Author’s Note: Vanishing is an alternate version of Kismet, a story now available at Amazon. I tried to get the attention of book publishers with this chapter (along with two more chapters, which I will post in the next few days). I never had any takers, but I never gave up on the story.
“Don’t think me insane,” the old woman said. “You are my mother.”
Lisa Evans, a twenty-something redhead, remained smiling politely, though a frown had bitten into her otherwise unblemished forehead.
“Surely you’re joking,” she said from her seat at Carol’s Diner.
The old woman across the table said, “As I told you on the phone, my name is Nancy Pennwater Stephenson. I’m from Pittsburgh and I have a book that proves much of what I’m about to tell you.” She sniffled, took a Kleenex from her white wool coat wrapped tightly around her, and brought it shakily to her blue nose. Her nails were painted poppy red and matched the color of her lipstick. She shivered despite the June day’s sudden heat wave that had made its way inside the small air-conditioned diner.
Lisa stirred her cup of tea and looked around. Except for two Amish fellows at the front counter, they were alone.
She said, “Look, I’m twenty-five. You’re definitely much too old to be my daughter.” She smiled kindly, unsure of how to proceed. “You understand that, don’t you?”
“I’m not senile.” Nancy returned the Kleenex to her pocket. “Nor am I insane.” With two wrinkled, blue-gray hands, she hefted her large, black leather purse from her lap and placed it next to her cup of tea on the table. “Before I show you the book,” she said, “I need to explain who I am and why you must believe me.” She picked up her cup and blew at the tea inside before she slurped. “Delicious,” she said. Then, “My father—I mean, the man who raised me—was a physician—Henry Pennwater. He was passing through Ridgewood in 1934, visiting a friend after both had attended a convention at Philadelphia. This friend, Dr. William Geddes, used to vacation here at a place called Alice Lake. Henry claimed it’s very beautiful there.
“The two of them—Henry and Geddes—were hiking along a ridgeline behind the lake and Geddes’s cottage when they discovered a young woman injured and in shock. She went into a coma before the two were able to get her to the cottage where they further treated her injuries. They later transported her to a facility in Philadelphia where she resided in a coma for nine years.
“During her first months while comatose, it became obvious to the hospital staff that the woman—their mysterious Jane Doe patient—was pregnant. I was born eight months later. However, I would never know this until just a few years ago when, on her deathbed, Rachel—Henry’s sister—told me about Jane giving birth to me while in a coma.”
Nancy took a black leather book from her purse. She said, “Henry took me in when no relatives of my mother’s were found. He and Rachel raised me. For years, I was Rachel’s daughter, even when Jane—that’s what we called you. No one knew your identity until—”
“Excuse me,” Lisa said, leaning closer and lowering her voice. “I can see that you believe what you’re telling me, but—”
“Listen. You were brought to us after you awoke from your coma nine years later. I took this photograph of you with my Instamatic camera a year later.” Nancy took a black and white photograph from the book and handed it to Lisa. When Lisa reluctantly took it, a quick spark of static electricity snapped at her fingers. She flinched but gripped the photo and raised it to the daylight streaming through the window at her left. A sad-looking woman stared back at her from a wheelchair. Her anorexic body was lost in an oversized sweatshirt and Capri slacks, and her pale face looked very much like Lisa’s.
“Okay,” Lisa said. “There is a slight resemblance.” She turned the photo over. On the back, someone had elegantly written in blue ink, Jane—1943. “But I never lived during this time.”
“The coma left your body twisted and crippled and in excruciating pain. And your short-term memory was completely nonexistent—you could never remember one day from the next, which caused you grief and torment—you wanted so much to remember your past. But the drugs Henry gave you kept you sedated most of the time.”
Lisa tossed the photo back to the table’s center, then searched Nancy’s face for a glimmer that she was pulling a cruel hoax on her. There was no glimmer, not even the smallest inkling.
She said, “And how did I manage to give birth to you in 1939—”
“1940. The thirteenth of February. I missed being a valentine baby by one day.”
Lisa looked away. Outside the window next to her, Franklin Street in Ridgewood glowed in the sunlight. Three normal, sane boys on bicycles rode by, each in matching summer attire of white T-shirts and blue jeans. Her husband and family and friends were out there, too, among the sane. And until the phone call earlier, she had considered talking her husband into readying the patio grill for supper that evening. Something a lot of sane people did.
“Okay,” she said as she returned her attention on Nancy, “you drove from Pittsburgh, called me from this diner and convinced me to meet with you, just to tell me … what? That I somehow lived in the past, fell into a coma, and gave birth to you? Why? And more importantly, why would you think anyone would believe such a story?”
“Because,” Nancy said, “as crazy as it seems, it’s true.” She held up a hand to stifle Lisa’s protest. “When I was fifteen, I became interested in nursing and medicine and the ideal of eradicating all diseases. I convinced Henry to allow me to start you on an exercise program—physical therapy we call it today.
“During those several months, your health began to improve, so Henry decreased your pain medicine. That’s when you began to confide in me and tell me about ovens that could cook food in seconds, and people communicating to each other through their television sets and sending photographs by telephone. I never believed you, of course; it was 1949, after all.”
She held up the black book. “I kept a daily journal of everything you told me. It’s all here, just as you described it to me, including your name, your husband’s name, and your parents, along with dates, addresses and phone numbers” She placed the photograph inside the book. “Of course, I attributed those so-thought illusions to whatever had put you in your coma. But years later, after I came across my journal, I did some investigating. The information inside matches everything you told me all those years ago.” She held out the book for Lisa to take.
Lisa reached for the book and felt sudden heat emit from its cover. She hesitated, then took hold of the book. A surge of electricity filled her fingers and shot pain through her hand and wrist and into her elbow. She recoiled from the offering, dropping the book in the middle of the table. She cursed at the pain that throbbed inside her hand and arm as she pushed her way out of her seat and stood. She said, “I don’t know why you chose me to screw with, lady, but—”
“I’m sorry about the static electricity,” Nancy said. She rubbed her hand where she had been shocked as well. “I think it has to do with the you in the past touching the book and leaving on it an electrical signature … scientific extrapolation of which I don’t fully understand.”
“Well, whatever it is, you can keep it to yourself.” Lisa pulled two dollars from a pocket of her brown cargo pants, slapped the bills on the table, then said, “This conversation is over.”
“You killed yourself,” Nancy said, hissing the words. “When your memories returned, you couldn’t live with the truth, couldn’t live without David. I’m trying to keep that from happening again.”
“Get some help, Nancy. It’s obvious you believe in something totally impossible.”
“Please, Lisa, it’s going to happen again. You said there was an earthquake before you fell, before you traveled from this time to—”
“Stop it.” Lisa lowered her voice. “Listen to yourself. How can you really think—”
Lisa paused, surprised by the sudden … revelation, or lucky guess? Then she said, “No, I’m not.”
“Test it. Prove me wrong. But I know the morning sickness has started. Everything you told me all those years ago is about to happen again if you don’t stop it now. And the first thing you must do is stay off Myers Ridge. That’s where the crystal cave is, the one you fell into, the one charged by electricity by the lightning storm.”
Lisa placed her palms on the table and glared at Nancy.
“I’ve explored many caves at the ridge,” she said, “and there’s no crystal cave. And what’s more important: there’s no such thing as time travel. Now do yourself a favor and find a good psychiatrist.”
She pushed away and hurried toward the front door.
“Wait,” Nancy said. Then, “It’s up to you to change things,” she called out. “Change the future.” She lowered her voice as Lisa stormed outdoors. “Change the future for all of us.”
[To be continued…]