Changing the Future, a Story
A Fourth of July gig at The Roundhouse had ARC scheduled to play at seven o’clock that evening. Vree’s parents now owned the old roller rink and they were happy to have a house band that featured their daughter.
I played an okay harmonica and Amy asked me weeks in advance to play during some of the songs that night. She even listed me on posters as a member of the band after I agreed to play.
A half-hour before starting time, I went in search of Vree. She liked to sit inside the walk-in refrigerator before performances so she would stay cooler longer on stage. I sat with her and practiced tunes on my harmonica.
Ten minutes before seven, Vree left the refrigerator to use the toilet one last time before the show. I stayed behind, closed my eyes, and listened to the muffled sounds of teenagers filling the dining hall beyond the kitchen. I didn’t hear the refrigerator door open and close, or the old woman take a seat on the stool next to the shelves of lettuce and tomatoes. My mind was on my music when she coughed.
My eyes flew open and I sat up on my stool.
“Are you Steve Campbell?” she asked, then sniffled and took a Kleenex from her white sweater wrapped tightly around her, and brought it shakily to her blue nose with a wrinkled, blue-gray hand. Her painted nails matched her bright red lipstick. “Of course you are,” she said between dabs with the Kleenex. “It’s all in the book.”
“What book? Do you mean the stories I’m writing?” I asked.
“Don’t think me insane,” she said. “You are my father.”
“What?” I’m pretty sure I yelped.
“It’s true.” She shivered for a second from the refrigerator’s cool air circulated by a large, slow-moving fan overhead. “My name is Nancy Pennwater Stephenson. My father, the man who raised me, was a physician—Henry Pennwater, from Pittsburgh. He was vacationing at Ridgewood in 1904, at a cottage at Alice Lake, and was hiking along a ridgeline behind the lake when he discovered a young woman injured and in shock. She went into a coma before he could get her to the local hospital. He later transported her to a private facility in Pittsburgh where she resided in a coma for nine years. That young woman’s name was Verawenda Erickson.”
“Is this a joke?” I glanced at the door, waiting for someone to enter and yell “Surprise.”
“It’s no joke.” Nancy returned the Kleenex to her pocket, then pulled a large, black leather purse from the floor and placed it on her lap. “Before I show you this book, I need to explain who I am and why you must believe me.”
I glanced at my Timex wristwatch. I had five minutes.
“Your parents gave you that watch on your fifteenth birthday,” Nancy said. “Or, that’s what Vree told me.”
“How do you know Vree?” I asked.
“I told you. She’s my mother.”
I said nothing. Ridgewood was a weird place, but this was too weird.
Nancy said, “During her first months while comatose, it became obvious to the hospital staff that their mysterious Jane Doe patient was pregnant. I was born seven months later via caesarean delivery.” She took a black leather book from her purse and held it to her breast. “Henry took me in and raised me. He took Vree in, too, after she awoke from her coma. She suffered amnesia until last year while she was dying.”
“Dying? Wait a minute—”
Nancy held up a hand. “I wrote down everything she told me when her memory returned. It’s all here, just as she described it to me, including how the two of you used to sit in this very same refrigerator before her band went on stage.”
How did she know this?
“Who are you?” I asked.
Nancy held out the book. “The answers are in here. Please read it. I’m trying to save her life. She must stay away from Myers Ridge.”
“But she lives there.”
“I know. Please read the book.”
When my hesitant hand finally took the book, a hard slap of static electricity stung my fingers and shot pain through my hand, down my arm and into my shoulder. I recoiled from the offering and dropped the book. Tears actually welled in my eyes.
“I have to go,” I said, no longer interested in being a part of this woman’s craziness.
“I’m sorry about the static,” Nancy said. “It’s all about electrical fields and time travel—things I don’t understand.”
I spun and hurried out the door. It banged against the outer wall. The kitchen was empty of Mrs. Erickson’s usual staff. They were in the dining hall serving sodas and popcorn at the bar.
“There will be lightning and an earthquake,” Nancy called out. “Vree said there was an earthquake before she fell.”
I dodged past the stainless steel table with pots and pans hanging overhead. I rubbed at my shoulder as I went.
“It’s going to happen again, unless you change things,” Nancy said as I charged into the busy dining hall. “Change the future for us all.”