|A Gift of Time
Author: Wyndes PM
In the quirky small town of Tassamara, FL, paranormal gifts are taken for granted. Natalya's gift has always been bleak, though - she can see the future, but changing it seldom works for the better. But when a future she's known about for years doesn't happen the way she expects, what else will change in her life?Rated: Fiction T - English - Supernatural/Romance - Chapters: 16 - Words: 36,278 - Reviews: 57 - Favs: 4 - Follows: 12 - Updated: 04-30-13 - Published: 06-26-12 - id: 3036333
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
It was sort of like needing to pee, Rose thought. Not that she'd had to use a bathroom any time in the past several decades but she remembered the sensation. First a feeling, a subtle message the body sent that perhaps it was time to get up and go somewhere. Then a more insistent awareness. Finally, a sense of pressure working its way up to pain that required, no, demanded attention.
She wanted to ignore it. It was Christmas Day and for the first time in years, she didn't have to stay in the house she'd haunted since her untimely death. She wanted to go visiting. She wanted to join Akira and Dillon and Zane and the rest of Zane's family by their Christmas tree. Maybe stop by the church and listen to the choir. Maybe wander through town and admire all the lights and decorations.
Instead, she was tromping through the Ocala National Forest, feeling grumpy and discontent. Well, not exactly tromping: her feet made no impression on the ground, her body left no traces even when she passed straight through brush and trees. But in her imagination, she stomped and sulked. What was she doing out here? Why did she need to be here?
She got no answers, only an increasing urgency, a growing sense of an imperative need that was impossible to resist, a pull that tugged her farther and farther into the middle of nowhere.
And then it stopped.
Rose stopped, too. She looked around her. Dappled light drifted down through trees draped in gray, wispy Spanish moss. The dense forest might have felt primeval to a stranger, but Rose had grown up in the days when the cool springs made summer bearable. It felt as much like home to her as her own backyard. But what was she doing here?
The brush next to her stirred and Rose stepped quickly away. Black bear? Coyote? A moment of panic quickly faded as she remembered that she had nothing to fear from wildlife. Besides, the brown shape crawling out from the undergrowth didn't look like any wildlife she'd ever seen.
"Oh, my," Rose murmured, realizing what she was looking at. She took another step back and then a step closer, trying to decide what she should do. "Oh, dear."
The girl—at least Rose thought she was a girl, even though the clothes were unrevealing and the brownish-blonde hair cut short—lifted her dirty, tear-streaked face to the sky. The pinched look around her face and the shadows under her eyes made Rose think she hadn't eaten in far too long, but the determined set of her chin said that she wasn't giving up. She wobbled as she tried to pull herself to her feet.
"Oh, dear," Rose repeated herself. She looked to the sky, too. "What am I supposed to do now?" she demanded.
She got no answer.
Akira didn't believe that dimensions had needs.
Natalya watched her future sister-in-law arguing with what looked like empty air and couldn't help smiling. Another doctor might have called an ambulance, prescribed emergency psycho-tropics, maybe even fought with an insurance company to get the patient long-term institutional care.
Natalya knew better.
Akira might appear to be hallucinating, but she was actually talking to the ghost of Natalya's nephew, Dillon. Natalya couldn't see or hear Dillon, but she had no problem believing that he was in the room with the rest of the family. Ever since Akira had moved to Tassamara and become part of their lives, Natalya had learned to accept the occasional presence of people she couldn't see.
It hadn't been hard.
Ghostly visitors didn't even come close to pushing the boundaries of what Natalya could believe in. She'd grown up in Tassamara so she'd learned to accept the implausible at an early age. On the surface, Tassamara was a sleepy rural town, supported by the occasional tourists passing through and business from the local farms, orchards, and ranches. Underneath that façade, though, lay a vibrant community composed of open-minded scientists, psychics, and people who didn't quite fit in the outside world.
Long-time residents claimed that the town was built on a convergence of ley lines or a vortex point. They said that for thousands of years it had been a place of dimensional energy that nourished spiritual gifts and that it had always attracted people with unusual abilities. Maybe that was true. But Natalya also knew that the company her parents had founded in Tassamara, General Directions, sought out and hired people who demonstrated psychic abilities like Akira's.
Well, not exactly like Akira's. She was the only person they'd ever found who saw spirits as clearly as if they were corporeal and could communicate with them as easily as if they were living. But plenty of other people in Tassamara had equally rare gifts.
Natalya and her father, Max, could foretell the future. Her older brother, Lucas, was telepathic; her younger brother, Zane, was clairvoyant. Although Natalya had a medical degree, for work she researched the neurological processes behind psychic phenomena, so she'd met psychics of every type and caliber.
She didn't believe every claim, of course. She'd met fake psychics and con artists and some people that she suspected were simply delusional. Once, during the course of her neuroimaging studies, she'd run a brain scan on a man who claimed that objects—all objects—spoke to him. She might have accepted animals, maybe even trees, but plastic wrap and empty milk cartons? His scan hadn't shown any unusual neural activity, but she didn't think she'd let even a smidgen of her doubt cross her face. When he told her that her imaging system, a multi-million dollar piece of hardware, enjoyed working with her, she acknowledged his words politely but with a healthy dose of skepticism. Still, she'd felt a little fonder of her scanner ever since.
"Our space could be a Minkowski space embedded inside a larger, additional dimensioned Minkowski space. Wave-particle duality would imply that your energy behaves as both a particle and a wave, but …"
As Akira continued to talk to Dillon, Natalya stopped listening. If she asked what they were talking about, Akira would answer with words like 'quantum field theory' and 'duality transformations' and 'scalar potential energy.' Instead Natalya glanced around the room in quiet contentment.
Ornaments hung heavy on the tree, tiny lights sparkling through the branches. Shredded wrapping paper and ribbons littered the floor. Zane and Max had their heads bent together over some toy, and Lucas and his girlfriend, Sylvie, sat in front of the fireplace, looking through the pages of a scrapbook. The only one missing was Grace, Natalya's younger sister. She had stolen off to the kitchen to check on dinner.
The scene felt familiar, the image layered on years of memories of Christmases past and future celebrated in this very house. Still, Natalya felt a touch of wistful nostalgia at the thought of other Christmases. The holiday was more fun with children present.
'Next Christmas,' she told herself deliberately. A flash of vision stirred like a memory. Max, a dark-haired baby on his lap, the baby leaning against Max's chest, solemn, serious, and then eyes going wide, face breaking into a bubble of laughter. Natalya tried to hold on to the wisp of sight, hoping to glimpse the rest of the room. Who else was there? Red hair? Oh, good, that was Sylvie. That meant she'd be with them next Christmas, too. Nat concentrated, still wanting more. Dinner, something at a table, the taste of … hmm, she wasn't sure she liked it. Spicy cranberry, maybe?
"Hmm?" Natalya answered absently, trying to see the people seated at the table. She couldn't tell who was there.
"Did you hear what I asked?"
Natalya shook herself free from her reverie. Akira was talking to her now and she'd been too lost in the future to notice. "Ah, sorry, I was thinking about … dinner."
"Great minds," Akira said with a smile. "Dillon was wondering when Grace had learned to cook." The slight lilt in her voice made the statement a question.
"Oh, never," Natalya responded comfortably.
Across the room, Max chuckled, raising his head from the mini-helicopter he and Zane were trying to assemble on the coffee table. "She makes an excellent grilled cheese. And she's pretty good at omelets. Apart from those, she's mastered the microwave."
Akira blinked. "Do you think she could use some help?"
Max answered first. "She has a schedule, everything mapped out to the minute."
Zane pushed a piece of the rotor assembly closer to his father. "When Grace decides to do something, she does it well. Don't worry, love. Dinner will be great."
Natalya stood, bending over to pick up some of the wrapping paper scattered across the floor. "We could clean up in here. That might …" She didn't finish the sentence, words dropping away as she was abruptly lost in vision. Grace, the kitchen sink, the midday light from the window, Natalya's own hands holding Grace's arm under the running water, blisters rising around a trail of dead white skin, Grace's voice saying, "It hurt, but it's okay now."
Natalya sucked in a breath of air, crushing the scraps of wrapping paper into a tight ball. Oh, God, that looked ugly. She looked up and her eyes met her father's.
He was frowning, already moving to stand. "Nat? What's wrong?"
Dinner. She'd been thinking about the wrong dinner. Forget next year. This year's Christmas meal wasn't going to happen. Those burns—how could Grace have burned herself so badly? She'd seared a wide swath down her arm, third degree in the center. They'd need to get her to the hospital. What did they have in the house to treat burns? Lavender oil would be good. She had some in her own kitchen, but was there any here?
Before she could ask the question, Lucas bolted upright, already shouting. "Grace, Grace!"
As he raced out of the room, Akira, Zane, and Max looked startled to various degrees, but Sylvie was wincing and scrambling to her feet. "Is that—" she started.
"About to happen," Natalya confirmed with a sigh. She tilted her chin toward the rest of the family. "You explain. I'll go assess the damage."
She followed Lucas toward the kitchen, leaving Sylvie behind in the living room to tell the others of her premonition. Of course Lucas and Sylvie had to read her mind at just that moment, she thought ruefully. They probably hadn't been able to help themselves after Max's words alerted them. Still, what were the odds that Lucas caused the accident by startling Grace?
She probably shouldn't think that too loudly around Lucas. She didn't want him to blame himself.
She reached the kitchen only a few steps after her brother. The roasting pan clanged against the open oven door as Lucas grabbed Grace's arm and tugged her away from the stove and toward the sink.
"Lucas, what are you doing?" Grace protested.
"You're not touching anything hot today," Lucas ordered. He slid his hand up Grace's unmarred arm. "It didn't happen." He looked at Natalya.
She glanced at the light coming in through the window over the sink and frowned. The light was right. The timing was now. She stepped closer, checking Grace's arms, even though she knew she was being silly. Either Grace was burned or she wasn't. It wasn't as if they'd mistake a third degree burn for untouched skin.
"What are you two on about?" Grace pulled her arm away from Lucas.
"Nat had a vision. You burned yourself. Badly." Lucas's voice was grim. "You're not touching the oven again today."
Grace responded with exasperation and a light shove against his chest. "The hell I'm not. I'm cooking dinner, you idiot! Roast goose, cauliflower and chestnut gratin, potatoes with rosemary and sage, maple-glazed carrots, a wild rice and apricot stuffing. It's going to be amazing."
"Yo!" Sylvie's voice from behind Natalya was a bark. "Oven!"
Natalya spun around. Her jaw dropped. No words came out, not even a squeak, but Lucas and Grace weren't so silent. Grace screamed, Lucas swore. Flames, leaping into the air, were already scorching the kitchen cupboards next to the oven, and creeping up the wall.
As Natalya took an involuntary step backward, she tried to piece together what had happened. When Lucas grabbed Grace, she'd dropped the roasting pan and the dish towel she'd been using to hold one end. The towel had landed half in, half out, one edge falling into the oven, the other absorbing fat from the juicy bird. Heat from one end, an accelerant from the other—it was a recipe for fire.
"Shit, shit." Lucas pushed Grace toward the door and turned back to the sink. "Where's the fire extinguisher?"
"I—I—" Grace stammered, but Lucas already had the cupboard under the sink open and was rummaging through it. No red cylinder. "The garage, maybe? Or the pantry?"
"Move!" Lucas was in motion, rushing toward the back door to the garage, while Grace took the three steps into the old pantry.
Sylvie was gone, snapping orders to the people in the living room, but Natalya stood where she was, watching the fire rise. Baking soda, she thought. Her eyes flickered up toward the cupboard in the corner between the stove and the sink. That's where her mother had kept the baking supplies, but would there be any there? Would it be any good? Would it make a difference?
The fire was moving so quickly. She could already feel the heat against her skin, taste the smoke in the air, but the color of the flames, the orange and yellow and blue, was almost beautiful.
It was captivating in a deadly sort of way.
"Damn it, not here." Grace stepped out of the pantry. "Oh, hell." Her words were an exhale of breath Raising her voice, she called out to the rest of the family, "Get out. It's spreading. And call 911!"
Natalya could hear the bumps and motion and exclamations from the hallway and the rooms beyond, but the crackle and glare of the fire kept her frozen in sick fascination until Grace's hand, tight on her upper arm, started pushing. Through the dining room, across the small foyer, out the door, down the steps. Natalya didn't resist, but it wasn't until they were outside that her brain started working again.
"That wasn't supposed to happen."
"Tell me about it," Grace muttered. She turned her head and her blue eyes met her sister's. With a flash of humor, she said, "Roast goose. I thought it sounded romantic. Like Dickens, you know. Do you know how hard it is to find a goose? I called around, tried every local farm, and finally ordered it online. And the wild rice—I spent six hours reading dressing recipes before I picked that one."
"Oh, Gracie," Natalya said, using the pet name that no one ever called Grace by anymore. "I'm so sorry. We ruined your dinner."
Grace's voice was dry. "Dinner is the least of our worries." She gestured with a jerk of her chin at the house. Natalya followed the movement and sucked in a deep breath of shock, then promptly coughed out the smoky air. Smoke was already rising from the back of the house.
"We need to call for help," Natalya said. She glanced around. Where was everyone?
"It's Christmas Day. How fast is anyone going to get here?"
"Are you kidding?" Natalya answered. Tassamara, like many rural communities, relied largely on a volunteer fire department. "A chance to play with the big engines? Half the guys in town are going to be here in twenty minutes. It's going to make their day." At least as soon as someone called them, it would.
Akira was stepping out of her car at the end of the driveway. She jogged lightly back toward them, carrying a jumble of keys in one hand, clutching her phone in the other. She paused next to Grace and reported. "I called 911. The fire department's on their way."
"Terrific." Natalya exhaled with relief and then asked. "What's with the keys?"
"Sylvie." Akira shook her head, and said, voice sounding awed, "When she says jump, you're three feet in the air before you have time to think." She looked up at the house and her eyes narrowed at the stream of smoke pouring into the sky. "She wants the cars moved, so I'm moving cars. Zane and Max are in the back, trying the hose."
She held up a set of keys. "Yours?" she asked Natalya.
Natalya nodded, and Akira headed toward Natalya's sporty black Mazda. Natalya thought about following her—she could move her own car—but instead she turned back to her sister as Grace said thoughtfully, eyes on the house, "I think I would have preferred the burn."
Natalya grimaced. "It was a pretty bad burn."
Grace looked down at her undamaged arms and then back at her sister. She nodded toward the house again. "What do you know?"
A trace of color ridged the bottom of the gray-black plume of smoke. Flames had reached the roof. Natalya sighed. She tried not to share her knowledge of the future with others. In her opinion, it served no purpose. But these were exceptional circumstances.
'The rest of the day,' she thought. She waited. Nothing. She gave a shake of her head, before closing her eyes and trying again. Her nose itched. Her front felt warmer than her back, not uncomfortably so. Her loose sweater was soft against her skin. Still nothing.
'Tomorrow,' Natalya thought. Nothing stirred in her mind. She had no plans for the day after Christmas, but she wouldn't be going into work, of course. What would she spend her day doing? Would she paint? Clean? Read one of the books she'd been given as a Christmas present? Go out? She could think of plenty of possibilities, but none had that impeccable rightness of true knowledge.
She opened her eyes and a corner of her mouth tugged into a wry smile. "Not a thing," she told Grace. They'd changed the future. Her memory of Grace's burn was gone, not as if it had never been, but as if it never would be. "No burn, though."
She looked back at the house, and the vision was abrupt and painful. Blackened ashes, nothing left but an outline and the standing stones of the fireplace. She couldn't help the whimper of protest that escaped.
"Bad?" Grace asked.
Natalya nodded. She swallowed hard, eyes trying to take in everything, to absorb the last glimpses of her family home that she'd ever see. It still stood, the white front looking as pristine and perfect as it had in the morning, poinsettias lining the wide porch steps, the railing wrapped with Christmas lights, unlit in the brightness of the day. "It'll be a total loss. Nothing left but ashes."
"Oh, God," Grace muttered. She ran a hand through her hair. "Does anyone get hurt?"
Natalya waited, but no answer came to her. 'Tomorrow?' she thought again, but her brain felt like it was working in a bad dream, the one where she was taking an organic chemistry test only all the letters of all the chemicals were wrong. "All I know is the house," she answered, trying to keep her voice steady. She didn't always appreciate her ability to remember the future, but she did take it for granted. Losing it, even though she knew it was temporary, felt like losing a part of herself.
Grace muttered a few choice curse words under her breath. "Where are they?"
Before Natalya had time to feel more than a moment of worry, Max and Zane rounded the corner of the house. They looked hot, sweaty, and dirty.
"Are you okay?" Grace ran to Max, and he put his arms up and around her. Natalya followed more slowly, glancing back at the house.
"Thought we could put the fire out with the hose," Max answered, squeezing Grace, and dropping a kiss on the top of her blond head. "No go, though. It's moving too fast and the water flow wasn't nearly enough to make a difference."
"Lucas and Sylvie?" Natalya asked.
"Lucas was right behind us." Max looked over his shoulder as Lucas appeared at the side of the house. He was scowling, eyebrows drawn down as if he were concentrating intently.
"Forget it, Sylvie," Lucas snapped. "Get out of there."
Natalya glanced around. Was Sylvie behind him? And then she realized that although Lucas had spoken out loud, he must be talking to Sylvie telepathically. She looked back to the house. Sylvie was scrambling out of Lucas's bedroom window onto the porch roof, dragging her duffel bag with her.
Damn, thought Natalya. She wasn't sure whether she was impressed by Sylvie's courage in staying in a burning building to collect her luggage or dismayed by her stupidity. Clothes weren't worth risking your life.
Sylvie turned back to the window. Lucas ran toward the porch. "Just get down," he called to her. She looked over her shoulder and grinned at him. Okay, Akira might not need mental health care, but Sylvie definitely did. Sylvie reached inside the window and pulled something else out, as Lucas reached the ground below the porch.
"It's all right, honey." Max hadn't let go of Grace. She had her face buried in his chest.
"I burned down the house, Daddy." Her words were muffled, but Natalya heard them anyway.
"It wasn't your fault," Max reassured her, patting her back. "Accidents happen."
Natalya's mouth twisted. If she hadn't seen a future where Grace had burned herself, this accident wouldn't have happened. Technically, she was at least as much to blame as Grace was. Still, she hadn't been the one to drop a roasting pan filled with fat.
"Let's blame Lucas," she suggested.
Grace lifted her head and chuckled. "Works for me."
"You should probably ground him, Dad," Natalya suggested. "Early curfew for at least a month."
"Nah." Grace's smile was wry. "Send him to bed without any supper, that ought to do it."
"I'll do that," Max agreed absently. His eyes were on the house. A pillar of gray smoke reached into the sky, and the acrid flavor of ash filled the air, but it was strangely beautiful. The bright sunlight day made the flames almost translucent against the sky, but against the wood of the roof, they dazzled in orange and yellow and gold.
Winter was the dry season in Florida, they hadn't had rain recently, and the house was an old farmhouse, wood frame with clapboard siding. It was no surprise that it wasn't fireproof. Still, the speed at which the fire was tearing through it was awe-inspiring.
Max shook his head. "We're all okay. That's all that matters."
The sirens were getting closer. Natalya looked toward the road. A sheriff's car was pulling into the driveway. Colin Rafferty, the sheriff, stepped out, his tan sheriff's uniform neat and pressed. Natalya sighed.
Her day had just gotten worse.
Colin paused, looking up at the building. Lucas and Sylvie were walking toward him, Sylvie's duffel bag slung over Lucas's shoulder, their hands locked together. Sylvie carried something by her side, but Nat couldn't see what it was.
"We should move farther away," Nat said to her father and Grace. They were yards away from the house, but she could feel the heat. Max nodded to her, and reached out his arm. Nat let him tuck it around her shoulders as they began to walk toward the end of the driveway.
Colin and Lucas were exchanging greetings. Nat wasn't close enough to hear what they were saying, but Colin's smile annoyed her immediately. Not that that was unusual. Under any circumstances, the sight of him was enough to annoy her.
As they reached him, he grinned at her. "Didn't see this one, did you, Nat?" he said, tone cheerful.
"Go to hell, Colin," Nat responded.