A Time to Reap

Ch. 5: These Are the Words…

 

five

There’s so much to process from the past couple of days. After Dr. Phillips takes my report for an exhausting two hours, I promptly collapse and sleep through the next day. I wake up briefly to the smell of my mother’s sausage, snap pea, and bowtie pasta creation, but barely say a word as I power through two helpings and go back to sleep.

The next morning I’m remarkably lively at five thirty. Anyone who knows me at all would understand this is cause for celebration. I don’t believe I have been both awake and happy before eight thirty ever before.

It’s Tuesday. My mom graciously called in to school for me the day before, but I won’t get a two-day pass. It’s just a severe case of Leaper-lag, which fellow students at Pemberton call “padding.” The longer we’re away, the longer it takes to recuperate from the collision of getting back to the regular timeline.

The longest leap I have ever taken is fifteen days. When I bounced back from that one, I puked and then felt like I had the flu for the next three days. This last nine-day stint was simply tiring.

As I bound to the kitchen in order to surprise my mother by making her breakfast, her note surprises me instead. It’s placed in the center of the stainless steel island so as to stand out.

“Carter, I knew you’d be up and about this morning. Get ready for school and we can talk tonight. Have a great day! – Mom”

After my usual routine of shower, breakfast, clothes and music, I make my way to the transit to take me to school. I like listening to older tunes my mom turned me on to. She normally leaves me a playlist each month and mentions how knowing about little things in the past will help me assimilate if I get stuck for too long. Today, I’m listening to a few tracks by The White Stripes, Glitch Mob, and Wolfmother. Not a bad selection, in my opinion.

As the school enters my view, I recall the vivid, naked jaunt I took across the parking lot only a couple of days ago. Questions still whirl around in my mind without finding a drain to get sucked into. One thing my mom made abundantly clear to me at every lucid moment during the past day is to not bring up my father, teleportation, or Lord Ray with anyone.

The first couple of periods blow by. I’m not totally sure what we’ve covered. I’m on autopilot for the last hour and a half. Zoning out on my way to my locker, I need to snag a power adapter and grab my notepad so I will have something to draw on at lunch. I’m one of the few people who still prefer feeling pen on paper to using a digital program on a textbook pad.

I’m not really sure what’s going through my mind as I reach in and out of my locker in a trance. My haze is interrupted after only a few seconds.

“Wow!” says a quiet voice to my right.

“Huh?” It isn’t a scholarly reply, but it’s better than simply not saying anything.

“Who can teleport?”

Whatever bodily, chemical reaction takes place next, scientists should seriously consider bottling it to help wake people up. Instantly, I’m focused and alert. And the person in front of me is suddenly clear as glass: Maureen Zester, an Eventual. Some kids call her Moses because she was giving a speech one day and fumbled through the words like a normal thirteen-year-old does on their first speech. When a few of the idiots in her class started laughing, she got upset and managed to push all of the chairs apart in the room. She was suspended for thirty days and hasn’t really said a lot to anyone since. Not many Eventuals say much in the first place.

Mo, as she likes to be called, is in my grade. She’s pretty in her face and still growing into her body. She’s staring at me with wonderment and glee. Her head was shaved months ago, and now it looks as though the excitement is standing up on end all around her in little exclamation points.

“Shhh,” I say, while fanning an imaginary fire down with my hand.

“Sorry, I wasn’t trying to sly on your thoughts. You were just so loud, to me.”

“Sly” is Eventual terminology for listening in on what other people are thinking. Most Eventuals don’t detect much more than the occasional passing thought, and though they have some signs of telekinesis, there’s mostly just a lot of static going on in their brains.

“Well, I wasn’t trying to be loud. Guess I was just zoning out.”

“It’s ok. So, who was doing the…” She makes a motion with her hands and eyes, closing and opening them simultaneously. I assume this is the international symbol for teleportation. Now I need to think of something to distract this chasing bear.

“Boy, you sure are snarky,” Mo states.

“What?”

“I don’t know the international sign for teleportation. It’s my best way of asking without saying it out loud.”

“Jeez, you picking up on everything I think?”

Now she fans imaginary flames to quiet me down. “Shh!”

“Sorry, but I thought most of you couldn’t sly people at will. And I don’t know anyone who can teleport. I was just daydreaming, thinking of what it could be like.”

“Well,” she says, “I know the difference between when a person is imagining things and when they’re remembering things. Someone in your room moved across it within a blink and made you almost second-guess it happened. Except that you remembered it happening before in your kitchen.”

Invisible flames, invisible flames. For whatever reason, Mo is intriguing me and frightening me at the same time. How many others at my school are concealing their abilities? Not only that, but I don’t think I’ve ever talked with Mo past a simple “hello” while holding a door open. Her shaved head usually doesn’t leave a lot to catch my eye, but now that she’s in front of me, she has the prettiest eyes I think I’ve ever seen—the kind that show how feminine and gentle she is just by their shape. And their color draws me in.

Oh, crap. Did she just…?

As she blushes slightly, I think I’m turning three shades darker. She totally just heard me. Before I drastically try to get out of this embarrassment, I think of what dating her would be like—stressful or relaxing—the need to hide things not even being an option.

“Carter, please.” The way she says it, she’s not disgusted. Mainly, she wants to move past my flattery before it makes her uncomfortable.

“Sorry, you have me at a disadvantage.”

“I don’t normally hear people this clearly. With you, the other noise fades and you stand out more. The words in your mind become pictures for me.”

I can’t tell if that’s a compliment or not, yet. Before I make another attempt to lie to Mo while she learns the truth by slying, I have to get out of the situation. I don’t want to go back on my word to my mom, either willingly or unknowingly.

“Mo, I have to get to class. Can we pick up on this later?” It’s true. I only have two minutes to make it over by the gymnasium to art class. She looks at me sadly, as if she senses the blow off, but as a sentiment of good faith, I try to project the thought that I can’t tell and I hope she won’t either.

I close my locker and do a 180 as I head to my next class. After I pass a few classrooms, I have the distinct feeling someone is following me. As I make my way to the doors that lead to the next wing, where I have my class, I notice a vague reflection in the glass pane of the door. A bald person is about fifteen feet behind me. Is Mo following me?

After I pop into my class and dart into my seat, I hear the door unlatch as someone else enters. Mo strolls in and walks in my direction. A panic of high-school proportions starts to settle in as I wonder what kind of scene she plans to make and how I’m going to explain whatever comes out of her mouth to curious onlookers. A layer of adrenaline pushes through every pore, and I nervously think of heading her off at the pass before she says anything.

When she gets close enough, I see sadness in her eyes. She walks by me, one row over, and proceeds to the back where she takes a seat, her seat. Mo has been in my class all year and I wasn’t even aware. Open mouth and insert foot… up to the knee.

I think my internal mantra of I’m sorries interrupts any chance for Mo to learn in class that day. I feel like such an ass, for a multitude of reasons. After the bell rings, Mo straps on her rocket boots and propels out of the room before I have the chance to talk to her.

It isn’t until lunch that she decides to speak to me. I’m doodling while simultaneously eating a chicken strip. I have bitten into some small piece of fat at the exact moment I hear her talking to me over my shoulder.

“I’m not stalking you, you know.”

As I turn around, I have the look of a gargoyle watching over an archaic church. The way the funky texture in my mouth catches me by surprise helps foster that. I feel bad all over again—like, what else can I do to ward off Mo?

Fortunately, she giggles to herself as she shakes her head, knowing exactly why I am sporting the look on my face. My apologies will soon follow, just as soon as I find somewhere to spit out this chunk of meat.

“Here,” she says, while handing me a napkin. “I don’t know what kind of ‘chicken’ they use in our lunches, either.” Somehow, when she just does air quotes, I don’t mind.

In my most graceful attempt at spitting out chewed chicken bits, I place it all in the napkin and wad it up on the plate then push the tray aside. A quick drink to wash the grossness away follows, as Mo moves around the table to sit across from me.

“Why do you eat alone? Don’t you have friends?”

“Don’t you?” I fire back.

“Some, but not very close. Classmates mostly.”

“Same. I have one good friend, but he goes to a different school. People around here all seem so…” I can’t quite think of the word.

“Skittish?”

Nailed it. “Yeah.” This could be the coolest friendship ever… or the worst.

She grimaces a little and then brushes it off. “So, the thing I saw before? Care to explain?”

Not really. Secrets are a responsibility—and a painfully taxing one, at that. It’s like asking someone to share your burden with the same intensity you do. For the most part, I don’t willingly divulge the things I know to just anyone. Yet, somehow, Mo puts those fears at ease.

“It’s not a burden. I have my own secrets that you now know about. And I trust you won’t tell anyone here.” She smiles, and I notice how remarkably straight her teeth are. Not that I expected fangs or anything, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen her talk enough to verify teeth, let alone a smile. That goes for all Eventual smiling, for that matter.

She blushes slightly then continues. “I’m sorry if I might seem a little pestering. It was just so vivid, and I’d never seen anything like it.”

Without speaking, I relay the memories I had from the moment I leapt to the school parking lot to when I came back. I make sure to avoid recalling my nudity in my leaps. There’s no need to jump into a PG-13 rating.

After I’m done, I concentrate and then open my eyes and look at the table. I must have reached out my hand, as it is now resting inside of hers. It’s tiny and soft, not clammy or scaly. It just seems to fit, like it belongs there. Still, to avoid any serious complications or embarrassment for either of us, I withdraw. “Sorry, didn’t realize I did that.”

“Don’t worry, Carter. It helps.” Her smile, again. Oddly, I’m getting more used to the notion of having her around me—a lot more used to it.

The bell chimes, and lunch is over. A mass rising of people from their benches has us following suit. I have a two-hour block of English and Math to end my day. Something takes ahold of my mouth, and before I know it, I’m asking Mo a question.

“Do you want to do something after school?”

She radiates a smile my way. Without saying a word to break it up, I hear her voice inside of my mind. “Yes.”

The surprise on my face must say it all.

“See, Carter. I have a few more secrets, too.”

With that, she picks up her backpack and leaves in the direction I’m not destined to go. I want to follow, but I will never make it to class on time if I do. Since she knows what I’m thinking, she raises a hand in the air and, without turning around, waves behind herself at me.

During the second half of my English block, we’re going over the use of the semi-colon when I hear the speakers chime and the call for someone to come to the office. At first, I’m not paying attention. The last name makes me try to recall the message entirely, as I think I heard “Zester” in there.

I lean over to the closest friendly-looking person and ask, “Did they say Zester?”

“Yeah, I guess Moses has a calling in the Principal’s office.”

I’m a little offended by this person calling her Moses. Still, information received. “Thanks.”

My mind runs thoughts together like oil paints. Nothing is mixing completely, just integrating smears. What does she have to go to the office? What did she do? Suddenly, I’m nervous and wondering if Mo is okay. The next couple of hours are going to be arduous, at best.

At the final chime of the day, I make the quickest trip to my locker, keeping my eyes open constantly for Mo in the halls. I’m not really certain what class she has or where her locker is, but I remain focused. Outside, I stop by the bench leading to the parking lot. I know she drives a little yellow car, and I’m pretty certain she has nothing going on after school.

I’m sitting on the bench when my phone starts vibrating in my pocket. I pull it out to see an unfamiliar number with no picture ID hovering above. I answer nonetheless. “Hello?”

“Hey, Carter. It’s Mo.”

“Hey! How did you get my number?”

“Sorry, did a little slying when you were showing me things earlier. Figured I’d give you a call sometime or have it just in case.”

It’s somewhat flattering, but a tad intrusive. I’m not sure how I feel about someone picking out what they want from my brain like it’s a discount store bin.

“Did I go too far?” Her voice sounds nervous. As much as I like my privacy, I’m actually not upset.

“No, you’re fine. Say, I was waiting for you outside. Are you out yet?”

“Yeah, I’m actually just getting into my car,” she says.

“You must have snuck right by me.” I don’t know how I missed her.

“Oh, I have gym as my last class. I exit right from there, and it’s a quick walk to the parking lot.”

Well, that explains it. Now, the awkward part. I don’t think she can read my mind over the phone, or else she’d know already that I want to go grab something to eat or walk or anything.

“Shoot,” she plainly states.

“What’s up?”

“I don’t know. Something made a grinding noise when I pushed the button and now my car isn’t starting.” A few seconds go by before she talks again. I hope that isn’t an invitation for me to take a look at her car, because I have no clue about automotive repair. “Um… and now my doors are locked and won’t open.”

There is a weird crackle on the phone, and suddenly the call is gone. This is weird, and my feet think the same thing as we start heading toward the parking lot. I notice the yellow car a few rows over, with Mo fidgeting in the driver’s seat, looking as though she must have dropped her phone on the floor.

Then I see the black smoke billowing up from the engine. It looks like her car is catching fire. Mo is now banging into the door from the inside as if trying to open it with her shoulder. She looks out across the parking lot and as her eyes meet mine, I hear her in my head again, much louder.

Carter! Help me!!”

Flames peek from under the hood, and smoke collects inside the cab of her vehicle, veiling her while suffocating her. I weave in and out through a few cars as I hear a noticeable pop come from her car’s direction as one of her tires explodes from the heat. People standing around debate what to do and some move farther away, waiting for a full detonation.

My body doesn’t need my mind to work for it to know what to do. I simply have the desire to help her, and the next minute, my eyes are watering, and it’s hard to breathe. I hear Mo coughing in the driver’s seat as I am sitting directly behind her. I have no clue what just happened, but now I know I want to get the hell out of there.

Instinctively, I wrap my arms around the seat, barely able to touch my fingers together and duplicate that feeling of want again. This time, it gets both of us to safety. My mind goes blank for a second and I swear I’m underwater. No sound or feeling of anything comes to mind. I am shut off from all perceptions.

When I come to, I notice my backyard. I’m clutching a car seat and a coughing, bald-headed girl from my school. It takes a few laborious coughs for her to get air back into her lungs. Once she’s breathing and the tears of strain and panic subside, she turns around and wraps her fragile arms around me.

“Oh my God, thank you, Carter!” she exclaims, while coughing into the crook of my neck. The car seat has fumbled out of the way as we embrace at an awkward angle.

“Carter…?”

“Yup… I’m naked.” Awkward does not begin to cover this scenario.

 

 


 

A Time to Reap

Ch. 4: The Lord Spoke…

 

four

Lord Ray.

That’s the last real thought pushing through the narrow opening in my mind. My mother is now aware of the lies I disguised as facts just moments ago. And somehow, I think not trusting her was a wise idea.

I’m certain if I had stuck around longer, there would have been many different levels of yelling taking place. Luckily, right after she prompts the interrogation, my syndrome takes the reins in a most expeditious fashion.

Normally, I feel the tingle and have between three and fifteen seconds heads-up. In this case, my mother barely gets the words “Raymond Lord” out of her mouth, and I’m leaping. Still in the middle of apologizing, I’m delivered to my high school parking lot in the dead of night, wearing a thin coat of anxiety and nothing more.

I remember watching this classic movie called The Terminator with my mom last summer. I relate to the part where the gigantic cyborg shows up butt naked and walks up casually to the first people he sees. I don’t have the muscles or killer instinct of that character, but I have wit and a lack of bashfulness. Due to an endowment my father gave me, being ashamed is rather difficult.

Nudity isn’t the difficult part; it’s explaining why I’m nude that’s challenging. And by the look of it, I may get to test out another explanation, because there are a few kids my age hanging around outside their car in the abandoned parking lot. I need to find a way to the south entrance, where they have a keypad for students to use after hours in emergencies. They haven’t changed it since its implementation, and it’s one of the few well-guarded secrets of the school, known only to faculty and students. The problem is that those peers of mine are between me and the doors.

As I stand in the chilly air, I can’t discern the exact time of year. The deciduous trees still hold their leaves in various lush greens. The cold air could mean anything. I’m personally guessing late spring/early summer.

The school has a bus depot and newspaper portal close to the street. It gives any Leaper showing up near the school a base and a means of travel. The keypad at the school allows shelter from the elements and access to clothes.

The depot is about twenty yards behind me, and the people are ten yards ahead of me on the other side of a retaining wall. I have to get some warm clothes and double back with a plan before I can start figuring out the day and year.

As I take a deep breath and hop over the wall, I wonder how far I’ll get before one of the three long-haired individuals before me takes notice. I just hope they are the affable sort and not ones prone to violence. I fell into that situation once, and getting seventeen stitches was my reward when I leaped back.

As I approach the driver’s side, the three are all resting against the passenger-side quarter panel, talking, and it looks like they’re smoking. A whiff in the air, and I can smell a pungent mix of mowed lawn, burnt corn, and ragweed. It’s apparent what the teens are up to in the parking lot.

I get no more than a few feet in front of the slightly rusted, hail-damaged sedan before I hear one speaking in my direction.

“Duuuude! Is that dude naked?”

Dry giggles and offbeat affirmations of his discovery follow.

“Hey! Hey, buddy.”

Fantastic. Now, do I draw even more attention to myself and have them follow me, or pretend I’m a group hallucination and not look back. I decide to continue forward, since most stoners are not aggressive types, and I’d rather skip having a naked conversation with them.

They continue hashing out the details between themselves, and I take that as a cue to keep moving. That is, until one sentence stands out.

“No, dude, I’m telling you he looks just like Joshua.”

If I were wearing shoes, they would have squeaked with the brakes I put on. Instead, little bits of gravel are soon imbedded into my heels.

“Who did you just say?” I yell over my shoulder, not allowing myself to turn around just yet.

The din of their conversation stops as they have a lapse between organizing my question and formulating an answer.

“Joshua?”

He’s either offering his answer in a Jeopardy-style fashion or trying to verify if I am indeed Joshua, which, coincidentally, is my father’s name. I turn around to gauge their response on seeing me fully instead of at a passing angle.

“Dude, it is him,” the head dope smoker announces with a smile. Immediately, the smile gets confused, and he looks to his high council for confirmation. “Guys, I think I’m tripping bear balls here. Because it’s him,” he says, while motioning to my family jewels, “but it’s not him.”

That does it for me; checkmark the box labeled “unexpected.”

“Joshua is my dad’s name.”

If there were explosive devices planted into these kids’ heads, I think I just detonated them and blew their minds. Their mouths hang open, and their once-squinty eyes are wide as saucers.

“Dude, the fuck you say,” one stoner contends.

“Nope, I say it because he raised me.” That’s right, even naked and out of my element, I’m snarky. “So, when did you see him?”

“There’s, like, no way. He would have to have had you in grade school, dude. We saw him right after he got his tat last week.”

“He has a tattoo?” This is definitely not the man I knew. Humble, yes. Slightly boring, yes. Abandoning his family and everything to deal with his life since learning of his son’s condition, yes. Tattooed and hanging out with pot-smoking teenagers? My brain is going to pop.

“Dude, I don’t think you can really call a piece just ‘a tattoo.’ He has an entire chest plate.”

I’m not up to speed on the lingo, but I’m guessing that means he has a lot of them on his upper torso. One nagging thing I pick up on begs me to ask the next question, “How old is Joshua?”

I freak out inside and truly hope my question didn’t come out like the shrieking boy-band groupie squeal it felt like. My reaction is like this for two reasons. First, I haven’t seen or heard from my dad since I was twelve. Secondly, my dad is not a Leaper—at least, I don’t think he is.

“I don’t know, like tattoo age, I guess. Early twenties? It’s not like we hang out a lot; he just pops in once in a while. What’s with you guys anyhow? Are you like nudist colony runaways?”

That seals the what-if portion of this odd conversation. As he and his band of merry men laugh for no apparent reason to the nudist colony joke, I begin making my way toward them. I have one more question.

“What did Joshua talk about the last time you saw him?”

As abruptly as before, I’m pulled out of that timeline and popped back into my own. After a jump, it feels like a stomach cramp that releases slowly. My vision is always blurry, like I stepped out of a movie theater into the sunlight.

Still, I can’t help chuckling as I think of what those three potheads must have gone through after I vanished right before their eyes. I imagine the philosophical buzz that must have been killed for them at that moment.

“Something amusing?” The voice is coming from right in front of me, but I can’t make out exactly whom it belongs to. Judging by the soft carpet and smell of cinnamon, I know I’m standing in my room. I’m not sure how I ended up in a different location—usually the return is back to the same spot.

“Mom?” My eyes start coming into focus as I see her sitting in my desk chair facing me.

“You will dislike the fact that I have a good memory.”

Crap! We are just going to pick up where we left off, aren’t we? “How long was I gone?”

My mom looks away and gestures at me with the motion of her finger toward my nether region. I forget the nudity part, sometimes. In this scenario, I blush because I just flashed my mom, no pun intended, for God knows how long. Awesome job, Carter. I find a pair of sweatpants conveniently folded up on the end of my bed and throw them on, as my mom pretends not to notice my tiddly-bits.

“Carter, tell me about your run-in with Raymond Lord.”

The cramp in my stomach returns. This time in the new form of anxiety. I don’t even know where to begin, except to try and opt for a do-over. I abruptly disregard Lord Ray’s warning, since he called my house and decided to relay a message through my mom.

“Mom, I’m sorry. I got confused is all. And before I got more than a few moments to process what was going on, I made a hasty, split-second decision.”

“To not trust your mother.” It’s a statement, but also a question.

“Well, I am sorry. It was just difficult to understand, and I was already in the doghouse with the leap from days ago. I didn’t want to get into it, but I guess a part of me wondered and made me lie to you.”

After the words leave my mouth, I begin rotating the puzzle pieces to see what fits, exactly. So far, a few things haven’t, and it’s about time to turn the table around to get some truth of my own.

“Speaking of the leap report, is someone from the DCD here? I’d rather get it out of the way so we can get back to this.”

“There’s no need to rush. We’ll have time for that. Ray. Tell me what happened with him. What did he tell you behind closed doors?”

Something about the tone in my mother’s voice makes the hairs on my neck prickle. She is beyond any level of mad; she’s being cold. Usually, she has some degree of empathy for me, regardless of the circumstance.

“He only had the chance to tell me I would someday learn to control my powers. It wasn’t really clear. More like cryptic.”

“Why did he only have a brief chance to tell you that?”

“I started to leap.” Even recalling the moment is uncomfortable. Remembering how it felt to have a leap essentially corked.

“Started to?”

“The room he had me in stopped me somehow.”

My mom’s expression hasn’t changed once in this whole explanation. This reminds me of the Terminator movie a lot more than I’m comfortable with. Regardless, I can’t stop my mouth from opening and allowing words to fall out.

“Mom, is there something going on that you aren’t telling me?” As the question is punctuated, her eyes squint but not into a full grimace.

“That’s the only thing he said?” Okay, disregard my question.

“What?” I’m not sure if we’re playing on the same sports field anymore, let alone the same team.

“Did he mention anything else? Anyone else?” my mom asks.

“No, but I’m curious, cause another name I just heard on my leap was Dad’s. A small group of stoners knew him, apparently.”

That sparks something, and suddenly she’s no longer sitting but standing, facing me. The ten feet away between us disappears, and she is whispering in my ear. “Never speak of that aloud again.”

A second later she’s back by my desk chair, standing.

“Jesus! That’s another thing—how in the hell is it that you can teleport?!”

“Carter, there are many things you will learn about. I had to speak with you first, before I felt good enough about going forward.”

“Forward with what? Please, you have to tell me something. I feel like I’m going nutty here.”

“Can I talk yet?” a husky voice asks, outside my room.

My mom purses her lips together in an annoyed fashion before answering. “Come in.”

Instead of opening my door and introducing himself like a normal individual, Lord Ray appears in a brief flashing glimmer within my room, not bothering with the handle or hinges.

“Hi, Carter. Sorry about earlier. I kind of jumped the gun.”

“What?” That’s becoming a cliché question in my vernacular, lately. And he can teleport, too?

“Carter, what Ray is meaning to say is that he was mistaken about me.”

“Mistaken?” I ask, frozen like a deer on a country road at dusk.

“He knew about your father’s abilities and mine. Once you developed yours, he was aware of what would happen. After your father disappeared, and I started working as a counselor, Ray thought I was overlooking what could happen to you.”

“Also, since your mom works indirectly for the DCD, I didn’t think she could be trusted with knowing that you met me,” says Lord Ray. “Turns out your mom was and is more aware of things than I am.”

“More aware?” What am I turning into, a parrot? And my dad has abilities?

“There are some things I have been keeping from you until I thought the time was right.”

“So, why were you grilling me just now, if you already knew?” I ask.

“Mainly to corroborate Ray’s story, to see if anyone else knew about what you two discussed. So far, he’s slowly gaining my trust. Even though he kidnapped you and nearly ruined everything I’ve been trying to do for both of us, because he was impatient.”

Ray is just standing there with his hands up as if to pantomime, you caught me. I’m still clueless as to what just happened in my room over the past fifteen minutes, besides flashing my bits to my mom and learning a series of confusing notions. Apparently, my miming skills are up to par as well, because she proceeds to give me a recap.

“Carter, hon, you leapt, and I knew when and where you’d be back. In the meantime, I confronted Mr. Lord, brought him up to speed on my involvement, made a few cursory jumps, and formulated a plan for what to do next.”

“How could you know when I’d be back?” It’s seriously the only thought I’m able to squeeze back out of my mouth. My brain is having an allergic reaction and starting to swell from all of this.

She actually smiles back at me like I’m a child asking if we can drive to Hawaii.

“There are many things people with our condition have the ability to do, Carter. Chrono-Displacement is simply the one the government is fully aware of. Beyond that, we have abilities such as teleportation, telekinesis, and time tracking. When Leapers depart, they leave a distinct and detectable wave pattern. One day, you will be able to follow them.”

I suddenly feel like I can become a super spy, and secretly, I feel a little sick, with a small amount of awesome mixed in. Apparently, I have super-secret powers, but as I’ve learned from movies and graphic novels, that crap is going to get me into some serious trouble.

“Alba, I have to leave. Dr. Phillips will be pulling around here in a few moments.” It’s always strange to me when someone addresses my mom by her actual name instead of her maternal title.

“Wait,” I interject. “How long was I gone for?”

Ray looks at me, a little worry in his eyes. “Nine days and ten hours.”

With that, the same flicker of light takes him out of my room, and I’m guessing out of my house altogether. It occurs to me that both Ray and my mom can teleport without losing their clothes. Granted, it’s minor, but I am putting a mental pin in that notion, and I plan on bringing it up promptly.

“Now, Carter. There’s not a lot of time, but I need you to try and clear away any thoughts or memories of your father. Keep the rest of the details accurate, but leave out whenever your father’s name was brought up.”

“Mom, I have so many questions right now.”

“We have time for two, but the answers will be brief.”

Well, this is difficult. I feel like the more I concentrate, the harder it is to settle for asking two questions. The first thing I think of isn’t the question I care about. “If Ray was trying to keep me from talking with you, why did he call here?”

“It wasn’t him. His idiot henchman was told to get a message to you to meet him. Ray wasn’t aware that instead of personally delivering the message, the guy called here.”

Hmm, I guess even street legends have idiots in their midst.

My next question is a muddled version of about eight separate questions I can’t formulate properly but somehow seems appropriate. “Where is Dad?”

She looks worried, and even though she smiles, there are tears hovering in the lids of her eyes.

“That is what we are going to find out.”

 


 

A Time to Reap

Ch. 3: The Lord Called…

 

three

The message is disturbing, I admit. The one person on this earth I trust more than I do myself is apparently the one I shouldn’t—so sayeth the Crayola washable marker on my forearm.

I don’t recall ever having the need to scrub something off my skin quite as ferociously as in these moments before my mother enters the house. The suds and water splash about the sink as though a dog has decided to spin dry in the basin.

The alarm system for the house pings as my mother approaches the door by the garage. I hear the fluid metallic clunking of the deadbolts unlocking as she nears, a task made quicker by the house fob she carries. Modern conveniences that take the physical action of unlocking a door don’t help me buy any necessary time.

A quick pat dry and I’m good, minus the red friction mark on my arm. Anything is better than the monumental icebreaker my mom could have seen scribbled on my arm.

“Hello?”

Oh, great. “Hey, Mom!” She loves it when I yell things down at her from upstairs.

“Get down here and say hello like a human, please!” Case in point.

And there is the cue to be civil and social. As I make my way down the steps, I can’t help but glance at the portraits hanging along the wall. Most are of my mom and me, a few from family holidays, and lastly, the only remaining photo of my mom, my dad and myself. She still hasn’t taken it down. It’s been four years, Mom. I’m pretty certain he’s not coming back.

As I reach the bottom step, my mind swirls. What to do with my newfound information—or rather, warning? The closer I get to my mother in the kitchen, the harder it is to stir my options, as if they were melting marshmallows beginning to cool.

“Carter, my dear.”

I can’t tell if that’s feigned sarcasm or not. “Mom, how was your trip?”

“It was full of tickles and joy, m’boy.” Classic line my mom always uses to describe anything of little merit. “Now, you mentioned a curio cabinet on the phone.”

Oh, crap sandwiches! I did say that. I would say that. And right before finding out something monumental I need to keep to myself. I’m not sure if I fully believe the scribble from my arm, but in the split-second decision I have, a part of me pauses at telling the truth.

“Yeah, the note.” In my years of encountering my mother during these forks in the road between my conscious mind and my gut, I have learned that the more time I invest in deciding, the guiltier my response appears to be. So I immediately follow with the hands-down best excuse of young adult life.

“I may have stretched the truth there.” Wait for it…

“Stretched?” I can sense her blood pressure from here.

“I like to think of it as a peripheral of the truth.” The upward inflection to my voice doesn’t sound convincing, more like I’m asking her if what I said was right or not.

“Peripheral?” One-word clarifications. Nice tactic, Mother. Touché.

“Might be more of a satellite?”

“Carter?” Yup, here it comes, pay attention.

“I may have mistakenly used the curio cabinet.” Flinch and brace for impact.

“Carter James Gabel!” And we have collision. It’s the triple combo of any proper mother ready to deploy punishment of epic proportions.

“Mom—”

“No! You don’t do that, Carter. That word is a safe word, a drop everything and trust word. A never, ever to be used for any reason other than for what it’s intended word.”

I’m not certain, but I may have overstepped the success I think my strategy has brought. Mainly, the scornful, elevated tones are there, but her movements are dangerously calm. Mom uses her arms to talk just as much as her mouth.

“Mom, I’m sorry. It just snowballed from the leap to the briefing to bed to school. I never had much time to process what the best steps were in those moments.” That is mostly true.

“Carter, the reason we have that word is not just to rush past uncomfortable moments. It’s a pact between the two of us. A promise we trust in whatever the case may be if that word is spoken. Now, you’ve turned a flawless system into a corrupted one.”

“I didn’t mean to.” This is the recoil of my strategy. I knew it would be difficult, but she’s lathering the guilt icing on this punishment cake pretty thick.

“Well, Carter, there are accidents, and then there is just lazy stupidity. And you are not stupid, but this was a monumental mistake. I mean, any time you use the word from this point forward I will pause and wonder if I should believe you.”

Ouch. Yeah, this tactic, although a proven winner, is rough to stomach. This isn’t just angering her; it touches on a basic level of trust she has in me. Granted, from her perspective, this is low on the scale of trust issues. For me, I am still wondering just how far to take the words of Lord Ray.

“I promise I will not use it again carelessly. I am really sorry; I wasn’t thinking.”

Her lack of response tells me she is pondering the pros and cons of some form of punishment. You see, my tactic is almost foolproof. I have two options before me: admittance and coercion. I could admit to the note and the run-in and everything, but the “what if” portion makes me commit to another direction. So, with coercion, I admit to some kind of wrongdoing, but it’s one that I choose. I go into this scenario fully aware that my punishment is inevitable, but I set the context. This has worked for me in the past on numerous occasions.

There was the time I played inside the house with my pellet gun. I thought I had dispensed all the BBs from the tube. Turns out one little sucker remained and, when I squeezed the trigger, went right into the kitchen window. Now, getting pinned with discharging my gun in the house (a capital offense at a young age) was one route. Instead, quick thinking on my part took me straight outside and into the garage. One well-placed baseball shattered any evidence of the tiny hole. Faced with a scolding or a grounding, I chose the lesser of the two punishable offenses—an act I think I’m recreating here.

“Carter.” Here’s the windup. “I’m disappointed.” Fastball on the outside, strike one.

“I know.”

“When you were born, I was the happiest woman on earth.” Pitch number two starting. “Then right after I saw your face, I leapt. It was the dead of winter, and I wound up in a snow bank for six minutes before coming back. From that moment on, I knew I had to do all I could to protect you.”

Curve ball, strike two. Well-placed pitch, Mom. The old delivery story applies to any semi-serious situation. It’s there to remind me of her love and of my need to be allegiant to her because of the struggles she has faced.

“Trust helps me protect you, Carter. If I don’t have yours or you don’t have mine, where are we?”

The count is 0 – 2. This one looks hittable. “Mom, I trust you. It was just a one-time thing. I’m not sure what you want me to say.”

“You trust me? Well, then let me trust in you. You tell me what your punishment should be.”

Swung and missed. That pitch went high and inside with no chance of going anywhere. Batter is out. Damn, she played that well. I hate this scenario of deciding my own punishment—too strict, and it looks like I’m playing the martyr or being sarcastic. Too easy, and it shows my lack of caring for what I did.

“Jeez, mom. I don’t know. Two weeks, no TV?” It seems like a nice starting point for negotiations.

She stands against the refrigerator, arms crossed, not looking like I’m giving enough. Perhaps I should sweeten the deal with volunteering for household chores beyond my wheelhouse, including laundry and bathroom scrubbing.

“Carter, punishment is basically an unknown variable that’s always constant in your life. Leaping at your age can put you in dangerous situations at any point. Taking certain things away that relieve stress doesn’t help. Your life is precious to me.”

Oh, this is already not steering anywhere near a happy place.

“Taking things away from you is not real penance. Not with this. I think the best thing for you is to get signed up for training.”

And kill me.

“I will be your instructor,” she says.

Did I mention immediately? “Mom…”

“I’ve already prepared you physically with self-defense and other training. The rest is being able to control your leaping, and I can help with that, too, but not here.”

My mom works as a leap counselor. She helps kids with my condition mentally and emotionally, and also provides training sessions for them and their parents. It’s an attempt to control their leaps. Her organization is funded in part by the DCD, as long as she registers her clients with them and shares their progress.

Training sessions are mainly meditation and yoga type of nonsense. One of my fellow comrades from school said he went through it at age twelve, and it was the lamest experience in his existence. That taints the waters for me.

“Mom, please. I don’t need a bunch of hand-holding breathing techniques to help focus my chi or whatever.”

“Is that so?” That’s a challenge question and an obvious trap waiting to be stepped in. I will not be falling for it this time, Mother. Instead, I will just put my head down and power through.

“How many sessions do I have to go to?” I ask contemptuously.

In the distance, I hear the house phone chirping. Timing is everything. My mom looks toward the living room as if her vision can peer through walls and takes a few steps in that direction. In her retreat, she states, “As many sessions as it takes to make me feel comfortable with you again.”

Ugh. Not a win by any means, but not a set amount of training, either. She leaves the safety of the invisible punishment circle as she motions with one finger for me to stay, like I’m a golden retriever.

As soon as she is out of sight, I start making my way back toward the stairwell on the other side of the kitchen leading upstairs. The precautionary warning I throw out before she reaches the phone is, “I’m going to finish up my homework, quick.”

A diversionary tactic plus a plausible excuse near the tail end of sentencing—I couldn’t ask for a smoother transition. I hear her greeting the person on the phone, and I know I’m in the clear. I hope I can pay it forward to that caller someday.

“Not so fast,” my mom states from the base of the stairs.

“Wh— I thought we were pretty much done.” There is an alarm going off in my head right now. How did my mom answer the phone and make it all the way back through the kitchen to the stairs in front of me without me noticing?

“Your friend, Ray, called, and he would like to remind you of your study plans at the coffee shop tomorrow at three o’clock.”

Never mind that pay-it-forward comment. Ray is obviously an asshole and off my Christmas card list this year.

“Mom.” I turn around to head toward the fridge. “Sorry I didn’t ask before setting it up, but it was kind of last minute.” My mind was struggling to conjure so many tales. I’ll have to write all these down and practice later so I can remember them all.

As I near the fridge, continuing to speak over my shoulder at my mom, I notice a small ripple in the air, like the ones seen on a long stretch of hot, summer road. Shortly after, I reach my hand out to grab the fridge handle to peruse some snack options. My mother appears before me and stops my hand with hers.

If my butthole didn’t pucker in fright, I might have pooped my pants right then.

“Holy shit!” I think curse words were pretty acceptable given the circumstance. “Did you just…?”

“Teleport? Yes. Well, in a way. You and I, we need to further our conversation, it appears.”

“You can teleport?” I’m dumbfounded.

“Let’s start with how well you know Raymond Lord and work our way back to that.”

And this begins the worst week of my life.

 


 

A Time to Reap

Ch. 2: These are the Names…

 

two

The next morning, I’m still reciting the mantra the countdown created in my mind. One week, five days, and a handful of hours remain, according to the timetable laid out in the note. I am still no closer to figuring out who left it for me or to what purpose.

Prepare yourself. Yeah, that’s super. I’ll just download the latest version of Time Traveler Safety Guides. Who in the hell am I going to find willing to be my Obi-Wan Kenobi for this scenario of impending doom? It’s not like there’s a directory I can go to.

The closest thing to it is a compiled list of people who have my condition in the database at the Center for Disease Control. Indeed, my condition is filed with the CDC, as if I have some plague. The list represents the collective of individuals who registered or have been recognized over the years. It’s not publicized though.

The countdown to my demise on the slip of paper stares up from my desk. Part of me is ready to throw it away, while another wants to analyze every curve to see if I recognize the penmanship—like I could tell one scribble from another.

My cell phone chirps from across the room, and the holographic projection of my mom’s picture is hovering above the glow of my screen. Mom phoning this early tells me I had better get over and take the call. She hasn’t heard from me for the past few days, being out of town on business, but I’m sure the DCD has notified her of my leap, since I am still considered a minor.

“Hi, Mom.”

“Hey.” She sounds unhappy. “Anything you want to tell me?” Yup, definitely unhappy. There are a few key sentences a teenager of any caliber doesn’t want to hear from their parents, and this particular one sparks a DEFCON 4 alert to my senses. It incites panic about all the things I’ve done, as well as anything I ever considered doing. My mind is doing a quick recount of possible misdeeds from the last few months.

“Um… I don’t think it’ll be anything you won’t tell me about soon anyhow?” A snarky response is probably not in my favor, but I’m still flipping through mental records of possible sin or delinquency she may be directing me to admit.

“Carter James. You know what I’m talking about.”

First and middle name—it’s like a warning shot. Still, this is a psychological war of attrition. I’m certainly not going to admit anything she doesn’t hint to me first. My best bet is to remain idle, and let her feel the need to completely explain.

“I do?” I play stupid.

“You leaped, and I have to hear about it a day later from Dr. Phillips? I don’t care if I’m five time zones away. What was the last thing I told you?”

I feel relieved to not have a guessing game going on inside my brain box. Thinking back to her departure to Germany, it’s all slowly starting to take shape in my mind. Unfortunately, my mouth and brain are not relaying their findings correctly.

“Yeah, um, you said that I… should… probably…”

“I said if anything happens, to call me as soon as you can.” Mercifully, she ends my suffering by answering for me. “And I think you knew leaping to be included within the category of anything.”

I will later wonder if I should have said anything, but for the moment I remain vague. “Sorry, Mom. Between the leaping and the note, I have just been a little busy.”

“Note? What note?”

And thus, the flashing-red warning lights go off. “The one I left in the curio cabinet.” As ridiculous as it sounds, curio cabinet is a code word we use to let the other person know the topic should not be discussed over the phone.

The government continuously satisfies its curiosity with people like my mother and me. There have been enough “coincidences” where we’ve run into them after talking on the phone. In some cases, they even paid a visit to our home. So, we developed a system of writing out conversations on toilet paper whenever it was a topic they might want to stick their noses into. Hell, I don’t even know if we own a curio cabinet.

“Well, I should be home tonight, and we can go over things then. For now, get dressed and get to school. You have about fifteen minutes before you should leave, and I’m fairly certain you haven’t made it past the threshold of your bedroom yet.”

My mom always has a weird way of knowing what I’m not doing. It’s more eerie to me than my ability to jump through time. I am, in fact, still sitting in my bed for no particular reason. I’ve been up for the past hour staring off into nothing—I boost myself into thinking its meditation. “I’ll get there.”

“On time, Carter.”

“Yes, on time, Mother.”

“Okay, until tonight then,” says my mom.

“Until tonight. Safe flight, Mom.”

With that, she’s gone. Mom and I don’t favor saying goodbyes every time we end a conversation or leave on an errand. With us, me in particular, we could disappear at any given moment, and if it’s the one day we don’t say goodbye, it will haunt us both. So, once a year, we have a goodbye celebration. Basically, it’s like an anniversary, showing we’ve made it through another year. We usually go out for dinner, just the two of us, at our favorite restaurant, Windows. It’s this luxury place on the twentieth story of a building downtown that rotates while looking out over the city. It’s better than a birthday or Christmas, in my opinion. It’s a time we feel obligated to do nothing except recognize we are still together.

The rest of my day swirls by like a mix of Kool-Aid in water. I speed wash, grab a handful of breakfast bars and head to the depot station with rapid footsteps. I make the last car on the express, which gets me to school on time. The private school I attend, Pemberton Academy, has an assortment of classmates with my condition and a handful of other behavioral nuances. They aren’t bad or violent kids, but some have a hard time grasping the new scientific definition of reality.

Most of the “normal” kids that go to school with me have a family member who has vanished in front of them and hasn’t returned, or has returned but is unable to cope. As ludicrous as it sounds, putting them in school with kids that have my condition is a proven method of helping them adjust to society.

It’s hardest on the younger grade levels. My age group is pretty comfortable with how life is laid out for us. We stay because there’s no need to go anywhere else. I’ve heard that lots of graduates go on to work for the government. I hope the benefits are good, since I have no other idea of what I’ll do after school is over.

There is an even smaller group than the Leapers, in the world, and they are known by most as Eventuals. The government refers to them as Neurologically Impaired. Their researchers learned about Eventuals while trying to test and treat our kind. Most Eventuals show such a low-level ability that it’s difficult to spot, but about one out of fifty show small spikes of prominent telepathy or telekinesis. They can pick up on random thoughts or push chairs across the room. It’s nothing quite like what’s seen in the movies, but what is? I have personally never encountered an Eventual with any remotely interesting powers beyond what could be guessing.

The few Eventuals at my school don’t really socialize or make themselves known. Apparently, there is some kind of lab test that lands them in my lame school for mutants. Only, there’s no cool patriarch like Professor X leading us, or training facilities, or combat simulators like the X-Men had. Nope, just a bunch of teenagers more confused than normal about their bodies. There’s a rumor that something happens to a majority of students in the last semester of senior year, but I have yet to see any proof.

After school, I autopilot back to my house. My mom always reminds me to pick up my feet when I walk, and I notice my shuffling as I lazily round the corner, and the quiet of fall envelops me. Every now and again, there are brief moments of silence within a city. They’re not complete, but the majorly close sound of people talking to one another or traffic whizzing by fades, and the soft white noise of the inner city is all you can detect. If you pay attention, it’s quite terrifying—that break from normalcy.

I would have noticed earlier, but my mind is elsewhere. The soles of my shoes dragging on the pavement snap me out of my daze, and before I have the time to realize it has grown quiet. Dead quiet.

When I was younger, I played baseball. One day, a ball was coming directly toward me. As a good third baseman, I planted my stance, and with every fiber of my being, I prepared to stop the ball from getting by me. Before I could react, the ball hit a tuft of grass and propelled upward into my face. The world went quiet just before the collision. That same feeling is happening to me as I approach the walk leading up to my house.

The world goes quiet. I feel my consciousness rattle and vision blur slightly. By the time I blink the feeling away, I’m terrified to learn I somehow arrived indoors. Not inside my house, but into an unfamiliar room. The walls and ceiling are dark. No windows line the room, and the only light is coming from the floor, or maybe beneath it.

A part of me wants to scream, but I can’t imagine it will help. Plus, the darkness of the walls and ceiling looks like some kind of sound-absorbing material, and I’m not sure if there’s a door. I can’t see any sign of a doorframe, let alone a handle.

A compressed puff of air resounds at my left. Shortly thereafter, a panel pushes into the area and slides along the wall. A man enters, and by the look of him, he should be on a poster for some kind of resistance. All he’s missing is a beret, along with his pant legs needing to be tucked into those military-style boots.

My heart flutters to the beat of a snare drum on a battlefield. The spit within my mouth curdles up as I struggle to swallow. I breathe as normally as possible and try to not let the muscles in my face reveal how disoriented I am inside.

“Mr. Gabel. Sorry for the scare, I just wanted to get in touch with you before your mother returns this evening.”

Great, he knows my name, my mother’s schedule, and how to abduct me without a trace. This is one of those moments in the movie where the hero would say some quip to get under the villain’s skin, but I am not that confident or that stupid.

“So, what can I do for you?” Hell, might as well be civil while I can.

“My name is Raymond Lord. Most people have nicknamed me Lord Ray. You can just call me Ray. I insist.”

Now, I’m extra nervous. Within my circle of people, Lord Ray is a name we’ve all heard of before. He has been blamed for varying degrees of theft, murder, and disappearances while leaping. Granted, no one I know can prove anything, just general speculations attached to his name. One thing is certain: his name is constantly plastered around news hubs, at the train station, and any public site. He is wanted for questioning by the DCD. I didn’t even recognize him from the photos until he introduced himself.

“Carter,” I manage to utter without squeaking in fear. “I insist.”

“Great. Well, now that formalities are behind us, let’s get down to why you are here today, Carter.” His smile seems pleasant, but his eyes refuse to mirror that same recognizable emotion. Those eyes look like happiness has been absent from them for quite some time.

“Okay.” Yeah, real confident, dumbass. I’m giving myself a sarcastic thumbs-up, in my mind.

“I sent you those notes you’ve been finding after your leaps.”

Now I’m all sorts of confused. If my understanding were a puppy, it has broken off its leash, and my mind races to catch it. On top of that, I feel nauseated. “Why?”

“Well, I’m sure you’ve heard stories of my actions in one form or another. To sum those up, there’s 40 percent truth to most of them, like any story. I have refused to abide by the government’s need to ‘cure’ our kind.” Ugh, he uses air quotes. I subtract from his cool points.

That sick feeling is growing, but I soon realize it’s not that my lunch is trying to come up, but that my body is trying to go back. The normal tingle has intensified far beyond what I’m used to.

“Crap, I’m going to leap,” I warn. “I don’t know where I am, but you may need to take me somewhere close to home.” Clutching my stomach, as if that has any bearing on slowing it down, is all I can do. When I leap, there will be people surrounding my location within a couple of hours, and I won’t know how to answer any questions about why I ended up wherever Ray’s henchmen will have taken me.

For whatever reason, Ray isn’t too alarmed or accommodating. He’s just sitting there, staring at me as if I’m a kid throwing a fit in the grocery store.

“Carter, despite the preemptive, uncontrolled feeling you are experiencing, you will not be leaping, at least not from this room.”

“How?” It’s one word I hope translates into the pages of questions his statement just sparked.

“There are a lot of things out there you are going to learn about soon; the trick is being able to convince yourself.” He’s smiling, while I feel like a dropped soda bottle that is building up fizz. “You are going to learn how to control your leaps, first. Then you are going to learn the details of how to use your… condition. But you will have to decide if you want my help.”

The normal tingle I feel before jumping is building up some sort of pressure within me. I feel it resting behind my sinuses and within my chest. It’s like my entire body needs to sneeze but can’t. This room must stifle it somehow. It gets harder to maintain focus, visually. The buildup is putting enough stress on my body to exhaust me completely.

I think I’m on the floor. It’s much brighter now, closer to the lights, and someone is tickling my arm.

“Carter… Please, make your decision soon. That countdown is still going on for you. If you want my help, do this: Take out a coin and flick it into the air. Someone will be along shortly after and will help get you started.”

He’s saying something else, but I can’t hear him as my mind goes blank and the room gets brighter, much brighter. Then I realize I’m not in the room anymore. The brightness is daylight. I’m back in front of my place, poised on my steps, ready to walk in to my house.

Jesus, did I just hallucinate? I look down at my watch. I just got off the train fifteen minutes ago. As I shake my head, I wonder what in the hell just took place. The dampness under my arms and trailing down my back tells me the fear was real.

After shaking off the feeling, I treat the incident like a surreal encounter, like sharing the same dream with someone. It’s peculiar and unexplainable but is easily shrugged off.

While catching up on some reading in my room, I hear the garage door open outside and the familiar hum of my mom’s car traveling into the port. And, of course, as I turn to get off the bed to go downstairs, I spill the glass of soda I was keeping next to me all down the side of my red-hooded sweatshirt. At least I save it from soaking into my pillow, I guess.

I strip out of the wet, sticky shell and equally soaked T-shirt beneath. As I pull a semi-clean shirt off the top of a pile of clothes on the floor, something is off. For a second, I think I have soda still running down my arm. As it turns out, it’s much messier than that. The episode before getting home was most definitely real, and proof is written on my forearm in a familiar handwriting.

 

Don’t trust your mom. Remember the coin.

1 week: 5 days: 11 hours: 18 minutes

 

To be continued … 


A Time to Reap

Ch. 1: In the Beginning…

 

one

I’m standing outside a familiar house on Ainslie Street, in Lincoln Square. It’s the red brick house my mother was raised in. I can tell by my grandma’s flower garden off to the side with roses still in full, vibrant colors. After my mother inherited the house, she let most of the garden go but kept one rose bush as an homage to Grandma Gabel. I feel the chill of the morning air on my naked body while the dusky sunlight of the morning creeps over the lawn.

My heart pumps wildly. It must be very early, as I can see the slightest hint of sun starting to bounce from clouds to the east. The panic of being caught in my birthday suit is still unnerving, and I quickly survey the streets. The house lights are off, and I hear no motors of any kind nearby.

I was studying for a calculus test in my kitchen just moments ago, except it was in the future. How far into the future is still uncertain. One thing I’ve learned since I began time traveling is to do my studying as soon as possible, in case of any sudden departures. Teachers in my time are alert to students who are Chronologically Displaced Persons. The chunky title is a fancy way of saying time traveler. People with my affliction first referred to each other as Chrono-Leapers and, eventually, just Leapers.

I look around and try to gather clues, like my mother taught me. The best way to pinpoint “where or when” I am in the world is to look at a newspaper or a parked car. Newspapers will give me dates and information on when I have traveled to. A car will give me a state and a year from the registration sticker. I already know the house, so the where tip is irrelevant. I discover the when as I approach the house. At the driveway, a newspaper lies in a thin plastic sleeve. The date is Saturday, April 25, 2009—more than thirty years in the past.

I’ve only been traveling for the last four years, but I’ve known about my condition for almost all my life. At the age of twelve, I was considered a late bloomer, since most start developing symptoms before their eighth birthday.

For most, strong emotions trigger a leap. Inevitably, an uncontrollable instance occurs without warning, like a hiccup. My mother warned me at an early age about “the price of losing control.” She spoke from experience—I recall moments when she got extremely agitated and disappeared. She sometimes came back with bruises on her face.

I always try to prepare for when it’s my time to get tossed back and forth in the spectrum without warning. Mom said I would be able to control it better by the time I reached my twenties. I hope this turns out to be true, because a little spike of terror fills me each time it happens. I keep it bottled up, rely on breathing exercises, and hope that I never have to enact any of the moves I’ve learned in self-defense classes.

Cold and exposed, I make my way around back to my grandma’s gardening shed. First, I check in the closet where she used to keep her aprons and galoshes. On one shelf are an oversized pair of sweatpants and a sweatshirt of equal proportions—a stash I can only assume was put there for my grandfather, who had the same condition. I put them on and begin to walk toward the back door of the house. Grandma kept a spare key under the mat, so I unlock the door and walk into the kitchen.

The only sound is from the heater in the basement. I walk over and look at the photo magnets on the refrigerator. Some show pictures of friends and family. I’ve never before traveled to a past where I wasn’t born yet. It’s like showing up to a surprise party early, where all of the decorations are out but no guests have arrived.

A rumble from my stomach reminds me how I skipped dinner, and I decide to quietly scavenge the cupboards for anything I can consume. As I do so, I think of where I should go. It isn’t a good idea to be caught and try to explain. I grab a few breakfast bars and a sealed package of beef jerky.

As I turn to go back out to the shed, I notice a sleepy-eyed young girl staring at me from the hallway. She’s wearing flannel pants and an oversized white T-shirt. I immediately recognize the young version of my mom I’ve seen in old photo albums.

A rekindled sense of longing fills my chest, and I’m reminded of how I miss being home already. I want to run over and hug her and tell her I’m her son. But I know I can’t act so presumptuous and endanger the timeline.

“Who are you?” she asks in a raspy voice.

“Someone like you.”

She takes a moment to process the information. “Do I know you?” She wipes the sleep out of one eye and squints at me through the other.

“No.” My mother has explained that if I encounter someone and don’t want to divulge any unneeded information, I should keep my comments brief, courteous, and to the point.

“Why are you here? What’s your name?” She appears to be waking up, but as she shuffles forward, her steps are heavy.

“My name is Carter. I used to visit this place from time to time when I was younger.” For obvious reasons, I leave out the part about living there in the future and doing my homework in this very kitchen.

She nods, scuttles over to one of the stools by the counter, and sits down with a thump. She braces her chin on the palm of her hand and promptly closes her eyes.

She exhales a few deep-throated sighs, letting me know she’s asleep. I am about to place the contents of cupboard rummage in my pockets when I feel the small tickle in my center that lets me know my time is almost up. The initial leap can be unexpected, but the return trip gives notice.

I grab a magnetized egg timer off the refrigerator and set it for two minutes. I kiss my young mother’s head and place the timer by her elbow. I then slip out the back door and go into Grandma’s shed to return the clothing and place them back in the closet. The feeling gets stronger, and I know it’s time.

The sensation rushes through me, and I feel myself going back to my place in time. It feels like little carbonated bubbles fizzing up inside my body until they race through my veins and up through the pores in my skin. There’s a split second where I see and hear nothing. It’s actually comforting, because it brings me utter peace and tranquility.

When I come to, I look at the clock above the sink and notice only an hour has passed. I think that’s a pretty amazing stroke of luck considering the first time I came back from traveling I found I had been gone for an entire day, and I wound up in the grape arbor behind my best friend’s house.

It was the most embarrassing moment in my life. Growing up, I knew the possibility existed, but until it actually happens, you are never ready. Since my friend lived a few miles away, I had to rely on his family’s help to get me home. I’ll never forget that shameful walk up to their door to ask for help, holding a soccer ball over my tiddly-bits.

In my kitchen, clothes are in a disheveled pile on the chair where I had been sitting. They look like a second skin I had shed. As I start to get dressed, the phone rings. I know exactly who it is, and I don’t feel like answering, but if I don’t, a black sedan will be pulling into the driveway. I don’t want my mom to go through that tonight, if it can be avoided.

I walk over and hold my hand up in front of the translucent phone screen to wave through the call. The display lights up, and Dr. Phillips’s face appears. “Good evening, Mr. White,” the gray-haired man announces.

Mr. White is my pseudonym. The doctors and officials like to distance themselves from too much knowledge of, or attachment to, Chrono-Leapers. That’s because there have been times they’ve had to “remove the threat,” due to a possible timeline adjustment—like someone making money off of future knowledge. If they knew real names and formed emotional ties, it would be harder to move on after a patient had been “removed.” They need to be able to think of us simply as livestock—expendable—and not as pets that have to be put down. But I’ll get to the Chrono-Hunters later.

“Doctor,” I reply, trying to convey by my impatience toget this over with and go to bed.

“Where did we go to tonight?”

We? That always makes me chuckle. He didn’t go anywhere and wind up naked and on a quick search for his dignity.

“My house, April 25th, 2009.” I know precisely what he is going to ask next; it’s the same thing he always asks after leaping: Who did I see? What did I see? What did I do? Did I affect anything outright or influence anybody otherwise? It’s protocol.

Since Chronologically Displaced Person Syndrome (CDPS) was fully introduced as a medical phenomenon in 2017, the government takes special interest in the scientific aspects of the field. My mother’s condition was explored when she was younger, but no scientific tests ever determined why it occurs, yielding only theoretical papers on the subject.

Naturally, the government began to intervene when they realized the severity of what could happen if a person played leapfrog through time without scrutiny. They asked the public to come forward voluntarily. In exchange, they agreed to pay test subjects for any research toward the “genetic mutation.” They initially rounded up six travelers—one of whom was my mother. She knew from experience what could happen, and didn’t want to wind up like my grandfather, stranded naked in a blizzard to die of hypothermia.

The volunteer program was a clever way of getting anybody who was a Leaper out of the woodwork so as to document and hopefully cure them. After some Senatorial debate, the government began to sanction time travel, as long as the activity was monitored. To keep tabs on our time-travel activities, Leapers are now given tracking wristbands, which fit snugly against the skin. If we disappear, handlers wait an hour and then call.

Failure to answer the call initiates the dispatch of a vehicle to stand guard and wait. In the meantime, the Department of Chronological Displacement (DCD) activates a Limbo Tank. The Tank is a capsule designed to withstand any fluctuation in the time/space ribbon or temporal disturbance. It basically acts as the waiting area for when Leapers return. No matter what they may have altered in time, the Hunters will have a perfect detailed record of how the world was before they left. After they are released from the Tank, Hunters compare and look for major changes in finances, world population and developments in technology.

Once the Leaper returns, the Hunter is removed from the Tank. If it is not opened from the outside, it remains dormant for up to six months. After that time, it will automatically open. The Hunter is awakened, and orders are initiated to find and assassinate the Leaper in question.

The longest time jump recorded was three months. When the Leaper returned, his body went into a state of shock. From what I’ve read, a long period of time spent outside a person’s natural timeline can cause uncontrollable hemorrhaging. After an autopsy and many tests, scientists deduced that any Leaper returning after a period of five months would not survive. So, the six-month mark is set for Hunters as an added precaution.

The shortest timeframe recorded is five minutes. Hunters are given a fifteen-minute window to get to a Tank, suit up, and prepare. Anything below that mark is deemed irrelevant. There have been a few circumstances when a Leaper has not returned. For the most part, it happens when Leapers find themselves in the elements when they jump.

Government agents always come off as smug, and Dr. Phillips is not much different. He is just like them, only he adds empathy after each question. I hate coming back a few hours or days after leaping to see them standing in my room before I can find something to put on over my birthday suit.

I chat with Dr. Phillips about the paper I looked at, to verify the date. When it comes to information, he always likes to ask me a few times. There are retinal cameras in the phone display to measure my pupils, which apparently show the degree to which I’m lying. It’s one of the things they tell us when we check in after our first few leaps. Asking repeatedly is a way of trying to throw us off guard, in case we learned how to fool the machine.

Another precaution is monitoring bank accounts. Anytime a person leaps, his or her bank account immediately gets audited back to the previous month, once the Hunter is released.

More troubling than the government, or Hunters, or even leaping itself is what has been happening to me recently. Someone is leaving me notes to find after I return from my leaps. I’ve received two notes so far in the past six weeks. The first was cryptic—it simply stated, “5 months: 14 days: 6 hours: 21 minutes.” The following note was more troubling, as it was starting to count down. I have not looked yet as I just returned, but I’m sure there’s a third. My debriefing is just wrapping up, and I plan to check my room for evidence.

As I enter the room, a half-folded piece of paper sits patiently on my desk, waiting for me to open it. This one is different. It seems ominous.

1 week: 6 days: 13 hours: 4 minutes

They will be coming for you.

Prepare yourself

 

To be continued … 


 

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Something to Try

I’ve seen these done before and thought, well, I could do that. I am going to start taking a short story idea that I had many years ago and attempt a periodic continuation from week to week. I’ll be submitting a chapter at a time and I truly hope to get some feedback. I don’t have many followers at this point, by I bring a tribe of Facebook Fans and I hope that if you follow it here that you will let me know one way or another.

I still plan on continuing a normal blog about my steps towards submitting a novel, but if I don’t exercise my creativity on a regular basis with some fresh material, I fear that I may atrophy. So, the first chapter should be releasing promptly at 8:00pm MST tonight and I look forward to your thoughts.