The House on 10th

Victoria was walking home. It had been a long day at work. She came down the same streets every day. She wore the same coat, the same shoes, same black on black outfit that was required at her job. Some days she wore a knit cap, today was one of those days. Winter was approaching and the weather had turned crisp. Not yet uncomfortable, but still brisk.

Why I put up with that crap all day is beyond me, she thought.

Everyday was routine at this point. Get up, get dressed, eat something quick and non-nutritious, walk, ride the bus, walk, deal with rude people who frequented her work, take lunch, work, ride the bus, walk, and finally collapse onto her bed with the aching question as to if this was all life had to offer.

And if it’s not them it’s the people on the street, she thought.

She would get harassed for change by the seemingly unending stream of pan handlers.  She was thin and blonde and wore an innocence that must have been appealing because they seemed to stalk the downtown streets after her. Their eyes were often empty, or half shut when they asked. She preferred to think of them like people suffering a zombie plague.

Why can’t there be something better than this, she thought.

As she continued down the dark neighborhood streets she started to feel uneasy.  She couldn’t quite place it at first. There was something missing.

It’s too quiet, she thought.

Her place wasn’t far from a major thorough fare, yet she heard no cars. No breeze running across the neighborhood streets.  The sky was clear and crisp and she started to realize she could see stars. They should not have been visible this close to the city.

She kept on; the only sounds she could hear were her own footsteps and her breath.

The next block was dark, no house lights or car lights. She turned and looked back; houses that were lit as she passed were now dark, not even the street lights were on.

“Great, a power outage,” said Victoria.

The glint of something up ahead caught her attention. A few blocks up there was a glowing. The light didn’t cause alarm, more something to note as she continued on.

At the intersection of 10th, right on the corner, there was a huge Victorian house. It was three stories at least, with a big front yard. The white paint accented by black trim, an ornate iron fence surrounding the property on all sides. The light that caught her attention was coming from that house, though it was more on the house. Her feet stopped across the street as what she was seeing struck.

That’s pretty amazing, she thought.

Tiny glowing green dots speckled the house. Every surface had them. Even the windows that were pitch-black were displaying the pattern. The dots couldn’t have been bigger than a quarter, some smaller. They cast a sort of mix between neon and pale green which made for an intense glow in the dark effect.

She stood looking at the house, questioning how the lights were being cast on the house. She assumed that it had to be some sort of light system positioned in the yard. Crossing the street and standing just on the other side of the fence she peered through the bars. No boxes, no wires, nothing indicative of a source for the dots. All she saw was the jasmine that intertwined the fence and the well cropped grass of the yard.

A scent of something fragrant on the air excited her senses. It was the jasmine, which was in full bloom. All the vegetation in the yard was vibrant and lush. It was something that should not have been happening in early winter.

Victoria began to notice other things. Her mind was finally focusing on the subtle elements surrounding her. The rod iron fence was gleaning black, not a speck of rust. The paint on the house was no longer weathered looking but very fresh. When she looked down she saw that the customary sidewalk had changed. Cobblestones now lined the perimeter of the property. Finally she realized that she was no longer cold. The breeze that moved through the fence from the yard was warm and pleasant. The sent of jasmine grew stronger.

She turned and looked across the street. The sidewalk on the other side was cement, so was the roadway that she had crossed. Past the edge of the property the sidewalk was still normal. She stepped off the stones and back into the street and immediately felt the crisp bite of the evening. Back and forth she went, testing her senses and feeling some disbelief in what was happening. Finally she looked at the street sign. It no longer read NE 10th Ave. It now read North Morgan Street. Across the road she could see that sign was still correct, it was only this corner, this place that had changed.

“What the fuck,” her voice whispered.

Her instinct was to just go home. It was no business of hers to investigate, besides, she was tired. She was always tired. But she was transfixed at the sight, like something out of a historical photograph of the area had suddenly materialized.

She stepped off the cobblestone and out onto the street. Something caught her eye, just at the edge of border between the two. It was round, and silver, and glistened in the moonlight. Victoria knelt down to examine it and noted a soft humming sound. As she moved her hand toward the object the hum grew. She paused, brought her and back, and moved it toward the object again. It was indeed reacting to her presence.

She stood and looked along the edge of the cobblestones and saw more of the shining discs. They were evenly spaced at maybe three feet. As she walked up the street she discovered they were only along the edge of the stones, none existed past the point where the regular sidewalk was still present.

When she had moved back down the street she paused directly in front of the main gate to the yard. Kneeling, she keen on examining one of the disks. When her hand moved within inches the disk began to hum at an even louder volume, like high tension power lines. The disk started to glow.

Throwing caution to the wind she tapped the disk with her fingers. Suddenly the hum moved through her and the went silent. Picking up the disk to get a better look let her see it was very plain. Just a round disc, thin, hard, nothing on either side, more like a cast off piece of metal than anything with function and purpose.

Electing to return it to its resting place she put it back. She stepped up onto the cobblestone and stood at the gate.  A resolution to go home had finally settled over her just as she heard the hum again. All of the discs had started to hum. She would have turned to look at what was happening if the green dots hadn’t caught her attention by intensifying.

There was a sudden flush in her face. The hum of the discs was now in her mind. She felt dizzy and steeled herself on the gate. She blinked. She felt her knees begin to buckle. The last thing she saw was the gate falling open and the stone walkway quickly approaching.

————————————————————-

Victoria opened her eyes to see the exposed wooden rafters. She was lying on a bed, very soft, in a dimly lit room. She did not feel well. Her head swam with confusion and a headache which intensified when she began to sit up. The walls of the room were peeling, very old. She could see the slat board in places where the plaster had fallen. The only light came from an oil lamp on a small bed side table.

“OK, this isn’t good,” she whispered, rubbing her face and eyes, “at least I’m still clothed.”

A sound alerted her. Footsteps were coming, hard heels on hard wood.  They stopped in front of the antique looking door. As the knob turned she recoiled on the bed and immediately regretted moving so quickly.

The door opened and in came a voice, “I’m going to come into the room. I don’t want you to be frightened. I found you outside on my front walk.”

Slowly the man came into the room. He was older, tall and thin. Round glasses framed his face which was clean shaven. His hair was showing just the first signs of grey at the temples. He was dressed in white button down shirt, black pants and polished black dress shoes. Overall he looked tired and disheveled.

“Are you alright?” he asked.

“I guess I must have fainted,” she replied, “do I look ok?”

The man smiled, “You look just fine, can’t even tell you fell if you ask me. What were you doing in my yard?”

“Oh, well… I didn’t mean to be in your yard. I’m sorry about that. I got dizzy out front and leaned on the gate, I guess it opened on me.” She paused, “There is some weird crap going on out there. First the lights go out, then your house had all these dots all over it, and there are these little round discs all around that hum if you get close to them but look perfectly plain up close…”

“You didn’t touch them did you?” he asked, a hint of urgency in his voice.

“Well, I picked one up yes.”

“Show me your hand, the one that you touched it with, please.”

He approached the bed and Victoria looked at him, stunned, and then raised her right arm towards his face. In the light she could see something off about the color of her fingers. She started to pull her hand to her face for a closer look when he grabbed her wrist. Her yelp of surprise must have alarmed him.

“I’m sorry, just hang on a second, let me see,” he murmured as he leaned in and lowered his glasses.

His examination was thorough. Each of her fingers individually, her palm, her wrist. Finally he sighed and smiled.

“Will I live doc?” she mocked.

“You have some residual burns, but they are superficial. It doesn’t appear that any of the material caused any cellular damage. What happened to the hum when you touched it?”

She stared, snatching her hand away from him to look herself at last. There was a tinge of grey, her pointer, middle finger and thumb all had discoloration and looked very dry. She suddenly wished she had some lotion.

“Alright, what the hell is going on here?” she questioned as she tried to sit up again. A mistake to be sure as she immediately felt nauseous, her head swimming with that sound, the hum of the disc. With a huge sign she slumped back onto the bed.

“Take it easy, I can explain. I must insist that you don’t move around too much. You’re still stabilizing is my guess. You had no protection from the effect, and honestly I didn’t think that biological material could withstand an unprotected transition,” he said.

She stared at him for a moment. Finally she asked, “Who are you?”

“Oh how rude of me. My name is Jeremiah Gaan, Doctor Jeremiah Gann. This is my home,” he laughed and continued, “Actually it’s more like a testing ground. I’m a scientist.”

“OK, so, what, I got caught up in some experiment you were running,” she replied. “That seems a little reckless on your part if you ask me.”

“What’s your name?”

“Victoria. Not Vicky, Victoria.”

“I do apologize to you Victoria, for your involvement here. It’s going to take some effort to explain, but I can see you really aren’t in any sort of condition to leave that bed. Don’t worry, I’m harmless, just an everyday nerdy genius that got a little tired of not being taken seriously by the scientific community.”

Jeremiah sat in a chair next to the table. He turned the knob on the lamp. The light grew brighter as the flame responded to the increase of fuel. Leaning back against the chair he removed his glasses and set them down. Eyes closed, he began to rub the bridge of his nose.

“Do you know anything about how the universe works?” he asked.

Victoria stared at him for a moment, “I’m not a scientist. I’m more artistic. I didn’t do well in math or science, except when we had to make a volcano for chemistry class in middle school. That was one awesome volcano.”

“Well,” he started, “There are many mysterious and contentious subjects in science. I like those. Whenever there is discord among academics about a subject I get endlessly excited. It the unanswered puzzle. Without boring you too much, one of the puzzles has to do with the nature of time. We don’t really have solid proof that it even exists. All we have is a sort of philosophical understanding that things change, moment to moment.

“I was working for a private research lab. That’s a place where scientists sit around and work out problems that someone is willing to pay to have solved. The place I worked had two primary benefactors funding our research; high tech companies and the government. The government contracts always gave me a creepy feeling. I always wondered why they wanted to know about the things they requested. Some of it could get pretty weird.

“My specialty has to do with time, I had been working on the nature of time for about 5 years at this point, and that was 20 years ago. I was having a discussion with some colleagues over lunch one day and found out he was working with something special while working on one of the government projects. We had a very long discussion. He explained that they had provided a substance, a metal, but wouldn’t say where it had come from. He described all these traits it had and I realized that this metal might be the solution I needed. I had a revolutionary idea. Do you know what entropy is?”

“No. And I still don’t know what all this has to do with what made me faint,” Victoria rasped.

“Sorry,” replied Jeremiah, “I get excited when I get a chance to explain my theories, especially in this case. I’ll try to get to the point.”

He leaned forward and continued, “With my colleagues help I acquired some of the metal. The quantity available was very limited. It had some rather amazing properties. I worked on it for the better part of two years, occasionally getting small samples of the metal when needed. By the end I realized that I was going to have to write some new theoretical principles to support what my gut was telling me about this stuff.

“Eventually I published a piece of work for peer review inside the lab,” Jeremiah sighed, “It was a mistake. I just couldn’t sufficiently back up what I had written because I couldn’t explain my theory with what we know to be true scientifically.

“I began working on other projects and shelved my research, but it still stuck in my mind. I even got as much of the metal as I could before I moved on and stored it. I figured I could work on it in my spare time.

“My reputation didn’t rebound however. I was the butt of jokes. My superiors felt the need to designate projects for me instead of letting me pick and choose what I wanted to work on. It was demoralizing, and it lasted until the day I quit two years ago.

“I wanted to get away from that place, far away. I bought this house with the intention of renovating it. I did a lot of study on the history of this place before I moved here. There was something very romantic about the area. When I was unpacking everything I went through all my possessions from the think tank, and I not only found my research but I also found my samples of the metal. I had gotten a top-secret substance out of a secured facility and I didn’t even intend to do so.

“My passion was refueled. I could work without bounds, without having to figure out how to put into words what my instincts were telling me. Last night you encountered the culmination of my work.”

Jeremiah stared at Victoria, like he was waiting for recognition.

“Do you understand?” he asked.

After consideration she shook her head that she did not.

“This house was built by Winston Morgan, one of the original residents of this area, in 1902. The street was originally given his name but was changed in 1934 to 10th. It was surrounded by cobblestone sidewalks, cobblestone streets. Members of his family lived here until 1980 when the surrounding neighborhood became violent.

“This house sat, neglected, from that time until I bought it. It was technically condemned but I didn’t care. I wanted an escape.  Discovering the metal made this place even more valuable. No one around here was going to report that some guy was living in a house that no one wanted—“

“You know,” Victoria interjected, “this is all super interesting but really, I don’t give a shit about a history lesson. What the fuck is going on here?”

Jeremiah looked stunned for a moment, just staring at her. As he picked up his glasses and put them on as he said, “What year is it right now?”

“What? 2014.”

Jeremiah looked concerned, “Well in this house it is 2015, but from the exterior of the house to the street it is 1915.”

“Excuse me?” Victoria mocked.

“Well think about it, the house and yard, the sidewalk, they are all different, but in here, in this room even, the years of wear are still apparent,” Jeremiah paused, “You want me to show you how I did it?”

Victoria just sat there, staring at this man. She felt like she had slipped into another world. This couldn’t be real. Maybe she was dreaming. She was on her way home and then she walked through time? The thought was absurd. Yet the bed felt very real, the old smell of the house felt real as well. She looked around and really couldn’t believe that this was anything but real. Slowly she started to sit up, moving gently. As she moved the hum returned to her mind, very faint.

Jeremiah stood as he saw her rise. He walked over to the bedside. “Here,” he said with an outstretched hand.

Timidly she raised her hand to his, she let him prop her up and felt just how weak she was.

“What happened to me?” She asked.

“Well, you’ve had your location in time distorted. I put those metal disks out there to mark the perimeter of the effect. Everything between the disks and the house, which I had painted with little dots made from the same metal, was in the shift zone. Beyond that zone, the street and the interior of the house, nothing would change once I started the process. You stumbled upon the shift zone just as it was finishing its transition to our location in time, our temporal coordinates. Had you not touched the disk you would have just walked right on through. Since you were exposed to the material you caused a little disruption in space/time. You should be fine once your body purges the radiation you got from the disk. I’d like to give you a little something to help assist with that process if your still feeling very weak.”

“So what are you saying, I went back in time also?”

“Well, that’s one way to look at it. I don’t know what you looked like before I picked you up off the walk way, so I can’t say if you look that much different, but when you said it was 2014 I knew that your mind had been affected, so it’s safe to say that your body was as well. It’s going to be somewhere between 10 and 22 months difference. Do your clothes look right? Do you know where you live, where this house is?”

Victoria felt a surge of panic. If she had lost time how would she know what was going on in her life right now? How would she know if where she thought she lived or worked was right? Tears began to well in her eyes and she could feel a mounting pressure inside. She began to shake her head, “No no no no, that’s crap, CRAP!”

He took her by the shoulders and looked her in the eye, “You are alright Victoria, I promise. Look at your clothes, right now, and tell me if you recognize them.”

“My fucking clothes, look, if I moved back in time then they would have changed too.”

“Not necessarily, it was only your skin that came in contact with the disk, right? Only your cellular structure was contaminated. Now do they look right?”

She took a deep breath and looked down. They looked like the same thing she could remember wearing to work for years. She nodded at him.

“And where are we right now?”

“We are on 10th avenue. I moved into this neighborhood about three years ago, or I guess four would be more accurate.”

“Victoria, you’re going to be fine. It’s a safe bet that you wouldn’t have been in this neighborhood if you didn’t live near here. I’m sure that you probably still have the same job if your clothes look familiar. I believe the effect will reverse as things normalize internally for you.  I really think you should take a dose of some medication I made specifically for this situation. It won’t hurt you.”

Jeremiah took her arm and draped it over his shoulder. He supported her as he led her from the room and into the hall. It looked just as bad as the room, with peeling paint and a new musty and damp smell that assaulted her nostrils. They walked down the hall slowly. She was trying to process what she had been told. She didn’t want to believe it. It was impossible.

They came to a staircase of ancient and dark stained wood with a broken banister. Each step she continued to rationalize her experience. Maybe it really was 2014 and this wacko had kidnapped her and was trying to convince her it was 2015. What if he had drugged her and that was why she didn’t feel right? She wished she could clear her mind enough to feel like herself, and that the hum would go away.

At the bottom of the stairs he led her into a huge open living room. She had never seen anything like it. There were wires and computer monitors all over. The monitors all displaying information and images she didn’t understand. In the center of the room, where all the wires converged, there was a rotating device. It was like a barrel of white light attached to a shining sphere. The sphere was rotating in air, floating, boxed in on all sides by metal rings about twice the size of the whole thing. The barrel of light would turn with the sphere and made a sort of hypnotic pattern as it swung away and then back again.

He sat her in a great old cushioned chair in the corner of the room. Her eyes wouldn’t leave the device, even when Jeremiah handed her a small medicine cup and told her to drink it. She complied without argument. She was mesmerized.

“I could tell you how it works,” he said.

“Oh, it’s amazing, how is it floating?” Victoria asked.

“A high powered magnetic field. Alternating strength makes it rotate in a specific pattern. When the cylinder fully injects into the sphere the system will terminate the temporal adjustments. All the time coordinates will merge in the present. The exterior of the house will look fantastic, the yard too. I wanted to test the process before restoring the entire structure.

“The medicine you just drank will neutralize any radiation that you absorbed. It will also neutralize any of the alien metal that might have entered your system, it’s incredibly sneaky stuff.”

One of those words caught her attention and made her blink, “What do you mean alien?”

“Well, the government got if from somewhere. Government scientists couldn’t have created it, I’ve worked with enough of them to know that. I found out eventually that the government had harvested huge fragments of the metal from a crater in northern Alaska. It wasn’t like a space ship had crashed or something like that, but something large and metallic had collided with the Earth and left a crater two miles wide. When I say alien I don’t mean little green men, I mean something not from the Earth. It came from outer space.

“I’ve studied it for a long time, and I can tell you that I believe the fragments had ventured through the cosmos for millions of years. The unknown elements contained in the object were born in the black of space. They don’t exist here on Earth because they didn’t exist until they were cooked by the universe through exposure to things like gravity, radiation, extreme temperatures. I highly doubt that those new elements exist anywhere else in the universe, or if they do, that the quantity is so small that it would go completely unnoticed.”

The hum returned to Victoria’s mind as she watched the sphere.  Her vision began to waver and her mind began to muddle. She could feel her body wretch, and it was going to react violently all over the floor in just a moment. She lurched up, not maintaining her balance, and stumbled forward towards the sphere. She fell to her knees just before it, and vomited the medication all over the device.

Immediately the monitors flashed, like the power was cut momentarily but then came back. The sphere stopped rotating. Her ears started to pick up a beeping sound and a voice. She looked up and saw Jeremiah staring into one of the monitors, his lips moving, but she couldn’t understand what he was saying. He knelt and stood her up, shaking her until her eyes focused on his.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” his words finally resonating. “You stopped the process at a critical moment. I don’t know! I don’t know! I can predict what will happen and I’m telling you right now you better get into your right mind and get out!” His arm outstretched, pointing at the large double doors at the end of the room.

Victoria didn’t waste any time. She stumbled a few times but made a line for the door. As she burst through she saw the yard through the front window of the house. The green glow was as bright as day. She ran, feeling more stable, bolting through the front door and down the walk, the hum louder than ever. It was deafening as she threw open the gate and ran across the street.

As she stepped off the cobblestones and back onto the paved street the hum stopped. The cold slapped her, assaulting her lungs. She reached the sidewalk and turned to look at the house. The light was so intense yet she couldn’t see herself illuminated by it, it was all contained within the perimeter of the disks. She heard nothing as she saw the cobblestones, the iron fence, the night blooming jasmine, the yard, and the house vanish. All that remained was a vacant plot of land.

She stood there staring at the vacant lot for a long time, until she could feel the warm drip of her running nose as the cold crept into her bones. She felt totally normal again. She remembered believing it was 2014, remembered the dilapidated room she awoke in. She remembered Jeremiah telling her it was 2015, and she felt relieved that she knew that was true.

Slowly she stepped off the sidewalk and crossed the street. As she approached the edge where the road and the dirt met she saw a glint. She knelt down and looked closely. It was half of one of the silver disks, it looked dull and brittle and the edge looked like it had crumbled away.

Victoria stood. She wanted nothing to do with that thing. She walked the perimeter of the lot but didn’t see any other remains of the experiment. When she made it home she was relieved to find her house key opened the door and that her place was exactly as she remembered it.

She slept remarkably well. She did not dare dream.

The next day as she walked to her bus she felt a little sad for Jeremiah. He was like her, he wanted something better and when he got it he was destroyed by it. Maybe he just went to another time, back to 1915. Maybe he was erased from history.

As she walked past the the crowd of people and various officials now surrounding the lot she thought to herself,

I’ll never forget the house on 10th.

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