The bell on the door jingled.
A man entered the "Soothing the Savage Beast" music store. Subdued and generally humorless, he walked past rows of colorful electric guitars mounted on the wall and ignored the cheerful big band jazz soundtrack blaring on the loud speakers. His black trenchcoat matched his dark hair, but his face lacked sunlight equal to the bland hues of his shirt and tie.
The man in the trenchcoat took a patient stance behind a customer, watching with detached interest the purchase of a digital tuning device.
"I prefer good old-fashioned tuning forks, myself," said the salesman, a balding pear-shaped man in his fifties.
The young man in grunge T-shirt signed the credit card receipt and walked out of the store with his bag.
Behind the counter, the balding older man sighed disappointment as he closed the cash register drawer.
"You almost look as if you were trying to talk him into buying a ten dollar tuning fork over the hundred-dollar gadget," remarked the man in the black trenchcoat.
"Kids these days. Everything’s digital. Hand them something that doesn’t require plugging into the wall, or an antenna, and they’re lost." He clasped his hands and leaned on the glass display cabinet. "May I help you, sir?"
He took out his wallet and flapped it open to display an identification card with his picture. "My name is Special Agent Fox Mulder. I’m with the FBI. I’d like to ask you a few questions about what happened to you and your children twenty five years ago, Mr. Marshall."
Rick Marshall led Agent Mulder into the music store’s back room. Open shelves bulged with stacks upon stacks of band instrument cases, each sporting a hand-written yellow tag with a date and repair fee. A work bench took up most of the rear wall, scattered with screws, metal filings, guitar strings and miscellaneous components.
Marshall closed the door, catching the broom as it fell, and then turned to the FBI agent. "Have a seat, Mr. Mulder."
Mulder perched himself on the bar stool at the work bench, one leg hanging straight. "In the summer of 1974, you and your two children, Will and Holly, went on a camping trip."
"You vanished for over two years, and then in September 1976 firemen fighting a brush fire discovered you hiding in a gully?"
"You resisted being rescued, and the firemen say you were babbling about dinosaurs, lizard men, and your children being alive and in danger? Even though every square inch of six hundred acres all around you was burned to a crisp?"
Marshall leaned against the work bench, and he took up a segment of a clarinet. As he talked to the FBI man, he fiddled with the clarinet’s broken key. "If you know that much about my case, then you also know I spent the next four years in the psych ward of a VA Hospital."
"Yes," Mulder said. "I know."
"I have faced the truth."
Mulder let out a subdued smile, as if that phrase had special meaning for him. "What is the truth, Mr. Marshall?"
"My children died in an accident and I was unable to save them. I created a delusional fantasy to deny my very natural grief and side-step survivor’s guilt."
"I see. You’re also no doubt aware that your brother, Jack, went searching for your family, and he also vanished without a trace?"
"Shit happens in the wilderness, Mr. Mulder."
"Yeah, it sure does."
"It’s been twenty-five years. Unless you have some news about my children or my brother?"
"No, I’m sorry, I don’t."
"Then, how can I help you?"
Mulder took a photograph from his pocket, a Polaroid of a pale white teenaged boy in a hospital gown. "Do you know this young man?"
"This is Kevin Porter. Last week, he was rescued by firefighters during a brush fire. Like you, he was frantic about his family being in danger and not from the wildfire. He said his father was swallowed by a Tyrannosaurus Rex."
Marshall put down the segment of clarinet.
"His little sister, he says, is lost in a dimensional time-space portal, and his girlfriend is a prisoner in a lizard city."
"I’d say this young man has been watching too much Sci-Fi Channel." Marshall rubbed his hand over the top of his balding head, stopping at the receded hairline where the brim of a cap would be. "I’m sorry, that was insensitive. Obviously this is a disturbed boy. I hope he gets some help."
"Me too." Mulder tucked away the photograph. "Six days ago, Kevin Porter left County General without a doctor’s discharge. He kidnapped an EMT — that’s a paramedic — and illegally got a-hold of an assault rifle."
"He was last seen headed north on Interstate Five in Northern California. I believe he’s coming up to Portland to see you."
"I believe Kevin Porter got your name and address from AVSAC. They visited him in the hospital."
"What is an Aff-Sack?" Marshall asked.
"Abductee Victims Support Advocacy Council. They’re a local offshoot of the national Mutual UFO Network. You’re listed as a member."
"This month’s newsletter reprints your interview from twenty years ago and compares your story to Kevin Porter’s."
Rick Marshall shook his head. "I may have talked to some far-out groups when I was in the psych ward. I still get a lot of junk mail from crackpots and free subscriptions to tabloids. Have you seen the headline, aliens are supporting George W. Bush for president? I throw out shopping bags full of crap every week."
"I see. Does the word ‘Sleestak’ mean anything to you?"
It was a moment before Rick Marshall could talk. He cleared his throat and rasped, "That was a nonsense word from my delusion. Jabberwocky. Bibbity bobbity boo. Oompa-Loompa. It doesn’t mean anything."
"Uh-huh. Well, can you explain to me how Kevin Porter used this word in his initial psychiatric evaluation?"
"No, I can’t."
"How two men, twenty five years apart, who’ve never met…?"
"Maybe it’s a word from some old book that we both read and forgot about. Heinlein, Bradbury or Edgar Rice Burroughs. Gibberish words can get stuck in the collective unconscious. It doesn’t mean that there are actually time-space dimensional portals leading to other worlds with triple moons, and dinosaurs, and talking ape men, and Sleestak cities."
"I never said the Sleestak live in cities." Mulder stood up and tossed his business card onto the work bench. "If Kevin Porter contacts you, give me a call."
Three messages were on his answering machine when Rick Marshall went home that night. One was the mechanic apologizing for taking so long to fix the pick-up truck but he had to special order another part and it would be a few more days. Second was the neighbor upset about Marshall’s dying lawn and the proliferation of native vegetation. "Just because we’re a mobile home park doesn’t mean we have to look like trailer trash," was the man’s basic argument, punctuated with enough four-letter words to make Quentin Tarantino blush.
The third call was brief. "Uh…I’ll call back."
Marshall hit the replay button again, hoping to recognize the voice. Could have been a woman with a husky voice or a young man. Noise on the line obscured the sound, meaning the call either came from a booth or a cell phone.
Marshall sat down in his vinyl recliner with a bottle of lime flavored Calistoga water. He cradled the television’s remote control until well past midnight. He dozed off during an infomercial on cleaning products, and the remote dropped to the scuffed linoleum.
In his dream, Rick Marshall ran through a jungle of thick foliage, dodging ferns and overhanging palm branches, leaping fallen logs and tree roots. His panicked breaths tore through his chest like shards of glass, and he myopically headed for a cliff of white sandstone. A beast roared behind him, louder and more furious than feeding time at the zoo’s lion house. Not daring to look behind him at the enormous beast crashing through whole trees to get at him, Marshall kept running. He made it up the cliff’s side and entered a cave. A javelin stood by. Marshall seized the sharpened pole, turned, and faced the Tyrannosaurus Rex at eye level. Hanging from giant crocodile jaws were the two children, Will on one side, Holly on the other with her blonde braids flapping. "Help us, Dad, help us!" they cried. Rick Marshall hurled the javelin at the dinosaur’s eyes, and it bounced off the bony brow ridges.
He woke up thrashing. Mineral water spilled all over the rug and he didn’t care.
Turning on all the lights, he re-familiarized himself with the small room and its Goodwill brand furnishings: a bookcase on cinder blocks, poster art framed at the mall, and a jazz piano dating from the turn of the century that Marshall intended to re-string, regulate and tune up someday. No dinosaurs. No Paku talking ape men. No Sleestak lizard people with crossbows and bulging eyes. This, he told himself, is reality.
"Need to stop watching that goddamned Discovery Channel," he muttered on his way to bed.
It happened the following Tuesday afternoon, when Rick Marshall had just picked up his truck from the mechanic’s. The engine still ran roughly, after a crude bypass splice to the electrical system, and now he could only turn the ignition when the parking brake was engaged. Still, for all its gurgling and farting, the pickup truck functioned once more and that was enough.
Unlocking the front door, he didn’t feel the secure click of the dead bolt and Marshall wondered if he had forgotten to lock the house when he left for the music store that morning. Oh well, no harm done. It wasn’t New York City.
A young man sat in the recliner, facing the door, aiming a machine gun at him. Rick Marshall looked first at the gun, and then at the person holding it. Despite the unshaven fuzz on the upper lip and a general wild-eyed desperate look, he matched the Polaroid that Agent Mulder carried.
"Ho-how do you know my name?"
"Maybe I’m psychic. Put that thing down before you hurt somebody." Marshall put his car keys on the cluttered end table next to the door.
A whimper from the corner drew his attention.
There huddled a lean, tall black woman dressed in a soiled blue firefighter’s uniform. Duct tape covered her mouth and, Marshall assumed, bound her arms behind her.
He went to the woman and knelt beside her. He expected her to flinch when he drew his pocket knife — he was never without it — but a weariness in her wide, dark eyes suggested she had been scared for too long to react anymore even if a werewolf should crash through the window. Confronted with horrors over a protracted period of time, you got used to being scared.
Marshall cut the tape between her wrists and released her ankles as well. "Go on," he said. "Get out of here."
"No!" Kevin shrieked. "She can’t go!"
The woman froze like a deer in the headlights, but when Marshall stepped in between her and Kevin’s machine gun, she ran.
The paramedic flung aside the porch’s screen door, and she ran with arms and heels flapping. A moment later, Marshall heard a finely tuned engine va-room to life and tires crunched and skated out the gravel driveway.
"Why’d you do that? Why’d you do that?" Kevin chanted in a hysterical falsetto. He paced around the living room and hugged his machine gun.
"Calm down, Kevin."
"She was my hostage! She was my only chance!"
"Sit down and relax, Kevin. Let’s talk."
"She’ll go straight to the police. She’ll tell them where I am. I’ll be locked up again. You can’t let that happen, Mr. Marshall. You can’t let them take me away. My little sister needs me. And my girl, Christa needs me! The Sleestaks have her and I’m the only one who can…."
"I said, sit down and get a hold of yourself, Kevin. And give me the gun."
Kevin blinked. "I need it."
"The police will surely kill you if they see you’re holding onto that thing, all right? Let’s just take it easy." Marshall reached out his hand, and Kevin cautiously handed it over.
Close up, the weapon was less impressive than it had been from across the room. Marshall recognized it as the Smith & Wesson M76, a 9mm semi-automatic as outdated as his pickup truck and probably just as reliable. He didn’t ask Kevin where he got it, he simply removed the ammunition magazine and set the weapon on the floor.
"Help me," Kevin said.
Marshall went into the L-shaped kitchen, and Kevin dogged his heels all the way. The refrigerator was empty but for an expired carton of milk and a white box of stale Chinese take-out, and so he took a pair of Hungry Man dinners from the freezer and set them in the microwave to heat.
"I’m not really psychic. The FBI talked to me Friday."
"Jeez I’m screwed."
"Don’t panic. I’m not calling them, am I?"
Kevin took a few shuddering breaths and calmed down.
"So you think you’ve been to another world?" Marshall asked.
"What? Yeah. The constellations are all different. There are three moons, and the little one moves faster than the other two. My Dad says it’s because…. Said. He said it’s because it’s on a different orbit."
The microwave beeped. Marshall set the disposable tray of pot roast and mashed potatoes in front of the boy. He handed him a heavy spoon and sat back to watch Kevin scarf it down.
"Kevin, can you honestly say your father and your sister and your girlfriend what’s her name…"
"Christa," Kevin mumbled while chewing.
"….didn’t fall victim to a tragedy — a very real tragedy — and the only way your mind could deal with the horror was to fabricate a delusional world full of monsters. That way, whatever happened to your family wasn’t your fault."
Kevin coughed on a mouthful of mashed potatoes. "What the hell? You’re saying you don’t believe me?"
"I want to help you, Kevin, I really do, but I can’t do that until you face the truth. You hallucinated about seeing three moons…."
"The same way that people who have so-called near death experiences are hallucinating the afterlife. Scientists have recreated the same effect in a laboratory: the bright lights, the sensation of floating, the rushing toward a central point. When a brain is in distress, the neurons go into a specific firing pattern similar to what happens when you take LSD. There is nothing spiritual or metaphysical about it."
Kevin yanked a crumpled paper from the back pocket of his jeans. The newsletter of AVSAC proclaimed in a bold font, "We believe you."
"They said…." Kevin waved the paper. "My family wasn’t the first one to get lost there. You had been there. You knew what I’d been through."
"The only place I got lost was on a boating accident on the Colorado River."
"No way. No way!"
"Kevin, take a minute here to manage."
"I was there. It happened. The Tyrannosaurus eff-ing Rex ate my dad."
"I’m sorry to hear that, but…"
"Sleestaks took Christa. Pea-brained salamander faced bullies."
Marshall murmured, "How do you know what they look like?"
"My sister and I went into the catacombs under the ruined city to try and rescue her. The Paku showed us a hidden tunnel."
"What did you say? Paku?"
"Yeah, the little friendly ape dudes that are always mooching food off us."
"Describe them," Marshall said.
"Uh, third graders in orangutan suits."
"Why orangutan and not gorilla suits?"
"Because they’re not black. Their fur is orange brown," Kevin said. "Believe me now? Ask me anything."
"How did you get here?"
"Annie was kind of a brainiac. She opened a vortex or something in the catacombs of the Sleestak city. It looked like the way home but something really went wrong for us in transit. She vanished out of my hands like a special effect in a bad ghost movie. And me? I ended up here, minus nine years of my life."
"Nine years? How’s that?"
"We dropped into hell in 1991. I should be twenty-five, but look at me, I don’t even have a driver’s license yet. Explain that, Mister You're-Hallucinating."
"Some guys look young for their age?" he said uncertainly.
Kevin pointed to his own face, to the faint black fuzz smudging his upper lip. "I haven’t shaved in a week. You could ask Rhonda, but oh, you let her go."
Marshall faced him down grimly. "This can’t be happening. I spent four years in therapy to accept the fact that there is no parallel world full of dinosaurs, ape men and Sleestaks."
Kevin slammed his fist on the table. "I had proof. I had it, and they took it away. The spike from a stegosaurus tail. It was this long." He held his hands apart about the length of a salmon. "If they Carbon-14 date it, they’ll see it’s not 150 million years old. It’s not even a year old."
More softly, Marshall asked, "How old was your sister?"
Marshall covered his face with his hands and choked to refrain from weeping.
The pickup truck broke down within sight of Mount Shasta. Rick Marshall pulled over to the gravelly shoulder of the road.
"Great," Kevin said, pounding the dashboard with both fists. "Now what? We’ll never make it back to the Grand Canyon in this hunk of junk."
Marshall crossed his hands on the steering wheel and gazed through the windshield at the white mountain. The lopsided cone of year-round white snow stood unchanged since the days the first tribes of hunter-gatherers migrated across the Bering Strait and south into the redwood forests. Bigfoot had routinely been seen in the woods around Mount Shasta, a fact that up to now Rick Marshall had scoffed at. Twenty years of nay-saying and sensibility drained away and he felt as if he could see clearly for the first time. Beyond the freeway guardrail, anything could happen.
Kevin continued, "You don’t have a credit card, so we can’t charge airline tickets or take the Caltrain. And even if you had more than fifty bucks in your checking account, we don’t dare use an automatic teller or the FBI will track us down. Think. Think, think!"
"Shut up, Kevin," he said softly.
"We can hitchhike. Yeah, we can hitchhike!"
Rick Marshall slowly got out of the pickup and stood leaning against the rear view mirror. "You know, the Modoc Indians used to believe Mount Shasta was a sacred place. They said that gods or spirits or something lived there."
"No, what am I thinking? We can’t hitchhike. What if we get picked up by a serial killer?"
"It’s a dormant volcano," Marshall said.
Volcanoes were places of power. All the ancient peoples of the earth understood that. The Greek gods dwelled on Olympus, and Fuji Mountain in Japan was a holy place as well. The Native Americans of California honored the nature spirits in the mountains, not just at Shasta but at Tamalpais near San Francisco. When mountains were reduced to a set of statistics: elevation, mean annual rainfall, geologic composition — something special was lost, an element of truth. What is a mountain, really? Beyond that, what is a volcano but a gateway to the center of the earth where temperatures are so high they melt solid rock?
Kevin skipped around the steaming front fender. "Maybe we can stowaway on a Greyhound bus?"
Sunlight flashed on the rear view mirror. Light balls churned over the silvered glass, taking on form and substance, arranging themselves in a perfect circle of insubstantial diamonds.
A human figure appeared in the mirror. She wore a blue silk dress, sleeveless and cut in a straight tube that neither revealed nor concealed the feminine elements of her body. Straw blonde hair veiled her torso ending in curls at the waist. The woman was older than twenty and younger than forty, and because her apparition glowed around the edges he couldn’t see her face clearly.
And she smiled at him.
"Who are you?" Marshall asked.
The woman raised her right arm and pointed away from the freeway.
"Is that where you want me to go?"
She nodded, lowered her arm, and vanished.
Kevin Porter asked, "What was that?"
"An angel to light the way." Rick Marshall heaved his large backpack from the open bed of the truck, shouldered it, and started walking toward the mountain.
Accepting the unacceptable without question, Kevin Porter followed.
Rick Marshall pleasantly surprised himself with how easily his body adjusted to a steady hiking pace. Sure, the pot belly jiggled, but he got used to it as he got used to the weight of the backpack. Cap on his head to prevent sunburn on the bald patch, he kept pace with the young man barely out of his teens. Kevin Porter, on the other hand, walked with a jerky rhythm, slowing down when he got winded and speeding up when he took a swig from a canteen and got another burst of energy.
"Sorry," Kevin said. "Not used to walking very far without getting chased by dinosaurs."
Marshall smiled. "Yeah, I know."
Picture postcard forest gave way to rocks the farther they went. Gravel replaced dirt on the foot path, and boulders became as plentiful as trucks at rush hour. Bright orange California poppies grew in thick bouquets from cracks in granite.
"What the hell is that stink?" Kevin asked.
"Fire and brimstone. We’re getting close."
Marshall stopped at a puddle of yellowish-green mud that reeked of rotten eggs. The boy stood beside him and looked expectantly at the simmering ankle-deep mist.
"I don’t understand," Marshall said. "She pointed us this way. There’s got to be a power point around here somewhere."
Kevin picked up a black rock. "Look at this. It’s like a chunk of glass."
"Obsidian. The Indians used to make arrowheads out of it."
"It’s cool." Kevin turned the black crystal to admire the jagged edges and the pond-ripple rings of fractures.
Sunlight hit the obsidian just right. Violet, purple and lavender glowed from deep in the center of the crystal.
"Hey, is it supposed to do this?"
Marshall gripped the boy’s shoulder. "Watch."
A broad shaft of purple light extended from the black crystal in Kevin’s hands. The light took on a life of its own and snaked toward a boulder the size of a mattress just ahead. The beam encircled the boulder, drew a triangle, and then turned upwards. As if drawn by Harold’s Purple Crayon the light’s outline took shape and solid form to create a translucent teepee of shimmering silver and lavender.
"A pylon," Rick Marshall gasped, stepping back from it.
One side of it opened invitingly.
Kevin charged forward. "Come on, Mr. Marshall, let’s go."
The two men plunged into a weightless void. Bubbles of rainbow colors swarmed around them as if juggled by an invisible man. Unlike Alice’s fall through the white rabbit’s hole into Wonderland, there were no book shelves or cupboards or jars of orange marmalade. Just a never-ending plunge that took hours or perhaps only an instant.
The pylon opened to a forest of deep green. The air had less stifling humidity and was as cool as a spring morning in Oregon.
Rick Marshall led Kevin out of the pylon to stand on a cushiony carpet of fallen leaves and low-growing herbs. Orchids grew out of knots in the towering trees, and even the insects were beautiful.
"Where are we?" Kevin asked.
"I don’t know."
The silvery teepee shimmered and then like a desert mirage the pylon vanished.
Kevin threw himself on the bare patch of ground, thrashing his arms and legs and screaming, "Where is it? Where is it?"
"Calm down. Kevin, get a hold of yourself."
He just kept screaming and pawing up handfuls of white clover.
Rick Marshall grabbed him by the collar of his shirt and shook the young man, yelling at him to stop.
Someone else was there. Another pair of hands covered Marshall’s, touching the sweat stains on Kevin’s back.
A woman’s voice soothed, "Shh, there, there."
Kevin snorted and choked and managed to achieve a shuddering silence.
Rick Marshall stood up together with the woman in the blue silk sleeveless gown, the very one whose image he had seen in the rear view mirror.
Her eyes captivated Rick Marshall, drawing him in. If he focused only on the pearl blue irises and let the rest of the grown woman’s body fade away at the edges, he could see through her into his memories. Another pair of eyes he’d once known matched hers, only they’d always stood below chest height.
"Holly?" Rick Marshall seized her for a bear hug crushing her face against his shoulder. "Holly, Holly, my God, Holly."
She gently patted his back. "Dad, I was so worried about you being alone all these years in that world."
"What do you mean? I was home on Earth."
She reluctantly withdrew from his clutches. "We need to talk. Come with me. It isn’t far."
"To where?" Kevin Porter asked.
"The Altrusian city. I live there now."
The skeleton of the ruined city Rick Marshall had known was still there, but now it had flesh on its bones. The Egyptian columns and arched doorways glowed alabaster white, pure and unbroken in the tropical sunlight. From a distance, the city’s inhabitants looked like stout bald people wearing silk robes in rainbow colors.
No one seemed to be in a hurry. They walked in orderly rows, in and out of serene groups, gesturing to each other with patience and grace.
Only when they came nearer, to a stone bridge with a silk cord railing, did Rick Marshall recognize the pedestrians with bald lizard heads and large jewel-like eyes who walked upright on flat feet with splayed toes.
Kevin Porter recoiled, refusing with a mule’s stubbornness to set foot on the bridge that would take them into the outskirts of the geometrically perfect city. "Sleestak are Sleestak no matter how nice their clothes are. They’ll club us to death and eat us for breakfast."
"No," Holly assured him. "They won’t."
A chubby Altrusian in a knee-length silk tunic came to the far side of the bridge. "Is that you, Rick Marshall?" he called out, in a pleasant tone.
Holly smiled and led the way, her blue gown flowing around her legs as smoothly as the liquid gold tresses of hair hanging down her back. Rick Marshall trudged after her with the weary boy bringing up the rear.
Rick Marshall shook the lizard-like hand with gusto. "It’s good to see you again, Enik."
"And you too. Although, more accurately, I should say it is good to meet you."
Holly explained, "Here you’ll find it is not so important to know where you are as when. This is Enik before he traveled to the future, before he knew us."
"Isn’t that some kind of paradox?" Marshall asked.
"Time is a string that is not stretched straight but goes around in a circle. If you travel far enough, you come to the beginning."
"Once more, in English?" Kevin said.
Holly smiled and continued into the city.
The group walked over the open patio of jade green marble tiles. A glimmering silver fountain spiraled as tall as a brontosaurus. Rick Marshall could not help superimposing his own memories on the place, what he had known as the ruined and crumbled pieces of this once great city. Velociraptors would someday prowl here in packs, hopping over fallen columns and spraying on the cracked fountain like dogs at a fire hydrant.
They came to an enclosed patio and sat down to rest.
Enik brought a glassy pitcher of cool liquid and two test-tube thin goblets. "Please, refresh yourselves."
Rick Marshall drank the vaguely sweet minty beverage and asked for a refill as Kevin was still sipping his. "Holly, what happened to you after I left?"
Holly sat down to face them. "Uncle Jack took your place, Dad, to balance the equilibrium of the dimensional vortex."
Enik added, "Our two worlds are connected, and there must always be a certain mass of solid matter exchanged. Think of the protons and electrons of an atom, always the same number, always in balance."
Rick Marshall nodded to show he’d absorbed that much. Kevin frowned as he probably had in junior high school chemistry classes.
"We tried to get back home a year later," Holly said. "When the celestial alignments were correct. Due to our inexperience, we missed Earth and came here to Enik’s past instead. We’ve lived here in peace and comfort for about ten years, in your terms. I’ve learned so much."
"Will and Jack?" he asked, daring to hope.
Holly said, "When I guided you here, I had to arrange for two others to replace you in the Earth sphere. Yes, Dad. They’re home where they should be. They look forward to seeing you again."
"Oh thank God. But Holly, you’re still here?"
"It’s my choice, Dad. I want to stay. I am learning from the Altrusians so many things. It makes quantum physics seem like connect-the-dots."
Rick Marshall looked at his fully-grown daughter, thinking she should be concerned with graduation, a prom date, or getting to vote for the first time. Issues of concern to any other young woman her age were far from the thoughts of this Altrusian disciple. The reunion felt oddly bittersweet, for the girl in blue jeans and pigtails was forever gone replaced by a lovely stranger he didn’t even know.
"Actually, Dad, I brought you here for another reason. I want you to witness a very special day."
Enik gestured as if opening an invisible screen door. "My future self plans to return to a point in time not long from now. He will bring evidence of what tragic fate awaits our civilization and he will teach us how to choose another path."
"Your future self?" Kevin asked.
Marshall explained, "This is the past of what you knew. The Sleestaks, that is the Altrusians, once had a beautiful, peaceful advanced civilization. Their inability to control their aggressive emotions destroyed it, and thousands of years later they became the club-wielding brutes that chased you around the jungle."
"That’s nuts. It’s all backwards."
"It’s true. Haven’t you heard the expression, World War III would be fought with nuclear weapons and World War IV would be fought with sticks and stones?"
"Ah, the generation gap. Enik time traveled into the future — or, he’s going to -- and explained it all to us. He was our friend. He helped us, saved our lives, I don’t know how many times. Just like us, he was trying to get home, only for him it was a more urgent goal. He wanted to warn his people of what had happened, what would happen to them in the future, in the hopes of preventing it."
"Yes," Enik said. "Time is not a single line where one event inevitably leads to the next. Infinite threads of infinite combinations of choices stretch before us…."
"Like strings on a loom," Holly supplied.
"We can take a step to the right and go forward on a parallel thread, one that does not lead to the destruction of all that is beautiful. My future self will teach us how. All your terrors and suffering at the hands of my descendants, Rick Marshall, will never have happened."
Kevin asked, "Okay, so that means Christa won’t be kidnapped by Sleestak in the first place?"
"We can’t be sure," Holly said. "When you’re talking about infinity, anything is possible."
Kevin hopped off the bench to pace around as he spoke, getting more agitated with every word. "I still don’t get it. Why didn’t the dude in the future who wants to warn his people of Armageddon come back here yet? Holly is here."
"Because," she said. "Only one person can occupy the same space and time. I have gone forward in time to speak to my childish self but only as an apparition, without substance, in the same way I appeared in the mirror of your truck, Dad. In order for the Enik of the future to return, physically, the Enik of the here and now must go away."
"Well, what happens if he doesn’t?" Kevin asked.
Rick Marshall said, "Two identical men occupying the same space at the same time is like two protons trying to be in the space allowed for one in an atomic nucleus. Fusion. It could cause a more intense atomic blast than the H-bomb."
"Yes," Holly said calmly. "That is why we have checked and double-checked each other’s calculations. Don’t worry about it."
"Yeah, okay," Kevin said. "I have a waterproof wristwatch that tells time down to the tenth of a second, but even I’ve been late to English class. What happens if he screws up?"
For a face incapable of outwardly displaying emotion, the Altrusian managed an indignant scoff. "I will be certain to synchronize it so that my future self after I depart."
Rick Marshall closed his eyes to sip the refreshing beverage. "Relax, Kevin. If you knew him like I do, you’d know. This guy doesn’t screw up."
"What about my sister?" Kevin insisted. "She’s stuck in that- that- time vortex or whatever. What happens to her when you go through?"
"I will calculate every probability."
"But?" Kevin prompted.
"To be honest," Enik said. "I cannot guarantee that my passage through the dimensional portal will not affect her destination. Think of a leaf floating in a pond."
To illustrate, Enik tossed a fallen leaf into the lower tier of the nearby fountain. It drifted slowly to the left away from him. He put his reptilian hand in the water and the ripples carried the leaf floating farther away.
"When another object disturbs the current of the time flow, a number of variable outcomes emerge. She may reunite with you at the point you lost hold of her. It may be she will return to Earth before any of this ever happened and have no memory of the Land of the Lost, as you call it. Or, she may cease to exist."
Holly put a comforting hand on his arm. "Please, stay calm."
Kevin threw her hand off. "Don’t tell me to stay calm! Annie’s all the family I’ve got left. You’ve got to make sure she’s safe before you do whatever you do."
"There is a miniscule chance of risk," Enik reminded him.
"It is not logical for you to reach that conclusion before I have quoted statistics."
"Screw the statistics!"
"The fate of my entire civilization rests on this one act. The lives of many outweigh the life of one, don’t you see?"
"Not when that one is my little sister!"
Holly put a bean-sized ruby to the young man’s forehead. "Shhh," she soothed in a vaguely commanding way. "Having a temper tantrum is not going to help. Control yourself."
Kevin Porter closed his eyes, exhaled slowly and completely, and he sat down and said nothing more.
"What did you do to him?" Rick Marshall asked.
Holly held out the ruby for him to see. "I calmed him down. There’s no harm done."
Marshall put the ruby to his own forehead. Feelings drained away. A chill passed over him that wasn’t Altrusian air conditioning. In the psych ward, the doctors had given him an array of little pills that had a similar effect.
Marshall yanked the jewel off and dropped it to the ground, but for a moment he looked at Holly with no more affection than he would feel for a statue.
"It is time," Enik said. "I must go."
The Altrusian walked calmly to the shadowed archways and winked out of sight.
Rick Marshall felt his words come slowly, worse than if he’d had a cavity drilled at the dentist. "Holly, you have a lot of these….?"
"Yes, Dad, they’re very soothing. Much better than the people of Earth who rely on drugs, don’t you think?"
"Crystal Valium," Marshall remarked.
Holly said, "I wish we could bring them back and share them but, unfortunately, they don’t work anywhere but here."
"Whoa." Kevin put both hands against his head. "What was I saying?"
Marshall touched the boy’s shoulder. "Your sister."
"Oh my God," Marshall said in a bland monotone. "Holly, do the Altrusians use these a lot?"
Holly shrugged. "Maybe. I guess. I’m sure they’ll use them more when Enik comes from the future with the proof of what I’ve been saying all along. See, there’s a minority who takes my warning seriously, kind of a fringe group. The general public still doesn’t believe."
"Enik will tell his people that their inability to control their emotions is what causes the downfall of the Golden Age. He’ll say their anger and their greed and their jealousy will turn them into club-wielding cannibals."
"What if he’s wrong? What if we were all wrong?"
"Dad, you’re not making any sense. If you keep a cool head and think about it…"
She offered him another ruby. Were her pockets full of them?
"Honey, there’s a difference between a cool head and a cold heart. When you suppress anger you lose outrage, and without a little greed you don’t have ambition to succeed. Holly, don’t you see? Emotions aren’t going to destroy the Altrusians. The lack of them are."
Kevin stood up to face her. "I was talking about my sister. What the hell did you do to me?"
"I thought I was helping to ease your pain."
"You made me stop wanting to get her back," Kevin said incredulously.
Marshall touched her bare shoulder, slowly reawakening his fatherly affection for her that the ruby had dulled. "Honey, what we always had that the Sleestaks didn’t — we cared about each other. Pain reminds us of that. If we’re willing to take a chance of scattering one little girl to the winds of time--."
"Oh my God," Holly said. "You’re right. It’s when you don’t give a damn that you stop building, you stop creating, you stop living. We have to tell him."
The three human beings entered the catacombs of the Altrusian city. Holly led the way through a maze of subterranean tunnels. At last they came to a stony chamber.
Enik stood resting his hands on the edges of a square stone table inset with a crystal salad of glowing jewels. Rainbow lights played on the reptilian skin of his throat. "Ah, Holly Marshall, will you monitor my journey?"
"I would be honored. First, we must share with you a new theory. It is not the inability to control your emotions that will cause the downfall of this beautiful civilization but it is the suppression and denial of feelings."
"That is not logical," said Enik.
Rick Marshall chuckled in spite of the somber church-like mood in the closed chamber. "That’s our point."
Enik tilted his head slightly. "I will consider the possibility. After I exchange places with my future self, please discuss this theory with me further."
"Deal," Holly said with a broad smile.
A portion of the wall dripped mist. Behind it a mirror appeared on the stone, reflecting not the contents of this chamber but the immeasurable vortex beyond.
One small girl stood framed in the misty mirror against a backdrop of watercolored lavender and gold. Her jet-black bangs fringed the tops of thick Clark Kent glasses. "Kevin? Kevin, where are you?"
"Annie?" Kevin gripped the rim of the mirror and mists dribbled over his arms. "Hey, Short Stuff, I’m here."
"Kevin? I can’t find you." Her voice echoed in overlapping waves. "Help me."
"I’m trying. Hang on!"
Enik insisted, "I must go now. Do not worry, Holly Marshall. I have already made my calculations. I will pass by her with as little disruption as possible."
He stepped into the misty doorway. The outline of his stout reptilian body shimmered and dissolved into the stone.
An earthquake hit. The floor buckled and rocked like the deck of a boat. The humans reached out for the smooth walls, clawing for something to hold onto.
"What’s happening?" Kevin cried. "What’s happening?"
The ceiling cracked. Pebbles and dust clouds showered around them. Holly leaned to the left, straining to hold onto the crystal dais. She studied the crystals, able to read meaning in the Christmas-tree blinking of rainbow colors.
"Her emotions are generating electro-static impulses in the vortex," Holly cried.
Kevin asked, "What does that mean?"
"He didn’t calculate for her to panic! The human nervous system generates micro-voltages of electricity, but it’s enough to disrupt the calibrations beyond the margin of error that he allowed."
"My sister," Kevin whimpered.
Holly shouted at the little girl in the mirror, "Calm down, Annie! Everything’s going to be fine. Just get a hold of yourself!"
The back half of Enik’s bald scaly head absorbed into the mirror. At the same time, his googly-eyed face emerged. The two images overlapped, one going in and one coming out.
"Fusion," Rick Marshall grunted.
The bejeweled table flashed white and continued to glow with theater intensity, drawing a blinding bright circle on the domed stone ceiling. Rick Marshall shaded his eyes. Holly stared unaffected at the light.
The bell on the door jingled as the man entered the "Belle of the Berkshires" bed and breakfast inn. Pale and cheeky in the face, his black trenchcoat matched his dark hair. He looked to be a subdued and generally humorless person, walking past rows of colorful Shaker quilts tacked to the wall and ignoring the cheerful kiosk of maple syrup products.
The man in the trenchcoat took out his wallet and flapped it open to display an identification card with his picture. "My name is Special Agent Fox Mulder. FBI. I’m investigating a missing person’s case in the area."
"How can I help you, Mr. Mulder?" asked the man behind the check-in desk. He looked barely forty, with a full of head of curly brown hair. Shorter than the average man, and handsome with a kind of Dick Clark ebullience, his blue eyes sparkled with eagerness to please.
"Do you know where I can find Mr. Marshall?"
"That’s me, Will Marshall."
"No, I’m looking for a Richard Marshall, an older man?"
The eager light in Will Marshall’s eyes went dim. "That’s my father. Is this about what happened Tuesday night?"
"That depends on what you think happened."
"Look, there’s something you need to know about my father. Twenty years ago, he was in a bad traffic accident that put him in a coma for six weeks. Ever since then, he’s had these, uh, what you could call lapses."
"What does that mean, exactly?"
Will Marshall leaned forward, on the counter, between a rack of postcards and a propped-up hardcover book of New England antiques. "Frankly, Mr. Mulder, my father sees things that aren’t there. He’s had conventional therapy."
The odd choice of words drew Mulder’s attention to a family photograph framed on the wall. This man, Will, stood with an older version of himself and a blonde woman. All three Marshalls had their arms around a bald Asian man in orange Buddhist robes. The blonde woman wore a T-shirt proclaiming, "Free Tibet."
"I take it he’s tried less conventional therapy too, Mr. Marshall?"
Will glanced to the photo, blushed, and looked back to Mulder. "Most of the time, he’s fine. Last Tuesday night, I guess he’d been watching the Discovery Channel. You know, the thing about dinosaurs?"
"Yeah, I saw some of that. Great show."
"Well, it touched off something in him, I guess. We had to call in and refill his prescription. I’m sorry he made that 911 call, and I’m really sorry that you wasted your time coming out here."
"I appreciate that, Mr. Marshall, but I really would like to talk to your father. Trust me, I won’t agitate him in any way. I have some experience in these kinds of cases, actually."
Sighing, Will Marshall came out from behind the desk. He ducked around the staircase and opened a small door. "Dad?" he called into the darkness beyond the door frame. "Dad, could you come upstairs for a minute?"
"Sure, Will." Clump clump came a man’s heavy footfalls up the rickety wooden stairway. There emerged a man taller than his son, balding on top and sporting a pot belly that bulged his khaki shirt.
"Dad, this is Agent Mulder from the FBI. It’s about the 911 call you made…."
Rick Marshall stepped forward, a wrench in one hand, to shake Mulder’s hand. "Sorry to cause such a fuss, but it seemed so real at the time."
"Can you tell me what you saw?"
"Lights in the sky. They buzzed over me and I swerved off the road."
"What kind of lights, Mr. Marshall? Were they attached to anything, say, a cylindrical or a cigar shaped object?"
"Could have been meteor pebbles, headlights from a passing semi, or lightning balls. Who knows? It’s the cold light of day, Mr. Mulder, and I’ve reconnected to the here and now. The truth is, I don’t believe in UFO’s or Bigfoot. I don’t think big game hunters from outer space caused the extinction of the dinosaurs."
Mulder nodded with his hands in his pockets. "And that’s your final answer?"
The bell over the front door jingled again. A family lumbered in, dragging backpacks and suitcases. The father looked haggard and bedraggled as the two children behind him never lost a step in their bickering.
"Daddy," the little girl in black horn-rimmed glasses whined. "Kevin just called me a noodle head."
"I did not!" objected the teenaged boy.
"Kevin, stop picking on your sister for just five minutes, okay?"
Will Marshall took the largest suitcase and set it down by the check-in counter. "You must be the Porters. Welcome to the Berkshires."
"Thanks," said the weary father. "You wouldn’t believe what we’ve been through to get here. We got lost about ten times."
"You’ve come to the right place to relax, Mr. Porter. We’ll take good care of you."
Will Marshall tapped a desk bell. A girl of barely eighteen emerged, kinky blonde hair pinned up in a turn-of-the-century bun, and her hands in the pocket of a calico smock.
"Christa," Will said to her. "Take the suitcases up to Room Three?"
"Yes, Mr. Marshall," Christa said.
The teenaged boy, Kevin, gave a long hard stare to Rick Marshall before the older man went back down the basement stairs.
Mulder was on his way out when he heard Kevin say, "Dad, this is weird but, we couldn’t have been here before, could we?"
FROM THE AUTHOR
When I was five years old, my older brother convinced me he had the magic power to walk through trees. He showed me, and proved it with footprints in the snow. (A Will Marshall kind of big brother this guy was not.) My parents scolded him for teasing his little sister and playing with her mind, and assured me that he just tricked me by stepping around the roots in the back. I kept insisting, "I saw it, I was there! Why don't you believe me?" Thus began by disconnect from reality.
I have been reading fantasy and science fiction since I could read. You name it: Tolkein, Burroughs, Bradbury, King. I watched way too much t.v. and I was a Star Trek and Star Wars fan from the ancient days. Now I am (supposedly) all grown up. In the daytime I am a regular mommy who volunteers at the elementary school. I have two daughters, so I have to tape X-Files and watch it after they've gone to sleep.
I call myself Queen of the Zines because my work has appeared in Doctor Who and Star Trek fan publications on a regular basis. It's very encouraging because zines don't give me the high degree of Rejection that I've run into when submitting original fiction to professional magazines and the Big Guys (the book publishers.) I have a fantasy novel I'm trying to sell that's part of a trilogy, or heck maybe a series at this point. Every slush reader on the list has chucked it back at me. Boo-hoo-hoo. So writing this LOTL story was a lot of fun.