Sarah, Returned--Chapter 17 (A Steemit Original Novel)
May 12, 2017
The portal tosses me out with as much force as it pulled me in. I land on my side in the grass, digging my elbow hard into the soil to keep any bruises on my ribcage to a minimum, and leap back to my feet in an instant. I cannot let the portal close without me. It takes no more than a second for me to stand up and reach for it, but as I do, the wretched thing snaps closed, leaving nothing but open space, like it was never there.
Instead of a bright meadow with my husband and children playing in it, I'm looking at...at...
“No,” I whisper. Louder. “No!”
There are apartments at the bottom of Garrison Hill, where I stand, where Ebenezer Varney’s house once stood, cars filling its parking lot, electric lights shining through curtains and blinds. At my feet, a paved road goes to the small houses higher up the hill. To my left is Central Avenue and its unique mashup of houses and small businesses, most of which are closed for the evening. Everything looks exactly as it did when I left my original life, 14 years ago.
I’m about a quarter of the way around the hill from the near-vertical street going to the park at the summit. I start to walk there, not knowing what else to do. The summit is where I went through the portal both times. Maybe the key to returning to my family is up there; I've just proven you can go through a portal twice, so why not a third time, too? It doesn't seem so impossible anymore.
I take a step toward the street, only vaguely aware of how out of place my clothing must look to passersby. With my dark blue homespun dress with a white collar, back leather shoes that are almost boots, and white linen cap tied under my chin, anyone who sees me will think I just came from a colonial-era play. It took me so long to get used to dressing this way; now, it feels perfectly normal. In fact, I'm grateful for these clothes right now. They act like a comforting security blanket, wrapping me in the heavenly sights, smells, and touch of my husband and children. For a moment, I’m back there, nestled in our cozy farmhouse, embroidering samplers with Hannah by candlelight, the other children playing beside me near the fire, Joshua sitting at the long wooden table carving a tiny horse out of birch for Thomas. All as it should be.
A red pickup truck goes by, its headlights just missing me, breaking my reverie. The bramble near the bottom of the hill provides enough cover to shield me from drivers on the street, even with a full moon shining overhead. There is no question. I’m back. Well, at least back in the 21st century, if not the exact year I left. It’s obviously close enough. That truck couldn’t have been older than a 2008.
The only question is how. How did I get back to the 21st century? There was supposed to be no way back. Grandma’s memory box would work for others, but not for me. It's why I locked it away in a sailor's chest that cost us a pretty penny to procure. I even threw the key in the Cocheco River, to make sure no one ever touched that box again. I wasn't risking losing anyone else I love to a portal.
According to Professor Johnson's theory, the only way for me to open another portal would be for me to touch something another person brought through time. It had to be the ancient Native knife; thank God it was me who pulled it out of the ground, and not Hannah or Patience. No wonder Grandma was so careful with Matt and me; there are dangers everywhere. I really should start wearing gloves all the time.
Still, knowing how the portal opened doesn't explain me ending up back close to where I started...or, maybe even exactly where I started. The professor and Grandma didn't know how to control it. Long ago, I developed my own theory that concentrating on a time period was probably the best way to go there, as I was thinking about the ancient Otis family and Grandma's connection to them when the first portal opened. That would be enough to bring me to a general time period, but getting an exact year should be impossible.
Should be. Not necessarily is. I've learned that lesson over and over since I went through the first portal. I'm still learning it.
What if I’m so close to when I left, everyone thinks I never left at all? That would be so unlikely, the only thing I could liken it to is finding a thimble you tossed out into the vastness of the universe. It doesn't mean I'm not back in 2017, however.
We thought I was safe. We were so sure we would be together forever. Joshua and Sarah Hanson, and their five beautiful children. How could I let this happen? Stupid, Sarah, so stupid. Picking up an unknown object without looking at it first. I just stuck my hand in that hole without thinking. I became complacent. Grandma never was. I must become like her, if I am ever reunited with my family.
It doesn’t matter. Whatever year this is, I am here, and they are there. I am separated from everyone I hold dear by more than 300 years. In this time, Joshua and the children have been gone for so long, only the most dogged of genealogists will remember they ever existed. Do I have descendants here? Eight and 9-times great-grandchildren? Can I find them? If I do, will I see the faces of my husband and children staring back at me through time, something to hold onto to keep me from going crazy with missing them?
A great, wracking sob builds in me, threatening to explode into full-blown weeping. I don’t want to be here.
Ironic. I spent so many years wanting, trying desperately to get out of the 17th century and back here, and now, I want nothing more than to stay there with them forever.
I have to get back. The thought of being so far away from my children is too much for me; something inside me snaps, and I become frantic. My babies need me. Joshua needs me. I can’t leave them alone.
Not thinking, beyond reason, I dash around the corner, and up the vertical road to the park, flying up the steep incline like it is nothing. The parking lot is empty. If this was the same night I left, my car would be here. So, I’m either before I left, or sometime after. That information is so not helpful.
The thicket! If this is after I left, maybe the things I left there, like my purse and phone, are still hidden in the shrubbery. It’s been a long time, but I'm pretty sure I can find my burrow in the thicket, where the portal first opened. I have to make it open again, if by nothing other than sheer force of will. And, there is nothing stronger than the will of a mother who is determined to get back to her children.
As I thought, I find the place I burrowed out of the thicket with ease, though none of my things are in it. Sinking to my knees, I begin pulling up clumps of dirt from the patch of grass I once took refuge on inside the bramble. My fingers go deep into the soil in the vain hope the portal might somehow be hiding down there.
“Come on,” I beg, digging, black dirt caking under my fingernails, mingling with the soil from 350 years ago when I pulled out the ancient knife for Hannah and Patience. “Come on, please. Open. Send me back. You’ve got to send me back." I think I'm talking to the universe now. "I can’t leave them. You made me love it there, made me want to stay. Why bring me back now?”
I dig, crying in the deserted park, for I don’t know how long. A while. By the time I finally take my hands out of the ground and sit back on my heels, exhausted, my face is filthy, streaked with mud from continually wiping tears away with my soil-caked hands. There’s nothing here. The portal isn’t opening. I’m stuck.
And, I’m forced to sadly admit to myself, even if I could open it, I couldn’t ensure I would go back to them. My theory on how to get from place to place is only that...a theory, developed in part by my conversations with Grizel. I want...need...to return to the exact moment I left, and I simply don't know how to do that.
If I can get my hands on something that will open a portal, I’ll be taking a huge leap of faith that it will take me back to 1699, much less to Dover and at a point where it will seem like I never left. Getting back to the 21st century was a fluke, it has to be. The truth is, there is a good chance I’ll never find my way back to them.
I shake my head at no one but myself. I can’t think this way, or I may never come down off this hill. I’ll just curl up in the thicket and wait to join my family in the next world. No. Just no. I must have hope. If I don't, I will stop trying to return, and I can't let my children grow up without me.
Think about it, Sarah. Use logic. The fact time travel exists at all is a freaking miracle. Why not consider the possibility it might have more miracles hidden within it? What I need is to find Professor Johnson. He will be able to tell me how to return to 1699 Dover. Or, at least, he’ll help me determine if it is possible. And, it has to be possible. Logically, it has to be.
First things first, though. Before talking to the professor will do me any good, I have to get my hands on a suitable object for traveling. Something that a time traveler touched as they went through a portal.
Her dress came through with her. Though she couldn’t use it to travel again, she believed my dad and Matt’s could, so she gave them each a scrap of it to help them escape bad situations. A child lost in time is bad, but better than a dead one. That was her opinion on the subject. She burned the rest of the dress to keep Matt and me from accidentally traveling when we were little, but did she keep anything else she brought with her from 1864 to 1938? Shoes, stockings, jewelry, undergarments? Anything will do. Are those things hidden in her room in our house? They have to be. Even if she brought them to the assisted living facility with her, the staff there would have returned them to us after she died. Matt probably received them and put them back in her room, maybe in a package he never bothered to open. We were going to clean out her room together, but never got around to it before I opened the first portal.
Of course, I have to consider I might not be back at the exact time I left. Grandma could still be home. Or, she might be in the assisted living facility, pretending to have dementia. I have to find out the year. Once I know, I can go to the appropriate place. I'll talk to her in person if I have to, tell her I know everything, and I have a family waiting for me in the past I must return to. She will understand, and she will help me.
There has to be something left from her trip through time I can use, and I’m going to find it.
Oh, but what if I’m a little bit in the future from where I left, where Grandma is gone and Matt is married to Karen? That could prove problematic. If I’ve been gone too long, Matt and Karen probably have full ownership of our house, because Karen had me declared legally dead. That’s something she would do the second the legal waiting period was up, because of course she would. If I just show up, she might not let me in, and as the “woman of the house,” she would have every right to do it. I’d have to go to court and prove I’m still alive just to begin the process of reclaiming my half-ownership of the house. That kind of thing could take months, or years. No way am I going to be away from my family that long, even if I will age backward once more when I return to them.
Come to think of it, have I aged backward again on this trip? It seems to be the standard thing, based on my experience, Grandma's, and Grizel's. I went from 20 to 12 the first time. During my 14 years there, I aged from 12 to 26. How old am I now?
Twenty, that strange internal voice appears once more, after a 14 year absence, giving me the answer I seek. Too bad it never tells me more. I take a moment to listen, and my intuition confirms it is correct. So, I aged backward again, but to the same age I was when I left. Does that mean it really is the same year? I need a newspaper or a cell phone….something with the date on it. If I’m anywhere near my original time, I know there are a few gas stations nearby that stay open all night, an unusual feature for a retail establishment in Dover. All I need is one with a newspaper box in front of it, so I can see the date. The date will determine what I do next.
The timing has to be perfect to make this easy, but even if it’s not, I am not letting something as insignificant as time stand between me and my family. I will break down the walls between the centuries with my bare hands if that’s what it takes to get back to them. I don’t care if it’s never been done. I will be the first to find a way.
Reluctant to leave the summit of the hill, as it is the last place I was with Joshua and the kids, I force myself to stand up and walk back down, toward Central Avenue, and the old life I let go of long ago. ________________________________________________________________
Catch up with the entire "Sarah, Returned" series here: