• 23 July - Wednesday morning - Smalton
I woke early the next morning, to the smell of coffee and baking. Risa and Resu were still asleep, or pretending to be, so I dressed and went downstairs to the kitchen.
"Good morning, Aunt Sarah! Anything I can do to help?"
"Oh, Lisa! You're up early. I just put the coffee cake in the oven. Would you like some coffee? I want to sit a spell before I wash up."
"That would be great. I was pretty exhausted yesterday, so I slept soundly. I'm usually up early, maybe from habit, to have some creative time in the morning before I have to interact with other people." We sat at the kitchen table. I waited for Aunt Sarah to speak.
"Are your friends still asleep?"
"Probably. They wouldn't want to come down, anyway. They're rather terrified now that they realize the mess we're in. Me, I'm on an adventure unlooked for, but they are afraid they may be trapped in a world that is very strange to them.
"If all else fails, I could hop a bus to San Francisco, put flowers in my hair, say I lost my memory on a bad trip, man, and somehow stumble along. Which I think they're worried I might do. They are totally clueless about this world, and I shudder to think what would happen to them without me.
"Not that I would abandon them. Aside from my feelings for them, they are the only people who know I'm not crazy, and who know anything about the time I'm from. I have to figure out what the three of us can safely do to survive here and now."
"Well, to begin with, you haven't finished high school, Lisa."
"Sarah, I mean Aunt Sarah. I finished high school with a D+ average. I finished college with a B+ average. I completed a masters degree in computer science in December of 1976, with a year and a half of study. I need to finish high school in Tulsa like I need a hole in my head. Come on, I know how you and Uncle Patrick feel about traditional schools. And you know I dropped out of high school twice, right?"
"Yes, but not all the reasons."
I sat a moment before responding, remembering what it has been like. "I was always a strange kid. I don't remember clearly now what all the problems were, but I didn't do well with other people. I was reading in kindergarten. When asked to draw a clock face to show what time it was, I turned the paper over and also drew the gears that made the clock work. The attention I received for doing that kind of thing made me real popular, you betcha.
"In first grade I was forced to use my right hand, which I'm certain really messed me up. I never learned to write cursive. I can only dimly remember small parts of second grade, but something happened to cause my parents to move me to a private school. There was a lot of psychological testing involved.
"Toward the end of grade school, I felt out of step with everyone. It's like suddenly all the other kids were playing by new rules that I didn't know about, with nuances and subtext that meant nothing to me. Kids in my neighborhood let me know that I didn't fit in by making fun of me."
"Then my parents forced me to change schools for middle school, which made things surreal. I went from having 30 people in my single-class sixth grade, whom I'd known for years, and who at least tolerated me, to being one among a thousand strangers in seventh grade. I spent the next three years trying to be invisible. Mostly I succeeded.
"But in high school for some reason people began picking on me, teasing me, calling me names, saying I was queer. I was beat up once when I tried to make it stop.
The bullying was relentless and the teachers were no help. One day I couldn't stand it any longer and simply stayed home and refused to go to school.
"My parents put me back in the private school, and I managed to finish out the tenth grade with the people who had been my classmates four years ago. The curriculum was totally different, of course, and I continued to do poorly academically. I know now that I have learning problems. I never could spell or do rote memorization. But back then the teachers just said I had an attitude problem and it was my fault I didn't study hard enough.
"When my junior year began, I realized that being surrounded by people who had known me since third grade was another kind of hell, and I just shut down and refused to go. When I continued my refusal, I was forced into counseling.
"I had resolved one day to open up to the psychiatrist about what was really bothering me when he began the session by essentially saying that he was convinced that I was just another mixed up smart kid with no serious issues, and shunted me off to a dork of a psychologist who I did not trust. I've often wondered what my life would have been like if the psychiatrist had just listened to me for one more session.
"After the year out of school, following my successful participation in a summer museum program in North American Archaeology and Ethnology, I returned to the private school to make another go of eleventh grade. Because of the year out of school, I was now in a different class, while the people I knew best were seniors. But at least my fellow students weren't teasing and bullying me.
"However, all the phys ed instructors decided it was their job to make my life miserable. This wasn't new; I had always been bullied by gym teachers. But in the private school it was worse; there's nowhere to hide in a small school. So when I realized that the public school system did not require phys ed for seniors, I threatened to transfer if I had to take it again, and they called my bluff. Which is where I'm at in this timeline.
"My future in Tulsa looks like a gaping pit of doom. There is no way in hell I'm going back to a public high school and go through what I know my senior year would be like."
"Last summer you talked some about college," said Aunt Sarah. "Your mother recently told me you're a National Merit Scholarship Finalist, and I know your Aunt Francis has some college money saved up for you. There are ways to skip finishing high school, since you're already eighteen."
"Yes, that's true. But I don't see how I could go to college. I know too much about the subjects that I majored in, though come to think on it, I would no longer want to major in philosophy or minor in psychology or physics, and I'd certainly have to stay away from computer science courses. I've always loved languages and literature, though, so I could go that route.
"But what would Anna and Maggie do? How could I explain having them with me? They have no identity, no history here, no skills; no common sense, in the literal meaning of the phrase."
"I don't think those are insoluble problems, Lisa. There are plenty of community and urban colleges where students live off-campus. Patrick and I have quite a few contacts in academia, especially in the less traditional institutions."
"That's a thought. I remember looking into some places like that, but my parents wouldn't let me go to any place unusual. I don't believe I had direct access to the money that Aunt Francis set aside for me."
"Perhaps Patrick and I can help with that, too?"
"That would be great, Sarah! I don't have anything now. All my retirement funds are lost in the future. Well, I'd best go and check on Risa and Resu. We'll be down for breakfast in a little while."
Sarah watched Lisa walk out into the hallway, toward the stairs. When I talk with her, it's like I'm talking with another adult, not a teenager. She's Lisa, yes, but not the Lisa I argued and talked with last summer.
— ∴ —
Breakfast was an awkward attempt at conversation in which everyone did their best to avoid talking about my weird backstory. Anna and Maggie were silent. I had glanced at the newspaper earlier and asked a few questions about current events, but it quickly became evident that this was only underlining how out-of-touch I was, so I also fell silent.
Nan and I helped Sarah clear away and wash the dishes. Anna and Maggie retreated to the bedroom. Sean was talking with his father about something, but came into the kitchen to stand beside me and help put away dried dishes.
"What would you like to do today, Lisa?" he asked.
I looked at him, but didn't know what to say.
"You kids find something to do," said Sarah. "I have errands to run and your father has a meeting at school that will last all morning."
"Tell you what," said Sean, "it's a nice day, so let's do something outside. Get your friends and come down to the den in about fifteen minutes and we'll decide what to do."
— ∴ —
Anna, Maggie and I went downstairs to the den. Nan was sitting in the recliner and Sean on the short sofa. Anna and Maggie sat on one end of the long sofa. I decided to sit next to Sean so I could keep an eye on Anna and Maggie. This seemed to please Sean. Once we were all seated, I said, "Do you have any questions? I still feel like this is really awkward."
"I still find it hard to accept what you're saying, Lisa" said Sean. "You look the same, you have the same voice, you just sat next to me, but what you say is not what I expect."
"And I," said Nan, "am willing to believe that you're all crazy."
"Does anything non-contentious ever come out of your mouth?" growled Anna.
"Please; neither of you is being helpful," I said.
"Okay then," said Nan. "Just who are these two? You've dropped all kinds of mysterious hints. How about you tell us the truth?"
The truth? Whatever. I nodded at Maggie.
"My mother leads an elite corps of warriors. I was trained from birth to follow in her footsteps. For now, I am Anna's bodyguard."
"Oh, really?" laughed Sean. "Do you wrestle? I'm the regional champion. Think you can pin me?"
Anna covered her face with her hands. "Bad idea, dude."
"How about we arm wrestle?" smiled Maggie.
"Okay, to start with," said Sean, moving to the large oak coffee table.
Maggie took her place. I sighed and counted down. "Three, two, one." Wham! Maggie instantly slammed Sean's arm against the table.
"Sorry," said Maggie, as she returned to the sofa to sit beside Anna. "I didn't think it would be so easy, from the way you were talking."
"Okay, you can arm wrestle," snarled Sean, rubbing his arm as he returned to his seat.
"And fight hand-to-hand, use knives, swords, spears and bows, on foot or mounted. Not, I gather, very useful skills here and now, though strategy and tactics are always useful skills."
"What's the big deal about protecting Anna?" asked Nan.
Anna glanced at Maggie, then at me. "Should I show them?"
"Can you?" I asked.
"Of course; it's what I am." She assumed her aspect and materialized the Hammer. Then Maggie took her place beside Anna and showed off her wings. (They forgot to incorporate their wardrobe changes.)
"I'm the Guardian," said Anna, returning to normal and resuming her place on the sofa with Maggie.
"Guardian of what?" stammered Sean.
"Cutting this short," I said, "it's the Hammer to break the Seals of Time and end or restart the Universe."
"I have seen the destroyer of worlds..." began Nan.
"Not worlds; the universe," said Anna. "Everything."
"Either someone dropped LSD in the coffee pot or . . . holy crap!" said Sean.
"How did you do that?" asked Nan.
"It's just appearance," said Anna. "Like I can change my hair color." She demonstrated.
"You just think about it and it happens?"
"Basically. You don't have the words or concepts for me to explain it further."
"So it's magic?"
"Any sufficiently advanced technology, . . ." began Sean.
"Could you teach me how to change my hair color?" whispered Nan.
"Maybe," replied Anna.
"Absolutely not!" yelled Maggie.
"Nan! What are you thinking?" said Sean.
"Changing hair color would be cool," said Nan. "It could be a different color of the rainbow every day!"
"Both of you are freaks!" said Sean.
"Stop it, please!" All eyes turned to me. "This stuff about magic and who Anna and Maggie really are, don't tell your parents, okay?"
"Why not?" said Sean, "They know you're from the future."
"There's no way to hide that from them. But the fewer people who know about Anna and Maggie, the better. We're on the run. We left the future and ended up in my past because I opened my front door and found a snarling ogre standing in the hallway."
"An ogre?" said Nan. "Ogres are real?"
"As real as I am," said Anna.
"One thing you're quickly going to learn is that Anna and Maggie do not give straight and consistent answers about anything that is beyond our normal experience."
"I suppose that makes sense," said Sean. "I suspect the aliens in the UFO's probably would act the same way about their technology if we could talk with them."
"Yeah, if any survived the crashes." said Nan.
"If what?" I said.
"The midair collision and the crash in New Mexico," said Sean, matter-of-factly. "The wreckage was a jumble of metals and materials we don't recognize, some really weird electronics that makes no sense, and very few remains of the pilots. Humanoid, certainly, but you can't tell much else."
"UFO's are real?" I said.
"As real as ogres, apparently," said Nan.
Sean was rummaging in a stack of magazines on the coffee table. "Here," he said, handing me the June issue of National Geographic magazine. The lead article was titled, "Roswell Spaceship Wreckage."
I took the magazine, turned to the article and flipped through the photos. "Holy crap. This doesn't look very alien to me, more like futuristic from my point of view. But it's indisputably real, which UFO's in my future were not. What the heck is going on? Anna? Maggie?"
Anna and Maggie looked at each other for a second, then nodded in unison. Maggie spoke. "We believe this timeline may be a trap, a place to send troublemakers and undesirables. The ogre at the door was intended to make us panic and jump somewhere, which was then redirected to here. Though we haven't tried any, of course, we suspect that major magic is damped, trapping us here."
Anna continued, "So, no, this isn't going to match your past exactly, Lisa."
I thought for a minute. "You, know, that actually cheers me up quite a bit. The thought that I had to relive my past was beginning to seem like a very bad thing. But if I don't know what to expect, then that's a different proposition. So UFO's are real. What else?
"Uncle Kevin would know," said Nan. "We can ask when we're up there this coming week."
"For sure," said Sean. "That's what NICOPP is all about."
"NICOPP? There was a NICAP, National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena."
"Close," said Sean. "But it's Out of Place Phenomena instead of Aerial Phenomena."
"That's us, alright," said Anna.
"And who is this Uncle Kevin?" I said.
"You remember, Lisa?" said Nan. "You went with us last summer. Ann Arbor, Michigan. He and Aunt Brigid have that huge old farmhouse."
I was drawing a total blank, as my expression must have made clear.
"You've got to remember that, Lisa," said Sean, blushing. "That's were..." He faltered to a stop.
"Sean and Lisa, sitting in a tree," began Nan. She stopped when Sean whipped around and waved a fist in front of her face.
What the heck was going on? How could I not remember a relative, and what Sean and Nan were obviously suggesting?
"Lisa? What's wrong?" asked Maggie.
"I have absolutely no memory of anyone named Kevin, or of an old farmhouse in Ann Arbor. I've been to Ann Arbor, of course; lived there in the early eighties."
Sean was staring at me with a perplexed look.
"I'm sorry, Sean, but I don't remember anything like what you seem to be suggesting, either."
"Whoa!" said Nan. "Twilight Zone. What's going on?"
I looked at Anna and Maggie. "Any ideas?"
"Well," said Maggie, "this is an alternate timeline. Your memories are from your original timeline, where certain things were quite different."
"That might explain the difference in my relationship with Sean, but not a relative of whom I've never heard."
"Sean said that this Kevin is involved with that organization to investigate out of place phenomena, right?" said Maggie. "And that whole bit was different in your original timeline. As you yourself are now an out of place person, it doesn't seem unlikely that anything involving this Kevin person might be very different."
"Who is Kevin?" I asked Sean and Nan. "Is he actually an uncle?"
"No," said Sean. "Our dad's best friend in college and the army. We've known him forever. His wife, Brigid, lived in Columbia and taught at the University of Missouri until Kevin retired from the Army in 1960. Not too long after that they moved to Ann Arbor. I think they inherited the old farmhouse. They both teach at the University of Michigan now.
"We've visited them a number of times, usually when there's been some conference in Ann Arbor our parents attended. You spent most of last summer with us, including when we went Ann Arbor You don't remember that?"
I shook my head and looked at Anna and Maggie. "Okay, I understand why not all my memories of growing up are going to match, but how can it be this different? Has my presence here done this?"
Anna looked thoughtful for a moment. "I honestly don't know the details about how this stuff works. You already exist here, so, yes, you've changed the timeline from that point, but it's not a change in anyone's past, because everyone but us three simply lived through those eighteen years."
I suddenly remembered something I had seen in my room in Tulsa. "Hey! There were silkscreen prints of Risa and Resu in my room. I do remember doing silkscreen printing as a teenager, but I wasn't seriously drawing comics that early, and I sure as heck did not yet have you two in my life!"
Anna nodded. "That's exactly what I'm talking about. The last eighteen years have been adjusted to make the existence of the three of us fit as well as possible. Reality is quite plastic, you know."
"So my memories of my past eighteen years are totally unreliable?"
"That would be the safest assumption. And all bets are off as to the future."
"But still, I remember Aunt Sarah and Uncle Patrick, Nan and Sean, this house, and spending time here. So why not this Uncle Kevin and his place Ann Arbor?"
"That does seem odd, but unless we take the time to map out your past here, there's no answer."
"Oh, right. I can just see myself going around asking everyone to tell me what I did while I was growing up. No, thank you! Anyway, the problem is our future here, not my past here."
"Sean and Nan, this may sound kind of dull, but can we go walk around downtown? I'd like to do a little shopping, visit a bookstore and maybe the library."
"So long as one of our stops is Baskin Robbins, I'm in," said Nan.
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art copyright © by Lisa Lees.