The house, if you could even call it that, was ridiculously tiny. And even worse than that, there was this rotten smell that always filled it, forcing you to leave the windows open constantly, which, of course, filled it with mosquitoes. This was where I’d be living from now on. There was no one around for miles except for Margaret, thankfully. The old woman lived next door and honestly, I spent more time in her house than this one. I peered around the houses towards the woods. They were thick, with a huge swamp if you walked far enough south. Not that you’d want to. Of course I’d never gone there myself, but my mom had told me about its murky water and mosquitoes that swarmed you no matter how much bug repellent you had on.
My mom. Just thinking about her made a wave of sadness wash over me. She had died in a car accident when a semi had slid off a slippery New York road and hit her car, crushing it. So that’s why I’m here in Florida, about to walk through the doors of my grandfather’s house.
I took a deep breath and held it. The front steps creaked so badly as I lugged my bags up them that I thought I might fall through. I set everything down in the doorway.
“Grandfather?” I called softly. No answer. “Grandfather!” I said again louder. A grunt came from another room and I followed it. I found him lying down in his bed, looking up at me with a sour look on his face. I doubted he was even expecting me, but after a minute, he got it.
“Room’s down the hall,” he grunted, then shut his eyes and turned his back on me. End of conversation, apparently.
I was heading down the hall when a knock made me turn the door.
“Margaret!” I practically shouted, greeting her with a hug. She laughed.
“I’m happy to see you too. I didn’t realize you would just be getting here; I wanted to give you some time to unpack. Why don’t I give you some time to do that, then if you’d like, come over for some tea and we can chat.”
“Of course!” I told her. As much as I hated my grandfather’s house, I couldn’t wait to catch up with Margaret. I shoved my clothes in my dresser, tacked some posters to my wall and was on my way to Margaret’s house.
As I got closer to her house the air seemed to change, growing lighter and sweeter as I walked. Margaret’s house came into view, a single floor wooden house with a window on each side of the door and a chimney sticking out of the roof. Red and purple wildflowers were scattered around her un-mowed lawn. The whole thing kind of reminded me of a gingerbread house.
I stepped through the door and immediately smelled fresh baked cookies. That’s what Margaret does. Every weekend she drives her old truck into town to sell muffins, cakes, cookies, and every other bakery treat you could possibly think of. I like to go with her too, if I can.
“Come in and sit down!” Margaret called from the kitchen.
“I’ll be right there!” I sat down at the table right next to the window. The last rays of sunlight poured through, making the table glow. It had already been set with tea cups, saucers, and miniature plates when Margaret walked in carrying a pitcher of tea and a plate of scones. Her light grey hair was pulled back in a braid, and her shirt, patterned with small flowers, she had made herself. Her deep brown eyes shone as she smiled at me.
“These are delicious!” I exclaimed as I bit into one of the warm, fresh out of the oven scones that seemed to melt in my mouth. No wonder why all those people come to buy them each week. In fact, every week a line forms in front of her stand, trailing almost all the way across the outdoor market to the parking lot.
“They’re the special this week,” she replies. “Tomorrow’s the first day I’ll be selling them. “Would you like to come with me?” she asked, but I could tell she already knew my answer. I smiled.
We talked about everything from New York to the latest recipes until it was dark.
“Remember, I’ll be over at six o’clock tomorrow morning to get you,” she reminded me. “You better be getting home now.” I thanked her and said goodnight as she handed me a flashlight. I stepped out into the darkness. The path now looked like the perfect setting for a horror movie instead of a road to a gingerbread house. The moonlight shone down on the trees, which cast dark shadows over the road. To my left the forest was black, and to my right I could see the silhouette of the grasses that grew along the road to town. The light breeze made them sway but made me shiver, even though it wasn’t cold. I knew there was nothing to worry about, but I walked faster until I reached my grandfather’s porch.
I had just finished breakfast when there was a knock at the door. Tap-tap tap tap-tap. Definitely Margaret. I jumped up, grabbed my bag from the hook beside the door, and shouted goodbye to my grandfather. When I stepped outside Margaret was already back inside her truck, which was filled with baskets and baskets of her treats.
I had my window down as we rolled into town. The breeze felt great, and paired with the sun, it was a perfect day. Almost. I wished for the millionth time that my mom was here before pushing that out of my mind. When we pulled into the driveway there were already people there, setting up their stands. None of theirs were as popular as Margaret’s, but still, they got their business.
I ran back and forth, taking orders and grabbing the pastries from the back of the tent. By now the sun was beating down, and I was getting thirsty. Margaret noticed.
“Why don’t you grab something to drink from that stand over there?” Margaret suggested, “and here’s some extra money to thank you for helping me.”
I took the money and made my way to a stand that sold water. The tents lined both sides of the road I was walking down, and I glanced over at the things they had to sell as I went to get something to drink. Soap, jam, berries, and handmade potholders.
I paid for my water and slowly walked back on the other side of the road, peering over people’s shoulders at the stands. I was about halfway back when one stand in particular caught my eye. There was only one person in the tent, a lady who sat in a folding chair towards the back. The bracelets on her wrist jingled as she reached over to a table to straighten a clock sitting on it. I recognized her, I realized. Everyone in town calls her crazy. Or a witch. They say such weird things happened on her street that everyone moved out. Except her. She lives on the street all alone now. Antique clocks hung on chains from the front of the tent, and smaller ones sat on tables inside. It was so different from the other stands I couldn’t help but go inside.
The woman watched as I looked around. It soon became clear that they weren’t ordinary clocks, though. Some of the hands ticked backwards, while others spun forward so fast it hurt my eyes to watch. I turned to the next table and picked up a clock with one long hand, perfectly still. It had a single button on the side, and a chain ran through a loop of metal on the top. I knew I shouldn’t mess with the clock unless I was going to buy it, but it was so still, it didn’t even look liked it worked. I glanced at the lady in the chair. Still staring. I wasn’t going to risk anything with her already watching me like a hawk.
“Excuse me, but this clock-what does it do?” I asked her. She held out a wrinkled hand and the bracelets jingled again. I walked over and gave it to her.
“Ah, you found it,” the woman said in a quiet, raspy voice. After what seemed like ages, she continued. “Time travel. It will take you to the past,” she told me. I smiled a little. Now I see why everyone said those things about her. Maybe it was just because of her age. “Which,” she continued, “is just where you need to go.” That got my attention.
“Wha-what do you mean?” I stammered.
“Exactly what you think,” she replied with a nod and a content smile. I stared at her a moment before turning back to the clock, which she had handed back to me. What if she does know? And what if it works? My mind was racing. Don’t get your hopes up for nothing, I told myself. But after what she knew? Yeah, I had to buy it. Just in case. I asked for a price.
“Take it,” she replied. “You need it.” I tried to pay her, but she refused. As I headed out of the tent, a voice came from behind me. “It’s already set,” it said. “It will take you where you need to go. Just press the button.”
I shoved the clock in my pocket and started to head back to Margaret’s stand, but something stopped me. I turned around and headed the other way, towards the parking lot, then turned right, to where the woods started. I ran towards them, then through them, weaving in and out of trees until I was sure no one could see me. I sat down and leaned against a thick tree. Her words were still ringing in my mind. Just press the button.
“Nothing’s going to happen,” I said out loud, laughing. I couldn’t believe I was being so ridiculous. I pressed the button. And I couldn’t have been more wrong.
There was an explosion inside my brain as my body was tossed around in complete blackness. I was going so fast I couldn’t move. The pain in my head was so unbearable that finally, I passed out.
When I woke up my head was still throbbing, but at least I could see. I looked around groggily through the darkness. Purple walls. Desk in front of the window. Where am I? I slowly stood up and flicked on the light switch. I went over to the desk where a few papers lay and picked them up. Math homework? I checked the date. No, this wasn’t possible. I was in my old room. In New York. I threw open the shade and looked outside. Across the street was an oak tree with a tire swing. Snow covered the tire, as well as the entire ground. And it was still falling; big flakes, and they were coming fast. This couldn’t be happening. But it was.
I crossed my room to my alarm clock. 4:06 a.m. Just an hour before the accident. There was no time to think of a real plan, so I took whatever flew into my mind first.
I crept through the dark house, being sure to not wake up my mom. I was still wearing the shorts and t-shirt from before, and the kitchen tiles were cold beneath my feet. I found everything I needed in the kitchen. After grabbing the keys off the hook by the door, I was outside.
It was still dark; the sun was just barely beginning to rise above the horizon. As quietly as I could, I approached the car. Then the destruction began.
I started with the tires, slashing each of them with a knife from the kitchen. I climbed inside the car, and, using all my strength pulled the steering wheel away from the car, leaving it hanging there. I stepped out of the car and quietly closed the door behind me. I searched the yard, and after finding six good sized rocks, I threw one at each window, watching the glass crack and shatter. Then I’m done. I sneak around the house, to the back door, and creep back to my room. It’s 4:30. I heard my mom’s alarm go off, then footsteps in the hall.
I picked up the clock the woman had given me from the floor and examined it. Destroying the car should have given me enough time to figure it out. I heard my mom open the door just as I found a notch in the back of the clock. I slid my fingernail under it and it popped open. Inside I saw a tiny knob. I turned it then glanced at the face of the clock. The hand had moved back a couple of the notches that ran along the outer edge of the clock, similar to a regular clock, but this clock had so many I couldn’t count them. Somewhere over three hundred, I guessed.
My mom’s footsteps made the floor vibrate as she marched back inside. I heard her pick up the phone to call the police.
I experimented with the clock, turning the hand back and forth, thinking. I didn’t know what would happen if I got it wrong, but I knew it wouldn’t be good.
“My car, in the driveway, is completely destroyed!” I heard my mom say angrily to the police. Their footsteps grew quiet as they went outside. I had to figure this out before they could investigate too far.
My mind wandered as I wondered how many days into the past I was. That was it. It had to be. Those marks must represent days, I thought to myself. Excited about my discovery, I began counting. It had been a Tuesday when she died, about a month ago. It was Saturday when I came back here. So that would be… I did the math in my head. Twenty six days! I began moving the hand back, carefully counting each one until I reached twenty six. I hoped this was right. Taking a deep breath I walked out into the driveway where my mom stood, watching the police investigate the car.
“Honey-” my mom started to speak, but I cut her off.
“I did it. It’s my fault.” Before she had time to react, I linked arms with her and pressed the button.
The same pain as before ripped through my head. As we were thrown through the darkness, I was torn away from her. I had no idea what would happen now. As the pain grew unbearable, a terrifying question crossed my mind: Would we make it back to the same place?
When I woke up I looked around. I was in my room. I jumped up and ran to the window, a feeling of nervous excitement in my stomach. In front of me stood what I knew were deep Florida woods. No. I was shocked, and most of all, devastated. I fell against the wall, crying. After all that, I still hadn’t saved her? I thought back on everything that had happened. No car accident. But… we had been separated after I pressed the button. That was what had gone wrong. For a long time after, it seemed to me that everything was for nothing. A complete loss.
It was years later, when I was nineteen, that I happened to be walking through a cemetery. I had just attended my grandfather’s funeral, and I was walking up and down the rows of gravestones. As I glanced at the last one on the row, a short, wide stone with words engraved on it, something caught my eye. Calden. That was my mom’s last name. I walked towards it and read further. Elizabeth Kate Calden. Either this was the biggest coincidence in history, or this was my mom.
I bent down to read further. 1924-2006. Dead for nine years. When we were separated… she must have gone farther back in time than me. After all these years, I had finally found out what has happened to her. It felt peaceful, knowing this. Something inside me had settled. I read what was written at the bottom of the grave. Loving daughter, sister, and friend. She had never known me. I hadn’t existed, to her.
Tears running down my face, I finally realized: even though things hadn’t gone as expected, I hadn’t ruined everything. I had saved her.