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Just a Day Downtown
Just a day downtown; My Physics Professor said he would give me an ‘A’ in Ph 101 to just spend a day in
"Throw in five credit hours and I'm there," yes, I really said that.
A knob on the time machine slipped or something and presto: 1864 when General Sherman 'marches to the sea.' Read 125,000 teenagers eat there way across Georgia and burn what they don't chew.
The Union Army caught me because they think I'm a spy. The Confederate authorities are chasing me for slave stealing. If I can avoid getting hung by the Yankees things may work out.
The slave stealing charge is a misunderstanding, a problem with word definition. They ran when I ran. But I'm taking them, two nine year old little girls, back to 2009 with me. What part of 'free' is so hard to understand?
We are all sitting in a lovely manor house on a North Georgia plantation. But it’s only half here; the house. The rest of the home was destroyed by artillery. War is hell and brick buildings can’t dodge canon balls.
A Yankee Colonel investigates the content of my string bag purse. He spreads it for better viewing on an oak dinning room table: my Model 1911 Colt pistol [That’s right 47 years ahead of time], the Time Capsule, the Time Beacon and some other stuff, gum, comb, etc. Nice girls in the 1860’s don’t use much make up; so I didn’t bring any.
The Time Beacon gave a very successful ‘click.’ Then said, “Searching for signal.”
The Colonel’s eyes widened, “A pair of talking baseballs? What’s this little stick?”
“Oh, thank you. You made it work.” When I Hugged him and gave him a little peck-kiss on the cheek, he blushed as red as blood. It’s 1860, oops 1864, and people aren’t as forward as they are in 2009.
With eyes as big as chili bowls he said, “What is this thing? What are you, Mrs. Gardner?”
I said, “It’s like a cell phone; only. No, oh, it’s sort of like a telegraph. It’s electric. The battery’s on the inside.” I frowned.
“An electric battery is inside?” He picked at the Time Beacon, “But it is so small.”
“Two triple ‘A’ penlight batteries go inside,” I picked up the spares from the table to show him. Shut up, Gloria. Oh God, he’s reading the label. Is that bad?
He looked at me; then back to the time beacon. “Ever-On, one point five volt, for rah-die-ohs and other small hand held elec-tron-icks, Ever-On Cleveland, Ohio. There is no Ever-On in Cleveland.” The puzzled Colonel twirled the triple-A battery between his finger and thumb.“There is too. The Ever-On factory is south of the lake and west of the Cuyahoga River. Everybody knows the Ever-On motto: ‘Light in your hand since 1928.’” Gloria, that’s sixty years from now.
“Light? 1928 is sixty years from now. How can it possibly be an electric battery?”
“We’re not working for the Rebs; honest.” That wasn’t an answer to his question; was it?Whether the front door opened or not is moot for the house being only half present afforded unlimited access to the out of doors. A man walked in but called to an infantry column marching by, “Halloo, boys. Nice day for a walk eh?”
Voices hollered, “Don’t be sleeping the day away, Ol’ Pap. Wake up and come to the party.”
Laughter and more ‘Halloo’s’ accompanied his reply. “Boys, I spent last night planning that party. Just a short nap, I’ll be along”
Steps crunched. He turned. The voice’s owner stood next to me; General William Tecumseh Sherman. “My God.”
I can’t be that fat. Thanks, Uncle Billy. Being compared to bronze cannon, even a polished one, isn’t exactly a compliment. But he doesn’t think I’m a spy. That’s good.
The photos of General McPherson don’t do him justice. He’s really handsome. “Why do people think you’re a spy, Mrs. Gardner?” He glanced out the window.
“How am I supposed to know that? I’m not.” This spy business is part truth. I guess. It’s just that I’m spying for the Georgia Tech College of Physics and not the Confederacy.
My little nine year old cousin, Mary Cason Gardner, who I have so carelessly brought into the past with me, sits next to the two black girls who are the evidence of my slave stealing. Keren and Cassie are both Mary's age.
General McPherson commented, “These glass baseballs . . . torpedoes? Grenades? What’s this?”
What’s so hard to comprehend about a dry cell battery? I said, “Ever-on is in Cleveland.”
“I am familiar with Cleveland, Ohio. There is no mill, nor tradesman named ‘EVER-ON’ in Cleveland.” He cut into the battery with a pocket knife.
I yelled as if I addressed an uncooperative child. “Don’t taste that!”
“It’s dry chemicals that produce electricity. It can’t be good for a little General’s insides.” I said.
I almost said a little boy’s insides. He’s a grown man, a General in the United States Army; I guess he can eat what he wants. But ‘Gloria the Spy poisons Union General,’ I can do without.
He chuckled, “I’m not that short and you aren’t that tall.” He looked at our clothes. “Fine mill cotton, embroidered muslin and linen on the spy and white child and homespun cotton on the slav . . . uh, Negro girls.”
“I’m not a spy,” for the Rebs.
He turned the Time capsule and Time Beacon over and over in his hands, “Not glass, not bone, not shell...would you sign a parole to stay north of the Ohio River until after the war? I would hate to hang so lovely a young woman.”
Right in his hand like a pet mouse taking a leak, the time pill beeped and blinked its little red and green lights on and off. It said, “Caught signal.”
“It’s a beacon. It tells my professor, Doctor Post, where and when it is. Please don’t kill me. I’m not a spy. I’m just a college student that needs a passing grade in Physics.”
Maybe I should catch up the story a little.
The time-jump apparatus was a stainless steel sphere floating within a sphere of heavy-water. All held in place by artificial gravity.Doctor Post was a strange combination of pleased and confused. Mary, my nine year old cousin, and I were the only guinea pigs that remained willing after seeing the time travel sphere; cooperate and graduate.
That’s it. Just sign the release forms and get some old, period I mean, clothes. Doctor Post gave his best “I’m not a mad scientist” smile. Of course not; he was a “pleased scientist,” as happy as Victor Frankenstein in a fresh grave.
I spent several days sewing clothes. Old photographs and old magazines on micro film at the library provided design inspiration. Then I tried the internet and found out that Civil War era re-enactor groups also have women and children. So I bought some clothes.
When the day came Mary and I went to Tech. I didn’t tell anybody we were going to the past. We’re coming back the same day aren’t we; lunch in 1860 then dinner in 2009, right?
All of the time travel technicians have on yellow rubber radiation protective suits. For body armor I have a silk camisole, crotch-less pantaloons, and a period dress complete with petticoats; plural, more than one. In 1860, oops 1864, a person must maintain proper modesty; read sweat. I voiced my thoughts, “Hey, do I get a suit?”
“Get in.” It wasn’t a request.
The air looks funny; as if it had melted and hardened misshapen. Light reflects off the sphere and distorts into rainbows. A low pitched hum throbs making the spooky-sphere ball thing pulse.
On its way to resembling a wound in space-time the “sparkling orb” dribbles condensation. Later I found out it was liquid air dropping off the Time Sphere and smoking back into atmosphere. Then the injury to reality turns blue and arcs electric fire.
Mary and I quickly walked a ramp and were inside. My head swam.
The hatch of the Time Sphere closed. Then space-time began to melt. We collapsed onto padded seating that became huge brown bubbles swelling and contracting.
When I could no longer breathe, flashes of light exploded in front of my eyes; then we’re on the street. We are still in Atlanta and we didn’t bring any air with us from the Twenty-first Century.
I felt a tug, Mary said, “Gloria, people are staring at us.”
I looked. Two men and a woman stood under an arch with INTELLIGENCER OFFICE embossed in stone over the doorway. A sign to the left of them promoted WHOLESALE DEALER IN WINE LIQUORS &. Whatever else dealt wholesale hid itself behind a gas street light.
Mary tugged my skirt, “They’re coming across the street.”
I heard a bell chime and a throaty aggressive hiss. A steam locomotive waited two doors away. It’s the Atlanta Depot. I remembered The Intelligencer is an Atlanta newspaper.
All at once the enormity of the situation hit me. I’ve brought a nine year old and my unable-to-hide six foot four inch tall self onto a dirt street in the path of an hundred and twenty-five thousand man invading army. My mouth dried. I felt cold. My stomach cramped.
My skirt continued to spasmodically jerk. Something touched my hand. “Ma’am, do y’all need anything? Your child has such a distressed look about her and you look a little pale yourself. We were headed for Josh’s for a bite of lunch guaranteed to put a smile on your face. The word is he traded a Yankee scout some tobacco for an hundred pounds of coffee.” A kind faced man, sixty or so with mutton chops style face hair, waited patiently for my reply.
“Sir, it’s kind of you to inquire. Maybe he has some molasses?” When was sugar invented?
“Ol’ Josh traded with a Cajun for some Louisiana sugar; the same day according to the coffee rumor.” He smiled, “My name’s Wittgenstein, Mrs...?”
I imitated the thick southern accent I heard. “Gloria Jean Gardner, my daughter Mary Cason Gardner,” who quit pulling on my skirt and smiled. I blew my nose. Daughter, cousin? A nineteen year old with a nine year old daughter; that would make me 10 when I gave birth. I lied. So?
The other man chimed in, “Come on; let’s get down there before the army shows up. Joe Johnston’s bunch could suck up an hundred pounds of coffee with one lick.”
The street and railway were rather stark near the depot but across the tracks several pine trees cast the Georgia non-shade at which they are so adept. It was warm and humid. Red clay dust swirled in the wake of a passing carriage. Unfamiliar smells defied division except horse manure.
The female blurted, “You’re the tallest woman I’ve ever seen.”
“A lot of people say that.” Plain, dull, did I sound like a Yankee?
“Are you from the North, Mrs. Gardner?” The short female only a few years older than I, picked at my thin disguise with her ancient southern tongue.
An adept liar, my cousin Mary, smiled her very sweetest and said, “Mother was born here in Atlanta.”
The plump, mouse-brown haired girl glared, “Where was she born?”
I didn’t expect any more help, but Mary joined my reply in the same breath as I, “Atlanta.” Why did the truth sound like a lie?
But Spy Net seemed satisfied. We walked down the street on the flagstone sidewalk and then turned left along the railroad tracks. Sounds and smells so natural, so alien: wood smoke, pine trees; did I mention horse manure?
On occasion my tongue makes conversation without consulting my brain. She, my tongue, began in mid-historical/current even, “The Anderson raid? Wasn’t that close by here somewhere? I heard they got metals.”
What’s the time frame? Can I know about The Great Locomotive Chase? Should I know about that? Has it happened? The Anderson Raiders were [are?] spies and the first recipients of The Congressional Medal of Honor, heroes; heroes in the North.“Yes...” spoken so very slowly and drawled out. Mary squeezed my hand. Mousey Brown’s eye inspected every thread on both of us.
Why do I feel so guilty? I didn’t do it; neither did Mary. But I did like the movie; and cheered for the Yanks. I’m an American after all. Humph; the Civil War and The Great Locomotive Chase were long ago anyway.
“Hanged right here in Atlanta; June two years ago Anderson and seven others. By the way I’m Helen May Shorter. My father is Senator Shorter and he recommended the punishment.” She glared at me, “How could you not remember that?”
“Ma, I sure am hungry,” said Mary and got her stomach to growl; talented girl.
A little black girl came and stood where we sat and recited the menu. She ended with, “. . . peach cobbler sweetened with honey and Yankee coffee delivered by God’s angels, praise Jesus.”Mousey Brown engaged a new victim. “Keren-Happuch, you know liars go to hell.”
“Mister Josh say, if anybody ask, God’s angels brought it; the Yankee coffee that is. It’s real good. I drink me some with my breakfast biscuit.” Keren-Happuch rocked from bare heels to bare toes and back.
The last thing Doctor Post said was, “Don’t worry in the least Gloria. We have a tracking system. We’ll know right where and when you are. You’ll be right at the Masonic Lodge. Walk around. See a few sights. Hide the time capsule. We’ll have you back by supper.” Not The Intelligencer’s office, not 1864; I was bone cold scared.
After lunch we thanked our host and walked around town with Helen May. Peaceful, industrious, quietly busy 1864 Atlanta is homey and has a safe feel to it. It’s a very quiet day. Nothing much is going on an hundred and forty-four years from home.
People sometimes say things like: “It took my breath away,” or “my blood ran cold,” or such. We turned a corner and I saw a permanent sign with letters two feet tall across the second story of a two story building. It read “NEGRO AUCTION.” My mind stuttered: ‘COBBLER,’ ‘NEGRO AUCTION,’ ‘PHARMACY;’ just another sign, for another business in downtown Atlanta. My emotions defied description.
“Little warm today, I’m glad they painted the sign at the Negro Auction. The whole street looks better,” said Helen May.
The cold fact just sat there on the front of a building guarded by a sleeping black man who leaned against the store front along with his chair and his shotgun. Nearby a photographer took an extended exposure of the tranquil scene.
The Negro Auction stood otherwise empty today. We walked. At the end of the block I looked back. I sat down on the sidewalk. Was the guard a slave too? What about the photographer, did the proprietor want brochures to increase his business? Who got sold? Who bought? Why? My stomach shifted. Ancient turnip greens pondered their next move.
The sight in full color and clear as Georgia sunlight could make it, exploded in my heart. I wept with my head down. Mary touched my face and attempted to understand. “What’s wrong Gloria?”
“Do you feel ill?” asked Helen May.
I tried to stand. I wished to speak, to pray. I wanted to run a hundred and forty years away to the safe complaining of the Twenty First Century. I spat up in the street.
Helen’s home is Piney Place Plantation a quick trip up the Atlanta-Chattanooga railroad; like catching a bus except for the smell and of course the Union Army. The wind mostly carried the steam engine’s smoke clear of the cars. I coughed.
I never boarded a train to actually go anyplace before. People were kind and polite. There were quite a few soldiers but more civilians than I thought reasonable. But what can a time traveler from 2009 know about passenger rail traffic in the Nineteenth Century?
Mary got up, sat down, and got up and sat down; got up ran around and stood by my seat, “This is so much nicer than an airliner. Things go by so nice and slow. They’re up close like a car too. There’s a lot more room. The conductor smiled at me. He’s wearing a pistol.”They’re all wearing guns. “Mary Cason, don’t.” Don’t upset anybody. She seems so much younger than she did yesterday, a hundred and forty years from now. Christ, I am so screwed.
“Miss Gloria, I don’t mean to be impolite but what on Earth is an airliner? Where did you say you two are from?” Asked Helen May.Keren-Happuch stood next to her mistress but her smile and eyes said, “I’d like to know too.”
“You two come up with strange words and word groupings. Tell-E-vision; how may a person tell her vision something? Airliner; what on earth is lined with air?”Keren-Happuch’s eyes and grin danced with each word. Mary elbowed then tickled the black girl’s ribs and they laughed.
I pinched Mary. It’s very Nineteenth Century to pinch your kids. I locked eyes with her and shook my head slightly. She sat. “That’s a local, uh, um, English phrase for um, the train,” Liar-liar pantaloons on fire.
Helen May’s puzzled face said more than her tongue.” I’ve been to England. I’ve never heard anyone say that.”
Not a good lie huh? “This year?”
“No, it was before the war.” Puzzlement stayed in Helen May’s eyes.
“They started saying that sometime after the war started.” What a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.“I think I’ll ask Captain Scott the blockade runner about that. He’s at Piney Place for a visit. He just brought Slick Willow back from Liverpool. The owners are contemplating another run before hurricane season. She’s tied up at Savannah.” The railcar creaked and the engineer tooted the whistle.
Now who’s making up words? “What’s a liver pool,” I asked?“Have you heard of Captain Felton Scott? He helped outfit the Alabama; a most proficient seaman.” Helen has a way of being smug and very ladylike all blended politely together.
“The Alabama? Alabama’s a state.” I couldn’t look at myself but the look of puzzlement left Helen May’s face. I felt it on mine.
“The Alabama is a warship; a steamship at that. Airliner; what’s lined with air?” Polite, smug and deserves an answer. Maybe I could pinch Mary again.
“You caught me, Helen. Mary and I are actually from an hundred and forty years in the future.”
“In the future an airliner is a flying machine. Think of a train that flies several miles up in the air,” I pointed, “and then runs a few hundred miles over the ground,” I wiggled fingers. “Say, Atlanta to Memphis; it would be like that,” I smiled.
Helen looked as if I were giving birth to a concrete pumpkin that sang the Battle Hymn of the Republic. I tried to keep from laughing but I burst out anyway, so did Mary
“What a complex joke and you got Mary to play along too.” Helen shook her head and soon her face permitted a smile that broke into a grin and then she laughed. She wasn’t a pink mummy after all. “The future . . . miles in the sky. I’ve seen balloons; Atlanta to Memphis?” Helen laughed until tears ran down her cheeks. She dabbed with a small lace edged handkerchief.With both hands over her mouth Keren-Happuch tried unsuccessfully to hold back. She laughed so hard the conductor scolded her and said to Helen May, “Miss Shorter please keep you girl under control.” Then he laughed adding, “And your friend too.” He winked at me.
Still laughing Helen said, “The reason I asked you to come home with me is I want you to meet my brother James. He’s in the Army. He and his troop are practically partisans; cavalry without sabers. My pistol waving man-boy of a brother needs a wife or at least a sweetheart.”“A partisan in Virginia named Mosby arms his troopers with hand guns. That’s why James does it. Speed, he says.”
“About a year ago in Virginia Father met one of Mosby’s Rangers. When Father came home he retold the stories to James. It changed my brother’s life. I hope I’m not forward or rude. James is a lovely soul and tall.”
As tall as I am boyfriends are hard to come by. “Of course, I’d love to meet your brother.”
The train made two stops before I fell asleep. I had this dream. Two people were talking about me.
“Is she for Master James?” the voice seemed eager and full of love.
The second voice was stern, said something about sanity, and added, “I pray so.”
The next stop brought a refreshing nap to an abrupt though not unpleasant end. No town, village, or even building presented itself.
Helen May’s rich smile is such an improvement after all of her frowns and probing questions. I hope brother James is interested too.
“It’s good you awoke. We travel the remainder of our journey by coach,” said Helen May.
“They’re for us?” I could hear Helen May laughing pleasantly.
“Yes strange one, did you think we could walk the five miles in time for supper?” She laughed again.
Next to the conductor stood a black man in a top hat. His pine green short coat and trousers were supported by knee high shiny black boots. He held a whip. A pistol rested on his right hip.
Behind them a coach with a driver and two footmen attired in the same livery waited; patient and businesslike, even to the batting of their eyes. The coach was pulled by a team of four matched grays.In a few steps the smell of burning wood and unfamiliar grease gave way to freshly oiled harness, well groomed horse and cologne. The staff of Piney Place, at least the coachmen, might have been hotel staff somewhere in the twenty-first Century.
“It’s so good to see you again, Mistress Helen.” At this revelation all the coachmen tipped their hats and the two lead horses bowed their heads. The coach dog, a Dalmatian, barked; gracious order.“Augustus, this is Gloria Jean Gardner and her daughter Mary Cason. They are our guests.” She motioned at us. Mary curtsied. The coachmen smiled.
“So nice, a pleasure Mrs. Gardner, Miss Mary; call me Augustus. Your transport is my pleasure.” He inclined his head and smiled.“This way,” he signaled. The attendants moved like oil repositioning in a bottle. The door opened and steps appeared from the side of the coach. The driver leaned over and grabbed Keren-Happuch by the arm and she ascended like an angel and seated at the left hand of the driver.
The coach itself invited us. Its tan canvas top withdrawn fore and aft revealed brown leather seats open to the warm summer air. With the help of the well mannered staff we boarded the coach. I sank into comfort.The dog waited until we were seated, then jumped with a great agility and seated himself next to the teamster pushing Keren over a bit. If clean has a smell this is it. Even the dog smelled clean. The train went on its way northward. My mind turned somersault, these guys are slaves?
“Augustus, I noticed you’re armed today. Is there trouble?” Helen May used a different tone and manner than I saw her use in Atlanta; aloof and matter-of-fact.
“Master Shorter is concerned. The Yankee Army has left Chattanooga and Mister Jersey shot a wolf on the northeast cotton field.” Augustus mounted next to the driver. We left.
A musket, muzzle down in a long leather coach’s holster, rode uncomfortably close to my head. On both sides of the open coach a white gloved footman stood, holding on by a brass handle; standing on a small platform. Rather than just stare ahead they watched the woods and the fields.
The trail from the rail line showed irregular use. Helen May offered us a lap blanket, “It will get chilly once the sun sets. Jersey is the overseer. He shot a wolf a month ago. Now he’s killed another.”
Wild grasses and crops lined our way. Sweet smells of honeysuckle and some sweet grass unknown to me filled our nostrils. “This is so very pleasant,” I said. The coach creaked but rode wonderfully.
The footman nearest me began gesticulating, “Gusty, Gusty, Look.”I sat up for a better look. I felt the musket leave its sanctuary. I turned and saw Keren bent over with her hands covering her ears. Augustus’ standing form threw a shadow across me and Mary.
The Dalmatian growled. On the road behind us closing the distance a big black animal ran. I heard the click-pop a half a heart beat before the retort. My ears rang with the familiar numbing snap of a firearm’s discharge. I felt it in my nose; the pungent sting of black powder and the pressure change. Smoke swirled, a follow up of mild discomfort.The Dalmatian didn’t flinch, neither did Keren although bent over with a finger in each ear, but Helen May stood and yelled, “Augustus, what in heaven’s name are you doing?” “Miss Helen, I ain’t told you everything. Some of them wolves got the rabies. No wolf with his senses is going to do what that dead wolf done.” The dog licked Augustus’ hand and Keren patted his forearm. She leaned on his shoulder. The coach’s progress continued undisturbed.
Tears stood in Mary’s pretty brown eyes. She snuggled up close to me. Her head lay on my breast and both her hands were in my lap, “I can reach it from here if you need me to,” she said.
“God is still on the Throne and Jesus is alive. It’s going to be alright. It’s OK, baby.” I held her close.“There you two go again. Reach what? And white women don’t usually use a slave word like ole-kay.” None-the-less Helen softened some and didn’t frown.
I sighed, “Wasn’t ‘OK’ used as part of slogan in a presidential campaign in 1840? I’m wearing a pistol. That’s what the ‘I can reach’ is about.” When I began to lift my skirt the footmen’s heads snapped outboard. I recovered the model 1911 Colt. It lay in my lap.
I heard a very soft whistle from one of the footmen and instantly Augustus turned, “Mrs. Gardner, little Miss Mary, please don’t be ‘fraid. If needs be, I’ll stand between y’all and whatever comes.”
“Thank you Augustus, that will be all for the time being.” Helen sighed and removed a derringer from her string bag.
“Gloria, that’s a big pistol for a woman. It looks all of a forty-four. That could knock a man down.” She visually perused my weapon as few 21st Century women would and many 19th century women would not.
Mary stirred, “It’s a model 1911 Colt .45 semi-automatic. It’s a horse knocker-downer.”“Let me see that.” Helen frowned.
The master’s house appeared at the end of a pine tree lined drive. Coach wheels and horse hooves found flagstone and a smooth ride. The smell of barbecued pork mingled with that of turnip greens and cornbread. The only things missing were an automobile and a swimming pool.
“Supper tonight and picnicking tomorrow; do y’all want to hear what all the food is? Wine and whiskey, the blockade runner man brought English tea.” Keren-Happuch stood erect but rocked from barefoot toe to heel.
I smiled Keren smiled back, “I can’t stay long, Miss Gloria. I got to wear shoes and a clean apron to wait table at Piney Place.”
“Doesn’t the butler and his helpers do that?” she seems so young to me.
“I be one of the helpers and yes ma’am we do that very thing. We’re so glad to have you here. Missus wants us all saying that, because it be true.” She smiled, “Bye for now,” she ran towards an outbuilding, the kitchen.
Dust from the travels of a horseman still clung to his uniform here and there. I found myself slapping red dust from him. After a moment’s tidy up I realized the man studied my person. He put a strand of my hair behind my ear and shook pine straw from my skirt, “Mrs. Gardner, it is so very good to meet you.”
What does a 19th Century girl say? We haven’t been “properly introduced.” I slipped my arms around his strong shoulders and got hugged in return.
“James, you could use Augustus in your troop. He shot a wolf while we were in the coach coming from the railroad.” Not romantic, but I couldn’t say what I was thinking even in the Twenty-First Century; what a hunk.
“I have both of his sons. They found McPherson behind our main force. Thank God for the telegraph. Such lovely brown hair, such a pretty dress, do you dance?”
Me, he’s talking about ME. Sure dude, I‘ll dance with you. God, what do they dance? “Sure I’d love to dance with you, but you may just have to drag me around. I’ve never danced much but I can play the piano and violin.”He took me by the hand and pulled me into the house. The piano was made by Newman and Sons of Baltimore. It’s one of those short keyboarded four legged monstrosities. Oh but it’s so very beautiful, the colour of an aged wine frozen in time.
He urged. I played. I played Tara’s Theme from Gone with the Wind. People gathered around. No one recognized the song but they all liked what they heard. How can anyone recognize the tune? It won’t be written for seventy-five years. People clapped. They like me. Tears ran down my cheeks and splashed on my bosom. I curtsied.
“Delightful, introduce me James.”
“Father, this is Gloria Jean Gardner.”
Senator Josiah Samuel Shorter took my hand. He kissed, then shook and held as he gazed into my eyes, “You look like a Georgia girl; so statuesque.” He chuckled, a deep pleasant rumble.
He held my hand high and so openly admired me that I blushed hot. I let go of his hand to fan myself. The guests’ laughter seemed warm and kind, punctuated with smiles.
I noticed three teenage girls all crowded together near the main staircase. Beautiful dresses clothed them and flowers twined their hair. One girl’s eyes flashed jealousy; her sisters’ contempt.
With the oldest in the lead they sailed across the floor, “Dear James, you stay away too long. Did a dance hall girl follow you home?”
I ascertained from the rapidly in drawn breaths nearby that an insult and challenge were flung at my feet. So, I hugged her.
I hugged her off her feet. I really don’t know what the refined gentlewomen of the 19th Century call one. But my adversary broke wind, what the 21st Century TBS [Tech Bitch Syndrome] girls call a fart. It was ripe too, dude.Fanning as she went, my adversary spirited herself away. James said, “Thank you Gloria, quick, clean, and fast, like a cavalry raid. Well done,” he touched my arm and looked in my eyes.
Then he added, “You have saved me from a fate worse than death, Penelope Coates’ tongue. The girl simply cannot stop talking about her favorite subject, Penelope Coates. The current weather is as intellectual as she ever gets. How could you possibly have known her weakness? You did it so quickly and completely, and left the child with no recourse but to flee.” James laughed again.
Penelope Coates, Miss Break Away of 1864, was a person of some importance. I can’t say I wasn’t pleased with myself but a silly girl sulked somewhere working up her nerve to return. I didn’t want it to be. It saddened me.
At supper Keren made a special point to serve me. She smiled and said that she was glad I was at Piney Place. She whispered in my ear when she thought that I did not pay enough attention to ‘Master James.’
James looked at me so intently that I found myself blushing more than I thought possible. He said, “How can it be that you were born in Atlanta? Surely we would have met before now.
His eyes studied mine, “Do you ever look at anything else besides young women?” I said.
“I spent all week looking at everything else and discovered McPherson.” James wore a rich smile.
“Is he down to Snake Gap yet?” I said.
James seemed surprised. “How could you possibly know the position of the Union Army?”
I surprised me too. I glanced away and lied, “I heard you tell your Father.”
“Yes, I told Father but not within ear shot of Gloria I didn’t. Those ears don’t look all that big.” He touched my hair.
I could feel his eyes. What can I tell him? It’s past time to be back in 2009
Miss Penelope Coates, of the Dalton Coates, says, “She is surely a Union spy. Her little girl went to meet with that Negress that claims to be a Conductor of what she calls the Underground Railroad.”
I decided to get comfy and listen. A Deep male voice said, “A deputy is coming to arrest her. If you are so certain, perhaps you can get Mrs. Gardner to come down to the slave quarters. They could both be confronted together. They might betray one another.”
“Certainly, I’ll tell her that her little girl needs her down there.” Miss Coates’ voice seemed most eager.
We walked down a little trail to The Quarters and went into a cabin through a loose board, two of them. The curtains were drawn and a single lantern burned really low and a black woman in jeans and boots with a shawl and kerchief whispered to the lantern.
No silly, clothes can’t talk. She whispered, the Conductor person whispered. We, Cassie and me, edged a little closer trying to hear. We edged and edged until we got a turn holding the lantern, Cassie on one side and me on the other.
I never saw a person so surprised and upset as the Conductor Lady. We were just trying to hear. She said something about the Union Army and Snake Gap, then she was hissing a whisper about ‘that white child’ but she kept looking at Cassie. Cassie is lighter than dark but she’s darker than white.
So Cassie said to me, “You got to be the ‘white child.’”
I giggled and said, “She’s looking at you. It’s your turn.”
Cassie laughed. But the Conductor Lady got real upset and waved a pocket pistol to make everybody mind. She said some nasty things. So I said, “My Momma’s pistol is bigger than that.”
Meanwhile, back in the Ante Bellum South, Gloria and James have finished their dinner and are sitting in a lovely white swing out back all snuggled. He has forgotten all about Gloria’s clairvoyance. His eyes wandered over my dress trying to invent x-ray vision.
I got the loveliest kiss. He got close to my face with his face and said how pretty my eyes are. There were flowers growing on a trellis that ran over the swing. I felt the roughness of his hand on my cheek and the softness of his lips on mine. “You are so pretty,” his breath, sweetened by wine, became my breath for a moment.
Then The Sea Hag, Miss Penelope Coates of the Dalton Coates, says, “Mrs. Gardner I know you must be worried about your daughter. I found out that she is down in a slave cabin. Come with me. She may not be safe.”
Then without even a breath in, “James, the Senator needs you immediately, a matter of secret importance to The Cause.” She hustled me away. I should have broken her little Reb butt into six pieces, but God help me, I believed the little witch.
She was right about the danger. The group in the cabin forgot about whispering and argued about who was going to leave, who was going to stay and whether to kidnap Mary and Cassie or chunk them in the well.
Miss Penelope Coates, of the Dalton Coates, walked in as if she were Abe Lincoln or Moses but acted closer to Anti-Christ, “Your accomplice is here for a consultation, Negress Villain.”
Yes, I thought the revelation a trifle complex myself. I think she may have been the only person in the cabin with any idea of what she tried to say.
The huge black man, he was taller than me that’s huge, let go of Mary Cason and Cassie and gagged Miss Penelope Coates of the Dalton Coates with one hand. The man’s a cool 290. Twiggy is restrained. Poor dear, she broke wind.
With Cassie on one arm and Mary on the other, Gloria drew her hand gun and needs shooting room. “Girls, let go of me.”
The Underground Railroad Lady is leveling her pistol. I fully understand that she has no choice. Life is at stake; mine. I like to believe I shot high on purpose but I’m not sure I did. What I am absolutely sure of is that four rounds from a model 1911 Colt took hunks from the roof and the rest fell in; it wasn’t exactly a French Villa.
We were in the doorway and fell away from the ruin. How they could have gotten out is beyond me, but I read an account in an old diary. They got away clean. The Rebs chased someone else; me.
Keren-Happuch ran towards us yelling something about hanging and General McPherson. Being a white girl and all, I understood much better what the white haired, old white sheriff was yelling, “There she is. Hang the Yankee bitch!” I’m out of here.
I dodged pistol shots. If it hadn’t gotten dark, one of those shots the drunk guy kept squeezing off would have hit home. The girls were arguing about whose turn it was to hold the lantern. Who cares? Cassie, Mary, and Keren-Happuch.
Music from The Grand Canyon Suite belongs here. It’s morning out in the North Georgia woods somewhere. Somebody slept on a Bee Hole. Less-than-an-inch long, related to wasps, mean and quick, yellow and black; Yellow Jackets filled the air. I flailed with my pistol. We ran in four directions.
Mary Cason came back towing a Yankee cavalryman. It seems that General McPherson finally got his cavalry screen. “What are you good folk doing so far out in the wood?” Mary held one of the teenage boy’s hands and he steadied his saber with the other.
For once Gloria’s big mouth stayed shut. Cassie and Keren-Happuch opened up together, “The Bee Hole...The Under Railroad Lady...cabin fell...Miss Gloria shot...Master Shorter... Miss Penelope Coates of the Dalton Coates...stacked like...mill waste...y’all got a biscuit Mister Yankee man?”
General McPherson said. “Where and when is Doctor Post, Mrs. Gardner?”
“Atlanta, 2009. The Union wins.” Three little faces and one big bearded one looked wild eyed at me. Jesus, you’ve just got to help me. I don’t even know what to ask you.
He stroked his beard. His eyes brightened, “Mrs. Gardner, it is best if you do not attempt travel to Atlanta regardless of Doctor Post’s location or time frame. The Colonel will give you limited help. We have a war to fight. Uncle Billy may be in to say good bye. But then again he may just sleep a while longer.” The gallant soldier turned and left.
“We can hide in one of them cars; peek out and when we get back to Piney Place we can sneak out or just stay on the car all the way to Atlanta.”
“Keren, there is no way that can work out. We’ve managed to get north of the Federal Army. We can’t just follow the Yanks to Atlanta. They are going to turn The Gate City into rubble.”
“If we go south that means we might get between both armies. If we go south, we must travel all the way back to Georgia Tech in 2009. If we don’t, we’re going to go hungry or be killed and hungry.”
Cassie touched her forehead in thought, “Dead folk don’t eat.”
“Don’t frown like that. You’ve never seen armies fight. See those big long tube things on the train? They’re cannons. A cannon is like a great big musket. That’s what ate up half the house where the Yankee Generals were.”I thought Keren went over to the train to sulk but she stood next to an open freight car and motioned to me. “They’s plenty of room in there; under, beside and next to.”
Let’s see, stay on the north bound train to safety or follow the advice of a nine-year-old who can’t read and has no concept of warfare. Well, except for the possibility of getting caught in the midst of 200,000 American soldiers trying to turn each other into hamburger, what’s the problem?
The grid of streets began to make sense. Yeah, I studied an old map before I left. I put the map in . . . my purse. I groped.“I can’t believe; Miss Genius lost the map in her purse and turned off the time beacon to save the battery. Well take that, Pookie.” I twisted the contraption using both hands.
It gave a healthy metallic click. “Hello Gloria? Can you hear me?”
“Confirm you’re in 1864.”“Yes, four to beam up Scotty.”
We materialized on the I-75, 85 Downtown Connector in 21st Century Atlanta and played: dodge bus, dodge truck and two quick lanes of dodge car.I looked back where we just left the highway and then at six little brown eyes that bugged from their sockets like super novas. Mary, Keren, and Cassie held each other’s hands, “Our Father who art in Heaven . . .”
I’ve never been so happy to have a cop in my face chewing me out. Why were we on the Connector? Why were we dressed funny?
“How about a ride?”
Doctor Post smiled the same smile he smiled when I got roped into this in the first place. “Well, write it all up Gloria and I’ll give you two ‘A’s.’
“Hey, if I take you two to my school, I’ll bet I could get and extra ‘A’ too, said Mary.“That be the strangest light lamp I ever seen; a box stuck on the seal-en like a stubby chandel-here. My. My,” said Cassie.
“We free. My hands free. My foots free; me free.” Keren smiled and laughed.
“Miss Gloria our momma now.”
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