Sarah, Returned--Chapter Ten (A Steemit Original Novel)

in #fiction4 years ago (edited)

In the second photo, a young-ish man with dark hair and a harrowing mustache that obscures most of the lower part of his face stares somberly at the camera. Dressed in a period-appropriate suit and tie, with hair parted in the middle, perhaps greased a bit, he appears to be a no-nonsense guy, but confident, his back straight and his chin tilted slightly upward. The back is labeled “George Ezra Otis, my father.” 

Um, what now? 

No way. There is no way that man is Grandma’s father. He absolutely can’t be. She must have been writing these labels for someone else. It’s her maiden name, so maybe it was for someone in the mysterious birth family she kept so carefully hidden from everyone. That’s the only explanation. 

The next one is a young woman, maybe thirty at most, wearing a fancy button-up dress in a dark color that could be black or gray, her light-colored, probably blonde hair twisted in braids on both sides and wrapped around her head, just like a married woman in the 1850’s would wear. She looks directly at the camera, a hint of a smile on her smooth face, like she tried to maintain a broad smile the entire time the plates were being exposed to make the picture, but couldn’t quite do it. A hint of mischief twinkles in her light eyes, even from more than 150 years in the past. The back is labeled, “Elizabeth Frances (Wentworth) Otis, my mother, just before she disappeared in 1856.” 

I nearly drop the picture, narrowly avoiding cracking its precious glass, and set it on the ground with shaking hands. My God. Nausea overcomes me, and I think I may vomit. It’s so bad, I lean over the blanket to the far side of the thicket, away from where I laid my treasures, just in case. The wave washes over me in an instant and is gone, leaving me cold, sweaty, shaky, and with goose bumps all up and down my arms.  

This has got to be a joke. It has to be. But, why put a joke in a box no one was supposed to open? No. What's more likely is that these people are Grandma's distant ancestors, and the descriptions of them being close relatives must be meant to get us excited about tracing our family history on her side. It’s a strange thing for someone to do, but it’s the only thing that makes sense at this point. The alternative…well, I can’t…I won’t…consider it. I will end up in a psych ward if I let myself entertain any other notion, and this time, my admittance there might be of my own volition. 

It’s hard to bring myself to look at the last photo, but I can’t just leave it now. I have to know. Slowly, I pick it up, holding it out as far in front of me as I can, like it’s a bomb or something, and look at the front. It’s a family. A mother, father, and six children. The youngest is an infant, and the oldest is a girl who can’t be more than 11 or 12. The parents are obviously the “Father” and “Mother” of the second and third daguerreotypes. There are three boys and three girls. A large, happy family, complete. 

On the back, the label reads, “Father and Mother. Children clockwise from left: Brother Albert, sister Emily, brother Edward, brother Nathaniel, sister Mary, and me, Elizabeth Sarah Otis, age 10. Picture taken October 17, 1855, Dover, NH.” 

This time, I do throw up. Three times. 

Once I’ve emptied my stomach and calmed myself a little, I reach for a bottle of water to clean the inside of my mouth, and drink some to rehydrate. I look at the photo again, more closely this time. That eldest girl, the one Grandma seems to be saying is her, actually could be. They look remarkably similar. The girl could totally be a younger version of Grandma. The facial features, especially, are exactly the same. How can this be? 

Great-Uncle Jacob joked that he wouldn’t be surprised if she weren’t really dead, and was instead frolicking out there in the world somewhere, going on a new adventure. Possibilities flick through my mind like an old-fashioned film strip. Is she immortal? Did she come from a family of vampires…the “Twilight” kind that can be in the sun? Is she a witch? An alien? Was she ever elderly in the first place? Maybe she has eternal youth. I mean, she lied about having dementia. Who’s to say she didn’t gradually make herself look like she was aging with makeup, a wig, and prosthetics? Is she really still out there somewhere?  

Simple answer: I don’t know what to believe anymore.  

There are still a couple of items in the box. I may as well look at them. Something in there has to offer a reasonable answer. Doesn’t it? I lift out another folded piece of crumbling paper. It’s printed on the same type that antique books from the 19th century use, the kind that doesn’t stand the test of time and tends to start flaking off after a half century or so. Older paper, from the 18th century and earlier, is usually printed on hemp, linen, or sheepskin, and is far more durable.  

I don’t know what I’m more afraid of….not finding the answer to the Mystery that is Grandma, or really discovering it. Either way, I suspect my mind is about to be blown. The only question is, can I pick up the pieces afterward?

Unfolding the paper as carefully as I can still results in losing a few corner pieces. Fortunately, nothing comes off that has writing on it. It’s a family tree, beginning with the George and Elizabeth Wentworth Otis from the pictures, their children’s names and birthdates scribbled in below them. The Otis and Wentworth lines branch off, each going in its own direction, all the way back to Dover in the 1600’s. It stops with a Wentworth I’ve never heard of before on one side, and Richard Otis and Rose Stoughton on the other. This is the same Richard Otis who was involved in the 1689 massacre of the town, with his titled first wife. Rose Stoughton, from whom our family is descended, came from genuine English nobility, with royal ancestry not too far back from her generation; she was sent to the American colonies by her father to remove her from the danger of the English Civil War, and married Richard Otis there, a blacksmith far below her station.

According to the family tree, Richard and Rose were the 5x great-grandparents of the children of George and Elizabeth. If that girl in the family photo really is my grandmother, then Richard Otis and Rose Stoughton are her 5x great-grandparents. And, from the birthdates of the children, Grandma was born on May 4, 1845. 

No. I can't accept it. It's too weird, even by my family's newfound standards. There’s got to be some other explanation. I mean, this is obviously Grandma’s family, but is it really her immediate family? That little girl doesn’t have to be my grandmother. Maybe the picture of the 1850’s family shows her own great-grandmother as a child, someone she was named after, and George and Elizabeth are her great-great-grandparents. The Jane Wentworth in the first daguerreotype would be her great-great-great grandmother. That makes the most sense. Of course, it doesn’t explain the highly personal labeling, but maybe there’s a reasonable explanation for that, too, something that doesn’t involve Grandma playing a weird and kind of twisted joke on her descendants.  

One more item in the box. One last chance for that explanation. I lift what appears to be a three-page letter to a professor at the University of New Hampshire’s Physics Department; it’s dated July 16, 2005, one year after Matt and I lost our parents. What business could Grandma have with the Physics Department at the university?

Wait. It’s not just one letter. It’s a letter from the professor to my grandmother, along with her response, stapled together. The professor’s letter is first, which makes it seem like this isn’t the first time they’ve written to each other. If that's correct, then why did she only save this particular exchange?  The only way to know is to read it.

She put it underneath everything else in this box; it must be the most secret thing of all.  _________________________________________________________________

Catch up with the entire "Sarah, Returned" series here:

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine


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I get offline by 10 pm my time EST each nite but have a post ready to go, after on the other computer so I get the light out of my eyes before bed.

I caught up voting for your posts just now and wanted to say thanks for stopping by to visit me lots lately, it has been nice.

Hippies we both are I say again like last year.

Nite friend.

Good night. Thanks for stopping by. I appreciate it. Hippies rule! :)

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