Holiday Journey 3

In the morning, Chris and Lilly heard a knock on the door.  Mary came in, a look of concern on her face.  “I was worried about Lilly.  She struggled yesterday.”

Chris nodded.  They had kept Lilly entertained, and happy during the season so far, but both Mary and Chris knew how poorly she seemed, even if Lilly never complained.

“I’m feeling better today,” Lilly insisted.

“This will be a good day,” Chris said, trying to sound positive, though he feared it would not be his best day what with DSS and the court hovering over his shoulder.

“We are going to get a real Christmas tree,” Lilly said, in her excited voice.

“I have the weekend off,” Mary responded with a big smile, it being Saturday.  She looked at Chris.  “Maybe I could help.”  She made it a statement, but really asked if she could come.

Chris did not hesitate to nod his agreement.  “I could use the help,” he said.  And with that settled, they climbed into Chris’ pickup and went out in search of a real tree.

They drove to several places, Lilly in her car seat in the back, looking out the back window at the Christmas on the street, and Mary sitting close beside Chris, grinning the whole time.  Chris wondered what might be wrong with the girl.  She was what, twenty-one?  Perhaps not even that.  He was turning thirty, practically a father figure.  Why was the girl grinning?

They stopped at several places, but none of the trees seemed quite right. Finally, they got to the supermarket lot, and Chris excused himself to pick-up milk, bread and a few things for home.

When Chris left, Mary turned to Lilly and asked why she had such trouble picking out a tree.  The balsam fir has such a great scent.  “It smells like Christmas,” Mary said.

“I just can’t picture it,” Lilly said, looking at a blue spruce.  “I like this one.  This tree looks nice, but how will it look when it is decorated?”

Mary nodded, like she understood something.  “I think we can give some substance to what we visualize,” she said, but Lilly looked like she did not understand.  Mary found a little stick.  “Pretend you are a Christmas fairy, and this is your magic wand. Point your wand at the tree…yes, like that.”  Mary stood behind Lilly and laid her hands gently on Lilly’s shoulders.  Something sparkled, silver and gold in her touch. “Picture in your mind the way you want the tree to look, and wave your wand to make it happen.”

Something happened.  The silver and gold sparkles went out from the stick and covered the tree.  The tree lit up with lights. It had garland, ornaments, and tinsel all over it, and Lilly gasped, a delighted sound.

“I did it.  It’s beautiful.” Lilly squeaked her words.

“Hey. Save the decoration for home.” The man in the lot yelled and came running up as Lilly collapsed.  The decorations and lights returned to silver and gold sparkles and fell to the ground, like bits of ash after the fireworks.

“Lilly,” Mary caught her and held her head up.  To his credit, the man turned from the tree to concern about the little girl. Lilly turned pale, ashen white, and her skin felt clammy.

“Christopher,” Mary shouted for Chris, as Lilly fluttered her eyes open.

“I want that one,” she breathed, but did not have the strength to lift her hand and point.

Mary nodded for the man.  He picked up the tree and set it in the pickup, while Mary scooped up Lilly and opened the door to get her in her seat.  Chris came out and pulled out his keys.  He stared at his keys for a second.  He thought he locked the truck.  He overpaid the Christmas tree man and hustled.  He got out his phone, but Mary snatched it out of his hand. She dialed the doctor, and held it up for Chris to talk while he focused on his driving.

The nurse saw Lilly first.  She weighed her and measured her while she spoke.  “How old is Lilly, now?  Five?”

“She is nearly seven,” Chris said.  “First grade.”

“Oh.” The nurse seemed surprised. “Developmentally, she is on the chart for a four-year-old.”

“She behaves like she is four often enough,” Chris admitted with a face that could not decide between a frown and a smile.  Lilly tried to smile, and they sat in the examining room for a long time, waiting for the doctor.

An hour later, the doctor strongly recommended Chris take Lilly to the hospital.  The doctor wanted to keep her for a couple of days of observation, and run an MRI on Monday.

“I can’t do that,” Chris replied.  “I just lost my insurance yesterday, but I could not afford the deductible anyway. Besides, you already ran two MRIs in the last four years.  I don’t see how that is going to drastically change.  You said you don’t know what is wrong with her…”  Chris let his voice trail off.  Probably not a smart thing to say to a know-it-all doctor.  The doctor looked like he had to control his response.

“I could send the ambulance and fetch her.”

Chris shook his head.  “Nothing is going to happen in the hospital on Sunday.  Let me keep her this weekend.  I’ll bring her in Monday morning, and we can talk about it.”

The doctor said nothing.  He left the room with a look of frustration and anger.  Chris did not blame him.  Maybe Chris did not feel angry, but he certainly felt frustrated, not knowing what he could do to help Lilly.  Lilly’s condition seemed to have all the doctors stumped.  Lilly felt a bit better by then.  Her condition appeared to get better or worse without reason.  Chris dropped a hand to her shoulder, and Lilly held the hand with both of hers, looked up at him, and tried to smile again.

Chris and Lilly went out to the waiting room and saw that Mary had been crying. Chris felt shocked.  Mary always had a smile.  He felt an urge to hold her and comfort her, but stopped himself.  How could he hug this young woman without suggesting something he did not mean to suggest?  Lilly, of course, did not break her stride.  She threw her arms around Mary, and Chris decided he could add his arms around the two of them, briefly.

“I’ll be all right.  You’ll see,” Lilly said, and tried to smile.

“I am sure you will, little one,” Mary whispered in Lilly’s ear. Then she wiped her eyes and they drove home.  Mary let them go, and went into her own rooms where she wept.  Then she opened her window, as the twilight came, and she spoke softly into the air.

“It is as we feared.  She is dying, being smothered by her humanity.  It is not her natural state, I am sure.  We must rescue her.  Come quick.

Mary left the window open to let in the cold and snowy air.  She stepped into her kitchen and thought something for supper might hit the spot.

************************

MONDAY

A Holiday Journey: Lilly goes missing.

Until then, Happy Reading

*

Holiday Journey 2

Chris picked up his phone.  Mary sent him a text.  Mary lived in the apartment across the hall from his own apartment.  She became his semi-permanent babysitter over the last six months, since his mother got so sick.  Mary picked up Lilly from first grade, and they were presently in a department store downtown, looking for a Christmas present for him, so don’t hurry. Chris smiled.  He hurried, though he figured in his small Midwestern city, nothing could be that far away.

Mary seemed a godsend.  She appeared to be young.  He guessed she attended some local college, and maybe mostly took classes on-line. That, or she recently graduated and was filling the gap between graduation and a good job.  She always seemed to be available when he needed her, but he never would have noticed her if he had not broken up with his fiancé, Courtney, some six months ago; about the time his mother went into hospice.

Lilly, who he had mostly taken care of over those last couple of years when his mother got so sick, had come to live with him by the time Grandma went into hospice. Chris recalled his fights with Courtney were all about Lilly.  He depended a lot on his babysitter, Missus Minelli, at first.  When Lilly finally and permanently moved in with him, Courtney called it the last straw and broke up with him.  Mary moved in that very day.  Lilly seemed immediately drawn to Mary, and Mary volunteered to sit whenever he needed her, and without him even having to ask.  Truth be told, he felt bad about paying her minimum wage, even if he paid her under the table so she got to keep the whole amount.

“Mary.” He saw her right away.  The brisk three-block walk faded as he warmed in the ambient heat of frantic shoppers.  Mary’s smile helped—and Lilly’s hug, when Lilly ran to him.  “And what have you two been up to?” he asked, pretending innocence.

“Buying you a Christmas present, but you are not supposed to know,” Lilly said, as he set her down and took her hand.  “It’s a surprise.”

“A surprise?”  He pretended surprise, while Lilly vigorously nodded her head, before she coughed.  Chris knelt-down to hold her until the coughing fit passed.

“I’m sorry,” Mary said.  “She seems to be struggling today, but I thought a fun outing might do her some good.”

“No, it’s all right,” Chris said.  “It was a good idea.  Lilly always gets sick around Christmas, especially.”

“But maybe an hour and a half since school is enough.”

Chris shook his head, and confessed himself.  “I just got laid off, so Lilly and I will be spending lots of time home in our little apartment this Christmas.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Mary said, and barely held her hand back to keep from offering a physical touch to comfort him.  Lilly stopped coughing, but instead of backing out of the hug, she put both arms around Chris and returned the sentiment to him.  Even if she did not entirely understand, she knew being laid off would not be a good thing.

“No, I think maybe it was a gift.  Maybe, if the economy picks up in the new year, I can get a job that actually uses my college degree.  Who knows? I might even find a job I like.”

“It should be one that you love, no?” Mary whispered.

Chris heard, but did not answer.  Instead, he stood, kept hold of Lilly’s hand, and proposed.  “What say we go to Vincinni’s tonight?  What would you like: spaghetti or pizza?”

“And Mary?” Lilly asked with the name, and reached out with her other hand.

“And Mary,” Chris said.  “If she doesn’t have other plans…” he turned to Mary.  “If you would like.”  He did not want Mary to think he was asking her on a date.  He wanted to be sure she knew she could make an honest choice, but Lilly interrupted.

“Mary is family, too,” Lilly said.

“Like family,” Chris admitted, and he thought of Thanksgiving, and that great turkey Mary made.  She called it the first turkey she ever made, but it turned out perfect, so he found the first turkey confession hard to believe.  Still, she asked him, and Lilly to Thanksgiving supper.  She brought everything over to his apartment, turkey and all, since Lilly had a fever that morning, and lay curled up on the couch. Not exactly a date, Chris imagined. Not the same as him asking her out.

Mary looked at Chris with a look that said she would not mind being family; but he did not notice.  They walked, both holding one of Lilly’s hands, and no doubt the people who saw them thought a mom, a dad, and their little girl.

“So, what did you do for an hour and a half?” Chris asked Mary, but Lilly answered.

“We counted the decorations all up and down the street—all the beautiful trees and lights.  And we said Merry Christmas to everyone.  I love Christmas,” Lilly said.  She let out her biggest and best smile, but she felt warm, like she had a little fever even then.

 

Cue: Silver Bells

A Holiday Journey, The London Symphony Orchestra

conducted by Don Jackson.  Ó℗CD Guy Music Inc., 2001

 

After spaghetti, and lots of love and laughter, they walked home together, since Mary lived just across the hall.  Chris picked up his mail on the way and said good night to Mary, who lingered a bit before she went in to her place.  He carried a tired Lilly inside, after a last look at Mary’s door.

Mary closed the door to her rooms gently. She put her back to the door and found a small tear in her eye.

###

Chris turned on the light switch, and made sure his Christmas tree got lit. Lilly had always been a sickly child, but she always got worse during the Christmas season.  Curiously, she also drew strength during the season. The lights and treats, the trees and decorations, the hymns and songs of joy, the giving and receiving gifts of love, and wishing absolutely everyone Merry Christmas always lifted her spirit. They did not have much in the way of decorations in their little apartment, but as Chris explained to Mary, he really had a choice of buying decorations or presents, and he imagined Lilly would be better off with presents, even if they were things she needed, like clothes, and not so many things she might want, like toys.

He set the mail on the table and carried Lilly to her room, where he got out her things to dress for the night.  “Now, get ready for bed,” he told her.  “And don’t forget to brush your teeth.”

Lilly nodded, a tired nod, but had a question to ask.  “Uncle Chris, could we get a real tree this year?”

Chris paused.  He had the big box of decorations his parents put on the tree every year, so a real tree would not cost more than the tree itself.  His artificial one turned ten that year and began to show signs of age. “Maybe we can do that,” he said. “But not tonight.  Now, go get ready for bed.”

Lilly did not argue.  She felt tired, and in a way, she felt more than tired just from a long day.  She did not feel well at all, but she did not want her Uncle Chris to worry.

Chris checked the mail, and found a letter from the court.  He felt curious, but paused first to consider how Lilly came to be his sweet responsibility.

Chris’ brother, Ricky, went into the military, and served overseas in the war. Lilly’s mother, Serissa, who no one ever met, was an American service woman Ricky met at Christmas time.  Those were hard days, as Ricky wrote.  The country they were in did not allow for any Christian celebrations, so Ricky and Serissa had to celebrate on the sly.  Ricky said he lost her after the season, and did not see her again until the following Christmas, when she showed up with a three-month-old baby, Lilly.  Christopher paused in his reflections as Lilly went to brush her teeth,

After that, Serissa became lost in the war zone and was presumed dead.  Curiously, when Chris’ mother checked with the defense department to see if Serissa had family, like Lilly might have other grandparents and such, the Defense Department had no record of her as ever having served, and so they could not give Mom any information—not to say that bloated government agency knew anything.  Mom probably got transferred to the wrong department.  Anyway, Lilly came home with Ricky at one point.  No one could imagine how he worked out the paperwork for that; but then he did another tour and in the end, he came home in a box.  Dad had already passed away from heart trouble, but Mom was still alive back then. She raised Lilly until Lilly nearly turned six.  Chris helped-out as much as he could; but then Mom died suddenly at the age of sixty-three.  At twenty-nine, Chris felt devastated.  He clung to Lilly as much as she clung to him.

He opened the letter from the court.  He read and found some tears.

The court knew he became unemployed, and the Department of Social Services was suing him for custody of Lilly.  Courtney, he thought right away.  She canceled their engagement, because, in her own words, she had no intention of being wet nurse for someone else’s child.  She worked for the company, in the main office, and got him a job there back in the days when they were supposedly in love.  No doubt, she arranged for him to lose his job.  But she made a mistake.  The DSS suit got initiated before he technically got fired; not that the court would care about that technicality.  She probably figured if she waited a week, he might find another job and ruin the whole plan.

“So, what?” he mumbled.  “Does she think she can swoop back into my life once I no longer have a child to care for? Or is this just a vindictive, hateful act?”

“Uncle Chris,” Lilly called.

Chris stood, wiped his tears, and went to Lilly’s room.  He smiled his best smile, and read her a Christmas story.  She fell asleep before they got half-way through.

Holiday Journey 1

Christmas came on a Sunday that year.  The old radio played a mix of Christmas carols and Santa music.  Six-year-old Christopher Shepherd curled up on the couch and marveled at the Christmas tree.  It even smelled like Christmas—evergreen, and Turkey roasting in the kitchen.  He thought happy thoughts, and reveled in the joy of the season.  He felt the love everywhere, and wondered why he could not feel such Christmas spirit all year long.  He felt peace on earth and good will to all with whom God is well pleased.  His older brother apparently felt something quite contrary.  Nine-year-old Ricky had a new dart rifle.  He presently hid behind the Christmas tree where he could poke his head out and shoot the bad guys.  They had plenty of first person shooter video games, but they were not allowed to use them on Christmas morning before church.  Christopher did not mind.  Ricky whined.

Ricky paused in his killing spree.  His eyes got wide and his mouth temporarily opened, when one dart accidentally knocked over the framed picture of Aunt Linda that sat on the wall unit.  He quickly retrieved his dart and put the cracked picture back up, crooked.  His face looked sorry, but his mind worked fast to figure how he could pretend he did not know what happened.

Christopher preferred peace to war—love, and joy to the world, like the angels sang in the Christmas Eve service.  He felt content to sit and look at the most beautiful Christmas tree in the whole world; at least as he imagined it to be.

Mom came over to sit on the couch beside him and she put her arm gently around Christopher’s shoulder.  He smiled and snuggled.  He always smiled on Christmas day.  He normally smiled all day long, and not just for the presents and torn Christmas wrap that littered the floor.  Christmas was the best day of the year, and he wished every day could be like Christmas.

“We need to get moving,” Dad said, as he came half-way down the stairs, and spoke to his wife.

Mom nodded and stood.  “Time to get dressed for church,” she said to the boys.  “Ricky,” she added his name to be sure he heard before she went into the kitchen to check on the turkey, pausing only briefly to straighten out Aunt Linda’s picture, and frown.  Christopher got down from the couch to walk up the stairs.  Ricky put down his gun and ran, shoving Christopher out of the way to be sure he got up the stairs first.  Christopher didn’t mind.  It was Christmas.

 

Cue: Here We Come a Wassailing

A Holiday Journey, The London Symphony Orchestra

conducted by Don Jackson.  Ó℗CD Guy Music Inc., 2001

Cue: opening credits …

…               Christopher Shepherd

…               Merry

…               Plum

…               Roy

…               Lilly

…     as      Courtney/Demon

and

…      as      Santa…

“You wanted to see me Mister Potts?”  Chris stepped into the manager’s office and straightened his shirt, though he imagined he knew what Mister Potts wanted to see him about.  He had been through this before.  He knew the routine.

“Chris,” Mister Potts spoke without looking up from the papers on his desk. “The district office has been reviewing the P & L statements since the summer, and I have been told I have to pare down the staff.”

“I understand,” Chris said, but he could not help the disappointment that crept into his words. “And at Christmas time.”  It caused Mister Potts to look up.

“The company is not responsible for Christmas.  Lots of people don’t even celebrate these days.  I will give you a good recommendation, wherever you go.”

“I do try to show up on time and do my work to the best of my ability.”

“I understand,” Mister Potts said, as his face wrinkled with regret.  “I understand your mother passed away.”

“Three months ago,” Chris said.  “Cancer.” Chris held back his tears.

“I’m sorry.  Your father?” Mister Potts looked up briefly.

“Passed away almost twenty years ago.  Heart.”

Mister Potts lowered his head and shuffled his papers.  “It’s that girl of yours.  You have to call out so much.”  Chris saw the rationalization for the firing scurry across Mister Pott’s face.

“Lilly is my brother’s daughter.  Ricky was military.  He died overseas two years ago.  I guess she is my responsibility now.  We never knew her mother.”  Chris figured it was pointless, but he had to say it.  “I am all she has left.  I need to take care of her.  That is why I need this job.”

“It isn’t my decision.”  Mister Potts steeled himself.  “I’m just the bearer of bad news.  I’m sorry. Good luck.”  Mister Potts went back to his papers and would not look up again. “Your last check will be mailed to you.”

Chris knew better than to argue, and much better than to complain.  “I will be putting you down as a reference, and I thank you for putting in a good word for me.”  He turned and stepped out of the office, closed the door quietly, and breathed.

Being laid off could be a gift, he thought.  Chris sniffed and wiped the tear that came up into the corner of his eye. He thought he might get unemployment through the new year.  The company would probably fight him on the unemployment.  Still, he had some money he inherited when his mother died, though she ate most of it over the years in her reverse mortgage.  He got something from the V. A. to help support Lilly.  He dreaded the idea of going to court, if it came to that.  He knew he needed to insure Lilly had a stable home environment, or lose her, and being laid off twice in the last four years did not make for a good resume.

He did not want to think about it.  His phone buzzed.

Guardian Angel-17 The Examiners, part 2 of 3

When they returned to the house with Kirsten in tow, Ali Pasha was not surprised to find Chief Examiner Ibin Mohamed Abbass, Lord of the Society of the Mahdi waiting for him.  He could hardly have expected more if he had sent the man an engraved invitation.  “Lord Abbass,” he said, and emphasized the latter half of the man’s name, which caused Kirsten to hide and swallow her laugh.  “What brings you to my humble home?”

“I have been anxious over your disappearance.”  The little man shared polite bows with the scholar.  “I was curious that it happened at the same time your former guests disappeared.  May I ask where you have been?”

Ali Pasha put on a sad face and invited the man inside.  He instructed Manomar to take Kirsten to the women whom he said were in the next room.  “And wait there.”  Ali Pasha instructed, sternly.  Manomar bowed in a way, which indicated he understood.  He and Kirsten would be able to hear everything that was going on from the other room.

“My former guests!”  Ali Pasha looked offended for a second.  “How sweet they talked.  How knowledgeable they seemed.  I am embarrassed to say they fooled me completely.  Even when your men came to collect them for the slave market, I thought it was a terrible mistake.  I went to my neighbors and borrowed the money to buy them back, but then I heard that you took them to be examined, and I finally realized that I had been played for the fool.”  Ali Pasha sat heavily in a chair and indicated that the Examiner should sit as well.  It was a good performance, but the question was whether or not Lord Abbass bought it.

The little man sat slowly.  “But this does not explain where you have been during these days.”

“The wilderness.”  Ali Pasha said quickly and waved his hand at some distant, obscure places while he added just enough curiosity to his tone of voice to suggest that the answer should have been obvious.  “When I realized the truth, I was truly embarrassed.  I came and grabbed my trusty servant, Manomar, and we headed for the wilderness.”  He waved his hand again.  “You know, I am only truly happy when I am exploring new things.  Thus is the life of an inquirist, I’m afraid.”  He sighed heavily, having learned how from Omar the Idiot.

“Just the two of you?”  Abbass was not convinced.  “There were no others with you, not even guards for your protection?”

“Well, yes, just the two of us.”  Ali Pasha paused as if considering his words.  “I see now that just the two of us was rather foolish, but to be sure, I was so upset I could hardly think straight.  Did you know there is a ridge some many miles inland, and from there we could see all the way to the River, and even see the smoke fires rising from New Ark?”

The Examiner did not answer right away.  Instead, like a good lawyer, he rephrased his previous question in the hope of catching Ali Pasha in a lie.  “So just you and your servant went off into the wild without any concern of wild animals, savages or anything.”

“Yes,” Ali Pasha said firmly.  “It sounds a bit crazy now to think of it.  I suppose I will have to give thanks for our safe return.  Perhaps a donation to the Mosque would be in order.”

“And with no equipment, no tents or otherwise?”

“Manomar had his long knife, and we were able to make a shelter from the trees and branches, and we could hunt a little.  I confess, I have lost weight, but my wives will certainly not object to that.”  Ali Pasha stood and pretended to model for the Examiner, seeking affirmation with his eyes for his trimmer figure.  The examiner nodded politely, though he would have no way of knowing if Ali Pasha lost weight or not.

“And we did run into a savage, to be honest,” Ali Pasha confirmed.  “But I never considered that possibility until there he was, painted face and all.  His name was Petar or Petras, I am not sure how you say it.  You know how difficult communication between two languages can be, but I shared a simple string of beads I had around my neck and he shared a rabbit, and then he was gone, just like that.”  Ali Pasha clapped his hands once, sharply.

“A remarkable encounter,” Abbass said as if this story was becoming more, not less difficult to believe.

Ali Pasha pretended sudden excitement at that point.  “But now I cannot hold my tongue any longer,” he said as his whole attitude changed.  He realized that he also had to change the subject.  “Please, I must tell someone and it would be an honor to speak of this to you.”  Abbass indicated that he was listening, and Ali Pasha began with a flourishing of his sleeves.

“On the fifth day, in the midst of my evening prayers, when the sun was at my back and I was facing the smoke in the East, a most remarkable thing happened.  Praise Allah, but I was inspired as I have never been before, which tells me well that the Holy Prophet has not abandoned me for my foolishness with those wicked people.  Come and see.”  He stood and stepped over to a worktable in the corner where he began to open boxes containing stamps.

“Look, look,” he said.  “When I was leaving my home in Andalucia, I had these stamps made to mark whatever specimens I might find and keep them together in an organized fashion.  You see, I have a stamp for every letter and form in the Arabic tongue.  Do you see how these make the word for fish?”  He laid them on the table upside down.  They formed a mirror image of the word, but it could be read.

“I see,” Abbass said, and he looked at Ali Pasha with new eyes of suspicion, which Ali Pasha ignored.

“It came to me in a flash that if I set these and others in a box where they would not move around, do you see, I could make a whole page of words at once.  I think the paper would have to be flatly pressed against the inked stamps, but I could make many pages of the same information.  Do you see what I am saying?  And then if I could change the stamps around, I could make a second page and a third.”

“I see.”  The Examiner stroked his beard though he did not sound impressed.

“You see, but you do not understand.”  Ali Pasha turned and took the man by the arms.  “I could print or press the Koran much faster and cleaner than all the scribes in Mecca.  People could at last have the Holy Words to touch with their own hands and read with their own eyes.  Don’t you understand what this means?”

“Yes.”  The Examiner spoke without any heart in his words.  “Moveable type,” he added in a language, which he always said was his native tongue, and claimed was an obscure North African dialect.  In the past, Ali Pasha would not have given it another thought, but now he understood the words, exactly, even if he had to let on that he did not understand.

“Yes?”

“And the girl you just purchased?”  The Examiner asked.

“Ah!”  Ali Pasha briefly widened his eyes and spoke as if this was all some great secret and he was letting a good friend in on the ground floor.  “I have seen this one sorting fish by the sea and laying them out for sale in the market.  She has a good eye.  She knows a straight line, she already knows how to work a press to extract the fish oils, and she claims her mother taught her to read and write a most unusual thing in a slave.  I will train her to run my press.  Do you see?  She will lay my letters in a straight line and press ink instead of oil, do you think?”

“Yes.”  The Examiner was still not impressed.  “But I think also I would like to know why the guards at the gate have no memory of you and your servant leaving town.”

“Auch.”  Ali Pasha inadvertently used Lars’ word.  “I have been in and out of the gate so many times since coming to this new world, I would guess they simply did not notice.”

“Perhaps.”

“Ah, but now please.  If you don’t mind I have much to do with my stamps.  I appreciate your visit and your concern, but as you can see, I am not corrupted.  I am still the same old inquirist.  That is all a forgotten incident, and one to embarrass, so I hope it will stay forgotten.  Now, if you will forgive me.”

“Very well.”  The Lord of the Mahdi headed for the door.  “But we will speak again.”  Then he added a phrase in his supposedly obscure native tongue.  “I know the Gaian do not stray very far from their dogs,” he said, but he smiled and bowed as if bidding good day, and he left.

November: NaNo: The month of the eternally stubborn … and the Politically Correct.

November is a full month even missing a day …

###

The first of November used to be a holy day: All Saints Day.  Christians prayed and gave thanks for all the “great cloud of witnesses” that came before them.

Now it is the day Christmas decorations go up and Christmas merchandise makes it to the shelf.

###

The eleventh used to be Veterans Day – an honorable day to remember the brave men and women who sacrificed so much to defend and protect this nation, our homes and our freedom. 

Now it is a day to flip a finger at the tomb of the unknown soldier and in an effort of short-sightedness, castigate ourselves as colonialists, imperialists and war-mongers.  It has become a day to hate all things military.

###

The third Thursday used to be a day to give thanks to God for family, friends, neighbors – for all the blessings bestowed by the providential grace of God on our homes, communities and nation.  It was a day of prayer and gratitude, not only for a good harvest (good year) but for all the good things in life.  It was a feast of celebration of life.

Now, God is gone, gratitude is gone, the expressions of love for family friend and neighbor is gone.  We have excess food and football in preparation for shopping.

###

On that first Thanksgiving, European settlers and Native Americans gathered together like the best of neighbors.  They celebrated life, the harvest, and peace.  It was a joyous time of fellowship and friendship with pledges to one another in the understanding that peace is always better than war.  And they gave thanks to God, each in their own way, and none other than God. 

Now, the people who came here from Europe to worship and practice their faith without persecution are painted as greedy, land-grabbing killers and murderers, And the Native Americans mourn Thanksgiving as if that one GOOD day is the cause of all the bad days that followed.

###

These are simple things.  If you have a desire for any sort of historical fiction, especially during NaNo month, my thought is this: “Don’t let your modern prejudices get in the way of reality.”  And that is what they are.  They are not political correctness.  They are not open minded.  They are certainly not seeing the truth as if for the first time.  They are plain and simply prejudice and bigotry of the post-modern mind.

###

Have a happy Thanksgiving, and don’t be afraid to be grateful and give thanks for all that you have.  And, if I may, don’t be in such a hurry to go out on Friday and get more …

 

Forever 1.12: Leaving Home

            “So what are you going to do after you graduate?” Joe, the church sexton asked.  He was sitting in his little room off the main auditorium and near the kitchen where every Sunday morning he had coffee and the Sunday paper waiting.  Glen turned his head briefly before he looked again on the evergreens that shielded a view of the empty church parking lot.  It was raining, not hard, but a miserable sort of cold, soaking rain.  Church was long over and Joe and Glen might have been the only two people left in the building.

            “Go to college.  I thought that was required.  At seventeen, I am not ready for college, but it seems I have no choice.  My great uncle sits on the board or something and went to great lengths to get me in.  To be honest, I should probably go to a local school, maybe commute to a community college for a year while I try to figure out what I want to do.”

            “You sound like you don’t have any choice,” Joe said.  But Joe knew Glen’s parents.  Glen simply glanced at the man again before his eyes were drawn back to the window.  It was finally beginning to rain.

            “Not here,” he said, and he thought long about that before he added, “Of course, this isn’t the real world, you know.”  When Joe said nothing, Glen began to explain.

            “In this place everything is twisted and distorted.”  Glen paused to consider his words.  “Exaggerated,” he decided.  “I mean, in the real world my parents were always hard on me.  I might have wanted them to be more easy going, but I never doubted they meant it for the best and only wanted the best for me.  Here, they are impossible.  In the real world, I might have wanted more positive attention.  Here, nothing is positive toward me and mostly they ignore me altogether.  There, I may have felt like I got more than my share of blame for things, but here everything is my fault, even if I have nothing to do with it.  Do you see?”  When Glen heard no response, he continued.

            “To be honest, I have begun to wonder if it is so much that things here are distorted as maybe just my feelings are distorted and then projected on my surroundings.  It is like maybe I am the one who wants things to be easy and wants praise and wants to not have to take responsibility for my screw-ups.  So here things get extra hard and I get only put downs and I get blamed for things even when I am innocent.  It is almost like whatever I want, I get the opposite.”  Glen stopped then to think and he thought Joe was being very patient by staying quiet.

            “You know what I mean?”  The question was rhetorical.  “It’s like whenever I find something good they discontinue it.  It’s like, I don’t know.  Maybe God is trying to work on my insides.  Maybe I am wanting certain things too much and others too little.  Of course, if that’s the case, it is easy enough to determine what I am wanting too much.  And it isn’t just my parents or my family, mind you.  It is teachers, friends, everyone really.  You may be excepted.  I don’t know.  You don’t really depend on me for anything and I am not over you in some way.  And same in reverse, I mean you are not over me and I don’t depend on you, necessarily.”  Glen paused.  “Actually, that is not true.  I depend on you to listen which no one else ever does, and I appreciate that more than you will ever know.”  Glen tried to get back on topic.

            “But anyway, it is easy enough to figure out what I may be wanting too much.  The trouble is, there are two things about that.  First, most people would just say I am wanting the good things in life too much; but there is nothing wrong with good things.  They say life is a mix of good and bad, but all I seem to get around here is the bad.  Is it really wrong to want some good things mixed in?  Good times and bad times are part of every life, they say.  All I can say is great!  When do the good times start?”  Glen took a deep breath before he continued.  His eyes were damp.

            “The other problem with that is I don’t have any idea what I am wanting too little.  I know some Eastern philosophers say you shouldn’t want anything at all.  I most strongly disagree.  God made us with the capacity to love and want the one we love.  I know we were made to love God and love our neighbor, to glorify God and do good for our neighbor.  These things I am doing, they are in my heart, in my soul if you will, but still I get crushed, it gets taken from me, things never work out for the good, nothing ever goes right, and I still get kicked, psychologically crushed, crucified in a small way, I suppose.  That seems to be the nature of this non-place I have found myself in.  Pain and torment appear victorious and I can’t seem to break out or escape.” 

            “The truth is, there is no good here for me, not in my life, not that I have ever experienced.  I don’t even know what a blessing might be.  I can’t say as I have ever had one.  About all I can say is what I keep saying over and over.  I’m not dead yet, and I ask, why did God let me live?”

            Glen heard a sound and turned around.  Joe was rushing back in from the kitchen with an apology.  “Sorry, I had to be sure the coffee was unplugged, and then the phone rang.  You were saying?  Your uncle got you into the college so you feel you have to go?”

            “Yes,” Glen nodded.  “That is exactly what I was saying.”  He turned his eyes back to the falling rain and said no more.

Forever 1.11: Going Home

            Glen ripped down the weeds and vines that guarded the cave entrance.  He stuck his head into the dark and called out, “Hello?”  He was only mildly surprised when he got an answer and an invitation.

            “Yes?  Hello.  Do come in.”

            “It is rather dark,” Glen said as he stepped in and stepped aside to let in as much of the fading sunlight as possible.

            “Oh, I beg your pardon.”  There was a roar of flame like flame from a flamethrower.  Glen had to shade and close his eyes to not be suddenly blinded, and he had to keep back to not be burnt.  When it was over, a big campfire was lit in the middle of a round room cavern and there was a dragon curled up comfortably against the back wall.  There was also a man sitting cross legged before the fire.

            “Hello?”  Glen spoke to the man and again he was only mildly surprised when the dragon answered.

            “Yes, hello.  Do come in.  The old man said to expect you.”  Glen stepped forward toward the old man who had his back turned and made no indication other than that he was perhaps sleeping sitting there.  He made sure the fire remained between him and the dragon.  “Sometimes the shaman prefers the dark, and to me, of course, it makes no difference.”

            “Who are you?” Glen asked, not that he expected an answer he could understand.  He imagined this was the dragon of the long march from the Windy Castle on the Fogwart River or some such thing.  What he heard did actually surprise him.

            “I am the Spirit of Home,” the dragon said. 

            “I beg your pardon?”  Glen repeated the dragon’s phrase.

            “I make a house into a home and a community into a hometown.  I am the greater spirit that reaches out when people go away.  I remind them of all the good things.  I sing to them in the night.  I draw them back to the place they were raised and hold them close to family and loved ones.”

            “So you are the one I have to thank for Debbie.”  Glen showed his anger.

            “Regrettable.  I am not allowed to discriminate, but how a person responds is entirely up to them.  Which call was stronger?  Regretable.”

            Glen let go of his anger in a breath of hot air.  It was puppy love, as he knew.  There really was no future there.  “Yeah, well I would like to get home,” he changed the subject.

            “So would we,” the old man spoke and Glen took a step back.  “But our home has been taken by people from the old world.  We have no right of return.  Our home is lost to us forever.  We have had to make a new home.  I am here to see that time of homelessness and despair is short, not long.”

            “I am sorry,” Glen said.  “But all of that was ages before my time.  I would like to go back to my time, if it is not too much trouble.”

            The dragon lifted his head and stared long at Glen.  It cocked its head to one side and then the other before it spoke.  “I see no home in you.  Yet you are not of the nomads or gypsies or travelers who carry their home with them.  I see many homes in you down through the ages, and I see you in many forms living a native among many people.”

            The old man spoke over top.  “You have an ancient touch of the Tuscarora people.  That alone is why I let you live.  That is why I called you here, but I see now there is no help in you.”

            Glen took another step back and swallowed.  He was not aware his life was in danger.  “The reason it is an ancient touch of native is because I don’t belong here.  I don’t belong in this time.”

            “I see many days,” the dragon continued.  “I see many times.  I am confused.  I cannot sing to you.”

            “I don’t know.”  Glen shook his head.  “I am only me, right now.  And I belong a hundred years in the future.  I should not have come in the first place.”

            “You do,” the old man confirmed.

            “You should not be here.” The dragon agreed.

            “Well?”  Glen waited.

            “Why are you here?”  The dragon asked.

            “The old man?”  Glen suggested.

            The old man shook his head.  “I saw you in the entrance and called to you, but you came of your own volition.”

            “Why did you come?”  The dragon rephrased its question.

            “To have my heart broken?”  Glen said.  “To find one more wonderful thing that I am not allowed to have.  You have no idea.”  The tears came up into his eyes.  “Why?  Every time I find something good, it gets discontinued and taken from me.  Everywhere I go I am not welcome and not wanted.  I disappoint everyone.  I get passed over and neglected always.  There is no good in me, and though I beg for forgiveness, all I hear is silence.  The silence in my life is deafening.  Please, I just want to go home.”  He began to cry and fell to his knees because all his strength to stand left him at once.

            “You have no home,” the dragon said.

            “Though you fear homelessness and despair, you must pass through to make your own home,” the old man added.

            “You have had and will have many homes, but you don’t belong here,” the dragon concluded.

            “That is because I am not dead yet,” Glen mouthed.  “Why did God let me live?”  He faded from sight.

Forever 1.11: The Transient Heart

            Glen danced.  Not well, but he gave it his best shot, and Debbie helped him literally every step of the way.  He surprised her when he showed that he knew how to waltz, and he was somewhat graceful being rather athletic.  But the truth was, Glen spent most of his time trying to maneuver Debbie toward the punch bowl and then out of the torch lights.  It was not easy.  Debbie liked to dance.

            “You are a really good dancer,” Debbie lied as she set her punch cup on the edge of the table.  Glen took her hand and brought her out under the stars.  Showing her the big dipper was the only way he could get her alone.

            “I am not,” Glen admitted with utter honesty.

            “Well.”  Debbie took back her hand so she could worry her hands together.  She looked down again at her boots as she spoke.  “But you are much better than the other boys.  I think with a little practice you could be good.”

            Glen chose not to respond.  He grabbed her hand again and tugged her a little further into the dark while he pointed to the sky.  “There,” he said, and he traced the stars of the dipper with his outstretched finger. 

            “Oh,” she said with some excitement in her voice.  “I see it.”  And Glen was glad.  She knew what a dipper was, unlike the girls a hundred years in the future.  Glen turned to her and risked setting his hand around her waist like they did when they waltzed.

            “Now about this dancing,” he said.  Debbie was not fooled.  She slipped her arms around his neck like she no doubt watched her mother do it.  Glen needed no more invitation.  He kissed her, and it was no tentative kiss.  Debbie’s eyes went wide before she squeezed them shut and poured herself into the kiss.  When their lips parted, Glen did not let go.  He held her tight, and she held him with equal desire.  He pecked at her lips, kissed her cheeks gently and kissed her forehead before he kissed her eyes.  He had no doubt her heart was racing.  His certainly was.

            “You know,” Glen said.  “In some cultures kissing is considered an invitation to marry.”  Debbie looked at him and looked deeply into his eyes.  Then she kissed him, smack on the lips, and did her best to leave a permanent impression.  Glen got the feeling she was marking her territory.  When she was done, she spoke.

            “I would not mind,” she said, and Glen was the one who felt it was best to bring Debbie back into the light.

            For the rest of the week, Debbie snuck away from home and came to the digs by lunchtime.  She always brought a basket of goodies, and Glen found her harder and harder to resist.  They sat in the grass, held hands some,  kissed some, and talked about everything and nothing and sometimes did not talk at all.  But every day, Glen became more anxious.  It was coming up to the time when he was supposed to leave and join his family up north at the club.

            Glen found the cave, but this time he opted to leave it covered.  He did not want to end up in 1768, although he imagined he would not mind seeing Debbie in something more low-cut in place of that turtleneck prairie dress she always wore.  When his last day came, he held on to her.  He gently touched her breast and felt her fire roar.  He knew he was on fire already, but he went no further.  Deep down he knew it was not right.  Still, he could not help the words that came unbidden from his lips.

            “Come with me,” he said.  “It is not far to the city where we can catch a train for the east.  We can,” he almost hesitated.  “We can marry and have three children, just like you want, and we can be happy.”  He was surprised at how little he had to struggle to talk her into it.  She had a bag.  He had a duffle he could wear as a backpack.  He could hardly sleep that night.  And in the morning, his grandparents said good-bye, apologized for not being rich enough to sending him off with a horse.  But he said that was alright, kissed them and ran to the spot.

            Debbie was already there, and she looked excited.  He was thrilled to see her as well, and he decided in the night that 1868 might not be so bad if he was with her.  He certainly knew what to invest in if he ever got any money to invest.  Given the chance, they might even become rich.  No, that might not be bad at all.

            The first few hours were wonderful, though they held hands and said very little.  In the following hours, Glen caught her glancing back.  When they stopped for lunch, the glance had become a look and Glen asked her about it.

            “I’m just thinking of my family, my home, my friends.  I’ll get over it.”

            “This is a great adventure, just you and me.  As long as we are together I know everything will be wonderful,” Glen said.  She smiled, but even then Glen knew it was a lost cause.  Soon enough she was talking about going home where they could have a proper wedding first, and then she began to talk about what they were doing, that it was wrong and they were going to hurt a lot of people.  Glen did not let it go too far.  He might have been a teenager, and really a teenager, but somewhere inside him there was still the wisdom of one much older.  Indeed, his parents often accused him of being old even when he was a child.

            “Your bag,” he said.  “I have to go.  But I will come back next year and maybe I can come to stay, if you still want me.”

            Debbie cried.  She took her bag and turned around, but she cried for as far as Glen could still see her.  She would get over it, indeed.  It really was only puppy love, or perhaps puppy-lust with raging hormones, but she would get over it.

            Glen also turned and walked without paying too much attention to which way.  He stayed pretty much on course, but found a surprise a couple of hours before dark.  He came to the digs.  He had not intended that, but somehow he must have gotten turned around.  He did not mind, though.  This time he was not only going to the cave, he was going inside.

Forever 1.11: Gone to Dance

            “So, are ya going to hold her hand?”  Tyler asked.  He was the nice one, and he was asking about Debbie.  Glen shook his head when he spoke.  He could not believe that fifteen and sixteen year old boys in 1868 actually talked that way.

            “Of course, it’s a dance.”  Glen understood the young men sincerely respected the young women enough to treat them gently and believed that sex was best kept to marriage, if even then.  Heck, one out of ten girl’s Glen’s age back home in 1968 had already given up her virginity.  The boys expected it and the girls no longer respected themselves enough to say no.  “I’m going to kiss her.”  Glen announced, just to see their reaction.  Tyler turned red.  Curtis looked at his feet.  Robert, the big mean one, sneered.

            “Don’t lie,” Robert said.  “You’re just making that up.”

            Glen grinned.  He had no idea how well they knew him – how long he had supposedly been in town, but it was long enough for the boys to know who he was and at least one girl knew him.  He was glad to hear that his feelings in that brief encounter a hundred years in the future were mutual feelings.

            “Hey look,” Curtis changed the subject.  “Look who is riding a horse.  It’s old man Wilson’s nig –“

            “Hey!”  Glen hit Curtis in the shoulder and the boy dutifully said ouch.  “Show some respect for a free man.”

            Curtis looked like he did not understand.  Tyler stepped in.  “Okay, negroid.”

            “That’s not much better,” Glen frowned.

            “What would you call him?”  Tyler asked.

            “How about African-American?”

            “Shit,” Robert erupted.  “You talk like a damn Yankee.”

            Glen whipped around and hit the boy hard enough to send him to the dirt.  “My family is all over the Carolina rolls of the honorable dead, and my uncle also died defending Vicksburg from the damn Yankees.  Don’t you ever call me a Yankee again, and you better keep that nasty talk to yourself around me, too.  God is my witness, you will respect other people, all God’s children, or so help me I’ll hit you again.”

            Robert thought about it.  Tyler and Curtis did not know what to think, until Tyler got between Glen and Robert.

            “He didn’t mean nothing bad by it.  Did you Robert?  It’s just how we talk here, that’s all.  Nothing bad.”

            Glen nodded slowly.  In 1868, they honestly did not know any better.  He knew it would be generations before anything really changed and there was nothing he could do about it in the short term.  He stuck his hand out to Robert who was still on the ground, thinking.

            “Sorry I hit you,” Glen said.  “No hard feelings.”

            Robert grinned as slowly as Glen had nodded.  He took the hand and let Glen help him up.  “Sorry I called you a damn Yankee,” he said until he got to his feet and added, “Ya damn Yankee.”  He turned and ran.  Tyler shouted and ran after him a short way.  Curtis might have run, but looked at Glen who was grinning and shaking his head.  After a moment, Tyler came back and he, Glen and Curtis walked to the school together.

            Outside the school, there was a dance floor set-up on the lawn.  There was an American flag flying on the flag pole with far less stars than Glen was used to, but Glen got the impression if he peeled back the stars and stripes he might find the stars and bars just beneath the surface.  There was a separate stage for the band and a few tables shoved together that had all sorts of baked goods and sweet goodies on them, along with the required punch bowl. 

            Curtis wandered off when Tyler and Glen made their way to the food.  Ms Esmeralda Commons, the school marm scolded them and said they had to wait until the dance started.  Glen put on his best humble face.

            “Yes, mam,” he said, drawing her attention to himself while Tyler stuffed something sweet into the pocket of his slacks.  With that accomplished, Tyler echoed the “yes, mam,” again as a distraction, but Glen honestly felt he could wait.

            “Glen.”  It was a girl’s voice that made him turn around.  Debbie came up, all smiles.  Susan was with her, and Glen was startled to realize he knew Susan’s name.  He hardly had time to contemplate the implications of that, however, because Debbie’s father was right there beside his daughter.  And he was sporting a pistol at his belt.

            Glen swallowed as Debbie introduced him.  “This is Glen that I told you about.”  The man eyed Glen with laser beam eyes.  No matter that lasers would not be invented for a hundred years.  

            “Debbie tells me you are bright.  Any thoughts about the future?”  The man jumped straight to the point, whatever his point might have been. 

            “Yes, sir.  I was thinking after I finish my schooling here I might venture east to Davidson College or maybe William and Mary.  I am thinking about the law.”

            “Where?”  Debbie asked.

            “Virginia.  Davidson is in the Carolinas.  I have some family there.”

            “Oh, but that is so far.”

            Glen looked up at the man who was considering something.  This was clearly not the response the man expected.  Then Glen almost overdid it. 

            “Of course, Harvard has both a school of law and a Seminary if I should find myself moving in that direction.  But, that is even farther from home.”

            The man nodded, but came to a conclusion.  “Stick with the law.  That is where the money is, and an entrance into politics besides.”

            “Yes, sir,” Glen said.  “But wisdom suggests I wait to see how the dust settles before any political venture.”

            “Yes it does.”  The man almost smiled.  He patted Glen on the shoulder.  “We may talk more later.”  He turned to his daughter.  “Alright sweetheart,” he said, but it was almost swallowed by the shout, “Bob.”  And he left them and went off to see Bob, whoever that might be.

            Debbie grinned.

            “What?”  Glen asked.

            “My father has given his permission for you to court me.”  Glen looked shocked.  He had not considered that an issue.  Debbie took the expression on his face the wrong way.  “Unless you don’t want to.”  She looked down at her dowdy boots and twisted one in the dirt.

            Glen did not have to think for long.  He held out his hand.  “I want to.”

            Debbie looked up, turned a little red at the sight of his hand but also did not have to think long.  She place her hand gently in his and Glen felt her smile return in full force.

Forever 1.11: Southern Nights

            About two out of three summers Glen and his family traveled south so Gram and Grandad could also spend some time with their grandkids.   The south was hot in the summer.  Glen often thought of it as a steam bath and would point to the steam that appeared to rise from the pavement as proof.  He did not mind the steam bath, though it was hard when he was young in the days before air conditioning.  Back then there was no escape.

            One thing that was certain about that small town in the south, Glen was always considered a tourist.  It did not matter how much family he had in town, he was an outsider.  He came from the outside and soon enough would return to the outside, and there was a touch of jealousy or some unnamed emotion that went into the stares he got.  Glen ignored all that. 

            When Glen was fifteen he had a chance to stay in the south for a while when his family went up north to the club without him.  He didn’t mind because his uncle was into digging up the past.  The area had been settled for almost 2000 years, and Glen’s Uncle had some of it and had found a great deal more.  Of course, it all got written up in fancy journals and such, but Glen did not care about that so much.  He loved the artifacts, and he loved finding them. 

            Glen understood that the digging was a slow and laborious process.  As has been said, it was about as interesting as watching grass grow.  What Glen did not realize was the work that had to go into preparing a site for the dig.  He spent most of the week with a scythe in his hands chopping weeds and grass and bushes and sweating and trying hard not to step on any adders or rattlesnakes.  It was brutal in the southern, summer sun.  But he would chop all day with his future cousin-in-law beside him and then go home to the air conditioning and the television where he stayed up far too late watching the Republican National Convention.  He saw the one four years earlier – the one with Goldwater, Mister AU H2O, though he did not understand all of it.  He saw the one where LBJ got the nod, and the one that nominated Humphry around so much violence.  Now it was Richard Nixon’s turn.  He still did not understand all of it, but found it fascinating all the same.

            The site was a mound built against a small cliff that continued above the cliff in a small hill.  It was the end of the week when Glen swung at a hanging vine, he thought he might bang his scythe on the cliff face but curiously banged only air.  As the vine fell, he found a cave.  He was alone at that point, his future cousin-in-law having gone to town for lunch and something cold to drink.

            Glen did not know what to do.  The cave was not big, though perhaps big enough for him to stand in the entrance.  And it was dark, like it was covered up for so long it looked reluctant to let go of the darkness.  Glen imagined between the trees and vines and the bushes, prickers and briars that hemmed it in, no one had looked into the cave for years, perhaps decades.  Maybe no one alive even knew it was there.  He was tempted briefly to do the foolish thing and go inside, but then he thought the snakes probably knew the cave was there.  He imagined the bats and spiders that might also know about it.  Still, he thought one shout would not hurt.

            “Hello!”

            His heart skipped a beat when he heard a response.

            “Hello?”

            The steam came.  It surrounded him quicker than his panic could make him turn and run.  It smelled of sulfur and smoke, made his eyes tear until he could not see, and left him to stagger toward the fresh air.  After a short way he had to sit down.  His eyes closed and teared terribly, but his lungs were grateful.  Meanwhile, his ears picked up a strange sound of squeaky wheels, stomping hooves and rattling planks.  It amplified when he heard his future cousin-in-law say “woah.”  Then he heard a ratchet sound like a brake and just had to peek through his tears.

            “Come on, Glen.  That’s enough for today.  Time to go get cleaned up for the dance tonight.”

            “Dance?”   Glen looked.  The young man was driving a horse and wagon.  Glen did not understand.  What happened to the pick-up?

            “At the high school.  Debbie will be there.  Don’t you want to see Debbie all cleaned up?”

            “Dance,” Glen said more firmly.  As his eyes cleared from the smoke he got up and gathered his scythe and shovel.  He remembered a Debbie.  He met her once earlier in the week.  She was fourteen, a year behind in school.  He really never talked to her, though, because his cousin had to go and dragged him off with her.

            “So what happened to you?”  Glen’s future cousin-in-law asked.

            “That cave I found.  When I uncovered it, it spewed out some sort of sulfur-like smoke.”  Glen pointed but there was no cave to be seen.  The vines and bushes were all back in place.  “Huh!”  He was startled, and his companion had the kindness not to say, “What cave?”

            Glen’s grandmother dressed Glen in a shirt with a stiff collar, black pants and suspenders.  She said he looked very nice.  With the black tie boots, Glen imagined he looked like somebody named Clem.

            “Don’t stay out late.  At least not too late,” his Grandad said with a broad smile on his face.

            “Yes, sir.”  Glen responded in the way he felt was expected.  Then he was not sure what to do.  He had no idea where the high school was, but he saw a couple of kids dressed like him walking along so he thought to follow. 

            Glen had been quiet all afternoon, ever since his wagon ride back from the digs.  He saw many men on horseback and most looked like farmers, but a few looked like cowboys complete with chaps and guns.  He also examined the wagons they passes.  Most were loaded with hay, corn, cotton, tobacco and peaches.  There were tons of peaches. 

            Glen finagled the year out of his future cousin-in-law.  It was 1868, one hundred years earlier than he began that morning.  Curiously, he was not surprised or shocked or especially upset at his transition in time.  It felt like he had done that sort of thing before, though it also felt like he should be a different person in 1868, and his future cousin-in-law and his grandparents should not have been there. 

            “Glen!”  One of the boys saw him and waved and Glen knew he was trapped.  He jogged to catch up and then had to struggle to figure out the names of the boys.