A Step Back In Time
By Trish Hubschman
He was eager to get to the top of the lighthouse. It seemed to be taking forever. His movements were slow. He was perspiring heavily.. Around the last landing he went and up the last flight of stairs. With a burst of energy, he took two steps at a time.
The young woman who worked on that level who gave the history speech was in her usual place. “Lovely morning,” he said.
She smiled. “Bright and sunny, great for taking pictures,” she agreed.
That it was. He patted his side pocket to check for the tool of his trade as a freelance photographer. It was there, of course.
Nodding to the woman, Doug slipped through the opening onto the outer observation deck. Before getting out his cell phone, which he had specially equipped with internal zoom camera lenses and other features, Doug took in the sights of the world around him. Taking a deep, soothing breath, he reached into his pocket and took out his phone. He held it up and started snapping pictures. He got deeply lost in it.
“Douglas, the meal is going to be on the table shortly. When are you coming down? It’s much too early for you to be up here anyway. The ships that are coming in won’t need your light till after the sun goes down,” an unexpected female voice said from behind him.
Startled at the intrusion and confused by what had been said, Doug whirled around. Behind him was the young woman he had seen moments earlier inside the tower. Something was different, besides what he had just heard her say. He squinted his eyes and stared at her. It was her clothing! Earlier, she had been dressed in jeans and a t-shirt. Now she was wearing a long flowing skirt with an apron tied around it and black, high-button boots.
What was going on here?
Doug glanced upward to the sky, trying to figure it out. Maybe in his exhausted state from climbing the steep steps and his haste to get out onto the landing and begin work, he hadn’t noticed her attire, but, no, he was sure the mistake wasn’t his own.
“I beg your pardon?” he asked, his confusion growing. “I’m afraid I don’t understand what’s going on.’ He was about to explain his reason for being up here. The shaking of her head and the worried frown on her face stopped him.
She stepped forward, her arm stretched out to touch him. Instinctively, he took a step back, then halted. He suddenly noticed that there was no protective rail around the observation deck of the tower. Hadn’t there been one there before? “Gracious, Douglas, it’s the bright sun and heat up here this time of day that’s getting you confused and you need some rest. You’ve been working much too hard, but till now, there hasn’t been any other choice, I know and I feel bad about that. Michael’s still only a boy and too young to help out up here.” She had taken his arm and was leading him back to the tower entrance, talking as they moved. “Your brother, Charles, will be coming along soon. We got a letter from him last week, remember?” she posed.
He had no idea what she was talking about but he didn’t say anything. At the bottom of the stairs, they passed through the entrance of the lighthouse back into the bright sunshine. Doug stopped. There had been a breezeway connecting the main building with the tower before. He didn’t have time to speculate. Suddenly, the door of the dwelling that had housed the museum and gift shop earlier but looked more rustic now, swung open and a boy, around eight, stood in it. To Doug’s astonishment, he too was dressed like he had come out of the TV series, Little House On The Prairie.
“Ma, Pa, Mary’s run the cat up the chimney again,” he announced.
The woman grunted and released Doug’s arm. He was tempted to flex it, feeling a strange sense of freedom, but he fought the urge. “I’ll go check on what terrors Mary has reeked on that little kitty,” she said, picking up her skirt and heading toward the door of the house. “You take your Pa down to the well to wash up for the midday meal, Michael. He’s not feeling too well, all that sunshine up there, so you keep an eye on him, you hear?”
Michael stepped away from the doorway to let the woman pass and moved to Doug, taking his arm. “Sure thing, Ma. Come on, Pa.”
Doug went along without question. Certain things were a little clearer now. He knew who Michael was, about how old and that the boy was his son, or the woman and her husband’s son. He still couldn’t figure out who she was, why she thought he was her husband or how to explain this back-to-the-past bit. Could this be for real? No, of course not, it was silly. He didn’t believe in such things. Time travel was science fiction.
“Mary sounds like a little rascal,” Doug commented. He had no idea who Mary was or how old but he needed to find out some information and he didn’t want the boy, his son, to think he was an oddball.
“Sure is, but she’s only five and is still too little to know better,” Michael said. He puffed out his chest. “I’m eight, almost nine.”
Unable to resist, Doug reached out and ruffled the boy’s hair. He didn’t know if that was a commonplace action wherever or whenever he was. Michael didn’t seem to mind. “How about your Ma?”
Michael squinted suspiciously. Doug stiffened, fearful that he had lost the boy but then Michael brightened. “I don’t know how old she is? Older than me, I’m sure, but younger than Grandpa Dubmark.”
A chuckle slipped from Doug’s throat. Now that sounded like something a kid would say! “That’s not exactly what I meant but all right,” Doug conceded, trying another tactic. He tapped his forehead. “Why is your Uncle Charles coming to visit?”
The boy sniffed distastefully. “Ma says with Aunt Olivia gone, Uncle Charles is lonesome and should be with family, us, and that’s why he’s coming out and we’ve got to welcome him,” Michael said. It made sense to Doug. He sensed there was something more but he didn’t press. “Aunt Livvy was sick a long time. Ma was always going out there to take care of her and be with Uncle Charles, leaving us here. I think she liked them better than us.” The boy’s face tightened.
Doug’s reaction was quick. “I’m sure that’s not true, Michael,” he protested. “Your Ma loves you and your sister.” Her husband too, he was sure, though it wasn’t him.
Michael poked his nose higher in the air. “I know she does but we missed her and this going to take care of Aunt Livvy started before I was born. Why did Ma go out to your brother’s without you Pa?” he asked.
That did stop Doug but he came up with a quick answer that he hoped would satisfy the boy. “There was nobody else to do it,” he posed. Michael said nothing. Doug lightened the mood. “In a few years, you can help me up there,” he added. Michael smiled and the woman called them in for lunch. As they complied, Doug wished he could ask the boy his mother’s name.
. . .
He might have liked Charles under different circumstances but with what the boy had told him and the way the woman looked at Charles when he entered the house, Doug didn’t feel comfortable about him. Her face glowed and her eyes sparkled. A woman didn’t look at a man like that –unless she was infatuated with him.
“Oh, Charles, we’re so glad that you’ve come out to help put him to bed and check for a fever,” she said.
Charles gave her a winning smile. It burned Doug. “Much obliged, Miranda. Family helps family and, you know, I’ll always be there for mine.” He glanced at Doug, and then Michael. Doug ignored him. He had just learned the woman’s name, Miranda.
“How long you staying?” Doug asked.
“Douglas, that’s not an appropriate question,” Miranda scolded.
Charles waved it off. “As long as I’m needed here.” He glanced at Miranda. She noticeably became nervous. Sweeping past Charles to Doug’s side, she took his arm. Her hands were cold and shaking.
“Let’s go off with you and put you to bed,” she instructed. Doug felt like he was being rushed from the room. “Michael, take Uncle Charles’ bags into your room. You can sleep in the barn.”
The boy whined but complied, going over to retrieve his uncle’s saddle bags. Charles intervened. “No, that’s not necessary, Miranda. Let the boy keep his room, I’ll sleep in the barn.”
An uncomfortable silence came over the room. Finally, Miranda moved. “That’s very kind of you, Charles. Well, let’s all get started.” She hustled Doug up the stairs, while Charles picked up his own bags and headed out the side door.
. . .
“We made a mistake,” Miranda pleaded to Charles. He shook his head. His arms were wrapped around her. He pulled her tight against him. “I didn’t ask you here to rekindle what we once had.” Her request for his help had been legitimate, for her husband.
His head still shook. “The flame never died, Miranda, for either of us. You still love me. Can you say you don’t?” he dared. She couldn’t. His lips met hers and held for a moment. “We belong together and always have. We can be a family now. we can take our son and go off together.”
She squirmed in his arms. No, there’s Doug and Mary too. I can’t just leave her or Douglas. It would look bad.”
He eased his hold on her. There was a mischievous glint in his eyes. “Mmm, okay then, I’ve got another plan. Tonight, up in the lighthouse. Make sure he comes up. I’ll be up there, with a little ambush. Nobody will know.”
She didn’t like it. “He’s a good man, Charles. He doesn’t deserve to suffer because of our sins.”
“Do I deserve to be punished?” he said. She knew he didn’t. This whole thing was her fault. Now she had to pay the price.
He pulled her against him and began nuzzling her neck. Despite her insistence to herself that this was all wrong Miranda began to relax in his arms and enjoy it. She giggled.
Ducking low behind a haystack to keep from being discovered, Michael had to fight back tears and fury. He loved his Pa, the one inside the house, the one he’d always known. He’d never cared for his uncle, the man who had really fathered him. He had to warn his Pa in the house before it was too late.
. . .
Doug was climbing the steep lighthouse again. He was supposed to be resting, that’s what Miranda had told him, and he could still be, pretend that nothing had changed, but he had to put an end to this once and for all. Michael had told him what he had seen in the barn. It hadn’t surprised Doug, though it had badly shaken the boy.
Doug reached the top landing. He wasn’t as winded as he’d been when he had climbed it earlier that day. The situation that awaited him was dire and dangerous and had to be taken with the utmost seriousness. What would he say to Charles when he confronted him? What would Charles say to him?
“Miranda sent you up?” came a voice from the shadows.
“No, Michael did,” Doug replied. There was an intake of breath from the shadows. Doug turned to face where he sensed Charles to be. Charles came out, pistol raised in front of him. Doug didn’t flinch. “So he knows?’ Charles asked. “It’s probably for the best. Now we don’t have to explain it to him.”
That statement annoyed Doug. “How are you going to explain this to him?” Doug gestured to the stone landing they were both on. Charles’ eyes peered downward. It would have been the perfect time to tackle Charles but Doug wanted to hear everything first. Charles glanced up.
“Why does he have to know anything?” Charles asked. “I shoot you and you fall off the side or you just fall off the side because you don’t want to be shot.”
Doug nodded his head, saying nothing, giving the impression that he was thinking about it. Finally, he shook his head. “No, I definitely don’t like the second idea.”
With that, Charles’ arm came up higher, straighter, the barrel of the pistol made a clicking noise. Doug knew it was now or never. This is what he played football for in college. It was just a matter of hair-trigger timing. Doug bent low as the gun went off and tackled Charles in the belly. The other man went down and the gun went flying.
Doug was on top of Charles punching him the face. He wanted to get him onto his stomach, his hands behind his back, then what? He had nothing to tie them with. Maybe they’d stay like that till somebody came up and helped them or shot him to help Charles. While Doug was thinking about his options, Charles managed to push him off, knocking Doug backwards. But Charles wasn’t fast enough to pounce. Doug’s foot came up and knocked Charles back but he didn’t fall down. The two men met head on and went down together, rolling over and grappling on the stone landing, until they reached the edge and Charles went over the side. Huffing and puffing, Doug pushed himself onto his knees and leaned over the edge of the tower. He was shocked and horrified. Slowly, getting to his feet, Doug glanced over his shoulder to the entrance to the tower stairs, relieved that no one had come up. He didn’t want to hurt Miranda and whatever way this ended up, she would be hurt. Possibly, the sheriff would appear, arrest him and he would be hanged. What was he to do now?
He wanted to go home, back to his own time. Without giving it any thought, he started walking forward. When he reached the end of the tower, he kept on going, never plummeted, never felt pain, never sensed or knew anything. He was just back in the past and then he was back in his own time.
. . .
“Hey, Mister,” called a boy’s voice from behind him on the landing. “You’ve been up here for a long time, staring out into space. You okay?”
The cell phone camera was in his hands again, Doug lowered it and turned to face the concerned boy. He was about eight or nine years old and seemed familiar. He was wearing mid-calf shorts, a dirty white t-shirt and sneakers that looked a size too big. Doug smiled knowingly. Where he had just been he didn’t know, but he knew for sure that he was back and was relieved.
“I’m fine,” he replied. “Too much fresh air and sunshine can affect the clear thinking,” he said philosophically, and then laughed. The boy didn’t understand. Doug held up the cell phone. “I’ve got a reason for being up here. What about you?” he asked.
He answered without hesitation. “My mom works up here.” He gestured to the doorway behind him. “Her name’s Mira, I’m Mike. We’re descendants of the lighthouse family,” he added. “Maybe Mom can tell you more about the history. It’s pretty cool.”
Doug already knew that. He knew far more than anyone would believe.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR…
RATINGS GAME (TALK SHOW QUEEN)
by Trish Hubschman (C 2019)
In print ($9.50) and e-book ($2.99) from Amazon, Smashwords, and other online sellers.
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Trish Hubschman has three previous Tracy Gayle mysteries in print: The Fire, Unlucky Break, and Stiff Competition (Miss America).
Synopsis of Ratings Game:
The Danny Tide story continues.
Somebody’s trying to kill the rock star’s second wife, talk–show hostess Blair Nelson. Danny and Tracy, now a couple expecting a baby, get pulled into it because Danny finally agrees to do an interview with his ex–wife. She’s been bugging him for a while.
That evening, after a draining day at Blair’s studio, when Danny and Tracy are home in bed, Danny’s phone goes off. It’s his and Blair’s daughter, Liz, announcing that she found her mother unconscious on her bathroom floor. Blair ingested a drug overdose.
Who would want to eliminate the talk show queen, and why? Could the perpetrator be Blair’s housekeeper? Her personal assistant? The owner of the television station? The show’s producer? Even Danny and Liz are on the suspect list.
Everyone had opportunity, but no one has a motive. They’re all devoted to Blair. They need Blair to wake up and give them some answers.
Editing, cover design, print layout, and e-book conversion are by DLD Books Editing and Self-Publishing Services, www.dldbooks.com. Cover photo is by Joshua Hanson on Unsplash.