Kismet is a short story that went through many rewrites before I presented it as part of The Ridgewood Chronicles series several years ago. This version is basically the story at Amazon, told in 4 chapters before I decided to rewrite it, add more chapters, and change the ending. Enjoy.
Copyright © Steven L Campbell
Heather gave Brian pajamas and slippers at Christmas. She didn’t read the diary. Instead, she mailed it to Aunt Peggy’s store.
Three days later, the diary returned. Heather knew it was the diary as soon as she took the package from the mailbox. She called her great-aunt.
“I’m bringing back the book,” she said.
“Read it,” Aunt Peggy said. “Please. You must.”
“Why are you doing this?”
“It’s the only way to stop it from happening again.” The line went dead.
Heather slowly opened the package. She had better things to do with her time than to entertain an aunt who was obviously crazy.
The diary stayed on the table untouched for several minutes before she opened it and whisked the photo of the crippled woman to the back of the book.
At the front, the pages began as scribbles by an unsteady hand.
Today, nine-year-old, Sara Burkhart, stands behind my enormous wheelchair and brushes my long hair.
“Don’t move, Jane,” she tells me with her usual hollow order. “I’m almost done.”
Static electricity from my hair fills the brush and irritates her.
“Stop that, Jane,” she says, as though I’m the one responsible for the electricity.
My name isn’t Jane. But I don’t tell her. It does no good to argue with her; I don’t know my name.
The mansion’s employees bring me to this parlor every morning to watch the traffic. Nurse Rachel hopes it will help bring back the memories of my past and fill an empty mind that’s become a blank slate. I’m supposed to write about anything that looks familiar, but nothing about Burkhart Mansion or the street outside looks even vaguely familiar.
Outside today, the snow-filled sloping lawn runs out to a large black iron fence where a snowplowed street lies beyond. There, an occasional large and angry-looking car or truck grumbles past me. I remember snow, but I don’t know why. Everything I know about myself—little as it is—came two months ago, after I awakened from a coma inside one of the large, upstairs bedrooms. Henry Burkhart, the man who owns this mansion, visited and told me about myself.
Henry is a cigar-smoking, black-haired man in his early forties with smartly styled wavy hair. He wore a shiny suit as dark as his steel-blue eyes that day, and a red silk tie that glistened bright against a white shirt. He spoke with an even, soothing voice, and gestured with clean white hands with manicured nails.
“It was a Sunday,” he told me, “nine years ago in August when I found you. I was hiking Myers Ridge, looking for arrowheads and whatnot.” He smiled pleasantly at me. “I’m an aggregator … a collector. Numismatist and philatelist, mostly.” I didn’t bother to interrupt him to find out what those words meant.
He said, “That’s when I found you unconscious and near death at the bottom of a ravine not far from the highway. I could tell your legs were broken, so I fashioned a stretcher with my jacket and got you to my car where I drove you to the hospital. You were nine years in a coma while the authorities tried to find out who you are. You had no identification.”
At this point, Henry looked me the way I imagine he looks at an unusual artifact. “No family has ever been found. That’s why the hospital released you to me.” He frowned then, as though discovering a flaw in me. “Your fingerprints have revealed nothing, which isn’t a bad thing. It simply means we may never know who you are … unless your memory returns. Until then, you’re a living Jane Doe, which is why I call you Jane.”
I saw no malevolence on his face when he said, “Until your memory returns or someone recognizes you as family, my home is yours.”
I managed to tell him how thankful I was. I still am.
Heather skipped a few months ahead. There, the handwriting became stronger—familiar.
The weather is stormy. I don’t care for lightning. My head hurts when there’s a storm.
Henry is overseas on a business trip. The war over there has everyone on edge.
I saw Sara’s teacher for the first time today. I watched curiously from my wheelchair as Doris the housekeeper answered the door and let in Sara’s red-haired teacher. After Miss Johnson removed her fur coat and gave it to the housekeeper, she came to Nurse Rachel and me waiting for the elevator. She ushered a friendly good morning to us, whereupon I sensed a familiarity with the woman. It wrestled with the constant cloudiness in my mind as something—a memory, I think—tried to surface. The clouds parted for a moment and I saw Miss Johnson dead, lying in an open coffin. I knew I was seeing Miss Johnson in the future because her face and hands appeared very old.
I cried out then.
The clouds returned; dizziness overcame me and my senses spiraled into a smoky darkness. I dimly heard Miss Johnson apologize for frightening me. When my vision cleared, Miss Johnson was gone and Rachel was peering into my eyes.
She pulled me into the elevator and took me to my room, whereupon she filled me with medicine and caused me to sleep most of the day.
Heather flipped to the last entry. She squirmed when she recognized the handwriting; there was no mistaking her own unique flourish.
As of last night, I know who I am.
I am not of this time.
I don’t know how I came here, or how I can ever go back. But it’s too late now; I took the pills.
They’ll bury me above a gravestone with the wrong name. I am Jane Doe.
They think I’m mad, that I’ve lost my senses when I tell them I’m from the future and that my name is Heather Stevens.
Heather threw down the book as though it had bitten her. She picked up the phone and dialed.
“Sara was Heather’s daughter,” Aunt Peggy said when Heather calmed down. “Your daughter.”
“The woman who died at your store?”
“I saw the uncanny resemblance in you and Sara when you and Brian moved here. Sara never resembled anyone in the Burkhart family. That was the tip-off. She eventually had her blood tested and discovered that Henry Burkhart was not her father. She finally sent some DNA to a friend who does genetic testing. The results came back last week.”
Heather moaned. “Please don’t say it,” she said, but Aunt Peggy continued.
“Sara was your daughter. Jane was you. You came from the future, pregnant, and gave birth while in a coma. No one knew. Henry Burkhart never told anyone.”
“That’s ridiculous. Preposterous. Impossible. Do you hear me? Impossible.”
“No. Stop it.”
“Heather, I … I—”
The phone clunked on the other end; Heather knew that it had been dropped.
The line was silent.