Duncan Garey’s summer solstice
By Karen Wittkamm under the pseudonym A.R. Pinn
It’s May 9th and our team’s baseball game starts at eight this morning, getting me up earlier than I want. It’s across town and will take an extra twenty minutes for me to get to. I’ve put on my uniform, but my sweatshirt’s not where I think I left it, not in the closet, hamper or drawers. “Mom, where’s my grey sweatshirt?” I call out. There’s no answer from her. I’m going through the house, seeing her purse still on the small desk in the kitchen. She hasn’t left. The front yard’s the last place to look. Reaching the front door, I see her through its glass, at the edge of the yard, talking with Mr. Abendroth. It’s better to wait for them to finish, instead of interrupting. Her head casually turns and eyes gaze back, toward our front door, as they end their visit, she’s coming inside.
I watch her hand go for the door handle, I jerk it open, she laughs from the surprise, “Duncan Garey, I’ve told you before, not to do that!”
“Sorry mom, I was here and you were coming, I couldn’t help myself.” She’s mildly displeased but I have to ask, “Is Mr. Abendroth leaving again?”
Passing me, I stay behind her, forgetting why I’m looking for her, “Yes. He’ll be gone for two months.”
“Did he offer to take me?”
“Not this time, you have school. But, he’s considering it, when it’s out in June.”
“That’s great. I thought he’d never think I was old enough.”
“Don’t pack yet. It’s fine with me, but he’ll have to ask your dad.”
“Why wouldn’t he let me go? With Meagan moved out, you two will have the house to yourselves.”
“Dangle that before him when Mr. Abendroth asks, it just might persuade him. Now, why were you at the door?”
“Oh yea, I can’t find my grey sweatshirt.”
“Look where you last had it on, probably in your car.”
My memory is back to my date with Sheila last night, “Thanks mom.”
“If you’re going to be late, please don’t wake your father, he has an early meeting.”
“I’ll be home right after practice.”
Driving into the student parking lot, I see Evan standing by his car, waiting for me, “Hey Evan, what’s going on?”
“Hey Duncan, I’ll be around this summer. My dad says I’m not going to Florida for baseball camp.”
I see his disappointment as we walk in the direction of our lockers, but I can’t agree to hang out with him, in case I’m going with Mr. Abendroth.
We’ve been talking during school, but his lousy mood isn’t changing. During baseball practice, nothing else is said about it.
Each day, for the last two months, I look to see if Mr. Abendroth’s home, but his lights are still off. Maybe tonight I’ll luck out. It’s nine forty, one last look at his house before bed. A cab is at his house, he’s getting out. There are only five more weeks of school left until summer break, if he’s going to ask, it’s got to be soon.
Every morning so far, I leave the house for school, he’s in his front yard, mowing or pruning, other than a wave, he’s not said a thing about me going. I want to know if he’s taking me, if not, I can make plans with Evan and the guys. Each week goes by, anxiously I wait. There are only three weeks left of school. It’s one last look out my window, before bed. He’s coming, crossing the street toward our house. I open my bedroom door, get halfway down the stairs, out of view of dad, and watch his feet go toward the door as he answers the bell, “Hello Konrad, come in. Joyce said you wanted to see me.”
Their feet took them slowly toward the living room, “Hello Stuart. Yes, I do.”
Quietly, going down a little further on the stairs, I continue to listen.
“Stuart, I’ve come to ask if I can take Duncan with me on my next trip. It’s in three weeks.”
From my position, I see dad’s shoes. He’s standing up and walking away from his chair.
“I don’t know about that Konrad. I’ve been on one of your trips, and even though it was before Duncan and Meagan were born, I still have very detailed memories of it.”
“Yes, of course, if you don’t feel it’s right I certainly won’t bring it up again.”
He’s giving up to easily. That’s not a good reason for him to not let me go?
“I’ll think it over Konrad. It’s nothing personal, but what I saw wasn’t normal for me in my twenties. I have to think of Duncan, he’s only sixteen.”
Mr. Abendroth’s feet shifted, indicating he was standing, “You let me know if you’ll permit him before I leave, and no offense taken.”
Their feet are coming toward me and the door, up the steps I go.
“You’ll have an answer. Goodnight Konrad.”
Sleep, I can’t do it. What could dad possibly have seen with him? There’s not too much he doesn’t think I can’t or shouldn’t do, so, why this?
Sitting down for breakfast with he and mom, there’s nothing for me to say about it. I look at him, waiting to see if he’s going to say something, he’s only pulling at his moustache. A quick look at the clock, it’s seven thirty. With frustration, I take my plate to the sink, and turn to leave, “I’ll see you later.”
“Duncan, come home after baseball practice, I want to talk to you tonight.”
Excitement is suddenly rushing through me, I keep calm, “Sure dad. Bye.”
They look at me with half smiles, “Bye.”
There’s no doubt about it, I’m relieved. This is the last day I have to change the subject and not commit to anything Evan’s suggesting we do this summer. I’m enjoying the drive all the way to school. Today, there’s no sight of Evan, for anything more than five minutes. It’s turning out the same for baseball practice, we’ve got calisthenics, weight training, and coach put us at opposite ends of the room, I’ll be able to give him answers tomorrow. I can stop avoiding him. Coach says we’re done for the day. I’m not changing out of my uniform, into my clothes. I grab them and run to the car to be home before dad. Waiting for him is difficult, the stuff I pick up to do; I put back down. Concentration’s non-existent. Every car coming down the street sounds like it’s his, but it’s not. It’s a sickening feeling getting off my bed, looking out the window, only to end up back on it. My stomach growls, I pull myself up once more and go downstairs,
“Mom, do you need any help with dinner?”
“No thanks Duncan, it’s done.”
The front door opens and closes. Soon I’ll know if I can go. We listen as he goes upstairs, there’s silence, and we hear his footsteps coming down. I sit down for dinner, he comes in, I peer at his face for a visible sign of an answer, but he’s making me be patient. In my head, the words “Eat faster. Hurry up dad”, go around and around.
“How was your day Joyce?”
“Busy Stuart, how was yours?”
“The same, busy. It’s good that it’s Friday.”
I join in, “Me too.”
I finish my food, take my plate and glass to the dishwasher and am ready to leave the room disappointed, when he gets up, “Go in the living room Duncan, we need to talk.”
There it is. What I’ve been waiting for, for days, “Okay.” Sitting in the chair, my right leg’s shaking. He appears in the room, his eyes, as tired as they are, meet mine, he sits in the chair in front of me, “Mr. Abendroth has invited you to go on a trip with him this summer. I’ve thought about it and, it’s alright with me, so long as I have some guarantees from you.”
“Anything you want dad.”
“You’re not to come home with anything you didn’t leave with. That means, no souvenirs, clothes, phone numbers or addresses, nothing. And, you’re to stay by his side the entire time, no matter how distracted you become.”
“I can do that.”
“Then you can go.”
“Cool, thanks dad.”
“Cool is right. I repeat, you’ll listen to him and do or not do whatever he says. I don’t want to hear when you come back that you didn’t.”
“I hold you to it. Tomorrow we’ll go over and tell him.”
Instinctively I hold my hand out to him, “Thanks dad.”
He takes it, “Your welcome Duncan.”
My phone is ringing. I can hear it through my bedroom door. The screen says Evan, with self-control I speak, “Hey, how’s it going?”
“It’s alright, what are you doing?”
“Our neighbor Mr. Abendroth invited me to go with him on one of his trips over the summer. My dad’s says I can.”
“There goes our summer plans.”
“Yea, I guess so.”
“Want to go to the movies tomorrow night?”
“Yea, do you want to see the new horror movie?”
“Yea, I’ll call you when I know what time it starts.”
“Okay, talk to you later.”
My heads on my pillow, I’ve never wanted morning to come so soon.
We have breakfast, then dad and I start on our chores around the house, “We’ve done enough for today Duncan, let’s go see Mr. Abendroth.”
Together, we’re off the curb and into the street. I’m proud of him, for having the confidence in me to go with Mr. Abendroth on my own; this is my first trip without him or mom along. Dad reaches out and rings the bell. We watch the door open, Mr. Abendroth grins as he backs up to let us in, “Come in Stuart, Duncan.”
Dad clears his throat while he closes the door, “Konrad, I’ve spoken to Duncan. He can go with you.”
“I’ve been telling him he could one day since he was a youngster. I’m glad you’ve said yes.”
“He knows he’s not to bring anything back.”
Toward his desk in his living room Mr. Abendroth went, “Good, Stuart. Duncan, we’ll be leaving on the seventeenth at seven a.m., we’ve got to be in New Zealand and ready by the twentieth. I’ve made a short list of the things for you to wear, and bring.”
His feeble fingers handed me the piece of paper. Wear; a white long-sleeved shirt, black cotton
slacks and coat, black top coat, black socks and plain black lace up leather shoes. Bring; tooth brush, tooth paste.
“How about my cell phone or laptop Mr. Abendroth, should I bring them in case we need them?”
“They are not on the list, Duncan.”
“I won’t bring anything else but….”
His index finger was instantly between my eyes, “Tut tut, I’ll see you back here on the seventeenth.”
He’s keeping the mystery between himself and dad for now and asking any more questions will get me left behind, “Yes sir.”
“Goodbye Stuart, Duncan.”
Dad and I are on the curb, I look at him, he’s quiet and I don’t say anything. Dad opens the front door, “Joyce, we’re back.”
She calls out from the backyard, “Alright Stuart, I’ll be done in a minute.”
He goes into the kitchen, she came in after closing the back door and I run up to my room.
I’m startled awake, my eyes open, it’s the last day of school, there’s only four days until we leave. Showing up to classes is a breeze. We’re all distracted by our summer plans. The bell has rung. Evan and I walk in the direction of the parking lot.
“Hey Duncan, call me when you get back.”
It’s not feeling right to leave him behind, being friends since first grade and doing everything together. I haven’t thought of asking Mr. Abendroth if he could go, “Yea, I will.”
I open my car door, he opens his. We wave to each other then leave.
Mom is in the front yard watering the flowers. I park the car and walk toward her, “Mom, do you think it would be alright if I ask Mr. Abendroth if Evan can come with us?”
“Ask your father Duncan, I don’t know.”
Again, I wait impatiently for him to get home. He’s late, but at six thirty he comes in the house. I take the opportunity as he comes up the stairs toward me, “Dad, do you think it would be alright if I ask Mr. Abendroth if Evan comes with us?”
His head lowers. I’ve asked something I shouldn’t have. Putting his hand on my shoulder, “No, that wouldn’t be a good idea. He’s seventy, having two teenagers to look after, might be too much for him I think.”
“All right dad.”
Evan and I haven’t spoken since the last time we saw each other, calling him is awkward, this isn’t baseball camp, it was New Zealand, and trying to find something to say is difficult. I don’t dial his number and go to bed, having to get up at six to meet Mr. Abendroth.
I see mom and dad at the door, they watch as I come down the steps. They hug me and mom kisses my cheek, we say bye and I walk out.
A cab’s at Mr. Abendroth’s house, I picked up my pace. He comes out his door, just as I reach the car. We open the car doors, get in and he tells the driver to go to the airport. The clothes he told me to wear aren’t comfortable like my t-shirts and jeans. I adjust in the seat to get extra breathing room between me and the seatbelt. It’s silent during the drive, with only the side of the road to look at.
Mr. Abendroth leads the way through the airport to the departure gate. I stay quiet, to keep up with him, his stride being excessively quick. There’s no unnecessary talk while waiting for our plane to take off, but I’m eager for him to tell me what this trip is all about.
Our flight’s ready, and all of us passengers get on with minimal confusion. The plane climbs to thirty thousand feet. My body’s relaxing in its stretched out position.
“Duncan, don’t fall asleep, I’ll tell you know where we’re going.”
With interest I sit up, having anticipated the information for so long. Mr. Abendroth keeps his voice low, not wanting to be overheard, “I’m the grandson, going back several generations, of one of the crew members for Ferdinand Magellan, the explorer.”
“Yes. My ancestor, Bonifaz Abendroth from Strasbourg, along with his friend De’odat Godenot from a village in Lorraine, signed up together for Magellan’s voyage as crew. They worked on merchant ships.
During the trip they kept journals. What and who they were seeing, every detail was written down. They documented it to show their families when they returned.
After circumventing the globe and going home, they all realized that even though they’d been gone for years, they’d only missed one sunrise from where they started, because if they went in one direction and then turned in the other for the same amount of hours and days, they hadn’t
“How could they do that?”
“From your house, going west to Hawaii, is over four hours back, right?”
“Now, come back from Hawaii and it is over four hours, so you’ve not lost any time.”
“I get it.”
“Good. Now, after parting from Magellan, they began on their own voyage, retracing the route, more rapidly than the first time. It’s during this return expedition that they made a discovery so monumental, it defied reason and has been kept secret between both their descendents ever since, with the exception of now; you and your dad.”
“Why are you sharing it with us?”
“I find myself in the position of having lost my dear Mrs. Abendroth from illness twenty five years ago, having no children or any relatives left and I don’t have plans to remarry in the future, leaves my options at nil, except for your dad, who is the only one I know for his entire life. So, I will have to rely on you and him to be my surrogate family and carry on.”
“If my dad’s good with it, so am I.”
“Thank you, Duncan.”
“Do I call you grandpa or something?”
He looked at me with a heartfelt grin. It was clear on his face he’d never thought he’d be called
by a familial name. “Konrad will be fine, Duncan.”
His hand went into the leather duffle bag he brought on board and pulled out a compass in a silver case. “You will need to keep this with you at all times. It must remain pointed west, in case we become separated. I will tell you when we start heading east.”
“Mr. Abendroth. Konrad, I know we’re going to New Zealand but what are we going for?”
“Sit back and relax Duncan, we’ve got about another seventeen hours, you’ll find out when we land.”
I eagerly did as he said, and believe we both took a nap.
We were in Hawaii for refueling. Konrad was right, we left at nine thirty in the morning and now its five thirty, we haven’t lost time and we’re four hours younger.
It’s time for us to re-board and continue the flight. He picked up where he’d ended his tale, “When Bonifaz and De’odat had been at sea for months, they found themselves sailing north from the shore of New Zealand, late in the evening of the summer solstice. Do you know what it is?”
“I’ve heard of it.”
“It occurs on one day a year, at a particular time, and the earth is on its axis.”
“It was precisely at the moment of the solstice that they found themselves taken back through time, not just hours but years. Their ship was thrust through some type of phenomenon, putting them, fifty years earlier in time.”
“That’s not possible to do, there’s no such thing.”
“Some would say that about the Bermuda triangle. In my youth, before my father took me on my first trip with him, I laughed away pretty much every unexplained thing, just as you are doing. Let’s use the Bermuda triangle for instance. In nineteen forty five, flight nineteen disappeared completely, along with the Mary Celeste in eighteen seventy two and the nuclear powered submarine Scorpion in nineteen sixty eight, all lost inside it. I don’t discredit anyone’s opinions anymore, we didn’t make the planet, so I don’t know that we will every really figure it out. This is my personal conclusion.”
“So, Bonifaz and De’odat wrote about it?”
“Yes. In their journals, that’s what they expressed. They recorded what and who they saw. On one occasion, they ended up in France on June twenty first, fourteen ninety-eight, De’odat saw his dead grandparent’s, in their village, in front of their house. Naturally I didn’t believe it when my father told me where we were going, but I’ve taken the journey many times since and have seen for myself.”
“Jeez Konrad, that’s incredible, that’s six years after Christopher Columbus.”
“Yes, it is.”
“Where are we going?”
“We’ll not find out until we meet with the people waiting for us in New Zealand.”
“I’ve got one last question Konrad?”
“What is it?”
“Where were you, on your last trip?”
“I was in northern German in the year fifteen hundred four.”
He chuckled, “Christmas trees.”
“You went back that far?”
“Yes, that’s why it took me two months. Going back one hundred years takes about two days but coming back from that long ago takes weeks. That doesn’t include the time spent there.”
“But, why for Christmas trees?”
“Before I went back, they were used in town halls or squares, not in homes, so I went back to make sure that the first man to bring one into his house didn’t have to hard a time.”
“Is that what you do when you go back?”
“Yes. We already know what’s been invented and thought of, so I go back in time and making sure the idea the person in the past has, becomes reality.”
“I don’t understand?”
“Ok, we’ll stay on the Christmas tree example. When I got to December, fifteen hundred four, month of December, I found Jakob, the man in the town of Bremen at the town’s hall, which had its tree put up. He was contemplating aloud, to his wife, putting one inside their house. She thought it a good idea, too. After they left the hall, he and his two sons stopped off the road, sought out a small tree, took their ax and brought it home.”
“It sounds like they didn’t need any help after all.”
“No, they didn’t so far, but I continued watching, just in case. Once home, they took it in and tried to stand it up, but it repeatedly tipped over, until they leaned it against the wall, but even then, it slid down the side of it and landed on the floor. Time and again they tried and tried, but nothing worked, there was no commotion or raised voices, they watched it slide, over and over, but it was getting late into the night. If it hadn’t been as funny as it was, it would have been disastrous, but, you see, they didn’t notice the tree in the hall was anchored with ropes tied around its trunk and then nailed into the floor, they just assumed once the tree was cut, it would stand up on its own.”
“I get it. The Christmas tree stand hadn’t been invented yet.”
“That’s right, Duncan. Needless to say, the Mrs. Jakob said nein, or no, to the idea of nailing it to anything. I took two pieces of wood, crossed them, found a horse shoe nail, hammered them together and put it against the outside of the house, next to the front door. When Konrad and his sons brought it out after giving up for the night, the oldest boy noticed the stand. Well, they axed off the bottom of the tree, making it straight and hoorah! The first crudely made tree stand was born.”
“I can’t believe it. If they’d given up and not found a way to stand it up, it would be out in the trash and the idea scrapped.”
“Well, not necessarily. They may have given it some time and tried again, but Christmas trees as we know them, are nothing without the stand and since we know the stand was invented, then, to help Jakob was not altering anything in the past but only making it simpler for him. After all, everything we have now was thought up by somebody in the past.”
“Thanks Konrad, for letting me and dad in on this, it’s incredible.”
“That is but one example. I don’t want you to think that all you will see will be good or kind. You will see misery, despair and sometimes horrible acts along the way.”
“So we change them?”
“No, we can’t influence people, only objects. I have to tell you that it gets very hard to avoid not getting caught up in arguments, politics, war and all the rest going on around you. It’s imperative you stay with me, for your own safety Duncan, and I must warn you that there are things you must not do.”
“You must forget all you know, everything. We are ahead of the people we will see, this is critical. And, you must not speak, unless necessary and only to me, anyone overhearing will be greatly confused by the way you phrase and say things, speech was far different in the past. Secondly, your tooth brush and paste, in some circumstances, depending on the year you’re in, would not have been invented yet, so take care not to lose or show them. We’ll be dressed in the clothes of the time, so don’t complain, some will be extremely uncomfortable from what you’re used to. And, above all, don’t try to physically help anyone, that’s not what we’re there for. We’re to assist with inventions that help the masses of generations in the future. Do you understand what I’m saying, Duncan?”
“Yes Konrad, I do, I won’t disrupt anything. You have my word.”
“Good, thank you. Now, we’ve got another four hours before we’re there, it’s time for me to get in another quick sleep, you might too. We’ll be hurrying most of the time.”
“I’ll try to sleep but I’ve got a lot of questions.”
“I know. Just try to observe as much as possible and they should be answered without having to be asked.”
It’s two forty five in the afternoon, counting the forty five minute lay-over in Hawaii, on the sixteenth, over twenty hours behind the time we left. We’re going back in time. I can’t let on to Konrad that I’m freaked out, but I am. The other people on the plane that I’ve watched looked tired, but not at all disturbed by the fact that they’d flown into yesterday. Leaning over to Konrad and with my quietest voice, “So if we go back home right now, we will be in tomorrow?”
“Yes we will, Duncan. Don’t look so shocked, it will be fine, you’ll get used to coming in and out of days.”
“Whatever you say Konrad, I’m glad you’re so sure.”
My trepidation’s amusing him, but it’s not to me. I stay close to him. A car’s at the curb outside the terminal, waiting for us, it seems. Konrad hasn’t said anything to the driver.
“Get in, Duncan.”
I did. Then he and the driver spoke, “Hello Konrad, back so soon.”
“Hello Jules, sooner than I expected, oh, this is Duncan Garey, he’s Stuart’s boy.”
“Hello Duncan. How’s your father?”
“He’s fine, thanks.”
“Jules, have you figured out where we’re going?”
“Sure have. There are simple things I think you need to look after.”
“Whichever you’ve chosen, I’m sure will not be to troubling for our young friend.”
“I’ve tried to keep it to a minimum, but there are always some hazards.”
“Yes, there are. I’ll have to keep watch over him, this first time.”
“You probably will, Konrad.”
Jules was driving in a hurry, as if we’re being followed. The car slowed, made a left, onto a dirt road. I see unfamiliar landscape but it’s not what I’m concentrating on, this is no vacation, it’s hard to sightsee. I’m in the middle of gelatin brain, having too much rapid information to take in, I can feel it.
“We can talk freely now and answer all your questions, Duncan.”
I have too many rolling around in my head, like peas on a plate, “Jules. You know about all this?”
“Of course, I’m De’odat’s grandson, a couple times removed.”
My knees began to collapse. I sat down, staring at him.
“Konrad, are you sure you’ve explained this enough?”
“I thought so, but I might have left out some details. Jules’s grandfather Honore and I did this together after our fathers retired, then Honore died. Jules’s father Jean and I continued on. Jules was born and when his father was sadly killed in a car accident ten years ago, he’s been with me ever since.”
Jules went into his explanation, “Duncan, on June twentieth or twenty first and sometimes the twenty second, the north/south axis is tilted roughly twenty three point four degrees relative to the sun, the north pole is tipped more toward the sun than on any other day of the year, it’s the longest day and shortest night of the year in the northern hemisphere.”
I’ve heard this stuff in school, but with only enough interest to pass the class, never figuring on actually needing it.
“We’ll be going north from here and be in flight at the moment the solstice begins.”
“Is Aimee home, Jules? I’m sorry Duncan, Aimee is his daughter.”
“No, she’s with Therese, shopping. That’s her mother, Duncan. Aimee’s gone with us twice before. She won’t be with you she’s got other things this summer.”
“I’m sorry, Konrad, Jules, but this is a lot.”
“Of course it is Duncan. Let’s eat and we’ll go through it nice and slow.”
They began from the beginning. I bit into what Jules cooked, listening to them the best I can. With me chewing my last bite, Jules took hold of my plate then Konrad’s and put them in the sink, he led us back into the living room.
Our heads watched the front door handle as it turned. The light from the living room lit up the girl and her mother’s faces.
“Sorry we’ve been so long Jules. Hello Konrad, it’s nice to see you.”
“Hello Therese, hello Aimee, this is Duncan, Stuart’s son.”
“Hello Duncan, welcome. Aimee say hello.”
There isn’t any enthusiasm in her greeting, but I remember what mom has said, to be nice in spite of it, “Hi.”
“Excuse us but we’ve got bags of food in the car. Jules, would you help us, please?”
“Can we help, Therese?”
“No, thank you Konrad, we’ll manage, be right back.”
Outside they went, came back in, then into the kitchen.
Staying awake longer is an exhausting thought, “Konrad, I hope you don’t mind, but I’m getting tired.”
“So am I. Wait a minute and we’ll get some sleep after they’re done.”
Therese looked at us, “Both of you must be tired. Your room’s ready Konrad. Duncan’s in the one next to you.”
“Thank you, we are. We’ll see you in the morning, goodnight everyone.”
They answered, “Goodnight.”
My head’s on the pillow but it feels like electrodes are sparking my skull. At some point last
night I fell asleep, because I’ve awoken, well rested. The sound of voices is guiding me down the hall, into the kitchen, “Good morning.”
“Good morning Duncan. You’ve slept well. It’s ten thirty.”
“Oh, sorry Jules, I guess I was pretty tired.”
“Don’t you mind, you weren’t looking too good last night.”
“Thank you, Mrs.…”
“Please call me Therese.”
Konrad, because of his age, and I, because of my inexperience with jet lag, agreed that we’d take the next day to rest. By nine o’clock we’re in our rooms for the night.
In my sleep I hear a knock on my door. I open it cautiously.
“Good morning Konrad.”
“Morning, Duncan. We’ve got three days left to prepare, you’d better come, have breakfast, and then Jules will show us on his maps, where we’re going and what we’ll be doing.”
Therese’s cooking’s great. I’m not accustomed to gourmet food; mom’s is great too, in a different way, Konrad mumbles that she’s French.
Jules’s backyard is a menagerie of things, I notice, coming out of the house. It’s obvious he or someone else built the shack Konrad’s leading me to, being lopsided, leaning to the right, yet the windows aren’t crooked, but the door squeaks as Konrad opens it, as if it were listing to the left. I rub my eyes, getting them adjusted to the dark, but he keeps going towards the back, certain of what’s there. I watch his outline and catch sight of the light coming up from the ground. He’s stomping his foot on it. The wooden door lifts up, Jules’s put his right hand on the ground as his left is pushing the door and Konrad’s grabbed it, putting the wooden stick, attached to it, into the dirt. He’s turned around, and is lowering his leg, going down the ladder, “Come on Duncan.”
“Yes sir.” I’m at the edge of the hole, looking past him, but can’t see what he’s entering. Doing what he is, I reach the bottom. There’s not much to this room we were in, only a table with big sheets of paper, a couple of wooden crates for chairs, some racks of clothes and five lanterns, an unfurnished/unsupplied bunker, it’s pointless.
“This is where we decide what and where things will be looked at, Duncan.”
“How do you know what the previous ancestors went back and helped with, Jules?”
I’ve got to laugh because of his smile at me, “Two days rest has made you much sharper Duncan.”
“Yea, it helped.”
“Each kept their own journals, writing what they did and who they saw. We refer back to all of them, before deciding. Konrad has his, I have mine, your dad will have his and you will have yours.”
“Have you computerized the information?”
“Duncan, I’m certain I told you to forget all you know.”
“I’m sorry Konrad. Does it matter here, down here?”
“Yes, it does. Sorry to be so irritated but…Jules would you show him?”
“Duncan, come over here.”
I turn my eyes from Konrad, who began sitting on one of the crates, over to him and join him. His hand is pushing against the back dirt wall. A door size portion opens, exposing a walk in safe. He turns its lock, with the lantern in his other hand we go inside. There are stacks of books and maps on shelves.
“In here, there’s no hacking, no fear of loss or exposure. Most of these books are at least fifty years or older, they’d quickly deteriorate if brought into sunlight. They’re secure.”
“Jules, it’s amazing.”
“Thanks, it was our grandfather’s from the nineteen fifties idea, when mine settled here from France and Konrad’s went on to America. Prior to that, they sailed down here from their homes in Europe, and we’re not sure where they kept the books back then. Let’s go to Konrad, we’ve got work to do.”
He relocked the safe, closed the dirt wall and Konrad joined us at the table.
“I’ve got a few things that don’t seem to time consuming Konrad. You’ve said Stuart doesn’t want Duncan gone for long.”
“No he doesn’t. Show me what you’ve picked.”
“You’ve met my dad Jules?”
“Yes. We are the same age, early twenties, before you or Aimee were born. He came with Konrad for the first time. Neither of us was married to our wives yet, but knew them, so we had a good summer as unattached friends and have written each other often ever since, even though I’ve never mentioned him to Aimee and he’s not mentioned me to you.”
Dad’s got some secrets to explain when I get home. He doesn’t want me keep things from him, yet he keeps this.
Jules seemingly read my thoughts, “You can appreciate the need for secrecy about this and us, can’t you, Duncan?”
Looking around, there is, “Yes, I suppose.”
His hand is on my shoulder, “Good.”
“Konrad, this is what I’ve come up with, in no particular order. I’ve not done the map work yet; a buoy device, you know to keep boats afloat, the safety pin and discovery of dry cleaning, little excitement to them.”
“That’s fine Jules. I’m getting to old for anymore of that. Let’s see where they occurred and figure out the route.”
“You’ll be retiring soon Konrad, hang in there. And, Therese insists when you do, that you live here with us. You’ll get to see Stuart and Duncan often and we’ll be able to keep you out of trouble.”
“If I had the energy for trouble, I wouldn’t retire from this. Therese is my darling girl. Nothing would make me happier than to see her every day until I die.”
“She’ll be glad to hear it.”
It’s a surprise how casual Konrad says that about his dying, “But with this you wouldn’t ever have to grow old, just go back and forth between time, don’t age.”
“Who would want too, Duncan? Once you’ve seen equal amounts of extreme joy, like children being born to loving parents, and unspeakable horror, like the inquisition, played out over centuries, repeating themselves, you’ll change your mind real quick.”
I listen to him but watch Jules, as he maps out our route, “I guess not, Konrad.”
“No. The only times were truly at peace is in the womb, and at burial, the stuff in between, goes as it goes, and that includes what we’re going to see in the past. The Christmas tree stands for instance. Even though I helped, that didn’t mean it was going to be a success. That was up to Jakob and his family, they had to pass on the idea and make it catch on, into what it’s become.”
“Yes sir, I see.”
Jules held the map out to him, “This is the way you’ll go Konrad. It won’t be too arduous for you.”
He sighed as he took it, “We’ve been down here for some time, let’s get out, I’ve developed a headache.”
“Yes, of course. I’ll get you a pain tablet when were in the house.”
“Duncan, tomorrow you and I will come back here and you’ll find period clothes to wear, which will fit. Konrad already has his. We’ll leave him to rest.”
Dinner’s over, taking hold of the trash, I make eye contact, “Therese, I’ll take this out for you and be outside on the porch for a while.”
“How is your headache Konrad?”
“Better Jules, but I’m going to bed early. Have a nice evening everyone.”
We turned to him, “Good night.”
Going out the back door, I throw the trash away, the night air hit me. Up to this point, I’ve not paid attention to the surroundings. I’m comfortable on the chair nearest the fence, putting my crossed feet up, on it. I hear the front window behind me open.
Aimee whispers to me, “Mother will not like your feet up there.”
I take them down and sit up, “Thanks, I didn’t know.”
For minutes of silence I feel her stare behind me, “Are you afraid to go?”
“No. Were you Aimee?”
“No, but I was with my dad.”
“Maybe that’s why I’m not scared, Konrad will be with me.”
“He is nice, isn’t he?”
“He is. Come out here Aimee if you want, my neck’s getting sore.” The window shut and front door opened. She’s sitting on the top patio step, looking up at me, “You’re pretty isolated out here there aren’t any houses nearby.”
“It’s okay, I like it. What is it like where you live?”
“There are houses down every street, we’ve got neighbors, stores, schools, you know, like it is in most cities.”
“You’ll be frightened during the transition between here and there, Duncan. The plane will shake violently, you’ll feel like you’re crashing but you won’t be.”
“It’s that bad?”
“Yes. On my first trip I threw up from all the twisting, dropping and then shooting back up.”
“Okay. Thanks for telling me Aimee.”
“Can you tell me what you’ve done with your dad?”
“Alright but only a little, let me think. Okay, on my second trip, one of the things was the pencil. It turned out to be easy.”
“You can’t give me details, can you?”
“No, my dad said not to. That way you’ll have only your experiences to draw from.”
“That’s probably a good idea.”
“My mom said you have a sister named Meagan.”
“Yea, she’s two years older than me.”
“Didn’t she want to come and do this?”
“I don’t know, I’ll ask my dad whether she knows about it, when I get back home.”
“Isn’t she at your house?”
“No, she’s away at school, a normal thing to do, when compared to this.”
“It sounds like it.”
“Has everyone in your family done this?”
“Not everyone. Some tried it, but didn’t want to after their first flight, so my dad, mom and I are the only ones who go back.”
“That’s too bad. I don’t know what to expect, maybe I’ll feel the same as them, once we’re done. I understand that here I’m over twenty hours younger by just having flown west and that if I go east I’ll be over twenty hours older, equaling it out, but it’s still hard to make any sense of it.”
She looked at me expressionless.
“Are you still in school Aimee?”
“I’m out for summer, how about you Duncan?”
I stretched out, standing up, “So am I. If you don’t mind Aimee, I’m going to turn in. I’m tired.”
Aimee was standing too, we went inside, “Of course not. Have a good night.”
“Good night. Say good night to your parent’s for me.”
As I pull the blanket over me, the urge to dial my cell phone is pinging in my head. It isn’t easy to forget about, but I feel my eyes closing, it disappears.
It’s the last day before we leave. Jules’s planned our day. He’s leading me back to the clothes on the racks in his hole in the ground room, I try them on. Most of the clothes fit loosely, they’re suppose to he says, so that way, they can be worn from era to era. Therese has come in, sits next to me and shows me how to hem the lengths of shirt sleeves and pant legs, then has me do my own. By sundown we’re tired. Konrad says we have a long day when we get up. I say good night to everyone even though it’s only eight o’clock.
Therese’s voice comes through my door, while she knocks on the door, “It’s time to get up Duncan, come down and eat.”
“I’m up, sorry, be right there.” I take my shirt off the chair, smell it, after four days in it, it’s got odor all over.
Pulling out the chair next to Aimee, I look at everyone, “Good morning.”
They answer, “Good morning.”
“May I wash my clothes today Therese?”
Konrad stops his eating, “No, don’t do that, working people didn’t have clean smelling clothes too often, where we’re going.”
“But they smell.”
“You’ll blend in.”
“Later on, when I think about this, I hope it’s funny, because it’s not right now.”
“You can laugh about it now. We do.”
“Do you Therese?”
“Naturally we do Duncan. Who else goes back in time and helps a struggling idea come to light.”
“Konrad, let’s get the plane ready, you’ve got to be in the air by ten o’clock or you’ll miss the moment the solstice starts.”
“I’m ready. Come on Duncan.”
I keep my eyes fixed on them, they check the landing gear, wing flaps and propellers on the antique plane but the thought of getting into it isn’t appealing, “How old is the plane Jules?”
“Built in nineteen forty two for the war, why?”
“I’m just wondering.”
“It flies fine, it’s good and strong.”
They’ve decided to include me in its maintenance when they can, but staying at their side and watching, is alright for me. Four hours until take off, my stomach’s still in knots, ever since leaving home. I can’t join the conversation everyone’s having while they eat dinner, but pushing my food around the plate, to seem as if I’m eating, is working for me. Excusing myself from the table, to avoid questions, I get into my room, put my head on the pillow and shut my eyes.
Forty Five minutes must have already passed, I considered, pushing my elbows into the mattress
to help myself up.
Konrad and Jules are sitting opposite each other in the living room as I enter it, “Sorry for not helping with the dishes.”
Jules surveys my face, “It’s alright. You weren’t looking too good.”
“I wasn’t too good. Thanks.”
“We’ve got two hours, how about some cards, Duncan?”
“Sure Konrad. It’ll take my mind off it.” Not having my phone these past days to rely on, even to check the time, is medieval.
“You three have been playing all this time? You’d better get going Konrad.”
“Thank you Therese, I’m playing well tonight, I hate to have to stop.”
“I don’t. You’ve won almost every hand.”
“Well Jules, you’ll give this old man an occasional reason to go up against you, I’d give it up, losing all the time.”
“Glad to do it.”
Both men assure me it’s solidly built. I take hold of the metal, get in the plane and look at the two seats in the front, then at the seat behind the right one. Jules pounds on the door after Konrad’s closed it, as if to say safe journey. The plane’s engine is roaring to life, I’ve never heard one in front of my legs before, like a car, but Konrad’s un-phased, just continuing his piloting duties.
We’re up, with the front seat view of the country, dark as it is. The lights fade further away and my heart’s pumping as hard as the engines. Konrad hasn’t said anything, and I have nothing to add to it. So far, there’s no violent shaking like Aimee described, I want to get it over with, let it come, “Aimee said we’d be thrown all over and spinning.”
“That girl, what an exaggerator she is.”
“No, this is no amusement park ride. It’s a slow, unnoticeable event. You won’t feel a thing except regular airplane turbulence.”
“Aimee’s good, very convincing.”
“She doesn’t say much, but she makes me laugh harder than most people I know.”
The inside of the plane is silent again. We’re cruising along, nothing in our way.
“It’s a minute until the solstice Duncan, which will be bumpy but nothing more, after which we’ll land.”
My eyes are focused on the clouds, we’re coming down. Its dawn, “Weren’t we going north?”
“Yes, north and then west. We’ve been around the world four times. Remember we’ve come from the west.
“It’s the past, already?”
“Yes. It’s not like Bonifaz and De’odat on their ship, going along for months and then having to
wait until the solstice began for a month or two, because of their early arrival. We know when and where it occurs, so here we are. I must tell you for your future trips, you will end up on different kinds of ships, clipper, merchant, steam and sometimes fighting ship, to go from one end of the countries to the other, because of the year. Commercial planes weren’t used until about the late forties, early fifties, prior to that, ships were the only way around.”
“Okay. Hey Konrad, you forgot your duffle bag.”
“No I didn’t, it’s at Jules’s. It has our passports and things, which we don’t need here. We’ll come and go without notice.”
“Oh. So where are we Konrad?”
“In Henry Logan’s meadow, at the edge of New York and Pennsylvania, it’s eighteen forty eight. Let’s go tell him we’re here. After, we’ll get a lift into the city, catch the train to Illinois and find our subject.”
A young boy’s jumping down from the front yard oak tree, as we come up the walk, “Papa, it’s Konrad Abendroth, he’s come back.”
There’s a figure at the front door, a weathered, rugged farmer’s approaching, “Konrad. Welcome my friend.”
“Henry Logan, how have you been?”
“Well, we are well. Come in.”
He pointed to the chairs in the living room, we both sat as directed.
“This is Duncan Garey. He and his father Stuart Garey will be taking over for me. This is my
“I’m sorry to hear it, you will be sorely missed.”
“Thank you Henry. I’ll think of you often, as well as you little Lucas.”
“You can stay for a day, before you go, Konrad?”
“Yes, but after that, we’ll need to get to the train station. Is there anyone going that way?”
“I can’t say I know of anyone and the wheel on the wagon’s bent.”
“We’d better get some rest then. It will be a long walk.”
Sleeping in hay is scratchy and crunchy. I thought it was soft, but it’s not. Pass out is what I think I’ve done, getting up alongside Konrad, with the eyelid penetrating ray of sun hitting my face.
“Here, take this Henry.” In Konrad’s hand is a small bit of gold.
“Thank you Konrad, the airplane will be ready to go tomorrow.”
“Thank you Henry, we’ll be back in three or four weeks, maybe a little more, we’ve got one in Illinois, then we come back for another In New York City.”
“Have a safe journey Konrad, and you too, Duncan.”
His hand’s extended at me, “Thank you sir.”
The boy is with us, out the front door. Konrad’s hand is on his head, “Goodbye little Lucas, we’ll see you when we are done.”
“Goodbye Konrad Abendroth and Duncan Garey.”
His use of our full names is making me smile. I’ve never heard anyone do it before. The dirt road we’re on hasn’t had one person on it. We’ve been walking at least an hour, “Konrad, I understand it now. You paid him in gold because it’s valuable, so, he can sell it and you know Henry because his grandfather and then father, you knew them, and now he knows who I am.”
“You’ve got it. It’s a network of people developed over many, many, years.”
The faint sound of horses hooves are behind us, “It’s about time, Duncan. We don’t have centuries to get there.”
His phrasing makes me laugh. I’ve not heard Konrad be as funny before. When the horse’s breath was right behind us, Konrad turned to the driver and is talking him into a ride, paying for it, helps.
Pulling up to the station, Konrad climbs out of the wagon, with me careful to stay right behind. On the train platform is a crowd, he’s maneuvering us through to the ticket counter, “We get off before the Detroit River then board a steamboat going up it.”
“A steamboat’s what we’re taking?”
“You’re excitement will wear off after you’ve done this a few times. It quickly becomes, just traveling.”
“If you say so, but it’s exciting right now.”
The train’s going along, not at the speed I’m used to, but fast enough for the people sitting next, opposite and behind us. Out the window, I see is a few towns with a lot of wilderness in between
them, nothing else.
In my quietest voice, “We should see if they have cards we can buy.”
“You’ll get us shot. There are ladies on here Duncan. Cards played out in the open, is considered gambling.”
After a couple of stops, he tells me it’s ours. We’re back to walking until we can find someone going toward the river. The day’s passing and we’ve not seen anyone on the road. Its sundown, I hear the familiar sound of hooves and wagon wheels on the ground but their direction’s questionable. The little grey haired man has stopped, going in our direction. Exhausted, Konrad’s holding out a small piece of gold, “Can we have a ride good sir, for payment?”
“Put your gold away good sir, you going to the river?”
“I’m going that way, come up.”
Konrad’s struggling to get in. I’ve got no choice but to hoist up his rear end, “Excuse me Konrad.”
“Thank you Duncan.”
The man’s driving on, as slowly as his age. Our host has stopped the horses at the top of this hill that overlooks the river, “It’s down there young men.”
How hysterical, calling Konrad, young man.
Together we look at him, “Thank you good sir.”
“We’ll sleep under that tree, Duncan.”
Leaves and bugs cover me, as I un-cramp myself. It’s sunrise.
“We’ve got a few hours Duncan. Let’s try to find some food.”
I do help, where I can, although, Konrad’s masterful with his pocket knife. Being hungry as I am, I bite the carcass, “Squirrel may never catch on as a fast food item, Konrad.”
“No, I don’t think it will. It’s about that time, let’s go to the river.”
There’s an abundance of rocks for me to throw into it. I’m skipping the stones across the top, as best I can, while Konrad watches for the steamboat, “Here it comes. Take this Duncan, put it away and start swimming.”
Taking the leather pouch, I put it in my pocket and follow him into the water. The steamboat crew spots us and stops. Men are helping us aboard. Konrad hands the Captain a piece of gold for our fare. We’re dripping and have gone to the back, away from the other passengers, “The man were looking for is on here, somewhere.”
“Describe him, I’ll help you look.”
“He’s very tall, thin build, has black hair and piercing deep set eyes, a noticeable mole, thin beard and wears a tall hat.”
With a smirk of ridiculousness, “Sounds like Abe Lincoln.”
“Other men could look like that, not just Mr. Lincoln.”
“Thank God, I thought you were going to say it was.”
Disbelief hits me, “No way Konrad!”
“He’s a legislator at this time in his life. Ah, here it comes, the river’s getting lower. Be ready to blow on that pouch as hard as you can. Stand off to the side of him.”
My eyes make out who’s on the deck near us. I see him, picking my feet up, puts me near him, where Konrad says to be. Mr. Lincoln’s looking at me. The boat’s hit the bottom. The pouch shakes in my hand but all the air I have, I’m blowing into it. In, out, in, out. My eyes are on him. He’s watching but not saying a word, the wheels in his head are spinning. I can see them. Captain Williams is shouting at the crew to get the cargo off and pull us into the deep. Backing up, I’ve reached Konrad, but continue to stare at Abraham Lincoln. He’s tipping his hat at me. All I think to do is bow a little. In my whisper, “This could make him rich. Does he go into business and build it, Konrad?”
“No, he gets the patent for it but going into business isn’t in his plans, he wants to represent Illinois and then the country, he’s hoping to one day be President. If he doesn’t pursue that, then when and who would emancipate the slaves on September twenty second, eighteen sixty two? Right now it is fourteen years before he abolishes it, he’s got no idea that’s what he’ll do, he’s making his conscience choice, which way his life will go and what he’ll pursue without knowing what impact he’s going to make later on.”
“You’re right. Messing with their history can be disastrous.”
“It can, even though there are times when you’ll wish you could, especially during wars. We’ve
got to get off with the cargo Duncan.”
Both of us grab a crate and follow the last crewman. Our getaway’s rapid. We’re on the road again going east back, toward the nearest train station for New York. Excitement’s all over me, “President Lincoln has a patent, Konrad?”
“Yes. He’s the only President to have one. Anyway, you gave him a small idea for bellows to blow up buoys that will lift the boat high enough that it can be maneuvered back into the deep without having to unload the cargo.”
“I just saw Abraham Lincoln and can’t tell my friends, I can’t believe it.”
“You can to me, Jules, his family and your dad.”
“Yea but man, the guys would flip out.”
“They would. Look, there’s a farm on the left, let’s see if they can take us into town.”
The farmer’s going soon. We wait outside until he’s ready.
“Konrad, it’s eighteen forty eight, only thirteen years until the civil war begins.”
“But, that will make little Lucas about twenty years old!”
“Quiet down, they will hear you Duncan. Listen, this is why we don’t talk about what we know now, with anyone from the past, everything between the womb and burial, goes as it goes.”
“Does he go to war? What happens to him?”
The ill look on Konrad’s face indicates his knowing, “Tell me Konrad? We can warn Henry
when we get back.”
His voice is shaky, “If only we could.”
“We can. He can go to Canada in a few years, he can be alright.”
“He would be.”
“So why not tell them?”
“That’s not the way his history is.”
“I tell you, only with your guarantee that you’ll not speak or think of it, again.”
“Yes, yes, but tell me, I’ve got to know what happens.”
“Little Lucas, my good boy, he joins the army. After fighting for so long, he is assigned to help assist Clara Barton on her medical mission, he is killed while doing it.”
“He doesn’t have to be, if we help him now.”
“Supposing we do, then what happens in history? Does Clara Barton’s wagon not make it, to help all the hundreds of wounded soldiers? Is she injured or killed by the bullet he takes for her? What if she is and doesn’t begin the America Red Cross? His life will help the many who are and have been, helped by Clara Barton and the Red Cross. Do we change it because we love the boy? This is why we don’t interfere with history, other than the things that will be of use and help to mankind. If you don’t think you can stay quiet, than this is not for you Duncan. You must be absolutely certain, no matter what you see, you’ll not interfere.”
“How do you know he dies Konrad?”
“I was back here during the war. Clara needed a prompting for something along the way to the front, I forget what it is. It’s been so long. And I, being on horse, rode in the woods along their route with them. I did see him get shot. I didn’t see who did it, a soldier or Hunter, could have been anyone, or where it came from, a stray bullet or intended for him, I’ll never know. But Lucas fell off his horse. My heart sank. Riding toward the wagon I was almost mistaken for a confederate. Anyway, I said I was his brother. I went back forty five years ago, and was much younger. I dismounted, took his limp body in lap, he said, Konrad Abendroth, my father, then died as I cradled him. I’ve returned to Henry in the years after his death. He was glad I was there, but I wasn’t. Whether he was northern or southern didn’t matter, he was my little Lucas, the son I’ve never had. Since then, if there’s something we need to do during the civil war, Jules does it. I can’t see his death or any one of the other soldier’s ever again.”
“I’m sorry Konrad.”
“You didn’t know. But now, you must decide whether you can do this or not. There will be no changing things around to the way we want them, it’s done.”
“I can do this Konrad and not let you down. I’ll not say a word to anyone in the past or back home about what I see.”
“I’m extremely happy Duncan and glad to pass this ability we have, on to you and your father.”
There are shocks in my system. I’ve nothing to say about Mr. Lincoln, as our train chugs along. It’s a rest for Konrad, from all my questions. The edge of New York City can’t be more of a shock, dirt streets, wooden buildings, some being replaced by brick, with people running to get
out of the way of the wagons and carriages.
“How will we know who to find?”
“I’ve seen him before. He’s invented quite a few things, like the sewing machine.”
“So, why not help him with the safety pin when you were here, Konrad?”
“It wasn’t the right year.”
“I should have known.”
“You’ll catch on Duncan, don’t get discouraged.”
“I’m not, it’s interesting.”
“Good. We’ll get a room for the night and help him tomorrow.”
There’s no buffer between our rooms and the street outside. I’ve never heard so many people laughing and talking all night, not to mention the sounds of horses and wagons. Insulation and central air conditioning can’t be invented soon enough, it’s hot here. It’s with hesitation that I’m getting into my clothes. They’re wrinkled and hard to be in, but they’re on. Curiosity in what’s going on outside pulls me to the window to wait for Konrad to come. The same scene as yesterday is going on. No phones, televisions, radios, nothings been invented. These people won’t even be alive when they are, to see how much better life gets. But, this is probably better than it was fifty or one hundred years ago, so they might think they’ve got it good.
“Duncan, are you in there?”
“I’m here, Konrad.”
“We’ve got to hurry and eat. Then we’ll find Hunt.”
Everything’s the opposite of what I recognize, gas or Kerosene lamps instead of electric bulbs, bland food not seasoned, long dresses on women, not a tight skirt, shorts or pants on any of them, and the most eye opening, no toilets or plumbing. There are as many cowboy looking men walking around, as there are well dressed, probably more, “Here we are. This is his house.”
“How long do we wait.”
“As long as it takes, let’s stand against the gas street lamp in front of the house next door and hope he’s not gone yet.”
It must be eight thirty in the morning now, but I’m not for sure, we’ve been talking for a long time.
Hunt’s come out of his house. Konrad’s hand is in his pocket, “Here, you’ll need this to give Hunt the inspiration for the safety pin.”
“He’s inspired by this piece of wire?”
“Yes. He owes a man fifteen dollars. While he’s trying to figure out how to pay the man back, it’s this piece of wire which he twists into a safety pin. He patents it next year and sells the same man the patent for four hundred dollars.”
“Let’s follow him.”
He crosses a couple of streets, and even with Konrad’s advanced age we’re staying right behind. Hunt’s consciously trying to hide from one of the men in his path, but the man’s watching him.
The stranger has a height and weight advantage over him. We see the man confront him, “Go now Duncan, pass them, throw the wire at Hunt’s shoe, hard enough for him to notice, so he’ll pick it up, he must pick it up.”
“But the man’s got a gun belt around his waist.”
“Hurry up, they’ll finish and the opportunity will be gone.” Konrad’s instructions propelled me forward. I’m a couple of yards from them, the wires slippery in my sweaty hand. They’re in an argument. I throw it at Hunt’s shins, hard as I can, not using my baseball arm, but hard enough to make it felt. He’s looking down after it hits, then back up at the man. A few minutes pass, they’ve stopped talking, the man’s turned around and is walking away. Hunt’s watching him, making sure he leaves, and is now bending down. He’s taking the wire off the ground, we’re watching, as he twists it.
“That’s done. Good job Duncan. Let’s get back to the rooms.”
“Konrad, you’re not excited but I am. We have nothing to do with the invention other than giving him the material for it.”
“Ninety nine percent of the time, all the inventor needs is the right material, without it, it’s not made.”
“They’re contributing to people without trying to influence them.”
“Yes, every small thing helps extend our lives, as much as they have been.”
“Not weapons Konrad.”
“That’s not true. Since the first stone arrow, their intent was hunting. It’s what people have
thought up to use them for, that’s the problem. People are corruptible. Make sure that you do your best to avoid it.”
“Corruptible. Why would I become corrupted?”
“Because maybe for money, you’ll be enticed to through one of your baseball games, or for power you’ll intimidate your friends into doing what you want them to do, even if it’s wrong.”
“I wouldn’t do that.”
“We all do that, even me.”
“You Konrad, what have you done?”
“The gold you’ve been seeing me hand out, it’s stolen.”
“From who, when?”
“What I tell you is meant to justify it, but it doesn’t make it right. Anyway, it’s taken from Pirates, who stole it from merchant ships and others, to use for their own purposes.”
“It’s stolen from thieves, what’s the big deal? You’re using it for good reasons.”
“You see you’ve just corrupted you’re thinking, by defending theft for a reason you find to be legitimate.”
“But, I didn’t steal it. I just see what you’re doing with it.”
“That’s right, you didn’t take it. Here we are. I’m ready for an early dinner.”
Chewing our food, we continued our discussion, “So what’s worse Konrad, being corrupted or following someone who’s trying to influence my thinking?”
“Both are equal. You’ll see. The scared, convince others to be scared and it grows into hysteria. The greedy convince others that they don’t deserve to have what they have. Or, that they don’t have enough and that grows into a type of hysteria. It’s the same.”
“I have my own choices though.”
“If you can remember that and not be persuaded by anyone else, other than those who think about your best interest, then you’ll have an unsullied conscience and become your own person, not led by, even what I say.”
“Now it’s time to get some sleep Duncan. We’ve got to be back to the plane tomorrow.”
“And go to France?”
His voice had a humor to it, “Of course France, where else would Paris be?”
My nervous laugh’s giving me away. Where else could it be? Questions for Konrad are tumbling in my head all night. I’ve fallen asleep, but at what time, I’m not sure.
Eating our breakfast, I’ve got to ask him the things still in my head, from last night, “Tell me Konrad, what you would do if something happens to the plane and you can’t return, to the future, I mean?”
“I would adapt, live as they do. It’s no different than if I moved from my home to New Zealand or Japan. But, it’s never happened. Keep a clear head and make pointed, accurate choices to keep the plane out of sight.”
“Okay, I will.”
“Don’t give me cause for alarm Duncan.”
“Please, don’t think I can’t handle it. I want to do this, I have to do this.”
“Alright, but I’ll be watching how you manage things from now on.”
“You won’t have to worry, Konrad.”
“I don’t want to. I’m too old for it.”
We continue our talk over our breakfast until it’s time for us to find a ride back to Henry’s, “No buses, cars, commuter trains, it is restricting isn’t it, Konrad?”
“Yes, but it also has its simplicity. There’s a noticeable, less amount of rushing around, the people do. They know their neighborhoods and the parameters they can get to on foot, by horse or wagon and have no expectation of getting any further, unless they’re going far, by train.”
It hasn’t been long and Konrad’s convinced a coal wagon driver into giving us a lift, by using a piece of his yellow mineral. We’re as far as he’s going, our clothes are filthy. Mom would have an attack if she saw me, grime from head to shoes. Konrad sees my expression, I’m looking down at my coat and pants, “Don’t get used to it, you’ll have a bath and we’ll wash our clothes at Henry’s. We’ll not get another until after Paris.”
“I can’t get used to it, but it’s not so bad, now that I’ve been in the same clothes without a bath for over a week.”
“Wait until Jules sends you into the seventeenth or eighteenth century. This will seem a luxury.”
“I’m looking forward to it.”
We’ve gotten our train tickets, for the station nearest Henry. Our day’s passing, the trains rocking back and forth. There isn’t anything other than reading to do. Most of the passengers are reading, including Konrad. He’s engrossed in the newspaper dated eighteen forty eight. It’s making the time pass, we’ve arrived and the sun’s stayed with us. Henry’s in his field as we’re walk up. Little Lucas’ head has popped up next to him, and with full speed he’s coming to us.
“I’ve brought you sweets Lucas.”
His little hand went down the side of his pants to clean it off, “Thank you Konrad Abendroth.”
“You are very welcome, my little Lucas.”
Hard, was there anything as hard, as what I just witnessed Konrad do. Give a child he knows will be shot and killed in a few years without shedding a tear, as if it’s never going to happen.
Henry’s not reached us yet, “Konrad, I don’t have it, the courage you have.”
“You’re sixteen, find it.”
For these three days, our plans have stayed on coarse. It’s time for us to leave, much cleaner than we arrived. Into the plane I climb, prepared to learn how to fly it. Konrad says I have to. From the door, I look into Lucas’ face, “I’ll be back.”
“I’ll wait for you Duncan Garey.”
“You do that.”
The minutes that are passing as we ascend, keeps Lucas on my mind. He’s unaware of video
games, cars, every advantage I have and he’s as happy as I am.
The plane’s going east, but only months in time, our empty refueling cans clank around in the back. Konrad’s pointing and explaining all the dials and gauges, giving me the controls mid-flight. His eyes shut, my hands are sweating but they’re steady. He’s out for an hour and half. His snoring has been loud but it’s stopping. Now awake, he pulls at the watch attached to the string, tied to the instruments near the window, “Another hour and we’re there. Ah, that reminds me. In the absence of French cuisine, Henry’s packed us food. Get the wooden box behind your seat Duncan.”
Handing over the controls, I do as he’s asked. I’ve given it a small pull, the top pops off, “What is it?”
“He said it is salt pork, cooked potatoes and raw green beans.”
“Hold the squirrel, what a nice guy.”
“Yes. That he is.”
Flickers of light are in view, we’re coming over the city. It’s late into night and we’re flying past it, we’ve landed onto a frost covered field outside it. Not waking Maurice, owner of the field, we’re to sleep in the plane, but its freezing, an uncomfortable night.
“We have company Duncan, wake up. It must be Maurice, the sun is out.”
Having him touch my shoulder as he is, my bodies jumped, “Yes, sir. What day is it Konrad?”
“December twenty eighth.”
“We’ve missed Christmas.”
“Only here, not back home. It’s still summer.”
“Oh yea, that’s right.” Opening the door, I reach out to help Konrad down.
“Maurice, it is good to see you.”
“It is good to have you here Konrad. Jules has told me this is your last flight.”
“I’ve got no choice. My body doesn’t handle the coming and going any longer.”
“You will come with Jules to stay with us, but no work.”
“We will see my friend. Let me introduce you, this is Duncan Garey.”
Konrad’s explaining what my future role will be.
“I approve. Your father is a good man.”
“Maurice is Jules’s distant uncle.”
In my now accustomed whisper, “Oh. Hey Konrad, he’s speaking English.”
“Yes, Jules and I have taught him each time we’ve come.”
Maurice is looking at me, “It is not natural to know one’s uncle who is dead for one hundred fifty years. We do what we must. Come this way, it is cold. You will have bread, cheese and wine.”
“I don’t drink Konrad. I’ve got to be twenty one. It’s the law.”
“Not here or now. It’s not considered drinking. Wine is water’s substitute during this period. It’s more plentiful than drinking water, and milk is used for young children and pregnant women.”
“There’s a lot to know and remember.”
“Slow, take it slow. You’ll have help.”
“Never indulge in it when you’re in the America west though, during its discovery, you’ll get yourself into trouble.”
Maurice is entertaining and lively, as are his wife, three sons and daughter.
“Have you ever traveled back Maurice?”
“Oui Duncan. To the Cherokee Indian, the idea for the bead, I rolled the stone with the hole in it and voila.” His hands showed what he did.
“And, the captain of the Cherokee went back to help his ancestors invent the house they use.”
“Oh, the chief helped with the teepee.”
Konrad’s grin said I was in the right direction, “Yes, that’s what he means.”
“Have you come back with Jules or Konrad?”
“Go into the future? No. There is no future for me, it has not happened. There are only the ideas of today, not tomorrow. Tomorrow will bring new ones, but what they are, I cannot see.”
I need to persist, “You don’t want to know what they are?”
“There is no reason to know. I have my family, friends and neighbors and we must create what is good for, not you but us. We have what is here now. The world spins, inventors make things. You cannot say the future is better, than it is for us now. There is happiness, joy, excitement, death, murder and terror, in your era, is there not?”
“Yes sir, there is.”
“We have that here, now. What is different, is the simple… How do you say it, Konrad?”
“He means that things are as simple in their own way back home, as they are for them here.”
“I’m trying to understand, but people get around faster back home.”
“Do they? Sitting in traffic, waiting in lines, it’s all what you consider faster, but he would consider it congested. There are less people in this year than in the future, and more than in the past, so who’s generation is better off? That’s what he means.”
“I see, but still, there are no plagues and polio’s gone.”
“Duncan, there can be epidemics in our lifetime, and on a larger scale. People are closer in proximity to each, in larger numbers than at any other time in history, and polio, in some countries still exists.”
“You’re saying that things really haven’t changed Konrad?”
“Not as much as we might think, is all I’m saying.”
“Jules has told me that it is faster in the future, and is not always better. Our slow way of life agrees with him.”
“It’s agreeing with me too Maurice.”
“This is good. You will go home and be a little slower about everything for the happiness?”
His sons, having a hold of my hands, pull my arms in their direction toward the front door.
Across the field and down the embankment is the frozen stream going through their property. With sticks and strings, precursors to fishing rods, we’re using them as canes to walk across the ice. It’s crackling under our feet; the boys are pulling my sleeves, getting me off it. We put down our poles, get ourselves onto the log resting at the edge of the grass and sit. They aren’t speaking English and I don’t speak French, but we understand to just be still and admire the beauty. I look into the sky, the birds passing, the clouds and leaves blowing across the ice, but not one airplane, electrical wire or building to be seen. It’s a trade off, convenience versus uncluttered, both important things, I’m struggling between them. Dusk’s upon us, I keep next to the sons, into the house. Mrs. Maurice has our dinner, a lamb stew or casserole, wine and bread.
“Tomorrow, Maurice will take us into Paris and help with Mr. Bellin.”
My drooping eyes are giving way, as the bed I’m on is like a pillow, compared to sleeping in the plane, “Okay.”
With a good night sleep, I’m in a better temperament. Maurice is in his barn; getting the wagon ready for our trip, as we eat the rest of our breakfast. I’m handed the reins by Maurice, he’s turned to help Konrad into the wagon.
“Duncan you will take us down this road. I will tell you when to turn.”
It’s the first non mechanical thing I’ve driven, I must smile, “Yes sir.” The slow going’s my chance to hear what they’re talking about in the back.
“Napoleon Bonaparte has been voted as President, on the tenth of this month.”
My gasp’s spontaneous.
“I didn’t say anything Konrad.”
“You don’t need to talk, for me to hear you.”
I’m hearing wrong, but I’m not. Maurice is describing the past year, the revolts and abdication of King Louis Philippe. This road’s icy, treacherous; the next one’s the same, but maybe not as hazardous as Napoleon. Paris has more brick buildings than New York, but the people look the same, some well dressed and others poor and shabby, with the exception, no men are wearing guns around their waste.
Maurice’s teeth are chattering. He’s talking slowly due to the cold, “This is the street Duncan.”
“It’s time to find M. Jolly Bellin.”
We’ve come to a small café. Maurice looks in the window for the man. He’s waving his hand, he’s inside.
“I’ll do this one Duncan. It’s more likely that I’m un-steadier on my feet than you, to knock into
him. When I get inside, he’ll pick up that lamp over in the corner. It’s dark out, winter, he’ll need it to light my table, after he does, I’ll bump into him, making him spill it on his clothes, bow courteously in apology and leave. After we’re gone, he discovers that the turpentine and oil mixture cleans them.”
It’s happening just as Konrad’s described. He’s bumped him, Bellin’s yelling at him and he’s coming out the door. Back to the farm we’re going, with the task completed and staying for another night. Maurice has full cans of fuel. He fills the plane’s tank and I put them with the other empties in the back of it. Konrad’s assuring him they’ll be replaced with full ones, on Jules’s next trip.
“I will miss you Konrad until you return again.”
“And, I will miss you Maurice, but there are no guarantees of another visit.”
“Oui, I know my friend.”
“Goodbye Duncan, we will see each other again soon.”
“Yes sir, I’ll be back as soon as I can. Goodbye.”
“This is good. Farewell.”
We’re on our way home. With no calendar, days haven’t mattered, not as much as they do back home. Dad and mom must be wondering where I’ve been. It’s going to be interesting seeing their faces as I tell them. The plane’s a wobbly wreck but it’s safe to me now. We fly west and then south, toward New Zealand.
Jules’s pounding on the plane once we stop rolling. I’ve pushed the unlatched door open, he’s
staring at me, “You have a lot to tell us Duncan.”
“Oh man, have I.”
There’s nothing more from him but laughter.
Konrad’s body is visibly tired, and even more aged. He’s gotten out with Jules’s help.
Maybe because Aimee’s my age, she’s listening to every word of my tale. She’s been on a few of her own and is sharing openly with me, what she’s done. It’s strange to have something so incredible in common with her but its good. Equally, I’m anxious to tell dad and mom and am ready to get home. Konrad’s taking two days, before we can travel again. Aimee’s showing me around the city and I’m using her laptop to read about other inventors, electronics that are purposeful.
The closer our plane home flies, the happier I’m becoming. Hour after hour gets more exciting. Cabs are lined up, waiting, we get in the nearest, we’re almost there, “It’s our street, Duncan.”
“I’ve seen you come home so many times before Konrad, without knowing where you’ve been, but never could I have guessed.”
“You’re right, you never could have.”
Konrad’s lifted his duffle bag from the seat, “You take care of yourself Duncan. I’ll be moving soon, to live with my Therese and Aimee.”
“I will sir. You take care of yourself too, and I’ll see you next summer when I go back with dad.”
“That’s right, goodbye.”
Using the airport phone, I left the message on mom’s voice mail. We’re on our way home.
Mom’s at the door with her arms open for me, “Welcome home Duncan. We’ve missed you.”
“I’ve missed you too.”
“How was it Duncan?”
“It was the most awesome trip dad. I’m only a week older, but it’s been months.”
His bodily frame shook with laughter at my explosive exuberance, “You’ll tell me all about it tomorrow.”
“I will. Everything we’ve seen and done.”