Sarah, Returned

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Chapter Six

Well, the box is open and I’m still alive, so I guess this wasn’t a horrible mistake after all. Maybe I will really find something useful in here. Let’s see.

There are six old black and white photos on top of a stack of folded papers; these are the same photos Grandma used to show Matt and me on special, solemn occasions. All of them are from the 1950’s and early 1960’s. I think one may be from the late 1940’s, based on the hairstyles and clothing. Most of them are photos of my grandparents together at significant moments in their married life. There is one from a trip to the Grand Canyon, one at Niagara Falls, one in London. There are two of Grandma when she was pregnant with each son, with Grandpa James putting his hands on her bulging belly in each one. Finally, there is a photo of Matt’s dad, Caleb, at a birthday party that is clearly for him. From his appearance, I would guess he’s about two here. Grandpa is helping him blow out the candles, while Grandma holds my dad, Edward, who is a brand new baby.

It’s sweet. But, I’ve seen all of these before.

Being an astute child, I once asked Grandma who was taking all of these photos. She told me it was a relative, and, having no reason to doubt her, I took it at just that. In hindsight, it probably was someone who is related, but who? Jacob? Or someone else? Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised at this point to learn there were other family members who were kept hidden from us.

It doesn’t actually matter, I suppose. It’s just one of those weird questions you start to wonder more about as you get older, and find out your grandmother who raised you was not who she presented herself to be at all. You know, like everyone deals with at some point.

Geez. I roll my eyes at myself. I’m becoming cynical already, and that is so not me. These photos are not new to me, and it doesn’t matter who took them, unless it was Grandma’s secret evil twin or something similar. Time to get down to those papers underneath them. Those are where the real secrets, if any have been preserved, will be. These are the things Grandma took such care to make sure Matt and I never so much as thought about touching.

I’m sure any reasonable person would agree it’s understandable that my hands shake a little when I take the pictures out of the box and tuck them in my open purse for safekeeping. This is uncharted, and possibly life-changing, territory, after all.

The first thing underneath the photos is a thin sheet of brittle, ancient paper folded neatly into a perfect square. Putting my fingers on it is almost a supernatural experience, and I check around for signs of ghosts. Silly, I know, but somehow still firmly ingrained in my psyche.

Thanks, Grandma (and, yes, that was sarcastic, in case you didn’t get the inflection on the other side).

Come on. It’s just a paper, Sarah, with more papers under them. Grandma’s papers. Her secrets. No, don’t think that way. She doesn’t have to keep these things to herself anymore. Maybe, just maybe, she would want you to pass down her legacy. At any rate, nothing bad is going to happen if you touch, look at, or read them. Get a grip.

Grandma’s elegant, straight up-and-down handwriting is recognizable the moment I unfold the first corner. By the time I have the whole thing delicately smoothed out on my lap, it’s clear it’s a journal entry. What happened to the rest of the journal? Who knows? Maybe it’s the only page she ever wrote. Or, if there was more, this is clearly the only page she felt was worth saving. That’s got to mean something.

It’s dated February 3, 1938, a year before she met Grandpa James. It’s also short, which is good because the pencil she used to write it has faded significantly with time, making it rather hard to read, even with my flashlight beaming directly on it.

“It’s been a week since I arrived, and I still don’t know what to make of this place. Everything is so different than it is at home. The clothing, the way people of both sexes wear their hair, even the way of speaking. It is English, but the way words are used is sometimes unusual, and the accents I hear are softer and less pronounced than the way New Englanders speak at home. There are some words I don’t recognize at all, and I think they are new inventions, based on a more modern society. The buildings are so tall, and all of these strange machines are so confusing. I’m not sure what any of them do, how they work, or why they are needed. Where are all the horses? I haven’t seen a single once since I got here. The man at the general store tells me the farmers have them, out on the edges of town. Instead, people travel in these little metal boxes on wheels, without horses, or any other visible means to make them move. Pavement covers most of the grass. Even the wooden sidewalks in front of the stores are gone, replaced with cement. You don’t light a lamp here. You simply illuminate it by flipping a switch or turning a tiny knob. I don’t know if I’ll ever fit in, but how can I go home? I don’t even know how I got here, much less how to go back. Oh, I miss my family. Father and all my little sisters and brothers…what will they think became of me? Is this what happened to Mother, and to Grandfather before her? I may never know. All I do know is that I must learn to make my way in this strange, new place, or I will starve, if I don’t freeze first. My dear family, wherever you are, pray for me.—Elizabeth Sarah Otis”

Okay, what? That sounds like she just landed in Oz, and is realizing she isn’t in Kansas anymore. You can’t tell me she’d never seen modern technology before. Cars and electric lights were common by the 1930’s, and she wasn’t born in the sticks. She was born and raised right here in Dover. At least, that’s what she told us. Was it true?

This makes it sound like she wandered into Dover from somewhere else. It also tells me she had siblings and a dad, though she doesn’t mention a mother. Wandering around town, confused and alone, makes it sound like she was from somewhere else, and lost her family along the way. Maybe they were moving to Dover from elsewhere, and got separated? It still doesn’t explain the confusion about tall buildings and basic technology, though.

None of it makes sense. But, there is one useful detail. Her maiden name. Otis. I never realized it until just this moment, but I never knew it. Just like I never knew her age or birthday. The Otis family was a big deal in the early days of Dover. Every school kid in town learns of the infamous 1689 raid on the town by some rightfully disgruntled Natives, where a quarter of the residents were either killed or kidnapped into slavery to the French in Canada. Only a handful escaped. The Otis family was particularly hard hit, with their entire, massively fortified garrison house being burned to the ground, and the family patriarch, Richard Otis, along with his grown son Stephen and two-year-old daughter Hannah being killed. His third wife, Grizel, baby daughter Margaret, daughter-in-law Mary Pittman Otis, and numerous grandchildren were among the kidnapped. One granddaughter, Mary, daughter of Stephen, was ransomed back before she reached Canada, and baby Margaret returned as a grown woman, but the rest stayed in Canada the rest of their lives.

Was Grandma a descendant of that Otis family? If she actually was born and raised in Dover, as she claimed, it seems likely. There isn’t an Otis in town who isn’t descended from that family.

Grandma, you are an enigma. What are you hiding? And, where on earth did you come from?

There’s no way to get answers quite as effective as digging in the exact place you’re most likely to find them. So, with steadier fingers this time, I begin lifting more papers out of the box. There are some mundane things, like a few report cards where her sons got all A’s, some tiny pieces of art they made her when they were toddlers, and even locks of hair from both boys’ first haircuts. Personal mementos. I can see why she wouldn’t want them to be disturbed.

What else is in here? A copy of her marriage license. Her driver’s license, with a sticky note attached stating with some pride that it was her first. Issued in 1970. Wow. She took her time learning to drive a car. And, score! The license lists her birthdate. Here it is, finally. May 3, 1919, four years younger than Grandpa. That means she was 51 before she got this. Aw. No wonder she was proud. I smile, proud for her.

Okay. This is some good information. I don’t know why she felt the need to hide her age or birthday. Maybe I can understand the age thing, since back in those days, it was considered unladylike to talk openly about a woman’s age (though, going to such lengths to hide it seems extreme). Still, why couldn’t we know the month and day of her birth, so we could celebrate it with her?

A few questions answered is good. More is better. And, the box isn’t empty yet. Underneath a thin film of nearly translucent tissue paper are some extremely old photographs. Ooh, delightful. I love old photos, and there are a distinct lack of them in our family, besides the few I just skimmed off the top of the box. These are ancient. My minor at school is in History, so I know at a glance these are daguerreotypes, one of the earliest commercially available forms of photography. It was invented in 1837, and being used by the public as early as 1839. However, most people didn’t pick up on its use until the 1840’s, and then, it was mostly extremely wealthy or famous people who had their photographs done, because it was expensive.

That’s how we have photographs of such famous historical figures as John Quincy Adams and Dolly Madison from the 1840’s; they were some of the earliest subjects of photograph because of their fame and money. Grandma was insanely wealthy, but I can’t count on her family being so, too, because she seems to have literally misplaced them. That means these photos most likely date from the 1850’s or early 1860’s, when photography began to become affordable for the middle class.

There are four of these lovely historic photos, and they are all behind glass in their original metal frames, with little paper labels in Grandma’s typewriter-perfect print on their backs, attached behind little windows of Scotch tape.

Now, this might be useful. Ancestors, maybe? Grandma’s grandparents or great-grandparents? That would be incredible, and answer so many questions.

Let’s see, what have we here? An elderly woman dressed in clothing that is old-fashioned even for the era. Lots of elderly people clung to the fashions of their youth back then, simply because they were familiar, and it was cheaper than buying the materials to make new clothes, or have a seamstress make them a new wardrobe to reflect their venerable status in their families. She’s wrinkled, and looks like she wears her old age proudly. The back is labeled, “Grandmother Jane (Pittman) Wentworth, 10 years after Grandfather disappeared.”

Grandmother? Grandma couldn’t possibly have a grandmother who was already elderly in the 1850’s. A 2x or even 3x great-grandmother, maybe, but not a grandmother. It’s clearly Grandma’s writing on the label, though.

What the hell?

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

Um, what now?

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

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

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

This has got to be a joke. It has to be. Grandma didn’t want us looking at this box, because she intended to use it to play a trick on us after she was gone. These have to be her distant ancestors, and the descriptions of them being close relatives must be meant to get us excited about tracing our family history on her side. It’s a strange thing for someone to do, but it’s the only thing that makes sense at this point. The alternative…well, I can’t…I won’t…consider it. I will end up in a psych ward if I let myself entertain any other notion besides a joke, and this time, my admittance there might be of my own volition.

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

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

This time, I do throw up. Three times.

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

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

I don’t know what to believe anymore.

There are still a couple of items in the box. I may as well look at them. Something in there has to offer an answer. Doesn’t it?

I lift out another folded piece of crumbling paper. It’s printed on the same type that antique books from the 19th century use, the kind that doesn’t stand the test of time and tends to start flaking off after a half century or so. Older paper, from the 18th century and earlier, is usually printed on hemp, linen, or sheepskin, and is far more durable.

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

Unfolding the paper as carefully as I can still results in losing a few corner pieces. Fortunately, noting comes off that has writing on it. It’s a family tree, beginning with the George and Elizabeth Wentworth Otis from the pictures, their children’s names and birthdates scribbled in below them. The Otis and Wentworth lines branch off, each going in its own direction, all the way back to Dover in the 1600’s. It stops with a Wentworth I’ve never heard of before on one side, and Richard Otis and Rose Stoughton on the other. This is the same Richard Otis who was involved in the 1689 massacre of the town, with his titled first wife. Rose came from genuine English nobility, with royal ancestry not too far back from her. According to the family tree, Richard and Rose were the 5x great-grandparents of the children of George and Elizabeth. If that girl in the family photo really is my grandmother, then Richard Otis and Rose Stoughton are her 5x great-grandparents. And, from the birthdates of the children, Grandma was born on May 4, 1845.

There’s got to be some other explanation. I mean, this is obviously Grandma’s family, but is it really her immediate family? That little girl doesn’t have to be my grandmother. Maybe the picture of the 1850’s family shows her own great-grandmother as a child, someone she was named after, and George and Elizabeth are her great-great-grandparents. The Jane Wentworth in the first daguerreotype would be her great-great-great grandmother. That makes the most sense. Of course, it doesn’t explain the highly personal labeling, but maybe there’s a reasonable explanation for that, too, something that doesn’t involve Grandma playing a weird and kind of twisted joke on her descendants.

One more item in the box. One last chance for that explanation.

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

Wait. It’s not just one letter. It’s a letter from the professor to my grandmother, and her response, stapled together. The professor’s letter is first, which makes it seem like this isn’t the first time they’ve written to each other. Why did she only save this particular exchange?

The only way to know is to read it. She put it underneath everything else in this box; it must be the most secret thing of all.

The first letter, the one from the professor, reads:

“Dear Mrs. Morgan,

As per your question to me in your previous letter, yes, I do think it is possible your sons could have experienced the same phenomenon as you. Naturally, the more likely explanation is simply that their bodies were never recovered in the mudslide. The scraps of the dress you wore when you arrived here could act as conduits, as we discussed early on in our discourse, and you were smart to ask them to take them along as “good luck” charms any time they did their adventure traveling. Losing someone to time is not so devastating, I would imagine, as losing them to the life beyond this one. I understand you don’t know with certainty whether they carried those scraps on their most recent trip. If they did, one or both of them might have survived, with the cloth acting as an escape clause for them.

Remember, however, Mrs. Morgan, we are working on pure theory here. We know you arrived in 1938 from 1864 after touching a seemingly antique hand mirror you found in your attic. Assuming that mirror traveled through time with someone, either forward or back, to land in your family’s possession, it could have enough temporal energy on it from the trip, no matter how long ago, to open a portal of travel to you. Going on this theory, anything that has traveled through time could act as a key to a portal. My guess would be the ability to travel through a portal is genetic, and that you have a familial history of sensitivity to the fourth dimension, which is time. I would also hazard to postulate that each so-called key can only be used to open a portal once, before it loses its temporal energy. You were never able to use anything you brought with you to go back, so maybe whoever brings something through a portal is immune to its powers. Again, this is all pure theory, and I could be completely wrong about all of it. This is a subject that has very few genuine researchers, and we tend to keep to ourselves, as you can understand.

Unfortunately, I still have no reasonable explanation for your apparent age regression from 19 to 14 upon your arrival. Time travel and how it might work is still so much of a theoretical science, it is difficult to say anything with certainty. I wouldn’t have believed your story myself if you hadn’t been able to produce so much irrefutable proof for me. Telling the people you met in 1938 that you were 19 was a smart move. You would have been too old for an orphanage at that time, but not too old for the workhouse, or for being thrown in jail as a vagrant.

Congratulations, by the way, on securing those daguerreotypes from the descendants of your middle brother, Edward. I will look into the matter of your sons more, and get back to you. We still have much to discuss.

Sincerely, Professor Robert T. Johnson, Chair, Department of Physics, University of New Hampshire.”

Oh my God. There it is. This letter spells it out, and from a physics professor, too. My grandmother traveled here from another century. Those photos were of her parents and grandmother, and the oldest girl in the family photo was her. And she left her home in 1864. The Civil War was still going on then. What must her father and siblings have thought happened to her? Taken by southern soldiers? Eloped with a Union man?

Her mother and grandfather disappeared. Did they travel through time, too? Did her family know, or did they think it was a hereditary madness that made people wander off? And that thing about a genetic pre-disposition. That could mean being able to travel through time is an inherited trait. Of course, not everyone in a family inherits every gene. Still, it opens the question of whether I can do it, or Matt, or both of us.

I need to be extremely careful with what I touch from now on. No more visiting antique stores for me.

It’s a lot to process, and that’s not even taking the subject of my dad and Matt’s into consideration. It’s sweet to now know Grandma named my dad after her middle brother, but holy crap. Our dads disappeared? How is that even possible? There were funerals for them, a four-way one with our mothers. I was deemed too young to attend the service at the church, and was only permitted to go to the relatively quick graveside service after, so I didn’t see them in their coffins. Actually, I don’t know if it was an open or closed ceremony. Matt was there, and would remember, since he was 17, but I can’t ask him right now. If it was closed, he never would have known his dad wasn’t there. However, it if was open, what was in there that convinced him it was his father? And mine?

Is there a chance my dad, and/or Matt’s, could be alive out there somewhere in a different time? Grandma believed they might be. If they are, we should definitely try to find them. At a minimum, Matt and I must determine if we are able to travel ourselves. If we can, not looking for our dads would be irresponsible. But, wait. Time travel may be a one-way trip. The letter mentions nothing about coming back after going through a so-called portal. And, Grandma obviously never returned to 1864. Did she ever try?

Ah, so many questions. My head is spinning, and I think I might throw up again. This time, however, it’s not from shock. It’s from an overload of scientific information, with too many unanswered questions.

And, I still don’t know why Grandma thought she was protecting Matt and me by keeping these things from us.

The nausea passes in a moment, overcome by my laser-focused desire to read Grandma’s response to the professor.

I unfold her portion of the exchange and begin to read:

“Dear Professor Johnson,

Thank you for your kind and detailed response to my previous letter. I do think it possible that at least one of my sons may have been saved from the mudslide by my good luck charm. Maybe both of them were, and I hope this is true. If they had them on their persons, and grabbed onto them in a time of need, a means of escape may have been provided to them. I understand this may be an inherited ability, which means only one of them might have inherited the ability to do it, or neither of them. Since their bodies were never discovered, their survival through time travel is a hope I must hold onto. I have you to thank for that hope, as I never would have guessed the probable cause of my own trip through time without your guidance, and thus would not have made my charms for them.

Is it possible that other families besides mine have this ability? You said it is your theory that certain people have a pre-disposition to be sensitive to time. It seems unlikely it would only be us, with all the other people in the world. Since taking guardianship of my grandchildren, I have burned the remainder of the dress in question. I know it seems strange, since I gave my sons charms to help them travel through time if they needed to escape a bad situation. Those scraps were in plastic baggies, incidentally, and were given with specific instructions to only open and touch the cloth inside in case of emergency, where they needed a way out of something catastrophic. However, my grandchildren are still quite young. I don’t want them to accidentally touch something that could send them away from me to who knows where and when.

I may give Matt one of my other trinkets from my trip here when he is older. It will be years before Sarah is old enough to receive one, and I don’t know if I’ll be here to give it to her. I just have to hope that neither of them inherited the ability to travel like this, if it is, in fact, genetic. My grandchildren are all I have left, and it is my intention to keep them with me. I appreciate your willingness to continue working on this project, as well as your discretion with it. Thank you for not turning me into a circus side show act by sharing this with the wider group of theoretical physicists in the scientific community.

If you can figure out the cause for the age regression upon my arrival here, that may open the door for more answers to the overall mystery. I will be in touch soon.


Elizabeth Morgan”

Wow. So, she really thought one or both of her sons may have survived the mudslide through opening a portal through time. She only mentions their bodies as having never been found, not our mothers’. This means our mothers were both definitely killed in the mudslide. Well, unless time travel is open to anyone, and one or both of our mothers were holding onto those scraps of cloth. I guess just because she didn’t mention our mothers doesn’t mean they aren’t still missing, too. Naturally, her focus would be on her sons.

Aside from the overwhelming cornucopia of WTF that these letters have spilled all over me, which is enough for one day in itself, I now have my answer as to why Grandma was so secretive about her past with Matt and me; she didn’t want to accidentally lose one of us through a portal, so she took precautions. Insane precautions. Well, it worked. Matt and I learned to view her private things, and her bedroom in general, almost as a museum, where everything was cordoned off by an invisible velvet rope, and you were never, ever allowed to touch something without permission. She engrained this idea in us so well that I even with her gone, I still had deeply mixed feelings about taking this box out of her room.

Good job, Grandma.

I feel better, knowing the reasons behind her secrecy. It was all based on love, and that’s the most important thing. She really did love us, not that I ever truly doubted it. It still leaves an insane number of other questions open, but those are primarily about her family before us, and time travel itself. My primary question about her is answered, and I’m pleased with it. She was a good grandma.

Once I get things straightened out with Matt and Karen, I need to go find this professor and talk to him, assuming he’s still at the school. It should be easy to determine, since I’m a student there. If he’s retired or moved on, the staff at the Department of Physics will probably be able to help me get in touch with him.

There are so many things I want to ask him. I mean, age regression upon traveling in time? How does that work? What determines whether someone goes forward or backward in time? Is there something that determines what year they go to? Can a time traveler control where they go? How can you determine who has the gene for time travel, if it is, in fact, a genetic thing? Does anyone else know there are time travelers in the world, or is this professor the only one to have made the discovery? How did Grandma know to go to him, and when did she first begin writing to him? Did they ever meet in person? Where are the other letters they wrote to each other?

These two letters right here would be definitive proof to Matt and Karen that I’m not crazy, if I were to tell them the truth about Grandma. I can’t do it yet, though, because they still think I’m insane and purposefully injured Karen. Those issues will have to be settled before I can get into more esoteric topics of conversation with them.

I fold the letters back up together, as they were, and am about to put them back in the box, along with everything else, with the intention of spending the rest of the evening pondering the stunning revelations I’ve just been made privy to, and what to do about them. But, something tiny in the bottom of the box rolls as I shift my weight to the left to begin picking up all the treasures I removed. It glints off the beam from my flashlight as it moves. What is it? I didn’t see it there before.

I lean forward, pushing the flashlight closer. There it is! A tiny pearl earring. There doesn’t seem to be a companion to it. Just the one earring, on its own. It’s so dark out, it’s hard to tell just how old it is, even with the flashlight. It must be Grandma’s. Because it’s alone, I’m guessing she accidentally dropped it in the box one time when she was adding to or going through its contents. Its twin is probably back at the house in her room somewhere. I don’t remember seeing her wear it, but she always wore her hair long, even in old age. An earring this small would have been invisible underneath her flowing silver locks.

Careful, so as not to lose it in the thicket where I might never find it again, I tip the box and let the earring fall into the small space between my legs on the blanket. I’ll put it in my jeans pocket to keep it safe. It’s a nice memento of Grandma, and maybe I’ll find its companion when Matt and I finally get past this and start going through her room to clean it out…wearing gloves for safety, I mentally add. I collect all of the contents of the box and place them back in it, in the order in which I found them, then close and latch the lid.

Holding the box in one hand, I pick up the earring with the other, and start to stretch out enough to slide it in the pocket of my jeans, where it will be kept snug next to me and unlikely to fall out. Before I can fully get in the necessary position, though, a bright white oval of light appears in front of me, shining so with such brightness, it hurts my eyes.

If I hadn’t just read that letter from the professor, I would think this was an alien abduction in progress. Aliens are totally real; the sheer size of our universe makes their existence a given. I would debate anyone on the subject, and have. But, this light is warming my face and making me squint and turn away. It’s no alien. Grandma must have been wearing that earring when she traveled to 1938 from 1864. I’ve just touched an object that traveled through time. What’s in front of me is a portal.

As much as I want to get away from Matt and Karen right now, I definitely do not want to be whisked away to the distant past or future, either, especially with no guarantee I can get back. I need to talk to that professor and learn more about how time travel could theoretically work before I go traipsing off into the fourth dimension. Plus, I want to resolve things with Matt. Karen can go away. Man, how I wish I could push her into this thing.

I back away from it, but there’s only so far I can go with the bendy branches and bramble behind me.

I have to get out of this thicket and away from that thing. Even if it takes me to my dad, or Matt’s dad, my life is here. School, Carter, all my friends, my house, everything that’s familiar to me and everyone I love is here. Being swept away from it into the unknown is an awful, horrifying prospect. At least Grandma didn’t know what was going to happen to her when faced with the same thing. Knowing is worse, because I don’t know if anyone has ever come back. Maybe it’s not possible. If I knew I could return, and how to do it, I might explore what’s on the other side of that light, but not without a guarantee.

I drop the earring, but the portal doesn’t close. Instead, it sucks the earring into it. Shit. The portal has power. I can’t back away from it, so I try going to the left, toward the meadow, but it just gets bigger, blocking my path. Trying to go right, toward the parking lot, produces the same result. And now, my hair is flying toward it, smooth chestnut brown strands lifting up as if in a storm of static electricity. My clothes are being pulled toward it, too, and soon it feels like they will be pulled off my body, leaving me naked in the cold New Hampshire night.

Finally, it lifts up my arms, even the one still holding Grandma’s box. The pull is so strong, and I can’t get around the blazing light that fills the thicket. My rear starts to come up off the ground. It’s going to take me, just like it took my grandmother, her mother, and her grandfather before her, and I can’t stop it. I’m hovering just above the blanket, totally off the ground. The pull is too powerful to escape now, like crossing the event horizon of a black hole.

Where am I going?

I only have time to briefly consider my destination before I’m enveloped in an endless void of pure white.

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