WHEN TIME COLLIDED
By Atonia Walpole
Time that infinite spiral collided and broke into thousands of pieces. Now those pieces are all hurdling toward the end of days. The past, the present and the future all moving together at the same speed. The veil has been pulled aside. When you wake will it be yesterday, a thousand yesterdays, today…today, tomorrow, or one hundred tomorrows?
It didn’t happen all at once. It was like the spiral of Time skipped a beat then started again. Eventually it would begin to circle around itself and all Time would become one. Past, present, and future all walked the same path
Maren stepped through the doorway. Filtered light angled across the hall in a kaleidoscope of colors from a stained glass widow over the entrance. What kind of place was this? It was a relic strewn with debris and broken glass from a skylight that had fallen inward. Peeling wallpaper and a smell of damp and decay perhaps decades old. She’d never seen anything like it. She kept her weapon at the ready and made her way through the downstairs rooms, one much like another, faded decadence from a dead world. A world she’d never known but had seen images in a photoscan.
Jack rested against the doorframe. He recognized the place from the outside but the inside was a haunted reminder of something he’d known and lived. He didn’t understand it, thought himself mad. Loping through the hall, he called out, “Anybody here?” Rodents and birds scattered in the dark recesses of the rooms. He mounted the stairs, taking the steps slowly. Here, his wife’s pride of place gone to mold and damp. Glass crunched beneath his boots as he went through the doors, opening one after another until he fell to his knees gasping for breath and understanding. “Am I dead? I must be. I’ve come home at last.”
As Maren moved cautiously through the mansion she thought she heard a voice. She stopped and leaned flat against a wall. It was a voice and it was male. With her weapon ready she began to climb the stairs, scanning the upper railings as she moved. She was careful not to step on anything that would create a sound. Her boots were made of a material, though sturdy, that was soft and soundless. She had thought herself alone in this strange world. Apparently she was not alone. She caught sight of a foot sticking out of a doorway and from its appearance it was not a form of footwear she was familiar with. Whoever he was, he was down, saving her the trouble. She hoped he was alone.
He was lying on the floor looking up at the ceiling with his hands folded over his stomach. At first she thought he was dead until an eye twitched. “You, man on the floor.”
He looked at her, up and down and then with a crooked smile. “A dark angel…well, I might have known it. They don’t give you wings, eh? You may as well take me. I’m ready.”
She frowned and then tried to make her face expressionless. It was her work face, devoid of feeling, of humanity. “Get up…where did you come from?”
He sat up, resting his arms on his bent knees. “I came from the sea as soon as I could do, took a carriage to the local tavern, though I never did find it. I walked in from the main road. Who are you if not a dark angel?”
“I am no angel. Name?”
“Jack Aubrey, Captain, late of the HMS Surprise of Her Majesty’s Navy. I’ve been to the far side of the world and back and come home to this. What can you tell me of the people who used to live here?”
“Nothing, I know nothing of this place.”
Jack noted her black body suit complete with some sort of armor over her vitals. “Strange sort of, um, dress for a woman, I assume you are.” He started to stand and she pointed her weapon at him. Jack showed her his palms. “I am unarmed, left my sword down stairs. I don’t believe you’ve told me who you are.”
“Correct. I have not. My name is Maren Orlando. I come from Monetary Port #2.”
“Port, Monetary Port? I’m familiar with most ports in England. Whereabouts is this Monetary Port #2”
She hesitated a moment and pointed to the sky. “What year is this?”
“Well, I’m not at all sure now. I thought it 1806. I’ve been gone for a year and a half and cannot reconcile in my mind the changes that have happened here. This is my home, Ashgrove.”
“I see, yes. When I left my home this morning it was the year of 2150.”
“2150, that many?” He did get up and brushed himself off. He eyed her fancy weapon. “What exactly is that fierce-looking thing?”
“A Phazar. I have not seen anyone else since I arrived here. I think there is a glitch in time. We saw it coming, of course, but without any idea of what may happen.”
“We? There are more of you…here?”
“No, I am alone.” She felt very alone, even with this strange man.
“How did you get here?”
“I don’t really know. I seemed to have stepped from one time zone to another.”
“Well, my first order of business is to locate my family. Obviously some catastrophe has happened here and from the looks of it, it happened some time ago. Correspondence being what it is at sea, her letter may have sunk beneath the waves.”
“I do not think you understand, Captain. Time has lost its course.”
“Hmm,” he mumbled as he passed by her and headed down the hall to what used to be his bedroom. It was empty now, even the large old carved bedstead was gone. His twin daughters room was the same as was his young son’s room…Willy. He thought Sophie surely would have left some kind of a message behind. Downstairs he roamed through the empty rooms, finding nothing.
Maren had come down and was standing in a back door. The door was missing from the hinges. “What’s that out there?”
“Out there…my stables…oh, what’s been done?” He went past her into the back stable yard. Garage doors had been installed. He had quite a grand stable at one time with the intent of racing. Finances had caused him to sell off his prizes but he had kept riding horses. No more. He shifted a door open and stepped inside the musty bay. He found an ancient vehicle covered in a rotting canvas. Some sort of bird had been nesting there. “My God, what is it?”
Maren came up behind him. “I have seen such photoscans. It is an ancient motor car. It runs on gasoline, a primitive way of travel.”
“Primitive? It is not pulled by horses?”
“Horses? Ha-ha, no, Captain. It would be interesting to find out what year this is. It is past your time and way before mine.”
He hadn’t half believed her but it was beginning to dawn on him now. “How can time lose its course?”
“The earth shifted slightly to avoid a catastrophic collision with a giant asteroid.”
“The earth shifted?”
“A last minute effort by our brave scientists and world military complex.”
“You moved the earth? Good lord! Can you not move it back?”
“They are working on it. Meanwhile this sort of thing is happening all over the world. Families are torn apart. People are disappearing, Captain, and we do not know where they go.”
Jack stared at her a moment. “You said you came from a port…up there?”
“Yes. This is the first time I have actually walked on the earth. Due to events that happened long ago we were forced to build up in the sky. Our walkways and ports are all up there. It is hard for me to describe it to you, a man who is from so far in the past. Some parts of the population of the world have opted to colonize Mars. Do you know of Mars?”
“A planet, yes. I study the stars. In fact I had an observatory, only a small thing that I constructed myself. It's this way.” As he neared the top of the hill that separated his valley from the sea it was apparent that his observatory was long gone. Only a ring of stones marked the place where he’d spent many hours when not at sea, studying the stars and also the port to see what ships were in and what ships were sailing outward. Even without his telescope he could see the difference. He could see the port. “ I should have noticed the trees. I…I feel quite lost on my own property.
“It may not be your property any longer, Captain. We must find out where we are in time.”
Ben rolled out of the whore’s bed and found his clothes. He checked his purse, at least she was honest. Down the stairs he found the tavern deserted. Outside he was about to light a small brown cigar. He dropped the cigar and tried to re-enter the tavern. He ran against a plate glass window, saw his reflection and stepped back. His hand went automatically to his sidearm. He turned quickly as some loud machinery passed him by. The wide dirt road was paved. Alongside the paved sidewalk were automobiles and people going about their daily business, shopping, pulling along reluctant children. His breath was coming in short gasps, his head reeled. What was this place? He thought to himself: Get your damn horse and get out of here. He ran towards what used to be the stables. It was now a garage with its bay open and men working on a vehicle suspended in the air. A bit of newspaper blew across the pavement. He picked it up and smoothed it out. “MAN LANDS ON THE MOON”, it read. “What? What the blazes is…” His eyes fell on the date printed on the right side of the page. July 20, 1969. 1969!
He crumpled the paper in his hand and slipped it into his coat pocket. Wide-eyed, he did a complete turn. Once at a wild west show he stood in the shadows and watched a man being shot from a cannon. He felt like that man, shot from one world to another. A man on the moon. How could such a thing happen? Big cannon? Nah, it was a long way to the moon. 1969…maybe it was a misprint, a drunken typesetter…could happen. Could…but what accounted for these carriages rolling down the road without horses to pull them along? What made ‘em go? Women walking down the street with…legs, lord what kind of place was this? Wearing pants and nearly nothing at all.
Ben removed his hat and wiped his forehead. He had to find some answers. He ignored the turning heads as he walked down the paved sidewalk. He saw signs for hotels and after entering and walking out of two he came to one with a bar. Some things didn’t change.
“Whiskey,” he said, then frowning when he saw a small shot glass set before him without a bottle. He knocked it back.
“Three dollars, sir.”
“Three dollars?” Ben looked surprised. He pulled out a gold coin and dropped it on the counter.
“Um, I can’t take that.”
“It’s real…what ain’t it enough?”
“Ahh, I’d say it’s more than enough. I can’t say I ever saw a gold coin before.”
“What you get for money?”
The man opened his till and showed him a paper dollar. “Mostly this.”
“Why can’t you take it? It’s all I got.”
“Well, the government puts out paper money, you know, and coins but they don’t put out gold coins anymore. Where are you from?”
“Don’t matter. I ain’t from here.”
“Drink's on the house. What’s your name?”
“You might take that coin down to the bank and they’d settle up with you. I don’t know if they do that anymore. There’s the Copper Queen assayers office too.”
The bartender poured him another shot. It was cheap house whiskey and it didn’t matter to him. Ben sipped this one. “Did a man really go to the moon?”
“Yeah, did you watch it on TV? Lots of fellers say it’s a hoax but I believe it. People seen ‘em take off in a rocket.”
TV didn’t register with Ben. “A rocket, huh. Well, learn somethin’ every day. Where’s this assayer stay?”
Ben walked out of the assayer’s office with a hundred dollars. He knew he’d been cheated but he needed cash he could spend. He had more coins but that rat-faced feller wouldn’t be getting his hands on them. His stomach rumbled and reminded him he hadn’t eaten anything since the night before, maybe longer, depending on this nightmare he was walking around in.
The restaurant said they provided home cookin’. That sounded good to him. He entered and looked around. A woman said sit anywhere he’d like so he did, in the rear corner with his back against the wall. He could observe and watch others while they ate. Cowboys in denim pants, boots and checkered shirts. Men in suits eating with their hats on. A waitress approached his table. She was wearing a pink dress with a white collar and a little white hat.
“What can I get you to drink, sir?”
“What have you got?”
She pointed out the menu leaning against the salt and pepper shakers. “Iced tea, Cokacola?”
“Sure do. I’ll get that for you while you decide. Country style steak is good today.”
He noted her nametag attached to the breast pocket of her dress. Cora. Cora noticed him too. She took note of that fancy hat he laid on the side of the table. His clothes were different, a nice suede jacket and embroidered vest. She was curious and made sure his coffee cup was kept filled.
He finished his country style steak and was working on a piece of apple pie when the sheriff and his deputy came into the restaurant. Ben took their measure. Fat sheriff with his shirt gaping open along the buttons. Skinny deputy alongside him. The sheriff looked at him and after speaking with the hostess he ambled on back.
“How ya doin’? I’m Sheriff Korn. I believe you’re a stranger in town.”
“I am. Is that against the law?”
The sheriff chuckled. “Naw, I don’t believe it is. What is against the law is wearing a sidearm. I’m gonna have to ask you to turn it in or take it home and put it away. Can’t be walkin’ around with a sidearm strapped to your leg.”
“You want it now?”
“Oh, naw, I’m about to eat me some lunch. Just take it on home and put it away. Remember you can’t wear it in public.”
“Right, I’ll remember that,” Ben said with a little smile.
“You just passin’ through or plan to stay awhile?”
“I don’t rightly know yet.”
“Nice little town we got here. We like to keep it that way. You’re welcome to stay.”
“Thank you.” Ben watched him waddle away. Home? He didn’t have a home.
Cora came back over. “Don’t let Frankie harass you. Liking that pie, are you?”
“Yes, ma’am, goin’ down good. Maybe you know of a good place to stay around here?”
“You looking for a room or an apartment or something?”
“Room will do me for now. Nothin’ fancy.”
“Not many fancy places around here anymore since the Copper Queen Mine shut down. Downtown or...?”
“I’m walkin’,” he said.
She smiled and touched her hair. “Try the Shaw Hotel. I hear it’s cheap enough.”
Ben smiled back. The Shaw Hotel is where he’d had his drink earlier. “You live in town?”
“Not far out.”
“Cora?” The hostess called for her.
“I gotta go, come back and eat with us again.”
“I’ll do that for sure.” Ben paid his bill and stood up, conscious now of his side arm. He tipped his hat to the sheriff and walked out of the restaurant.
In the recesses of the rough stone wall Marie tried to hide. Upon stepping out of her door that morning she’d forgotten her wrap and turned to retrieve it from a hall table. The house had disappeared. She gave a little cry. Where the house had stood a dark primeval forest dared her to question where she was. Afraid of the forest, she turned back to the street, now a damp path lined with tall grasses and flowering wild herbs. She thought perhaps it was a dream, a nightmare for surely it was a nightmare. She would hide until this nightmare ended. But as the day progressed so had she. She dared not make eye contact and kept her head down, ignoring the comments and calls that followed her trek up the hillside. A village grew out of the rocky mount and she was now within the walled village, hidden in a dark recess. Her fine silk dress soiled and tattered along the hem and her carefully arranged hair had come loose from its pins. She felt and looked like a madwoman. Someone was coming. She could hear his step on the stones, the jangle of his weaponry. Carefully she moved even farther back into the recess. A hand clamped over her mouth and an arm around her waist. She kicked backwards.
“Bloody hell, woman, shush!” Max said in a soft whisper.
The footsteps faltered and then paused. They both held their breath until he moved on. Max released her with a warning. “Don’t scream.”
“No, I was not going to scream. Who are you, English?”
“Yes, Max Skinner is my name…yours?”
“Marie de Clois.”
“Any idea where we are or why?”
“None. My world has disappeared.”
“Mine too.” Max squeezed by her and carefully stuck his head out. “Coast is clear.”
She got a look at him once he moved out of the dark. He wasn’t from her time but at least he was a modern man. “Tell me, Max, what year was it yesterday?”
“Yesterday or was it today? 2006. I’m sure of it.”
“Really? When I woke this morning it was 1930.”
“You’re not French.”
“No, I’m an American. I’ve been living in France for a year now. My husband was French.”
“Well…he didn’t come with me, did he? Did you leave someone behind?”
“No, there wasn’t anyone. I came over to claim my inheritance.” Max grimaced. “What do you think this place is and where in time?”
“It’s medieval. I passed through the village below.”
“Right…well, I wonder who’s King of France?”
“How can we get out of here?”
“Not sure we can. Shall we try this door?”
“We’re rather obvious, aren’t we? I mean our dress, your glasses.”
“We may have to do something about that.” Max peered into the darkened room. “Appears empty.”
She slipped in behind him. “Yes, it’s dark.”
Marie felt around for a candle and found one. “There’s a candle. Do you have a lighter?”
“No, ‘fraid not.”
“Me, either. I left my handbag behind. What’s that?”
“Fireplace, there should be a flint.”
“Have you ever used one?”
“Um, no, never had the, er, found it. Now what do I do?”
“How did you know about a flint?”
“Movies. I need to strike it with something. Ah,” Max smiled. He’d made fire.” They looked around the small room and found it to be some kind of store room. Sacks of unknown things, crates and wooden buckets.
“There’s grain…oh, look what I found.” He’d found a crate of wine. Once he uncorked it he passed it to her. They sat on a crate passing the bottle back and forth. It wasn’t bad but not something either of them would have chosen.
“All right, we have to do something.”
“Any suggestions?” Max asked.
“We have to have clothes so we won’t be burned at the stake or whatever they do with undesirables.”
“Are we undesirable?” he sighed. “I do see what you mean. We can’t stay here in this walled village. We’ll be found out.”
“Out there is not especially inviting, hovels, squealing pigs, barking dogs and menacing-looking populace.”
“We haven’t any money.”
“Sounds like great fun,” Max said. But it didn’t sound fun at all. How were they going to survive and it had become a they. Thrown together by unseen, unwanted and unimaginable circumstances they had little choice but to become a they.
“We’ll become thieves,” Marie suggested.
“Little choice for now. However, I don’t see it as a way of life. Penalties can be quite harsh in these times. They lop your hands off…or something.” Max still had the flint in his pocket. It was a beginning. The problem, of course, was that they had no money to exchange for clothing or food. The other problem was that people in this era had little clothing to spare and usually wore what they owned. The only hope for finding anything suitable was the castle that sat in the center of the walled village.
The candle was sputtering when they cautiously exited the storeroom. It was time to move on and go towards the castle. Slipping along the walls, in and out of doorways, recesses and behind whatever was at hand, they arrived near a closed door on the ground floor of the castle. They got there just before a group of travelers with a long entourage, trailing down the cobbles, of wagons and horses. Torches were lit at the main entrance and more brought out to welcome the traveling party.
Max kept his eye on the wagons. Servants and members of the household were unloading the wagons of trunks and pieces of furniture. A trunk was set aside and the men climbed up on the wagon to hand down other items. Max bit his lip and taking a chance, he darted out and caught the handle of the trunk and began to drag it back to the dark doorway. There was so much noise and commotion he was not noticed.
The trunk proved to be women’s attire. Max tried the door and it opened into a room where an old woman sat by a fire sewing. They both stopped and stared. The women rose to a height of about four feet, bent with age. Max was afraid she would call someone and then the trouble would begin. However, Marie spoke up.
“Just going to change my clothes,” she said brightly and opened the trunk, digging around and pulling out a blue garment.
“Na, na, na!” the old woman cried. She came over and looked in the trunk while Marie held the long gown to her breast. It seemed the woman would help her dress. She pulled out another long linen gown. Max turned his back, keeping watch on the outside door and a small narrow archway that led into the bowels of the castle.
“Well, what do you think?” Marie asked.
Max turned. The old woman was nodding and still fussing with the back of a headdress.
“You look rather fetching,” Max said with a smile.
“It’s plain but it will do. Probably a serving woman’s dress, you know, a lady-in-waiting or whatever they’re called here.”
The old woman squinted up her eyes examining Max. She said something he didn’t understand. He was dressed in an Armani suit, dark with a white shirt and dark blue tie. Conservative enough but he was a little wilted after his day of hiding in the walled city. To the old woman he looked strange and she made some kind of sign with her hand. He was still wearing his glasses. Hearing a noise in the corridor, he grabbed Marie’s hand and opened the outer door.
“We have to find you something to wear, Max.”
“I may have to wait until I find a suitable candidate, suitably pissed on wine and relieve him of his clothing.”
“And food, if he has any.”
“Ah, yes, food.” It was going to be a long, long night.
It was a fine city now with some structures that Jack remembered. It helped to get his bearings. He didn’t know what he hoped to find here…perhaps some connection, something that might actually make sense to him. He was in uniform and carrying his hat beneath his arm. Maren had walked with him, a distance of some eight miles from Ashgrove, through meadows and across a bridge. It was earth but for her it was an alien world. She felt the heat from the sun, breezes carrying scents unfamiliar, and birdsong.
As they walked Maren told him a little of her life. She was a guard at the Monetary Exchange, a sort of world bank. It was positioned in Euro-Space. Jack tried hard to stretch his imagination.
There was some comfort in seeing horses and carriages about the town but also there were these belching machines, automobiles that skittered around sending people fleeing from their path. It was 1920, as Jack was soon to discover. A sign posted over a glass-fronted office stopped him in his tracks. Estate Sales, Inquire within. J. Aubrey, Esq.
They stared at each other over the wide desk. Jack was the first to break the silence after being shown into the small office. “You are…J. Aubrey?”
“Yes.” The young man stood up and took in Jack’s full measure, uniform and all. “Who are you?”
“It isn’t possible.”
“You may have the advantage of me. Who was your father?”
“Afton Aubrey, son of John, son of William. You can’t possibly be…”
“Do you think we might sit down? We’ve had a bit of a walk.”
It was then that J. Aubrey noticed the figure standing behind Jack. “Oh, my word!” Her dark hair was cut short. Her slender build might have marked her as a boy but for her large eyes and full lips…and the unmistakable mounds of her breasts beneath the skin tight suit.
“It appears that we are time travelers, recently arrived,” Jack said. “This is Maren Orlando from the year 2150. I am from 1806.”
“It’s 1920. 15 July, it is. You, Sir, are my ancestor. I was named for you. John Aubrey, at your service.” He dipped his head. “Please do sit and you’ll have a drink.” He called for an assistant, who delivered a tray. Hot tea and some stale biscuits only served to tease Jack’s appetite.
“William Aubrey was my great great grandfather,” John remarked.
“Willy, I’m afraid I never set eyes on him. He was born while I was at sea. I came to Ashgrove this very morning. What can you tell me of it and of my family?”
“I know nothing of your family’s doings back then. I do know of Ashgrove. It’s been handed down in the family. You’ve seen it and so you are aware of its condition. I’m embarrassed to say that the lack of finances have caused us to more or less abandon the property. It belonged to my elder brother who lost his life in the Boer War. He never lived there, of course, it being unsuitable.
“Does it belong to you now?”
“It belongs to my nephew, Stephen Aubrey. He’s about 11 years old.”
“Stephen,” Jack repeated and looked aside. “Do you know of Stephen Maturin?”
John shook his head. “You must come home with me, meet my wife, and…”
“I should like, if it be possible, to borrow a little money. I find my situation to be extreme. I cannot buy a drink, much less a night’s lodging. My funds are being held at my bank in London. Or…they were.” He was suddenly unsure.
“I can let you have a few pounds, sir. I’m a bit strapped for cash myself. I’m hoping to complete a sale of some property out near Ashgrove. You will need proper attire. Your uniform is a fine look but will cause a bit of a stare, if you know what I mean.”
“Any help you can offer will be appreciated.”
“I will send word around to the house. Put your mind at rest, sir. This is quite an honor for me to meet a much-admired ancestor. I have in my possession a painted miniature of yourself, one of the few things I’ve been able to hang onto over the years. Time travelers,” he smiled broadly and looked over Maren with interest. “How long do you plan to stay?”
Jack blinked and looked at Maren. This was something neither of them had discussed. Was it possible to return to their own time?
Maren spoke for the first time. “We do not know how long we may be stranded in this time. It may be for a day or indefinitely. There is no way to determine if and when the skew may be fixed.”
“It seems the earth has shifted slightly to accommodate an asteroid,” Jack explained.
“There have been reports of missing people, mostly around Plymouth and farther north. I suppose the other side of that are folks like yourselves, come here from some other time. You’re the first I’ve met. How fortunate that it was you, sir. I’m not sure what I should call you.”
“Captain Aubrey, I suppose, or Jack. I’m called Jack rather than John.”
“Captain Aubrey it is.” John arranged to take the rest of the day off and suggested they walk to his house. He explained the changes Jack asked about, trolleys and their tracks down the center of the high street, motor cars and many bicycles. Once they left the main street area and continued on to a more residential area, wagons were visible and a few horses still pulled along the road.
“Lived here all my life,” John was explaining. "I was too young for the war and to old for much else so I ended up helping a mate rid himself of a property he’d inherited. It set me on my course. Oh, how I would have loved to live in your time, Captain. I’d have gone to sea. Yes, that would have been the life for me. I’m rather a boring chap now. I married two years ago and have an infant at home. Molly’s her name. Wife is Lillian.”
Jack listened with a growing suspicion that young John was not altogether a happy man. He was a dreamer caught up in the mundane.
Maren listened with half an ear. She was more intrigued with the people, the housing, the day to day existence these ancients lived. The shops along the high street and children running about on their own. She had never had any interaction with children after she’d become an adult at the age of 18. They were not part of the world she inhabited.
She knew Jack to be a naval officer, military. She was unfamiliar with military other than police, of which she was a part as a guard. It seemed strange to her to be following his lead but he was at home in this world whereas she was not. Better to let him pave the way. He’d found family…another concept she was unfamiliar with. There were people who still kept a family unit but most birthed their children and left them to nurseryland. At least those with a dangerous career were apt to do so.
They stopped in front of a tall house with a gated front garden. The house was crowded with extended family all come to see their ancestor Captain Aubrey. Jack, never good with names, was trying to put names with faces and background as it all came forth. Dinner was served and Jack ate ravenously. Maren picked at her food, leaving most of it on her plate. It was later in the evening when most had gone back to their own homes that Jack sat with the widowed sister-in-law of John.
“If it were possible, Captain, we would have sold the property years ago. It is entailed and cannot be sold. I suppose it will sit there until it falls down. Little Stephen is only 11 and, honestly, we have all accepted the fact that living in such a huge house, not to mention all the repairs that would have to be undertaken, is just not possible. If you wish to have it then by all means, take up residence.”
John shifted in his chair. “By all rights it’s your house, Captain. Since you are alive…um, again.”
“I appreciate that thought, John. Without funds to make it livable or at least furnished, I’m not sure it’s something I can take on.”
The sister-in-law spoke again. “You should contact my late husband’s solicitor.”
“Yes, I may do that. Thank you all for the most delicious dinner. We must find some kind of lodgings for the night.”
“Oh, but you will stay with us, Captain. We’ve the room and, um, there’s room for Miss Orlando as well. We, er, must find some suitable clothing for her. Lillian may have a costume.”
Jack had been so consumed with family that he’d not thought about his situation other than trying to recover Ashgrove. He reckoned John Aubrey, Esq. was his third great grandson. He was a likeable fellow and was doing his utmost to accommodate him. However, he didn’t much want to think past the next day. As he lay in the bed and stared at the curtains moving slightly in the night air, it occurred to him that tomorrow might send him back to the life he knew, send him home to Ashgrove and Sophie. On the other hand, it might not. This time glitch, as Maren had described, was unstable. He may even be sent farther into the future. He squeezed his eyes together. Perish the thought. Though he may have lost his wife and children, his shipmates and his good friend Stephen, all was not lost. He had discovered family and they were willing to help him along.
It was not so for Maren, who was sleeping in an attic room, stuffy and airless, on a hard bed. The food was atrocious and unrecognizable. If she could not escape this time she would die from it. She was convinced of this. Her mind and body recoiled from everything she touched.
Ben sat on a barstool in the Shaw Hotel and listened to a fellow called Blue talking about the old days.
“'Course, it’s all open pit minin' now and I hear tell that’s about to end. Bisbee ain’t never gonna be what it once was. It was a boom town, money flowed through here. Miners from all over come to the Copper Queen Mine to work. Everything's slowin' down now…nope, not like it used to be. People can’t find work so they ain’t gonna stay around here.”
“Where do they go?” Ben asked.
“Oh, to Phoenix or maybe New Mexico. Town’s changin’ and I don’t like it.”
“Everything changes,” Ben said. “A man never knows from one day to the next what he’s gonna wake up to.”
“Heh, now that’s a fact. I’ll tell you what’s movin’ in here now. All them hippies and artsy-fartsy folks. You see ‘em strollin’ down the street…don’t none of ‘em work.”
The bartender added his thoughts. “Well, if they don’t work how do they eat, where do they stay?”
“They don’t need no place to stay. Bunch o’hippies sleep anywhere. They all smokin’ dope so they don’t get hungry.”
Ben pursed his lips to suppress a smile. “Speakin’ of hungry. I ate at the Coffee Shop Dining Room today. Being a stranger in town it looked pretty good to me.”
“Yeah, you get good food there,” the bartender said.
“Mamasita, she’s still cooking at the Coffee Shop,” Blue added.
“Nice little lady waited on me by the name of Cora,” Ben said and took a sip of his drink.
“That’d be Cora Belle. She’s a pretty little thing as long as you stay on her good side,” Blue said. “She’s James Belle’s daughter. Belle used to be a big hat over at the Copper Queen Mine. 'Course he’s got so much money he don’t work no more.”
“What’s his daughter doing waitin’ tables?” Ben asked.
“She run off a couple of years ago with some cowboy. When she come back she come by herself and didn’t go home. We all figured there was a big fallout there. She lives out at Rosa’s Trailer park.”
Ben bought Blue another drink. The man was a fountain of information. Conversation moved on to the Man on the Moon and Ben sat back and listened to them talk. The more he knew about this place and what was going on the world in 1969 the better off he’d be. Before long another man came into the bar and set his hat on a barstool. He tugged at his tie and nodded to Ben and Blue then ordered his drink.
“Anybody looking for a hotel? I know one that’s a giveaway.”
“You still tryin’ to sell that damn hotel, Pete?”
“I can’t give the blasted thing away.”
The bartender turned to Ben. “It’s the old Copper Queen Hotel. It’s been sittin' empty for nearly ten years. Don’t nobody want the place.”
“What’s the matter with it?” Ben asked.
“Nothin’ the matter with it,” Pete answered. “It’s the business it don’t attract. Plus it needs a little work.”
“Needs a lot of work,” Blue said. “Needs things like flushing toilets. Hee, hee, hee.”
“What’s today’s price?" the bartender asked. “We got a stranger in town.” He winked at Ben.
“A dollar. I’ll sell the blame place for a dollar…any takers?”
Ben set his glass down and waited while the bartender poured out another drink. “Yeah, I’ll take it for a dollar.”
Pete’s eyes widened. “You serious?”
“Serious as I’ll ever be. I might be a stranger in town but I got to make a livin’ if I’m gonna stay here.”
Pete stuck out his hand. “Shake on it and tomorrow we’ll make it happen. One dollar…American.” Ben shook his hand.
“You won’t be sorry,” Pete said. “It’s a fine old building built in 1902. Been some famous people staying there, Teddy Roosevelt and John Wayne.”
Neither name meant anything to Ben. “That so?”
“And a bunch of ghosts,” Blue said and laughed himself into a coughing fit. “Why do you think nobody wanted the place, Wade? Heh, it’s haunted. That’s what it is.”
“I don’t believe in ghosts,” Ben said and knocked back his drink. “Where do we settle up on this hotel?”
Pete pulled out a business card. “Right here. I’ll be there till 4:00.” Pete finished his drink and took himself home.
The bartender narrowed his eyes and looked at Ben. “You planning to stay I guess.”
“Might as well. I got no place better to be.”
Blue sobered up a minute. “If you’re gonna do this thing with the hotel, you’re probably gonna need a handyman. I ain’t good for much else, you know. The mine done took my lungs but I can wield a hammer and a paintbrush.”
“Why’d you do it, Wade?” the bartender asked.
“Cost me a dollar, didn’t it? They want $12 a night for a bed here. Might as well own my own place and sleep for free.” Why did he do it? That question would hang around and haunt him for some time to come.
There was one good thing about skipping through time. He could walk down the street without worrying about a lawman or some liquored-up punk looking for a gunfight. Stage coach robbing and train robbing were all in the past. He’d left that past behind over a hundred years ago. He didn’t understand how it had happened and maybe there was no explanation for it coming. Ben had already figured out that he could do this, could live in this time and make it profitable.
The next morning he stopped at the Coffee Shop for breakfast. He hoped to see Cora but she wasn’t around. With his belly full he strolled down the street, looking for Pete’s office.
Pete took him over to the hotel. “I wouldn’t expect you to buy something without having a look at it.” Pete unlocked the door. “Like I said yesterday, it’s been sitting here for nearly ten years. Ain’t nothing been done here, nothing touched at all.”
“What happened to the previous owner?” Ben asked.
“Nothing. It’s owned by the mining company. They’re divesting themselves of property left and right and that means they’re getting ready to shut the pit down. They been tryin’ to sell this place for years. It needs a little renovation and nobody wants to put money into a white elephant.”
“You know, something that’s too big not to notice and is past its prime. Not to say it couldn’t come back. I’m sure with the right, er, with a little spit and polish it’d be a showplace again.”
Ben walked around the lobby and stepped into the bar. It was a nice set up. Up the stairs he fought spider webs and dark and damp as he checked out a few rooms. Some had been boarded up and others showed missing window glass. It would take a lot of spit and polish, that was for sure. All in all, it looked like a good investment…for a dollar.
Back down in the lobby he handed Pete a dollar. “Sold. Do I need to sign some papers?”
Pete was happy. He’d done the mining company a favor and expected they’d reward him for his services. The paper work didn’t take long. Ben broached the subject of turning some of his gold into cash money.
“How much you talking about, Wade?”
“I ain’t sayin’.”
“How’d you come by it?”
“It was a gift.”
“Hmm, well, there’s the assayer’s office.”
“I been there.”
Pete got his drift. “I see. Let me do a little checking around and I’ll get back with you.”
“Don’t go spreadin’ rumors about a pile of gold over at the Copper Queen.”
“Oh, now I wouldn’t do a thing like that.”
Something in the man’s eyes told Pete he’d better watch his step. He cleared his throat. “I know somebody, old Mr. Goodman. That assayer’s office is owned by the mine. Mr. Goodman owns part of that mine. He’s a fair and square man…couldn’t ask for better.”
“Good enough.” Ben rose and picked up his hat. “Good doin’ business with you, Pete.”
“Don’t laugh at me,” Max pleaded. "You have no idea how traumatic this is for me.”
Marie laughed. “It was for me too. Though this dress was packed in herbs it still smells like the unwashed woman who wore it last.”
Max slipped on the trews and tried not to think about the man he’d taken them from. He kept his own undershirt and underpants…some protection against the smelly clothes he was donning. He’d taken pants from one, a tunic from another and a short riding cloak from yet another victim of his theft. He’d put together a costume which would neither mark him as a tradesman or a courtier. He was somewhere in between.
“I think you look rather dashing,” Marie said.
Max shook straw from the hat. It was a woolen cap and he inspected it for vermin before slipping it over his hair.
“How much money do we have now?” she asked.
“It depends on what food costs. We may have a meal or a crust of bread.” Max cautiously opened the barn door where they’d fled after leaving the walled village. “We’d better hurry away from here before the man comes with his pitchfork.”
Marie hurried alongside Max with her head down. Max was her talisman. He would get them through this and hopefully somewhere safe. She had confidence in him. He’d gotten them this far without any bother. He made it all seem like an adventure instead of the awful truth of their situation.
For Max it was a question of staying alive until he had time to contemplate what exactly had happened and how they might get back where they belonged. He was glad for her company. She was a great girl and up for anything. Not that she had much choice. She was also level headed and not given to hysterics. A big plus because there were times he felt very close to hysterics himself. Rolling drunks for their clothes was not something he’d ever thought about and stealing money…outright theft, was out of his realm.
Max had an infant plan. He recognized where they were from the gulf, Marseilles, and that was some miles from where he wanted to be. If he could only get back to his Uncle Henry’s…well, it was his now...chateau, then at least he would be in familiar territory. From there he could plot a course that may take them to England where at least he spoke the language.
Traveling about was difficult. They were on foot and likely to remain so, short of stealing a horse or a mule. Justice was harsh and quick for such antics. Max had no desire to experience Medieval prison and their torturous accommodations.
Rolled up in Max’s jacket were their real clothes. He had it slung across his shoulder, using the sleeves as a strap. The money he’d stolen appeared to have Charles written around the edges. He couldn’t be sure without his glasses and they were hidden in the pocket of his Armani suit coat. He asked Marie to read it for him.
“I think it’s King Charles VI,” he said. “And, if that’s so then it’s King Henry in England.”
“Henry as in eight wives?”
“No, no, Henry the V, as in Shakespeare.”
“Oh, okay. What does that do for us?”
“Well, Henry bested Charles at Agincourt. Now, whether it’s before or after…I wish I knew.”
“What difference would it make, Max?”
Max smiled. “I only thought that we might hitch a ride cross the channel with Henry.”
“To England? Do you think it would be any better over there?”
“For us? Probably not but at least we’d speak the language.”
“You speak a little French. The thing is, Max, would the English be speaking French or something else?”
“English of course…King and country.”
At last they came to another village. A main thoroughfare dotted with hovels but one hovel was a bakery and a man was bringing bread from a large brick oven. Max’s mouth began to water. He asked how much for a loaf and was there a bit of cheese or meat?
It took both of them talking to the man before he could understand their dialect. A loaf was bought and farther on a round of cheese and a bottle of beer. “A feast,” Marie said.
They found a spot off the road beneath some trees and sat down on the ground to eat.
“Oh, God, this is good! It’s still hot.” Marie was devouring her half of the loaf.
Max cut the cheese wheel with his knife. “Better slow down. We may not find anything else today.”
“I don’t care. At least I’ll be full for awhile.”
“I had planned to try and make it to my chateau. The one I came to inherit. However, I’m afraid it’s not built yet, not if Charles VI is on the throne. So, plan B. We’ll make for the coast.”
“We’re on the coast, Max. Can’t we get passage from Marseilles?”
“We can try but I doubt if ships are leaving port here and going to England…of course I could be wrong.”
“What’s going to happen to us?”
“I wish I knew, Marie. We can only take it one moment at a time. Speaking of time…this could go on…forever. We may be locked into this era and unable to get back to life as we knew it.”
“What life did you have in England?”
“I am a banker in London.”
“A banker? Oh, ha, ha…I never would have guessed it.”
“What about you, Marie? You left a husband behind.”
“I did, yes, but I had intended to leave him anyway. No one knows this but you. I’d planned on sailing back to America. In fact that’s where I was going when my life disappeared. I was going to purchase a ticket.” She took a proffered slice of cheese and chewed. “What if we can’t get back…what if we are stuck here? How will we live and where? I get frightened when I think of it.”
“No need to be frightened, Marie. Like I said, one moment at a time. And I think we will try for passage from Marseilles. I have this desire to get out of France. We’ll keep moving until something stops us and I hope it’s the time machine that brought us here.”
They were stopped at the docks. Max hadn’t enough money for passage to England.
“How far can I get?” he asked.
“Can we get to Spain?” Marie asked.
“Gibraltar,” Max suggested.
“I don’t know this Gibraltar.”
“All right, what’s the furthest point you can take us?”
Max turned to Marie. “That’s in Spain. Is that all right with you?”
“Anywhere,” she shrugged.
“We’ll take Castile,” Max said. “When do you leave?”
“Ah, not for three days. In three days we will sail.”
Max looked past the man at the dubious ship. “Are you sure you want to do this, Marie? It’s not the Queen Mary.”
“As long as it’s not the Titanic. I don’t swim.”
Max took her arm and guided her away from the docks. “Well, now we’ve got to survive for three days. I’m not sure of the neighborhood.”
“Should be cheap.”
“And that’s another thing. Three days and we won’t have passage for Castile. We’ll have to eat and sleep somewhere.”
“We could always stow away…or, you could revert to your newfound talent.”
Max sighed. “Theft.”
ON TO PART 7
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