Celeste paused on the threshold of the log cabin that leaned to one side, ready to topple.
Ramon peered out of the woods at the woman who had just arrived.
Which would topple first Celeste wondered? Her, standing on 60-year old knees that wobbled with fatigue. Or the log cabin thrice as old?
A porch spanned the front of the cabin. Its ends sagged worn from exposure to the Kentucky weather, giving it the appearance of a frown, an almost human appearance. Her hand braced against the ancient wood doorway. The door held tight with a wooden latch which told of a lifetime of use. She remembered it being much higher, just above her head.
From the edge of the woods an unshaven man wearing denim and plaid chambered a round.
Faintest memories teased her mind. Memories of a childhood filled with flower dresses, wearing nothing underneath. Of a barefoot boy in faded denim overalls, shirtless and hair tossed like straw. A woman whose arms hung like hams, who smelled of lilac and wood smoke. A man, tall and lean, with hands the roughness of telephone poles. And the car that took her away.
Her hand paused on the latch as she strained to remember inside. One large room. A wood stove to the left. A bed to the right. A dining table made from planks cut from the forest. The tiny loft where she and her brother slept. Where they tried to hide when the people came for them.
70 yards to his target, an easy shot if needed, thought the man with the rifle.
She never married. No kids. Couldn’t allow what was done to her happen to a child of her own.
She pulled her hand from the latch and turned from the door. Sat on the edge of the porch, feet on the ground, her knees uncomfortably high. Her eyes scanned the tree line which merged indistinctly with the grass and weeds which covered her memories of a barren dirt yard. The tree line where she last saw her brother, running away. Crying.
The man lowered his rifle. Squinted at the intruder through eyes that never needed glasses.
Celeste looked in vain for the spot where a boy once scratched a circle in the dirt with a stick; where a brother tried to fit a marble between a sister’s thumb and finger; where a sack of river stones worn round from the winter melt bonded a brother and sister.
She turned her head back toward the door, weighing the happiness of her childhood memories against the sadness of the reality of what might lie within. She nubbed a tear with a knuckle. She told herself long ago she would never cry again. She stood and faced the breeze. Never again, she whispered to herself.
Leaving, Celeste turned toward the nearly hidden trail that wove through blackberry thickets now barren and out of season. Walked beneath the shade of an ancient maple standing solitaire among an even more ancient fortress of pines. Stopped and toed a round stone in the dirt as the back of her neck tingled. Turned with a startle as a vaguely familiar but much older male voice called her name.
So powerful. It sounds like childhood abuse relived by an old woman. Loved “nubbed a tear” which is so perfect. You leave us in an agony of wondering about the “much older male voice.” You’re in fine form here!
It was summer. The cabin was located on the edge of a clearing that had once been a plowed field, but was now an overgrown meadow making its way back to the forest that surrounded it. Shafts of brilliant sunlight played across its crooked moss covered roof as a light breeze tickled the limbs of the ancient American chestnut that completely sheltered the tiny building from the sky above.
The meadow was filled with the sweet scent of a thousand species competing in the all-to-brief days of summer for a chance to reproduce. Clouds of insects hovered over the Black-eyed Susans, Day lilies, Asters, and all the rest. There was the sound of a distant woodpecker somewhere among the countless old-growth trees. The chestnut leaves rustled in the breeze above the cabin. It was midmorning on a warm summer day.
It was not so much a sound as it was a sensation. At least that’s how the few people who have experienced it describe it. It lasted for little more than a second, but it was enough to cause a flock of small birds feeding in the meadow to take flight. The insects responded as well, becoming scattered in flight and no longer focused on the sweetness of the plants. On the cabin roof, a squirrel slipped on the moss, slid to the edge, and fell motionless to the ground.
Then there was nothing. For minutes there was nothing. And then, as nature began the slow return to the rituals of summer, a single deafening crack broke across the meadow.
Celeste reminded herself not to be afraid, although she always was when she traveled. Most important, she knew, was to keep her eyes open. “Eyes open,” she said aloud standing in what appeared to be total darkness.
It worked, as it always had. Slowly, she could see horizontal slices of light criss-crossing the surface she was standing on. Not a surface really, but a floor. A wooden floor. The cabin. The Designers had done it again. They were getting good.
As her eyes became better adjusted, Celeste scanned her surroundings. She was in the middle of a dank, awful smelling space that appeared to be built of tree trunks. Smells aside, she had to smile at the thought of “being in the middle,” because she knew the spot where she was standing was almost certainly the geometric center of the space to within the “theoretical limits of the system.” A phrase she had heard often in the preceding weeks.
Satisfied that things were as they should be, she reached back and undid the chain that held a large cameo around her neck. Even in the dim light it looked stunning. Truly an amazing piece of art. Yet, the deeply cut ivory profile of a beautiful young woman with large bouncy curls cast against a light blue background was no such thing. Celeste placed her thumb over the image of the woman and the illusion of the cameo dissolved into a series of data points known as the Entry Display.
The most important of the initial readings was to assess the effectiveness of “The Bomb.” The bomb was not actually an explosive device. It was a safety precaution designed to ‘cleanse’ the site prior to arrival. Essentially, ‘the bomb’ was a steep gradient radiological device intended to kill all animal life within a (limited) ten meter radius. There had been considerable controversy over using the bomb, even when traveling to so-called isolated sites. Had there been people in the cabin, they would certainly have been killed. The chances of this however, according to extensive mathematical modeling, was infinitesimally small. On the other hand, The Organizer had reminded Celeste that if there was a bear in the cabin, she would most certainly be killed. Celeste opted for the bomb.
The second order of business was location, and possibly even more important, time. Location and time were problems that had taken a great deal of effort, and even blood, to overcome. Location was solved by placing beacons at known points throughout the world. There were many spots that were relatively easy to identify, such as the peak of Everest, Old Faithful, or even the center of the Collect Pond at the southern tip of Manhattan Island, which could be used as points for triangulation. Assumptions involving plate tectonics and other surface movement variables had been refined over time such that location inside the allowable event window could be determined to within half a meter.
Time proved somewhat more challenging. It was easy to time-code the beacons, but there was no reference to do so. The only available references were recorded historical events, and it took a great deal of time to wait for these to happen. There were, tragically, several people who had sacrificed their lives in the quest for accurate time. Ironically, as more data was collected, it soon became obvious that certain events were recorded in error. Fortunately, the discrepancy was seldom more than a few days, but time remained a problem if the event window was sufficiently wide.
Thanks in large part to the number of important events that occurred in the 18th century, time accuracy was not a problem for Celeste. She looked down at the cameo. She was located at 39°59’2.64”N, 75°53’50.18”W. The Julian day number was 2391479, and it was half past ten o’clock local time.
Author’s note – Celeste is 60 kilometers west of Philadelphia. The date is July 19th, 1835.
Celeste restored the cameo with a touch of her thumb, and looked to find the door. Forcing it free from the crooked frame, she was instantly overcome with the beauty of the meadow beyond. She paused for a moment on the twisted old porch to take it in.
Ramon peered out of the woods at the woman standing in front of the cabin. He took his watch out of the breast pocket of his old hunting coat and touched the intricately engraved gold cover. Her name was Celeste Dupree, point of departure, Rouen, France, speciality, moteur à vapeur.
Ramon touched the watch again and returned it to his pocket. “I hope to hell she speaks English,” he muttered, starting for the cabin. “The damn train will be here in an hour, and I don’t have time for parly voo francine.”
You are such a nut! Okay, I’m sorry to be so casual, but who, but you, could turn this challenge into a futuristic, time-traveling, moment, still populated by people we think we know. Aaaaiiyyaah, you’re good.
A Plot Wants to Erupt
The cabin is old. How old? Older than dirt my grandmother used to say. If it had been built in the middle of a field, images of it would warm you from prints in suburban living rooms. But this one is hidden from a photographer’s lens. Tall, thick barked Douglas Fir mixed with untidy bush alder form a maze like barrier discouraging any sort of unexpected visitor. Hand peeled fir logs from parents of those still standing stacked in a small square and chinked to slow the entry of winter’s breath. That was years ago. Now the walls were slowly succumbing to the sod roof, the cabin no longer standing tall but stretching to one side under the weight.
Ramon had discovered the cabin on a hunting trip when he was barely 21 years old and had come back every year after that. Eventually he spent more than just the few weeks in the fall and this gradually became his home and town a necessary evil for staples that he could not grow or make for himself.
At times he thought about building his own place, starting from scratch, but the cabin had held up for this long and it was good enough for what he needed.
He was a little over 30 when met Celeste at the Co-op. She worked the counter there and he looked forward to those times when they would chat. He told her about where he lived, the quiet open air, the deer that visited daily, the grey mist of the morning that lifted slowly like the velvet curtains on a live theatre stage. He told her about the solitude as well, the darkness of winter and the times that he thought spring would never come.
This was one of those springs. The lion of winter had roared in February, bringing more and more snow, and it had not turned to a lamb until the first week of April. Ramon celebrated the sunshine by hiking to the nearby creek and managed to land a brook trout large enough for two night’s dinner.
He was almost home when he heard a vehicle slowly making its way along the rutted path that lead to his cabin. He had no family, and never visitors. He stopped and watched.
Celeste saw the cabin and loosened the death grip she had on the steering wheel. This was probably the stupidest thing she had ever done, but she had run through the scenario so many times in her mind and knew that it was she that needed to take the leap of faith.
She shoved her battered Datsun into park, turned off the ignition and got out. As she walked up to the cabin she could feel herself unconsciously leaning to one side, mirroring the cabin’s list. She could see the remaining feed he had bought the last time he was in the store stacked on the porch. The axe was at the ready in the chopping block sporting a new handle with Co-op stamped on its side. She made her way up onto the porch and Celeste paused on the threshold of that log cabin that leaned to one side, ready to topple and took a deep breath.
Ramon peered out of the woods at the woman who had just arrived. He had not seen or spoken to a sole for more than 4 months. Was this the dream that he had had so often this winter? Dream or not, he strode toward the cabin and called out, “I have dinner for us both, I would be pleased if you could stay.”
Who would have thought that the vague sentences of the challenge would result in such a poignant romance? Seriously, I’d read this book if this was the first two pages.
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by Ann Linquist
Available in paperback or on Kindle