2-Pane Combined
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[1 of 5] Kindred, pp. 9-66, by Octavia E. Butler (1979)

Author: Octavia E Butler

“Prologue, The River, The Fire, The Fall.” Kindred, by Octavia E. Butler, Beacon Press, 1988, pp. 9–66.


I lost an arm on my last trip home. My left arm.

And I lost about a year of my life and much of the comfort and security I had not valued until it was gone. When the police released Kevin, he came to the hospital and stayed with me so that I would know I hadn’t lost him too.

But before he could come to me, I had to convince the police that he did not belong in jail. That took time. The police were shadows who appeared intermittently at my bedside to ask me questions I had to struggle to understand.

“How did you hurt your arm?” they asked. “Who hurt you?” My attention was captured by the word they used: Hurt. As though I’d scratched my arm. Didn’t they think I knew it was gone?

“Accident,” I heard myself whisper. “It was an accident.”

They began asking me about Kevin. Their words seemed to blur together at first, and I paid little attention. After a while, though, I replayed them and suddenly realized that these men were trying to blame Kevin for “hurting” my arm.

“No.” I shook my head weakly against the pillow. “Not Kevin. Is he here? Can I see h im ?”

“Who then?” they persisted.

I tried to think through the drugs, through the distant pain, but there was no honest explanation I could give them—none they would believe.

“An accident,” I repeated. “My fault, not Kevin’s. Please let me see him.”

I said this over and over until the vague police shapes let me alone, until I awoke to find Kevin sitting, dozing beside my bed. I wondered briefly how long he had been there, but it didn’t matter. The important thing was that he was there. I slept again, relieved.

Finally, I awoke feeling able to talk to him coherently and understand what he said. I was almost comfortable except for the strange throbbing of my arm. Of where my arm had been. I moved my head, tried to look at the empty place. . .the stump.

Then Kevin was standing over me, his hands on my face turning my head toward him.

He didn’t say anything. After a moment, he sat down again, took my hand, and held it.

I felt as though I could have lifted my other hand and touched him. I felt as though I had another hand. I tried again to look, and this time he let me. Somehow, I had to see to be able to accept what I knew was so.

After a moment, I lay back against the pillow and closed my eyes. “Above the elbow,” I said.

“They had to.”

“I know. I’m just trying to get used to it.” I opened my eyes and looked at him. Then I remembered my earlier visitors. “Have I gotten you into trouble?”


“The police were here. They thought you had done this to me.”

“Oh, that. They were sheriff’s deputies. The neighbors called them when you started to scream. They questioned me, detained me for a while—that’s what they call it!—but you convinced them that they might as well let me go.”

“Good. I told them it was an accident. My fault.”

“There’s no way a thing like that could be your fault”

“That’s debatable. But it certainly wasn’t your fault. Are you still in trouble?”

“I don’t think so. They’re sure I did it, but there were no witnesses, and you won’t co-operate. Also, I don’t think they can figure out how I could have hurt you … in the way you were hurt.”

I closed my eyes again remembering the way I had been hurt—remembering the pain.

“Are you all right?” Kevin asked.

“Yes. Tell me what you told the police.”

“The truth.” He toyed with my hand for a moment silently. 1 looked at him, found him watching me.

“If you told those deputies the truth,” I said softly, “you’d still be locked up—in a mental hospital.”

He smiled. “I told as much of the truth as I could. I said I was in the bedroom when I heard you scream. I ran to the living room to see what was wrong, and I found you struggling to free your arm from what seemed to be a hole in the wall. I went to help you. That was when I realized your arm wasn’t just stuck, but that, somehow, it had been crushed right into the wall.”

“Not exactly crushed.”

“I know. But that seemed to be a good word to use on them—to show my ignorance. It wasn’t all that inaccurate either. Then they wanted me to tell them how such a thing could happen. I said I didn’t know . . . kept telling them I didn’t know. And heaven help me, Dana, I don’t know.”

“Neither do I,” I whispered. “Neither do I.”

The River

The trouble began long before June 9, 1976, when I became aware of it, but June 9 is the day I remember. It was my twenty-sixth birthday. It was also the day I met Rufus—the day he called me to him for the first time.

Kevin and I had not planned to do anything to celebrate my birthday. We were both too tired for that. On the day before, we had moved from our apartment in Los Angeles to a house of our own a few miles away in Altadena. The moving was celebration enough for me. We were still unpacking—or rather, I was still unpacking. Kevin had stopped when he got his office in order. Now he was closeted there either loafing or thinking because I didn’t hear his typewriter. Finally, he came out to the living room where I was sorting books into one of the big bookcases. Fiction only. We had so many books, we had to try to keep them in some kind of order.

“What’s the matter?” I asked him.

“Nothing.” He sat down on the floor near where I was working. “Just struggling with my own perversity. You know, I had half-a- dozen ideas for that Christmas story yesterday during the moving.”

“And none now when there’s time to write them down.”

“Not a one.” He pidked up a book, opened it, and turned a few pages. I picked up another book and tapped him on the shoulder with it. When he looked up, surprised, I put a stack of nonfiction down in front of him. He stared at it unhappily.

“Hell, why’d I come out here?”

“To get more ideas. After all, they come to you when you’re busy.”

He gave me a look that I knew wasn’t as malevolent as it seemed. He had the kind of pale, almost colorless eyes that made him seem distant and angry whether he was or not. He used them to intimidate people. Strangers. I grinned at him and went back to work. After a moment, he took the nonfiction to another bookcase and began shelving it.

I bent to push him another box full, then straightened quickly as I began to feel dizzy, nauseated. The room seemed to blur and darken around me. I stayed on my feet for a moment holding on to a bookcase and wondering what was wrong, then finally, I collapsed to my knees. I heard Kevin make a wordless sound of surprise, heard him ask, “What happened?”

I raised my head and discovered that I could not focus on him. “Something is wrong with me,” I gasped.

I heard him move toward me, saw a blur of gray pants and blue shirt. Then, just before he would have touched me, he vanished.

The house, the books, everything vanished. Suddenly, I was outdoors kneeling on the ground beneath trees. I was in a green place. I was at the edge of a woods. Before me was a wide tranquil river, and near the middle of that river was a child splashing, screaming …


I reacted to the child in trouble. Later 1 could ask questions, try to find out where I was, what had happened. Now I went to help the child.

I ran down to the river, waded into the water fully clothed, and swam quickly to the child. He was unconscious by the time I reached him—a small red-haired boy floating, face down. I turned him over, got a good hold on him so that his head was above water, and towed him in. There was a red-haired woman waiting for us on the shore now. Or rather, she was running back and forth crying on the shore. The moment she saw that I was wading, she ran out, took the boy from me and carried him the rest of the way, feeling and examining him as she did.

“He’s not breathing!” she screamed.

Artificial respiration. I had seen it done, been told about it, but I had never done it. Now was the time to try. The woman was in no condition to do anything useful, and there was no one else in sight. As we reached shore, I snatched the child from her. He was no more than four or five years old, and not very big.

I put him down on his back, tilted his head back, and began

mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. I saw his chest move as I breathed into him. Then, suddenly, the woman began beating me.

“You killed my baby!” she screamed. “You killed him!”

I turned and managed to catch her pounding fists. “Stop it!” I shouted, putting all the authority I could into my voice. “He’s alive!” Was he? I couldn’t tell. Please God, let him be alive. “The boy’s alive. Now let me help him.” I pushed her away, glad she was a little smaller than I was, and tinned my attention back to her son. Between breaths, I saw her staring at me blankly. Then she dropped to her knees beside me, crying.

Moments later, the boy began breathing on his own—breathing and coughing and choking and throwing up and crying for his mother. If he could do all that, he was all right. I sat back from him, feeling light-headed, relieved. I had done it!

“He’s alive!” cried the woman. She grabbed him and nearly smothered him. “Oh, Rufus, baby. .

Rufus. Ugly name to inflict on a reasonably nice-looking little kid.

When Rufus saw that it was his mother who held him, he clung to her, screaming as loudly as he could. There was nothing wrong with his voice, anyway. Then, suddenly, there was another voice.

“What the devil’s going on here?” A man’s voice, angry and demanding.

I turned, startled, and found myself looking down the barrel of the longest rifle I had ever seen. I heard a metallic click, and I froze, thinking I was going to be shot for saving the boy’s life. I was going to die.

I tried to speak, but my voice was suddenly gone. I felt sick and dizzy. My vision blurred so badly I could not distinguish the gun or the face of the man behind it. I heard the woman speak sharply, but I was too far gone into sickness and panic to understand what she said.

Then the man, the woman, the boy, the gun all vanished.

I was kneeling in the living room of my own house again several feet from where I had fallen minutes before. I was back at home- wet and muddy, but intact. Across the room, Kevin stood frozen, staring at the spot where I had been. How long had he been there?


He spun around to face me. “What the hell . . . how did you get over there?” he whispered.

“I don’t know.”

“Dana, you . . He came over to me, touched me tentatively as though he wasn’t sure I was real. Then he grabbed me by the shoulders and held me tightly. “What happened?”

I reached up to loosen his grip, but he wouldn’t let go. He dropped to his knees beside me.

“Tell me!” he demanded.

“I would if I knew what to tell you. Stop hurting me.”

He let me go, finally, stared at me as though he’d just recognized me. “Are you all right?”

“No.” I lowered my head and closed my eyes for a moment. I was shaking with fear, with residual terror that took all the strength out of me. I folded forward, hugging myself, trying to be still. The threat was gone, but it was all I could do to keep my teeth from chattering.

Kevin got up and went away for a moment. He came back with a large towel and wrapped it around my shoulders. It comforted me somehow, and I pulled it tighter. There was an ache in my back and shoulders where Rufus’s mother had pounded with her fists. She had hit harder than I’d realized, and Kevin hadn’t helped.

We sat there together on the floor, me wrapped in the towel and Kevin with his arm around me calming me just by being there. After a while, I stopped shaking.

“Tell me now,” said Kevin.


“Everything. What happened to you? How did you . . . how did you move like that?”

I sat mute, trying to gather my thoughts, seeing the rifle again leveled at my head. I had never in my life panicked that way—never felt so close to death.

“Dana.” He spoke softly. The sound of his voice seemed to put distance between me and the memory. But still. . .

“I don’t know what to tell you,” I said. “It’s all crazy.”

“Tell me how you got wet,” he said. “Start with that.”

I nodded. “There was a river,” I said. “Woods with a river running through. And there was a boy drowning. I saved him. That’s how I got wet.” I hesitated, trying to think, to make sense. Not that what had happened to me made sense, but at least I could tell it coherently.

I looked at Kevin, saw that he held his expression carefully neutral. He waited. More composed, I went back to the beginning, to the first dizziness, and remembered it all for him—relived it all in detail. I even recalled things that I hadn’t realized I’d noticed. The trees I’d been near, for instance, were pine trees, tall and straight with branches and needles mostly at the top. I had noticed that much somehow in the instant before I had seen Rufus. And I remembered something extra about Rufus’s mother. Her clothing. She had worn a long dark dress that covered her from neck to feet. A silly thing to be wearing on a muddy riverbank. And she had spoken with an accent— a southern accent. Then there was the unforgettable gun, long and deadly.

Kevin listened without interrupting. When I was finished, he took the edge of the towel and wiped a little of the mud from my leg. “This stuff had to come from somewhere,” he said.

“You don’t believe me?”

He stared at the mud for a moment, then faced me. “You know how long you were gone?”

“A few min utes. Not long.”

“A few seconds. There were no more than ten or fifteen seconds between the time you went and the time you called my name.”

“Oh, no …” I shook my head slowly. “All that couldn’t have happened in just seconds.”

He said nothing.

“But it was real! I was there!” I caught myself, took a deep breath, and slowed down. “All right. If you told me a story like this, I probably wouldn’t believe it either, but like you said, this mud came from somewhere.”


“Look, what did you see? What do you think happened?”

He frowned a little, shook his head. “You vanished.” He seemed to have to force the words out. “You were here until my hand was just a couple of inches from you. Then, suddenly, you were gone. I couldn’t believe it. I just stood there. Then you were back again and on the other side of the room.”

“Do you believe it yet?”

He shrugged. “It happened. I saw it. You vanished and you reappeared. Facts.”

“I reappeared wet, muddy, and scared to death.”


“And I know what I saw, and what I did—my facts. They’re no crazier than yours.”

“I don’t know what to think.”

“I’m not sure it matters what we think.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well… it happened once. What if it happens again?”

“No. No, I don’t think. .

“You don’t know!” I was starting to shake again. “Whatever it was, I’ve had enough of it! It almost killed me!”

“Take it easy,” he said. “Whatever happens, it’s not going to do you any good to panic yourself again.”

I moved uncomfortably, looked around. “I feel like it could happen again—like it could happen anytime. I don’t feel secure here.”

“You’re just scaring yourself.”

“No!” I turned to glare at him, and he looked so worried I turned away again. I wondered bitterly whether he was worried about my vanishing again or worried about my sanity. I still didn’t think he believed my story. “Maybe you’re right,” I said. “I hope you are. Maybe I’m just like a victim of robbery or rape or something—a victim who survives, but who doesn’t feel safe any more.” I shrugged. “I don’t have a name for the thing that happened to me, but I don’t feel safe any more.”

He made his voice very gentle. “If it happens again, and if it’s real, the boy’s father will know he owes you thanks. He won’t hurt you.”

“You don’t know that. You don’t know what could happen.” I stood up unsteadily. “Hell, I don’t blame you for humoring me.” I paused to give him a chance to deny it, but he didn’t. “I’m beginning to feel as though I’m humoring myself.”

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t know. As real as the whole episode was, as real as I know it was, it’s beginning to recede from me somehow. It’s becoming like something I saw on television or read about—like something I got second hand.”

“Or like a … a dream?”

I looked down at him. “You mean a hallucination.”

“All right.”

“No! I know what I’m doing. I can see. I’m pulling away from it because it scares me so. But it was real.”

“Let yourself pull away from it.” He got up and took the muddy towel from me. “That sounds like the best thing you can do, whether it was real or not. Let go of it.”

The Fire


I tried.

I showered, washed away the mud and the brackish water, put on clean clothes, combed my hair. . .

“That’s a lot better,” said Kevin when he saw me.

But it wasn’t.

Rufus and his parents had still not quite settled back and become the “dream” Kevin wanted them to be. They stayed with me, shadowy and threatening. They made their own limbo and held me in it. I had been afraid that the dizziness might come back while I was in the shower, afraid that I would fall and crack my skull against the tile or that I would go back to that river, wherever it was, and find myself standing naked among strangers. Or would I appear somewhere else naked and totally vulnerable?

I washed very quickly.

Then I went back to the books in the living room, but Kevin had almost finished shelving them.

“Forget about any more unpacking today,” he told me. “Let’s go get something to eat.”


“Yes, where would you like to eat? Someplace nice for your birthday.”


“Here, really. I don’t want to go anywhere.”

“Why not?”

I took a deep breath. “Tomorrow,” I said. “Let’s go tomorrow.” Somehow, tomorrow would be better. I would have a night’s sleep between me and whatever had happened. And if nothing else happened, I would be able to relax a little.

“It would be good for you to get out of here for a while,” he said.


“Listen . . .”

“No!” Nothing was going to get me out of the house that night if I could help it.

Kevin looked at me for a moment—I probably looked as scared as I was—then he went to the phone and called out for chicken and shrimp.

But staying home did no good. When the food had arrived, when we were eating and I was calmer, the kitchen began to blur around me.

Again the light seemed to dim and I felt the sick dizziness. I pushed back from the table, but didn’t try to get up. I couldn’t have gotten up.


I didn’t answer.

“Is it happening again?”

“I think so.” I sat very still, trying not to fall off my chair. The floor seemed farther away than it should have. I reached out for the table to steady myself, but before I could touch it, it was gone. And the distant floor seemed to darken and change. The linoleum tile became wood, partially carpeted. And the chair beneath me vanished.


When my dizziness cleared away, I found myself sitting on a small bed sheltered by a kind of abbreviated dark green canopy. Beside me was a little wooden stand containing a battered old pocket knife, several marbles, and a lighted candle in a metal holder. Before me was a red-haired boy. Rufus?

The boy had his back to me and hadn’t noticed me yet. He held a

stick of wood in one hand and the end of the stick was charred and smoking. Its fire had apparently been transferred to the draperies at the window. Now the boy stood watching as the flames ate their way up the heavy cloth.

For a moment, I watched too. Then I woke up, pushed the boy aside, caught the unbumed upper part of the draperies and pulled them down. As they fell, they smothered some of the flames within themselves, and they exposed a half-open window. I picked them up quickly and threw them out the window.

The boy looked at me, then ran to the window and looked out. I looked out too, hoping I hadn’t thrown the burning cloth onto a porch roof or too near a wall. There was a fireplace in the room; I saw it now, too late. I could have safely thrown the draperies into it and let them bum.

It was dark outside. The sun had not set at home when I was snatched away, but here it was dark. I could see the draperies a story below, burning, lighting the night only enough for us to see that they were on the ground and some distance from the nearest wall. My hasty act had done no harm. I could go home knowing that I had averted trouble for the second time.

I waited to go home.

My first trip had ended as soon as the boy was safe—had ended just in time to keep me safe. Now, though, as I waited, I realized that I wasn’t going to be that lucky again.

I didn’t feel dizzy. The room remained unblurred, undeniably real. I looked around, not knowing what to do. The fear that had followed me from home flared now. What would happen to me if I didn’t go back automatically this time? What if I was stranded here—wherever here was? I had no money, no idea how to get home.

I stared out into the darkness fighting to calm myself. It was not calming, though, that there were no city lights out there. No lights at all. But still, I was in no immediate danger. And wherever I was, there was a child with me—and a child might answer my questions more readily than an adult.

I looked at him. He looked back, curious and unafraid. He was not Rufus. I could see that now. He had the same red hair and slight build, but he was taller, clearly three or four years older. Old enough, I thought, to know better than to play with fire. If he hadn’t set fire to his draperies, I might still be at home.

I stepped over to him , took the stick from his hand, and threw it

into the fireplace. “Someone should use one like that on you,” I said, “before you bum the house down.”

I regretted the words the moment they were out. I needed this boy’s help. But still, who knew what trouble he had gotten me into!

The boy stumbled back from me, alarmed. “You lay a hand on me, and I’ll tell my daddy!” His accent was unmistakably southern, and before I could shut out the thought, I began wondering whether I might be somewhere in the South. Somewhere two or three thousand miles from home.

If I was in the South, the two- or three-hour time difference would explain the darkness outside. But wherever I was, the last thing I wanted to do was meet this boy’s father. The man could have me jailed for breaking into his house—or he could shoot me for breaking in. There was something specific for me to worry about. No doubt the boy could tell me about other things.

And he would. If I was going to be stranded here, I had to find out all I could while I could. As dangerous as it could be for me to stay where I was, in the house of a man who might shoot me, it seemed even more dangerous for me to go wandering into the night totally ignorant. The boy and I would keep our voices down, and we would talk.

“Don’t you worry about your father,” I told him softly. “You’ll have plenty to say to him when he sees those burned draperies.”

The boy seemed to deflate. His shoulders sagged and he turned to stare into the fireplace. “Who are you anyway?” he asked. “What are you doing here?”

So he didn’t know either—not that I had really expected him to. But he did seem surprisingly at ease with me—much calmer than I would have been at his age about the sudden appearance of a stranger in my bedroom. I wouldn’t even have still been in the bedroom. If he had been as timid a child as I was, he would probably have gotten me killed.

“What’s your name?” I asked him.


For a moment, I just stared at him. “Rufus?”

“Yeah. What’s the matter?”

I wished I knew what was the matter—what was going on! “I’m all right,” I said. “Look . . . Rufus, look at me. Have you ever seen me before?”


That was the right answer, the reasonable answer. I tried to make myself accept it in spite of his name, his too-familiar face. But the child I had pulled from the river could so easily have grown into this child—in three or four years.

“Can you remember a time when you nearly drowned?” I asked, feeling foolish.

He frowned, looked at me more carefully.

“You were younger,” I said. “About five years old, maybe. Do you remember?”

“The river?” The words came out low and tentative as though he didn’t quite believe them himself.

“You do remember then. It was you.”

“Drowning … I remember that. And you . . . ?”

“I’m not sure you ever got a look at me. And I guess it must have been a long time ago . . .for you.”

“No, I remember you now. I saw you.”

I said nothing. I didn’t quite believe him. I wondered whether he was just telling me what he thought I wanted to hear—though there was no reason for him to lie. He was clearly not afraid of me.

“That’s why it seemed like I knew you,” he said. “I couldn’t remember—maybe because of the way I saw you. I told Mama, and she said I couldn’t have really seen you that way.”

“What way?”

“Well. . . with my eyes closed.”

“With your—” I stopped. The boy wasn’t lying; he was dreaming.

“It’s true!” he insisted loudly. Then he caught himself, whispered, “That’s the way I saw you just as I stepped in the hole.”


“In the river. I was walking in the water and there was a hole. I fell, and then I couldn’t fin d the bottom any more. I saw you inside a room. I could see part of the room, and there were books all around —more than in Daddy’s library. You were wearing pants like a man— the way you are now. I thought you were a man.”

“Thanks a lot.”

“But this time you just look like a woman wearing pants.”

I sighed. “All right, never mind that. As long as you recognize me as the one who pulled you out of the river. . .”

“Did you? I thought you must have been the one.”

I stopped, confused. “I thought you remembered.”

“I remember seeing you. It was like I stopped drowning for a

while and saw you, and then started to drawn again. After that Mama was there, and Daddy.”

“And Daddy’s gun,” I said bitterly. “Your father almost shot me.”

“He thought you were a man too—and that you were trying to hurt Mama and me. Mama says she was telling him not to shoot you, and then you were gone.”

“Yes.” I had probably vanished before the woman’s eyes. What had she thought of that?

“I asked her where you went,” said Rufus, “and she got mad and said she didn’t know. I asked her again later, and she hit me. And she never hits me.”

I waited, expecting him to ask me the same question, but he said no more. Only his eyes questioned. I hunted through my own thoughts for a way to answer him.

“Where do you think I went, Rufe?”

He sighed, said disappointedly, “You’re not going to tell me either.”

“Yes I am—as best I can. But answer me first. Tell me where you think I went.”

He seemed to have to decide whether to do that or not. “Back to the room,” he said finally. “The room with the books.”

“Is that a guess, or did you see me again?”

“I didn’t see you. Am I right? Did you go back there?”

“Yes. Back home to scare my husband almost as much as I must have scared your parents.”

“But how did you get there? How did you get here?”

“Like that.” I snapped my fingers.

“That’s no answer.”

“It’s the only answer I’ve got. I was at home; then suddenly, I was here helping you. I don’t know how it happens—how I move that way —or when it’s going to happen. I can’t control it.”

“Who can?”

“I don’t know. No one.” I didn’t want him to get the idea that he could control it. Especially if it turned out that he really could.

“But . . . what’s it like? What did Mama see that she won’t tell me about?”

“Probably the same thing my husband saw. He said when I came to you, I vanished. Just disappeared. And then reappeared later.”

He thought about that. “Disappeared? You mean like smoke?” Fear crept into his expression. “Like a ghost?”

“Like smoke, maybe. But don’t go getting the idea that I’m a ghost. There are no ghosts.”

“That’s what Daddy says.”

“He’s right.”

“But Mama says she saw one once.”

I managed to hold back my opinion of that. His mother, after all . . . Besides, I was probably her ghost. She had had to find some explanation for my vanishing. I wondered how her more realistic husband had explained it. But that wasn’t important. What I cared about now was keeping the boy calm.

“You needed help,” I told him. “I came to help you. Twice. Does that make me someone to be afraid of?”

“I guess not.” He gave me a long look, then came over to me, reached out hesitantly, and touched me with a sooty hand.

“You see,” I said, “I’m as real as you are.”

He nodded. “I thought you were. All the things you did . . . you had to be. And Mama said she touched you too.”

“She sure did.” I rubbed my shoulder where the woman had bruised it with her desperate blows. For a moment, the soreness confused me, forced me to recall that for me, the woman’s attack had come only hours ago. Yet the boy was years older. Fact then: Somehow, my travels crossed time as well as distance. Another fact: The boy was the focus of my travels—perhaps the cause of them. He had seen me in my living room before I was drawn to him; he couldn’t have made that up. But I had seen nothing at all, felt nothing but sickness and disorientation.

“Mama said what you did after you got me out of the water was like the Second Book of Kings,” said the boy.

“The what?”

“Where Elisha breathed into the dead boy’s mouth, and the boy came back to life. Mama said she tried to stop you when she saw you doing that to me because you were just some nigger she had never seen before. Then she remembered Second Kings.”

I sat down on the bed and looked over at him, but I could read nothing other than interest and remembered excitement in his eyes. “She said I was what?” I asked.

“Just a strange nigger. She and Daddy both knew they hadn’t seen you before.”

“That was a hell of a thing for her to say right after she saw me save her son’s life.”

Rufus frowned. “Why?”

I stared at him.

“What’s wrong?” he asked. “Why are you mad?”

“Your mother always call black people niggers, Rufe?”

“Sure, except when she has company. Why not?”

His air of innocent questioning confused me. Either he really didn’t know what he was saying, or he had a career waiting in Hollywood. Whichever it was, he wasn’t going to go on saying it to me.

“I’m a black woman, Rufe. If you have to call me something other than my name, that’s it.”

“But . . .”

“Look, I helped you. I put the fire out, didn’t I?”


“All right then, you do me the courtesy of calling me what I want to be called.”

He just stared at me.

“Now,” I spoke more gently, “tell me, did you see me again when the draperies started to burn? I mean, did you see me the way you did when you were drowning?”

It took him a moment to shift gears. Then he said, “I didn’t see anything but fire.” He sat down in the old ladder-back chair near the fireplace and looked at me. “I didn’t see you until you got here. But I was so scared … it was kind of like when I was drowning . . . but not like anything else I can remember. I thought the house would bum down and it would be my fault. I thought I would die.”

I nodded. “You probably wouldn’t have died because you would have been able to get out in time. But if your parents are asleep here, the fire might have reached them before they woke up.”

The boy stared into the fireplace. “I burned the stable once,” he said. “I wanted Daddy to give me Nero—a horse I liked. But he sold him to Reverend Wyndham just because Reverend Wyndham offered a lot of money. Daddy already has a lot of money. Anyway, I got mad and burned down the stable.”

I shook my head wonderingly. The boy already knew more about revenge than I did. What kind of man was he going to grow up into? “Why did you set this fire?” I asked. “To get even with your father for something else?”

“For hitting me. See?” He turned and pulled up his shirt so that I could see the crisscross of long red welts. And I could see old marks, ugly scars of at least one much worse beating.

“For Godsake . . . !”

“He said I took money from his desk, and I said I didn’t.” Rufus shrugged. “He said I was calling him a liar, and he hit me.”

“Several times.”

“All I took was a dollar.” He put his shirt down and faced me.

I didn’t know what to say to that. The boy would be lucky to stay out of prison when he grew up—if he grew up. He went on,

“I started thinking that if I burned the house, he would lose all his money. He ought to lose it. It’s all he ever thinks about.” Rufus shuddered. “But then I remembered the stable, and the whip he hit me with after I set that fire. Mama said if she hadn’t stopped him, he would have killed me. I was afraid this time he would kill me, so I wanted to put the fire out. But I couldn’t. I didn’t know what to do.”

So he had called me. I was certain now. The boy drew me to him somehow when he got himself into more trouble than he could handle. How he did it, I didn’t know. He apparently didn’t even know he was doing it. If he had, and if he had been able to call me voluntarily, I might have found myself standing between father and son during one of Rufus’s beatings. What would have happened then, I couldn’t imagine. One meeting with Rufus’s father had been enough for me. Not that the boy sounded like that much of a bargain either. But, “Did you say he used a whip on you, Rufe?”

“Yeah. The kind he whips niggers and horses with.”

That stopped me for a moment. “The kind he whips . . . who?”

He looked at me warily. “I wasn’t talking about you.”

I brushed that aside. “Say blacks anyway. But . . . your father whips black people?”

“When they need it. But Mama said it was cruel and disgraceful for him to hit me like that no matter what I did. She took me to Baltimore City to Aunt May’s house after that, but he came and got me and brought me home. After a while, she came home too.”

For a moment, I forgot about the whip and the “niggers.” Baltimore City. Baltimore, Maryland? “Are we far from Baltimore now, Rufe?”

“Across the bay.”

“But . . . we’re still in Maryland, aren’t we?” I had relatives in Maryland—people who would help me if I needed them, and if I could reach them. I was beginning to wonder, though, whether I would be able to reach anyone I knew. I had a new, slowly growing fear.

“Sure we’re in Maryland,” said Rufus. “How could you not know that.”

“What’s the date?”

“I don’t know.”

“The year! Just tell me the year!”

He glanced across the room toward the door, then quickly back at me. I realized I was making him nervous with my ignorance and my sudden intensity. I forced myself to speak calmly. “Come on, Rufe, you know what year it is, don’t you?”

“It’s . . . eighteen fifteen.”


“Eighteen fifteen.”

I sat still, breathed deeply, calming myself, believing him. I did believe him. I wasn’t even as surprised as I should have been. I had already accepted the fact that I had moved through time. Now I knew I was farther from home than I had thought. And now I knew why Rufus’s father used his whip on “niggers” as well as horses.

I looked up and saw that the boy had left his chair and come closer to me.

“What’s the matter with you?” he demanded. “You keep acting sick.”

“It’s nothing, Rufe. I’m all right.” No, I was sick. What was I going to do? Why hadn’t I gone home? This could turn out to be such a deadly place for me if I had to stay in it much longer. “Is this a plantation?” I asked.

“The Weylin plantation. My daddy’s Tom Weylin.”

“Weylin . . .” The name triggered a memory, something I hadn’t thought of for years. “Rufus, do you spell your last name, W-e-y- 1-i-n?”

“Yeah, I think that’s right.”

I frowned at him impatiently. A boy his age should certainly be sure of the spelling of his own name—even a name like this with an unusual spelling.

“It’s right,” he said quickly.

“And … is there a black girl, maybe a slave girl, named Alice living around here somewhere?” I wasn’t sure of the girl’s last name. The memory was coming back to me in fragments.

“Sure. Alice is my friend.”

“Is she?” I was staring at my hands, trying to think. Ever}’ time I got used to one impossibility, I ran into another.

“She’s no slave, either,” said Rufus. “She’s free, born free like her mother.”

“Oh? Then maybe somehow . . .” I let my voice trail away as my thoughts raced ahead of it fitting things together. The state was right, and the time, the unusual name, the girl, Alice . . .

“Maybe what?” prompted Rufus.

Yes, maybe what? Well, maybe, if I wasn’t completely out of my mind, if I wasn’t in the middle of the most perfect hallucination I’d ever heard of, if the child before me was real and was telling the truth, maybe he was one of my ancestors.

Maybe he was my several times great grandfather, but still vaguely alive in the memory of my family because his daughter had bought a large Bible in an ornately carved, wooden chest and had begun keeping family records in it. My uncle still had it.

Grandmother Hagar. Hagar Weylin, born in 1831. Hers was the first name listed. And she had given her parents’ names as Rufus Weylin and Alice Green-something Weylin.

“Rufus, what’s Alice’s last name?”

“Greenwood. What were you talking about? Maybe what?”

“Nothing. I . . . just thought I might know someone in her family.”

“Do you?”

“I don’t know. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the person I’m thinking of.” Weak lies. But they were better than the truth. As young as the boy was, I thought he would question my sanity if I told the truth.

Alice Greenwood. How would she marry this boy? Or would it be marriage? And why hadn’t someone in my family mentioned that Rufus Weylin was white? If they knew. Probably, they didn’t. Hagar Weylin Blake had died in 1880, long before the time of any member of my family that I had known. No doubt most information about her life had died with her. At least it had died before it filtered down to me. There was only the Bible left.

Hagar had filled pages of it with her careful script. There was a record of her marriage to Oliver Blake, and a list of her seven children, their marriages, some grandchildren . . . Then someone else had taken up the listing. So many relatives that I had never known, would never know.

Or would I?

I looked over at the boy who would be Hagar’s father. There was

nothing in him that reminded me of any of my relatives. Looking at him confused me. But he had to be the one. There had to be some kind of reason for the link he and I seemed to have. Not that I really thought a blood relationship could explain the way I had twice been drawn to him. It wouldn’t. But then, neither would anything else. What we had was something new, something that didn’t even have a name. Some matching strangeness in us that may or may not have come from our being related. Still, now I had a special reason for being glad I had been able to save him. After all . . . after all, what would have happened to me, to my mother’s family, if I hadn’t saved him?

Was that why I was here? Not only to insure the survival of one accident-prone small boy, but to insure my family’s survival, my own birth.

Again, what would have happened if the boy had drowned? Would he have drowned without me? Or would his mother have saved him somehow? Would his father have arrived in time to save him? It must be that one of them would have saved him somehow. His life could not depend on the actions of his unconceived descendant. No matter what I did, he would have to survive to father Hagar, or I could not exist. That made sense.

But somehow, it didn’t make enough sense to give me any comfort. It didn’t make enough sense for me to test it by ignoring him if I found him in trouble again—not that I could have ignored any child in trouble. But this child needed special care. If I was to live, if others were to live, he must live. I didn’t dare test the paradox.

“You know,” he said, peering at me, “you look a little like Alice’s mother. If you wore a dress and tied your hair up, you’d look a lot like her.” He sat down companionably beside me on the bed.

“I’m surprised your mother didn’t mistake me for her then,” I said.

“Not with you dressed like that! She thought you were a man at first, just like I did—and like Daddy did.”

“Oh.” That mistake was a little easier to understand now.

“Are you sure you aren’t related to Alice yourself?”

“Not that I know of,” I lied. And I changed the subject abruptly. “Rufe, are there slaves here?”

He nodded. “Thirty-eight slaves, Daddy said.” He drew his bare feet up and sat cross-legged on the bed facing me, still examining me with interest. “You’re not a slave, are you?”


“I didn’t think so. You don’t talk right or dress right or act right. You don’t even seem like a runaway.”

“I’m not.”

“And you don’t call me ‘Master’ either.”

I surprised myself by laughing. “Master?”

“You’re supposed to.” He was very serious. “You want me to call you black.”

His seriousness stopped my laughter. What was funny, anyway? He was probably right. No doubt I was supposed to give him some title of respect. But “Master”?

“You have to say it,” he insisted. “Or ‘Young Master’ or . . .or ‘Mister’ like Alice does. You’re supposed to.”

“No.” I shook my head. “Not unless things get a lot worse than they are.”

The boy gripped my arm. “Yes!” he whispered. “You’ll get into trouble if you don’t, if Daddy hears you.”

I’d get into trouble if “Daddy” heard me say anything at all. But the boy was obviously concerned, even frightened for me. His father sounded like a man who worked at inspiring fear. “All right,” I said. “If anyone else comes, I’ll call you ‘Mister Rufus.’ Will that do?” If anyone else came, I’d be lucky to survive.

“Yes,” said Rufus. He looked relieved. “I still have scars on my back where Daddy hit me with the whip.”

“I saw them.” It was time for me to get out of this house. I had done enough talking and learning and hoping to be transported home. It was clear that whatever power had used me to protect Rufus had not provided for my own protection. I had to get out of the house and to a place of safety before day came—if there was a place of safety for me here. I wondered how Alice’s parents managed, how they survived.

“Hey!” said Rufus suddenly.

I jumped, looked at him, and realized that he had been saying something—something I had missed.

“I said what’s your name?” he repeated. “You never told me.”

Was that all? “Edana,” I said. “Most people call me Dana.”

“Oh, no!” he said softly. He stared at me the way he had when he thought I might be a ghost.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing, I guess, but . . . well, you wanted to know if I had seen you this time before you got here the way I did at the river. Well, I didn’t see you, but I think I heard you.”

“How? When?”

“I don’t know how. You weren’t here. But when the fire started and I got so scared, I heard a voice, a man. He said, ‘Dana?’ Then he said, ‘Is it happening again?’ And someone else—you—whispered, ‘I think so.’ I heard you!”

I sighed wearily, longing for my own bed and an end to questions that had no answers. How had Rufus heard Kevin and me across time and space? I didn’t know. I didn’t even have time to care. I had other more immediate problems.

“Who was the man?” Rufus asked.

“My husband.” I rubbed a hand across my face. “Rufe, I have to get out of here before your father wakes up. Will you show me the way downstairs so that I don’t awaken anyone?”

“Where will you go?”

“I don’t know, but I can’t stay here.” I paused for a moment wondering how much he could help me—how much he would help me. “I’m a long way from home,” I said, “and I don’t know when I’ll be able to get back there. Do you know of anyplace I could go?”

Rufus uncrossed his legs and scratched his head. “You could go outside and hide until morning. Then you could come out and ask Daddy if you could work here. He hires free niggers sometimes.”

“Does he? If you were free and black, do you think you’d want to work for him?”

He looked away from me, shook his head. “I guess not. He’s pretty mean sometimes.”

“Is there someplace else I could go?”

He did some more thinking. “You could go to town and find work there.”

“What’s the name of the town?”


“Is it far?”

“Not so far. The niggers walk there sometimes when Daddy gives them a pass. Or maybe . . .”


“Alice’s mother lives closer. You could go to her, and she could tell you the best places to go to get work. You could stay with her too, maybe. Then I might see you again before you go home.”

I was surprised he wanted to see me again. I hadn’t had much con-

tact with children since I’d been one myself. Somehow, I found myself liking this one, though. His environment had left its unlikable marks on him, but in the antebellum South, I could have found myself at the mercy of someone much worse—could have been descended from someone much worse.

“Where can I find Alice’s mother?” I asked.

“She lives in the woods. Come on outside, and I’ll tell you how to get there.”

He took his candle and went to the door of his room. The room’s shadows moved eerily as he moved. I realized suddenly how easy it would be for him to betray me—to open the door and run away or shout an alarm.

Instead, he opened the door a crack and looked out. Then he turned and beckoned to me. He seemed excited and pleased, and only frightened enough to make him cautious. I relaxed, followed him quickly. He was enjoying himself—having an adventure. And, incidentally, he was playing with fire again, helping an intruder to escape undetected from his father’s house. His father would probably take the whip to both of us if he knew.

Downstairs, the large heavy door opened noiselessly and we stepped into the darkness outside—the near darkness. There was a half-moon and several million stars fighting the night as they never did at home. Rufus immediately began to give me directions to his friend’s house, but I stopped him. There was something else to be done first.

“Where would the draperies have fallen, Rufe? Take me to them.”

He obeyed, taking me around a corner of the house to the side. There, what was left of the draperies lay smoking on the ground.

“If we can get rid of this,” I said, “can you get your mother to give you new draperies without telling your father?”

“I think so,” he said. “They hardly talk to each other anyway.”

Most of the remnants of the drapes were cold. I stamped out the few that were still edged in red and threatening to flame up again. Then I found a fairly large piece of unburned cloth. I spread it out flat and filled it with smaller pieces and bits of ash and whatever dirt I scooped up along with them. Rufus helped me silently. When we were finished, I rolled the cloth into a tight bundle and gave it to him.

“Put it in your fireplace,” I told him. “Watch to see that it all

burns before you go to sleep. But, Rufe . . . don’t burn anything else.”

He glanced downward, embarrassed. “I won’t.”

“Good. There must be safer ways of annoying your father. Now which way is it to Alice’s house?”


He pointed the way, then left me alone in the silent chilly night. I stood beside the house for a moment feeling frightened and lonely. I hadn’t realized how comforting the boy’s presence had been. Finally, I began walking across the wide grassy land that separated the house from the fields. I could see scattered trees and shadowy buildings around me. There was a row of small buildings off to one side almost out of sight of the house. Slave cabins, I supposed. I thought I saw someone moving around one of them, and for a moment, I froze behind a huge spreading tree. The figure vanished silently between two cabins—some slave, probably as eager as I was to avoid being caught out at night.

I skirted around a field of some grassy waist-high crop I didn’t even try to identify in the dim light. Rufus had told me his short cut, and that there was another longer way by road. I was glad to avoid the road, though. The possibility of meeting a white adult here frightened me, more than the possibility of street violence ever had at home.

Finally, there was a stand of woods that looked like a solid wall of darkness after the moonlit fields. I stood before it for several seconds wondering whether the road wouldn’t be a better idea after all.

Then I heard dogs barking—not too far away by their sound—and in sudden fear, I plunged through a tangle of new young growth and into the trees. I wondered about thorns, poison ivy, snakes … I wondered, but I didn’t stop. A pack of half-wild dogs seemed worse. Or perhaps a pack of tame hunting dogs used to tracking runaway slaves.

The woods were not as totally dark as they had seemed. I could see a little after my eyes grew accustomed to the dimness. I could see trees, tall and shadowy—trees everywhere. As I walked on, I began towonder how I could be sure I was still going in the right direction. That was enough. I turned around—hoping that I still knew what “around” meant, and headed back toward the field. I was too much of a city woman.

I got back to the field all right, then veered left to where Rufus had said there was a road. I found the road and followed it, listening for the dogs. But now, only a few night birds and insects broke the silence—crickets, an owl, some other bird I had no name for. I hugged the side of the road, trying to suppress my nervousness and praying to go home.

Something dashed across the road so close to me that it almost brushed my leg. I froze, too terrified even to scream, then realized that it was just some small animal that I had frightened—a fox, perhaps, or a rabbit. I found myself swaying a little, swaying dizzily. I collapsed to my knees, desperately willing the dizziness to intensify, the transferal to come . . .

I had closed my eyes. When I opened them, the dirt path and the trees were still there. I got up wearily and began walking again.

When I had been walking for a while, I began to wonder whether I had passed the cabin without seeing it. And I began to hear noises— not birds or animals this time, not anything I could identify at first. But whatever it was, it seemed to be coming closer. It took me a ridiculously long time to realize that it was the sound of horses moving slowly down the road toward me.

Just in time, I dove into the bushes.

I lay still, listening, shaking a little, wondering whether the approaching horsemen had seen me. I could see them now, dark, slowly moving shapes going in a direction that would eventually take them past me on toward the Weylin house. And if they saw me, they might take me along with them as their prisoner. Blacks here were assumed to be slaves unless they could prove they were free—unless they had their free papers. Paperless blacks were fair game for any white.

And these riders were white. I could see that in the moonlight as they came near. Then they turned and headed into the woods just a few feet from me. I watched and waited, keeping absolutely still until they had all gone past. Eight white men out for a leisurely ride in the middle of the night. Eight white men going into the woods in the area where the Greenwood cabin was supposed to be.

After a moment of indecision, I got up and followed them, moving carefully from tree to tree. I was both afraid of them and glad of

their human presence. Dangerous as they could be to me, somehow, they did not seem as threatening as the dark shadowy woods with its strange sounds, its unknowns.

As I had expected, the men led me to a small log cabin in a moonlit clearing in the woods. Rufus had told me I could reach the Greenwood cabin by way of the road, but he hadn’t told me the cabin sat back out of sight of the road. Maybe it didn’t. Maybe this was someone else’s cabin. I half hoped it was because if the people inside this cabin were black, they were almost certainly in for trouble.

Four of the riders dismounted and went to hit and kick the door. When no one answered their pounding, two of them began trying to break it down. It looked like a heavy door—one more likely to break the men’s shoulders than it was to give. But apparently the latch used to keep it shut wasn’t heavy. There was a sound of splintering wood, and the door swung inward. The four men rushed in with it, and a moment later, three people were shoved, almost thrown out of the cabin. Two of them—a man and woman—were caught by the riders outside who had dismounted, apparently expecting them. The third, a little girl dressed in something long and light colored, was allowed to fall to the ground and scramble away, ignored by the men. She moved to within a few yards of where I lay in the bushes near the edge of the clearing.

There was talk in the clearing now, and I began to distinguish words over the distance and through the unfamiliar accents.

“No pass,” said one of the riders. “He sneaked off.”

“No, Master,” pleaded one of those from the cabin—clearly a black man speaking to whites. “I had a pass. I had . . .”

One of the whites hit him in the face. Two others held him, and he sagged between them. More talk.

“If you had a pass, where is it?”

“Don’t know. Must have dropped it coming here.”

They hustled the man to a tree so close to me that I lay flat on the ground, stiff with fear. With just a little bad luck, one of the whites would spot me, or, in the darkness, fail to spot me and step on me.

The man was forced to hug the tree, and his hands were tied to prevent him from letting go. The man was naked, apparently dragged from bed. I looked at the woman who still stood back beside the cabin and saw that she had managed to wrap herself in something. A blanket, perhaps. As I noticed it, one of the whites tore it from her.

She said something in a voice so soft that all I caught was her tone of protest.

“Shut your mouth!” said the man who had taken her blanket. He threw it on the ground. “Who the hell do you think you are, anyway?”

One of the other men joined in. “What do you think you’ve got that we haven’t seen before?”

There was raucous laughter.

“Seen more and better,” someone else added.

There were obscenities, more laughter.

By now, the man had been securely tied to the tree. One of the whites went to his horse to get what proved to be a whip. He cracked it once in the air, apparently for his own amusement, then brought it down across the back of the black man. The man’s body convulsed, but the only sound he made was a gasp. He took several more blows with no outcry, but I could hear his breathing, hard and quick.

Behind him, his child wept noisily against her mother’s leg, but the woman, like her husband, was silent. She clutched the child to her and stood, head down, refusing to watch the beating.

Then the man’s resolve broke. He began to moan—low gut- wrenching sounds torn from him against his will. Finally, he began to scream.

I could literally smell his sweat, hear every ragged breath, every cry, every cut of the whip. I could see his body jerking, convulsing, straining against the rope as his screaming went on and on. My stomach heaved, and I had to force myself to stay where I was and keep quiet. Why didn’t they stop!

“Please, Master,” the man begged. “For Godsake, Master, please …”

I shut my eyes and tensed my muscles against an urge to vomit.

I had seen people beaten on television and in the movies. I had seen the too-red blood substitute streaked across their backs and heard their well-rehearsed screams. But I hadn’t lain nearby and smelled their sweat or heard them pleading and praying, shamed before their families and themselves. I was probably less prepared for the reality than the child crying not far from me. In fact, she and I were reacting very much alike. My face too was wet with tears. And my mind was darting from one thought to another, trying to tune out the whipping. At one point, this last cowardice even brought me something useful. A name for whites who rode through the night in the ante bellum South, breaking in doors and beating and otherwise torturing black people.

Patrols. Groups of young whites who ostensibly maintained order among the slaves. Patrols. Forerunners of the Ku Klux Klan.

The man’s screaming stopped.

After a moment, I looked up and saw that the patrollers were untying him. He continued to lean against the tree even when the rope was off him until one of the patrollers pulled him around and tied his hands in front of him. Then, still holding the other end of the rope, the patroller mounted his horse and rode away half-dragging his captive behind him. The rest of the patrol mounted and followed except for one who was having some kind of low-voiced discussion with the woman. Evidently, the discussion didn’t go the way the man wanted because before he rode after the others, he punched the woman in the face exactly as her husband had been punched earlier. The woman collapsed to the ground. The patroller rode away and left her there.

The patrol and its stumbling captive headed back to the road, slanting off toward the Weylin house. If they had gone back exactly the way they came, they would have either gone over me or driven me from my cover. I was lucky—and stupid for having gotten so close. I wondered whether the captive black man belonged to Tom Weylin. That might explain Rufus’s friendship with the child, Alice. That is, if this child was Alice. If this was the right cabin. Whether it was or not, though, the woman, unconscious and abandoned, was in need of help. I got up and went over to her.

The child, who had been kneeling beside her, jumped up to run away.

“Alice!” I called softly.

She stopped, peered at me through the darkness. She was Alice, then. These people were my relatives, my ancestors. And this place could be my refuge.


“I’m a friend, Alice,” I said as I knelt and turned the unconscious woman’s head to a more comfortable-looking position. Alice watched me uncertainly, then spoke in a small whispery voice.

“She dead?”

I looked up. The child was younger than Rufus—dark and slender and small. She wiped her nose on her sleeve and sniffed.

“No, she’s not dead. Is there water in the house?”


“Go get me some.”

She ran into the cabin and returned a few seconds later with a gourd dipper of water. I wet the mother’s face a little, washed blood from around her nose and mouth. From what I could see of her, she seemed to be about my age, slender like her child, like me, in fact. And like me, she was fine-boned, probably not as strong as she needed to be to survive in this era. But she was surviving, however painfully. Maybe she would help me learn how.

She regained consciousness slowly, first moaning, then crying out, “Alice! Alice!”

“Mama?” said the child tentatively.

The woman’s eyes opened wider, and she stared at me. “Who are you?”

“A friend. I came here to ask for help, but right now, I’d rather give it. When you feel able to get up, I’ll help you inside.”

“I said who are you!” Her voice had hardened.

“My name is Dana. I’m a freewoman.”

I was on my knees beside her now, and I saw her look at my blouse, my pants, my shoes—which for unpacking and working around the house happened to be an old pair of desert boots. She took a good look at me, then judged me.

“A runaway, you mean.”

“That’s what the patrollers would say because I have no papers. But I’m free, bom free, intending to stay free.”

“You’ll get me in trouble!”

“Not tonight. You’ve already had your trouble for tonight.” I hesitated, bit my lip, then said softly, “Please don’t turn me away.”

The woman said nothing for several seconds. I saw her glance over at her daughter, then touch her own face and wipe away blood from the comer of her mouth. “Wasn’t going to turn you ’way,” she said softly.

“Thank you.”

I helped her up and into the cabin. Refuge then. A few hours of peace. Perhaps tomorrow night, I could go on behaving like the runa-



way this woman thought I was. Perhaps from her, I could learn the quickest, safest way North.

The cabin was dark except for a dying fire in the fireplace, but the woman made her way to her bed without trouble.

“Alice!” she called out.

“Here I am, Mama.”

“Put a log on the fire.”

I watched the child obey, her long gown hanging dangerously near hot coals. Rufus’s friend was at least as careless with fire as he was.

Rufus. His name brought back all my fear and confusion and longing to go home. Would I really have to go all the way to some northern state to find peace? And if I did, what kind of peace would it be? The restricted North was better for blacks than the slave South, but not much better.

“Why did you come here?” the woman asked. “Who sent you?”

I stared into the fire frowning. I could hear her moving around behind me, probably putting on clothing. “The boy,” I said softly. “Rufus Weylin.”

The small noises stopped. There was silence for a moment. I knew I had taken a risk telling her about Rufus. Probably a foolish risk. I wondered why I had done it. “No one knows about me but him,” I continued.

The fire began to flare up around Alice’s small log. The log cracked and sputtered and filled the silence until Alice said, “Mister Rufe won’t tell.” She shrugged. “He never tells nothing.”

And there in her words was a reason for the risk I had taken. I hadn’t thought of it until now, but if Rufus was one to tell what he shouldn’t, Alice’s mother should know so that she could either hide me or send me away. I waited to see what she would say.

“You sure the father didn’t see you?” she asked. And that had to mean that she agreed with Alice, that Rufus was all right. Tom Weylin had probably marked his son more than he knew with that whip.

“Would I be here if the father had seen me?” I asked.

“Guess not.”

I turned to look at her. She wore a gown now, long and white like her daughter’s. She sat on the edge of her bed watching me. There was a table near me made of thick smooth planks, and a bench made from a section of split log. I sat down on the bench. “Does Tom Weylin own your husband?” I asked.

She nodded sadly. “You saw?”


“He shouldn’t have come. I told him not to.”

“Did he really have a pass?”

She gave a bitter laugh. “No. He won’t get one either. Not to come see me. Mister Tom said for him to choose a new wife there on the plantation. That way, Mister Tom’ll own all his children.”

I looked at Alice. The woman followed my gaze. “He’ll never own a child of mine,” she said flatly.

I wondered. They seemed so vulnerable here. I doubted that this was their first visit from the patrol, or their last. In a place like this, how could the woman be sure of anything. And then there was history. Rufus and Alice would get together somehow.

“Where are you from?” asked the woman suddenly. “The way you talk, you not from ’round here.”

The new subject caught me by surprise and I almost said Los Angeles. “New York,” I lied quietly. In 1815, California was nothing more than a distant Spanish colony—a colony this woman had probably never heard of.

“That’s a long way off,” said the woman.

“My husband is there.” Where had that lie come from? And I had said it with all the longing I felt for Kevin who was now too far away for me to reach through any effort of my own.

The woman came over and stood staring down at me. She looked tall and straight and grim and years older.

“They carried you off?” she asked.

“Yes.” Maybe in a way I had been kidnapped.

“You sure they didn’t get him too?”

“Just me. I’m sure.”

“And now you’re going back.”

“Yes!” fiercely, hopefully. “Yes!” Lie and truth had merged.

There was silence. The woman looked at her daughter, then back at me. “You stay here until tomorrow night,” she said. “Then there’s another place you can head for. They’ll let you have some food and . . . oh!” She looked contrite. “You must be hungry now. I’ll get you some . . .”

“No, I’m not hungry. Just tired.”

“Get into bed then. Alice, you too. There’s room for all of us there . . . now.” She went to the child and began brushing off some of the dirt Alice had brought in from outside. I saw her close her

eyes for a moment, then glance at the door. “Dana . . . you said your name was Dana?”


“I forgot the blanket,” she said. “I left it outside when … I left it outside.”

“I’ll get it,” I said. I went to the door and looked outside. The blanket lay where the patroller had thrown it—on the ground not far from the house. I went over to pick it up, but just as I reached it, someone grabbed me and swung me around. Suddenly, I was facing a young white man, broad-faced, dark-haired, stocky, and about half- a-foot taller than I was.

“What in hell . . . ?” he sputtered. “You . . . you’re not the one.” He peered at me as though he wasn’t sure. Apparently, I looked enough like Alice’s mother to confuse him—briefly. “Who are you?” he demanded. “What are you doing here?”

What to do? He held me easily, barely noticing my efforts to pull away. “I live here,” I lied. “What are you doing here?” I thought he’d be more likely to believe me if I sounded indignant.

Instead, he slapped me stunningly with one hand while he held me with the other. He spoke very softly. “You got no manners, nigger, I’ll teach you some!”

I said nothing. My ears still rang from his blow, but I heard him say,

“You could be her sister, her twin sister, almost.”

That seemed to be a good thing for him to think, so I kept silent. Silence seemed safest anyway.

“Her sister dressed up like a boy!” He began to smile. “Her runaway sister. I wonder what you’re worth.”

I panicked. Having him catch and hold me was bad enough. Now he meant to turn me in as a runaway … I dug the nails of my free hand into his arm and tore the flesh from elbow to wrist.

Surprise and pain made the man loosen his grip on me slightly, and I wrenched away.

I heard him yell, heard hi m start after me.

I ran mindlessly toward the cabin door only to find Alice’s mother there barring my way.

“Don’t come in here,” she whispered. “Please don’t come in here.”

I had no chance to go in. The man caught me, pulled me backward, threw me to the ground. He would have kicked me, but I



rolled aside and jumped to my feet. Terror gave me speed and agility I never knew I had.

Again I ran, this time for the trees. I didn’t know where I was going, but the sounds of the man behind me sent me zigzagging on. Now I longed for darker denser woods that I could lose myself in.

The man tackled me and brought me down hard. At first, I lay stunned, unable to move or defend myself even when he began hitting me, punching me with his fists. I had never been beaten that way before—would never have thought I could absorb so much punishment without losing consciousness.

When I tried to scramble away, he pulled me back. When I tried to push him away, he hardly seemed to notice. At one point, I did get his attention though. He had leaned down close to me, pinning me flat on my back. I raised my hands to his face, my fingers partly covering his eyes. In that instant, I knew I could stop him, cripple him, in this primitive age, destroy him.

His eyes.

I had only to move my fingers a little and jab them into the soft tissues, gouge away his sight and give him more agony than he was giving me.

But I couldn’t do it. The thought sickened me, froze my hands where they were. I had to do it! But I couldn’t. . .

The man knocked my hands from his face and moved back from me—and I cursed myself for my utter stupidity. My chance was gone, and I’d done nothing. My squeamishness belonged in another age, but I’d brought it along with me. Now I would be sold into slavery because I didn’t have the stomach to defend myself in the most effective way. Slavery! And there was a more immediate threat.

The man had stopped beating me. Now he simply kept a tight hold on me and looked at me. I could see that I had left a few scratches on his face. Shallow insignificant scratches. The man rubbed his hand across them, looked at the blood, then looked at me.

“You know you’re going to pay for that, don’t you?” he said.

I said nothing. Stupidity was what I would pay for, if anything.

“I guess you’ll do as well as your sister,” he said. “I came back for her, but you’re just like her.”

That told me who he probably was. One of the patrollers—the one who had hit Alice’s mother, probably. He reached out and ripped my blouse open. Buttons flew everywhere, but I didn’t move. I understood what the man was going to do. He was going to display some stupidity of his own. He was going to give me another chance to destroy him. I was almost relieved.

He tore loose my bra and I prepared to move. Just one quick lunge. Then suddenly, for no reason that I could see, he reared above me, fist drawn back to hit me again. I jerked my head aside, hit it on something hard just as his fist glanced off my jaw.

The new pain shattered my resolve, sent me scrambling away again. I was only able to move a few inches before he pinned me down, but that was far enough for me to discover that the thing I had hit my head on was a heavy stick—a tree limb, perhaps. I grasped it with both hands and brought it down as hard as I could on his head.

He collapsed across my body.

I lay still, panting, trying to find the strength to get up and run. The man had a horse around somewhere. If I could find it. . .

I dragged myself from beneath his heavy body and tried to stand up. Halfway up, I felt myself losing consciousness, falling back. I caught hold of a tree and willed myself to stay conscious. If the man came to and found me nearby, he would kill me. He would surely kill me! But I couldn’t keep my hold on the tree. I fell, slowly it seemed, into a deep starless darkness.


Pain dragged me back to consciousness. At first, it was all I was aware of; every part of my body hurt. Then I saw a blurred face above me—the face of a man—and I panicked.

I scrambled away, kicking him, clawing the hands that reached out for me, trying to bite, lunging up toward his eyes. I could do it now. I could do anything.


I froze. My name? No patroller would know that.

“Dana, look at me for Godsake!”

Kevin! It was Kevin’s voice! I stared upward, managed to focus on him clearly at last. I was at home. I was lying on my own bed, bloody and dirty, but safe. Safe!

Kevin lay half on top of me, holding me, smearing himself with my blood and his own. I could see where I had scratched his face—so near the eye.

“Kevin, I’m sorry!”

“Are you all right now?”

“Yes. I thought. . . I thought you were the patroller.”

“The what?”

“The . . . I’ll tell you later. God, I hurt, and I’m so tired. But it doesn’t matter. I’m home.”

“You were gone two or three minutes this time. I didn’t know what to think. You don’t know how good it is to have you back again.”

“Two or three minutes?”

“Almost three minutes. I watched the clock. But it seemed to be longer.”

I closed my eyes in pain and weariness. It hadn’t just seemed longer to me. I had been gone for hours and I knew it. But at that moment, I couldn’t have argued it. I couldn’t have argued anything. The surge of strength that helped me to fight when I thought I was fighting for my life was gone.

“I’m going to take you to the hospital,” said Kevin. “I don’t know how I’m going to explain you, but you need help.”


He got up. I felt him lift me.

“No, Kevin, please.”

“Listen, don’t be afraid. I’ll be with you.”

“No. Look, all he did was hit me a few times. I’ll be all right.” Suddenly I had strength again, now that I needed it. “Kevin, I went from here the first time, and this second time. And I came back here. What will happen if I go from the hospital and come back there?”

“Probably nothing.” But he had stopped. “No one who sees you leave or come back will believe it. And they wouldn’t dare tell anybody.”

“Please. Just let me sleep. That’s all I need really—rest. The cuts and bruises will heal. I’ll be fine.”

He took me back to the bed, probably against his better judgment, and put me down. “How long was it for you?” he asked.

“Hours. But it was only bad at the end.”

“Who did this to you?”

“A patroller. He . . .he thought I was a runaway.” I frowned. “I

have to sleep, Kevin. I’ll make more sense in the morning, I promise.” My voice trailed away.


I jumped, tried to refocus my attention on him.

“Did he rape you?”

I sighed. “No. I hit him with a stick—knocked him out. Let me sleep.”

“Wait a minute . . .”

I seemed to drift away from him. It became too much trouble for me to go on listening and trying to understand, too much trouble to answer.

I sighed again and closed my eyes. I heard him get up and go away, heard water running somewhere. Then I slept.


I was clean when I awoke before dawn the next morning. I was wearing an old flannel nightgown that I hadn’t worn since Kevin and I were married and that I’d never worn in June. On one side of me was a canvas tote bag containing a pair of pants, a blouse, underclothing, a sweater, shoes, and the biggest switchblade knife I had ever seen. The tote bag was tied to my waist with a length of cord. On the other side of me lay Kevin, still asleep. But he woke up when I kissed him.

“You’re still here,” he said with obvious relief, and he hugged me, reminding me painfully of a few bruises. Then he remembered, let me go, and switched on the light. “How do you feel?”

“Pretty well.” I sat up, got out of bed, managed to stand up for a moment. Then I got back under the cover. “I’m healing.”

“Good. You’re rested, you’re healing, now you can tell me what the hell happened to you. And what’s a patroller? All I could think of was the Highway Patrol.”

I thought back to my reading. “A patroller is . . . was a white man, usually young, often poor, sometimes drunk. He was a member of a group of such men organized to keep the blacks in line.”


“Patrollers made sure the slaves were where they were supposed

to be at night, and they punished those who weren’t. They chased down runaways—for a fee. And sometimes they just raised hell, had a little fun terrorizing people who weren’t allowed to fight back.”

Kevin leaned on one elbow and looked down at me. “What are you talking about? Where were you?”

“In Maryland. Somewhere on the Eastern Shore if I understood Rufus.”

“Maryland! Three thousand miles away in … in what? A few minutes?”

“More than three thousand miles. More than any number of miles.” I moved to relieve pressure on an especially tender bruise. “Let me tell you all of it.”

I remembered it for him in detail as I had the first time. Again, he listened without interrupting. This time when I finished, he just shook his head.

“This is getting crazier and crazier,” he muttered.

“Not to me.”

He glanced at me sidelong.

“To me, it’s getting more and more believable. I don’t like it. I don’t want to be in the middle of it. I don’t understand how it can be happening, but it’s real. It hurts too much not to be. And . . . and my ancestors, for Godsake!”


“Kevin, I can show you the old Bible.”

“But the fact is, you had already seen the Bible. You knew about those people—knew their names, knew they were Marylanders, knew . . .”

“What the hell is that supposed to prove! That I was hallucinating and weaving in the names of my ancestors? I’d like to give you some of this pain that I must still be hallucinating.”

He put an arm over my chest, resting it on unbruised flesh. After a while, he said, “Do you honestly believe you traveled back over a century in time and crossed three thousand miles of space to see your dead ancestors?”

I moved uncomfortably. “Yes,” I whispered. “No matter how it sounds, no matter what you think, it happened. And you’re not helping me deal with it by laughing.”

“I’m not laughing.”

“They were my ancestors. Even that damn parasite, the patroller, saw the resemblance between me and Alice’s mother.”

He said nothing.

“I’ll tell you … I wouldn’t dare act as though they weren’t my ancestors. I wouldn’t let anything happen to them, the boy or girl, if I could possibly prevent it.”

“You wouldn’t anyway.”

“Kevin, take this seriously, please!”

“I am. Anything I can do to help you, I’ll do.”

“Believe me!”

He sighed. “It’s like you just said.”


“I wouldn’t dare act as though I didn’t believe. After all, when you vanish from here, you must go someplace. If that place is where you think it is—back to the ante bellum South—then we’ve got to find a way to protect you while you’re there.”

I moved closer to him, relieved, content with even such grudging acceptance. He had become my anchor, suddenly, my tie to my own world. He couldn’t have known how much I needed him firmly on my side.

“I’m not sure it’s possible for a lone black woman—or even a black man—to be protected in that place,” I said. “But if you have an idea, I’ll be glad to hear it.”

He said nothing for several seconds. Then he reached over me into the canvas bag and brought out the switchblade. “This might improve your chances—if you can bring yourself to use it.”

“I’ve seen it.”

“Can you use it?”

“You mean, will I use it.”

“That too.”

“Yes. Before last night, I might not have been sure, but now, yes.”

He got up, left the room for a moment, and came back with two wooden rulers. “Show me,” he said.

I untied the cord of the canvas bag and got up, discovering sore muscles as I moved. I limped over to him, took one of the rulers, looked at it, rubbed my face groggily, and in a sudden slashing motion, drew the ruler across his abdomen just as he was opening his mouth to speak.

“That’s it,” I said.

He frowned.

“Kevin, I’m not going to be in any fair fights.”

He said nothing.

“You understand? I’m a poor dumb scared nigger until I get my chance. They won’t even see the knife if I have my way. Not until it’s too late.”

He shook his head. “What else don’t I know about you?”

I shrugged and got back into bed. “I’ve been watching the violence of this time go by on the screen long enough to have picked up a few things.”

“Glad to hear it.”

“It doesn’t matter much.”

He sat down next to where I lay. “What do you mean?”

“That most of the people around Rufus know more about real violence than the screenwriters of today will ever know.”

“That’s . . . debatable.”

“I just can’t make myself believe I can survive in that place. Not with a knife, not even with a gun.”

He took a deep breath. “Look, if you’re drawn back there again, what can you do but try to survive? You’re not going to just let them kill you.”

“Oh, they won’t kill me. Not unless I’m silly enough to resist the other things they’d rather do—like raping me, throwing me into jail as a runaway, and then selling me to the highest bidder when they see that my owner isn’t coming to claim me.” I rubbed my forehead. “I almost wish I hadn’t read about it.”

“But it doesn’t have to happen that way. There were free blacks. You could pose as one of them.”

“Free blacks had papers to prove they were free.”

“You could have papers too. We could forge something . . .”

“If we knew what to forge. I mean, a certificate of freedom is what we need, but I don’t know what they looked like. I’ve read about them, but I’ve never seen one.”

He got up and went to the living room. Moments later, he came back and dumped an armload of books on the bed. “I brought everything we had on black history,” he said. “Start hunting.”

There were ten books. We checked indexes and even leafed through some of the books page by page to be sure. Nothing. I hadn’t really thought there would be anything in these books. I hadn’t read them all, but I’d at least glanced through them before.

“We’ll have to go to the library then,” said Kevin. “We’ll go today as soon as it’s open.”

“If I’m still here when it opens.”

He put the books on the floor and got back under the cover. Then he lay there frowning at me. “What about the pass Alice’s father was supposed to have?”

“A pass . . . that was just written permission for a slave to be somewhere other than at home at a certain time.”

“Sounds like just a note.”

“It is,” I said. “You’ve got it! One of the reasons it was against the law in some states to teach slaves to read and write was that they might escape by writing themselves passes. Some did escape that way.” I got up, went to Kevin’s office and took a small scratch pad and a new pen from his desk and the large atlas from his bookcase.

“I’m going to tear Maryland out,” I told him as I returned.

“Go ahead. I wish I had a road atlas for you. The roads in it wouldn’t exist in those days but it might show you the easiest way through the country.”

“This one shows main highways. Shows a lot of rivers too, and in eighteen fifteen there were probably not many bridges.” I looked closely at it, then got up again.

“What now?” asked Kevin.

“Encyclopedia. I want to see when the Pennsylvania Railroad built this nice long track through the peninsula. I’d have to go into Delaware to pick it up, but it would take me right into Pennsylvania.”

“Forget it,” he said. “Eighteen fifteen is too early for railroads.”

I looked anyway and found that the Pennsylvania Railroad hadn’t even been begun until 1846. I went back to bed and stuffed the pen, the map, and the scratch pad into my canvas bag.

“Tie that cord around you again,” said Kevin.

I obeyed silently.

“I think we may have missed something,” he said. “Getting home may be simpler for you than you realize.”

“Getting home? Here?”

“Here. You may have more control over your returning than you think.”

“I don’t have any control at all.”

“You might. Listen, remember the rabbit or whatever it was that you said ran across the road in front of you?”


“It scared you.”

“Terrified me. For a second, I thought it was … I don’t know, something dangerous.”

“And your fear made you dizzy, and you thought you were coming home. Does fear usually make you dizzy?”


“I don’t think it did this time either—at least not in any normal way. I think you were right. You did almost come home. Your fear almost sent you home.”

“But . . . but I was afraid the whole time I was there. And I was scared half out of my mind while that patroller was beating me. But I didn’t come home until I’d knocked him out—saved myself.”

“Not too helpful.”


“But look, was your fight with the patroller really over? You said you were afraid that if he found you there, passed out, he’d kill you.”

“He would have, for revenge. I fought back, actually hurt him. I can’t believe he’d let me get away with that.”

“You may be right.”

“I am right.”

“The point is, you believe you are.”

“Kevin …”

“Wait. Hear me out. You believed your life was in danger, that the patroller would kill you. And on your last trip, you believed your life was in danger when you found Rufus’s father aiming a rifle at you.”


“And even with the animal—you mistook it for something dangerous.”

“But I saw it in time—just as a dark blur, but clearly enough to see that it was small and harmless. And I see what you’re saying.”

“That you might have been better off if your animal had been a snake. Your danger then—or assumed danger—might have sent you home before you ever met the patroller.”

“Then . . . Rufus’s fear of death calls me to him, and my own fear of death sends me home.”

“So it seems.”

“That doesn’t really help, you know.”

“It could.”

“Think about it, Kevin. If the thing I’m afraid of isn’t really dangerous—a rabbit instead of a snake—then I stay where I am. If it is

dangerous, it’s liable to kill me before I get home. Going home does take a while, you know. I have to get through the dizziness, the nausea . . .”


“Seconds count when something is trying to kill you. I wouldn’t dare put myself in danger in the hope of getting home before the ax fell. And if I got into trouble by accident, I wouldn’t dare just wait passively to be saved. I might wind up coming home in pieces.”

“Yes . . .1 see your point.”

I sighed. “So the more I think about it, the harder it is for me to believe I could survive even a few more trips to a place like that. There’s just too much that could go wrong.”

“Will you stop that! Look, your ancestors survived that era—survived it with fewer advantages than you have. You’re no less than they are.”

“In a way I am.”

“What way?”

“Strength. Endurance. To survive, my ancestors had to put up with more than I ever could. Much more. You know what I mean.”

“No, I don’t,” he said with annoyance. “You’re working yourself into a mood that could be suicidal if you’re not careful.”

“Oh, but I’m talking about suicide, Kevin—suicide or worse. For instance, I would have used your knife against that patroller last night if I’d had it. I would have killed him. That would have ended the immediate danger to me and I probably wouldn’t have come home. But if that patroller’s friends had caught me, they would have killed me. And if they hadn’t caught me, they would probably have gone after Alice’s mother. They . . . they may have anyway. So either I would have died, or I would have caused another innocent person to die.”

“But the patroller was trying to . . He stopped, looked at me. “I see.”


There was a long silence. He pulled me closer to him. “Do I really look like that patroller?”


“Do I look like someone you can come home to from where you may be going?”

“I need you here to come home to. I’ve already learned that.”

He gave me a long thoughtful look. “Just keep coming home,” he said finally. “I need you here too.”

The Fall


I think Kevin was as lonely and out of place as I was when I met him, though he was handling it better. But then, he was about to escape.

I was working out of a casual labor agency—we regulars called it a slave market. Actually, it was just the opposite of slavery. The people who ran it couldn’t have cared less whether or not you showed up to do the work they offered. They always had more job hunters than jobs anyway. If you wanted them to think about using you, you went to their office around six in the morning, signed in, and sat down to wait. Waiting with you were winos trying to work themselves into a few more bottles, poor women with children trying to supplement their welfare checks, kids trying to get a first job, older people who’d lost one job too many, and usually a poor crazy old street lady who talked to herself constantly and who wasn’t going to be hired no matter what because she only wore one shoe.

You sat and sat until the dispatcher either sent you out on a job or sent you home. Home meant no money. Put another potato in the oven. Or in desperation, sell some blood at one of the store fronts down the street from the agency. I had only done that once.

Getting sent out meant the minimum wage—minus Uncle Sam’s share—for as many hours as you were needed. You swept floors, stuffed envelopes, took inventory, washed dishes, sorted potato chips (really!), cleaned toilets, marked prices on merchandise . . . you did whatever you were sent out to do. It was nearly always mindless work, and as far as most employers were concerned, it was done by mindless people. Nonpeople rented for a few hours, a few days, a few weeks. It didn’t matter.

I did the work, I went home, I ate, and then slept for a few hours. Finally, I got up and wrote. At one or two in the morning, I was fully awake, fully alive, and busy working on my novel. During the day, I carried a little box of No Doz. I kept awake with them, but not very wide awake. The first thing Kevin ever said to me was, “Why do you go around looking like a zombie all the time?”

He was just one of several regular employees at an auto-parts warehouse where a group of us from the agency were doing an inventory. I was wandering around between shelves of nuts, bolts, hubcaps, chrome, and heaven knew what else checking other people’s work. I had a habit of showing up every day and of being able to count, so the supervisor decided that zombie or not, I should check the others. He was right. People came in after a hard night of drinking and counted five units per clearly-marked, fifty-unit container.

“Zombie?” I repeated looking up from a tray of short black wires at Kevin.

“You look like you sleepwalk through the day,” he said. “Are you high on something or what?”

He was just a stock helper or some such bottom-of-the-ladder type. He had no authority over me, and I didn’t owe him any explanations.

“I do my work,” I said quietly. I turned back to the wires, counted them, corrected the inventory slip, initialed it, and moved down to the next shelf.

“Buz told me you were a writer,” said the voice that I thought had gone away.

“Look, I can’t count wath you talking to me.” I pulled out a tray full of large screws—twenty-five to a box.

“Take a break.”

“Did you see that agency guy they sent home yesterday? He took one break too many. Unfortunately, I need this job.”

“Are you a writer?”

“I’m a joke as far as Buz is concerned. He thinks people are strange if they even read books. Besides,” I added bitterly, “what would a writer be doing working out of a slave market?”

“Keeping herself in rent and hamburgers, I guess. That’s what I’m doing working at a warehouse.”

I woke up a little then and really looked at him. He was an unusual-looking white man, his face young, almost unlined, but his hair completely gray and his eyes so pale as to be almost colorless. He was muscular, well-built, but no taller than my own five-eight so that I found myself looking directly into the strange eyes. I looked away startled, wondering whether I had really seen anger there. Maybe he was more important in the warehouse than I had thought. Maybe he had some authority . . .

“Are you a writer?” I asked.

“I am now,” he said. And he smiled. “Just sold a book. I’m getting out of here for good on Friday.”

I stared at him with a terrible mixture of envy and frustration. “Congratulations.”

“Look,” he said, still smiling, “it’s almost lunch time. Eat with me. I want to hear about what you’re writing.”

And he was gone. I hadn’t said yes or no, but he was gone.

“Hey!” whispered another voice behind me. Buz. The agency clown when he was sober. Wine put him into some kind of trance, though, and he just sat and stared and looked retarded—which he wasn’t, quite. He just didn’t give a damn about anything, including himself. He drank up his pay and walked around in rags. Also, he never bathed. “Hey, you two gonna get together and write some books?” he asked, leering.

“Get out of here,” I said breathing as shallowly as possible.

“You gonna write some poor-nography together!” He went away laughing.

Later, at one of the round rusting metal tables in the comer of the warehouse that served as the lunch area, I found out more about my new writer friend. Kevin Franklin, his name was, and he’d not only gotten his book published, but he’d made a big paperback sale. He could live on the money while he wrote his next book. He could give up shitwork, hopefully forever . . .

“Why aren’t you eating?” he asked when he stopped for breath. The warehouse was in a newly built industrial section of Compton, far enough from coffee shops and hot dog stands to discourage most of us from going out to eat. Some people brought their lunches. Others bought them from the catering truck. I had done neither. All I was having was a cup of the free dishwater coffee available to all the warehouse workers.

“I’m on a diet,” I said.

He stared at me for a moment, then got up, motioned me up. “Come on.”


“To the truck if it’s still there.”

“Wait a minute, you don’t have to . . .”

“Listen, I’ve been on that kind of diet.”

“I’m all right,” I lied, embarrassed. “I don’t want anything.”

He left me sitting there, went to the truck, and came back with a hamburger, milk, a small wedge of apple pie.

“Eat,” he said. “I’m still not rich enough to waste money, so eat.”

To my own surprise, I ate. I hadn’t intended to. I was caffeine jittery and surly and perfectly capable of wasting his money. After all, I’d told him not to spend it. But I ate.

‘Buz sidled by. “Hey,” he said, low-voiced. “Porn!” He moved on.

“What?” said Kevin.

“Nothing,” I said. “He’s crazy.” Then, “Thanks for the lunch.”

“Sure. Now tell me, what is it you write?”

“Short stories, so far. But I’m working on a novel.”

“Naturally. Have any of your stories sold?”

“Some. To little magazines no one ever heard of. The kind that pay in copies of the magazine.”

He shook his head. “You’re going to starve.”

“No. After a while, I’ll convince myself that my aunt and uncle were right.”

“About what? That you should have been an accountant?”

I surprised myself again by laughing aloud. The food was reviving me. “They didn’t think of accounting,” I said. “But they would have approved of it. It’s what they would call sensible. They wanted me to be a nurse, a secretary, or a teacher like my mother. At the very best, a teacher.”

“Yes.” He sighed. “I was supposed to be an engineer, myself.”

“That’s better, at least.”

“Not to me.”

“Well anyway, now you have proof that you were right.”

He shrugged and didn’t tell me what he would later—that his parents, like mine, were dead. They had died years before in an auto accident still hoping that he might come to his senses and become an engineer.

“My aunt and uncle said I could write in my spare time if I wanted to,” I told him. “Meanwhile, for the real future, I was to take something sensible in school if I expected them to support me. I went from the nursing program into a secretarial major, and from there to elementary education. All in two years. It was pretty bad. So was I.”

“What did you do?” he asked. “Flunk out?”

I choked on a piece of pie crust. “Of course not! I always got good grades. They just didn’t mean anything to me. I couldn’t manufacture enough interest in the subjects to keep me going. Finally, I got a job, moved away from home, and quit school. I still take extension classes at UCLA, though, when I can afford them. Writing classes.”

“Is this the job you got?”

“No, I worked for a while at an aerospace company. I was just a clerk-typist, but I talked my way into their publicity office. I was doing articles for their company newspaper and press releases to send out. They were glad to have me do it once I showed them I could. They had a writer for the price of a clerk-typist.”

“Sounds like something you could have stayed with and moved up.”

“I meant to. Ordinary clerical work, I couldn’t stand, but that was good. Then about a year ago, they laid off the whole department.”

He laughed, but it sounded like sympathetic laughter.

Buz, coming back from the coffee machine muttered, “Chocolate and vanilla pom!”

I closed my eyes in exasperation. He always did that. Started a “joke” that wasn’t funny to begin with, then beat it to death. “God, I wish he’d get drank and shut up!”

“Does getting drunk shut him up?” asked Kevin.

I nodded. “Nothing else will do it.”

“No matter. I heard what he said this time.”

The bell rang ending the lunch half-hour, and he grinned. He had a grin that completely destroyed the effect of his eyes. Then he got up and left.

But he came back. He came back all week at breaks, at lunch. My daily draw back at the agency gave me money enough to buy my own lunches—and pay my landlady a few dollars—but I still looked forward to seeing him, talking to him. He had written and published three novels, he told me, and outside members of his family, he’d never met anyone who’d read one of them. They’d brought so little money that he’d gone on taking mindless jobs like this one at the warehouse, and he’d gone on writing—unreasonably, against the advice of saner people. He was like me—a kindred spirit crazy enough to keep on trying. And now, finally . . .

“I’m even crazier than you,” he said. “After all I’m older than you. Old enough to recognize failure and stop dreaming, so I’m told.”

He was a prematurely gray thirty-four. He had been surprised to learn that I was only twenty-two.

“You look older,” he said tactlessly.

“So do you,” I muttered.

He laughed. “I’m sorry. But at least it looks good on you.”

I wasn’t sure what “it” was that looked good on me, but I was glad he liked it. His likes and dislikes were becoming important to me. One of the women from the agency told me with typical slave- market candor that he and I were “the weirdest-looking couple” she had ever seen.

I told her, not too gently, that she hadn’t seen much, and that it was none of her business anyway. But from then on, I thought of Kevin and I as a couple. It was pleasant thinking.

My time at the warehouse and his job there ended on the same day. Buz’s matchmaking had given us a week together.

“Listen,” said Kevin on the last day, “you like plays?”

“Plays? Sure. I wrote a couple while I was in high school. One- acters. Pretty bad.”

“I did something like that myself.” He took something from his pocket and held it out to me. Tickets. Two tickets to a hit play that had just come to Los Angeles. I think my eyes glittered.

“I don’t want you to get away from me just because we won’t be co-workers any more,” he said. “Tomorrow evening?”

“Tomorrow evening,” I agreed.

It was a good evening. I brought him home with me when it was over, and the night was even better. Sometime during the early hours of the next morning when we lay together, tired and content in my bed, I realized that I knew less about loneliness than I had thought— and much less than I would know when he went away.


I decided not to go to the library with Kevin to look for forgeable free papers. I was worried about what might happen if Rufus called me from the car while it was moving. Would I arrive in his time still moving, but without the car to protect me? Or would I arrive safe and still, but have trouble when I returned home—because this time the home I returned to might be the middle of a busy street?

I didn’t want to find out. So while Kevin got ready to go to the library, I sat on the bed, fully dressed, stuffing a comb, a brush, and a bar of soap into my canvas bag. I was afraid I might be trapped in Rufus’s time for a longer period if I went again. My first trip had lasted only a few minutes, my second a few hours. What was next? Days?

Kevin came in to tell me he was going. I didn’t want him to leave me alone, but I thought I had done enough whining for one morning. I kept my fear to myself—or I thought I did.

“You feel all right?” he asked me. “You don’t look so good.”

I had just had my first look in the mirror since the beating, and I didn’t think I looked so good either. I opened my mouth to reassure him, but before I could get the words out, I realized that something really was wrong. The room was beginning to darken and spin.

“Oh no,” I moaned. I closed my eyes against the sickening dizziness. Then I sat hugging the canvas bag and waiting.

Suddenly, Kevin was beside me holding me. I tried to push him away. I was afraid for him without knowing why. I shouted for him to let me go.

Then the walls around me and the bed beneath me vanished. I lay sprawled on the ground under a tree. Kevin lay beside me still holding me. Between us was the canvas bag.

“Oh God!” I muttered, sitting up. Kevin sat up too and looked around wildly. We were in the woods again, and it was day this time. The country was much like what I remembered from my first trip, though there was no river in sight this time.

“It happened,” said Kevin. “It’s real!”

I took his hand and held it, glad of its familiarity. And yet I

wished he were back at home. In this place, he was probably better protection for me than free papers would have been, but I didn’t want him here. I didn’t want this place to touch him except through me. But it was too late for that.

I looked around for Rufus, knowing that he must be nearby. He was. And the moment I saw him, I knew I was too late to get him out of trouble this time.

He was lying on the ground, his body curled in a small knot, his hands clutching one leg. Beside him was another boy, black, about twelve years old. All Rufus’s attention seemed to be on his leg, but the other boy had seen us. He might even have seen us appear from nowhere. That might be why he looked so frightened now.

I stood up and went over to Rufus. He didn’t see me at first. His face was twisted with pain and streaked with tears and dirt, but he wasn’t crying aloud. Like the black boy, he looked about twelve years old.


He looked up, startled. “Dana?”

“Yes.” I was surprised that he recognized me after the years that had passed for him.

“I saw you again,” he said. “You were on a bed. Just as I started to fall, I saw you.”

“You did more than just see me,” I said.

“I fell. My leg. .

“Who are you?” demanded the other boy.

“She’s all right, Nigel,” said Rufus. “She’s the one I told you about. The one who put out the fire that time.”

Nigel looked at me, then back at Rufus. “Can she fix your leg?”

Rufus looked at me questioningly.

“I doubt it,” I said, “but let me see anyway.” I moved his hands away and as gently as I could, pulled his pants leg up. His leg was discolored and swollen. “Can you move your toes?” I asked.

He tried, managed to move two toes feebly.

“It’s broken,” commented Kevin. He had come closer to look.

“Yes.” I looked at the other boy, Nigel. “Where’d he fall from?”

“There.” The boy pointed upward. There was a tree limb hanging high above us. A broken tree limb.

“You know where he lives?” I asked.

“Sure. I live there too.”

The boy was probably a slave, I realized, the property of Rufus’s family.

“You sure do talk funny,” said Nigel.

“Matter of opinion,” I said. “Look, if you care what happens to Rufus, you’d better go tell his father to send a . . . a wagon for him. He won’t be walking anywhere.”

“He could lean on me.”

“No. The best way for him to go home is flat on his back—the least painful way, anyhow. You go tell Rufus’s father that Rufus broke his leg. Tell him to send for the doctor. We’ll stay with Rufus until you get back with the wagon.”

“You?” He looked from me to Kevin, making no secret of the fact that he didn’t find us all that trustworthy. “How come you’re dressed like a man?” he asked me.

“Nigel,” said Kevin quietly, “don’t worry about how she’s dressed. Just go get some help for your friend.”


Nigel gave Kevin a frightened glance, then looked at Rufus.

“Go, Nigel,” whispered Rufus. “It hurts something awful. Say I said for you to go.”

Nigel went, finally. Unhappily.

“What’s he afraid of?” I asked Rufus. “Will he get into trouble for leaving you?”

“Maybe.” Rufus closed his eyes for a moment in pain. “Or for letting me get hurt. I hope not. It depends on whether anybody’s made Daddy mad lately.”

Well, Daddy hadn’t changed. I wasn’t looking forward to meeting him at all. At least I wouldn’t have to do it alone. I glanced at Kevin. He knelt down beside me to take a closer look at Rufus’s leg.

“Good thing he was barefoot,” he said. “A shoe would have to be cut off that foot now.”

“Who’re you?” asked Rufus.

“My name’s Kevin—Kevin Franklin.”

“Does Dana belong to you now?”

“In a way,” said Kevin. “She’s my wife.”

“Wife?” Rufus squealed.

I sighed. “Kevin, I think we’d better demote me. In this time . . .”

“Niggers can’t marry white people!” said Rufus.

I laid a hand on Kevin’s arm just in time to stop him from saying

whatever he would have said. The look on his face was enough to tell me he should keep quiet.

“The boy learned to talk that way from his mother,” I said softly. “And from his father, and probably from the slaves themselves.”

“Learned to talk what way?” asked Rufus.

“About niggers,” I said. “I don’t like that word, remember? Try calling me black or Negro or even colored.”

“What’s the use of saying all that? And how can you be married to him?”

“Rufe, how’d you like people to call you white trash when they talk to you?”

“What?” He started up angrily, forgetting his leg, then fell back. “I am not trash!” he whispered. “You damn black . . .”

“Hush, Rufe.” I put my hand on his shoulder to quiet him. Apparently I’d hit the nerve I’d aimed at. “I didn’t say you were trash. I said how’d you like to be called trash. I see you don’t like it. I don’t like being called nigger either.”

He lay silent, frowning at me as though I were speaking a foreign language. Maybe I was.

“Where we come from,” I said, “it’s vulgar and insulting for whites to call blacks niggers. Also, where we come from, whites and blacks can marry.”

“But it’s against the law.”

“It is here. But it isn’t where we come from.”

“Where do you come from?”

I looked at Kevin.

“You asked for it,” he said.

“You want to try telling him?”

He shook his head. “No point.”

“Not for you, maybe. But for me . . .” I thought for a moment trying to find the right words. “This boy and I are liable to have a long association whether we like it or not. I want him to know.”

“Good luck.”

“Where do you come from?” repeated Rufus. “You sure don’t talk like anybody I ever heard.”

I frowned, thought, and finally shook my head. “Rufe, I want to tell you, but you probably won’t understand. We don’t understand ourselves, really.”

“I already don’t understand,” he said. “I don’t know how I can

see you when you’re not here, or how you get here, or anything. My leg hurts so much I can’t even think about it.”

“Let’s wait then. When you feel better. . .”

“When I feel better, maybe you’ll be gone. Dana, tell me!”

“All right, I’ll try. Have you ever heard of a place called California?”

“Yeah. Mama’s cousin went there on a ship.”

Luck. “Well, that’s where we’re from. California. But . . . it’s not the California your cousin went to. We’re from a California that doesn’t exist yet, Rufus. California of nineteen seventy-six.”

“What’s that?”

“I mean we come from a different time as well as a different place. I told you it was hard to understand.”

“But what’s nineteen seventy-six?”

“That’s the year. That’s what year it is for us when we’re at home.”

“But it’s eighteen nineteen. It’s eighteen nineteen everywhere. You’re talking crazy.”

“No doubt. This is a crazy thing that’s happened to us. But I’m telling you the truth. We come from a future time and place. I don’t know how we get here. We don’t want to come. We don’t belong here. But when you’re in trouble, somehow you reach me, call me, and I come—although as you can see now, I can’t always help you.” I could have told him about our blood relationship. Maybe I would if I saw him again when he was older. For now, though, I had confused him enough.

“This is crazy stuff,” he repeated. He looked at Kevin. “You tell me. Are you from California?”

Kevin nodded. “Yes.”

“Then are you Spanish? California is Spanish.”

“It is now, but it will be part of the United States eventually, just like Maryland or Pennsylvania.”


“It will become a state in eighteen fifty.”

“But it’s only eighteen nineteen. How could you know . . . ?” He broke off, looked from Kevin to me in confusion. “This isn’t real,” he said. “You’re making it all up.”

“It’s real,” said Kevin quietly.

“But how could it be?”

“We don’t know. But it is.”

He thought for a while looking from one to the other of us. “I don’t believe you,” he said.

Kevin made a sound that wasn’t quite a laugh. “I don’t blame you.”

I shrugged. “All right, Rufe. I wanted you to know the truth, but I can’t blame you for not being able to accept it either.”

“Nineteen seventy-six,” said the boy slowly. He shook his head and closed his eyes. I wondered why I had bothered to try to convince him. After all, how accepting would I be if I met a man who claimed to be from eighteen nineteen—or two thousand nineteen, for that matter. Time travel was science fiction in nineteen seventy-six. In eighteen nineteen—Rufus was right—it was sheer insanity. No one but a child would even have listened to Kevin and me talk about it.

“If you know California’s going to be a state,” said Rufus, “you must know some other things that are going to happen.”

“We do,” I admitted. “Some things. Not very much. We’re not historians.”

“But you ought to know everything if it already happened in your time.”

“How much do you know about seventeen nineteen, Rufe?”

He stared at me blankly.

“People don’t learn everything about the times that came before them,” I said. “Why should they?”

He sighed. “Tell me something, Dana. I’m trying to believe you.”

I dug back into the American history that I had learned both in and out of school. “Well, if this is eighteen nineteen, the President is James Monroe, right?”


“The next President will be John Quincy Adams.”


I frowned, calling back more of the list of Presidents I had memorized for no particular reason when I was in school. “In eighteen twenty-four. Monroe had—will have—two terms.”

“What else?”

I looked at Kevin.

He shrugged. “All I can think of is something I got from those books we looked through last night. In eighteen twenty, the Missouri Compromise opened the way for Missouri to come into the Union as a slave state and Maine to come in as a free state. Do you have any idea what I’m talking about, Rufus?”

“No, sir.”

“I didn’t think so. Have you got any money?”

“Money? Me? No.”

“Well, you’ve seen money, haven’t you?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Coins should have the year they were made stamped on them, even now.”

“They do.”

Kevin reached into his pocket and brought out a handful of change. He held it out to Rufus and Rufus picked out a few coins. “Nineteen sixty-five,” he read, “nineteen sixty-seven, nineteen seventy-one, nineteen seventy. None of them say nineteen seventy-six.”

“None of them say eighteen-anything either,” said Kevin. “But here.” He picked out a bicentennial quarter and handed it to Rufus.

“Seventeen seventy-six, nineteen seventy-six,” the boy read. “Two dates.”

“The country’s two hundred years old in nineteen seventy-six,” said Kevin. “Some of the money was changed to commemorate the anniversary. Are you convinced?”

“Well, I guess you could have made these yourself.”

Kevin took back his money. “You might not know about Missouri, kid,” he said wearily. “But you’d have made a good Missourian.”


“Just a joke. Hasn’t come into fashion yet.”

Rufus looked troubled. “I believe you. I don’t understand, like Dana said, but I guess I believe.”

Kevin sighed. “Thank God.”

Rufus looked up at Kevin and managed to grin. “You aren’t as bad as I thought you’d be.”

“Bad?” Kevin looked at me accusingly.

“I didn’t tell him anything about you,” I said.

“I saw you,” said Rufus. “You were fighting with Dana just before you came here, or … it looked like fighting. Did you make all those marks on her face?”

“No, he didn’t,” I said quickly. “And he and I weren’t fighting.”

“Wait a minute,” said Kevin. “How could he know about that?”

“Like he said.” I shrugged. “He saw us before we got here. I don’t know how he does it, but he’s done it before.” I looked down at Rufus. “Have you told anyone else about seeing me?”

“Just Nigel. Nobody else would believe me.”

“Good. Best not to tell anyone else about us now either. Nothing about California or nineteen seventy-six.” I took Kevin’s hand and held it. “We’re going to have to fit in as best we can with the people here for as long as we have to stay. That means we’re going to have to play the roles you gave us.”

“You’ll say you belong to him?”

“Yes. I want you to say it too if anyone asks you.”

“That’s better than saying you’re his wife. Nobody would believe that.”

Kevin made a sound of disgust. “I wonder how long we’ll be stuck here,” he muttered. “I think I’m getting homesick already.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “But stay close to me. You got here because you were holding me. I’m afraid that may be the only way you can get home.”

DMU Timestamp: September 03, 2020 08:33