The drive to Jacob’s house in Portsmouth takes longer than our stop at the police station. Since two officers were present to both witness Carter’s attempted mow-down of me, and hear his and Karen’s confessions, giving our own statements was a swift process. What more could we add to what the police already knew? The processing of our temporary restraining orders went even faster, though we will have to go to court at a later date to ask the judge to make them permanent. It won’t be necessary for me; my permanent restraining order is a new life in 1699.
About ten minutes after Matt, Jacob, and I walk into the station, we walk back out. We didn’t have to see or talk to Carter or Karen. Ah, the benefits of having witnesses.
There was still the matter of Matt’s previous call about me and my questionable mental state, but he cancelled the request to have me brought in under a psychiatric hold, stating it was just the stress of the past two days making me act strangely. Now that Carter and Karen were behind bars, he was sure I’d be fine, he assured the Dover police department. He did it with extreme reluctance. The entire time he was withdrawing his request, he was eyeballing Jacob, no doubt wishing he could request us both be brought in. At this point, though, it was the word of Jacob and me against Matt. If Jacob and I insisted we were fine and acted like it, the police might become suspicious of Matt’s mental health, and Matt knew it.
In the end, we all left together, piled into Jacob’s sleek, black sports car that reminded me of K.I.T.T. from Knight Rider (I swear, I’ve never sank into plusher seats in a car, or seen as many entertainment and wireless options in one), and headed to his mysterious home.
Actually, I realize as we pull up into the driveway, it’s not so mysterious after all, just previously unknown to Matt and me. I recognize it immediately as a pretty standard early 18th century clapboard house, pure white with a yellow door and green shutters, the paint clearly new. Like all houses from the early colonial period, it is larger than the typical modern American house, except for celebrity mansions, because it was built to accommodate a large family. This one was probably built not long after I returned to the present.
It’s definitely larger than the modest farm house I share with Joshua. It was never a garrison house, though. I would recognize one of those in an instant, even with modern renovations. They look too distinctive from any other form of house in history to ever be completely obscured by 21st century architecture. It must have been built after most of the issues with the local Natives were resolved, and the citizens felt safer in this new American frontier. In size and design, it reminds me of the Otis house, and the Varney one that came after it, both unfortunately now gone from the landscape of the area forever. I saw the destruction of the Otis house firsthand; I’m so grateful I wasn’t born yet when Dover callously tore down the house Ebenezer Varney so lovingly built for his sizeable family. I don’t think I could have taken the emotional toll of being a witness to that needless act of historical vandalism.
Like our own, similarly aged house, Jacob’s home has been modernized, restored to as much of its original look as was recoverable, and then updated to have that “new antique” look that is so popular among the higher-end historic homes in New England. There is a white picket fence around the small front yard, a bright red brick walkway going up to the front door, and tenderly cared for native landscaping that includes a variety of brightly colored flowers. It’s utterly charming.
We don’t go in the front door, though I really want to, in order to get the authentic colonial house experience. I miss it.
Instead, we enter through the garage, a modern addition I would guess became part of the house sometime between 1960 and 1980. An almost futuristic laundry room occupies space in the garage, with a high end stainless steel, energy efficient, front-loading washer and dryer duo taking center stage beside equally shiny metal shelves lined neatly with all the cleaning products one could desire, a large hemp cloth hamper with wicker sides and rollers on the bottom for transporting clean and dirty clothes with ease, and a metallic ironing board built into the concrete wall in the back.
Man! The laundry room at our house hasn’t been updated since the 1940’s, because we’ve seen no need. Jacob, on the other hand, spared no expense on the garage and laundry facilities. What must the rest of the place look like?
He leads us in a side door, through a narrow hallway, and into a gorgeous and bright chef’s kitchen that opens out onto an expansive living room filled with white furniture positioned around a brick fireplace. The fireplace and chimney outside are original to the house; I can tell by their shape and positioning. When the house was new, that chimney was also used as an oven, and everyone in the family gathered around it to keep warm in winter. Now, while you can still use it to build a fire, I suspect it’s mostly decorative, like so many fireplaces in ancient New England homes.
The thought almost makes me sad. Families were so much closer back then, even though they were incredibly large, and had so much less than we do now. We lost something as a civilization along the way. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but whatever it was, it was important.
Jacob motions for us to sit in the living room, so we do. My God, the softness of the larger sofa is even better than the seats in his car, and I thought they couldn’t be topped. You just sink right into it, but don’t feel like you’re sliding off, in spite of the smooth, silky fabric. Was this made with the feathers of the goose who laid the golden eggs? I wouldn’t be surprised. Wherever Grandma got her money, I think Jacob was in on it.
Actually, his house is laid out a lot like our house, at least downstairs, except it is much more sumptuously furnished, and has had a total update at least once in the past twenty years. He must have spent a fortune on an interior decorator alone, unless he did this all himself. If he did, kudos to him. This kind of decorating takes some serious talent.
“Can I offer either of you something to eat or drink?” Jacob asks, the perfect host, refusing to sit before all our needs are met.
“No thanks,” Matt grumbles. “Just show us what you brought us here to see, so I can get Sarah to the doctor. If you won’t go, I can at least make sure she does.”
“Still don’t believe us, eh, Matt?” Jacob asks, chuckling. He’s so full of good nature. I wonder if anything ever gets him ruffled. Even when he was outing Karen, he was nothing but cheerful, even to her. “Well, I think I’ll change your mind soon enough.”
“Actually, I would love a little something,” I speak up, and Matt scowls at me. I smile back sweetly. Yes, it’s fun to rib on him a little, since he’s been such a jerk about all of this so far (even if he did save my life), but I’m actually feeling a bit lightheaded from my run, the near smashing by Carter and his car, and the whole Karen revelation. I could use something on my stomach to steady me and clear my head.
Jacob seems to sense this just by looking at me. He’s incredibly intuitive, and this isn’t the first time I’ve noticed it about him. He’s there when you need him, and knows what you require, sometimes even before you do. It’s cool. You can’t learn that kind of thing; it’s purely inborn.
He practically skips into the kitchen, and is back in less than a minute with a lovely slice of almond cake and sparkling apple juice on a silver tray for me to put on my lap. The cake is on fine china with a rose pattern painted along the border, while the juice is in expensive crystal. A cloth napkin and a real silver fork complete the ensemble.
“Protein in the cake to steady you, and sugar in the juice to perk you up,” he says. “I hope you like it.”
“Thank you. It’s wonderful. You didn’t have to use your special dinnerware just for me, though.”
“Special? Oh no, dear, this is for everyday use. The really fancy stuff is in the china cabinet over by the back door. You can’t see it from here, because the wall at the far end of the bar is blocking it. It’s what I use for holidays and other special occasions.”
“I can only imagine what that looks like if this is what you use every day,” I exclaim, looking at the delicate objects in my lap. I feel like I’m eating at one of those restaurants with a dress code.
“I’ll show you later, if you like. Now, you get your sustenance, Sarah, and I’ll go get the things Matt needs to see. I’ll be right back.”
Then, springing like a rabbit, he bounds away from us and disappears up the stairs.
Matt says nothing while I eat and drink. He just sits there, arms crossed, using body language that suggests he is not open to considering the possibility of what Jacob and I are telling him. It doesn’t matter. I’m sure Jacob has something good, or he wouldn’t have brought us here. Besides, I’m more ravenous than I thought, and though I’d like to savor the delicious cake, I’m too busy downing it in two bites to talk to Matt. By the time I’ve finished off the juice three gulps later, Jacob is back in the living room, a black, three-ringed binder in hand.
“Oh, you’re finished,” he exclaims, eying my empty plate and glass. “Would you like some more?”
“Thank you,” I reply, genuinely grateful. I needed that so much. “I think I’m good for now.”
“If you want anything else, just ask,” he says, winking at me, then tilts his head toward Matt and rolls his eyes comically. I stifle a laugh. Great-Uncle Jacob clearly thinks Matt is just as much of a dour grump as I do.
He takes the tray from me as quickly as he brought it, laying the binder down on the coffee table before he does, then returns with such swiftness I wonder for a moment if he actually teleported. To tell the truth, nothing would surprise me at this point. Once you’ve stared a time portal in the mouth twice and lived to tell about it, everything else, no matter how fantastical, moves into the circle of things you’re willing to believe.
Once he’s satisfied he’s served both his guests to their satisfaction, Jacob finally sits, taking the tall-backed plush chair at the head of the coffee table, facing the fireplace. Matt sits on the love seat across from me, and to Jacob’s right. Even his living room furniture is arranged similarly to our own. Matt has got to be noticing this. He’s just too annoyed with everything about this day to comment on it. Yet, there are so many similarities here. Jacob and Grandma either were extremely good friends until she banished him upon taking in Matt and me, or they share a remarkably similar taste in home décor. Maybe they exchanged tips over the phone. Jacob did say they had constant phone contact with each other, even when they weren’t visiting anymore.
“May I?” he asks us, leaning toward the binder.
“Please,” Matt mumbles, his voice rough. He should have had a drink. “Let’s see what’s in that thing and get this whole insane business over with so I can get Sarah the help she needs.”
“As you wish,” Jacob concedes. “And, I will go too, as I promised, if what you see in here doesn’t absolutely convince you Sarah and I are telling the truth. I don’t think I’ll need to follow through on that promise, though.”
I sit up and lean forward, eager to see what Jacob has in that binder. Matt does the same, but with far less enthusiasm.
Inside the binder are a dozen more beautiful daguerreotypes of Grandma and her family back in the 1850’s and 1860’s, when she was a young woman. Though neither Matt nor I ever saw a picture of our grandmother before she married our grandfather, until I saw the daguerreotypes in her memory box, the girl in the photos is unmistakably her. The round face, deep-set almond-shaped eyes, bow-like mouth, thin and slightly upturned nose, and impossibly high cheekbones are all her. You can almost see the progression nature imposed upon her from pre-teen to elderly woman. A few of the photos are of her with her parents and siblings, one of her and her sisters, one of her and both parents, and one of her and her mother together, while the rest are of her alone. Her family must have had money, even back then, because these early photographs were not cheap. To have so many of them in one family is almost unheard of. Most people of the time were lucky if they saved enough to afford one.
Oh, but that one of her and her mother. I reach out for it involuntarily, catching myself as I do. Grizel. She’s unmistakable, even here, where she must have been about a decade younger than when I knew her. Even though a century and a half separates us in the photograph, she was the only one who understood how much things changed for me when I went back to the 17th century. She was my guide, my confidante, my rock. I don’t know how I would have made it through those first few months in 1685 without her.
She went back nearly two centuries, while I went back close to three and a half, but we both ended up in the same place, and it was so much more primitive than either of us expected. We both did without so many luxuries we took for granted in our original time periods. We helped each other. And, she’s still there, with Margaret, who will one day be known as Christine, with no hope of ever seeing any of her other children again. Not even Hannah, who is still in the same century as her. I so wish I could get to her and help her in some way. Return her to her original family in the 1800’s, even though her eldest daughter, my grandmother, won’t be there. Maybe Margaret could go with her. The history books wouldn’t change in any appreciable way.
A single tear escapes the corner of my right eye, as I dearly miss the great-grandmother I never would have met at all had it not been for our shared family tendency to attract time portals. She was more than my long-lost great-grandmother. She was my friend.
Jacob notices the tear, and silently hands me a cloth handkerchief. I didn’t realize he had one nearby.
Matt doesn’t notice. He’s still scowling at the photos. I knew these wouldn’t be enough to convince him, even if the eldest girl in them looks exactly like a young Grandma.
“They’re old family photos,” Matt says, shrugging. “They’re cool. I mean, I’ve never seen them, or any old photos from Grandma’s side, which these obviously are. But, what do they prove?”
“Don’t you recognize the tallest girl? The one who is in every single photo?” Jacob asks, prompting Matt to see what’s right in front of him.
“That’s how I know these are from Grandma’s side. The girl looks just like her. Who was she? Grandma’s own grandmother? The photos are old enough it could be her grandmother as a young girl.”
“You really don’t get it, do you?” I murmur, shaking my head at Matt. He’s smart. He’s so smart. How can he be so dense at the same time?
Matt looks from me to Jacob. We’re both staring back at him expectantly. I see it the moment he gets it, when his eyes light up with realization. He lets out an incredulous laugh, like he just discovered he is the only sane person in a world full of lunatics. “Oh, come on,” he cries, exasperated. “You can’t really expect me to believe that girl is Grandma. Living back in some other time? Really?”
“I told you she traveled to 1938 from 1864,” I press him. “That’s her, Matt. You can’t deny it. No one but a twin is going to look that much like someone else, no matter how closely related they may be. And, this woman here,” I point to Grizel in the photo of her and Grandma together, “this is her mother, our great-grandmother. Her name was Sarah, Matt. I’m named after her.”
“I thought you were named after Grandma,” is his disinterested reply. I could slap him.
“Yes, both of them. First and middle names. That’s not the point,” I say, my voice sharp with irritation. “I met her, Matt. In 1685, when I walked out the other side of the time portal, she was there. Did you know she disappeared in 1856, when Grandma was only 11? She did. She went back in time to the same place I did. She changed her name to Grizel Warren, and married our ancestor, Richard Otis. Remember the story? We were told it so many times in school. It’s a famous event in Dover’s history. She was taken captive by Natives along with her infant daughter, and sold to the French in Canada. I was there when it happened. I saw them take her. She was my friend, Matt, and she knew who I was, because she found the daguerreotypes I brought with me, the ones that were in Grandma’s memory box, along with a lot of other things that prove she traveled through time. It was Sarah, Grizel, whatever you want to call her, our great-grandmother, who helped me survive my first few years in the 17th century. It’s all real. I don’t know how you can deny it after seeing these pictures and hearing both Jacob and me tell you it’s the truth.”
“You always did have a vivid, creative imagination, Sarah,” Matt replies gently, almost like he feels sorry for me. “With everything going on with Grandma, and then Karen coming in and treating you badly, I’m sure imagination was a great escape for you. The way I acted, always taking Karen’s side over yours certainly didn’t help. But, it doesn’t mean any of this was real. As for Jacob, I’m not sure. He wants you to believe, but I can’t tell if he really believes himself. That’s the mystery here, not whether or not you, Grandma, and Grandma’s mother traveled through time.”
“You are such a jackass,” I mutter, turning away from him.
I look up at Jacob for some support, and am momentarily stunned. He’s turned almost pure white. In fact, he’s staring at me as if he’s just seen a ghost. His lower lip is trembling, and so are his hands. What the heck?
“Uncle Jacob?” I ask, reaching a hand out toward him. He leans forward, and grabs it, tightly.
“You saw Sarah Otis? Sarah Frances Wentworth Otis?” He makes it sound like the most important question anyone in the world ever asked, and the answer is crucial to the survival of our planet.
“Yes,” I say, nodding. “She was there, living as Richard Otis’s third wife, Grizel Warren. I told her what would happen to her and her two daughters. We spent years, even before the girls were conceived, planning a way for me to save Hannah, and I did save her. She said she didn’t mind being taken to Canada, as long as she knew Hannah was safe. And, I got to tell her about her eldest daughter’s whole life as my time-travelling grandmother.”
His bright eyes are brimming with tears, but he blinks them back quickly, shaking himself back to normal. He releases my hand and sits back on the edge of his chair, closing the binder. “We must talk more about that later,” he says, an unmistakable hint of deep emotion in his voice. “In the meantime, I have more evidence for young Matt here.”
Matt rolls his eyes in what can only be described as a respectful way. Who knew you could do that? “Do we really have to continue this game, Uncle Jacob? Sarah obviously believes she traveled through time. Whatever reason you have for wanting her to believe it, it worked. Can I just take her to be evaluated now? I need to get her de-programmed.”
“Matt, I promised you that you will leave here convinced of everything Sarah and I have told you, and you will. The pictures were just the beginning. I thought you might need more to believe. I’ve got more. Please give me the courtesy of at least looking at it.”
Matt sighs long and loud. “Fine. It seems to mean a lot to Sarah, so I’ll do it for her.”
“Thank you. Back in a moment.”
Once more, he returns as if by magic, giving Matt and me no time to discuss anything amongst ourselves. He has a packet of papers in one hand, and a cell phone in the other.
The papers are more exchanges between Grandma and the mysterious Professor Robert Johnson, all talking about time travel, as well as three more pages from her journal; she only kept one page in her memory box, which I found before I left 2017. Did a full one, with binding, ever exist, or did she just write down the thoughts she believed were worth recording? There is also a picture of Grandma and Grandpa with Jacob in the 1960’s, with both my dad and Matt’s as little children.
To my surprise, Matt shows interest in the letters, and reads every paper carefully, pausing for long periods on individual paragraphs and words. I wonder what those pages say? Do they talk about Grandma’s theory of one or both of our dads being alive? What will Matt do with that kind of information?
After a long time, with utter silence filling the house, Matt finally puts the papers down. Once they’re no longer blocking his face and I can see his features again, the first thing I notice is his brows are heavily furrowed. Oh. He’s confused. Well, that’s understandable. But, is he willing to believe?
“A family delusion,” he concludes softly, looking down at the papers he just set on the coffee table. “A tendency toward hallucinations in the family that got transformed into a tale of time travel passed down through the generations, so those susceptible believed it. I just can’t believe a professor at UNH would talk to her seriously about it in those letters. That seems so reckless. He should have gotten her help. It must have been a way for her to cope with losing both her children at the same time. Did she ever talk to you about time travel, Sarah? Is this how you started to believe it?”
“No, Matt, our grandmother never talked to me about time travel,” I say, drily. He’s really still questioning this? Honestly?
“And, why would I believe it if it’s a family delusion?” Jacob asks. “I’m your grandfather’s brother, remember? Different side of the family.”
“The story is pretty convincing,” Matt concedes. “I could see where some people might believe it. We know enough about time travel now, though, to know it’s highly unlikely, and if it was to occur, it would take technology far more advanced than we have now. It doesn’t just happen out in nature. It takes machines, tremendous amounts of energy, and a fine understanding of quantum physics, if it’s possible at all.”
“Does it?” I ask, arching an eyebrow at him. “There’s still a lot we don’t know about quantum physics. The things scientists are observing the smallest quantum particles doing are straight out of science fiction, but they’re real. Who is to say this isn’t?”
“People have been vanishing without a trace for all of human history,” Jacob chimes in. “Maybe some of them were pulled through time portals and never returned home. Perhaps some of them did return, and just never told the real story of what happened to them, because they thought other people would think they were crazy. Maybe Sarah is quite brave for telling you the truth.”
“I don’t know….” Matt begins, gnawing on the back of his index finger, a tactic for solving complex problems he’s used ever since I can remember.
“Well, if all that doesn’t convince you, I’ve got one more thing,” Jacob says, and picks up the phone. “This one is a message from your grandmother to you.”
“Impossible,” Matt declares. “She had dementia long before video cameras were on cell phones.”
“Just watch it,” I urge him, even though I have no idea what’s on the phone myself. I trust Jacob. Whatever it is, it’s worth watching.
“Fine, fine. Whatever you say.” He throws his hands up in mock surrender. “Show me the video, Uncle Jacob.”
Jacob turns the phone around so both Matt and I can see the screen, then hits “play.”
Grandma appears, standing in her room at the assisted living facility, looking as alert and aware as anyone. She’s dressed neatly in a gentle floral print blouse and coral skirt, with white low-heeled shoes, and small gold hoop earrings, an outfit that indicates it was spring or summer when this video was taken, however many years ago. Her hair is long and loose around her shoulders like she always preferred it, even after it became gray, and is neatly brushed and sprayed so not a single strand is out of place. She’s even wearing makeup, done subtly and low-key. Honestly, she looks like she’s getting ready for a spring brunch with her Daughters of the American Revolution group.
“Matt and Sarah, my darlings,” she begins, and I immediately tear up at hearing her beloved voice again. There is no hint of anything off about her at all. She is perfectly, miraculously herself. It’s true. I believed it after reading her letters to the professor and talking to Jacob, but here’s the evidence if I needed it; she never had dementia. “If you are watching this, then the time has come where you both have questions. Those questions deserve answers, and you’re old enough to know the truth. Jacob will have shown you the photos and papers, but I understand if you need more proof. I would, if it were me. I’m going to give you that proof, my sweet, sweet children.”
Matts eyes are wide, stunned. “When was this taken?” he whispers. But, he already knows the answer, as do I. No more than a year ago, two at most. There’s a chance it may have even been taken this year.
“Shhh,” I shush him. “She lied about the dementia. I’ll explain later. Just watch.” I’m just as curious to her what Grandma is going to say as Matt.
Matt gapes at me, struck dumb for the moment, grappling with the enormity of what I just said. Then, as if filing it away with the many other strange things he’s been asked to accept lately, he gives me a curt nod, and turns back to the phone.
“I’m sure you’ve read some of the letters between Professor Johnson and me. We wrote to each other for many years,” she continues. “More than twenty, though you have only seen a small sampling of our correspondence. Over time, we consulted with other physicists, purely on a theoretical basis, of course. We also conducted our own experiments, trying to figure out how this all works. We didn’t just write, either. I drove up to the university many times to meet with him in person, until he transferred to M.I.T. in 2010. I’m excited to tell you we solved some mysteries, though others remain. Maybe the two of you can work together to figure out the rest.”
She turns away from the camera, picks up something from the dresser behind her, and turns back. Her hand is closed in a fist over whatever she took.
“The most important thing the professor and I worked out together is how to open a portal on purpose. I believe that is in one of the letters I left in my memory box, which I’m sure you’ve gone through by now. The second most important thing we learned, through much trial and error over several years, is how to control where the portal goes. It turns out it doesn’t have to be random. Of course, if you are doing it by accident, as I did the first time, it will be random. You can control it by either touching an object that traveled through time and originated in the period you want to go to, or by thinking of the time you want to visit. Obviously, the second option is the easier one, especially if you want to travel to the future. You would have to find someone who came backward in time to your time and brought something with them to get that kind of object. Using the newest discoveries in quantum physics, which say our thoughts have an effect on quantum particles, even across vast distances, the professor and I wondered if the same principle could be applied to a time portal, to make navigation through time easier. Fortunately, it does work. We both experimented with it a few times to make sure.”
“Wait.” I reach out and hit the “stop” button on the video, freezing Grandma’s beloved face in the frame. “She traveled through time more than once?”
“About a dozen, by my count,” Jacob says, nodding. “Of course, Lizzie was always going off to visit that professor. She may have traveled more often than she let on.”
“But, we age regress when we travel,” I press, perplexed. “Wouldn’t she be really young each time she came back here, to this time?”
“Depending on a person’s age when they go through a portal, there seems to be a window of five to fifty years they can age regress,” Jacob admits. “Lizzie was a master at makeup.”
“And wigs, props, and lying!” I exclaim, rocked to my core. “Do you mean to tell me my grandmother was a young woman most of the time I knew her?”
“Excuse me,” Matt says, raising a hand to get our attention. “If you two could slow it down a little for those of us who are still in the real world?”
Poor Matt. He’s hopelessly lost in this conversation. Whatever else is on Grandma’s video, I hope it clears things up for him. The good news is he looks like he might be starting to come around to all of this. The bad news is he seems to be beginning to wonder if he is the one who is crazy.
“What was she going to do, Sarah?” Jacob points out. “Be your grandmother when she looked like she was in her 20’s? She didn’t start traveling on purpose until after your parents were lost in the mudslide, as far as I know. By that time, you already knew her as an old woman.”
It’s reasonable. Damn it, I hate to admit it, but it is perfectly reasonable. It’s not something she could explain to us, or to anyone who knew her, except Jacob, who seems to have known about this from the beginning. With the ability to open a portal and go anywhere she liked, while still being able to come right back to us, she could go away for decades, and we would never know it. She might have lived several full lives in other times, only to come back to us on the day she left. Of course she couldn’t let us see her as a young woman. What would we do with that, as kids? And, if she came back young and claiming to be our grandmother, no one would believe her. We would have been taken away and put in foster care.
I finally get it. At last, I understand why she did everything she did, including faking the dementia and moving away to assisted living, where everyone on staff was paid off to keep her secret. She wanted to keep traveling. She wanted to find her sons. It probably became harder to get away once Matt was 18, and she was only taking care of me. Once Matt finished college, he could take over responsibility for me. With her money, she could pay anyone to do or say anything she wanted, so she started backing away from us. Sure, she did it slowly at first, but only to make it seem realistic. She made sure she didn’t act too far gone until Matt graduated from college and could take care of me properly. Even then, she stayed home until I graduated high school; she probably wanted to keep an eye on my personally. Only once Matt and I were both grown up did she make the move to assisted living. With everyone at the facility knowing her secret, and being paid very well to keep it from us, she was finally able to have perfect freedom to do whatever she liked.
Yes, I understand. God knows I don’t like it, but I understand. I might do the same if I thought my own children were out there in the mists of time, especially if I were caring for grandchildren and had unlimited funds.
There’s more, though. Think about it. If she could keep traveling, aging back to a young woman each time, there would never be any reason for her to stop. A person could literally keep traveling like that forever if they wanted to. Why wouldn’t she keep going? Unless she did. What if she left on a trip and never came back? Her funeral was closed casket, as she requested in her will. Neither Matt nor I ever saw a body; she didn’t want us to. What if she found one of our dads, or both of them, and couldn’t bring them back with her? Wouldn’t she stay with them?
My God. What if she just got tired of pretending, and wanted to be set free? Leave the assisted living facility behind forever, and all the people she was paying to keep quiet. What if….?
“Jacob. Is my grandmother still alive?” I demand. If she is, I want to see her. Now.
“I don’t know,” he admits. “But, she was the last time I saw her.”
“Which was when?”
“About six weeks ago.”
“Just before she ‘died.’ Was it all a game? Did she just want us to think she was gone?”
“All I know is she took another trip, and she didn’t reappear right away. Lizzie got so good at time travel, she could go through a portal, be gone for decades, and reappear seconds later, as if she’d never left. It was in her explicit instructions to me, as well as to the staff at the facility, that if she was ever gone for more than a week, we activate the funeral protocol. When she didn’t come back after the most recent trip, I waited precisely one week, then informed the staff at the facility that she wasn’t returning.”
“Did they know she traveled through time?” It’s a silly question, but I have to know. I tend to think they didn’t. This isn’t something you can discuss with just anyone, as Matt’s increasingly horrified and nauseous expression is making clear.
“No, of course not. The just thought she liked to travel around the world. She was never gone for long. With air travel the way it is, quick trips were reasonable for someone with her money. I told them she decided to stay in Italy, and they took care of the rest, making it look like she died, as she paid them to do. They never knew why she wanted her grandchildren to think she was dead if she decided to live elsewhere, but she paid them enough, and they never asked.”
“I think I’m going to be sick,” Matt mutters, and he looks like he really might.
“It’s okay,” I reassure him. “I threw up three times when I realized time travel was real.”
“It’s not that,” he insists. “I’m still not convinced that’s what’s really going on here. What I do believe is that our grandmother was living a double life, and she might still be alive out there, wanting nothing to do with us. Why would she do that, Sarah? She always seemed like she loved us more than anything. Why would she leave us on purpose, and make us think she had dementia all those years on top of it?”
“Lizzie loved you two more than anything in the world,” Jacob insists, his tone sharp. I think he’s a bit angry that Matt would ever think otherwise. “I promise you, she would be here if she could. Something kept her from coming back. Yes, she put on the dementia act because she needed more time to travel freely, but she always came back to get updates on you, enjoy visits from you, and make sure you two were okay. The fact she’s not here right now means something kept her from returning. Don’t ever think she didn’t love you, Matt.”
It’s all too much, even for me. But, we still haven’t seen rest of the video. Maybe there’s something on it that will give us a clue.
Without another word, I hit the play button on the phone Jacob is still holding out in front of him, elbowing Matt in the ribs to get him to look up and pay attention.
Grandma’s face starts moving again. “You have to have the right object to travel through time,” she continues. “The good news is that you only have to come across that object once. That’s what happened to me when I touched the antique mirror when I was 19, the one that brought me to the 20th century. You have to have physical contact with an object that has been through a hole in the fabric of time. If you touch one without knowing it, you can get pulled through a time portal extremely easily. However, once you’ve been through a portal, anything you brought through with you, including your clothing, can be used to travel again. I got into the habit of picking up a purse or basketful of objects each time I went to a new time, because when I brought them back through a portal with me, they could be used to travel again. You can only use each object once, though. After that, they’re no good for traveling anymore. The only exception is clothing. You can cut that up into individual squares and make a bunch of distinct objects out of it, each one good for one trip through a portal. The professor and I used to think any object you brought through a portal with you couldn’t be used by you again, but could be used by another person. It turns out we were wrong. The only difference between a random object and one you brought with you is that the random one will open a portal as soon as you touch it. If it’s something you brought with you, it will only open a portal if you intend it to. And, once you learn to control where you’re going, you can control where the portal goes, and when it opens. You can keep it back while the object is in your hand, until you’re ready to go through, just as I’m doing now with this little ceramic parrot I picked up on a trip to 2232. Oh, you kids have no idea the lengths I went to in order to keep you from accidentally picking up something that traveled through time. I carefully cataloged everything I had with me when I first came here, as well as everything I collected on other trips. I even kept Jacob away once you came to live with me, just because he knew the truth. I didn’t want to take any chances on losing one of you through a portal. I couldn’t have borne it, knowing you were children, lost and alone in a strange time and place. But, you are old enough to know now.”
I check Matt. No emotion on his face at all. Instead, there’s fascination. He might be coming around. God, I hope so. And, that part about things we bring with us through portals being good for opening new ones? Hallelujah! I still have the dress from 1699 I was wearing when I came back to 2017 hanging in my closet. It means I can go home. No more searching Grandma’s floor boards or going to every antique store in the state. I have what I need to go home today. Thank you, Grandma.
“Now, before I show you what I’m about to show you, there are two more important things you need to know. One, we don’t know yet what causes age regression when you travel through time. It happens every time you do it, though. The professor was still working on that one, the last time I talked to him on the phone. Two, there are people who aren’t able to go through a portal, and we don’t know why. Rather, I should say, we don’t yet know why. The professor still thinks it may be a genetic thing, but he is not one hundred percent sure. All we know is we have tried with a few test subjects in the lab and in the field, and some people can do it and some can’t. Maybe you two darlings can’t do it at all, and all my concerns about losing one or both of you through a portal have been for naught. We just don’t know yet. However, we have figured out so much else about how time travel works, I have no doubt these two remaining mysteries will eventually be solved, as well.”
She opens her hand, revealing a small, brightly painted parrot in many colors, about two inches tall.
“I usually don’t do this in my room here, in case someone on staff were to see it, but there are no cameras observing me, at my request, and it’s dinnertime, so most of the staff are busy helping the residents eat. I’ve already informed them I will be eating elsewhere this evening. They are used to such announcements. Now, my darlings, watch closely.”
Grandma turns so her left side is facing the camera, and extends her arm, holding the parrot flat on her open palm. She gazes forward with great intensity, never blinking, and in a split second, a large, oval portal flies open, making a slight swooshing sound. You can almost hear the fabric of time and space ripping. It’s amazing how easily and seamlessly it heals itself once the portal closes. I know, because I’ve seen it twice.
“Matt,” she says, not looking at the camera. “I have a lead on your father. You both know by now I believe one or both of your fathers survived the mudslide, and I’ve been searching for them. I think they may be traveling, too, having figured out how to open portals, but not how to control the destination. I keep missing them. I’m going to go to England in 1543, as that is the most recent information I received as to either of their whereabouts. I will be back as soon as I can. I love you both so much. Always remember that.”
Without another word, she steps through the portal. There’s no pulling at all, as there was both times with me. Once she’s through, the portal closes and simply disappears.
The video ends.
“Were you filming that?” I ask Jacob.
“Yes,” is his kind, gentle answer.
“Did she come back?” There’s a little catch in my throat this time, as I try to suppress tears.
“She did,” he assures me, “almost immediately after I stopped recording. She’d been gone for twenty years in her time, but seconds in mine. She looked about twenty-five when she returned, and guessed that must be about right, judging by how she felt.”
“When did you do this?”
“Last summer. She knew you and Matt were old enough to know the truth. She left it up to me when and if I told you.”
“Did you come to her celebration of life to tell us?”
“No. Well, not entirely. I wanted to pay my respects, in case she really was gone for good, and to re-acquaint myself with the two of you. I thought you would share the video with you and Matt, and maybe you would both come to me later with questions I could answer. I had no idea you would have that fight with Karen, and leave the house before I had a chance.”
“While I was gone, did you suspect I’d traveled? Through time, I mean.”
“I did wonder.”
“It was her memory box. I took that with me when I left the house. I hated the thought of Karen touching it. In the very bottom, there was an old pearl earring. It didn’t have a companion. I picked it up, and that’s what opened up the portal. At least, the first one. What do you think I was looking for up in Grandma’s room last night?” I direct this next question to Matt. “I was searching for the other earring, or anything else she brought with her from 1864, so I could go back.”
“I believe you,” Matt says, his voice soft and feathery. He looks up from the phone to me, eyes full of sincerity. “I believe you, Sarah. It’s crazy and it’s messed up, and I feel like I never knew Grandma at all, but I believe what you told me is true. You, too, Jacob. I’m sorry I doubted you. I never will again.”
“It’s okay,” I assure him, taking his hand. “It’s a lot to ask someone to believe.”
“She’s right,” Jacob agrees. “I never blamed you for being suspicious. Any sane person would be. I just knew if I could get you to watch this video, you could be convinced. And, Sarah, I want you to know Lizzie couldn’t have known that earring was in the box. She always assumed you, Matt or both of you would go though it one day. She wouldn’t have left it in there for you to come across accidentally, especially since she didn’t know if you could go through a portal or not. It was an accident.”
“I know. It was kind of tucked in a crevice in the bottom of the box, under everything else she kept in there. I think maybe she was wearing it, or holding it, and it slipped off and into the box without her knowing. Otherwise, the other one would have almost surely been with it”
“True,” Jacob agrees. Then, to Matt, “Are you all right, son?”
“I will be,” Matt assures him, standing up. He helps me to my feet as he does, ever the gentleman. “I just have one more question. Grandma has this vast fortune she left to us, but she never used it much when we were kids. Grandpa had to have known about it. She only seems to have started using it until Sarah and I came to live with her. Do you know how she got it, and why she didn’t spend it earlier? Did she bring it with her from….where did you say she came from, Sarah?”
“The more appropriate question is when,” I remind him. “And, it’s 1864. You know, that’s something I’ve been wondering, too. With everything else going on, it just kind of took a back seat. Do you have any idea, Uncle Jacob?”
Jacob grins with glee. “As a matter of fact, I do.”
He pauses for dramatic effect. Matt and I stare, impatient.
“Antiques,” he says, throwing his hands wide, as if giving the punchline to the best joke in the world.
“Antiques?” Matt and I ask at the same time, perplexed.
“Well, yes. She came from the past. When she saw the things that were common in her house growing up being sold for large amounts of money in the 20th century, it didn’t take her long to figure out how to earn a living for herself. She sold some of the things she had in her dress pockets when she came right away—this was before she knew touching those things could send someone through time, mind you—and used most of that money to get herself a 1938-appropriate outfit and hairstyle, as well as a meal. She invested the rest in more antiques. And, she worked in a textile factory briefly, just enough to get a place to live, and then invested all the rest she made in more antiques. Lizzie went to thrift stores and estate sales to find old things she recognized, and bought them cheap. She re-sold them to wealthy investors and collectors. By the time she met your grandfather the next year, she was already a wealthy woman; they continued doing it together for a long time after their marriage, and while the boys were young. The vast majority of it went into savings for the kids, but she and your grandfather indulged in a few little luxuries here and there. They were comfortable. Eventually, once the boys were in school, she decided there was plenty of money for the next few generations, and retired to enjoy her life and family. She built a wonderful, happy life here, as you know I don’t think she ever regretted not going back to 1864.”
“Do you think anyone who bought the original things she sold went backward or forward through time?”
How many people are out there, traveling, maybe trying to get home, because they touched the wrong thing, maybe Grandma’s thing?
“Maybe,” Jacob admits. “Who knows? Lizzie didn’t know any better back then. You can’t blame her.”
“I don’t. Just curious.”
“She used the money to send her boys to college, buy them nice houses, and keep them and their wives and children comfortable,” Jacob continues. “Most of it was meant for them to inherit one day. After the mudslide, she decided to splurge on her grandchildren a little, and to make sure you both never had to be concerned about money. Hence the trust funds. Once you kids started to get older, and her determination to find her sons grew, she knew she had to make arrangements for you to eventually do without her. The money she spent to keep her secret from you was only a drop in the bucket of what she actually had, but it was a necessary expense. If your dads were out there, she was determined to find them. I wonder if she did, and that’s why she didn’t come back this time.”
“Did she ever try to travel with Grandpa?” Matt asks, and it’s a good question. They could have stayed young together forever that way.
Jacob shakes his head. “By the time she figured out how to travel purposefully, your grandfather was already gone. She didn’t get in touch with the professor and start examining how time travel works until after the mudslide. Believe me, once she discovered the means of travel, she was happy she stopped engaging in the antiques trade. Lizzie had the same concerns as you, Sarah. She hated the idea she might have sent unsuspecting people to different times, away from their families, never to return.”
“But, some might have figured it out and returned,” I point out. Depending on when they went, there might be others who traveled who knew the secret, or more knowledgeable physics professionals who could explain it to them. Maybe some even went to a time where time travel is a well-known and common thing, with time machines instead of random objects that have been through the vortex.
“I like to think so,” Jacob agrees. “So did she.”
“So, how come it only works with touching inanimate objects, and not the people who travel through time?” Matt observes.
“The professor always thought it was because quantum particles from the time vortex clung to inanimate objects, but fell away from living things. The biological processes would clean them away naturally. It’s only a theory, mind you, but it makes sense. None of us have traveled after touching Sarah, have we?”
“No. That’s true,” Matt says, nodding thoughtfully.
Thank God. Otherwise, I’d be like King Midas, never able to let anyone touch me directly without the risk of losing them forever. One person turned to gold, the other sent through time to an unknown location in an unpredictable year. I shudder at the thought.
That’s it. Our questions are answered. Well, all except for Grandma’s whereabouts. It’s nice to know she didn’t die, at least not in our time, and it’s wonderful to realize she’s young and vibrant wherever she is, more than capable of taking care of herself. Still, I’d like to know what happened to her, and if she is safe, even if she isn’t coming back. If I think about her, can I go to her? No, that can’t work, or she would have found our dads (or at least one of them, if only one survived) immediately. Besides, I have somewhere else I have to go first, before I consider traveling anywhere else.
It’s time I let Matt and Jacob know.
“You believe me now?” I ask Matt, standing up and moving back over to the sofa. He does the same, only sits on the same one as me this time.
“I do. I should have known better than to doubt you, Sarah. You’ve never shown any signs of schizophrenia. It’s just a crazy story. You’ve got to admit, there aren’t many people who would believe it without proof. I am sorry I doubted you, though, and I’m even more sorry I almost got you killed by making you flee the house.”
“You also saved my life,” I point out.
“That’s true. Maybe you owe me this time.” He nudges me playfully, smiling.
I smile back, giggling. “Yeah, well, you’re going to have to collect quickly if you want anything from me. I have to go back to 1699.”
Matt’s smile fades, realization dawning on him. Jacob, on the other hand, merely looks at us with interest, as if he expected this.
“You still intend to go back?” He sounds like his feelings are hurt, as if my desire to leave is a personal insult.
“You know I have to,” I say, with as much gentleness as I can. “My husband and children are there, Matt. They need me. I have to go back to them.”
He shakes his head, not in denial, but with a hint of incredulousness. “Oh yeah. You’re married, with four children. I forgot. It’s still so hard to grasp, Sarah. Remember, I saw you only a month ago. To me, you’re still twenty, and a student at UNH. It’s weird to think you had 14 years you lived during that month, where you got married and had kids.”
“Granted, I did age back to twenty when I returned here,” I allow. “I probably don’t look different at all.”
“Not a bit.”
“I have an adopted daughter, too,” I remind him. “Hannah. Actually, she’s Grandma’s half-sister, considering they share the same mother. How weird is that? Do you actually remember the original stories we heard about the Natives smashing Hannah’s head on the hearth stones to kill her before they took Grizel and Margaret to Canada? Or, did that change when I changed history by saving her?”
“I still remember it the original way,” Jacob says, just as familiar with the Otis stories as us.
“It’s strange,” Matt ponders. “I remember it both ways. There was the version where Hannah was killed by the Natives. But, there was another one, too. A ward of Richard Otis, an orphan he took in, hid in the shadows while the Natives conducted their raid, crawled out of the burning garrison house with Hannah, and later raised her as her own. My God!” he exclaims, realization dawning on him. “That was you.”
“Guilty,” I smile sheepishly, raising my hand. “Grizel and I worked out that plan from the moment Hannah was born. I spent years making friends with the Natives, learning their language, gaining their trust. Grizel and I made sure when they came, they wouldn’t hurt me, and by extension, may spare Hannah at my request. We also had a backup plan of me hiding with Hannah until they left, which is what actually happened. Though, one Native did see us hiding. But, he knew me. And, he let me be. He moved on without letting the rest of his tribe know Hannah and I were there.”
“It’s so dangerous in those times, Sarah,” Matt urges me. “You lived it. You know. Just look what you went through to save Hannah. You could have been killed.”
“It was actually getting out of the burning garrison house that came the closest to killing me, not the Natives.”
“Still,” he presses. “I know you want your husband and children back. Trust me, I would never stand in your way in reuniting with them. Can’t you go back and get them, and bring them here? We know how to control where you go now. The house is big enough for everyone. Can’t you do that?”
It’s occurred to me. In the time we’ve spent at Jacob’s house this afternoon, finding out the real truth about our grandmother and time travel, I’ve thought about that very thing extensively. The God’s honest truth is there is nothing I’d like better. Living with Joshua and the kids here? With Matt? That would be wonderful. But, I can’t.
“The kids would adapt to life three hundred years in the future quite easily,” I agree. “Children are so resilient. Even Hannah, who is twelve now, would get the hang of things in an instant. It’s not like we speak a different language here or anything.”
“Then, do it,” he urges me. “We can all be a family together. Please, Sarah. Besides Jacob, you’re all I have left.”
Oh, not the guilt, Matt. Please, not that. This is hard enough as it is.
“Matt,” I say, drawing out the words as much as I can to avoid getting to the crux of it. I take his hand, hoping to soften the blow. “I can’t ask Joshua to leave everyone and everything he knows behind. It’s different for me. I lived 14 years there. I learned their ways. I know how to survive in that place, how it works. It’s not so hard or unusual for me anymore. But, Joshua’s parents are there, his siblings, his nieces and nephews, all his friends he’s known his whole life. And, he doesn’t know anything other than the Quaker way of life, and being a farmer. Yes, I’ve told him about modern technology, but it would freak him out to actually see it or try to use it. I would be asking him to give up way too much for me.”
“Don’t you think he would?” There’s a little edge of bitterness to Matt’s tone, and I understand why. “If he really loves you, he would follow you anywhere. Or when.”
“You’re right. He would. He wouldn’t even question it if I asked him to come here. And, it’s why I can’t. Because I love him too much to ask him.”
Ooh, awkward silence. Neither Matt nor Jacob knows what to say. Okay. What can make this better? Think, Sarah.
“Um….I could bring them to visit? At least the kids. Of course, we don’t know if any of them can travel through a portal yet. But, if they can….”
Both men look skeptical, especially Matt. And, I don’t know how the reverse aging thing would work out with visiting, anyway. We would all eventually have to start living a life like Grandma, pretending to be older than we were when we went back home. Besides, I owe it to the kids to give them the chance to grow up before I start turning back the clock on them.
“Er….you could come back with me?” I suggest, more to Matt, but to Jacob, too, if he wants to. I know he has a son in California, so he might want to stay.
“I don’t know if I could adapt to life back then as well as you did,” Matt admits. “And, if I did, I might be young enough to be your son when we got back. That would be too weird. Besides, what if Grandma comes back? I want to be here for her.”
“Lizzie will know you think she’s dead, son,” Jacob points out. “If she returns, she won’t come to you.”
“But, you’ll know if she comes back, won’t you, Jacob?” Matt asks, his voice sharp, accusing.
Jacob is quiet for a moment, not knowing how best to answer. But, we all know the answer already. “Yes,” he finally says. “Once she realizes she’s been gone long enough for the protocol to have been put into place, I’m the only one she’ll contact, because, as far as she knows, I’m the only one who knows her true story.”
“If she comes back, I want to know,” Matt insists. “I don’t care what she looks like, or how young she is. She’s my grandmother. If she somehow returns, you tell me, Jacob. You’ve got to promise me. Tell me you will call the instant she re-appears.”
Jacob is silent for a moment, then smiles. “I promise,” he assures Matt. “You’re right. You deserve to know, now that you have all the details. I’ll let you know if she surfaces again. Lizzie will just have to understand, that’s all.”
“We’ll make her,” Matt says, smiling, and I realize he isn’t coming back with me. Matt is pinning his hopes on Grandma returning. The notion of bringing him with me is only minutes old, but knowing he will stay here makes me sad. Maybe I can come back and visit, just me, every once in a while, so he won’t be alone.
He notices my frown, and smiles weakly at me, shrugging. “We don’t even know if I can go through a portal,” he offers.
“I know. We could try.”
“If Grandma comes back….”
“It’s okay, Matt. I know you want to stay. But, you know I have to go back, right? And, I don’t know if I’ll be able to come back here again to visit you. I’ll try, but I don’t know what’s going to happen when I get back there. I can’t promise anything.”
“I know. You can’t go anywhere until we find the right object for you to touch, though. Karen and I donated all of Grandma’s things to the local thrift shops, and some antique stores. We can go search them to see if anything is left. And, I’ll get you back to the house to let you finish looking for that other earring like you wanted to.”
“Actually, I can use the dress I was wearing when I came back here. It’s at the house. Unless you have anything we can use here?” I ask Jacob. The house is full of antiques. Maybe something is from one of Grandma’s trips to the past….or the future.
“Sorry.” He shakes his head. “Lizzie was extremely careful with anything that could be used for time travel. She didn’t leave anything here.”
“Don’t worry, Sarah,” Matt assures me, patting my hand, comforting me this time. “We’ll get you back to your family. I promise you.”
We say our goodbyes to Jacob, with me promising to call him if I ever do come back to 2017. I even tell him I’ll leave some time capsules for him with letters from me in them, and where to find them. He’s so understanding, and he’s been so great, I hate to leave him behind. Any little possibility there may be of communicating with him again, I want to be sure to voice it, so we both know this isn’t a real “goodbye.” I don’t think there ever is, as long as people can travel through time. Who knows what the future holds? Literally.
Declining his offer to drive us back to Dover, we elect instead to take a cab, so we can spend some quality time alone together, as cousins and surrogate siblings. Jacob understands, and hugs us both, whispering in my ear that he wishes me all the happiness in the world, wherever I find it. I kiss his cheek. He calls the cab for us, which arrives a few minutes later; no town is ever truly far away in New Hampshire, not even Manchester.
I didn’t realize we’d been at Jacob’s so long. It’s dark when we step outside to get in the cab. It seemed like such a brief visit. Then again, so much happened while we were there, so many revelations were made. I guess it made time feel like it moved more quickly than it did. Time. Haha. Oh, it’s a tricky thing, all right, in more ways than one.
Matt and I are quiet on the trip, not knowing what to say. It’s awkward, knowing I’m leaving and probably not coming back. We just sit close to each other in the cab and enjoy being in each other’s company while we can be.
As we enter Dover, Garrison Hill looms large before us, a shadow against the black night sky, outlined only by the light of the twinkling stars, and the large circle of light glowing at the summit.
Large circle of light?
I lean forward in the back of the cab, straining to get a better look.
No. It can’t be. But, it looks just like….
“Stop the cab!” I shout, as the driver pulls alongside the hill on Central Avenue.
He slams on the brakes immediately.
“What is it?” Matt asks, alarmed.
“A portal!” I shout, scrambling for the handle on the door. Oh my God, a portal is open on top of Garrison Hill.