Sarah, Returned--Chapter Eleven (A Steemit Original Novel)
The first letter, the one from the professor, reads:
“Dear Mrs. Morgan, As per your question to me in your previous letter, yes, I do think it is possible your sons could have experienced the same phenomenon as you. Naturally, the more likely explanation is simply that their bodies were never recovered in the mudslide. The scraps of the dress you wore when you arrived here might have acted as conduits, as we discussed early on in our discourse, and you were smart to ask them to take them along as “good luck” charms any time they went on an adventure vacation. Considering the risky nature of their hobby, any mother would do whatever she could to ensure their safety. Losing someone to time is not so devastating, I would imagine, as losing them to the life beyond this one."
"I understand you don’t know with certainty whether they carried those scraps on their most recent trip. If they did, one or both of them might have survived, with the cloth acting as an escape clause for them. Remember, however, Mrs. Morgan, we are working on pure theory here. We know you arrived in 1938 from 1864 after touching an antique hand mirror you found in your attic. Assuming that mirror traveled through time with someone, either forward or back, to land in your family’s possession, it could have enough temporal energy on it from the trip, no matter how long ago, to open a portal of travel to you. Going on this theory, anything that has traveled through time could act as a key to a portal. My guess would be the ability to travel through a portal is genetic, and your family has a history of sensitivity to the fourth dimension, which is time."
"I would also hazard to postulate that each so-called key can only be used to open a portal once, before it loses its temporal energy. You were never able to use anything you brought with you to return to your point of origin, so perhaps the person who brings something through a portal is immune to that particular object's powers. Again, this is all pure theory, and I could be completely wrong about all of it. This is a subject that has very few genuine researchers, and we tend to keep to ourselves, as you can understand. Unfortunately, I still have no reasonable explanation for your apparent age regression from 19 to 13 upon your arrival. Time travel and how it might work is still so much a theoretical science, it is difficult to say anything with certainty. I wouldn’t have believed your story myself if you hadn’t been able to produce so much irrefutable proof for me."
"Telling the people you met in 1938 that you were, indeed, 19 was a smart move. You would have been too old for an orphanage in the 1930's, but not too old for the workhouse, or for being thrown in jail as a vagrant. You are fortunate you found work for yourself right away, as well as lodgings. You are a resourceful woman. Congratulations, by the way, on securing those daguerreotypes from the descendants of your middle brother, Edward. I will look into the matter of your sons more, and get back to you. We still have much to discuss. Sincerely, Professor Robert T. Johnson, Chair, Department of Physics, University of New Hampshire.”
Oh my God. There it is. My answer. This letter spells it out, and from a physics professor, too. Grandma traveled here from another century. Those photos were of her parents and grandmother, and the oldest girl in the family photo was her. She left her home in 1864. The Civil War was still going on then. What must her father and siblings have thought happened to her? Taken by southern soldiers? Eloped with a Union man?
Her mother and grandfather also disappeared. Did they travel through time, too? Did her family know, or did they think it was a hereditary madness that made people wander off? And that thing about a genetic predisposition to time travel is intriguing. Of course, not everyone in a family inherits every gene, so no every member of Grandma's family can necessarily do it. Still, it opens the question of whether I can, or Matt, or both of us. I need to be extremely careful with what I touch from now on. No more visiting antique stores for me.
It’s a lot to process, and that’s not even taking the subject of my dad and Matt’s into consideration. It’s sweet to now know Grandma made my dad's middle name the same as the name of her middle brother. But, the whole thing about our dads possibly surviving the mudslide by traveling through time is even crazier than Grandma coming here from the Civil War. How is it even possible that they made it? There were funerals for them, a four-way one with our mothers. I was deemed too young to attend the service at the church, and was only permitted to go to the relatively quick graveside service after, so I didn’t see them in their coffins. Actually, I don’t know if it was an open or closed ceremony. Matt was there, and would remember, since he was 17, but I can’t ask him right now. If it was closed, he never would have known his dad wasn’t there. However, it if was open, what was in there that convinced him it was his father? And mine?
Is there a chance my dad, and/or Matt’s, could be alive out there somewhere, in a different time? Grandma believed they might be. If they are, Matt and I have to try to find them. At a minimum, we must determine if we are able to time travel ourselves. If we can, not looking for our dads would be irresponsible. The big question, beyond whether they survived the mudslide or not, is whether they both went to the same time or different times. How would we begin to know where to look?
But, wait. Time travel may be a one-way trip. The letter mentions that Grandma was never able to go back to 1864, but did she try? Or did she simply embrace her new life in the 20th century once she got married and had children here?
Ah, so many questions. My head is spinning, and I think I might throw up again. This time, however, it’s not from shock. It’s from an overload of scientific information, with too many unanswered questions. And, I still don’t know why Grandma thought she was protecting Matt and me by keeping these things from us. The nausea passes in a moment, replaced by a laser-focused desire to read Grandma’s response to the professor. Any remaining questions I have may be answered in it. Relax, Sarah. Don't become overwhelmed until you've examined all the evidence.
I unfold Grandma's portion of the exchange and begin to read:
“Dear Professor Johnson, Thank you for your kind and detailed response to my previous letter. I do think it possible that at least one of my sons may have been saved from the mudslide by my good luck charm. Maybe both of them were, and I hope this is true. If they had them on their persons, and grabbed onto them in a time of need, a means of escape may have been provided to them. I understand this may be an inherited trait, which means only one of them might have inherited the ability to do it, or neither of them. Since their bodies were never discovered, their survival through time travel is a hope I must hold onto. I have you to thank for that, as I never would have guessed the probable cause of my own trip through time without your guidance. It is because of my correspondence with you that I made those charms for them, when they were in high school."
"Is it possible that other families besides mine have this ability? You said it is your theory that certain people have a predisposition to be sensitive to time. It seems unlikely it would only be us, with all the other people in the world. Since taking guardianship of my grandchildren, I have burned the remainder of the dress in question. I know it seems strange, since I gave my sons charms to help them travel through time if they needed to escape a bad situation. Those scraps were in plastic baggies, incidentally, and were given with specific instructions to only open and touch the cloth inside in case of emergency, should they require a way out of something catastrophic."
"However, my grandchildren are still quite young. I don’t want them to accidentally touch something that could send them away from me to who knows where and when. I may give Matt one of my other trinkets from my trip through the portal when he is older. It will be years before Sarah is old enough to receive one, and I don’t know if I’ll be here to give it to her. I just have to hope that neither of them inherited the ability to travel like this, if it is, in fact, genetic. My grandchildren are all I have left, and it is my intention to keep them with me. I appreciate your willingness to continue working on this project, as well as your discretion with it. Thank you for not turning me into a circus side show act by sharing this with the wider group of theoretical physicists in the scientific community. If you can figure out the cause for the age regression upon my arrival in 1938, that may open the door for more answers to the overall mystery. I will be in touch soon. Sincerely, Elizabeth Morgan”
Wow. So, she really thought one or both of her sons may have survived the mudslide by opening a portal through time. And, she only mentions her sons' bodies as having never been found, not our mothers’. This means our mothers were both definitely killed. Well, unless time travel is open to anyone, and one or both of our mothers were holding onto those scraps of cloth. I guess just because she didn’t mention our mothers doesn’t mean they aren’t missing, too. Naturally, her focus would be on her sons.
Aside from the overwhelming cornucopia of WTF that these letters just spilled all over me, which is enough for a lifetime, I now have my answer as to why Grandma was so secretive about her past; she didn’t want to accidentally lose one of us through a portal, so she took precautions. Insane precautions. Yet, precautions that worked. Matt and I learned to consider her private things, and her bedroom in general, as a museum, where everything was cordoned off by an invisible velvet rope, and you were never, ever allowed to touch something without permission. She ingrained this idea in us so well that even with her gone, I still had deeply mixed feelings about taking this box out of her room.
Good job, Grandma.
I feel better, knowing the reasons behind her secrecy. It was all based on love, and that’s the most important thing. She really did love us, not that I ever truly doubted it. It still leaves an insane number of questions open, but those are mostly about her family before us, and time travel itself. My primary question about my grandmother is answered, and I’m pleased with it. She was an excellent grandmother, and that's all that really matters.
Once I get things straightened out with Matt and Karen, I need to go find this professor and talk to him, assuming he’s still at the school. It should be easy to locate him, since I’m a student there. If he’s retired or moved on to a different school, the staff at the Department of Physics will probably be able to help me get in touch with him.
There are so many things I want to ask him. I mean, age regression upon traveling in time? How does that work? What determines whether someone goes forward or backward in time? Is there something that determines what year they go to? Can a time traveler control where they go? How can you determine who has the gene for time travel, if it is, in fact, a genetic thing? Does anyone else know there are time travelers in the world, or is this professor the only one to have made the discovery? How did Grandma know to go to him, and when did she first begin writing to him? It was clearly before her sons graduated high school, based on her letter. Did they ever meet in person? Where are the other letters they wrote to each other?
These two letters right here would be definitive proof to Matt and Karen that I’m not crazy, and they would learn the truth about Grandma, too. I'm sure Jacob would be interested in the contents of this box, as well. I can’t approach my cousin yet, though, because he and his lady love still think I’m insane and purposefully injured Karen. Those issues will have to be settled before I can get into more esoteric topics of conversation with them.
I fold the letters back up together, as they were, and am about to put them back in the box, along with everything else, with the intention of spending the rest of the evening pondering the stunning revelations I’ve just been made privy to. But, something tiny in the bottom of the box rolls as I shift my weight to the left to begin picking up all the treasures I removed. It glints off the beam from my flashlight as it moves. What is it? I didn’t see it there before. I lean forward, pushing the flashlight closer. There it is! A tiny pearl earring. There doesn’t seem to be a companion to it. Just the one earring, on its own. It’s so dark out, it’s hard to tell just how old it is, even with the flashlight. It must be Grandma’s. Because it’s alone, I’m guessing she accidentally dropped it in the box when she was adding to or going through its contents. Its twin is probably back at the house in her room somewhere. I don’t remember ever seeing her wear it, but she always wore her hair long, even in old age. An earring this small would have been invisible underneath her flowing silver locks.
Careful, so as not to lose it in the thicket where I might never find it again, I tip the box and let the earring fall into the small space between my legs on the blanket. I’ll put it in my jeans pocket to keep it safe. It’s a nice memento of Grandma, and maybe I’ll find its companion when Matt and I finally get past this and start cleaning out her room…wearing gloves for safety, I mentally add. I collect all of the contents of the box and place them back inside it, in the order in which I found them, then close and latch the lid. Holding the box in one hand, I pick up the earring with the other, and start to stretch out enough to slide it in the pocket of my jeans, where it will be kept snug next to me and unlikely to fall out.
Before I can fully get in the necessary position to pocket my find, a bright white oval of light appears in front of me, shining so with such brightness, it hurts my eyes. If I hadn’t just read that letter from the professor, I would think this was an alien abduction in progress. The top of Garrison Hill is the perfect location for one, and aliens are totally real; the sheer size of our universe makes their existence a given. I would debate anyone on the subject, and have.
But, this light is warming my face, making me squint and turn away. It’s no alien. Could it be....? Oh, geez. Sarah, what have you done?
Grandma must have been wearing that earring when she traveled to 1938 from 1864. I’ve just touched an object that traveled through time. That means the light in front of me is a portal. Good God.
As much as I want to get away from Matt and Karen right now, I definitely do not want to be whisked away to the distant past or future, either, especially with no guarantee I can get back. I need to talk to that professor and learn more about how time travel might theoretically work before I go traipsing off into the fourth dimension. Plus, I want to resolve things with Matt. Karen can go away, but I need to reconcile with Matt. Man, how I wish I could push Karen into this thing. That would solve so many issues at home. Unfortunately, she's not here right now, and I am.
I back away from it, but there’s only so far I can go with the bendy branches and bramble behind me. I have to get out of this thicket and away from that thing. Even if it takes me to my dad, or Matt’s dad, my life is here. School, Carter, all my friends, my house, everything that’s familiar to me and everyone I love is here. Being swept away from it into the unknown is an awful, horrifying prospect. At least Grandma didn’t know what was going to happen to her when faced with the same thing. Knowing is worse, because as far as I know, no one has ever come back. Maybe it’s not possible. If I knew I could return, and how to do it, I might explore what’s on the other side of that light, but not without a guarantee.
I drop the earring; the portal doesn’t close. Instead, it sucks the earring into it. Shit. The portal has some kind of magnetic power. I can’t back away from it, so I try going to the left, toward the meadow, but the oval of light just gets bigger, blocking my path. Trying to go right, toward the parking lot, produces the same result. And now, my hair is flying toward it, smooth chestnut brown strands lifting up as if in a storm of static electricity. My clothes are being pulled toward it, too, and soon it feels like they will be pulled off my body, leaving me naked in the cold New Hampshire night.
Finally, it lifts up my arms, even the one still tightly grasping Grandma’s box. The pull is so strong, and I can’t get around the now-blazing light that fills the thicket. My rear starts to come up off the ground. It’s going to take me, just like it took my grandmother, her mother, and her grandfather before her, and I can’t stop it. In an instant I’m hovering just above the blanket, totally off the ground.
The pull is too powerful to escape now, like crossing the event horizon of a black hole.
Where am I going? I only have time to briefly consider my destination before I’m enveloped in an endless void of pure white.
Catch up with the entire "Sarah, Returned" series here: