Authors: Elle Strauss
Tags: #Romance, #science fiction, #1800s fiction, #time travel, #novelette
I loved the sound of her voice, melodious, perfect for story-telling. I didn’t want her to stop.
The next morning the sun shone brightly, so I removed my PJ's and set them out on a rock to dry. Basking in the sun had warmed me up, but I was starving. I searched around for food wearing only underpants. I looked like the Jungle Book boy.”
I imagined her as a skinny, long-limbed little girl with dark curly hair.
When I went back to where I'd left my PJs I couldn't find them. However, it turned out I didn't need to worry about that. I fell into the tunnel of light and next thing I knew, I was in my bed, with my PJs on, and my mother was just closing the door behind her. I looked at the clock—8:31.”
Wow, that’s quite the story.”
Even though it was dark in the room, my eyes had adjusted and I saw Casey’s head turn sharply my way.
It’s all true.”
I believe you,” I said. And as strange as it was, I did. “How long does it last?”
Sometimes it’s as short as a few hours and sometimes...”
Sometimes?” I prodded. I had the feeling she was remembering something she didn’t want to tell me.
It’s longer. I never know. Hopefully, it’ll just be a couple days.”
Does this happen to anyone else you know?”
I haven’t met anyone. I know the signs and I haven’t seen the evidence.”
There are signs?” I asked, intrigued.
Well, a few. I get dark rings around my eyes when I travel back to my time; I’m discombobulated for a while, and really, really tired.”
I believed that. I let my eyelids close wanting to give in to sleep. But first I needed to ask a couple more questions.
So, you’re a time traveler. I’m not. How do I get back?”
You have to be touching me. Skin to skin.”
Something about that image made me smile. Touching Casey Donovan wasn’t all that bad.
She got up with a huff, and I wondered if mind reading was one of her gifts, too.
Where you off to?” I asked.
Hey, Casey?” I had one more question.
She stopped at the door. “Yeah?”
What happens if, you know, you don’t get to me on time, to touch my skin?”
You’d get left here, I guess.”
My throat felt dry and I swallowed hard.
I’d be back eventually,” she added, “so you wouldn’t be left here forever.”
Sara Watson wasn’t joking about the rooster.
Casey shook my shoulder and grunted something about getting up. When I headed for the outhouse I saw two pair of boots waiting for us outside the cabin door, compliments of the Watson family.
I heard voices on my return, Casey’s and Willie’s, and paused out of sight, not wanting to interrupt.
Okay. I wanted to hear what they were saying, curious if they’d had some kind of fling, or something.
Not that I cared.
Casey said, “I don’t blame you for being mad.”
I confess that I was hurt Casey, uh, Cassandra. A man doesn’t like to be played the fool,” I heard Willie say. “But after I thought about it for a while, I saw that you only did it as a protection for yourself. I don’t know why your father or brothers let you go off on your own, and it’s not my place to judge. But I understand it would have been foolhardy for you to travel alone as a girl. Uh, woman.”
Casey had been disguising herself as a boy. I remembered Willie’s comment now, at the breakfast table the day before. But I found it hard to believe that Willie could’ve fallen for that, given Casey’s obvious curves. But her jungle boy description was pretty convincing. I decided to give Willie the benefit of the doubt.
So, we’re still friends?” Casey asked.
I stepped out in time to see them do an awkward hug. Definitely no romantic sparks there, which I found oddly relieving.
I chided myself. I had a girlfriend. Besides, Casey wasn’t interested in me.
Casey left for the house and I followed Willie, not at all looking forward to making a fool of myself, which was inevitable. I’d never stepped inside a barn before in my life.
I was hit by the pungent smell of sweaty farm animals–horses, cows and goats from what I could see. The cows mooed in anticipation. Willie opened a gate and let two of the animals out.
Cows are bigger than you think when you’re standing right up beside them. They have bony back ends and wide-eyed faces with nostrils the size of quarters.
Willie prodded them into two stalls and motioned toward the one for me. I’d never milked a cow before, but I did know where the milk came from. I decided it would be good to make friends before I touched her in sensitive places. I patted her on the head.
She snorted, blowing bovine snot over my shirt.
There’s a stool and a pail,” Willie said, pointing at the side of the stall.
He carried a short three legged stool to the broad side of his cow, and placed the tin pail under long, slimy looking teats.
I did the same and felt my face grimace. Now, I loved milk, drank a jug a day. I
it came from cows, but I just never thought about it that much.
I mimicked Willie’s posture, and wrapped my fingers around a teat. I wouldn’t lie. The wet, wrinkly, ropy thing grossed me out. In the stall beside me, Willie hummed a tune to the rhythm of the
thunk, thunk, thunk
, of milk shooting into the pail. It seemed to have a soothing effect on his cow.
My cow shifted nervously. She could tell I was a fraud with no clue. I pulled cautiously on one teat and then the other, but hardly anything came out, just a few drops. It would take me three years to milk her at this rate.
I squeezed and pulled, trying to get a rhythm. I hummed
We Will Rock You
, hoping to calm her down, hoping to calm us both down, but she didn’t seem to like Queen. She kicked at me sideways, knocking the pail over. What little milk I’d gathered dribbled out. I stood quickly to get out of her way.
Willie jumped to my aid, coaxing the cow back into the stall. He eyed my pail suspiciously. “Everything okay?”
It’s been awhile,” I mumbled.
Since you milked a cow?”
How could I explain this? “I was sickly as a child?”
Oh, I just expected since Cassandra...”
Case, uh, Cassandra milks cows?”
Willie’s eyebrow arched, probably wondering why I knew so little about my “sister.”
Yeah,” he said, “she gives me a run for my money.”
The girl never ceased to amaze me.
Take your time, then,” Willie said, returning to his own stall. “It’ll come back to you.”
The cow gave me the evil eye. I stared at her bloated udder and swore I never touch a glass of milk again.
Another guy was sitting at the breakfast table when we got there. Willie introduced him to us as Samuel.
Hey,” I said. “How’s it going?”
Good now,” Samuel said. “It smells like heaven in here.”
He had that hungry look in his eyes. Samuel shifted and I looked away.
Sara put a large pot of porridge on the table and we helped ourselves greedily.
So, Sam,” I said, wanting to make conversation. The guy seemed so nervous. “You here long? I’d offer you to bunk with me, but my
,” I grinned at Casey, “is taking up all the space.”
It grew strangely quiet and Casey glared at me. Then I remembered where I was. Or more accurately
. Black guys weren’t equals.
That’s fine,” Samuel said. “I won’t be here for long.”
Samuel is recently come from the south,” Sara said, as if that explained everything.
He should be safe here, right?” Casey said. “With Massachusetts being a free state.”
Another pause. So far, Casey and I were striking out in the small talk department.
That’s true,” Willie said. “But don’t forget about the fugitive act.”
Damn. Samuel was a runaway slave?
I’m waiting for my younger brother, Jonah,” Samuel said. “Then we’ll head up to Canada.”
Oh,” I said. “I’m from Canada.”
Really?” Willie eyed me. “I thought you were from Springfield.”
We are,” Casey jumped in. “Nathaniel meant our grandfather on our mother’s side originally came from Canada. We’ve never been there.” She picked up the sugar bowl. “Sugar, anyone?”
I got the hint and kept my mouth shut for the remainder of the meal.
There rest of the day went more smoothly than the morning milking debacle. Mostly, we pitched hay, shoveled horse and cow dung, and repaired things like fences. Unfortunately, we had to milk the cows
in the evening. The second time wasn’t a charm, but it wasn’t as much of a disaster, either.
I considered myself to be in pretty good shape. I mean, I was named most valuable player in football, basketball and baseball. I could run, jump, throw like the best of them. But by the end of the day working on the farm, I was totally wasted.
Maybe it was all the fresh air.
I beat Casey back to the cabin and quickly washed up and stripped down, slipping under the covers. Unless we were going to sleep under the same sheets, and that wasn’t about to happen, I didn’t relish the thought of her seeing me walking around in my boxers.
Obviously, she felt the same way. She returned from the house with a ball of string, a blanket, a hammer and nails.
She hung the string from one end of the cabin to the other about a foot lower than the ceiling, down the middle of the narrow aisle between our beds.
Don’t clotheslines go up outside?” I said, watching with interest.
This isn’t a clothesline.” She pinned the blanket to the line, blocking the view of her cot. “It’s for privacy.”
I chuckled at that. This room was too small for real privacy. “Hey, just think of me as your brother.”
Her face popped out from behind the blanket. “I’m not your sister, and you’re not about to see what’s not yours.”
As much as I would’ve enjoyed spying on my cabin mate, nature had other plans. Within moments I was in a dead sleep.
The next day was much the same as the first, and the one after that, and the one after that.
The fourth night I plopped on my cot and moaned. “I thought you said a couple days.”
Casey’s voice came from the other side of the privacy blanket. “Usually it is. I’m sure I’ll be shouting your name soon.”
She’d promised she’d come running to the barn, calling for me when she felt a