was crying in her mother's arms. Mrs. Alcott's lips were drawn into a line, despite her best efforts to smile.
"Do you think we can change the future?" Mr. Alcott asked. "That you can change the past? What's past, is passed. Don't believe me? Try to change something small."
"You can figure that out yourself," Mr. Alcott said, his eyes downcast, but wide with terror. "You have plenty of time to think."
"As do the rest of us," Mrs. Alcott said softly, rubbing Ruth's back.
"We'll try to keep out of harm's way," Mr. Alcott said. "But I don't think it will work."
Ruth looked up with bright red, fearful, betrayed eyes. "It's a lie. And it's not funny." She snatched the newspaper article from Andrew's hand, looked at it for a moment, and then ripped it in two. "You have a printing press at home."
"He was just trying to help," Mrs. Alcott said softly, putting her hands on her daughter's shoulders. "Even though we asked him not to."
"I wish he hadn't done it!"
"This way, we can say goodbye," Mrs. Alcott said softly. "And maybe he's mistaken, or maybe we can make changes. Or maybe if we petition God enough, He'll protect us."
"But we weren't meant to know," Mr. Alcott said quietly.
"We're all slated to die," Mrs. Alcott said, her face a much lighter brown than it was naturally. "With all our modern medicines and toys, we've managed to avoid that thought most of the time. But we're only on this earth for a short time."
"Don't scare Ruth," Mr. Alcott said firmly. "Andrew. Go back and try to find a way to help us."
"I thought you said we couldn't change the past," Andrew said softly. "But maybe you can change the future."
"Maybe," Mr. Alcott said. "But you'll not be happy ever again, if you don't think you tried everything you could. So go. Try."
And then Andrew found himself staring at the television. He hadn't been sleeping, but he hadn't exactly been awake, either. At any rate, what he'd seen wasn't real at all, nothing at all like seeing Ruth in person, and yet not like a dream.
But he knew Ruth and her family would be disturbed by the news, and there might not be any point in worrying them before he could offer them any help. Not that it mattered; he wouldn't be seeing Ruth again for a long time.
It was dark out. Andrew had been lost to the world for at least a couple hours.
(11/20/02) (1760 words)
Mary wasn't home yet. Andrew went out the front door, looking
as hard as he could for Ruth, for some ghost, for any sign of
another, more beautiful world. The fact that Ruth's world was
fraught with impending danger and annihilation just made him more
desperate to get there, before it all vanished.
Andrew looked and looked, until his eyes grew tired. As they unfocused, he suddenly saw trees and grasslands, just faintly, and smelled pollen. He looked around anxiously, figuring Ruth must be near, but she wasn't. No one, from the present or the past, was within sight, not even a cat.
When Andrew understood what the world was trying to tell him, his heart sank. His neighborhood hadn't been built in Ruth's time, not even the road in front of his house. She'd never find him here, unless she was out in the wilderness, exploring, probably lost.
"What kind of flowers are those?" Mom asked suddenly. She was standing in the doorway, looking out at Andrew.
"I don't know," Andrew said, puzzled.
Mom shook her head quickly. "Never mind. Get back inside. You're grounded, remember?"
The trees and grass and flowers disappeared. Andrew looked carefully at Mom, but her face wore no expression, not confusion or surprise or even concern. She didn't seem to be hiding anything.
"What flowers?" Andrew asked as he came inside.
"I just thought I smelled something," Mom said. "Must have been Mary's perfume." She sounded convinced, even if Mary only rarely wore any.
"When's she getting home?" Andrew asked.
"I don't know. Probably pretty soon."
"Is dinner ready yet?"
"Dad's bringing it home."
Andrew went back inside.
"If you ever want to talk, Andrew, I'm here."
"You wouldn't understand," Andrew said without thinking.
"Try me." Mom smirked, determined.
"No," Andrew said. More hesitantly, he added, "Not now, anyway."
Mom saw how upset Andrew looked. "If you want to call your girlfriend, she can come over for dinner."
"No. She doesn't exactly have a phone."
Mom's eyes opened wider. Andrew could see the red rim of her eyelids, around her eyes. "Don't lie to me. She took you to Knott's, and now you're telling me she's too poor to have a phone line?"
"I never said she took me to Knott's! I said--"
"Mary told us the whole story. About how you fell out of a roller coaster car, and this girlfriend of yours was afraid to take you to the hospital so she took you to a clinic to get stitched up and then brought you right home."
They hadn't even tried to listen to his falling-out-of-the-car story. Andrew wasn't sure why he was surprised; Mom and Dad always paid better attention to Mary anyway. "If she couldn't take me to the hospital, she must be poor, right?"
"Still! Everyone has a phone."
"I don't have her number, though," Andrew muttered.
Mom didn't even seem to believe him, but Andrew was saved from further questioning by his father driving into the garage. He'd brought hamburgers for everyone. Mom and Andrew set four places at the table, in case Mary came back.
"Don't the libraries close early on Saturdays?" Dad asked.
Mom laughed. "Don't ask Andrew--you've seen his grades."
Andrew didn't care what they said. Dad had forgotten to order Andrew's hamburger without mustard, and most of it had already soaked into the soggy bun. The hamburger was terrible, but Andrew wasn't in the mood to really notice what he was eating. If they'd set a wooden block in front of him, he probably would have gnawed at it like a rabbit.
Mary came home in the middle of dinner, but her return was a disappointment. She led Andrew up to her bedroom, but she didn't have any exciting news. She hadn't found a single thing. She hoped to go see their Aunt Glen tomorrow, and maybe their cousin Craig--keepers of the genealogies of Dad and Mom's sides of the family, respectively. But she only held a faint hope that these records might explain why Andrew served as the bridge between Ruth's time and their own. Mary had given up researching the past, or Ruth. There was no death certificate, no record of her marriage, and no information of her trip to the asylum (if she'd had one).
Before Andrew could even start to hope, Mary noted, "It's as if she just vanished, like when you mess with the past too much and make yourself disappear."
That wasn't what Andrew wanted to hear.
"I went to that vacant lot I found you in," Mary said quietly.
"Was Ruth there?" Andrew asked quickly.
"No one was there. Nothing was there. Nothing," Mary repeated firmly.
"What did you see?"
"If it was nothing, you wouldn't've brought it up!" Andrew said, just as firmly.
Mary shuddered. "It looked a little like a house, all right? Now go to bed."
"What did the house look like?"
"Leave me alone. Maybe everything will be better in the morning."
"Maybe the Alcotts will be dead in the morning," Andrew said.
"If I thought that would happen, do you really think I'd be sitting in my bedroom? Or that I'd have gone to the library this afternoon? You don't think I would've snuck out with you and gone to save them?"
"I thought you said we couldn't change things for them," Andrew said.
"Maybe not, but don't you think I'd try, the same as you?"
Mary sounded convincing, but there was a bright, eager look in her eyes.
"What are you up to?" Andrew asked.
"Go to bed, all right? Leave me alone. I've got a lot of thinking to do, and I've still got some reading. Go!"
Andrew finally left. He went back downstairs. Mom and Dad were watching TV, so he snuck to the front door. It was locked, but he carefully turned the lock, keeping it from so much as making a click. He slowly turned the knob and pushed the door outward. It was windy outside, and the wind pulled the door right out of Andrew's hand. It hit the side of the house with a crack. Andrew tried to run outside, but Dad saw him from the doorway, and called his name.
"You can't run far!" he added. "Come back or I'll get in the car and come after you! You want to be grounded for an extra month?"
Andrew stopped and inhaled. Unless he was going to leave his family forever (an option that was looking more and more pleasant), he'd have to come home someday. And Dad really could track him down if he tried to get away without help. So Andrew came back.
"Why do you want to get away from us, son?" Dad asked softly.
"It's about a girl, isn't it?"
"That girl who got you hurt?"
"She helped me out. She took me home when I got hurt."
"If you hadn't met her, you wouldn't have stitches. Right?"
"Leave me alone," Andrew said, walking back towards the stairs.
"It was the girl we met in the hotel, right?"
"Who cares who it was?" Andrew asked.
"Where does she live?"
"Near Channel Beach. Not too far from Silas."
"That's a bad neighborhood. Your mother and I don't want you to be drawn into the wrong crowd."
"It didn't used to be. Back a long time ago, it was a pretty place, and only rich people lived there."
Dad blinked. "Are you feeling all right? You don't look well. Maybe you should go to bed."
Andrew couldn't go out while his father was eying the front door. So he went back up to his room. He didn't have the heart to read anything, and a horrible fear persisted in his chest and his mind, so it took several hours before he got to sleep.
Andrew woke up when something small and hard hit him in the lip. he sat up and looked at the floor. When he sat up, a pebble fell off the covers and onto the ground. Or at least, it should have hit the ground, but it disappeared as soon as it hit the floor. Andrew heard a faint voice shouting his name. He ran to the window. Ruth was downstairs, throwing rocks at him. He feared the window would break, but one of the pebbles went through it, and headed downwards, through Andrew's dresser, and right through the floor itself.
Andrew hadn't bothered to undress the night before, so he just headed downstairs the way he was, still limping on his cut foot. He noisily opened the front door and ran out. He caught Ruth up in his arms and kissed her.
"Why didn't you come yesterday?" Ruth asked, rubbing Andrew's arms.
"I'm grounded. Mom and Dad wouldn't let me out of the house."
"Then why are you sleeping in the garden?" Ruth asked quietly.
Andrew let go of Ruth, and she took his hand. Andrew saw the same trees and grass he'd seen the afternoon before. There was a tree right where his bedroom had been.
"You thought I was sleeping in a tree?"
"Yeah," Ruth said doubtfully.
"And you still threw rocks at me to wake me up? What if I'd fallen out?"
"Oh, you're too graceful to do that," Ruth said, laughing nervously.
"How'd you find me, then? I gave you my address..."
"...but it doesn't exist in my time. We figured that out. So Father just drove me around. And I had a feeling about right here. Where's your house?"
Andrew pulled Ruth's hand off of his own, and then took it. "See?"
Ruth squeezed Andrew's hand. "The garden?"
"All gone. But see all the people who can live here now?"
Ruth nodded. "People like you. So I'm glad. But it's a bit strange."
"How do you think it felt for me to see my house turned into a couple trees?"
"Right," Ruth said quietly.
"Now that you know where I live, you'll come visit, right? I can't come see you..." Andrew squeezed Ruth's hand, hard. "Ruth! August! Something horrible's going to happen in August. Your house--"
He remembered the dream he had earlier, how telling them might not help at all, and how it wasn't fair to give them bad news without offering any solutions.
"What's the matter, Andrew? You look--well, like you've seen a ghost." Ruth laughed lightly.
Andrew struggled to calm down. "You'll come visit me, right? Often? This month, and next? Promise me, okay?"
"Yeah, of course," Ruth said. "Now go get dressed."
(11/23/02) (2890 words)
It's Sunday, isn't it?"
Ruth was in a dark, long-sleeved dress, longer than her other skirts. She had a string of beads around her neck, and a dark hat. To match her, Andrew would have to wear a suit. Even so, and even though he hated church, Andrew wanted to go with her.
"But I'm grounded," Andrew said. "My parents'll wake up, and when they find out I'm gone, they'll send me to military school, and I'll never see you again."
Ruth smiled. "That won't happen."
"No, but they might get worried and send me to my grandpa's for the rest of the summer. He lives in Wisconsin."
"Oh," Ruth said. "But your parents won't keep you from going to church, right? They're not heathens, are they?"
"We don't go to church," Andrew said. This was the first time he'd felt at all ashamed of the fact.
"But they don't forbid you from going, do they?"
"I don't know. I'm grounded."
"Go ask them! Put your clothes on and ask!"
Andrew knew he had to try, though he might fail. He grabbed Ruth and kissed her again. "Promise you'll be careful in August."
Ruth was completely baffled. "What kind of horrible thing is going to happen to me?"
"You'll be fine," Andrew said.
"Then what's going to happen to the world? It must not be too bad; the future still exists. Not like mankind itself was destroyed."
"No, nothing so bad as that," Andrew mumbled.
"I liked it better before you found an interest in history. You'll have to talk to Mother and Father after church. But no sense in worrying now," she added, though she still looked haunted. "Go get dressed!"
Someone made the sound of a whip cracking. Andrew looked all around, but couldn't see who it was. Ruth pointed up towards the house, though Andrew had no idea what she saw it as. But when Ruth asked, "Who's the ape in that tree?" he knew who she saw.
"That's my sister," Andrew said.
"Oh, my apologies," Ruth said, laughing and curtsying. "Nice to meet you!" she yelled up. "I'm Ruth."
"How long has she been there?" Andrew asked.
"A few minutes, at least."
Mary had woke when Andrew slammed the front door. She had wondered who he was talking to, and had been quite shocked to see that it was really Ruth, looking nothing at all like a ghost. She'd believed Andrew's story had an element of reality, but never expected to see it. But she regained her wits in time to hint to Andrew that he was whipped.
"Come to church with us!" Ruth shouted, waving up at Mary.
"Ssh!" Mary hissed. "You trying to wake the whole neighborhood?" Mary suddenly turned back from the window (or, from Ruth's point of view, hopped behind a mass of leaves). It was just a minute later when Dad came downstairs, wearing his bathrobe. "Andrew! Get back in the house!"
"I'm not afraid to embarrass you in front of your girlfriend," Dad continued, proving he at least saw her.
"I'm sorry, sir," Ruth said, curtsying again. "I just thought we might go to church together. Surely you won't prevent him from that?"
Dad looked at Andrew carefully, then half-nodded. "Not if you don't mind his mother and me coming along, too."
"What?" The last time Mom had set foot in a church was at Dad's brother's funeral, and the rest of the family only went on Easter and Christmas.
"Mary can come too, if she wants."
"I'd love for all of you to come, but do you think you can be ready in time? The service starts in 45 minutes, and it's well over a half-hour drive."
"What church?" Dad asked.
"The Church of Hope. It's new, and very big. About five miles east of here, on Porter Street."
"We'll be there," Dad said.
Mary was downstairs by now. She shook her head a bit, but
Andrew was too happy to notice. "I"ll run up and get dressed and be down in two minutes, Ruth! You guys can meet us there," he added, motioning to Mary and Dad.
"Andrew? If we don't make it there, I want a bulletin. And I hope you can tell me what the sermon was about."
"Yeah!" Andrew yelled back, already halfway up the stairs.
Mary followed him, but Andrew was safely behind his locked bedroom door before she could catch him. She rapped the door. "Andrew! You dope! How are Mom and Dad gonna get to Ruth's church?"
"They have a car," Andrew said absently. He was too busy pulling on his pants to pay much attention to her words.
"A car that'll drive them to 1929. All right."
Andrew still wasn't listening. He put on his suit jacket and ran downstairs, still messing with his tie.
Ruth laughed when Andrew came out, and brushed her hand through his hair. "You clean up so well!" She did Andrew's tie. "Come on. We'll be late." She took Andrew's hand and trotted through a small path in the grasses and trees. The area wasn't quite wild--it wasn't really a garden, but clearly wasn't vacant land, either. They were going too fast to appreciate it, at any rate. Andre didn't know how Ruth managed to get through the soft dirt in her heeled shoes, but she walked more confidently than Andrew, probably because this was her world, the place she belonged.
Mrs. Alcott was waiting in their car, while Mr. Alcott looked around for his daughter.
"Dad!" Ruth cried, waving to him. "I found him!"
Mr. Alcott's face lit up. "How'd you do it? Never mind that; get in the car."
"Don't let go," Andrew whispered, "unless you want me to get half-killed again."
"How many times do I have to apologize for that?" Ruth slipped into the back seat, squeezing Andrew's hand.
"How will we buckle our seatbelts?" Andrew asked.
Ruth just looked at him blankly. Andrew felt the seat with his free hand, but he couldn't find any straps. By then, Mrs. Alcott had started the car. In just a couple minutes they were on the road. But the car didn't go any faster than Silas usually drove in parking lots.
Mrs. Alcott glanced back at Ruth and Andrew. "It is Sunday, you know. Show a little respect."
"If I let go of him he'll go right back to his own world," Ruth said.
Though the surroundings were mostly unfamiliar, Andrew recognized a few buildings. Porter Street was four lanes in his time, and even on a Sunday morning, if he appeared in the street, he'd probably be run over, if falling out of the car didn't kill him first.
The car was too loud for Andrew and Ruth to talk quietly, but neither of them had much to say anyway. Ruth rubbed Andrew's hand, both enjoying the feel of the other's skin. Mr. and Mrs. Alcott didn't notice.
"Look out the window," Mr. Alcott yelled back. "There's things here that probably haven't been seen for fifty years in your world."
"Clarence!" Mrs. Alcott yelled. She was sweating, either from her long, hot dress, or just the strain of driving.
Andrew still looked. It was a beautiful neighborhood. The five-story building that Andrew knew as a men's shelter had once been a huge department store, and a dozen other buildings bordered and complimented it. There was an open-air cafe on the corner that Andrew remembered as the one with that convenience store that got held up last year. There were twenty people, mostly in beautiful clothes and even jewelry, eating at the cafe now.
Mr. Alcott looked out at the cafe-goers. "On a Sunday, too."
"It's not so bad," Ruth said. "A shame the waiters have to work on the day of rest--but perhaps they're Jewish."
Mrs. Alcott smiled.
"Perhaps," Mr. Alcott grumbled. "Or maybe they don't believe in God at all."
"Careful," Ruth said. "We have a heathen in the car right now."
"I believe in God!" Andrew shouted.
"So do the demons," Mr. Alcott said, though Andrew could hardly hear his low voice through the noise of the car.
"Father, please. He's coming with us now. Isn't that enough?"
"It's a start," Mrs. Alcott said primly.
By now they were in a huge parking lot, all dirt, but as large as a grocery store's. Mrs. Alcott pulled in and shut the car off.
Mr. Alcott got out, looking soberly at Andrew. "I like you, son, you know that, right? No matter what you believe, and whether you're going to heaven or not. But, God willing, I'd like to see you there someday."
Andrew let go of Ruth's hand to get out of the car, and almost fell through the seat. He found himself in a modern, paved parking lot, still filled with cars.
But even in the present day, there were dozens of people walking towards the church.
It was a striking building, sort of ugly, and a bit like a drum in appearance, with a roof like a shallow funnel, and pointed spires sticking out at random intervals. There was a huge cross right on top of the conical roof, and an even bigger one, probably 20 feet high, above the door. The building was white, with blue accents (though they turned green when Ruth took Andrew's hand again). The building was ribbed like an umbrella, with columns every thirty feet or so, which seemed to contain long, tall windows.
They all looked around outside, but couldn't find Andrew's parents. There were a dozen greeters in front, all smiling, all shaking hands, and--most importantly--handing out bulletins.
"Now we can sneak off and go have some fun," Andrew suggested, folding the bulletin.
Ruth's cold look told him that wasn't going to happen.
They stepped through the fifteen-foot-tall double doors, into a huge lobby with throngs of people walking through, all headed through more doors or up gigantic stairways.
"We'll be up in the second balcony," Ruth said, dragging Andrew off. Mr. and Mrs. Alcott didn't have time to object.
They pushed their way through a long, curving flight of stairs. They got separated near the top. Andrew half-expected to plummet thirty feet and wind up with two broken legs, but he was still on the staircase, still in a crowd of youngish people. But they were now dressed casually, nearly half in T-shirts and shorts.
Andrew worked his way through the crowd and spotted Ruth. The crowd parted for him, too. Andrew thought they were making way because he had a suit on and must be important, but most of them were just frightened of Andrew's scarred face. Andrew held his hand out to Ruth, and the faces around him changed. Andrew wasn't dressed strangely anymore.
"Hey," Andrew said softly. "This church is still around in my time."
"Good!" Ruth said. "If I can't come for you next Sunday, you can go with your family. And it will be almost as if we're together."
"Yeah," Andrew said, with no intention of ever coming back without Ruth beside him.
There were dozens of pews arranged in the balcony. They were padded with velvety cushions in a deep green color. Each pew had a rack in its back to store hymnals. Ruth picked one up for the both of them and found the first song (which was listed, with a number, in the bulletin).
The last thing Andrew had expected to hear was a trumpet blast. For a moment he thought it was an alarm, that a fire had broke out in the church. He nearly dropped Ruth's hand, hoping to grab it again and pull her into his world (where the church was, presumably, not ablaze). But just in time, he heard a drum, and, very faintly, a stand-up bass. There was a band down in front, playing, of all things, a jazz version of a song Andrew just vaguely remembered, "The Old Rugged Cross." It sounded like something from New Orleans. Ruth grinned at Andrew.
"Do you like it?" she mouthed.
Andrew was still too stunned to respond in any meaningful way. All the churches he had ever been to had piano and organ music, maybe a choir. Not jazz. Though there were a lot of black singers, it wasn't even really what he'd call gospel music.
The whole congregation stood up, and Ruth sang. Andrew couldn't follow a tune, so he didn't try. But he loved to hear Ruth's voice, even if she wasn't much better at singing than he was.
"How do you like it?" Ruth asked, laughing, at the end of the hymn. When she saw Andrew's confused expression, she sobered. "You don't think it's decent, do you? But even Mother and Father tap their feet to the music, and Pastor David is brilliant! He's just filled with the Holy Spirit. We've had over a hundred saved this year."
Andrew was puzzled at Ruth's apparent excitement. Ruth saw his less-than-enthusiastic expression, and dropped Andrew's hand in a fury.
The pews were still wooden and cushioned in Andrew's world, though they were older, and without the velvet. There were a couple hymnals left, but there was also a giant screen in front of the stage, with the song's words projected in three-foot-tall letters. There was a keyboard, but no organ, and the loudest instruments were a pair of electric guitars. It was a pretty song, almost good enough to be on the radio. It was too loud, though, after the music in Ruth's church, where there were no microphones or speakers.
Andrew looked at Ruth hopefully, but she refused to touch him. It took him a few minutes to understand. He was in a modern church, with music meant to appeal to the average person, not just someone used to going every Sunday. The Church of Hope must have been doing that--reaching out to everyone--since Ruth's time.
When Ruth stopped singing--somehow, her voice seemed to blend with the modern song--Andrew grabbed her hand. She looked around in awe, watching a woman perform an electric guitar solo. "What strange music," she said, snuggling closer to Andrew, as though it was a frightening experience.
"Do you like it?" Andrew asked in a low voice.
"As much as you like my church," Ruth said with a little smile. She pulled free of Andrew, and took him back into her world.
Pastor David talked for a long, long time. He was a big man with a loud voice, assisted by the building's acoustics. The man carried himself like an actor, pacing the stage, ignoring the podium, and putting on such huge expressions, Ruth and Andrew had no problem seeing them from the upper balcony. Ruth was entranced by the pastor's words. Andrew just watched her, feeling a little jealous.
By the time Andrew remembered he was supposed to listen to the sermon, to repeat to Dad, the service was nearly over. He just heard a couple sentences.
"Whoever you are, whatever you've done, there's someone who loves you. Someone who cared enough to die for you, that whoever believes in Him will not die, but will live forever with Him in paradise. Won't you put your faith in Jesus?"
There was no music, just a silence, until one person, then two, then three, came forward. Pastor David prayed with each in turn as a trumpet played softly.
Ruth glanced up at Andrew, but he didn't really understand what was going on. She picked that up quickly. After the collection plate went around, the music picked up again, and the service ended.
"You didn't like it," Ruth said, softly, once much of the crowd had cleared.
Andrew didn't admit that. "I'd go every week if you came with me," he said truthfully.
"Then do," Ruth said as they went down the long flights of stairs. Andrew thought he spotted Mary, and let go of Ruth's hand to get a better look. She was a few yards away, wearing a dress. Dad was next to her. Andrew motioned to Ruth, and made his way over to them.
Mary had a puzzled expression. "How'd you pull that off, Andrew? Bringing a whole building and crowd from the past?"
"I didn't," Andrew whispered back. "The church is still here in our time!"
"Oh." Mary looked disappointed.
Ruth put her hand on Andrew's shoulder. It wasn't enough to take him back to 1929, but he could see the vague images of the crowd from the past walking through the people in the present.
"Is this your family?" Mr. Alcott was right behind Andrew, but his voice was almost inaudible until Andrew knew he was there.
"You see them?" Andrew asked.
"Is that Ruth's dad?" Mary asked. She held out her hand and introduced herself. She looked a bit scared, somehow, but Dad was perfectly at ease. Andrew didn't quite understand how Mary and Dad could see Mr. and Mrs. Alcott as clearly as he could. But he was more worried that Mr. Alcott might somehow tell Dad what was going on. It was all right that the Alcotts knew, and too late to stop Mary from knowing, but he wanted to keep it a secret from his own parents, at least. Dad suggested they all go out to lunch, but Andrew's desperate look made the Alcotts politely decline.
(11/24/02) (2510 words)
Dad just looked puzzled. "All right. Then I'll drive my son home. Thank you for inviting us to church--ah--"
"Clarence, and this is my wife, Ginny."
"I'm Fred, and my daughter, Mary."
"Yes; your son's told us about Mary."
"Nothing bad, I hope," Dad said, laughing. Mr. Alcott joined in, and even Mrs. Alcott smiled.
Andrew looked at the Alcotts pleadingly. "Be careful."
Mr. Alcott misunderstood, and put a finger on his lips. "Right."
"No, I mean--"
"In August," Ruth said. "I remember. Calm down, Andrew."
Mary looked at Andrew sternly, taking him aside. "Even a little thing can change the future in a million ways!"
Andrew wasn't so sure about that.
"It was nice meeting all of you!" Ruth said, smiling widely, all thoughts of serious matters temporarily stricken from her mind.
Dad, and even Mary, smiled back, warmly.
Andrew just watched as the Alcotts walked off into the crowd. Ruth kissed Andrew briefly on the cheek, as if she didn't care that they were in a church, then hurried after her family.
"If you don't mind me saying so, there really is something bewitching about that girl," Dad said quietly.
Even the light shining through the colored glass window didn't seem bright or cheerful in the dated church. It was downright ugly in the present, with the lobby painted a glaring almond color, and its turquoise accents.
"How'd you like it, son?" Dad asked. "Let me see that bulletin."
Andrew pulled the folded piece of paper from his pocket. But Mary snatched it out of his hand. "I want to see first," she said, giving Andrew a dangerous look. She glanced at the ground, then dropped the bulletin. "Oops. Well, it doesn't matter; we got a couple when we came in, right?"
Dad was silent until they reached the parking lot. "What are you two trying to pull?" he asked. "Where did you go during the service?" he added, looking closely at Andrew.
"Nowhere," Andrew said.
"He didn't leave the church," Mary insisted. When Dad looked at her strangely, she added, "Where could he have gone? He doesn't have a car."
"What do you remember of the sermon?" Dad asked sternly.
"I wasn't paying much attention. But the pastor's name was--"
Mary shook her head slightly.
"I forgot his name," Andrew amended. "But he talked about Jesus and asked people to come forward."
Dad raised his eyebrows. "If we went to church more than twice a year, I wouldn't give you the benefit of the doubt now. But as it is, I guess even being anywhere near a church probably did you a little bit of good." He got in the car.
Andrew sat alone in the back seat. With his seatbelt on, he knew he was safe, and of course he wouldn't fall out of the car, no matter what he did. Dad drove twice as fast as Mrs. Alcott had (though it was quiet, so it didn't feel any faster). Andrew wasn't the least bit afraid, just sad.
"You're still grounded," Dad saw fit to remind him.
"It's not doing any good," Mary said quietly. "Why don't you just take away his allowance instead?"
"Or maybe I'll ground you, too, for conspiring with him," Dad said.
Mary was 20, so it was really an idle threat. Still, it shut her up for a bit. Andrew appreciated the sentiment, though.
"If I catch you sneaking out again, Andrew, I don't know what I'll do. But I doubt you'll like it."
Mom always had plans for what she'd do if Andrew, or even Mary, crossed a line. Dad never knew what he'd do unless he was actually pushed to the edge, and that was a lot scarier. Since Andrew had at least seen Ruth today, he figured it was best not to get in any more trouble for a little while, at least until Dad had cooled down a bit.
When they got home, Mary followed Andrew up to his room. "What were you thinking? You got so lucky! It's a million to one that any church someone in the 1920s went to would still be standing, let alone in use! And you were going to give Dad the bulletin, too?"
"He wanted it."
"And you think he wouldn't've noticed the date? That it looked completely different from the ones he and I picked up at the door? It was printed on white paper, Andrew! White! Look, if you want to just tell Mom and Dad what's going on, I can't stop you--and I'll tell them I have no idea what you're talking about. I don't want to get shipped off to the madhouse too."
Andrew took off his jacket. "What do you think they'd do if I told them everything?"
"You won't tell them, will you?" Mary asked, horrified. She couldn't read Andrew's expression, so she just sat down on his bed, slipping out of her uncomfortable shoes. "If they believe you, they'll probably be afraid, and try to keep you from going back in time anymore. And if they think you're insane, I'll refer you to my previous madhouse comment."
"What if they think I'm making it up?"
"Then they'll probably take you to a psychiatrist. They're expensive, though, so you'd better not. I don't want to get kicked out of the house, and if Mom and Dad get any more fixed expenses, I'll be out the door."
"You could get a job and pay rent," Andrew said, smirking.
"I'm taking 20 credits next quarter. If I had a job, I wouldn't have the time to go to the library for you. That's right. I was going to go track down our family trees. See you later."
Andrew changed into more comfortable clothes, but hardly dared so much as leave his room for the rest of the day.
Silas called after dinner, wondering if Andrew had seen the Alcotts. Andrew talked for a little while, but Mom wouldn't let him take the call in his bedroom, so he didn't have the privacy to say everything he wanted. But Silas could speak freely.
"Man, if you ever have any time you think you can get out of the house, just call, and I'll pick you up right away."
"Day or night. Even if it's three in the morning."
"What about two in the afternoon, when you're sleeping?"
Silas didn't find that funny, maybe because it was probably true. "I told you, any time. I mean it. Even if my apartment's on fire, I'll come right over."
Andrew was stunned. "Why would your apartment be on fire?"
"I'm just saying, I want to see Mr. and Mrs. Alcott that badly. Don't you?"
Mom was watching him.
"Yes! But I can't! You know how much trouble I'm already in?" Andrew whispered.
Mom had that look on her face. Andrew had said too much.
"I gotta go. But call back later if you want. And I'll remember what you said." Even if Mom hadn't been five feet away, Andrew wouldn't have thanked Silas. But he knew Andrew meant it.
When Andrew went back up to his bedroom, he could just picture Silas waiting by the phone.
And more than anything, Andrew wished he'd be given the opportunity to call.
Andrew didn't see Mary until Monday afternoon. She didn't volunteer any information, either; Andrew had to ask how it had gone.
"I gave up," Mary said shortly.
"I listened to Aunt Glen and Craig each talk for four hours and I didn't learn a thing. Well, I learned a lot--my mind's a sponge, you know--but not a single bit of it was interesting, or useful."
"Maybe I should've gone with you."
"No sense in us both being bored to death. Anyway, I'm done. We've learned everything there is to learn."
"Does the Alcott's house still burn down in August?"
Mary paused. "I don't know. The article hasn't changed, but that was just a photocopy. Or maybe it can't change until August, since, in a sense, the changed future hasn't happened yet." She shrugged. "Never mind."
"Are you sure we can change things? I had a dream where Mr. Alcott said--"
Mary laughed. "You put a lot of faith in your dreams, don't you? Besides, he's from a time when there weren't a hundred movies and even more books all talking about time travel. He probably hasn't spent more than five minutes thinking about how it all works."
Andrew shook his head. "He told me to try to change something small and see if it happened."
Mary groaned. "Do you really want to do that?"
"Then I'll have to go to the library at least twice. no; don't worry, I'll find something we can change, and we'll see if it takes or not. But I'm not going back to the library until tomorrow. I don't want to wear out the strip on my library card."
"How am I going to change anything, if I can't leave the house? I can't go back in time without Ruth."
"I'll take you out," Mary said.
"You don't mind getting in trouble?" Andrew asked before he realized he wouldn't mind if Mary got kicked out of the house, as long as it let him save Ruth.
"I don't want to get in trouble, but maybe I won't. And if I do, well, I guess I can handle getting yelled at. But if I do take you to see Ruth you have to do something for me."
Andrew was too desperate to admit, even to himself, that he didn't like Ruth's tone.
"You have to make Ruth show me her time, too. To see what people and buildings and the whole world looked like 7 decades ago--that would be worth getting in trouble a hundred times."
Her excitement was a little like Silas's, but different, too. Andrew knew Mary well enough to know that she wasn't doing this out of the kindness of her heart, and that her interest in visiting Ruth's time had to have some sort of ulterior motive. But he couldn't begin to guess what it was, and she was the only person he knew smart enough to help him see what would happen if he tried to change the past.
"I'll try," Andrew said quietly. "We have to find Ruth first."
"We will," Mary said confidently. "Just be patient."
Andrew tried, but he didn't make it out of the house again for two full weeks. Ruth didn't come back, either. Andrew tried everything he could think of to feel connected to her--reading history books, thinking of Channel Beach, even watching televangelists preach to huge, full churches on TV (and once, going back to the Church of Hope with Dad and Mary). But he never ran into Ruth, except occasionally as he slept. He spent more and more time in bed, leading Mom and Dad to think he was depressed.
Mary didn't hesitate to use this to her advantage. The next time Mom was home without Dad, she asked to take Andrew out for a short drive, in the hopes it might cheer him up. Mom was still a bit surprised to see her children getting along, but she gave Andrew two whole hours of freedom.
It was July by now, so, hopefully, Ruth was out of school. If not, all their trouble would be for nothing. But when they got to the vacant lot that used to be Ruth's house, they both saw her downstairs, with her mother.
"Remember your promise," Mary whispered.
Andrew nodded soberly.
They couldn't see the front door, let alone knock on it, so they just went right in. Ruth's hands were covered in flour, so the two women must be in the kitchen. Mrs. Alcott saw the visitors before her daughter did. "Oh! Andrew, and Mary! It sure has been a while!"
Ruth dropped the bread she was kneading and hugged Andrew, without wiping her flour-covered hands. Andrew wouldn't have cared if her hands were dripping with paint, and held her back. Ruth examined his face. "Your stitches are out!" Her face fell. "Why didn't you come sooner?"
"I told you, my parents wouldn't let me out of the house. Why didn't you come see me?"
"I tried," Ruth said quietly.
"Give me a tour of your house," Mary said, grabbing Ruth's arm (which was still firmly around Andrew). "Then we'll get going."
"You're leaving so soon?" Ruth asked, holding Andrew at arm's length.
"Mary has an experiment, but we'll need you to help us with it."
"Oh," Ruth smiled, glancing back at her mother.
"Yes, yes, go on," Mrs. Alcott said. "Will you and your sister be back for dinner?"
"No," Andrew said quietly.
"We only have a couple hours," Mary added.
"Well, see that you bring my Ruth back safe."
"We will," Mary said.
Andrew waited downstairs while Ruth and Mary went through the whole house. They took a long time; Mary seemed to be asking a lot of questions. When Mary came back down her eyes were shining.
"Don't tell me you're in love with the Alcotts too," Andrew scoffed. "I can understand Silas--he wants a family. But we've already got one."
"That's not it," Mary said. "Let's get going."
"I'll be back soon!" Ruth shouted back to her mother, waving.
Mary made sure Andrew was holding Ruth's hand, and that they were both belted in, before she started the car. They were headed towards the coast.
"We're going to Channel Beach, aren't we?" Ruth asked.
"Do you go there often?" Mary asked.
"I used to, but it's not so much fun when I know Andrew won't be there."
"Don't ask me to ride another roller coaster," Andrew said shortly.
"I told you to stop reminding me of that," Ruth said.
"He's so happy that for once he got in an accident that wasn't his own fault," Mary said, smirking.
"No," Andrew said quietly, hoping Mary couldn't hear. "I'd fall off a roller coaster every week, if it meant I could stay with you, Ruth."
"You sap!" Ruth said. She almost hit Andrew, but realized that might send them both into her time, so she meekly put her hand back in her lap.
Mary parked at Channel Beach, and made sure they were all clear from the parking lot before she let Andrew release Ruth's hand. Neither Andrew nor Ruth really cared, but Mary wanted to make sure Ruth reappeared in open space in 1929.
"I need to see your time," Mary said, extending her hand.
Ruth took Mary's hand in her left, and Andrew's in her right. People stared at the newcomers' strange clothes, and had no qualms about staring at Andrew's scarred face. Mary was too focused on her goal to notice, and Andrew didn't care if he looked like a Martian, as long as he was near Ruth.
"There's a racing carousel here. Where is it?" Mary asked.
"A few blocks east," Ruth said. "But it's more dangerous than the Typhoon. It might make Andrew sick."
(11/25/02) (1934 words)
Mary just headed east, looking around with wide eyes. "That's it, isn't it?" she asked, pointing with her free hand.
"Yeah," Ruth said.
"You sure. That's the racing carousel, not the regular one?"
"Yeah. The sign says so."
Mary pulled Ruth and Andrew over to the carousel, circling it a couple times.
"What are you doing?" Ruth and Andrew asked at once.
"Ruth, let go of Andrew. We have to get closer. Do you have the money to get on?"
"Yes," Ruth said quietly. She looked up at Andrew with frightened eyes.
"Go ahead," Andrew said quietly.
Ruth let go of Andrew's hand, and the carousel turned into a broken-down house, with boarded-up windows. He couldn't even see Ruth through the window that was still intact. Andrew kicked himself in the leg, and the faint images of the carousel, and Mary and Ruth, came into view again, set right over and through the house.
The young women waited in line for a few minutes, and then Ruth handed some money to the attendant. As soon as they'd paid, Mary dragged Ruth around the whole ride, shaking each horse's pole in turn. Mary started out with timid shakes, but grew more aggressive with each horse. The attendant stood up and ran towards them, but Mary gave one last horse a jerk. She and Ruth jumped back as the pole broke, sending the horse falling to the platform.
Everyone waiting in line stared, and the woman who had been about to ride the now-fallen horse screamed, nearly fainting. Ruth froze, but Mary dragged her off the carousel and back to Andrew. Ruth grabbed Andrew's hand, but Mary didn't even slow down, dragging the both of them. "Come on!"
"Mary!" Ruth yelled, trying to stop. Andrew planted his feet too, and Mary couldn't pull them any farther.
"Do you want to get in trouble for breaking the carousel?" Mary asked.
"I come here all the time! The next time I come back here, they'll arrest me!"
"That's the least of your problems," Mary mumbled. "If we can't change the past, then your family--"
"Dry up!" Andrew said, glaring at his sister. Mary was surprised enough to stop talking.
"What's the matter?" Ruth asked quietly.
Mary quickly shook her head. "Nothing. Ruth, do you thin, I can come see you tomorrow, just for a couple minutes? I'll get you enough money to pay for that broken carousel horse."
"Oh," Ruth said.
Mary shoved Ruth into Andrew's arms, and pushed the both of them into the waiting car. "Hurry; I don't want to be home late."
"I don't care," Andrew said quietly.
"No," Ruth said, running her hand over one of Andrew's scars. "The sooner you get out of trouble, the sooner we can spend more time together."
"Why do you have to be so reasonable?" Andrew asked.
"Oh, just kiss me," Ruth said.
Mary was too busy driving to notice for a little while. "You two be careful," she finally said. "If you fool around the wrong way you might wind up falling out of the car."
"I doubt that," Ruth said lightly.
But Andrew's face still hurt from where it was scraped up--even the skin Ruth had touched lightly stung. He was distracted again. "Mary, your car's going slow, isn't it? Like Silas's did with Ruth in it?"
"I don't know about Silas. I'm trying to drive carefully. Someone in our family should be sensible."
"Never mind that," Ruth said, leaning close to Andrew. "The slower we go, the longer we have together."
Andrew smiled, taking Ruth's free hand in his own, and kissed her again.
Ruth suddenly pulled away from Andrew's lips. "Should we talk? If we won't get to see each other again for a while?"
Andrew only had one thing he thought was worth talking about right now, and he wasn't ready to go into details, not until he knew telling Ruth about it would actually prevent disaster. If it was going to happen no matter what he did or said, it would be cruel to let Ruth worry for a month, about something she couldn't change.
"Cheer up," Ruth said. "You're only--'grounded'--for a few more weeks, right?"
"Oh." Ruth sighed. "You can't get your parents to--uh--reduce your sentence?"
"I'll keep trying."
"That's not good enough," Ruth said quietly.
Andrew's eyes flashed. "I'll find a way."
Ruth suddenly laughed. "I'm kidding, Andrew! I've waited two weeks; I'll wait six more if I must. It's a pity to waste the summer like this, but I'd rather your parents not hate me, if we're going to be married someday."
Andrew coughed. "Married?"
The car was going at a turtle's pace; Mary thought that, as long as they were still moving, she could listen to Ruth and Andrew talk. But Ruth looked out the window. "There's the neighbor's houses--this is where our house is today, right? Do you have any idea what happened to our house?"
"No," Andrew murmured.
Ruth got out of the car, her face lighting up when she saw her own house again. But she turned back to Andrew. "You sure you can't stay a bit? Mary's welcome too."
"We can't," Mary said, before Andrew could speak.
"I'll be back soon," Andrew said. "Keep trying to visit me 'til then. And be--"
"Careful, I know. Normal people say 'Take care,' Andrew. Doesn't sound so ominous, either."
"Then take care," Andrew said.
"You, too," Ruth said softly.
Mary sped off the moment the door was closed, before Ruth had even made it inside her house. Andrew was quiet for a while, looking back at Ruth's neighborhood. But in a few minutes he turned his attention back to Mary.
"Why'd you trash the carousel?"
"There's a packet of articles on the floor back there," Mary said. "Check the one dated July 3rd."
There were at least 30 pages stapled together, in chronological order. Andrew found the right page, and skimmed the headlines. One read, "Woman Killed in Carousel Accident."
"Nothing changed," Andrew said sullenly.
"Hold your horses," Mary said. She laughed. "Get it? Horses? Carousel?"
"The article hasn't been printed yet," Mary went on. "I mean, we changed what happened on July 2nd. If their time and ours are going in parallel, we won't see the new article until July 3rd. And this is just a photocopy, besides. Maybe the original will be the only thing to change."
Andrew didn't reply.
"Although," Mary said quietly, "even microfiche is a copy. I don't know if we could ever track down an original. And the real original is just some letters on a printing press, right?"
"Why wouldn't the copy change?" Andrew asked.
"I guess the microfiche would," Mary admitted. "But if I made a copy for the express purpose of one article, and the event that article's about disappears, maybe the copy wouldn't change. You get it?"
"You mean the whole space-time continuum is concerned with the reason you made a photocopy," Andrew said.
Mary shrugged. "I'll find out tomorrow."
They got home right on time. Although Mom was disappointed that Andrew still looked unhappy, she couldn't punish him for being depressed.
Mary woke Andrew the next morning.
"It's no good," she said, while Andrew was still groggy.
"What's no good?" Andrew yawned.
Mary thrust a piece of paper in front of Andrew's face. He had to blink four times before it came into focus. "It was a photocopy, like the one he had seen yesterday. It still read, "Woman Killed in Carousel Accident."
"So your theory was right. The copy didn't change."
"Did you read the article?"
Andrew looked at his alarm clock. "It's 9:00. Don't ask me to read."
Mary put her finger on the fifth paragraph. "This one."
Andrew read silently. Earlier that day, two unidentified women intentionally pulled one of the horses from the carousel, breaking the pole. But after the operator looked the ride over, he resumed operation. Miss Whitkins was killed when she lost her grip on a neighboring horse and fell right onto what was left of the pole belonging to the previously broken horse. She bled profusely, and soon lost consciousness. Miss Whitkins was pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics.
"So you changed something after all," Andrew said quietly.
"It was the same woman, Andrew! Just dead in a more painful way! Before, she just hit her head and died; she wasn't gored first."
"You did your best," Andrew said.
Mary shook her head. "I shouldn't've tried. She was fated to die, so she did. Just like the Alcotts."
Andrew was shocked at how cold Mary was. "You met them, and you don't care if they die?"
"Of course I care! If we could do it, I'd take you and Ruth to Germany right now and see if we could track down Hitler! But don't you get it? Even if I had a pistol pointed at his head, something would happen to stop it. He just wasn't supposed to die then."
Andrew's stomach quaked.
"Give up, Andrew. You're off the hook anyway. Can you imagine all the responsibility you'd have, if you could change the past? You'd spend the rest of your life fixing things, until you died or just changed history enough to keep Mom and Dad from marrying. But you can't do that. So just get used to it--maybe try to find a way to tell Ruth what's going to happen, or at least get her to tell her parents how much she loves them before they die."
"Get out," Andrew said in a low voice.
"Andrew?" Mary saw the look in his eyes, and stepped backwards towards the door.
"I don't care if it's impossible, or if it makes it so I was never born. I'm going to help Ruth."
"Don't push yourself so hard, Andrew! You've just got this one shot, and you wont' even know if it worked 'til the next day!"
"I'll know," Andrew said, "because I'll be there."
"You think Mom and Dad'll let you out that late at night?"
Andrew threw his sheet off and stood up. "You're not going to tell them anything!"
Mary retreated another step. "Andrew, I'm sure Mom and Dad will be happy that you're not depressed anymore, but you're scaring me."
"Good," Andrew said. "Then maybe you'll stay out of this."
Mary went back and took the photocopy from Andrew. "Remember--three people were presumed lost in the fire. If you got burned up, Ruth would be alone in the world."
"If I die, I guess it was fate," Andrew sneered.
Mary glared at him. "Go back to sleep for a while; you're cranky."
Andrew was about ready to throw something at her, and Mary knew it, so she finally left.
When Andrew got dressed and left his bedroom, Mary was gone. She came back a few hours later, and avoided Andrew as best she could. But Andrew saw her, and grabbed her arm as he tried to sleep upstairs.
"Andrew, you're hurting my arm!" Mary pulled him off. "She's fine. I gave her a couple stock tips. And I told her to have her parents get their money out of the market and the banks before October. Bet you thought I forgot about that, didn't you?"
"Who cares about their money? If they're just going to die--"
"And if they were meant to lose their fortune, they will. But I figured I'd give it a shot, for your sake. All right?"
"Why didn't you take me with you, then?"
"After how you treated me this morning?" Mary grimaced. "No way."
(11/26/02) (1108 words) (revised 11/27/02)
"Mary!" Andrew yelled. "You're going to take me to see her now!"
Mary's lip trembled in rage. She slapped Andrew. "What's wrong with you?"
Andrew made a fist, then unclenched it. "I just--What's wrong with me? I'm just worried about her!"
"Don't. We've got almost two months. That's plenty of time to figure something out."
Andrew punched the wall.
Mary headed back upstairs. "My school starts next week, so I won't be here to bother you anymore." Once she was ten feet away from Andrew, she added, "I won't be able to help you, either."
Andrew didn't know what had come over him.
Only a fool would get on the wrong side of a sibling with a car.
Mary's expression softened a bit, but she just went back up to study.
Mary didn't help Andrew sneak out again, and Ruth didn't come to visit. Dad caught Andrew trying to get out of the house three times. Dad turned a blind eye to the first time, but tacked a couple weeks on to his punishment after the second and third try.
Andrew actually begged Dad to let him off earlier.
"I have to stick by it," Dad said. "You'll live if you can't see your girlfriend 'til September. If she really cares about you, she'll wait."
But the fire wouldn't.
Andrew wound up in an argument, and got grounded a little longer.
A whole week past August 29th, in fact.
He thought it was more than he could stand, but his family wasn't at all sympathetic, not even Mary, who understood what he was going through.
As time went by, Andrew felt more and more trapped, as though he was in a plastic bag and running out of air. His dreams grew fitful, and as he lost sleep, he felt more and more miserable. Andrew thought no one had had a summer as bad as this--until he remembered how awful Ruth's might be--had already been, in a sense. But every time Andrew tried to get out of the house, things just got worse.
The only comfort he got was in going to church (something he started doing as he got into his deepest depression). He was still bored by the sermons, but the pastor seemed sincere, even if Andrew didn't agree with what he said. The music was quite good, and being in the Church of Hope, sitting right where he and Ruth had sat weeks ago, was a bittersweet emotion, something sad that he looked forward to every week. It was much better than watching preachers on TV.
Mary was in school now. Andrew had thought about Mary a lot lately, and occasionally she appeared with Ruth in his dreams. But Mary hardly ever spoke to him anymore. Andrew suspected she was up to something, from her careful steps and the fierce look in her eyes. He confronted her when she came back from school one day, right before dinner time.
"Have you been going to the library?" he asked.
Mary started. "You don't care," she said quickly. "You're just jealous that I can leave the house and you can't."
Andrew got a strange idea. "You've been going to see Ruth! I see how you look when you come in after school!"
Mary smiled. "I like men, Andrew. I can't find her as enchanting as you do."
"I dreamt you were spending time with her."
"Oh, a dream," Mary continued in that amused voice. "What were we doing? Driving?"
"No. You couldn't drive, anyway; you'd have to keep your hand on Ruth to keep her inside." Andrew paused. "I'll bet you just spend time in her house."
"Come on. I can't even see her when I'm not with you! Right?"
Andrew's head started to ache, and he didn't speak until Mary was almost to the stairs.
"Stock tips!" he yelled.
Mary looked up. "Pardon me?" Her eyes were cold, but she looked a little scared.
"You said you went to see Ruth and you gave her stock tips, to make up for breaking that carousel horse, and told her to get her parents' money out of the banks."
"So what if I did?"
"You saw her, without me! Either that, or you lied about it. Which is it?"
Mary smiled. "You sound jealous. Don't worry. She still loves you."
"You didn't offer to take me with you! Or even to bring her notes from me!"
"I never thought of that. Honestly, I'm not interested in Ruth at all."
"Then why are you visiting her?"
Mary and Andrew stared at each other. Mary flinched first. "To see her world. To see history."
Andrew glared. "Nerd."
Mary smirked. "I wouldn't expect you to understand. But can you even imagine, living somewhere where you know the future?"
"Yeah--the future's the Great Depression. Fun."
"It was a good time to live in, Andrew, if you had money. Prices were low, so anyone with an income could live like a king."
"I don't care. Take me next time you go to see her."
"Mom and Dad'd kill me. Sorry."
No amount of pestering, cajoling, threatening, or even bribery could change Mary's mind.
The next day, Andrew was sleeping on the couch when he heard a knock on the door. The big-eared young man in the doorway looked vaguely familiar.
"Andrew!" he said, grinning. "Don't tell me you don't remember your cousin Craig?"
Andrew snapped his fingers. "Craig..."
"I guess you haven't seen me since the last funeral. Hey, is Mary home?"
"She's in school."
"That's too bad." Craig laughed. "Not that school's bad, mind you!" He laughed again, a kind of wheezing sound, though it was kind of a likable noise (or would have been, if Andrew had been in a better mood). Craig controlled himself long enough to hand Andrew a small book with stiff, cloth-covered covers. "Would you make sure she gets this?"
"What is it?"
"Oh, she was asking all sorts of crazy questions about the family tree, and I just found this when I was looking through some of Great-Grandpa Jack's things. It's a wonder any of his things survived this long, let alone a book. That box is probably worth a lot of money now, but of course I wouldn't sell it for anything."
Mary had told Andrew how boring their family was when talking about their ancestors, but he'd thought she'd been exaggerating. But he wasn't up to the challenge of hinting that it might be time to leave; his feeble tries all failed. So Andrew just stood there, hardly speaking, while Craig made conversation with himself for a few minutes. Finally, the man left.
(11/27/02) (2465 words) (cosmetic revisions 11/28/02)
Andrew sat down on the couch and opened the book. It was all handwritten, in a thick stroke, though the ink had faded to brown by now, and the pages were brittle. He flipped a few pages back.
I hated this woman, with a passion, it read. Yet, I would have done anything for the sake of my beloved, which is why I could not pursue my own, admittedly base, desires.
It continued on like this for quite a while, until Andrew concluded it must be a romance novel (and a poorly-written one at that). He idly flipped through the rest of the book. Though there was more than a hundred pages in the book, only the first few had writing on them.
He caught a line on the last page.
They named her Ruth.
Andrew dropped the book, then picked it up again. He flipped back to the beginning, determined to read the whole thing, no matter how scrunched together the handwriting was.
I can write this now, as everyone I care about is dead, and I am not long for this world, myself. I only write this at all because I feel I must share my feelings with someone, although perhaps someday someone will find this account of historical interest.
Clarence and I both worked at Hamton's Pharmacy. When Mr. Hamton passed away, he left all his duties to Clarence, who knew more about medicine than most doctors. Clarence was always kind to me, and made me a manager. I still blush, in my old age, to think of it. I became convinced that Clarence cared for me, and I, too, was truly enamored with him. We never saw each other outside of the pharmacy, but I was sure we were meant to be married.
When I told Clarence of my love, he smiled kindly, but said he already had a fiancee, who he cared for deeply. His eyes shone so brightly, I knew he truly loved her, and, in my heart, I also knew he could never be made to love another. But he was such a handsome man! and kind, understanding, and funny. Surely, then, the reader will understand how I let my emotions get the better of me?
Worst of all was when the woman came by the pharmacy to see Clarence. The woman had a perfect figure, and her face wasn't even that ugly, but she was Negro! Clarence had rejected me for her!
It went on in this vein for some time. Andrew blinked at the page, shocked to find his great-grandmother was a racist. He got the feeling Mary would say that was just how people thought back then, that their great-grandmother was probably better than most people of the time. Maybe that was all true, but he still felt sick, and had to force himself to continue reading.
Now I understand that she must have been a very special woman, for Clarence to have overlooked her race and loved her anyway.
I was insanely jealous of her--of the object of Clarence's bizarre affections. He tried to tell me the story of how they met, but I walked out of the store.
That woman came by at least once a week. Clarence was a man, so he couldn't comprehend why I hated his precious Virginia. But that Negro thought that she and I could be friends! Perhaps she didn't know how great the Kinsley name once was!
I hated this woman, with a passion. Yet, I would have done anything for the sake of my beloved, which is why I could not pursue my own, admittedly base, desires. For if some tragedy were to befall Virginia--and as a chemist, I could easily help that to happen--poor Clarence would be brokenhearted. So I held my tongue, and suffered silently, though surely Clarence could tell, by my eyes, how sad I was.
Around Christmas, Clarence invited me to see a play with him. I accepted without knowing that Ginny would also accompany us. But I could not afford such good seats, and I truly wanted to see the play, so I swallowed my pride and went with them.
Clarence was frightfully amorous with his fiancee. He escorted Virginia through the streets, her arm in his, and sometimes even held her hand, all in public.
The passers-by acted as expected, most of them staring at the two of them, and the minority voicing their opinion of them. Some of the words they used were such that not even a Negro lady should have to endure, though Virginia simply blushed. Of course, I had heard worse from my father, so I wasn't offended.
One gentleman said something particularly dreadful, and Clarence, who had been growing more and more agitated, suddenly started to yell at the gentleman, commanding him to have a conversation with Virginia, to see if she was not every bit as intelligent and well-mannered as any white woman, or man, for that matter. Clarence pointedly added that, at the least, she was a better person than some gentleman he knew.
The gentleman was mildly inebriated, and the fight switched from words to fists. Clarence had no time to take off his jacket. Of course he would never fight, unless it was for a very good cause. He evidently felt defending his Negro woman's honor worthy, and knocked his opponent unconscious in short order. All the time I couldn't help but dream that he had been fighting for my honor, not Virginia's. I did not know then what a silly, childish fantasy that was.
Virginia straightened Clarence's collar--he was not hurt at all--and we went to the play. I'm afraid I didn't enjoy it much, even though our seats were front and center.
Clarence took us to his house afterwards, and we had coffee. Virginia really was a bright woman; she amazed me with her insights into the characters' motivations in the play. Her voice and accent were nothing like a typical Negro's, and the more I looked at her, the less she looked like a Negro, and the more she looked like a well-bred woman.
Andrew was still disturbed that even his great-grandmother's compliments were racist, though he was vaguely relieved that she didn't use any words worse than Negro to describe Mrs. Alcott.
Eventually, I could almost see why Clarence liked her. The moment I showed any warmth to Virginia, she returned it tenfold, and as she smiled, even her lips seemed smaller, and she seemed more beautiful.
It was then that I finally asked how they had met, and it was a story fairly familiar. They had met in a cafe, talking about some book that Virginia had been carrying (they didn't even remember the title). Then someone had insulted Virginia's honor, and Clarence had gotten into a fight. Virginia was flattered, and somehow the two had started dating.
I saw Virginia many times after that night, and she told me all her most personal secrets. I was shocked to hear her speak about her feelings as a Negro--at times she was proud, wanting to prove to the world that Negroes were equal to any other race. Most of the time, however, she just wished she had been born white. She would have had a hundred times the opportunities if she had, and few of the difficulties.
Virginia and Clarence married in the spring. It was still hard; I loved Clarence yet, and knew his path would be easier if he had chosen me. But, with Virginia's reassurance, and her friendship, I finally became reconciled to their marriage. Moreover, I fell in love with Virginia every bit as much as I had once loved Clarence, so that I felt both were my beloved, people I loved as I loved myself.
When Virginia was with child I was madly jealous, for, more than even a good husband, I wanted a baby of my own. Virginia was pale and nervous for several months, and somehow unhappy. She told me she was afraid to bring a child into such a terrible world, even though we knew nothing of the War, or any of the other horrors the world was to go through.
Virginia never told me the real reason for her concern, but I guessed it. And I longed for her--and, perhaps even more importantly, Clarence--to be happy. I so strongly desired their happiness, I dreamt of the two of them nearly every night.
One night, I felt as though I could do something for them, though I knew not what it was, or how I would do it. I left my apartment, still in my nightclothes, and walked downstairs. The cold air roused me (it was March), and I smelled the salt air, and saw the beautiful stars sparkling in the black sky. I felt drawn towards the beach, towards the midway there, but it was far too chilly, and too early in the morning to consider such a thing.
Imagine my surprise, when, the next day, Virginia came by the pharmacy and asked if I would spend the night with her in the Old Mission Hotel, the only hotel on Channel Beach, just five miles away from my apartment! I accepted the invitation, not even thinking to ask the reason. Virginia told me she wanted to get away for one last day, as soon, she would have a baby to care for, and no longer be able to travel on a whim. Of course, five miles wasn't far to travel; a proper last adventure should have been to Sacramento, or maybe even Nevada. But I didn't tell her that; I desperately wished to go to the Old Mission Hotel, and besides, she was so near delivery, it seemed foolishness for her to travel farther from her husband.
Clarence gave me the day off of work, and he drove us to our hotel. The room was starting to show its age, but the service was exquisite. Virginia suggested we go down to the beach, but she seemed too tired to do so, and it pleased me to stay in the room as well. We pulled the chairs to the balcony door and put our feet out, breathing in the ocean air.
As the sun set on our faces, over the ocean, the both of us fell asleep. At least, I thought I was sleeping, and when anyone asked what happened, later, I insisted that was the case. The idea that it was anything more than a dream is ludicrous.
Once I was asleep, I vividly dreamt that the room had gained a hundred years, it seemed. My chair was still in its place, right in front of the balcony, but it had grown dirty and worn, with the upholstery coming out through the arms and the seat. I called out for Virginia, but she had vanished (although her chair was still next to mine). The wallpaper was falling off, and the walls were cracked. It looked like everything that could be taken from the hotel, had been; the bed and dresser and nightstand and even the lamps were all missing. A rat scurried right over my foot; I felt it through my shoe. I screamed.
I heard another woman scream as well, and as I looked back, I saw a woman behind me. She had beautiful long hair, loose on her back, but her clothes were a bright green color, and she wore what turned out to be pants made like two skirts sewn together. Had she been wearing sensible clothes, she would have been quite pretty, much lovelier than me.
When I looked closer, I saw that her stomach was large; she seemed to be with child, just like Virginia. The stranger asked who I was, but she looked ready to faint. I grabbed her arm and forced her onto the other chair, then sat down on my own. She just screamed again, as if she was in pain, and I feared she was going to have her child right there. I was about to loosen her strange trousers, but she suddenly calmed. I still intended to find a doctor, to make sure everything was fine, but I suddenly awoke to see Virginia back in her chair, and the hotel changed from the ghastly dream.
Virginia was sweating, and looked panicked. I grabbed her warm hand and squeezed, telling her everything was all right, and offering to fetch a doctor. But she just shook her head, saying a vague pain had overtook her. I thought nothing of it of the time, certain I had heard Virginia's screams, and that had affected my dreams. But now I know better.
Two weeks later, Virginia gave birth to a child. I came to the hospital the next day to see her and the baby.
Virginia seemed tired, and she and Clarence were both bewildered. When I saw their child, I knew why. They were in a small hospital, so they couldn't have switched babies on them. But their child was fully white. None of us knew that Negro babies' skin sometimes darkened as they grew up, but as it turned out, that didn't matter; the girl grew up as white as Clarence or me.
It was over ten years before I put their situation together with my dream. I still don't believe it myself, so I wouldn't expect the Alcotts to, but perhaps, somehow, Virginia's baby was switched with the strange woman's, in the hotel.
Yes, it's a foolish idea, but I can't shake it, and I feel much better having shared it, even though perhaps no one will read this account.
The Alcotts loved their child, and believed her to be their own.
They named her Ruth. That was my middle name, though I never asked Virginia if she knew that or not.
I hoped to spoil the child, to stay with Clarence and Virginia. But about that time, I met my Jack. Now that he's buried, I can say that I didn't love him as dearly as I loved Clarence, or even Virginia. But I did care for him, and his business took him to Chicago. So I left the Alcotts, and I never saw them again, nor do I know how their sweet little Ruth fared. Virginia sent me a photograph of her at the age of eight; she was still as pale as her father, and the prettiest thing you can imagine. I can't help but wonder if, perhaps, Virginia's real child is lost somewhere, born to the wrong family. But I'd never hurt any of the Alcotts by suggesting it, and besides, if one judges a family's worth by how happy its members are, Ruth was born in exactly the right place.
That's how it ended.
(11/28/02) (1696 words)
The account answered a lot of Andrew's questions; he was now sure that Silas's mother had somehow overlapped Mrs. Alcott's space, and their babies had been switched through time. Whether it was the hotel that had set it off, or something inside his great-grandmother, Andrew might never know. But he suddenly wanted to bring the book to the Alcotts, to let them see, and know where Ruth had come from.
His parents weren't home, and Mary was gone. Andrew grabbed the phone.
Silas picked up on the fifth ring. "Hello?"
"It's me, Andrew. Come take me to Ruth's."
"I'll be right over," Silas said, and without another word, he hung up.
Andrew waited in the front yard. The neighbors didn't know he was grounded (or if they did, they didn't know his family well enough to mention it to them). Silas couldn't have showed up more quickly if he had ran into the car the moment after he hung up the phone and sped all the way to Andrew's house. And that seemed to be the case; Silas was wearing a T-shirt and jeans, with mismatched sandals. His clothes were all a bit dirty, and he hadn't shaved.
"Did you pack?" Silas asked.
Andrew jumped in the car. "Why would I?"
Silas's enthusiasm lessened, but almost imperceptibly. "I was just hoping--I mean, once I take you back home, you'll be grounded even longer. Or they really might punish you some other way, right? And you'd never see Ruth again."
Andrew didn't reply, forcing Silas to continue.
"I thought--if you cared about Ruth as much as I care about her parents--maybe we could just stay with them for good."
Andrew was stunned for a moment. "Just drive," he said quietly.
Silas obeyed without question. The car was loud, and making a horrible sound. "Your parents aren't bad," he finally said, over the car's noise.
Andrew still didn't speak.
"Sometimes it's even hard to leave people you hate--who hate you."
"I haven't decided!" Andrew said, louder than he had meant to, to be heard.
Silas smiled, though his eyes were focused on the road. "Then you should have brought some clothes to change into," he said.
That's what Silas had meant by packing.
"I don't care," Andrew said. "I'd look stupid wearing my clothes in their time anyway."
"Guess so," Silas replied. "But you might miss your modern underwear. Or deodorant."
"Oh," Andrew said.
Silas was at a stop sign, so he patted Andrew's shoulder. "Don't worry; you can use mine." He paused. "The deodorant, I mean, not the underwear."
Andrew laughed a little.
"We can go back and get your stuff if you want," Silas said.
"We're almost to Ruth's, though. And my parents are probably back home. That's why I wanted to get out so quick; I didn't want them to catch me."
"And they won't notice you're gone when they get back?"
"I don't care. I just don't want to get grounded for even longer and not even see Ruth." Andrew paused. "Hey, wait--you act like you were more excited to see the Alcotts than I am, but you wasted time packing before you came over?"
Silas smirked. "I had it in the trunk for the past month."
They were at Ruth's house. Silas parked, but they couldn't see anyone where the house should have been.
"I guess they're not home," Andrew said.
"You sure you haven't lost your touch?" Silas asked quietly. "Maybe you were gone too long, and now you can't get back to her?"
"No," Andrew said quietly. "We'll wait."
Silas sat on the curb, and Andrew joined him.
"You should move your car," Andrew finally said.
"It won't get stolen."
"No," Andrew said. "When Ruth comes, we'll go into her world, but your car will still be there. Mary'll know where we are."
"She won't guess you're here anyway? Without my car?"
"She won't be sure," Andrew said. He paused. "But she said she could see Ruth. I'll bet she sees all of us as soon as she shows up."
"Then I'm not moving the car," Silas said. "I don't know how many starts she's got left in her." He inhaled. "Keep an eye out for Mary. We'll just jump in the car and drive away if she comes.
Andrew moved a couple feet to the side, to get a better view of the road. And they waited in silence for a couple hours.
"Are you sunburned?" Silas suddenly asked, squinting at Andrew.
"Hey--that's Mary's car, isn't it?"
The two of them were in the car before Mary saw them, and Silas sped off as quickly as the old car would go.
"How long do you think she'll wait there?" Silas asked.
Andrew was looking out the window, his eyes unfocused.
"Drive to the beach," he said suddenly, and clearly.
Silas turned at the next intersection. "Why?"
"That's where she is."
"What about her parents?"
Silas parked where Mary had a few weeks ago, when they'd come to Channel Beach. Andrew jumped out and walked towards the old hotel.
"You sure she's there?" Silas asked.
Andrew just nodded. He looked around the lobby briefly, then ran up the stairs. He tried the center room first, and then each of the other ones, but they were all empty.
Silas was standing in the hallway. He saw Andrew's panicked look. "So she's in another building. There was a whole midway here back then, right?"
"Yeah." Andrew slowly walked downstairs, and slowly went towards the door. But he suddenly went back to the doorway under the stairs, and went through the passageway, back out into the alley.
Ruth wasn't there, either. But he felt she was near, so he just waited. That gave Silas more than enough time to catch up anyway. The two of them waited together, both expecting something to happen, or someone to come.
Someone called Andrew's name, but the voice was muffled. And suddenly, as if walking out of a dark room into the light, Ruth came towards them, passing right through the alley wall. Her face was lit up with joy, as though she had already seen Andrew. She ran towards him and kissed him, on both cheeks and the lips, and rubbed his back and shoulders. "Oh, Andrew, it's been forever! Please tell me you can stay for more than a few minutes this time!"
"Yeah," Andrew said, holding her close. "Maybe a lot longer."
"Oh, good!" Ruth kissed him again, then looked behind her. "Silas is here too!"
"I just wanted to see your parents," Silas said, a little shyly.
"They went to the movies," Ruth said, grinning. "I'm so happy to see you here!"
"What were you doing in the alley?" Andrew asked.
Ruth blinked. "Look around, Andrew."
The alley had turned into a restaurant room, filled with covered tables, and cushioned wooden chairs. Only a few people were eating, and there was only one waiter. The fireplace at the end of the alley-turned-sitting room was swept clean; there was no fire, but there was wood stacked to one side.
"Let me see!" Silas cried. Ruth took his hand. "Oh," Silas said quietly, his eyes wide.
Ruth grinned, then sobered again. "This looks a lot different than the Mad House you know, doesn't it, Andrew?"
"Yeah," Andrew said.
Ruth frowned, but soon cheered up. "I'll show you through what I see, all right?" Before the two young men could reply, Ruth had dragged them back to the lobby, through a main door, not a hidden passageway. The lobby was grand, with carpets on the marble floor. The check-in counter was polished and dusted, though it was unused. Near the entrance was a booth, with a woman wearing a striped shirt standing behind it. She stared at the three of them as they came into her view, but Ruth smiled warmly, and the woman smiled back.
"She's the ticket taker," Ruth whispered. "The real fun's upstairs, though."
"What's upstairs?" Silas asked softly, but Ruth didn't answer. The stairway was carpeted in thick purple stuff. A happy couple was walking downstairs as the three of them went up. They both smelled of liquor, and were kissing and petting like mad. Ruth turned red, but squeezed Andrew's hand harder.
The hall was lined with mirrors, and even the ceiling had a couple. The doors were all painted bright colors, with labels on them. "This was my favorite room," Ruth said, opening a green door.
There were dozens of tall plants inside, and the main light came from the window, though a lamp in one corner had a green shade on it, casting a glow on the room. The walls were painted in green vines and leaves, like a forest.
A bodybuilder leapt out of the far corner. He wore nothing but a loincloth, though his face and chest had designs on them, painted with what looked like brown paint. He growled at them, like an animal, and bared his teeth. "Who are you?" he asked in a voice rather like a dog's snarl. "Why are you in my jungle?"
Silas tried to edge away, but Ruth was holding his hand too tightly. Andrew just stared, transfixed.
"Well?" the wild man asked, drawing closer. His hair was longer than either Silas's or Andrew's, and had some vines twined into it.
"Peace," Ruth said, smiling. "We don't mean any harm. We're merely visitors from afar. We heard of your strength, and wished you to demonstrate it for us."
"Oh," the man said, smiling warmly at Ruth. And he proceeded to lift a barbell, as in a strong-man competition. He had to be careful to keep it from falling through the floor, so he couldn't throw the weight aside once he had lifted it. But he still put on a good show. When he was done, he tried to grab Ruth to lift her as well, but she shook her head and stepped back.
"Not today," she said firmly. The man seemed a bit disappointed, but tried to hide it by pounding his chest and yelling. Ruth led them back out, as that was the end of the show.
(11/29/02) (1140 words)
"That's your favorite show?" Andrew asked, smirking.
Ruth smiled back, not the least bit ashamed. "Sometimes they have a real savage from Africa!" She paused. "That's what he claims to be, anyway, in front of an audience. But in private he told me he was born here, though his ancestors came from Africa, several hundred years ago. His parents had been slaves as children! Can you even fathom it? and part of his act is that he's in chains, having been taken from his heathen homeland to America, to be put on display like an animal! He speaks in grunts, of course, but he tells a story of the wilds so compelling, I almost believe he came from the jungles, even though I know now, he's made it all up." She paused. "Then there's a wild woman who sometimes performs--the men fancy her, as she wears as few clothes as the men. And if they're in a pinch they have a man dressed in rags, but more mad than wild." She grinned. "When I called you a wild man, Andrew, I was thinking of the madman."
"Thanks," Andrew said sarcastically.
"Well," Ruth said, "you're not so muscular, like the wild man we just saw." Quietly, she added, "He's my least favorite; I even prefer the woman to him. He's put no thought into his act, except for listening to a friend tell him the story of Tarzan, or maybe seeing one of the movies about him."
"You must come here a lot," Silas said, "to know so much about everyone who performs."
Ruth grinned. "Every day I can, I come. Though I haven't been for a while. I came today hoping it would cheer me up. And it did! Now, come on. We can talk more at home; this isn't the place for it."
Ruth was right; a hallway with people walking by every thirty seconds, and screams coming from several rooms, and even muffled gunshots, was a horrible place to have a long talk. Besides, Andrew was curious to see more of the Mad House.
There were more rooms than Andrew could easily count (although it was probably something like 12, as that's how many rooms there were in the present day). There was an old-west scene, a Civil War room, a Colonial scene, a room full of hoboes, and another made up as the backstage of a Broadway show, complete with costumed actors and actresses. Most of the short shows were bad, and only one was fully engaging, but it didn't really matter. They all went by so quickly, it was hard to stay irritated for very long. Silas seemed interested, and of course Ruth and Andrew were just happy to be near each other.
The last room Ruth took them to was simply labeled "The Pantry." Once inside, Andrew recognized it as the center room, the one he had met Ruth in. It had a couch and several loveseats, and was papered in a bright print. The bathroom door was ajar. A couple of the loveseats were occupied by lovestruck couples, necking and running their hands over each other. Ruth ignored them. There were also a few people alone; two in costumes, clearly from one of the shows. They all looked up with Silas, Ruth, and Andrew came in.
"The blonde's with me," Ruth said, squeezing Andrew's hand, "but the other one's up for grabs."
"What?" Silas asked.
"This room is for petting," Ruth said, smiling. "That dark girl seems quite taken with you, Silas."
She was dressed as a maid, or maybe she really was one. She was a plain-looking girl, but she wore bright lipstick and blush, and her hair was done up.
"Try her out," Ruth said. "Perhaps if you take her hand, she'll ground you in this world, just as I do."
"Oh!" Silas said. Andrew could tell he wasn't really attracted to the woman at all, but he held out his hand to her anyway. By staying near to her, Silas was able to release Ruth's hand and stay in the Mad House. And in just a moment, the two of them were in a corner, making out.
"That was quick," Ruth said softly.
"You really came to this room just to find someone to--to pet?" Andrew asked, rather shocked. After all, Ruth went to church every week.
"I've been looking for a beau," Ruth said. "I'd never go so far as some of these people, especially not in public. But if they want to have some fun, I can't stop them." She wrapped her arms around Andrew and kissed him. "I missed you, though!"
They heard a thud, and Silas was on the ground, his hand over his eye. Andrew pulled away from Ruth and ran over to him, not minding the room fading back into its modern, dull appearance. Ruth looked around fearfully, and then held out her hand to Andrew. "Take me into your world, quickly," she murmured.
Andrew gladly took it. "Silas?"
Silas cursed softly. "That man just hit me--said it was bad enough to see my kind on the streets, but he wouldn't watch me at a...some kind of party."
"A petting party," Ruth said softly. "Father sometimes speaks of his troubles, being married to Mother, though of course she doesn't say a thing about it..."
Silas looked around, and, for the first time, noticed that the Mad House was no more. "I didn't even like her anyway; I just..."
Ruth looked at him for a moment. "You wanted a backup plan...a way to get here, without relying on Andrew and me."
Silas's eyes widened, and Andrew knew Ruth was right.
"Never mind that," Ruth said. "You should be hurt enough to stay in my world for quite a while now, if you want; you won't have to continually pinch yourself. Let's go home and get a steak for your eye, all right?"
They went down to the exit. Ruth shuddered and gasped to see the modern hotel that had once been her beloved Mad House, but she didn't let go of Andrew.
"You can drive, right?" she asked Silas once they were outside. "That's how you got here?"
"Yeah," Silas said quietly.
Ruth avoided looking at the buildings as much as she could, and focused on the ocean. After a long silence, she said, "It's nice to see the water; usually in the summer the beach is full of people, so that, from any distance, we can't be sure there's actually any sand there or not."
"Yeah," Andrew said quietly.
Silas still looked dazed, and walked slowly all the way to the car. But he drove back to Ruth's house without any close calls, and Mary was gone when they got back. Andrew hoped that everything would go that well, at least for a little while.
((Note: I finally finished the story, but for copyright reasons, the rest will not be put on the Internet. If you are interested in receiving a HTML version of the rest of the story, send a blank e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject "Send me the rest of Rift" and I'll send out a copy to that e-mail address right away.
Of course, it's just a draft; the finished version will be
much better--I have a million corrections and revisions to make.
But that won't be online at all so you'll have to wait 'til I
get it published. ^_-))
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