“I’m just telling you what they told me,” Scott told Steadman.
The lawman paced his office, trying to understand.
“That they’re from the future?”
“That’s what they said.”
“And they’re here to collect plants and animals.”
“That’s right,” Scott said.
The deputy sheriff sat at his desk. He took out a small notebook and a pencil.
“Okay, three of them, right?”
“That’s right,” Scott told him.
“Yula, Tenner and Xavier.”
Steadman wrote them down.
“Are those last names?” Steadman asked.
“I don’t know. They only have one each.”
Steadman closed his eyes. The ticking clock behind his eyes struck midnight.
Scott studied Steadman’s face. There was anger there, not unlike Tenner’s. Shouldn’t have come here. Should have gone about your merry business. This is beyond him. It’s beyond you.
“Did they come in a car?” Steadman asked when the pain was bearable.
“They just appeared in the woods?”
“Did they bring anything with them?” Steadman asked. “Food, water, clothing?”
Scott shook his head.
“Just that contraption. The electronic device,” Scott said.
“But it’s broken.”
“And they want you to help fix it.”
“What’s this thing do?” Steadman asked.
“I told you–it takes them to the future.”
Steadman controlled his anger. No use yelling at Scott, he guessed. The man is sincere, God help us.
“Okay, I’ll go back out there with you,” Steadman decided, standing, reaching for his hat.
“I’ll go back out there with you and talk to these people.”
“I don’t know if you should,” Scott said, panic in his voice.
“They…they might not like that,” Scott said, realizing how lame it sounded.
“Come on,” Steadman said firmly.
Scott stood. Everybody’s telling you what to do. Shouldn’t have come here. They trusted you. And you go to the cops. Suffer the consequences.
A light rain began to fall while Scott followed Steadman’s patrol car up the winding mountain road. Scott flicked on his windshield wipers. He was already feeling better about his decision. Steadman was capable–he’d get to the bottom of it. No need to live with uncertainty.
They parked on the road below the cabin. Steadman pulled a shotgun from the trunk of his car, Scott completely changed his mind again.
Oh God, he’s going to shoot them. Her. Call it off. Tell Steadman it’s all a prank.
“Don’t worry,” Steadman reassured Scott. “If I shoot anybody, they’ll just disappear in a shower of sparks.”
Scott cringed. He retrieved a paper bag from the back of the Jeep and joined Steadman.
“What’s that?” Steadman asked, pointing to the bag.
“The electronics stuff Xavier wanted.”
Steadman’s lip curled at the corner of his mouth.
“For the way-back machine, right?” he snickered.
“Hey, you weren’t in yet and the store was open,” Scott protested.
Steadman sized up Scott for another half minute.
“You don’t actually believe this stuff, do you?” Steadman asked.
“I’m trying to tell you. They seem like genuinely nice people.”
“From the future,” Steadman added.
“Everybody’s gotta be from somewhere.”
“Come on,” Steadman told Scott and started up the path.
“But stay behind me. This thing sounds like a bomb to me.”
It hadn’t occurred to Scott. That explains it. They’re environmentalists. They sure act like it. Militants. Agent provocateurs, hurting the forest, blaming it on the logging companies, intent on blowing something up.
Scott wondered what Steadman would say to that. He watched the lawman ahead. Steadman’s broad back moved easily from side to side, his stocky legs found the right places to step. There was none of the awkwardness Scott felt while walking through the forest.
He grew up in these woods, Scott realized. This is his home.
A sudden wave of hopeless despair washed over Scott.
Where is your home? Where do you step with assurance? And what about them? Her?
They reached the cabin. No sign of the visitors. The specimens and the electronic box were gone.
“Well, they’re not here now,” Steadman said when he was satisfied.
“I guess they heard us coming.”
Steadman nodded. He doesn’t believe you. Scott looked at three sets of tracks leading off into the woods. There they go. Point them out to Steadman. No. Yula would never forgive you.
“Sorry,” Scott apologized. “I guess you made the trip for nothing.”
Steadman puzzled over Scott’s face for a long time. It was the only real piece of evidence Steadman had.
Figure this guy out and you got something, Steadman decided.
“You’re not staying here, are you?” Steadman asked.
“It’s my cabin.”
“Hey, it’s your life too,” Steadman commented. He turned and started back down the trail.
“Are you leaving?” Scott said, scrambling after the deputy.
“You said it yourself–they’re gone,” Steadman commented, not slowing his stride one bit.
Scott didn’t have an answer to that. At the bottom of the hill, Steadman climbed back into his patrol car. He considered reading Scott the riot act, but decided against it. Something was bugging Scott. Love, fear or guilt. Okay, Steadman decided, there’s more than one way.
Scott watched him go. He doesn’t believe you. You betrayed them. And now the sheriff doesn’t believe you. You’re a pest. To everybody. Self included.
Scott climbed the hill to the cabin. The rain had stopped but the damp earth left tracks–both his and Steadman’s, coming and going. Scott clumsily tried to put his feet in the imprint of Steadman’s shoes. There was some trick, Scott was sure, but he didn’t discover it.
His gait is different than yours, Scott decided.
When Scott reached the clearing, he saw Tenner carrying the electronic box back behind the cabin. Xavier and Yula followed.
Scott expected recriminations, but there was nothing in their faces except their usual quiet resolve.
“Did you get the things?” Xavier asked.
Scott realized he still held the bag from the electronics store. He handed it to Xavier.
Scott sat at the edge of the forest. He watched Xavier fiddle with the box while Yula hauled wood and piled it next to the cabin. Tenner had found an ax somewhere. Bare-chested, he chopped with the skill of a practiced murderer.
Ought to run. They know you betrayed them. They’ll kill you. They’re just waiting for the night.
Scott stayed apart from them. He realized it was no longer his cabin, or his woods, or his life. He wondered if he was a hostage.
“Time for the big test,” Xavier called to Scott, as if he knew Scott’s uncertainty.
Surprised by his own delight at being included, Scott stood and walked to Xavier. Xavier closed the metal box. Wires connected it to a string of batteries. Xavier connected a wire to a post on the gadget and then wrapped the wire tightly around the cardboard box that contained the seeds. The worms and bugs had long since crawled away.
“It’s ready,” Xavier announced to the others. Yula dropped a tree-limb and Tenner tossed the ax away. They all gathered around.
“I don’t know if this will work,” Xavier stated gloomily. “Power in the box is burned out.”
Xavier held his breath and flicked a switch.
Sparks flew. Scott jumped back. The cardboard box disappeared, the way Xavier had when Scott shot him with the shotgun. Then the contraption began to do the same. Xavier screamed and Yula yelped. Xavier dove to the machine and thrust his hands into the fireworks. He grabbed the blue-white mass of flashing light and heaved it away. The box rolled, ten feet off, smoldering.
Xavier screamed and smothered his hands under his armpits. Tenner ran to him.
“Let me see!” he shouted.
Xavier produced his hands. They were burned and charred. The pain was unbearable. Scott turned away. He walked to the white box. It was burned but still whole. Scott turned back to where the box of specimens once sat. A tiny crater, like the others, was all that was left.
“Where did it go?!” Scott screamed.
“To the future!” Yula screamed back.
“I’m okay! I’m okay!” Xavier screamed. “But it hurts!”
“Walk around!” Tenner shouted at Xavier. “Shake your hands!” Xavier obeyed. He shook his hands in rhythm.
“Gone, gone, gone,” Xavier chanted, willing his mind over the pain.
Scott sat hard on the ground. Are they from the future? Are they stuck here? Because of you? Damn.
Scott wondered if it was a special moment in his life, equivalent to when he discovered where babies came from and how they got there in the first place. The same knot formed in his stomach that had been there when he realized Santa Claus was a big joke on children, and when he found out God was just a theory who wasn’t going to get him out of every jam and keep the monsters out of his room at night.
Scott staggered back into the woods. He felt sick and didn’t want these people to see it.
Great gasps of clean, thin, mountain air entered Scott’s lungs. It’s cooler today. Fall is coming. Don’t avoid the issue.
“Are you all right?” Yula asked, following Scott.
“No, I don’t think so.”
“It’s a shock.”
“There was no easy way to tell you,” Yula admitted.
“No, I guess not.”
There were a million questions in Scott’s mind, but he couldn’t bring himself to form one of them into something that might come from his mouth.
“It’s sad really,” Yula told him. “We miss all the things you take for granted.” She swept her hand over the natural universe. “Trees, animals, plants–we miss them.”
“So you came here…”
“To collect them. To take them back. Two at a time. So we can try to breed them. We have the technology now to move to the past, but what is gone is gone, so we have to borrow from you. Do you understand?”
Scott nodded, but he didn’t.
“Project Ark is what it’s called,” Yula said.
“Yula!” Tenner commanded, coming up behind her.
“Project Ark?” Scott asked.
“Right. Funny name isn’t it?” Tenner said as if it wasn’t important.
“Not so funny.”
“We don’t know what it means,” Tenner said, faking an offhand chuckle.
Scott looked at Yula.
“I’ll tell you sometime,” Scott told them finally.
“I may be able to fix it,” Xavier said, coming up from the cabin. “I don’t know. I need parts and I don’t know what’s available now.”
Scott nodded. He really didn’t hear this either.
Yula looked to Xavier, warning him Scott wasn’t ready.
Scott started walking. Yula began to follow, but on stern looks from Xavier and Tenner, thought better of it.
Despite the heat, Scott felt the summer ending. The way it had all ended. His youthful exuberance, his innocence, his marriage. A big blast of heat and then it was over, replaced by a dark, dull chill, the falling of leaves and cold, harsh wind. He’d lost the cycle, living in southern California, but Scott had always found renewal somehow, in the springs of his life. Until he lost Lorraine. And Kathy. That’s what it had been about, his moving up here. No spring this year. No new life. That’s what the projects were about. And now this monkey-wrench tossed into his gears.
Strange how things happen. Strange isn’t the word for it. What do you do now? Don’t think about that yet. Time for review. Contemplation. Germination.
“I can help,” Scott said hopefully when he returned to the cabin.
They sat in a semi-circle in front of the porch. Xavier worked his blackened fingers slowly, clenching and releasing. They’d been talking, planning.
“I’m an electrical engineer,” Scott stated.
Xavier looked skeptical.
“I am,” Scott insisted.
“I guess you are,” Xavier said. “You electrocuted us pretty well.”
“I can help,” Scott insisted. “I don’t understand your contraption, but I know components.”
Scott saw Xavier didn’t believe he could be of any use.
“At least I can hide you here,” Scott insisted. “I can go to town and get what you need. I can buy food. I can make sure no one knows you’re out here.”
Xavier still didn’t look convinced.
“I can handle a soldering iron and you can’t,” Scott added, pointing at Xavier’s hands. Xavier smiled and wriggled his fingers to prove Scott wrong.
“He can help collect samples,” Yula joined in.
“Are you a botanist, too?” Xavier asked sarcastically.
They’re making fun of you. Who the hell are they? They’re stealing your trees because they killed all their own.
“Okay, we’ll get started now,” Xavier said, cutting short Scott’s building irritation. “We’ll make another list.”
Tenner escorted Yula in one direction while Scott and Xavier headed to the cabin.
Tenner’s jealous. It’s in his face. But Xavier controls him. Xavier knows you like Yula. He’s pushing Yula on you. Tenner doesn’t like it. But he will obey. Trouble.
“You’re right,” Xavier said as they entered the cabin.
“Tenner claims Yula for his mate.”
Scott nodded. Xavier is smarter than he looks. Oh, he’s smart all right. Brilliant. Keep your eye on him.
copyright 2007 Brenda H all rights reserved
[tags]Brenda H, sci-fi, novel, thriller, book, fiction, science-fiction, [/tags]