Art ~ Writing ~ Life

From Handprints To Footprints

Free Kismet Story, Chapter 4

May 27, 2014
Steve Campbell

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.

KISMET

Copyright © Steven L Campbell

FOUR

Darkness took away the heat and cooled her.  When she opened her eyes, she knew she had been asleep.  For how long, she wasn’t sure.  She wasn’t sure of anything, except that her throat hurt.  The bed she lay in was a stranger’s; unknown faces peered down at her.  She panicked, unable to breathe.  Someone pulled a long tube from her throat and she was able to breathe again.  Outside a window near her bed, rain fell in torrents against the glass.  Lightning lit up the sky and frightened her.

She knew not where she was or who she was, except that she was terrified of the lightning filling the sky.

* * *

Aunt Peggy lay in her hospital bed and stared weakly at Brian.  To the right of her, a January blizzard fell outside her window.  “Heather is trapped in the past.”

“So what can I do?”  Brian stared dumbly at the diary in his hands.  “The police think I’m crazy, that I killed my wife.”

“You have to save her.  You have to go back.  Keep her from killing herself.”

“How?”

“Go back to the cave.  The answer is there.”

“How can you be sure?”

“Because it is.  You have to believe.”  She closed her eyes.

Brian sat for an hour and listened to Aunt Peggy’s irregular breathing while he read again Jane’s diary.  Then he prayed.  For what it was worth, he got some satisfaction from begging to God.  When he stepped from the room, he knew, as crazy as it seemed to the rational part of his mind, that there had to be a way to save Heather.  And the answer did lie within those green crystals and lightning.

* * *

It was the third week of August, not long after a terrible thunderstorm had passed through Ridgewood, when some teenage boys hiking Magic Hill stumbled upon Brian Stevens’s Grand Cherokee parked atop a rise.  A police officer remembered Brian’s name and his incredible story about his wife disappearing inside the cave.

The guy was surely insane and had killed his wife, only they were never able to find her body to prove it.

Now, inside the cave once more, the officer and his partner found an overturned tent containing a sleeping bag, a dozen empty cases of canned spaghetti, soup and vegetables, and three one-gallon containers of water that would later turn out to be rainwater.  They also found some books about lightning, local history from the 1940s, and theories on time travel.

Once more, they found no one—not even a body—inside the cave.

* * *

The amnesic woman known as Jane sat slumped in her oversized wheelchair.  Nurse Rachel Watkins had parked Jane’s chair again in front of the parlor’s largest window so she could look out at the hilly, tree-lined block of neighborhood.  Rachel brought her here every morning and claimed that looking at the woodland section of Victorian houses could help bring back memories of Jane’s past.  Rachel had even bought her a diary so she could record her thoughts and memories inside.

Jane squinted past the silver-gray skylight stabbing through the large window.  It was July, but the Pennsylvania sky looked far from being a kind one.  Thunder sounded.  The Tuesday morning skylight outdoors darkened and threatened to pour down rain.  Alone, Jane looked at the silver wedding and engagement rings she wore and wondered what it was like to have a husband, to sit with, hand in hand, and watch it rain.

Lightning lit up the sky.  She looked again out the window.  Beyond the sloping lawn that ran to Henry Burkhart’s black iron gate barring the sidewalk, a man dressed in a long black raincoat stood at the bars.  A sleek blue car with lots of chrome was parked behind him.  Two boys in yellow plastic raincoats scurried past as the man looked through the bars at the house and the window.

He waved to her.

A flash of lightning and clap of thunder made her shoulders jump, but it was the stranger now striding through the gate and heading to the front door that made her heart beat faster.

She balled her hands into tight fists and listened for the sound of the doorbell.

Free Kismet Story, Chapter 3

May 19, 2014
Steve Campbell

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.

KISMET

Copyright © Steven L Campbell

THREE

Heather left Aunt Peggy’s hospital room and found comfort in Brian’s arms.  An intracerebral hemorrhage had left Aunt Peggy comatose.

“Let’s go,” Heather said.  She left ICU doctors and nurses busy lowering Aunt Peggy’s blood pressure and providing life support and comfort.

Odors of antiseptic and sanitizer alcohol wafted through the fluorescent-green hallway and mingled with last night’s waxing of the corridor’s cream-colored tiles.  Heather hurried Brian past that other smell, the pungent one that came from the dying.

Outside, the sky was cerulean and ultramarine, and the morning sun burned bright above the southern horizon.  Heather filled her lungs and left her parka open to the unseasonably warm weather.  The land was white and wet beyond the paved black landscape where Brian had parked his Grand Cherokee among four rows of gleaming vehicles.  Around them, the tiny hospital seemed too busy with traffic driving in and out of the visitors’ lot.

“Does the whole damned town have to get sick during the holiday?”  She climbed inside the Jeep and waited for Brian.  She saw two suitcases in the backseat.

“I have three days of vacation left,” Brian said when he got in.  “I called your boss and extended yours.  We have a room with a Jacuzzi with our name on it, ski slopes if we want to ski, and the weekend for just the two of us.”  He drove past the big green sign directing them to Myers Ridge Ski Resort.

Heather almost protested.  Aunt Peggy’s warning, “Never go there,” clanged inside her head.  Brian reached for her and found a hand.  He squeezed.  “I love you,” he said.  He brushed her thigh, first outside, then in.  He reached for her shoulders and pulled her as close to him as her seatbelt would allow.  He wanted to cuddle and that meant one thing.  She held him off with promises.

Check-in at the lodge was quick but barely fast enough for either Brian or Heather.  It had been too long since they had made love in a bed other than their own.

Inside their two-hundred-dollar-a-day room, which last year’s American Resort magazine gave five stars, Heather made true on many of her promises.

* * *

When she and Brian exited their room two days later, most of the snow around Ridgewood had melted.  The ski resort was busy making its own snow to keep customers happily skiing, despite the almost summer temperature.  Heather and Brian went to Eagle Rock Incline to take in the view of Ridgewood.  At 630 feet up, they could see ravines and drumlins and several gulches and dry washes between Ridgewood and the outskirts of New Cambridge to the east.  The marker they stood next to said they were on Magic Hill.

“I thought this was Myers Ridge,” Heather said.

“The ridge is made up of several hills.  Magic Hill is one of them.”

“Magic Hill.”  Heather looked around.  “I wonder what’s so magical about it.”

“I know it had some sort of significance to the Indians living here. But that’s all I know.”

Heather pointed to a clearing a half-mile down the valley.  “Is that a cave where those big rocks are?”

Brian squinted.  “Probably.  Where there are hills this big there’s bound to be a cave or two.”

“I’ve never been in a cave.  Maybe we could make it our own special place.”  She stood on tiptoes and kissed him.

* * *

Along the woodsy and rocky terrain, they scratched at invisible gnats buzzing around the back of their necks.  They reached the cave an hour later.  Brian had to stoop to enter the cave, which was immediately cold and damp and musty smelling.  They stayed close to the entrance where sunlight warmed them.

Heather and Brian found a spot of smooth granite to sit on.  Heather straddled Brian’s lap.

“There might be bear,” Brian said.

“I don’t care.”  Heather undid his belt and pants; they made love, fast and wild the way they had when they were dating.  When they finished, both shivered uncontrollably.  The sunlight was gone.

“Should have brought our coats,” Brian said when he was dressed.  He ventured into the large chamber, his eyes now adjusted to dim daylight twenty feet above them.  He stopped at a small pile of rubble formed by the collapse of the cave’s ceiling.  A long, thin finger of daylight pointed from the chimney-like shaft of the surface sinkhole above.

“Someday,” he said, “all this will come crashing down.”

“Not today.”  Heather went to him and pulled at him.  “Come on.  I think I heard thunder.”

Brian listened to a faraway rumble.  “I think you’re right.  If we get a cold front mixing with this warm weather, we’re gonna have a hell of a storm.”  He hurried to the entryway where a sprinkle of rain began to fall outside.  A sudden flash of lightning sent him stumbling backwards into Heather.  She fell and cried out.

“My ankle.”  She rubbed her left foot.  “It really hurts.”  Heather’s red nose peeked up at him.  Mucus dropped from the tip of her nose.  She swiped at it with the back of a hand.  “I can’t move my foot.”

Brian took her by the arm and helped her up.  She leaned on his shoulder and hobbled to the narrow entryway.  Along the way, he heard a clatter upon the ground and saw that Heather had dislodged his cell phone.  He tried to reach for it, but Heather cried out from the pain.  He’d come back for his phone later.

At the cave’s threshold, Heather pressed close to him, to try to make their passage easier, but Brian struck his forehead against the stone.

“Sit down,” he said, rubbing at the lump growing on his head.  “I’ll drag you out.”

“I think it’s broken.  It’s really aching now.  Let me rest.”

Brian helped her back inside.

A sudden wind whipped through the entrance and sprayed them with cold rain.  Brian pulled Heather further inside.  The storm suddenly stilled.  A faint humming sound came from above them, inside the cave.

Brian’s ring finger ached; his wedding ring vibrated.

Heather swatted at her temple.  “Something just stung me,” she complained.

The sky outside lit up.  Lightning entered the sinkhole and struck the cave floor a few feet from where Brian’s cell phone lay.  The floor exploded.  Stony shrapnel flew past them.  Brian threw himself to the floor; Heather clutched his back and trembled.

The walls began to emit green light in places.  Another lightning bolt entered the sinkhole and struck one of the large green lights.  More shrapnel rained down on them.  The other lights grew brighter.  Brian examined one of the lights nearest to him.  The light came from a stone, which was wide and faceted and shaped like a crystal.  It warmed his hands at the touch; he welcomed the warmth as it coursed through him.

He saw his phone and crawled to it.

Heather screamed.  “What is that?  Oh my god what is that?  Brian.”

Brian turned and saw a green whirlwind of light three meters in diameter above Heather’s head.  Miniature lightning shot from the walls of the whirlwind.  It twisted faster as the green lights around them grew brighter.

Heather put up an arm as though trying to ward off a blow as the whirlwind fell upon her.

A bolt of lightning from the sinkhole struck the whirlwind.  A blinding flash of light caused Brian to cover his head.  Hot wind and stone blew across his back.  Then it was gone.

When Brian opened his eyes, the light was ebbing.

The lightning had stopped.

The whirlwind and Heather were gone.

Free Kismet Story, Chapter 2

May 11, 2014
Steve Campbell

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.

KISMET

Copyright © Steven L Campbell

TWO

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.”

“Heather—”

“No.  Stop it.”

“Heather, I … I—”

The phone clunked on the other end; Heather knew that it had been dropped.

“Aunt Peggy?”

The line was silent.

Free Kismet Story, Chapter 1

May 3, 2014
Steve Campbell

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.

KISMET

Copyright © Steven L Campbell

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts.

William Shakespeare

ONE

Heather Stevens drove her silver Volvo through Ridgewood’s frigid downtown district where the streets were ablaze with Christmas decorations and colored lights.  The snowplowed streets glistened with ice, so Heather babied the drive toward her great-aunt’s bookstore.  Main Street was empty; most of the town traveled to bigger New Cambridge, five miles away, where discount stores were a major attraction this time of year.

Her cell phone buzzed.  Her husband Brian wouldn’t be home until after nine o’clock.  He still had many student art projects to grade at New Cambridge University before he could start his Christmas vacation.

Heather returned the phone to her coat pocket and drove with both hands gripped around the steering wheel.  Snow was falling again and she couldn’t afford another accident on these streets kept barely plowed.

With a population of almost eight thousand, downtown Ridgewood was small, with two banks, a post office, a few diners and bars, and Peggy’s Good Used Books sandwiched between a hardware store and a pizzeria.  Heather managed to park off the street in front of her aunt’s bookstore and upstairs apartment, but she had to battle piles of snow to get to the store.  Inside, a tiny bell above the door announced her entrance.  The place smelled of lilacs and aging paper, two fragrances that immediately lifted her spirits.

She called out and announced her arrival while she hung her black parka on the tree next to the door.  A distant voice responded from the back; she made her way through a tunnel of shelves and entered a room full of unsorted books and magazines.  Plastic bags, cardboard boxes, paper sacks and volumes of text littered the room’s tables, benches and floor.  In the center of the room, a fluorescent light flickered and buzzed overhead.  Directly beneath it, her great-aunt sat at a tiny desk.  The small woman with short hair dyed red stared into a computer monitor and slowly clicked at the keyboard below it.  In front of Aunt Peggy’s desk, an old woman looked at Heather from a wooden chair.

Heather said to Aunt Peggy, “I’m really excited you were able to find that art history book for Brian’s collection.  He has so many already, I was about to give up and just get him some pajamas and slippers.”

“My sister Jean’s granddaughter,” Aunt Peggy said to the woman.  She punched a key and studied the figures on the monitor’s large screen.  “Heather and her husband moved here in July.  He’s from Pittsburgh, she’s from New Cambridge.”

“The lake,” the woman across the desk said.  “Is that what brought you here?”  She coughed and sniffled and took a Kleenex from the box on the desk, and then gently brought it to her blue nose.  She was bundled in a heavy, brown fur coat, yet Heather saw that she shivered.  Despite the folds of skin that hung below her chin, and her thin white hair that barely concealed sagging earlobes adorned with mother-of-pearl earrings, Heather felt certain that the woman’s age was several years less than Aunt Peggy’s.

The woman sniffled again.  “They always come because of the lake.”

“But it’s Myers Ridge they don’t know about,” Aunt Peggy said.  “Show her the diary.”

The woman took a black leather book from her coat pocket.  She stood and waited for Heather to come for the book.  When Heather did, the woman peered at Heather’s face.

“It’s her,” she said.  She sat quickly and shivered harder.

Heather held out a hand and introduced herself.  The woman said, “Forgive me if I don’t shake your hand.  Please don’t take it personal.”

Heather looked quizzically at Aunt Peggy.

“Look at the picture,” Aunt Peggy said.  Heather saw that she trembled, too.  Aunt Peggy’s delicate look—like a china doll that could easily break—always made Heather uneasy.  The woman was eighty-three, after all, and still living in Pennsylvania’s Snow Belt.

Despite the heat that nearly choked the room, Heather said, “Would you like me to turn up the thermostat?”

“No, girl,” Aunt Peggy said.  “I want you to look inside the book.”

Heather found an empty chair near Aunt Peggy’s guest and opened the diary.  Inside, on the first page, someone had scrawled JANE DOE in large blue letters.  After that, doodles and scribbles filled its thin pages.  She leafed through the book and a square Polaroid photograph tumbled out and fell to the floor.  When she picked it up, a woman’s miserable, hollow-eyed face looked out at her from the black and white picture.  The woman’s wide mouth grimaced with a queer bit of happiness on a face otherwise lined with anguish.  An anorexic body became lost in an oversized sweatshirt, Capri slacks and metal wheelchair.  Heather quickly turned the photo over.  On the back, someone had elegantly written in blue ink, Jane—1943.

“What I’m about to say will sound incredible,” Aunt Peggy said.

“Unbelievable,” the other woman said.

Both women stared hard at Heather.  She squirmed.  Her hands felt swollen and prickly as she studied the photo and listened.

“Lord help me,” Aunt Peggy said. “It took me a long time to figure this out, and when I did … well, even I couldn’t believe it.”  She looked at the other woman who stared down at her hands.  “But thanks to modern medicine with its blood testing and DNA, the craziness became plausible, even if it did become crazier to believe.”  She looked back.

“I’m sorry,” Heather said, “but whatever you’re trying to tell me, perhaps you should start at the beginning.”

“That’s you.”  Aunt Peggy pointed at the photograph still in Heather’s grasp.  “Can’t you see the resemblance?”

“Don’t be silly.”  Heather swallowed.  She looked at the photograph.  “This isn’t me.”  She waved the photo at Aunt Peggy.  “Stop messing around.  I still have Christmas shopping to finish, presents to wrap, pies to bake.”

“That’s a picture of my mother,” the other woman said.

“See,” Heather said and frowned at Aunt Peggy.  “Why would you say such a thing?”

“Because you’re my mother,” the woman next to her said.  “I’m your daughter.”

“This is crazy.”  Heather began to stand.

“It’s true,” Aunt Peggy said.  “We can prove it.”

The overhead light sputtered, as though affected by Aunt Peggy’s insanity.  The sputtering turned the old women’s movements into jerky motion as they looked at each other and then back at her, like in a Nickelodeon movie from long ago.  Heather felt almost transported back in time.  Then the sputtering stopped and the room was almost bright again.

“I’m leaving.”  Heather stood.

“Please,” Aunt Peggy said.  “It’s up to you to see that history doesn’t repeat itself.”

Heather tossed the diary and photograph on Aunt Peggy’s desk.

“You owe it to yourself and to me,” the other woman said.  “I don’t want the next me to grow up isolated from her real parents.”  She reached out and touched Heather’s right hand.  A large spark of static electricity snapped.  Heather jumped back and yelped while the woman slumped forward and fell hard to the floor.

For a moment, time moved in slow motion.  Then, Aunt Peggy was at the woman’s side, checking for a pulse.

“Call 911,” she said to Heather.

Heather rubbed at the pain pulsating through her wrist and arm as she started toward the phone on Aunt Peggy’s desk.  Suddenly, it became difficult for her to breathe.  The pain grew, traveled to her shoulder.  The room shifted and turned; her stomach flip-flopped.  She stumbled from the desk, managed to sidestep the two women on the floor, and staggered to the bathroom at the back of the room.  She fell against two tables before she fell through the bathroom door.  On her knees, she vomited loud into the toilet.  Her body shook violently.  When she finished, Aunt Peggy stood at her side.

“I-I’m … f-freezing,” Heather said.  She pushed herself up, into Aunt Peggy’s embrace.  Then she stumbled along as Aunt Peggy led her to the desk.

The two looked at the corpse on the floor; a green afghan covered the body.  A siren sounded from far away.  Outside, December wind whipped against the store; a window rattled.

“Stay away from Myers Ridge,” Aunt Peggy said.  “Please promise me you’ll never go there.”

Heather swallowed and felt sick again.  “Aunt Peggy,” she said.  The room began a slow twirl.  She tried to focus her eyes, located the window and watched large flakes of snow swirl past.  A flashing light from the ambulance outside caused the twirling to increase.  She closed her eyes and said a small prayer for herself and the dead woman.  When she opened her eyes, a paramedic was bandaging the red and angry welt that appeared on the back of her hand.

“I’m okay,” she told the concerned paramedic, and was glad when he left her.

After the body and paramedics were gone, Aunt Peggy returned to the room.  Heather was standing, feeling better, although the room still spun when she turned.

“You should go upstairs and rest,” Aunt Peggy said.

“I’ll be okay.”  Heather started to leave.

“Don’t forget the diary,” Aunt Peggy said.  “Read it.  Please.  We’ll discuss it later.”

Heather turned and was forced to close her eyes as the room whirled.  The diary was placed in her hands and she was led to her coat.  She may have kissed her aunt goodbye, but while she shuffled to her car, she wasn’t sure.  Not even the winter chill brought her back to her senses as she sat in her car and watched through the icy windshield the lights go off downstairs in the bookstore.

The drive home went unnoticed as her mind repeated the events at the bookstore; questions whirled.  At home, she popped some popcorn in the microwave, stared at the TV, then curled up on the sofa and fell asleep.

Her dreams were washes of senseless images.  Then a hand touched her shoulder and reality flowed over her like a cold ocean wave, chilling her.  She tried to smile at Brian, but her face wouldn’t work, so she stared at the sight of him for several moments before she broke into tears and bawled.

Vanishing, Chapter 3

October 7, 2013
Steve Campbell

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 and the two earlier chapters. I never had any takers, but I never gave up on the story.

Heat had blanketed David when a bolt of lightning struck the center of the sinkhole seconds after Lisa fell. Within those seconds, he had felt an explosion in his eyes and skull from the lightning and the plume of green light that erupted from the hole. The force hammered him down until he was on his back, his eyes and head throbbing and fire burning inside his lungs.

Now he sat on his sofa, barely able to breathe, and trying to make sense of what happened.

“Believe in things much greater and far more mysterious than we can explain,” Nancy Pennwater Stephenson said to him inside his living room. He squeezed his eyelids shut. To the right of her, bright morning sunlight had entered the bay window. “When the earthquake struck yesterday, I knew that it had happened. Again.”

“I came home, took a rope back to the hole and went down inside the cave,” David said. “It’s like a giant geode of crystal with no way out but up.” He turned his head until it was out of the sunlight. “So what else can I do?” He looked dumbly at the journal and photograph in his hands. “The police think I’m crazy, that I killed my wife. They don’t believe that she fell into the hole and disappeared.”

“They’ll think you’re insane if you try to tell them the truth,” Nancy said.

“The truth.” David sighed. Then, he looked at the photograph and the journal, both yellowed and faded, yet so tangible—especially the pages of names and addresses and phone numbers … some of them exclusive to him and Lisa. “How?” he said and sat back. “How do I get her back? If she’s in the past, how can I go to where she’s at?”

Nancy sat for a long time and said nothing. Then, “Go to the cave where she vanished. The answer is there. It has to be.”

“And what is the answer?”

“I don’t know. But when you find it, God be with you.” She stood and said goodbye. David unfolded himself from the sofa and showed Nancy Pennwater Stephenson—his daughter from another time, another dimension—to the door. After she had driven away, he sat for an hour and reread Nancy’s journal. After that he prayed. For what it was worth, he got some satisfaction from talking to the supposed ruler of the universe, although most of the one-sided conversation was spent begging for a miracle.

When he stepped from the room, he knew that Nancy was right, as ludicrous as it seemed to the rational part of his mind. The doorway leading to Lisa lay within the cave’s green crystals and the lightning that had struck there.

He prayed again for a miracle, then went to the crystal cave and waited for a miracle.

During the third week of July, not long after another terrible thunderstorm had passed over Myers Ridge, three teenage boys hiking Eagle Rock Incline stumbled upon the sinkhole and cave. Inside, the boys found an overturned tent containing a sleeping bag, a dozen empty cases of canned pastas, soups and vegetables, and three one-gallon containers of store-bought water. They also found some books about lightning, local history from the 1940s, and theories on time travel.

They also found no one inside the cave, alive or dead.

Vanishing, Chapter 2

September 29, 2013
Steve Campbell

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 and the previous chapter (along with a third chapter, which I will post in the next few days). I never had any takers, but I never gave up on the story.

Lisa found herself driving aimlessly around town, soaking up the sunlight coming through her sunroof, and heading to nowhere particular. She drove past her parents’ house, decided not to stop, then headed to the drugstore to buy a home pregnancy test. Afterwards, on the drive home, she thought it was stupid to do so, but she wanted so much to see the stick show negative and prove the old woman wrong.

But she knew it would show positive. This was the first day of the past three that she had not vomited after waking in the morning.

“So what if I am pregnant,” she said. “That doesn’t prove anything.”

She caught herself talking aloud, a habit when she was upset.

“That’s right, I talk to myself,” she said. “I wonder if that’s in your stupid book that shocks people, lady.”

The pain in her elbow throbbed, but flared when she turned the steering wheel. She winced and bit her bottom lip as she drove into the driveway of her and David’s cottage home at Alice Lake.

She found David behind the cottage, heading to the deer path that led upwards to Myers Ridge’s Eagle Rock Incline. The college art teacher had painted vistas up there during the past two weeks. Lisa grabbed a bottle of orange Gatorade and tagged along, wanting his company and needing someone to talk to. The crazy woman’s strange conversation echoed in her mind until she unloaded on David the event.

At 630 feet above Ridgewood, she finished and David said, “I know. She called me right after you left. Told me the story of how she believes you’re her mother.”

“She’s insane,” Lisa concluded.

“Precisely what I told her.”

David and Lisa said no more while he set up his easel, canvas, paints and brushes. In front of them was a green vista of ravines and drumlins and several gulches around the blue one-mile spread of Alice Lake below. Every earthly feature had been carved into existence by great sheets of ice more than ten thousand years ago. That included the craggy ridge and its Eagle Rock Incline they stood upon.

As a grade school science teacher, Lisa knew well the geology of the old Pennsylvania hill—a mere remnant of the mountain it once was all those years ago. While David painted, she meandered along the hilltop, careful of the surface erosion and cave-ins where sinkholes threatened to swallow her if she wasn’t careful.

Despite the dangers, the place felt peaceful. It smelled sweet and powdery of life beginning to ripen. Lisa felt the love she had for the place stir. And then the atmosphere changed. A few fat raindrops fell from the cloudless sky and landed upon her arms and cotton blouse, chilling her skin. The sunlight scorched away the chill and wetness, so she returned to meander among the grassy landscape which looked like an old field sprinkled with aspen and birch trees.

It was while she was inspecting the outer edges of a sinkhole when she felt the tremor enter her feet and spread up her legs as Myers Ridge grumbled. The tremor quickly became a quake strong enough to bring down three aspen trees behind her—none of them close enough to strike either her or David.

Next to her, the ground around the sinkhole collapsed. She rolled away from the enlarging hole, then watched loose stone and sod tumble down into it. All around her—and David too, who was several yards away and holding his easel to keep it from toppling—the clash and scream of birds taking flight sounded like someone had ripped open the sky.

The quake, which lasted almost fifteen seconds, stopped.

Lisa stood and saw the sky over Alice Lake had darkened with growing rain clouds, as though an artist had dipped a loaded paintbrush into water. Thunder spoke as the sky over Myers Ridge buzzed with immediate electricity.

Lisa knew about the phenomenon of electricity sounding like the buzzing of bees when a static charge is building between ground and sky. As the sky buzzed, she felt the hair on her arms rise and the skin prickle. The fine hair on her face and neck came alive next.

Charged by electricity, Nancy had said. By the lightning storm.

“No,” she cried, “it isn’t possible.” And she wasn’t referring to the buildup of electricity around her. “People don’t travel in time.”

She called out to David while she scrambled to remove her wedding rings and told him to remove his own ring and anything else made of metal. She said it twice, her voice trembling each time, but he only looked at the sky and scratched the back of his neck. Above them, the sound of angry bees sounded angrier.

She ran to him, took his hand—the one still bearing the wedding band—and hurried him down the path.

A sudden wet wind pushed at their forefronts, slowed their escape, and caused Lisa to shield her eyes from the bits of grass and leaves flying at them. She did not see the green light emanating from the new sinkhole that obliterated the large part of pathway in front of them.

David skidded to a stop, but Lisa went on, not seeing the light and the hole until it was too late. Down she went, tripping over deadwood and rock and plunging into the light that filled the hole.

Inside the light, she fell long, and her screams resounded against the force that pulled her down, her mind fearful of what lay waiting for her at the bottom of the abyss.

[To be continued…]

Vanishing, Chapter 1

September 21, 2013
Steve Campbell

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—”

“You’re pregnant.”

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…]

With Blemishes, With Love

May 8, 2013
Steve Campbell

With Mother’s Day fast approaching, my thoughts are on my mother who is no longer with me, but whose spirit lives on in me. She was the one who introduced me to reading, writing and making art. And when I started writing stories in high school, she encouraged me to continue, even on those days when I felt unsure.

Kismet is a story I wrote for my mother many years ago. She encouraged my hopes and dreams, and that is why I wrote the story for her. In a way, Kismet is a Mother’s Day-type story filled with hopes and dreams, even when things go wrong.

Here, for the first time, is Kismet in all of its originality, written for my mom. Names and events are different from the published book at Amazon, and this version is free. With all its blemishes, I present Liam’s Kismet with love.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.

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