© Copyright 2015, 2017 by Douglas Noble
All rights reserved. This story or any portion thereof
may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever
without the express written permission of the author.
TIME SHIFT TIMES TWO, a novel of the past, present and future.
Synopsis: Time portals open up through two windows in an old man’s house, one to the far past and one about 100 years in the future. Through the future one he meets a family with a problem; through the other one he discovers ancient beasts. Using both, he is able to solve the family from the futures problem, but finds that all that travels through time may not survive.
Jim woke up and looked at the clock on his dresser. It was a little after three in the morning, one of the usual times he woke up at night, the others being one, five and, sometimes, midnight.
He thought to himself, I don’t need to pee, but I probably should anyway. If I don’t, I will have to in an hour. I won’t get back to sleep without doing it.
He rolled himself out of bed and as his feet hit the floor his right knee sent back a shot of pain. That damn knee, he thought, sometimes it hurts, but not bad enough to get it replaced. I wish it would make up its mind. This gettin’ old is gettin’ old.
Jim walked to the bathroom, favoring his aching right knee, and turned through the doorway, clicking on the light as he did. He used to visit the bathroom in the dark, but once he reached his 70s, he decided it was better, and less messy, to turn the
light on first.
The seat on the toilet was already up, the advantage of being a single male living alone.
Jim had been married twice, the second one ending some thirty years before. There had been other relationships with women since then, but nothing serious enough to warrant a third try. Sure, there were times he was lonely, but between the consulting he did, his writing and his friends, he kept his mind on other things.
As he stood there in front of the toilet, he glanced out the small window in the bathroom. Something looked different.
Finished, he turned to the sink, washed his hands and picked up a pair of glasses he always kept handy, then turned back to the window.
Looking towards the north out this window he would normally see, on a moonlit night like this one, the top of the canvas over his carport, but instead he saw a very fuzzy something that looked like a building, or buildings.
His house was old, so he had prepared for winter by putting a shrink-wrap sheet of plastic over each of his single-pane windows to keep in the heat. Maybe it has simply clouded up and is making my carport look different, immediately came to his mind.
He took hold of the edge of the plastic and pulled it off, pulling some old paint with it. But, everything was still foggy and fuzzy.
Jim unlatched the window and pushed it open. The fogginess stayed, but as the window opened outward, it too became fuzzy. He reached out his hand and it also became fuzzy as it passed through the window opening, so he immediately jerked it back.
He pulled off his glasses and looked at them. They don’t look dirty, but I think I’ll wash them anyway, he thought.
Returning to the window with clean glasses, he carefully leaned out and as his face passed through the window opening, he could clearly see that, yes, his carport and car were not there, and all he could see were buildings, and lots of them.
They were very plain, tall concrete buildings like he had seen in eastern Europe, the buildings built under Communist Rule to house workers. He also noticed that the air was slightly acrid with the smell of waste and maybe chemicals.
He immediately pulled his head back into the house, took a deep breath to clear away the smell and carefully reaching out through the fogginess, pulled the window shut and latched it. He was glad that the smell didn’t seem to come into his house.
“What the hell is going on here?,” he said out loud. Then thoughts raced through his mind. It seems to be something like the time portals I saw on the many television shows that were popular a decade or so ago. Maybe they are real. Then he laughed to himself thinking, No, it couldn’t be.
Still a bit concerned, he returned to his bedroom, turned on the light and walked over to the window that also faced to the north and, with a bit of apprehension, pulled back the drapes and looked out. Even with the plastic over the window, he could see that everything seemed to be okay. There in the bright moonlight was his carport, his car and even the rototiller he was trying to get running again.
He walked back into the bathroom and again looked out the window. The fogginess was still there. Unconvinced, he unlatched and opened the window again, and, holding his breath against the anticipated smell, stuck his head out. Yes, the buildings were still there, just like before. Now more than curious, he looked around for a few seconds this time.
The buildings appeared to be abandoned and needed work. Most of the windows were broken and the land around them was covered with discarded furniture and trash. The landscape itself was barren.
Being the inquisitive person he is, he pulled his head back inside, took another breath, stuck his head out further and looked down and back to see what was behind him.
His house was not there and the bathroom window he was looking through appeared to be part of a larger glass door leading to a trash covered balcony just a couple of feet below him.
He looked at the other buildings and didn’t see any balconies on them. This must be a special building of some sort, he guessed. Then, looking up, he saw the face.
In the window of the nearest building, one of the few still with glass, he could barely see a face peeking through some ragged curtains, the face of a young child. It was looking directly at him.
He instantly pulled himself back into his bathroom, closed and latched the window and turned off the light.
I shouldn’t have looked around that long, he thought while mentally kicking himself. God, I hope he didn’t really see me. I have no idea what is going on and this could complicate things.
Jim decided that what he should do is look out through all of the windows in his house to see if this was the only one like this. He hoped that was the case.
He shut the bathroom door, grabbed his flashlight, and one by one looked out through the windows of his living room, kitchen and computer room. Everything was okay and normal.
Somewhat relieved, he headed back into his bedroom, only at the last minute pointing the flashlight first at the northern window he had checked before, and then the one facing west.
He stopped and looked again. That one was foggy like the one in the bathroom.
Walking closer, he pointed his flashlight at it, but he couldn’t see anything.
Lifting the window, he found the screen kept him from looking out. Unlatching and dropping the screen to the ground, he poked his head out, just missing the trunk of a large, odd looking tree that was just a few inches on the other side of the fogginess. It was mostly off to one side, so moving his head slightly to the right he could see around the tree and into an open forest of similar trees.
He lived in a forest, but not like this. This one looked ancient, like something from millions of years ago and it smelled like a swamp: warm, humid and rotting.
It was dark out there and since he still had his flashlight in his hand, he stuck it through the window and looked around. He could see there were more of these odd looking trees where his driveway should be and where his garden and pond should be. The open forest went on as far as he could see.
Pushing himself out and looking back towards his house, he found the same, nothing but trees and no house. Apparently this portal, or whatever it was, was simply floating in this forest, about three or four feet off the ground, he mentally estimated.
He shut the window, pulled down the shade and sat on the edge of his bed.
Everything that had happened so far was beginning to sink in. The excitement of the moment had taken over and now he began to think.
Since the south side of the house seems to be unaffected, then I should go outside and look. That should clear up everything, he imagined.
Grabbing his bathrobe and putting on his slippers, he took his flashlight and started for the front door, which was on that side of the house. Then he stopped and returned to the bedroom.
Taking his revolver from its hiding place, he tucked it into the pocket of his robe. “I don’t know what I am going to find.” he mumbled to himself, “I better be prepared.”
Before walking out the door, he turned on the porch light and waited a few seconds for it to brighten. These florescent bulbs may save money, but I sure wish they would start brighter, at least right now, he thought.
As he walked along his porch that went the width of his house, he noticed that everything seemed to be there. Even the odds and ends that long ago he had put there, planning on taking to the sheds or putting into the trash. He shook his head and reminded himself, I really have to get after that stuff. This place is a mess.
He reached the end of the porch, stepped down and headed north along the west side of his house. Everything seemed normal, but he didn’t see the screen that he had knocked out so that he could reach through the portal. This is really strange, he thought. I guess it fell to the other side of the portal or whatever it is.
As he continued his slow walk, he didn’t see any of the odd trees he had seen through the window, just the ones that were there yesterday. Then there was a flash and he grabbed for his revolver.
While fumbling for the trigger, he realized it was just the light on the motion detector that came on when he drove in, or when any animals walked by.
After standing there for a few moments and putting his revolver back in his pocket, he shined his flashlight into the bedroom window. He could see inside. He waved his hand outside the window where he though the portal should be and found nothing.
He turned into his carport and approached the bathroom window. Everything looked okay there too.
He continued his walk around the east and north sides of the house, came back up onto the porch and walked back into the house. Everything looked okay. He was relieved, but still very confused.
Once back inside, he locked the front door and checked it twice to make sure, turned out the porch light and the lights in that side of the house. Then he headed back into his bedroom.
When he reached his bed, he looked again towards the window on the west, the window to the forest. It looked the same: foggy. Then there was a gentle knock that seemed to come from the bathroom.
Because the door to the bathroom was closed, he could barely hear it. It happened several times again and then stopped. With everything that was going on, he thought he just might be imagining it.
Somehow, even with all the excitement, Jim fell back asleep, but just before 7 a.m., when his alarm would go off, he was awakened by another knock at the bathroom window, this time louder.
He didn’t really know what to do and thought back at what had happened during the night. If those really are time portals, one to the future and one to the past, there could be some dangers, serious dangers, he thought. A thousand questions still crossed his mind.What if the portals are only one-way? What if something from the future comes through the portal, will it disappear? It doesn’t exist now. What if someone goes out through the portal to the past and does some damage? Will it change the world as we know it?
He ran all these thoughts by his mind and remembered several things he had read. Didn’t Einstein say that time travel to the past was impossible? Didn’t other scientists say that if it was possible, because what ever you did would have happened already and nothing you could do would change the future? Didn’t I stick my hand, flashlight and head through each portal and get them back? “Maybe that was a really dumb idea,” he said out loud.
His curiosity overcame what was probably common sense, and he got up and went into the bathroom to see about the knocking, hoping it was just something loose on the other side, banging against it.
He turned on the light and then realized that the light might be seen through the portal and attract unwanted attention, so he turned it off.
Through the window he could barely see a shadow that was moving. Then there was another knock at the window.
He unlatched the window and slowly pushed on it. As it opened, the shadow seemed to duck down and, once the window passed, popped up as the face and head of a small boy.
Obviously scared, the boy looked at Jim, smiled and softly said, “Hi, I live in the building over there with my mom and sister,” he said, pointing to the window where Jim had seen him earlier. “I play in this building and have never seen anybody here in a long time, ever since those people moved out. Are you one of them coming back?”
Jim didn’t know how to answer, so he decided to ask his own questions instead.
“My name is Jim,” he said. “What’s yours?”
“Cain,” the young boy answered.
“Where are we and what year is it,” inquired Jim.
“I don’t know where we are. I think my mom said it used to be part of a place called northern California, what ever that means. But I do know it is the 37th year of the New Republic,” the boy answered while lifting himself up onto the window sill to see inside the house. “I learned that in school, before they closed it.”
All of a sudden Cain slipped and fell into the house and onto the floor of Jim’s bathroom. He didn’t disappear, he didn’t evaporate, he just lay there. A look of relief came on Jim’s face. So much for that theory, he thought.
Jim closed the window and then helped Cain up and sat him on the edge of the bathtub. Then he lowered the toilet seat cover and sat down across from him.
Cain was dressed in a blue shirt and pants that were very worn and looked like they were once part of a dark blue uniform. He also had on a badly worn pair of nondescript tennis shoes. There was some kind of symbol on the shirt, but what that meant, was far secondary to the other questions Jim had.
“I have no idea what is going on,” Jim said to Cain. “This window from my house into your neighborhood just opened last night.”
“There were some funny flashes and lighting last night,” interrupted Cain. “That is why I was looking out the window and saw you. Maybe that is what caused it.”
“How many people live in these buildings,” asked Jim nervously.
“My mom, my sister and I are the only ones,” replied Cain. “When the army came through and burned everything, everyone else left and they haven’t come back. I thought you might be one of them coming back.
“My sister was sick then, so we just hid while the army came through and the other people left. When they were gone, we moved into one of the few apartments that was not badly damaged.
“The people left everything and we have lots of canned food and supplies. My mom wishes they had left fresh fruit and milk, but she said it would be bad by now.
“It is very lonely here by ourselves. I haven’t been to school or seen any of my friends for three months. Tell me they are coming back.”
“I don’t know about that, but what about the building I appear to be in,” asked Jim. “It seems to be different from the rest.”
“This building was the government headquarters and the school. They took most everything with them and moved south. I don’t know where.”
“I’m really not in the building, I just…,” Jim started to say, and then switched to something Cain would understand.
“How old are you,” he asked. “11, but I will be 12 in just one month,” Cain answered. “My sister is four and my mom is about 35, I think. My dad would be about 37, but we don’t know where he is. The army took him when they came through.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” said Jim. “How long ago did the army come through and take your father?”
“I think it was about two years ago,” said Cain. “The time they came back and burned everything was only about three months ago.”
“Isn’t your mother wondering where you are?”,asked Jim.
“I told her I was going to look through the school for more books,” Cain replied.
“I should be in the sixth grade so she is trying to keep me up so I can go back to school with my friends when they return.
“She probably does wonder where I am. Can I come back and visit with you again?”
“Sure,” said Jim. “Just knock like you did this time and, if I am here, I will let you in. Oh, Cain, was there a library or museum here?”
“Yes,” answered Cain. “Here in this building. But most everything was either taken, stolen or burned. What are you looking for?”
“History,” replied Jim, “lots of history.”
“I can show you where the library was next time,”said Cain.
“Thanks,” answered Jim, “But at my age I’m not sure I could make it out the window and back, and the smell of the air out there makes me a bit sick.”
“We don’t smell it anymore,” said Cain as he stood up, stepped on the side of the tub and slipped out the window onto the balcony.
“Wait a minute,” yelled Jim, as he raced to the kitchen and retrieved a half-gallon of milk from the refrigerator along with a gallon of drinking water. He brought them back and put them out the window into Cain’s hands.
“Here,” said, Jim. “Your mother might like these.” As Cain moved away he shut and latched the window.
God, I hope passing milk though the portal doesn’t ruin it, Jim thought while shaking his head.
He walked back into his bedroom to change into something other than his sleep pants and a t-shirt. He needed to do some shopping for Cain and his family.
In all the excitement of the visit with Cain, Jim had almost forgotten about the other portal in his bedroom. To investigate that he needed to call a couple of friends he could trust. No way am I going out there, even with a platoon of marines, he reminded himself, but I know who will, he thought with a smile, as he picked up the phone and dialed.
After a trip into town to grab more milk and other groceries, Jim drove into his driveway to find the two friends he had called, Wes and Ray, waiting for him.
He had selected the two of them mainly because they were both college graduates with a knowledge of science, but most of all, because they were outdoorsmen.
“Hey guys,” he yelled to them, “Let me park this thing and then I will fill you in on everything I hinted about.”
Grabbing the groceries, he headed into to the house, put them away, and then returned outside where he met up with the two.
He had initially only given them some basic information, so he said to them, “First I want to take you around the outside of the house, so you can see what is there.”
They walked along with Jim as he pointed out the two windows with the portals and showed them that the screen was missing from the bedroom window. Then they went inside.
They stopped for a moment in the bathroom while Jim unlatched and opened the window so they could get a glimpse of the buildings. But, as interesting at that was, that was not what they were there for.
He closed and latched the window as his two friends headed into his bedroom. After Cain’s comments about the army, he had placed a black plastic bag over the window so light would not escape and attract someone he didn’t want. He made sure it was in place before he left the room.
Once in the bedroom he lifted the window on the west side and demonstrated how he could put his hand or head through the fogginess. He stepped aside and they both looked out into the forest.
“Notice that the window screen is there on the ground and was not outside when we walked by a few minutes ago,” said Jim. “I think it is on the other side of the portal.”
After Jim closed the window, snapped the latch locking it and covered it too with a black plastic bag, the three sat on the bed and stared at each other.
“First I need a beer,” said Wes, and nobody disagreed. Jim went to the refrigerator and grabbed three, along with an opened can of nuts from the cupboard, then headed back into the bedroom.
“What do you think?,” said Jim. “You guys are experienced outdoorsmen and hunters and you know a bit about physics and biology. What do you think?”
Wes just sat there, but Ray spoke up. “This is the craziest thing I have ever seen. It looks like a forest, but smells a bit like…different.
“You said you thought it was an ancient forest,” continued Ray. “I agree, really ancient, maybe millions of years ancient. “Personally I would like to go out there and take a look around. Are you with me Wes?”
Wes looked at him for a minute and, nodding his head, said, “You bet.”
“Wes, you never change,” said Jim. You are always a man of few words.”
Both Ray and Wes were a bit younger than Jim and still had full-time jobs, but they figured they could spare an afternoon the next Monday, during the daylight so they could look around.
“Just remember,” said Jim, “It could be a bit dangerous, both from what we don’t know about time portals and from what might live our there. I have looked out several times and never seen anything but those trees, but who knows?
“We all have families and I am not going to be responsible for what might happen, I want you to understand that before you go out the window.
“Don’t tell anyone that you are coming over here and for God’s sake, don’t tell anyone about what you saw today. I’m having a hard enough time trying to explain it to myself and you two.”
“I’m not worried,” said Ray. “I’ve been in some very dangerous places, both as a Marine and a hunter and I’ve faced down some big beasts. But, I’m going to bring my 44 magnum pistol just to be safe.
“I thought about a rifle,” he added with a sly laugh, “but if I have to I can run faster with a pistol and still do just about the same amount of damage.
Wes smiled and agreed, “Me too, and a camera.”
“Five words,” Jim quipped. “Isn’t that a record for you in one sentence Wes?” They all laughed.
Over the next couple of days Cain had knocked a few times and Jim had sent him home with more milk, water, fresh produce, eggs and even a few treats. Everything was still okay with him and his family and as far as they could tell, nobody had come back to nose around any of the buildings.
Jim was mostly afraid that the army, whoever they were, would come back and do something to Cain and his family. He felt like he had sort of adopted them.
He hoped that in the next few days Cain’s mother, who he now knew was named Stephanie, would come and talk with him. According to Cain, she was well educated and had a master’s degree in some kind of history, which might be why she, at first, didn’t want to meet him. Maybe, he thought, she couldn’t comprehend the situation. After all even being right in the middle of it, he still had trouble figuring it out.
As planned, Wes and Ray showed up at Jim’s around noon the next Monday and started getting ready to slip out the window. They had brought a small step-ladder to make things easier, both on the way out and, especially the way in, if they had to come back fast. It would also mark the entrance to the portal for them.
Jim unlatched the window and the two guys went out and stood there looking back at Jim. “The house is gone,” said Ray. All we can see is the window in a grove of trees. It’s kind of scary.”
“Don’t forget to hand me up the screen when you get back,” said Jim with a laugh. But there wouldn’t be time for that.
They were only out there a few minutes when Jim, who had stayed by the open window, saw some movement and stuck his head out through the fogginess. Here they both came, yelling at the top of their lungs and running as fast as they could towards the window. In a second both of them were through the window and back in Jim’s bedroom.
“Shut and lock the window as fast as you can,” yelled Ray. “We just saw the biggest damn cat with huge teeth and it was looking for dinner…us!”
Jim had sensed the problem when he saw them coming so fast and had immediately closed and latched the window just as they cleared the portal.
“It must have been ten or fifteen feet long and was tracking us before we even saw it,” said Ray, who was shaking badly. I’ll bet it was watching us coming down the ladder. It was big and wanted to eat us…it was big and wanted to eat us!”
“Did you get any pictures?,” said Jim to Wes who was also shaking uncontrollably on the edge of the bed.
“Hell no,” answered Wes. “I had my camera in my hand when I saw it and I took one picture. But now I don’t even know where my camera is.
“By the way Jim, added Wes, “you and I are about the same size. Can I borrow a clean pair of jeans? That little adventure caused a bit of an accident.”
After a few minutes of digging out clean clothes for the both of them, Jim went back to the window and raised it just an inch. He didn’t see anything in the way of an animal, but there was Wes’ camera, the step-ladder and his window screen.
“So who is going to go out and get the screen, ladder and camera?,” he asked with a laugh. But the guys had both gone into the kitchen to look for something stronger than beer to calm their nerves.
“I guess we will find out if something from the future left in the past has any effect on history,” Jim mumbled out loud to himself.
At least they still had their guns when they came back, ran through his mind. Leaving a weapon out there if there are humans of any type around would have been a very bad idea, but I still wouldn’t have gone out to get them.
Jim joined Wes and Ray at his kitchen table. They were sharing a bottle of Irish Whisky, which had been new a few minutes earlier, but was now about half gone. They were simply passing it back and forth, eliminating the need for any glassware.
“Hey,” said Jim in his best fake angry tone, “I was saving that for St. Patrick’s Day.
“Don’t worry,” said Ray, “we’ll replace it before then…that’s if we make it until then. No more adventures like that for me. That was a big cat and he wanted to eat us,” he again repeated.
It didn’t take them too many minutes to decide that nobody should ever go out through that portal. Being dinner for some kind of giant cat-like creature was not on any of their bucket lists.
Once they were both cleaned up, Wes and Ray left for home, while Jim still wondered what he would have done if they had become dinner for the cat. No way would he have ever gone out there to find them, or what was left of them.
Early the next morning Jim heard a familiar knock at the window in the bathroom.
He and Cain had worked out a code in case someone else came across the portal and knocked.
The knock was right, so he opened the window expecting to see Cain. He was there, but along with him was his mother, Stephanie, and his sister, whom Cain told him was named Chloe. Like Cain, they looked healthy, but tired.
Stephanie was fairly tall, slim and attractive. Her hair was cut short, like Cain’s and Chloe’s and her face showed the results of living under serious stress.
Like Cain, they both were dressed in a heavily worn shirt and pants uniform. Chloe’s like Cain’s, had once been dark blue, but Stephanie’s was more grey-green.
Cain sat on the edge of the bathtub, but his mother, after thanking Jim for the food he had sent to them by way of Cain, picked up Chloe and asked if she could wander around the house a bit.”I haven’t been in a real home in a long time,” she said.
Jim saw no harm in that, but figured they should all go together. So, all four of them started the tour.
“Most of this stuff in your house is familiar to me,” she said, “but some of it I have only seen in museums or libraries.”
“Can I get you a glass of water or something to eat?,” asked Jim.
“Water would be fine,” said Stephanie, as she and the two kids settled on to his couch.
While pouring them each a glass of water, Jim asked, “I’m very curious as to what year it is. Cain said it was the 37th year of the New Republic, but that means nothing to me.”
“The New Republic was started a couple of years after the Great War,” said Stephanie. “That was, let me see…” She mumbled to herself for a few seconds and then said, “The Great War ended around 2067 and the New Republic started about 2070. So, it is 2107 or so. That is my best guess.
“Actually I shouldn’t really say the Great War ended, it is still going on. That is why we are in the situation we are now with different groups fighting each other.”
“It’s February 2014 here now,” said Jim, “so you are less than 100 years in the future from me. I thought it would be more from the mess I saw outside.”
“Can I ask you a couple of questions?” said Stephanie. “How did all this happen? We had this strange electrical storm and all of a sudden you’re here. Or, maybe you were always here and we were there and moved here. It is all so confusing.”
“If I knew, I would tell you,” replied Jim. “But since I have another portal though another window to some time in the past, it is even more confusing than that.”
“That’s crazy,” said Stephanie shaking her head. “I have to see this.”
Jim took here into his bedroom, uncovered the window and slowly opened it a foot or so.
“When you said ‘sometime in the past,’ I thought you meant a few years or maybe decades, said Stephanie. “This looks like a prehistoric forest. Have you gone out there?”
“No,” answered Jim, “but I had a couple of friends who did and got a real surprise. I’ll tell you about it later.”
“Cain told me you were looking for some books on history,” said Stephanie as they walked back into his living room. “Since ancient history was my major in college I do know something about it,” adding with a smile, “come to think of it, I guess you are ancient history to me.
“We no longer have paper books like you have on your shelf over there,” pointing across the room, “but small chips that fit into a reader. Most of my books are gone, but I will see if I can find something to fill in the gap between you and us. I think I have a couple of extra readers or can find one for you in all of the stuff that was left when people abandoned this area.”
“We have readers like that,” said Jim. “I would have thought things would have advanced much faster and be beyond that by now.”
“Things did, and then we lost them.” she answered, “Starting around 2030 most of the engineering went into military machines and equipment, not civilian goods, due to an attack on us by a group of foreign nations. It is a bit complicated and I will explain it to you later. Better than that, when I locate the chips and reader for you, you will be able to learn all about it.
“We better get back,” she added. “Earlier I thought I saw some smoke on the horizon and that could mean some soldiers might be heading this way. I want to be prepared for them. We have created quite a nice hidden bunker for ourselves.”
“Please, just a couple more questions,” said Jim. “My house was about 40 miles east of Sacramento, between the American and Cosumnes rivers. Where are we now?”
“The same place,” she answered, “the very same place.”
“Then why all the buildings?” continued Jim. This is a rural community. Why were all these people living here?”
“For the same reason people came here in the first place, gold,” she replied. “War costs money and gold is money.
“They brought in heavy equipment, leveled the ground and built these buildings to house the thousands of people needed to mine the gold. But it cost too much and they finally gave up and abandoned everything.
“Most of the people left, but some stayed and tried to make a living digging for gold in the huge piles of mine tailings. We were part of that group.
“When some soldiers came through a couple of years ago, they took all of the able men, including my husband, leaving me with two small children to care for. I was able to make it as a teacher until they came back a few months ago to take what they could carry and burned all the rest.
“At that point everybody, including what was left of our local government, took off. Without them, we have limited electricity, no fuel and only rainwater to drink.
“My husband had partially repaired some solar panels and a small nuclear generator when the army took him. On sunny days we can still get enough power to heat water for bathing, but the generator is in bad shape and can only power one or two lights. Other than that…nothing.
“Chloe was very sick at the time and we had no other place to go, so when everyone else left, we stayed. I’m hoping my husband will return. If we left, he might not find us.
“That sort of sums it up,” she added. “But, we better get going.”
Stephanie then gave Jim a hug and a kiss on the cheek and, again, thanked him for his help. “As you can see, Chloe is much better now thanks to your generosity. Oh, by the way, do you have any vitamins. The kids and I could use them. It’s scary out there.”
“All I have are multi-vitamins for seniors, but I will pick you up some today at the store. But, wait a second, here, take my probiotics, those should help.”
“I’m mostly looking for Vitamin D,” added Stephanie. “Because we have limited sunshine due to the eternal haze and the fact that we hide much of the day, I’m sure we are not getting enough of that.”
“That I have,” Jim said, as he went through his bag of vitamins and handed her what he had left.
The three of them went back to the bathroom and out through the window. After they were safely on the balcony, Jim closed, latched and covered the window.
A couple of nights later Jim was awakened by a knocking at the bathroom window. The code was right, but it was much louder than Cain’s usual knock.
He swung out of bed and looked at the clock. It’s only a few minutes after midnight, he thought to himself, I wonder what that kid wants this time of night.
He hurried to the bathroom and opened the window. Cain was there and jumping with excitement.
“My dad’s back, my dad’s back, he escaped” he yelled, “and he wants to talk to you. Can I bring him here in the morning?”
“Sure,” answered Jim. “Let’s make it around seven or so, so I can get some sleep between now and then. I’m an old man,” said Jim as he closed and latched the window and went back to bed.
He wasn’t sure he had even gotten to sleep when he heard the coded knock at the window. Well, at least he waited until 6:30, he thought to himself.
He went to the bathroom and opened the window. There stood Cain and his father, a tall, slim man whose face, like Stephanie’s, showed the effects of a hard life. He also wore some kind of a two-piece uniform, but his was green and brown, somewhat in a camouflage pattern.
Jim invited them in and then shut, latched and covered the window behind them. The three then went into his living room and sat down.
“Can I make you some coffee, um…” started Jim.
“Roger is my name, and I would love some” Cain’s dad said, “I haven’t had any coffee in at least five years. I want to apologize for Cain, kids are always bad about introducing people.”
“I understand,” said Jim with a smile. “When you get old you don’t forget to introduce people, you just forget their names. How about you, Cain, hot chocolate?”
“He has never had hot chocolate or any kind of chocolate for that matter,” interjected Roger, “it is one of the many things no longer on the market. Maybe juice would be better for him. I don’t want him to have a reaction to it.
“By the way, I really want to thank you for what you have done for my family. Stephanie has been doing a great job raising them in this mess, but you coming along has really helped. I was delighted to see the glow back on all of their faces.”
Jim started a pot of coffee and poured Cain a glass of orange juice. “I made the juice from oranges my daughter grows in Sacramento,” Jim added. “I have a few left that you can take back with you. Roger, the coffee should be ready in a minute or two”
“I’m running from the soldiers,” Roger announced abruptly and unexpectedly. “They are part of one of the many warring factions left over from the Great War. I think my wife filled you in on that.
“When they took me about two years ago, they found out I had a background in both electronics and engineering, so they put me in a special unit designing and improving their weapons. But they always kept an eye on me, since I was really their prisoner.
“I learned a lot about everything they have and a couple of months ago they started acting like they thought I might be giving that information to one of their enemies. I wasn’t, but I would have if I thought it would have brought this war to an end. I would love for this whole mess to end so we could get on with something close to a normal life.”
“Are they actually chasing you?,” inquired Jim.
“Yes sir,” replied Roger. “I found out from a friend that they were going to put me in prison, so I worked out an escape plan and, a little over three weeks ago I took off.
“A couple of days later the same friend got a message to me that they had assigned a special task force of five soldiers to find me and assassinate me. He said they wouldn’t stop until they were successful. Apparently they are afraid I know too much to be out here. I’m sure they figured I would head directly here, but I have doing some backtracking in hopes of throwing them off. So far it has worked, but I am sure they will be here in just a couple of days.
“By the way can we take our coffee and walk outside? It looks beautiful out there.”
Jim had not thought about taking them outside, but figured, why not. So, he opened the front door and they stepped out onto his porch.
“It looks like someone dropped a bomb on your porch,” said Roger with a smile. “I never could get around to straightening things. You are a lot like me.”
The three walked out into the yard and looked around. Cain took off chasing a squirrel.
“Don’t go too far,” Roger told him. “We have to get back and be there when the soldiers show up.
“Trees, bushes, flowers, birds and a clear blue sky. My parents told me stories of places like this and I always imagined what they would be like,” said Roger. “But, this is even better.”
The three of them walked around and Jim even showed them what was outside of his bathroom window in his world. Then, with Cain objecting, they went back inside and sat down.
“Dad, I have never seen anything like this,” said Cain. “Why can’t we just go get mom and Chloe and stay here?”
Ignoring Cain for a moment, Roger looked at Jim and said, “Jim, I need your help and I need it badly. I can probably hold off the soldiers for a couple of hours, but once they get me they will kill Steph, Cain and Chloe. I can’t let that happen.
“We can take off right now and run, but that will only delay everything a few days. Will you let the three of them stay here until the soldiers leave?
“If I hold off the soldiers, they can come back out, if not, maybe they can stay here for a few more days until everything clears over and then go back home. I am sure the army will still go looking for them, but with me gone, they won’t be such a high priority.”
“Why don’t the four of you just hide here while the soldiers are looking for you?,” asked Jim. “ Won’t they think you moved on and shortly give up looking? And, if they don’t, you could stay here forever.”
“It’s not that easy,” answered Roger. “They will hunt around looking for me. I am sure they will burn all of the supplies and they will probably burn all of the buildings, including the one that it seems you are virtually within, if there is any sense in this whole portal thing.”
None of this had really occurred to Jim.
Could a bullet pass through the portal into my house, killing me or making it’s location more obvious to the soldiers? If the window broke, as it surely would in a fire, would the fire jump into my world and spread through my property? And, what if it the fire then went out the other portal into the past? All this shot through Jim’s scared, but mostly tired mind.
He thought for another minute and then said, “Roger, I would be very happy to watch your family for you. But I don’t think you will be successful and if they burn the buildings, I am not sure what will happen. It could cause problems in three different times, the past, present and future. I would try to explain it to you, but just take my word for it for now.
“I think I have a better idea that you, your wife and I should talk about. I will keep her and the kids here and you will attract the soldiers into here. I’ll will take it from there.”
Roger was a bit shocked with Jim’s comments, but over the next two days the three talked it over and perfected the plan, while Chloe played in Jim’s living room and Cain stood guard, wearing an oversize camouflage shirt of Jim’s. Partially hidden behind a box on the balcony he watched for the soldiers with a pair of Jim’s binoculars.
“ I’m not sure your plan will work,” said Roger, “not sure at all.”
“Don’t worry,” said Jim, “at its worst, it will be better than anything else. If everything goes wrong, Stephanie, the kids and I can all run into my woods and be safe. I’m not sure the soldiers will want to try and follow us there, and if they do, I am sure the sheriff will be able to take care of that.
“Don’t worry about us,” he added. “I’m a survivor and will make sure they survive.
“Stephanie,” Jim said as he turned to her, “when you come, bring everything you have in the way of records: birth certificates, marriage certificate, you know, things like that. We may need them.”
“I’m not sure what we have,” she answered, “but I will bring what I can find, along with some clothes in case we have to stay a few days…or longer.”
“Just bring the basics,” Jim told her. “We can always go to the store to get clothes, toys, food and everything else.
“By the way Roger, have you ever handled a shotgun?,” Jim asked.
“Yes,” said Roger. My grandfather had an old one and taught me how to use it. As I recall, he and my grandmother lived only a short distance from here.”
The soldiers arrived late the next evening and Jim already had Stephanie and the kids safe in his house.
On a cue from Jim, Roger ran from his hiding place, into the old government building and out onto the patio where Jim’s bathroom window portal was located. Making sure he could be seen, but not staying long enough to be shot at, he jumped through the portal and into Jim’s house.
As the soldiers ran towards where they had last seen Roger, Jim opened the window and stuck out his head, waving a flashlight and yelling, “They’re in here, they’re in here! They were holding me hostage and have escaped.”
The soldiers ran into the building out onto the patio and, without any questions, one by one dropped through the portal into Jim’s bathroom.
He was standing just outside the bathroom door, blocking the entrance to the rest of the house where Stephanie and the kids were hidden, protected by Roger who was now armed with Jim’s shotgun.
Pointing to the window on the west side of his bedroom, Jim jumped up and down and yelled, pointing at the window, “This way, this way, they went out that window.”
The soldiers all followed his directions and went through the window into the past. Jim followed to the window, shutting and latching it as soon as the soldiers were all outside.
From the time the soldiers first arrived, Jim had been tossing everything he had in the way of meat out that window. He hoped it would bring in the animal Ray and Wes had encountered.
Roger, still holding the shotgun, took a position behind Jim as he opened the window a crack and listened. There was a lot of yelling and other noise and then, nothing. Apparently the plan had worked.
As Jim closed and latched the window, Stephanie asked, “Weren’t you afraid they would find their way back and come in and kill us?”
“No,” he answered. “When I first opened the window to throw out the meat, I looked and the step-ladder was gone, as was my screen and Wes’s camera. Without something marking the portal, they would have had an awful time finding it. Who took the stuff, I don’t know. I guess that is a question for another day.”
“Who is Wes,” asked Roger.
“It doesn’t matter,” answered Jim. “He is just a friend who along with my friend Ray, discovered our solution for the soldiers.
“What does concern me are the weapons and whatever else the soldiers left out there. Roger, you’re the weapons expert. Are they a problem?”
“Not really,” answered Roger. “The are fantastic weapons, but to keep them from being stolen and used by an enemy, they are in contact with a special chip implanted in each soldier. Each one is unique and, without it, they won’t fire. As an added safety, the chip cannot be removed without destroying it.”
A bit relieved, Jim turned to Roger and said, “We have one more thing to do. Help me make sure the black plastic fully covers this window and the one in the bathroom. I want to make absolutely sure no light of any kind gets out and attracts someone or something we don’t want, even the smallest bug.
“I’ve kept the window covered, the light off and the door shut in the bathroom since I first met Cain, but with five of us in the house, accidents could happen and someone from your world could come investigating any light shining through it.”
After Jim and Roger had securely hung the plastic, they all sat down in the living room to rest from the excitement of the day.
“Quite a day, wasn’t it,” said Jim, “I don’t want to go through that again, ever, ever, ever.
“I’m sure we could all use a shower, I will see what towels I have an put them out for you. There is plenty of soap and shampoo, so help yourself. Then we can button up the house and all get some sleep. In the morning we can figure out what to do next.
Jim let Roger, Stephanie and the kids sleep on his bed, while he made a bed for himself on the couch. About one in the morning, his usual time, he woke up and headed into the bathroom.
As he stood there, he noticed that one corner of the black plastic over the window had come loose. When he was finished with what he had come into the bathroom to do, he pushed the loose corner back in place. But, as usual, his curiosity got the best of him, so he turned off the light, pulled the loose corner back and looked out through the window. Immediately he screamed, “Oh my God!”
Roger came running into the bathroom wrapped in one of Jim’s robes, wondering what was wrong. He turned on the light just as Jim finished ripping the black plastic off the window.
Jim turned towards him and yelled, “My carport, I can see my carport, I can see my carport. The portal is gone. Come on, let’s check the other one.”
Stephanie and the kids were frightened and sitting up in bed wondering what was going on as the two men ran by them to the bedroom window and carefully lifted a corner of the black plastic. Jim could see his driveway, his pond, his trees. This portal was gone too.
After calming down, Jim said, “I was afraid that if your portal closed you might disappear, but didn’t. I guess you are permanently here.”
“Well, we didn’t disappear,” said Roger, “but look around, everything we brought with us did, our clothes, our papers, the history for you and everything else. They are all gone. I guess only living things can survive time travel.”
“Well, that’s another one for the scientists to ponder,” said Jim, “but it is good for us.”
“In what way,” asked Roger and Stephanie, almost at the same time.
“The guns,” replied Jim, “The guns. They are no longer out there in the past, since they came from the future. But then, neither is the ladder, Jim’s camera or my window screen.
“You don’t suppose they went back to the future, which is now,” Jim added as he opened the window and looked out. “Nope, not here. I wonder where they are?”
“Well,” Jim continued, “I guess I better find some clothes for you to wear until we can get to the stores in the morning,” Take whatever you need from my closet or drawers. Pyjamas are in the bottom drawer.
“I’ll leave you alone, but I’m heading into the kitchen. I know it is the middle of the night, but I could use a drink. When you get something on, you’re welcome to join me.”
Jim let Roger, Stephanie and the kids sleep on his bed, while he made a bed for himself on the couch. In the morning, Jim got up and started fixing breakfast for all of them. Stephanie, wrapped in one of Jim’s robes, came in and gave him a long hug. “Thank you, thank you,” she said.
Jim smiled and said, “I forgot to ask, is anyone allergic to any kind of food or is there anything you don’t eat for some reason or another?”
“Not that I know of,” answered Stephanie. “But there are a lot of things the kids haven’t tried, so we should be careful with what we give them.”
“You know you are welcome to stay as long as you want,” said Jim. “We can tell anyone who asks that you are my cousins who had your house burn down and you lost everything, so I invited you to stay with me for a while.
They will wonder why I was the relative to take in a family of four when I have only this little house, but it is none of their damn business anyway.”
“That’s very kind of you, but I think we belong in our own world,” she answered, just as Roger wandered in.
“The kids are still sleeping and maybe we should let them rest,” he said. “They need it. So, have you solved all the problems of the world, or maybe I should say all three worlds?”
“Jim said we can stay here as long as we like,” interrupted Stephanie, as she poured coffee for the three of them. “I said we really belong in our own world and should go back. What do you think?”
“I’m serious,” interrupted Jim. “I would hate to see you go back to that world the way it is, unless you have a really good reason. I’m offering again. You can stay here permanently if you want.
“I’ll call my attorney. He is an old friend and a science fiction fan, so everything about this will fascinate him. I will tell him everything about you and give him a glimpse through the window at your world. I’m sure he will be able to come up with some kind of a solution to the problem. At least I hope so.”
“Oh, here come the kids,’ said Stephanie.
“Are you hungry?,” Jim asked. “Eat up and maybe we can go to the park after breakfast. It’s beautiful outside.”
© Copyright 2015, 2017 by Douglas Noble
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may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever
without the express written permission of the author.