THE PHOTO TRAVELER

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CHAPTER 41

CHAPTER FORTY-ONE

The next afternoon I’m nearly ready to walk out the door to meet Yogi at the museum, when the doorbell rings. I recognize the silhouette behind the beveled glass immediately. Meesha. I haven’t seen or spoken to her since our argument. But Lord, I’ve missed her.

I called her last night and basically begged her for her help. At first she said no, but I promised her I’d tell her what was going on after today.

I open the door and throw her a smile. Long, perfectly braided gray pigtails, lavender-painted eyelids, arms crossed, lips puckered. I wouldn’t have expected anything less, nor would I have wanted it. A quick breeze of calmness brushes over me.

“Thanks for coming.” I say. “What? Couldn’t live without some trouble in your life?” I hold out my arms, begging for a hug like a kid who’s been scolded. She doesn’t resist.

“Sweet thang, I don’t know what you’ve done, what sorts of trouble you got yourself in. But I promised ya I’d take care of ya, and I will. Haven’t stopped thinking about you since that day. I’ve been worried about something happenin’ to ya. Been drivin’ by makin’ sure there wasn’t no ambulances or police cars. You got this grown woman goin’ crazy.”

“You don’t have to worry about me. But thank you… for agreeing to this.”

“Well, aren’t I just always around at the right time?” she winks.

Usually I dread car rides after arguing with somebody because I always feel like there’s this weird, awkward feeling in the air, like nobody knows what to say first. Luckily, Meesha’s never at a loss for words.

“So, whatcha been up to, baybeh? Got anything to tell me?”

I keep my eyes on the street. “I can’t. Yet. It’s for your safety, too. Trust me.”

“Ya know, I’ve been losin’ a lotta sleep because you don’t wanna trust me. I’m a lady of my word. Trust is huge with me. And you won’t tell me a thing. Obviously there’s somethin’ goin’ on that’s putting you in harm’s way. But if it’s so important that you can’t tell me, then I got no right ta ask, an’ I’m sorry for pushin’ at you like that. But don’t you make me repeat it. Once is all you gonna get from me.”

“I promise I’ll tell you after. I just need to make sure I don’t get anyone else involved… or hurt… until things are sorted out. Okay?”

“Mm-hmm. Whatever you say, sugah.”

I can tell she’s still annoyed. She’s biting her tongue and holding back, but only up to a point, because she doesn’t seem to be able to resist adding, “Let me tell you one thing, though. If I see that crazy lady one more time, you best believe I’m gonna’ make her wish she’d never met me. I’m just sayin’.”

I laugh. “Something tells me that I think even she knows that.”

We spend the rest of the drive to the museum catching up and, without telling her too much, I let her in on my plan.

When she parks the Explorer, I turn to her. “Don’t forget. The park. And not one second after, okay?”

“You don’t have to tell me twice. I ain’t deaf. I told you I got that behind covered.” She plants a sticky kiss on my cheek. “I don’t exactly know what you got planned, but be careful, baby cakes. You just promise me that and you can count on me from the moon and back.”

Her words mean more to me than she can imagine. I sense in my bones that I can really count on her. I don’t know when I realized it, but I’m most definitely blessed that I did.

“You got it. See you soon.” I slide out of the car, turn around, take a deep breath and put on my game face. Here goes Part One of my plan.

I hurry up the steps to the museum and over to Yogi, who’s sitting on one of the top steps.

“Sorry I’m late. Had to help my grandmother with some stuff,” I lie.

“It’s cool. I was people-watching anyways. Love doing that.” She pulls off her glasses and sets them on top of the brim of her denim hat. She points and cackles. “Check out that lady—you think she could’ve gone with a smaller shirt, or what?”

I glance over and smirk. “Yeah. So, you ready?”

“Ready for what?”

“Well, do you plan on staying at the museum the entire day?” I remark sarcastically. “There’s a park over there. We can go and talk. I can tell you more about Edwin.”

“You know, I was thinking... maybe we can see him at his school or something. I wanna see what he looks like.”

“How about after we talk I take you to my friend’s house, where he actually lives?”

“Ooh, that sounds even better!” she grins.

Score! I knew that would get her attention. If I’m right, she probably thinks she can use Edwin as bait to get our vials.

I could kill her right now. This entire time she’s made a fool of me. Faked her friendship to me. I trusted her with everything personal I felt. And what does she really want to do? Hurt me? Possibly murder me? I look down the steps and imagine hurling her down them. I won’t though. Too many witnesses. I guess this is how parents feel when they sense that their child is in danger. There’s no way I’ll allow her to touch Edwin. I hate her. The feeling’s so real that I feel like my body’s on fire.

I rein in my rage and race down the stairs behind her. We walk to the park with an awkward silence between us until she finally decides to fill the void. “So, why’re you acting so weird?” she asks, using her hands to emphasize the words.

I really want to ask her who tried to murder my parents. I want to tell her I know everything. I can barely stomach continuing to pretend with her, but I can’t let her catch on, either.

“Well, how would you feel if you suddenly found out you had a kid just a few years younger than you?”

“I’d probably be the world’s worst mom—scratch that!—I would be the world’s worst mom. I can barely take care of myself. I already feel bad for my own kid and I don’t even have any yet.” she jokes.

The park is eerily vacant. Not a single person’s in sight. Which is perfect for me, but odd for a park in the middle of the day. It’s as if someone’s put up a “closed” sign because they know what’s about to happen. The deserted swings are swaying, creating creaking sounds. We each take one and sway back and forth slowly.

“So what’re you gonna to do?” she asks, playing the part of the worried, trusting friend.

“I really don’t know, but I could use something right now to sidetrack my nerves... like we did for the waterfall in Costa Rica. I found this picture I want to go to. It’s from Indonesia. You down for it? We can travel from here since no one’s around anyway.”

“Hell, yeah, I’m down for it! Didn’t I just come from the city because I’m your friend? And then we’ll go see your kid after, right?”

I breathe in her long, stupid grin and think “friend”? Bullshit!

But I reply, “Pinky promise,” and give her the closest thing to a smile that I can manage. Then I pull a photo out of my pocket—a mountain surrounded by ink-black clouds and even dark skies.

She eyes it skeptically. “Uh, that doesn’t look like such a getaway. Where the hell is that?”

“Trust me, you’re gonna love it. It’ll change your life.”

She shrugs, and I know right then and there that she has no clue what’s to come.

“On three, we go. Okay?”

She nods.

“One… two… three!”

Together we chant the magic words that spiral us into the photo.

Angry masses of dark clouds are casting shadows over the entire island. The clouds have menacing red streaks at the bottom from the red-hot lava in the cone. Thunder roars through the air while ferocious lightning bolts split the clouds.

“Where are we?” Yogi asks, fear trembling in her voice.

“Ever heard of Mount Galunggung?” I give her a mischievous grin.

“No! And I’m sure for good reason!” She jumps at the sound and sight of a lightning bolt.

“It’s a volcano. The last time it erupted was in 1982. Killed over 60 people. It should be erupting any minute now.”

“So what the hell are we here for?” she shouts. “I’m outta here! Like, now! You’re crazy! That thing’s about to blow! Take me home to what is mine. Back to the present, back to my time!”

Nothing happens. I just stand there calmly watching her.

“Why isn’t it working?!”

I grin.

“What’ve you done?”

“There’s no way back.” I say. “My grandmother—you know very well who she is, I think—well, she and I came up with a game plan. As soon as we traveled, I had a friend tear the photo. Which means we’re stuck here.”

“What? What do you mean, we’re stuck here?”

“The real question is, what do you want from us? I know you’ve been following me! And I know someone in your family tried to kill my parents!”

She shakes her head and slowly edges away from me. “If I’m stuck here, then so are you!”

“True. Or maybe not.” I take a step toward her and she retreats again. “Tell me why you want the crystal vials. What good do they do you?”

At that moment the ground rumbles and Mount Galunggung unleashes its first violent eruption. A giant cloud of ash explodes into the sky, draping the ground below with smoke and mud.

“Get us out of here!” Yogi screams.

“Not until you tell me why!”

A second eruption tears through the air, hurling rocks and debris from inside the volcano. Then rivers of molten lava bubble over the lip of the volcano’s cone and flood down its sides. Lightning bolts rupture the clouds, sending galactic lights strobing across the village below.

“Fine!” she screams, beginning to tear up. “My father knew your family had the remaining vials! He was hungry for limitless abilities! No need for any stupid photos or images.”

“Was he the one who tried killing my parents?”

“Yes! He did, not me! He wanted the vials! I know it was greedy and wrong, but I had nothing to do with it. I was just a little kid! That wasn’t me!”

“But you said he escaped through a photo because you helped him!”

“He did!”

“So why would he still want the vials now? You’re the one who left the photos for Bud and Estelle! You are the one stalking us! You’re lying! Why?!”

She doesn’t answer.

“Why?!”

The volcano begins spewing glowing magma down its side as another blast of gaseous smoke erupts and fills the air. By now, ash is starting to rain down on us. The ground rumbles again and I fall to the ground. Yogi rushes over to me and kicks me in the ribs. The air whooshes out of my body and I can’t catch my breath.

“You’re as dumb as the rest of your family!” she shrieks. “Give me your vials or I’ll kill you like I did your stupid grandfather! No one’s gonna stop me from going back and saving my father! I’ve waited too long to see him again!”

I’m coughing so hard I can hardly speak. “You… killed… Bud?”

“Not on purpose!”

“How? How did you kill him? Why would you?”

“He wasn’t supposed to die!” she sneers. “I wouldn’t kill my—look, your damn

grandparents never left that house. It made it impossible to search for the vials. I

hoped that by leaving the photo behind would get them riled up. Maybe move, making it

easy to watch them and locate the vials.

“All I needed was some time to search for the vials. I knew Bud had been feeling ill

from watching them. I thought of an idea and followed you guys to the restaurant. I

waited until the waitress prepared his iced tea and set them on the tray. When

she walked off for a moment, I slipped in some sedatives. It was just supposed to knock

him out, not kill him.”

“Obviously not!” I gasp. “I can’t believe you!”

“He wasn’t supposed to die!” She shouts, her streaking tears glowing bright red and orange.

The ground shakes again. Yogi sways, thrusting out her arms keep her balance. I yank one of her legs out from under her and she slams to the rocky ground. I pull myself to my feet and crouch over her just as her phone and two of the crystal vials shake themselves free from her pocket.

I grab them and hold them up triumphantly. “Look who’s got all of them now.” I chuckle, and tuck them in my pocket. I grab her phone and smash it against rocks, grinding my foot over it to ensure she can’t use any photos to travel back. Then I look back down at her in disgust. “There’s no way you’re ever gonna hurt my family again! And you know what? I’m sure my mom and dad would’ve taught me never to hit a girl—but thanks to your father, I wasn’t raised with a mom and dad.”

I drill the tip of my shoe into her stomach and she curls up into a twitching, moaning ball. The blinding spectacle around us is growing more aggressive and the lightning around the mouth of the volcano is fiercer than ever.

Yogi turns on her side and tries to get back on her feet. “You can’t leave me here!” she pleads, coughing uncontrollably.

I turn back to her and say in a deathly serious tone, “Too late.”

I take off and begin running in the direction of the spewing lava.

“What’s wrong with you?! You’re crazy! You’ll be burned alive by the lava!”

I look behind me and see that she’s back on her feet, chasing after me. Good.

“Come back!” she yells. She looks and sounds pathetic.

I ignore her and keep running up the mountainside dodging debris and rubble as she struggles along behind me. Finally, as I near the rapidly flowing lava, I turn to face her.

“Give me back my vials!” Her voice is cracking and tears are drenching her cheeks. “You can’t go any farther!”

“One more question.”

“What!”

“Why leave behind the photo? What was the point?”

“I wanted to make sure I had the right people. I had to dig long and hard to match everything up. I wanted to make sure I had the right people, and since I couldn’t find their vials, it was the only way to lure them in. Now give them back to me!”

As she takes a step toward me, I glance down at the lava, which is now only inches from the tips of my shoes, dig my hand into my pocket and retrieve a photo.

“That’s where you’re wrong again!” I shout. I close my eyes and quickly mutter, “To this time, allow my travel, Take me there, let time unravel.”

And in the instant before I disappear, I drop the photo and the wave of lava devours it as I hear her scream for the last time. “Wait! You can’t leave me. I’m—”

I arrive back in our kitchen, cloaked in debris and smoke.

“It’s done,” I tell Estelle with a sigh of relief. “We’re safe now.” But I don’t feel proud and I keep my gaze on the floor. It’s exactly where I stood only an hour ago before I left to meet Yogi at the museum.

Estelle places her frail hands on my shoulders. “It was the right thing. The only thing.”

“I know. I didn’t want her to die at first…but…” I look up so she can see the sadness filling my eyes. “She killed Bud. She told me she poisoned him that night.”

Estelle’s eyes well with tears and she sinks down on a chair.

I hug her tightly. “But everything’s going to be all right now. I’m so sorry Estelle. This was my fault.”

After a long silence, she wipes her eyes. “It’s not your fault. It would have happened. What do we do about Edwin?”

“He’s too young. Knowing about me would change his world completely. And I’d have to explain everything to Alanna’s family. They love him, and they’ll take better care of him than I can. Maybe when he’s a little bit older I’ll find him. When he’s old enough to understand and make decisions on his own.”

“I’ll support whatever decision you make. You know that.”

I jump up from my chair. “How could I have forgotten?” I reach into my pocket, take out Yogi’s two vials, and place them on my palm. Estelle’s eyes widen in astonishment at the glow of the radiant purple fluid.

I tell her, “Now we have all five.”

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