The Soul of Time
An Alternate History
He is coming like the glory of the morning on the wave,
He is Wisdom to the mighty, He is Succour to the brave,
So the world shall be His footstool, and the soul of Time His slave,
Our God is marching on.
--Battle Hymn of the Republic
Chapter 1: The Opening
July 5, 1882
New Haven, Connecticut
Win stared at the stone face of the editor as he pored over a document titled My Friend Hancock. Finally, the editor glanced up from his half-cut glasses to see the young man sitting in front of him. When the fat, older man looked at the fourteen year-old, who was wearing his best suit, he saw Win as a man five years older than he actually was: a young, brilliant author.
"Mr. Clarke…" the editor began, "Your manuscript on the late was extremely intriguing. For a man your age, writing a book of this caliber and reaching such a broad amount of sources is surely quite an accomplishment."
Win nodded, an enormous smile reached across his face like a tiny flame engulfing a bright candle. Win did not believe he would be sitting in this New Haven office with an editor to publish his book, certainly not so soon, "Why… why thank you, sir." Win said without choking up.
"Certainly. Now, here is the contract. Given that you're not of legal age, have your father sign this and we'll begin the publishing and distribution of your book."
Win looked over the sheet the editor pushed toward him. He found out that he was indeed required to her his father's signature in order for his manuscript to get published.
"I'll do that." Win declared excitedly. He folded the sheet twice and put it in his inside jacket pocket.
"Now, get that back to me soon as you can, all right?"
"Yes, sir." Win repeated. He stood, not exactly sure if he was meant to leave yet. When the editor didn't respond to him, Win about-faced and headed past the rows of desks of fruitful workers and buzzing publishing employees. He patted the sheet inside his jacket and tried to regulate his breathing before he erupted into an anxiety panic.
The outside world was bright and humid compared to the frigid cave of the Louis and Charles Publishing Co. The New England summer chose to beat down a sunny hammer on the workman and weary traveler rather than offer a single cloud of relief to the human populace.
It was Connecticut's convenient location between the commercial hubs of Boston and New York that Win's father counted on for business. During extreme weather, specifically the blistering heat of summer and the violent cold of winter, travelers stopped at his father's inn to take shelter from elements. During the spring was when the Clarke family received their least guests because the New England weather was often stable enough to render the inn unnecessary. Autumn, however, made Connecticut comfortable while painting the state beautiful shades of orange and red. Then November rolled around and began the unpredictability and December brought on the besieging snows.
At the edge of the New Haven city line, Win arrived home. The building was a three-story colonial home. Win remembered refurbishing the abandoned building when he was only nine years old. Working hard with just his dad, a couple of the old war buddies, and his sister playing quietly on the side lines, it was one of the few good memories Win had of his Dad. Now that he thought about it, after 1876, all of his good memories with his father included the member of the 5th U.S. Sharpshooters.
The building was a shade of light blue with black shutters. Over the front door was a large sign with the silhouette of a gorgeous woman lining the words "Eleanor Rigby Inn." It was the most famous building in Connecticut. The strange name was often passed over as simply interesting. However, everyone east of the Susquehanna knew the famous hero that operated a string of inns across America. They were especially popular with veterans; Union Army vets of course.
Inside the door, a guest would find the counter where Win's sister, Emily, would welcome the travelers, ask if they wanted a drink or a room, and then obliged their request.
When Win entered the door, she usually greeted him happily and asked only in regard to the drink, "Hey Win!" she said excitedly. Emily wore a blue dress with her hair tied back into a long bunch: a ponytail, "Can I get you something to drink?"
Win thought about taking a drink to gather up his courage but decided to stick with his prohibitionist views and said, "No. Thanks, sis. Is Dad in the study?"
Nine times out of ten, Win and Emily's father would be sitting in the library, reading the latest memoir of the war, or pouring over old maps and manuals. Every once in a while, he would ask Win to go out and find him a certain piece of literature. Win expected a complete manuscript to come out of the study one of these days, every few months or so, one would.
"Yes, he's with Jonathan and Silas though. Better wait for them to come out first." Emily whirled from the counter to put empty, clean glasses on the shelf.
Before Win could say something, two men with thick, full beards approached the counter dressed in black coats and bow ties. They both wore over-sized smiles from a combination of over-merriment and too much alcohol, "Hey, sweetheart!" one of them shouted to Emily, "Let's get a couple a' whiskeys down here, eh?"
The other, shorter man chimed in, "And three more for our chaps at the table."
"Sure thing, gentlemen." Emily said. She pulled five clean glasses off the shelf and a bottle of new Scottish whiskey from the counter. The bottle opened with a pop before Emily lined up the glasses and poured the golden riches inside.
"Sweetie, we're sure you get this a lot, but… who exactly is Eleanor Rigby?" one of the men asked. Win would've answered, but his father usually kept her identity secret while Win and Emily tended not to think of any importance in the matter. Emily usually only smiled and said if they wanted to know, they'd have to ask her father.
This time, the second man spoke up first and said, "Because we fought in the War… y'know? Stationed with Mac in Washington, we met a couple of ladies, you hear? And one of them was named Rigby."
The first man laughed behind his teeth while trying to hold back from bursting into hysterics. It was either in response to the vague memory of their shenanigans in the war, or the humiliation the young bartender was receiving from the insult.
Emily finished pouring the fifth and final glass and handed them to the gentlemen with a stifled scowl.
Win put his hand on the bar and began, "Perhaps you should silence your tongues early? Eleanor Rigby was our mother."
There was an awkward silence between the four of them. Instead of apologizing, one of the men turned to Win and said, "Well then, it's an interesting coincidence, isn't it?" he put his hand on Win's shoulder and squeezed.
Win, his face moustache-less and still, in their eyes, wet behind the ears, looked at his immediate assets. He found only one of the glasses that Emily poured readily available as a weapon. The young author threw caution out the door in defense of his dead mother's honor and smashed the glass in the first veteran's face, whiskey and all.
He climbed off the stool as the man screamed with the shards of glass sticking out of the wounds on his face. The first veteran backed up as Win approached him, fists held out in front. He suddenly realized that he was fighting a kid, no bigger than the youngest Secession War soldier.
The veteran moved forward and swung his right fist out to Win's face. The author ducked, ensuring the man only hit air. The younger of the men moved forward while the first followed its course harmlessly, and hit the veteran three times in his midsection.
As Win's fourth blow remained back for another strike at the offender, he suddenly felt an arm wrap around his throat and pull him back, threatening Win's vital air supply.
The man, with glass still planted in his face and blood quickly running down his neck, held Win back and looked at his partner, "C'mon Joe, have at him!"
Joe, the veteran with his arms free, caught his breath and shouted, "Son of a bitch!" before he stepped forward and punched Win in the face, fracturing his nose. He stepped back and punched Win once more in the stomach and once on the thigh. He aimed once more at Win's manhood to both injure and shame him before a strong deep voice called out, "That's enough."
Win, Joe, and the man holding Win back all turned towards the far end of the room where three other men stood tall, strong, and memorable. The three lesser men knew that the others weren't just veterans, they were heroes.
Two white men stood on the right. On the far end was a Pennsylvania Dutch gentleman with a pair of mutton chops. The man in the middle was a New England Spaniard. On the left side was a Freedman black as night. All three of them were Medal of Honor winners. One spent time in Andersonville. Two at Gettysburg. Three at King William.
They gathered to remember the good times and to talk about politics. Never would they ever call themselves heroes. Each other, maybe. Vanity had no place among these true soldiers.
Of course, Win sure could use a hero right now.
"Gentlemen." The center man stepped forward. His imposing frame making its way slowly and gracefully toward the two veterans attacking Win, "I'm sure whatever my son has done to offend you can be repaid with several free drinks and a bandage to your face? Otherwise a free night here at the Rigby can easily be made for." Mr. Clarke was obviously a formidable man; especially in the eyes of veterans. Even if Joe and company believed they could take on "King William" Clarke, they couldn't face Black Jonathan or Serenity Silas allied together.
Nor while Win's father stood with a peacemaker strapped to his side.
"Of course." Joe said. He wiped his mouth with his sleeve and began to consider the alternative toward beating young Clarke to death, "Sure thing, Colonel."
Joe's friend dropped Win to the ground where he found the air infinitely easier to breathe.
Colonel Clarke and his comrades stepped forward. The Colonel took Win's hand and helped him on his feet, "Emily, a rag with ice, please?"
Win's sister performed the act swiftly, handing the cold item to her father who placed the ice pack into Win's hand. The younger Clarke held the pack off his face as his father led him away from the attacking vets, "Dad…"
"Shut up, son, put that on your face." He pushed the cloth to Win's nose, dismissing his babbling as blood lust for the men who were attacking him moments earlier.
Win pulled the ice off his nose to speak clearly, "Dad, they insulted Mom. They called her a whore!"
Colonel Clarke stopped where he was. His mind walked out of his skull and began searching for any sanity to convince the Colonel not to kill the men still standing behind him.
The tall Pennsylvanian took a step backward when he noticed his friend's trigger finger twitch uncontrollably, "Oh Lord." He whispered under his breath. The man shot a look at his black comrade, who also knew the rage their Colonel could sum up.
Clarke turned around, having summoned a relative amount of inner peace. He kept his eyes trained on the veterans while saying aloud, "Emily, the truth and nothing but."
Emily, who'd seen her father in one too many bar fights, but none armed, answered plainly as her eyes opened wide with relative fear, "The two men did equate the name Eleanor Rigby with a prostitute they knew during the war. When Win corrected the reference, the men would not recant their comment."
Two heartbeats passed before Clarke grabbed the handle of his gun and removed it from the holster. Instead of pointing the barrel at the men and shooting either of them, he marched toward the veterans and grabbed the opposite end of the weapon.
"Now hold on a second…" Joe consoled.
Before the words left the man's mouth, Colonel Clarke managed to relocate the veteran's jaw to reconnect with his face at an awkward angle.
The second man backed away after witnessing his friend collapse with blood pouring from his mouth onto the cold, hard floor. He barely got a word out before Clarke punched the man with his bare fist. With both men sprawling on the ground, Colonel Clarke stood over them and stared down at their weakness, ready to shoot them at the next mention of his dead wife.
"Pay for your drinks and get the hell out of my inn."
Win imagined that one or both of the men would have loved to argue the point; saying they already paid for a night, but the risk of being killed in their sleep was too great. No, not true. Colonel Clarke would have handed both men a weapon and then killed them both with his bare hands.
Both veterans slowly recovered, using the bar stools as crutches on their way out.
Clarke the Elder turned to Jonathan and shook his hand, "Don't wait so long next time. All right, buddy?"
"Absolutely not. After all, you're my secret weapon in November, remember?" Jonathan said, putting his bowler hat on and stepping toward the door.
"And you, Silas." The Colonel turned to the Negro and shook his hand as well. Silas cut him off before he could finish the farewell.
"Don't you sorry, sir. I'll make sure Salisbury runs tight this year. Depression can't last long, can it?" Silas said, letting go of Clarke's hand and following Jonathan out the door.
"Of course not. Hancock knows what he's doing, that's for certain."
"Hey, let's not miss the train." Jonathan told Silas, motioning toward the door, "Take care of that nose, Win. All right?"
"Thanks Mr. Leigh, I will." Win said. Colonel Clarke's war buddies stepped around the poor bastards he'd just dispatched with the care and precision of professional soldiers. They both walked out the door waving one last goodbye to Emily before they were out of the Eleanor Rigby Inn.
After Clarke's old friends and new enemies both left the relatively empty mid-day tavern, he turned back to his private study with Win under his arm, "C'mon, kid." He said. He brought his son into the green and gold room. Once inside, Win was in the familiar essence of being in a museum or library. Win's father had wall-to-wall bookshelves only interrupted in the flow of books by artifacts the Colonel encountered on his journeys. He'd framed certain newspaper articles considered important. One dated Christmas Day 1864 announcing the end of the Secession War. A New York Times headline declared a new civil war exactly twelve years later when riots burst out in Indiana. Another case held a copy of the Declaration of the Autonomous Territory of Nez Percé. Over the grand fireplace were the sword of Lew Armistead and the flag of the 3rd Virginia Infantry. Win's father lined up the campaign posters of his preferred Presidential candidates each election year since 1864; beginning, of course, with Abraham Lincoln's reelection and ending with President Hancock's election two years ago. On the Colonel's desk remained two photographs: one from Hilcrest, arm-in-arm with then-general Winfield Scott Hancock, the other was from King William with his comrades Jonathan and Silas. Win knew now that there were other members of the 5th that his father wished could have been in that photograph. Win also knew there was a tintype photograph of his parents on their wedding day in the top left drawer of the desk. Win had only seen it twice in his life. It was the only image Win knew of his father with true happiness on his face.
Three maps the Colonel was especially fond of were also on the shelves where the books were absent. One was a commemorative map of the Presidential election of 1876 with locations of interest labeled and tiny portraits of important people: Indianapolis, Antietam, Samuel Tilden, Rutherford Hayes, future President Hancock, then-President Grant, Charles Guiteau, and Win's father himself were all on the map; an image Win memorized perfectly. The older one showed the map used to plan the Battle of the Crater at Petersburg. The last map was of the Nez Percé Territory. At times his father would refer to the place as "Montana" and forget to correct himself. It was an interesting note for a man who virtually drafted the legislation himself.
Win watched as his father pulled out a book from the shelves. Like most of the books the Colonel tended to look at, it was nonfiction. It probably had a fair share of maps, and at least one named character he'd met once in his life. Tilden's My Presidency and the Future of the United States of America was on a side table with a world atlas underneath.
He also noticed works of Sun Tzu and Edward Gibbon. Win chose to ask the obvious, "Writing a new novel, Dad?"
"Yes." The Colonel answered while flipping through pages of the book, "Not sure what I'm going to call it but it's going along with the whole anti-colonial idea. Originally I wanted to make it a sequel to The Happening at Shiloh but I'm going in a different direction this time. I'm looking for the shock value to do the talking to me, you know?"
"Right… right." Win said. He took the ice away from his nose, "Dad, I actually need your help with something."
"Oh yeah, with what?" the Colonel answered, not bothering to pull his face from the book.
"It… it's a signature. I'm only fourteen, you know." Win said. He pulled the editor's contract from his jacket pocket and unfolded it.
This time the Colonel lifted his head to take the document out of his son's hand. In less than a moment, he read through the paper and then said, "You… you wrote a book." His brow furrowed with a combination of confusion and interest. He looked over at Win, a questioning look deep in the center of his eyes.
"Yeah." Win said with an element of pride, "It's titled An Oral History of the American War of Secession. I interviewed vets, widows, ex-pols. Y'know… people's experiences and such." Win swallowed loudly. It was stupid to show pride. Win's father was a student of history, so he would of course enjoy the fact that his son was interested in family history. But there was really only one way Win would have learned of anything additional to what he already knew from the Colonel's own experiences…
"So I take it you… you read my journal?" he asked. Win examined his father's face. There was no anger visible in his aging eyes. In fact it was quite the opposite. Win saw fear and weakness in his Dad's visage. For a prolonged instant, Win felt awful.
He closed the book, making a loud slam before shelving it. With the previous hand free, and an inaudible sigh, Colonel Clarke ran a hand through his salt-and-pepper hair. He closed his eyes and threw his other hand up in surrender, "I guess you think I'm insane then?"
"I…" Win cut himself short. Did he think his father was insane? When he read the first year of the journal's content, he was struck with bizarre dreams of his father as the Prophet Jeremiah. Vision after vision appeared to him and despite his warnings, the city still burned. After that, his stories of the war were vivid and descriptive.
As were the descriptions of Win's mother.
But after reading the descriptions of the war and interviewing people around the northeast (he was able to interview only a few southerners based on his geographic limitations), he was driven back to his father's inner conflict continuing until the full journals ended at 1880. He still didn't know what to think. There were moments when Win thought they were forged, or referred to a different Clarke.
"I did." Win finally said, "Not. I… I did not think you were crazy. Are crazy. Are not…" he was about to hit himself, why was he being so ridiculous about this? Oh, right, it was near-insanity, "I don't think you're crazy, Dad."
"Then what do you think?" he asked, turning his eyes open and shooting a dark, questioning glance at Win.
Win's thoughts stopped like a train wreck. What did he think? Jesus Christ, what could he think? His father was claiming to be a man from the future. Not only claiming, he believed it! Would that make him a liar, or insane? Insane people don't typically become altruistic politicians, to say the least. Mass murdering conquerors, maybe. But no associates of Hancock, Tilden, and Hayes.
How could he be a liar? Men don't lie to themselves in such ways. Nor do they lie to their generals, their friends, or their lovers. Telling the superior, "Yes our forces can best the enemy," is what liars did. Telling their comrades, "I've slept with six women," when they've only slept with two is what liars did. Telling their wives, "I have no mistress," is something liars did.
Saying to oneself, "I'm from the 21st Century," is not something liars did.
Win was no liar and neither was his father. Insanity could never really be off the table, but if Win could believe that a man ascended to Heaven in front of a crowd of people, was it so inconceivable that his father could have been born in the year 1991 and, by some divine power, was sent 150 years into the past?
It would take a leap of faith.
"I don't know what to think." Win finally answered.
His father sighed and placed a strange smile on his face, "Howabout I have Emily get us a couple drinks and I'll tell you the story."
It wasn't that Win didn't want to listen to his father's story, but he already knew it, and he didn't want to bring up painful memories of his dead comrades. Scenes of carnage. His mother, "It's ok. You don't have to." He laughed under his breath, "I mean, I already read the story, you know?"
"Well, kid," the Colonel started, his voice suddenly uplifting, "Those documents are almost twenty years old now. Maybe hearing it from me, now, will exonerate my sanity."
Win smiled bashfully.
"Maybe someone can convince me I'm not crazy." The Colonel left the study to go to the bar and get a pair of ales for the upcoming epic.
Win turned around and pulled one of the high-back Queen Anne chairs toward the one his father was using. One the table was the unsigned copy of Win's contract with the Louis and Charles Publishing Co. He wanted to remind his father as soon as he came back with the drink… but figured it could wait.
Colonel Levi Clarke was renown in the Army for his story telling abilities. In the Senate he often gave roaring speeches that told riveting tales. On Friday nights, veterans around the New Haven area came to the Eleanor Rigby Inn to hear his war stories.
Win was almost certain he'd heard every story his father had ever told.
Now was a good time to hear a new one.
April 14, 2011
Karen was everything Levi could have asked for. She was gorgeously beautiful, adventurous, and she was one of the few people he could say was smarter than him… in more ways than one.
A small town boy from Connecticut, Levi met Karen going to school in New Jersey. One thing led to another, and the next thing he knew, Levi was being taught to ride a majestic beast through a Maryland field.
Levi learned to ride that sunny day in April. Karen was on her brown mare, Callie, while the Yankee was stuck with some crazy stallion named Thunder. Of course the equestrian gets the calm beauty, the inexperienced rider was given the aggressive horse.
Karen stopped Callie, removed her helmet and jumped down off the horse. She looked around the field and smiled. The grass blowing in the light afternoon breeze was picturesque for a picnic lunch.
"Good?" Levi asked, "You want to help me down?"
"Sure, babe." Karen laughed, helping her boyfriend off the stallion. Levi finally touched the Maryland soil with his left foot, only to fall on his shoulder being completely unbalanced, "Oh! Are you ok?"
"Yeah, isn't this how Christopher Reeves got paralyzed?" he rolled onto his feet with Karen's help. Thunder humphed in Levi's face as he took off the helmet, blowing his sweaty black hair in all directions.
"You look fine to me, Superman." Karen ran her hands through Levi's hair, "Christ, you're soaked."
"Sorry: I'm not Kryptonian." Levi said. He gave Thunder a look that might otherwise have given the horse a fatal disease if looks could do such a thing, "Can we even be out here with these two fine equidae?"
"I've been riding since I was seven. I've managed to earn a little leeway with my horses." Karen rubbed Callie's face before she turned back to Levi, "You didn't smash all our food on your trip to the ground, did you?"
Levi swung his backpack around and pulled out a sandwich, "Looks fine to me, Betty Crocker. Even your Wheat Thins." He handed her the bag of food before walking to the other side of the huge tree where an old, worn-out fire pit sat. There was a small brush pile off to the right and a few blocks of lumber.
"The hell?" Levi said.
"The family that owns this property comes up here all the time to just do exactly what we're doing. Except they always restock the lumber up here." Karen tied the reins around Callie's neck to a low branch of the tree; she tied Thunder up next to her.
"So we're stealing their lumber? Sounds like a plan." Levi went straight to work gathering the kindling wood and brush to start off their inferno.
"No, no, no! It's all the leftover wood. We can use it."
As Levi prepared the wood for their campfire, Karen pulled out the food from her boyfriend's backpack.
"You know, I've been thinking, our ancestors would probably laugh their asses off if they knew about us." Levi said as he stripped a twig into a bird's nest with his knife.
"What the hell are you talking about?" Karen said while digging her hand deep into the box of Wheat Thins.
"Your ancestry is Dutch and Italian, right?"
"Well, I'm Irish and Cuban. The majority of my Hispanic background is all white Spaniard blood. Your family emigrated to New Amsterdam before it became New York and that was after it freed itself from Spanish clutches." Levi turned back to Karen for a cracker.
"So what's your point?" she said, pressing a Wheat Thin into the palm of his hand.
"My point is that chances are my ancestors were burning the towns and castles of yours. And your ancestors spent the rest of their lives at sea giving Spain the finger." Levi took out a cigarette lighter and ignited the brush in the center of the campfire, setting off the reaction that would make the wooden teepee Levi built go up in flames.
"Yeah, well I bet there's some poor Dutch bastards out there with some Spanish fathers they never met. Ironic considering we're consensual." As Levi came back from the fire and sat next to Karen, she handed him a sandwich, "Of course, it does explain your fetish with resistance."
"Jeez! Sex already? It's not even 3 o'clock." Levi unwrapped the sandwich and began eating like he was starving for weeks at a time.
"Oh, please! You're the one that's always open about everything. Dirty boy." She reached for a bottle of water and handed one to Levi.
"Bringing gender into it, now?" Levi said, turning towards Karen and reaching for the bottle she handed him.
"Well you know, I'm up for sex as anyone else, but I do think there's credence to the fact that you're twenty, and your biological sensors are trying to plant your sperm into every uterus you see walking around." Karen said eloquently.
"Oh really?" Levi laughed, "What about your biological clock trying so desperately to get pregnant?"
"Please, you get me pregnant, I'm neutering you then and there." She said, shoving Levi away from her.
"Hey! You're the one saying you're protected."
"Well then, what do you have to worry about?" she teased.
Levi took a huge bite out of his sandwich. The two sat and listened to the wind whip by their faces and through the field, "Did you ever wonder about destiny?" he finally said, opening his mouth in between bites.
"Where the hell did that come from?" Karen half-laughed.
"I mean, why are we here in 2011 and not ancient Egypt? Or pre-Revolution London?" Levi asked hypothetically.
Karen pondered that for a moment before saying, "Which Revolution?"
"Why does it matter?" Levi asked, ignoring her question with a question.
"Well, maybe someone's purpose out there could be feeding French orphans during 1834 instead of 1973. One of those orphans grows up and does something in the appropriate century. Y'know, destiny and shit." Karen stood up, taking the last bite of her own sandwich and reached into the bag. The rider pulled out two long carrots and walked over to where the horses were tied to the tree.
Levi rolled onto his feet, still eating his sandwich, "Giving Callie a snack?" he offered, leaning on the branch.
"A treat, you want to give Thunder one?" Karen said, feeding Callie one of the orange roots.
Levi laughed under his breath, "No, thank you! My destiny sure as hell doesn't involve my arm getting chewed off by a crazy stallion."
"Hey!" Karen said, suddenly receiving an epiphany, "You know what I just thought of? Destiny and destination have the same root."
"Yeah," Levi said, finishing the last morsel of his sandwich, "Dest-."
"No, I mean, they both cover a… a finish line. Right?"
"Like there's a sense of completion?"
"Exactly. Maybe destiny isn't always a guarantee, because I mean, not everybody makes it to where they're going." Karen rubbed Callie's nose before feeding the second carrot to Thunder.
"Well in that case, I wonder what percentage of people actually reach their destiny." Levi said, moving closer to Karen, and Thunder as a result.
"Why? How big do you think destinies are? I'm pretty sure the afterlife doesn't work like Hollywood or Disney."
"Ok, maybe… George Washington…"
Karen waited for more, "Ok… what about him?"
"Maybe he was destined to lead American Independence. But I mean, whoever heard of Washington's mother? Maybe her destiny was to be the mother of the father of our country. So she didn't do anything blatantly amazing…"
"… but at the same time she did." Karen finished, "Ok, I see what you're saying. So what do you think your destiny is, Beyonce?"
"Burn." Levi joked, "Well, I hope it's something small. I'd rather not be responsible for fucking up something involving countless lives."
"You mean like a politician? Wasn't that the whole reason you wanted to go into history?" Karen walked back to the fire that was beginning to grow in intensity.
"I wanted to get into history because I liked it." Levi insisted, "I was just trying to figure out something to do with it. I guess participating in politics with a little know how of what works and what doesn't might be a pretty good idea."
"Jeez." Karen started, "All I ever wanted to do was ride horses and maybe have a little fun in life."
"Isn't that what everyone wants? I mean no one wants to go a little farther and do something."
"Levi," she began, "I don't understand you: first you want to lay low for your entire life, seconds later you want to go out and change the world." Karen threw a cracker at Levi's face, only half serious.
"Please, woman, I want someone else to change the world. If anything, I'm a Scopes. Just doing my miniscule part. There are Lincolns, and Roosevelts, and…"
"… and Hitlers out there to cover for you?"
"I'd say he achieved his destiny. Killing six million Jews and what not."
"Are you kidding? Hitler's destiny was to be a painter: perfect example of a mis-aligned destiny. Maybe the Holocaust was fate's way of saying 'good job' to the Jewish art professors. Sarcastically of course."
"What?" Karen said, somewhat horrified at his insensitive humor, "If I was Jewish I'd kick your ass right now."
"Please, you like kicking my ass anyway."
"Maybe if you buffed up and joined the Army, it wouldn't happen."
"Yeah, I'd join the Army, you'd go and join the Navy SEALs. It's not like we haven't gone through this before." Levi reached for a Wheat Thin from Karen's cardboard box, but was too late, she pulled the box away from his hand, "Hey! C'mon!" Levi shouted, leaning over Karen's lap to try and get a cracker.
"No! You don't get any." Karen said, dropping the box accidentally and spilling some on the ground.
Levi scrambled to his feet slower than Karen rolled in the opposite direction to grab the box, "You may be able to kick my ass," he said, "but I'm still faster than you."
"So what?" Karen asked, brushing her brown hair out of the way, "catch me and you'll be a little less of a man."
"Why? Because I tackled a girl?"
"No, because I'm a kick you in the balls!" she dashed off, the box in her hands, ran around the fire, and out into the field. Levi ran the opposite way around his inferno and sprinted for Karen. She laughed, changing direction in the long grass and calling Levi's agility into question. The boy planted his feet in front of him and ground to a halt, almost falling over, but changing direction almost as quickly as Karen did.
Karen managed to keep every cracker in the box, to Levi's amazement, but as she headed back to the camp site, Levi caught up with her, putting a hand on her shoulder and using his leverage to wrap an arm around her waist.
Levi's initial plan was to be romantic and eventually pick up Karen in his arms just by going a little bit faster than her. Instead, his girlfriend halted, mid-run, flipping Levi over her body and throwing him over her head. Levi grabbed the only thing he could: Karen, and brought her with him.
When Levi hit the ground the wind was completely knocked out of him. He struggled to breathe as Karen landed on top of him, successfully sandwiching her boyfriend between her and the earth, as well as cushioning herself from injury.
"Oh, God!" she shouted, "Levi, are you ok?"
Levi coughed twice before leaning up to face Karen who was now kneeling, "Ugh, yeah, I'm fine."
Karen let out a nervous laugh, and ran a hand through Levi's hair, shaking the dust from it, "Dirty boy." She laughed.
"So… can I have some Wheat Thins, now that I caught you?"
"What's the magic word?" Karen teased, grabbing the box of crackers.
"Abracadabra." Levi blurted.
"Haha! Oh, all right." She said, placing a cracker into his open mouth. She then turned around and sat against his torso. They snacked on the crackers while watching the fire crackle and the horses stand patiently, occasionally interacting with one another. This usually featured a flirting whinny or a humph from one of their noses.
The sun was finally edging the horizon, turning the sky a deep orange and beginning to play with a dark hazy purple. There weren't any stars for a while, but by the time Venus made its presence known in the night sky the soft Chesapeake breeze put Karen to sleep.
Levi, being something of an insomniac, couldn't sleep. He held his lover for a few more moments before he adjusted his arm and she stirred, saying his name in a dream-like fashion.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to wake you." Levi said, taking her hand.
"No… no… what time is it?" Karen asked.
Levi didn't bother to check the time and just said, "Sunset."
Karen rubbed her eyes before she could see clearly and sighed pleasantly at the hazy sky, "Aw… it's beautiful." She put a hand lightly on Levi's leg and gently stroked it.
Levi turned and kissed Karen on the cheek, "You behave."
Karen turned completely around, awkwardly adjusted herself to lean against Levi front-to-front, "But isn't that what you like about history?" she inched forward, wrapping her legs around his waist and her arms around his neck, "History is just a record of misbehavior." Karen leaned forward in order to kiss him.
Levi raised his hands to block the blinding sunlight, creating a golden haze around the environment he was in. Chesapeake. He was in Salisbury last night, that was for sure. Why wouldn't he be in Delmarva and suddenly in Colonial Williamsburg with a job as a reenactor?
The blinding light lowered to a golden haze so Levi could see what he was looking at; what he was standing in. Finally he lowered his hands as his eyes adjusted to the sun. Pemberton Drive used to be a tar paved road with a field owned by a big shot corporation to sell genetically altered flowers to husbands who happened to remember their anniversaries or youngsters on their first date. Levi had always found it convenient enough for him to be able to reach ten feet away and pluck a rose or two for Karen.
Now it was an enormous field of green leaves and cotton plants. Between the rows of tiny plants carpeting the Maryland ground, Levi saw men hunched over and hard at work. A cotton plantation. Levi found himself on a cotton plantation.
"What?" Levi asked himself. Did the world turn inside out while he was sleeping? This could only be a dream. It had to be a dream. There was no way eight black men would submit themselves to such degradation. Yet, in front of his own eyes, there were eight large strong, black men working a cotton field.
He turned back to the house he'd just run from. It was a three story colonial, like the ones he'd seen most common in New England. Behind the building were vineyards being cared for by two more slaves. Next to the house was what looked like a large shed.
"Levi! Levi!" there was a woman running toward Levi while calling his name repeatedly. She slowed as she got closer, making Levi only back away as he recognized her face, but was instantly confused by her costume.
Her dark hair was disheveled; either from waking up earlier than Levi, or running out of the house after Levi. Her blue eyes and cute nose that Levi recognized easily, were simply unmistakable, "Levi! What in heaven's name are you doing?"
"Karen?" he asked, trying to assure himself it was really her. It had to be.
"Yes, what's the matter?" her eyes were still adjusting to the sunlight, forcing her to lift her hand to shield them. She had a painful scowl on her face characteristic of those trying to see in the bright sunlight.
"I… I'm not sure." He said. As Levi turned around one more time to absorb the surroundings, he suddenly came to the realization that this was not a dream. But at the same time it could just not be real. It was like some sort of elaborate joke, but no punch line was obvious. No one let on that there would be a punch line. That's when Levi realized, there was no punch line. There wasn't going to be one.
He didn't know what it was, but something was terribly, terribly wrong.
"Levi?" Karen asked. The question hung in the air like a coat waiting to be hung. Levi wasn't even sure he knew the answer to what she was asking.
Levi repeated what he said earlier, "Karen?"
"Are you ok?" she reached out to take his hand. He reached out and touched her. He was amazed to find that her hand had some of the softest skin Levi had ever touched. It was his last thought before he felt his head become lighter than oxygen, his skin burn like an oven, and his legs finally gave out.
"Oh, God." He uttered.
The world went dark.
April 15, 1861
Levi woke up to find Karen standing over him next to a strapping, young black man. He had the familiar sensation of his body regaining consciousness when he suddenly realized the out of place dress Karen was wearing and the ridiculous outfit her black friend had on.
"Karen?" Did he ask that before? After he ran out of the house in bizarre disbelief? Yes. Now Levi remembered: he woke up and found himself in some kind of strange historic world. Plantations, estates, fancy clothes for rich whites, and black men working cotton fields? Levi found himself inside Gone With the Wind.
"Karen," Levi now had a question in place before the final punctuation, "Where am I?"
"Levi?" Karen asked as if he was suddenly completely insane, "You're in our parlor. The Van Cavalar plantation in Salisbury."
"Salisbury… Maryland?" Levi asked.
"Of course." Karen responded.
Levi pulled his legs over the edge of the sofa and sat up, feeling the blood rush to his head. Karen turned to the black man – the slave, Levi reminded himself – and said, "Thank you, Silas, that'll be all."
"Of course, ma'am." Silas bowed his head and left the room. Levi assumed Silas was going back to the cotton fields to work. If this was Karen, she was vastly different from the dirty liberal, ultra feminist Levi remembered back in Atlantic City.
"Holy shit." Levi rubbed his eyes and held his hand to his forehead. He felt his body adjusting to room temperature as he slowly but surely found himself struggling to remember what the 21st Century was like.
"Excuse me?" Karen said. Her shock indicated Levi had said something wrong. What was it? Oh… he had blasphemed.
Levi shrugged off the mild sin of his curse and went for the question he hadn't bothered – strangely enough – to ask, "Karen, what… what day is it?"
"April fifteenth." She said matter-of-factly.
At this, Karen's brow displayed her confusion and her eyes said the rest, "Eighteen sixty-one." She said. Her voice turned up as if she was asking a question. More like she was asking what was wrong with him, "Levi… what's wrong?"
"Karen." He ran a hand through his hair, "I'm serious, ok?" This is some really elaborate joke. I wake up… and I'm in some bizarre place. You have a bunch of black guys working outside… how long did you set this up for?"
"Joke?" Karen stood and held Levi's shoulders, "Levi… you're not well. You need something to eat." She grabbed Levi's hand and led him through the Van Cavalar house and to the dining room where Karen's parents were sitting and enjoying the morning's breakfast. Levi noticed a large black woman serving porridge from a black pot.
"Mista' Clarke! I was 'fraid you'd never makit down'ere in time fer ya' breakfast." It was definitely Gone With the Wind, racial stereotypes and everything.
"Oh…" was all Levi could summon.
"Lieutenant Clarke!" Mr. Van Cavalar turned to Levi. There was an element about him that Levi found strangely familiar, but he'd never actually seen a man wear mutton-chops before, certainly not Karen's father who'd always been clean shaven. Or maybe it was just… no, you can't remember something from the future, "Sit down and enjoy breakfast with us."
"Of course, sir." Levi said. He looked at Karen, looking for a suggestion. Karen motioned to a seat on the other end of the table. Levi walked over to the opposite side of the room and sat next to Karen's mother.
"Levi's not feeling terribly well today." Karen said.
"I'll have Mariah get you some tea, what would you like in it, dear?" Karen's mom asked.
Levi took a moment to respond. So what if he was suddenly in April 1861? Breakfast was still breakfast, and tea might do him some good. It might clear his head, "Honey, I guess." Levi answered.
As Mariah poured a ladleful of steaming porridge into the bowl in front of Levi, Karen's mother turned to the large black woman and said, "Mariah, tea with honey for Mr. Clarke."
"Certainly, Missus Van'avalah." Mariah finished serving the breakfast before she came back with a steaming cup of Virginia tea. Levi wasn't sure if he was supposed to thank a slave for serving him. None of the Van Cavalar's were thanking Mariah. Shoul Levi? As Mariah served each of the Marylanders, none of the Van Cavalars bothered to thank Mariah, but Levi opted for basic human decency, "Thank you, Ma'am."
He looked around the table to see if maybe he'd stepped on the toes of the southerners. None of them seemed to notice Levi's gratitude. Maybe the Van Cavalars weren't ungracious, but their gratitude was assumed. Or maybe they didn't have to be thankful? Mariah was, after all, a slave. And thanks to Dred Scott vs. Sandford, she was just property.
Wait… was Dred Scott all part of the future? Did that even make sense? No. The Decision was made in 1857. Four years ago. Chief Justice Taney's judicial decision made every state a slave state, angering the north and giving the south the go-ahead to move into the western territories. The fight for Kansas had been for nothing and the Civil War was one year closer…
Levi kept his composure. But if his knowledge of history was correct at all, then a few days ago Fort Sumter had just fallen to the Confederate States. But then yesterday, the fourteenth…
"So, Lieutenant Clarke, when will you be reporting back to New England?" it was Mr. Van Cavalar. When Levi looked at him, he felt the urge to snicker at the man's hilarious facial hair.
"I'm sorry?" Levi asked. Did Karen's father refer to him as Lieutenant?
"Surely you've heard the news by now? President Lincoln is calling for a volunteer force to put down the rebellion. I assume this means your unit is back to active duty?"
Levi couldn't tell if Mr. Van Cavalar as trying to get rid of him sometime soon or if he was genuinely interested. Either way, Levi had no idea what unit he was part of or where he was going back to.
Thankfully, Karen noticed that he hadn't responded in time and answered for him, "I don't think Levi will know for certain until he gets back to New Haven. The 5th Sharpshooters don't know he's in Maryland."
Feeling the need to say something Levi followed her quickly, "Of course! I… I need to get back to Connecticut. They probably have a letter for me… so I can know for sure."
"Well, there's no rush." Mr. Van Cavalar responded, "I'm sure you can wait a week and they'll still need soldiers. Those ducks in Congress think it'll be a short war… I think we're all in for a nasty surprise."
Levi suddenly felt his mind racing at a thousand miles an hour. There really was a war. And Levi was already signed up. He was just a Lieutenant. Why not just sign his death certificate now?
So that was it? Just forget the past and go straight to war? No. Something was seriously wrong. How could a man have no legitimate past and no future?
Without taking a sip of tea or a bite of the steaming mush in front of him, Levi stood from the table, forcing the chair to suddenly shoot back. All eyes in the room turned to Levi's sudden display. His heart skipped a beat as he wiped a bead of sweat from his brow, "Excuse me." He finally said before leaving the dining room and hastily wandering up the stairs. It was one part of the house he'd seen before.
In the guest room, Levi looked around, feeling that strange familiarity everything else seemed to have. Levi sighed and buried his face in his hands. He had to be insane. Completely insane. He lifted his head to look around the room and try to validate… something. Anything. Instead it was just a bright yellow room. The bed was unmade after Levi leapt out to start his traumatizing day. Half his clothes were still on the floor. Levi's blue army officer's jacket was hanging on the closet door. Sunlight streamed in from the windows and onto the hardwood floor.
Levi sat on the floor with his back to the foot of the bed. One of his hands reached to the floor. The other stabilized his head… that was beginning to feel heavy with something terrible upon it.
A small voice and a gentle knock came to the doorway of the guest bedroom, "Levi?"
He twisted his body to see Karen. Were they in love or was that all imagined too? Did they share that bizarre understanding that they did in his mind? How did they even meet… in this strange, cinematic, and frighteningly real 19th Century?
For the love of God, why was he here?
Karen walked closer to him. Levi took hold of the bed and pushed himself onto his feet. Before Karen could say another word, Levi beat her to the punch, taking her hand, and simply saying, "Why?"
February 5, 2010
Atlantic City, New Jersey
If there was one place that represented Levi's imprisonment, it was Atlantic City. The stereotype of the city as a miniature Las Vegas was always correct, but you'd only be excited if you actually owned a casino or a hotel. Being a middle class, working stiff trying to make your way through college wasn't exactly living it up.
Finding himself suddenly off duty was a joy Levi never ceased to experience. No more retarded, drunk frat boys or bachelors would snap their sausage fingers and ask, "Leh-vee" for a drink. He could finally stop to think.
At the bus stop on Park Street, a girl in a Deathmøle t-shirt with fishnet stockings above her blue converse and two red streaks running down her beautiful dark hair. Next to her was a cartoonish man with a plaid fedora, bottle-cap spectacles, and a brown tweed jacket. Only a few inches from his face was a folded newspaper. The strange-looking man had a sharpened Number 2 pencil hard at work on the day's crossword puzzle.
Levi joined their tiny line as they waited for the bus line to take them out of the city. As the rectangular, moving monstrosity came toward them, Levi pulled a copy of Michael Shaara's The Killer Angels from his coat pocket and prepared to open the novel to his current page.
He noticed the girl with red streaks in her hair trying to catch a glimpse of the book Levi was handling. Not sure if she actually caught sight of the title, Levi waited for the doors on the bus to open before extending his arm for the girl to climb on the bus before him.
"Thank you." She said cheerfully. The man in the fedora cut in front of Levi as they all climbed the stairs onto the vehicle. The sterile white hospital lighting drove Levi's senses crazy as he tried to find a seat on the foul-smelling place.
There was only one seat occupied by a middle-aged black woman with a brown bag full of something, and a large green purse at her side. Levi sat two rows in front of her. The girl with red streaks sat on the opposite side of the bus, but moved up a row when she saw where Levi was sitting.
The first few minutes passed as Levi found himself transported to an enormous field in southern Pennsylvania. Robert E. Lee and James Longstreet were grand heroes that fought for their homelands like medieval knights. Lawrence Chamberlain fought for his country. Neither could really predict the negative outcome their actions would have. A complicated geopolitical world, yet a simpler time. Levi preferred it.
"Where did you learn your chivalry?"
Levi's concentration was broken as he returned to a smelly bus in 21st Century New Jersey. He looked back at red-streak-girl, and had to ask, "Excuse me?"
"Your chivalry. Where did you learn it? I can't really remember the last guy that stopped to let me go ahead of him." She said. Her voice was oddly sweet. It contrasted her appearance to the point that Levi's stereotypical thoughts about emo chicks started to change.
"I'm not really sure." Levi said albeit nervously. He couldn't really remember the last time a girl talked to him without demanding a cocktail, "I guess my Dad. He was always pretty big on that kind of stuff. Respecting women, minorities of all kind, always thank the chef. Just upbringing you know?"
She moved up a couple of seats to be able to talk to Levi without shouting over the roar of the bus' engine, "I noticed you're reading The Killer Angels. Are you studying the Civil War or are you just curious?"
"A little of both." Levi confessed, "I'm a history major at South Jersey Tech."
"Oh really? I'm taking econ at SJT. How long have you been going?"
"I'm in my sophomore year."
"Me too!" she said excitedly. The girl got out of her seat and sat next to Levi, "I'm Karen. Karen Vancavalar."
"Levi Clarke. Nice to meet you." He said with a lack of enthusiasm, "What were you doing in Atlantic City?"
"Oh, I work at some ridiculous goth store. It's the only reason I get to wear fish nets and post-hardcore t-shirts to my job."
"Nice." Levi said, "I've never been to a concert, but my sister went to school with a couple of the band members."
"That's pretty awesome." Karen said, "Where are you from?"
"Small town outside of Hartford."
"Awesome. I'm from a small town outside of Salisbury. Maryland that is."
"Cool." Levi said.
An awkward silence settled unevenly between them. Karen patted the bus seat a few times, making a silly clicking noise with her tongue as the awkward simply stretched deeper and farther, "You like history? I heard most of the department is older than what they teach."
"Yeah, it's not as bad as people say it is."
"Oh…" the awkwardness settled in again. To Levi they were moments that he wasn't getting to read about the Battle of Gettysburg. Finally, Karen turned her entire body toward Levi and said, "Am I bothering you?"
"What?" Levi said, seeming to suddenly pay attention to every syllable Karen was now saying.
"Am I bothering you?" Karen repeated.
"No… I'm just tired. Honestly, don't take it personally." Levi confessed. He shoved The Killer Angels into his jacket pocket. He was being honest, but it was clear he wasn't going to get any more reading done tonight.
"C'mon I can fix that." Karen got out of the bus seat and pulled Levi along with her. Levi was suddenly at the front of the bus with this bizarre girl with black and red hair.
The bus stopped and the doors opened before Levi could say, "What? Campus is still two stops away!"
"Yeah, but this is the only place we'll be able to get coffee for the next ten miles. C'mon!"
The doors to the bus opened and Karen jumped down the huge steps to the concrete sidewalk and looked back up at Levi still at the top of the steps, "Well, c'mon! What're you waiting for?"
Levi stood at the top of the steps with a quirky, beautiful… amazing girl in front of him and a clean… lonely bed on campus. Did he really have a choice?
"Well, kid?" the bus driver shouted behind him.
"C'mon." Karen urged.
April 15, 1861
Knowing that Lincoln's call for soldiers would soon include the regiment he was apparently a member of, Levi decided to head "back" to New Haven where a letter would undoubtedly be waiting for him and tell him where to go next. He still had no memory of his home in Connecticut, but an envelope provided his address. All Levi really had to do was get north, show someone the address, and someone would point him in the right direction.
Karen went so far to ask if Levi needed help from Silas to get home. Levi wasn't sure how that request, sending a slave north that is, so he elected to wing it. How hard could it be to find his way around New England?
The horse cart carried only Levi, Karen, and Silas. The young Levi made sure to say a sincere goodbye to the Van Cavalar family. It was only after seeing the family crest that Levi noticed the last name was two separate words.
Silas drove Levi and Karen to the Salisbury Train Station. Once in the middle of 19th Century Salisbury, Levi felt the Colonial Williamsburg ambiance increase further. Was his life going to feel like this from now on? Retro and historical? Maybe it was always like that and he's just discovering it now. He'd forgotten, something like that.
"Send me a post when you get to New Haven, ok?" Karen said. She stepped out of the carriage first then held out her hand for Levi to step onto the Maryland soil.
"Of course I will." Levi responded matter-of-factly. You're the only person I really know, was the prevailing after thought.
"You're sure you don't want me to come with you?" Karen re-offered, "I can make sure you get home all right."
"No, no, I'll be fine. I wouldn't feel right to bring you all the way to Connecticut to just send you back to Maryland. I mean, staying at my place people would get the wrong idea… wouldn't they?"
"Of course… it would be improper." Karen said. She turned to her slave and said, "I'll be back in a minute or two, Silas."
"I'll be waiting, ma'am." Silas responded.
"Thank you for your services, Silas." Levi said, swinging his bag over his shoulder, "I'm sure we'll meet again."
Levi wasn't sure how out-of-character his actions were, but thanking a servant couldn't have been a recent manner in the 21st Century. But maybe this would all make sense soon enough. Levi couldn't help wondering if maybe Silas thought he was being a pretentious white man and not a decent human Levi hoped he was being.
"S'asure thing, Mr. Clarke." Silas tipped his sun hat toward Levi in salutation.
Levi smiled awkwardly and followed Karen to the ticket booth where he managed to purchase a one-way ticket to New Haven. Just like in 2011, any train climbing up the Atlantic coast had to pass through New York City first.
The New England Spaniard turned to the Southern Belle and said, "I think I'm all set now." He held up his ticket. The font style was retro and 19th Century-esque. Appropriate since Levi found every moment to still be the year 1861.
"When do you think you'll be back in Salisbury?" Karen asked. Her eyes strayed to Levi's mouth as her breathing suddenly deepened and her pupils dilated.
It was in that moment that Levi found time was no object. 2011 or 1861, he was standing with the girl he loved and no one could take away. Levi leaned in to kiss her, would kissing a woman not your wife shame Karen? Or Levi? If it would, neither of them cared. T'were this 2011, Karen would've grabbed the back of Levi's neck and pulled him into a passionate kiss, lasting longer than any kiss either of them had ever experienced.
But it was one hundred and fifty years difference. Karen kept both hands on the handle of her parasol and leaned only her face toward Levi's to press her lips together. Not wanting to go too overboard, Levi settled for a gentle hand on the soft skin of Karen's face as he kissed her for no more than twenty seconds.
"As soon as I can." Levi said. He wasn't just saying it, he realized. Nineteenth Century or Twentieth Century, he was still in love with this girl.
"Don't forget to write me."
"Don't worry." Once the words were stated, the train whistle whined, announcing its intention to head north, "Bye, dear…" he started walking backwards toward the platform. Finally he reached the stairs, turned one hundred and eighty degrees, and handed the conductor his ticket. Seconds later, the man shouted, "All aboard!" before he backed into the car and shut the door.
Levi sat in the first available seat he saw. He threw the bag on the seat and then sat close to the window. Outside, Karen already climbed into the cart with Silas. Levi put his hand against the glass window and was back in 2011. The train began to roll forward, the dust kicked off the ground, and before he knew it, Levi was looking at a black and white film. Karen was the lead actress, wearing a fancy white dress with a red band across her belly. Wouldn't a white dress be impractical in such a dusty world? Maybe white wasn't nearly as white in this world.
Soon enough, the train passed the Salisbury station and climbed through Delaware. This 19th Century world was beautiful. The marshlands and grass fields faded in and out of each other, separated in their pattern only be a farm or town. Levi could hardly call it a town, they were villages. A few travelers might board the north-bound train and head to New York, but half the time, the train simply blew through the stations.
In Trenton, the train stopped for about fifteen minutes while passengers stepped off and New Jerseyans stepped on. Levi looked down the car and saw boxes where richer folks would buy to be more comfortable. Levi was thinking about how he absolutely would not waste his money on such a ridiculous advancement when his eyes closed and he drifted off to sleep.
February 5, 2010
Southfield, New Jersey
"Here," Karen handed Levi a steaming cup of coffee.
"Oh," Levi said, not entirely sure how to respond to a girl he'd just met buying him a gift, "You really didn't have to do that."
"No it's fine. I dragged you off the bus, it's the least I could do."
"Saved me, more or less." Levi grabbed the cup from Karen's hand and let the roasted bean beverage pour down his esophagus and into his stomach. The caffeine quickly absorbed from his insides, and to his nervous system. After a few minutes of walking and drinking, Levi suddenly felt more awake than he had earlier that morning, "Do you often meet strangers on the bus and invite them for a late night cup of coffee? Seems like a sketchy way to make friends."
"Well how else does an axe murderer meet her victims?" Karen sipped her cup and gave Levi a flirtatious glance.
"Damn, I should've known." Levi joked, "I suppose I should expect rufies in this coffee and probably some rape?"
"Your corpse maybe." Karen said, punching Levi in the arm in the process, "Of course, if you end up dead, it's your fault for following me any way. You always follow strange girls in the middle of the night for cups of coffee?"
"Usually if there's a 65% chance of sex. Or maybe I just have a death wish." Levi smirked. Few knew him. Even less really understood Levi. Karen seemed like a nice girl, maybe even a great girl. But Levi already dismissed the possibility that she could understand.
"Yeah, I know what you mean." Of course she would say that, Levi thought.
"No, I kind of doubt it." Levi responded. He looked down from the dim streetlights and to the steaming cup in his hands.
"Yeah, like how you meet some person randomly and they tell you they understand. But how can anyone really understand you? They don't know you, they haven't seen what you've seen."
"Uh… yeah." Levi knew exactly what she was talking about. He instantly began rethinking his previous thought when Karen continued talking.
"I mean, no one can understand any one, so the best we can do is enjoy one another." She sipped her coffee through her gloved fingers and looked sheepishly at Levi. They both stopped walking and turned toward each other.
"I suppose. I really just don't find people all that enjoyable." Levi confessed. He waited a moment, noticing Karen's face grow just long enough to give Levi's subconscious the idea that Karen was saddened, "For the most part."
Karen slowly perked up. Her slight frown turned around, back into that shy smile that didn't really make a whole lot of sense for her. Levi lowered his hands and cup and lingered as their eyes connected on a deeper level.
"Karen…" Levi started to say.
Before he could continue, Karen grabbed the back of Levi's neck and pulled their faces together. Karen dropped her coffee as her lips touched Levi's. They only connected for a few seconds, but in a relative quality, it felt like an hour or more. Karen let her face retract. Levi found his lips looking for more. Still, the other side of his mind told him that was all he should have for now.
Karen let her hands fall to her side as the smile widened until it threatened to bring out the sun at midnight. She breathed heavily as her heart began to beat harder and faster, making clouds of moisture materialize in between them, "I've wanted to do that forever." She confessed.
Levi laughed nervously, "What?"
"You probably don't remember, but we had a socio-economic class last year. We were the only Freshmen with a whole bunch of Upperclassmen. I sat behind you and… well, I, sort of developed a crush on you but I was too shy to ever ask you out."
"Seriously?" Levi asked, wondering why the only girl to have a crush on him had to be too shy to ask him out. But instead he dated some Jersey whore who cheated on him – twice – before dumping him. But this girl… she liked him after all this time.
"Yeah. I mean, after a while I started seeing you on the bus, figured you got a job and started working on that pesky confidence issue. I dated a couple assholes, punched out a biker, did some illegal things, I figured I'd get around to asking you out eventually."
If Levi wasn't already amazed at a girl who liked him, he was now, "You… you broke the law? Just to talk to me?"
"Well, yeah." Karen confessed, "Ironically it was my best friend Hanners who convinced me to start acting randomly assertive. I mean, it worked. Here I am talking to you like it was no big deal." She smiled.
"Wait… Hanners?" Levi said, the wheels in his head starting to turn, "Hannelore Martin? Hannelore Martin: the girl that flipped the shit when the soda machine exploded all over her? I heard she didn't leave her dorm for three days."
"Yeah, she spent pretty much all of her time that weekend in the shower." Karen said, laughing at the memory of it.
"Ouch. I guess it freaked her out pretty bad, huh?"
"Yeah, she has pretty chronic OCD. It screws with her system pretty bad."
Just as Levi and Karen were crossing an empty Jersey street, it dawned on Levi, "Wait, the shy girl with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder taught you to be assertive and over confident?"
Karen giggled, "Hanners is really good with other people's problems; just terrible with her own. I mean, I'm pretty sure she knows exactly how to cure herself of OCD, but just hasn't worked up her own confidence to overcome it."
"That's some pretty intense stuff." Levi said, following Karen past the lit up sign labeled Southern New Jersey Institute of Technology. Campus always seemed a lot lonelier outside in the dark. In the dorm halls there were usually some good parties otherwise, "Where's your dorm?" Levi asked.
"Zander." Before Levi could say a farewell, Karen interjected.
"Did that coffee wake you up at all?" she asked, turning to the young New Englander.
"Well, yeah." Levi said, thinking about it, "I'll probably be up for a few more hours. I don't sleep well with this much caffeine." He then noticed that Karen's head tilted to the side as Levi waited for someone to say some kind of farewell. Was she annoying him? Levi couldn't tell. She was cute. She was certainly interesting. And, bingo, she was interested in him. Maybe it was worth spending the next three hours just hanging out with her…?
"Hmm?" she perked up immediately.
"Would you like to join me in Zander?"
She smiled one of those face-cleaving smiles again before she responded in a collected tone and a serious manner, "I would love to join you."
Levi turned to walk toward his dorm building when Karen stepped forward and inter-locked her arm with his, "This has a decidedly retro feel to it."
"Retroy like 1960s retro or like 1860s retro?" Karen asked, obviously referencing the copy of The Killer Angels in his pocket.
"1860s," Levi answered, "obviously. I mean, that was a time for real men and women. When vague political threats took the form of amazingly bearded men and rows of armed musketeers."
"Hah, who beard are we talking? The full white Robert E. Lee or the pirate-esque George McClellan?"
"Neither." Levi put his room key in the door and opened it wide, "I'd pick the Winfield Scott Hancock. Probably one of the most amazing men with one of the most amazing beards to ever exist on American soil."
"Strong words." Karen said. She walked into the dark room, B205, and looked around the eight by ten foot dormitory. There were two long twin beds on opposite sides, two large closets, and desks by the windows, "Nice place. Where's your roommate?"
"He's back in New Brunswick for a basketball game. I guess it's a big Rutgers thing right now." Levi started unbuttoning his work uniform when he noticed Karen sitting patiently on his roommate's bed watching him undress, "Um… Karen?"
She had a wry smile on her face and a hungry look in her eyes. Her fingers drummed a musical rhythm silently on the soft mattress, "Yeah?" she asked absently. Levi waited a second before Karen nodded to herself and realized she was ogling Levi, "Oh! Sorry. I… yeah, I'll check out your books."
It started out as an alternative to apologizing, but Karen found herself genuinely interested in the contents of Levi's bookshelf. She found a copy of Walden and Civil Disobedience, one copy of Sinclair's The Jungle, and four books by Irving Stone, "Holy shit, you really like history, don't you?"
"Well it's my major." Levi said, taking off his work uniform.
"What's your favorite time period?" Karen asked, "You seem to have whole different time periods on your shelf."
Levi began thinking about various time periods. The Progressive Era was interesting. World War I never ceased to amaze him, especially the stupidity at the beginning and end of the war. Millions died only for millions more to die in World War II. It was all interesting but was it his favorite?
No. It was the Civil War. It was stupid regionalism combined with moral abolitionism, violent expansionist economic policies, and probably the most interesting characters in history, "I'd have to call myself a Civil War junkie."
"Ah, glorious Spain. Fascists and Republicans. Hitler allies with Franco, dive bombers kill innocent civilians. Always interesting stuff." Karen teased.
"Heh…" Levi laughed, "Cute."
"Have to admit I don't know much about our own history. The history I tend to learn is all 20th Century Art. Picasso and Dalí and such."
"I thought you were an economics major?" Levi asked, putting on a black Life on Repeat shirt and going over to Karen's side to look at his book shelf.
"Right. But I'm an art minor. Economics is what controls history. History is what influences art. It all fits in nicely, you know?" Karen explained.
Levi found himself agreeing.
"So, what part of the Civil War debate do you fall on?" Karen turned away from the bookshelf and looked at Levi in the dim light.
"The Civil War Debate?" whatever Karen was talking about, Levi had never heard it called something so incredibly formal.
"You know," Karen encouraged, "North says slavery. South says states' rights. What do you say?"
"Hm…" Levi started thinking. He drummed his fingers on the shelf, "Well every history teacher I've had since high school has said it was about states' rights but I'm not really so sure. Maysville Road, Dred Scott Decision, just a lot that doesn't really convince me it's so."
"Does that mean you're on the slavery argument?" Karen asked.
"I haven't really decided. I mean, hardly any slave owners joined the enlisted ranks. The whole rich man's war, poor man's fight deal."
"Good point." Karen said.
"I'm more interested in just what exactly happened. That way I could write some epic books when I have a full picture."
"Really? You want to be an author?"
"Yeah… I know it's pretty stupid."
"What?" Karen sounded almost offended at how Levi degraded himself, "Why the hell would you say something like that?"
"Well, I never really finished anything I wrote." Levi answered, "I mean, how can I publish something unfinished?"
"That's ridiculous! Artists paint half pictures and sell them all the time."
"Yeah, but I think half a painting and half a book are two very different things." Levi joked.
"Maybe you just need the right inspiration." Karen said. She leaned forward and put one hand on Levi's belt. She pulled Levi close to her so he could feel her breath on his face, "Really, what inspires you?"
"To be honest?" Levi started to answer his own question. It was this bitch that cheated on me. I haven't been able to write since she did it. It sucks. I'm not sure if I can do this so soon. I mean, this is cool, I like you… but…
"Yeah. Tell me." Karen's voice was incredibly quiet. Just loud enough for Levi to hear her.
"It… it was a girl. Was." Levi immediately realized how stupidly honest he was. Yet the grip Karen had around his belt and around his neck told him that she understood. It told him that she understood. It told him that she understood and she accepted. People are people. What can you do? She imagined her saying, you can't help who you love. Maybe she didn't love you, she just thought she did.
It's really me. I love you.
No. It was stupid thinking that made Levi have stupid thoughts like that. Girls didn't think like that. Or maybe Levi was just being stupid.
"Levi…" she paused, not wanting to continue without choosing her words correctly, "this can be a one-night thing if you want."
Levi's heart picked up the pace as it tried to figure out what to do next, "I don't know what I want."
"Ok." She said. And that was it. Karen pulled on Levi's hand to the bed. She nodded for him to climb onto it. She pushed him back against the pillow. For a moment, Levi was positive she was going to rip off both of their clothes and they would have sex. Would he have stopped her? Saying No it's too early. I like you but let's not screw? Or would he just go with it?
Karen ripped off her jacket and threw it on the floor. She leaned forward into Levi's face and kissed him lightly. Levi wrapped his arms around her back and returned her caress. She pulled away from him and sighed. A shy smile came to her face. Karen moved to Levi's side and nuzzled her head into Levi's neck and nestled her body against his. Her eyes drifted slowly to sleep while Levi remained awake until dawn. He put his hand against her shoulder and remembered what he thought earlier: you can't help whom you love.
April 16, 1861
New Haven, Connecticut
Levi stayed the night at the first inn he found close to the New Haven train station. When he woke up the next morning, Levi half expected to wake up in a world where Barack Obama was president and France was not on the world stage.
Instead, Iraq was a place unheard of and the troop surge was taking place in South Carolina instead. Levi put on his blue military jacket, buckled his belt, and walked out the door with his bag slung over his shoulder. He reached into his coat pocket and found a brass watch on a chain. Neither the minute nor second hands were ticking, indicating to Levi that he had to figure out how to wind the damn thing before he could tell time properly. The watch stopped ticking at 4:32. Levi wasn't sure if it meant this morning or yesterday afternoon on the train.
He walked down the stairs to the inn's lobby where there were three tables with chairs for folks to sit at and eat breakfast. A woman in her late thirties with dark hair looked at Levi as he reached the bottom of the stairs and said, "Ello, sir. Off to a late start?"
"Not exactly." Levi said, stumbling on his words in this utterly strange world, "I mean, sort of… my watch stopped. What time is it exactly?"
The woman wiped off a table with the rag in her hand and replaced the salt and pepper in the middle of the table. She checked the grandfather clock on the other side of the room, "Half past eleven." She answered, "Anything else I can do for you?"
"Yes, please." Levi reached into his coat again and checked a brown enveloped he had stuffed there," Where is 23 Whig Street?"
"Just go east toward the center of town. Follow Quinnipiac Avenue until you reach North Street. Follow it over the bridge and you'll hit Whig."
"Thank you, ma'am." Levi said. He paid for his room for the night and walked out the front door into the noon sunlight. Clouds were gathering quickly, indicating rain would soon be coming. At least the laws of meteorology still applied.
As Levi followed the directions that the innkeeper gave him, he was amazed how empty New Haven was one hundred and fifty years before 2011. Even Connecticut seemed vacant and rural as the train showed him Greenwich and Stamford.
The Quinnipiac River didn't look industrial at all. As Levi remembered it, the River was the source of lifeblood for western Connecticut's industrial needs. There were still mills with water wheels, but larger houses with a dock or farm was more common than a waste system spilling toxic fluids into the waterway emptying into Long Island Sound.
Checking the number of buildings in front of him one more time, Levi confirmed that he was at the right location. He cautiously walked up the stairs to Room 21. The key in Levi's pocket matched the lock exactly. The tumblers locked into place as Levi pushed open the door and walked into the dismal apartment.
"Hello?" Levi asked to no one in particular. When no voice answered him back, Levi concluded that he lived alone. There was a lamp on the wall. It was gas powered, requiring Levi to light it carefully with a match. Noticing a bookshelf on the wall opposite, Levi found a book of matches on an end table and cautiously lit the lamp so the room shone like a Christmas ornament.
The added illumination presented dark brown walls and the titles on the bindings of books. On the floor next to the door, Levi saw three envelopes. He put his duffel bag on the floor and picked up the envelopes. The first was white and thin:
Clarke Printing Co.
128 West Street
New Haven, CT
Levi opened the envelope to find a $100 bank note from a Mr. Alan Clarke.
Who was that? Levi's brother? Whoever he was, he was a printer. It would require checking up on right away. The second two letters were both labeled from the same return.
Levi tore open the first letter to find the unit was returning to active duty on June 1, 1861. The second letter said it was returning to duty ahead of schedule, April 28. He had to report to the Fort in Rhode Island as soon as possible "given recent events." Levi never thought he'd hear about the attack on Fort Sumter as a "recent event."
He always thought it would never happen because time travel was impossible. Two days ago he was living a normal life as a college student in 2011, now he was a lieutenant with the 5th U.S. Sharpshooters in 1861. Either Levi was completely insane, or he had the strangest vision imaginable. There was really no other possibility, except time travel. And that was just ridiculous.
Levi decided he'd head to Rhode Island as soon as he had a few questions answered. He took a look around his apartment. It mainly consisted of a wood stove, a bed, and a bookshelf. In the armoire, Levi found non-military clothing. Levi removed his uniform and put on a button-down shirt and a black jacket. He spent about a half hour figuring how to wind the brass watch before he checked how he looked in the mirror to check his outfit. As far as Levi could tell he looked like a 19th Century gentleman, despite missing a few layers of the ensemble and a moustache/beard combination. Levi wasn't exactly sure how to deposit the check yet, so he figured finding Alan Clarke was the first step.
So far, the one skill Levi learned was how to find his way around the city. Finding a map of New Haven in his bookshelf, Levi strained his eyes to read the directions finding West Street on the other end of town. Levi found his combat boots and folded the map into his pocket.
He headed out into the streets, finding that not only was Connecticut a hundred times less industrial in 1861, but it also had roughly 10% of Connecticut's 2011 population. The streets seemed almost completely empty. Levi imagined that Litchfield and Windham counties were backwoods territories with little more than deep green forests and an occasional log cabin far from any trail.
Levi finally found himself on the other side of the city following West Street toward New York until he found 128.
West Street at this point of the day was a market selling fresh apples and pears, pastries, fishing goods, and other artisan crafts. In front of the market place were various commercial buildings. The one with the 128 screwed next to the door had a sign reading "Clarke Printing Company" over the door. The font used was of similar retro style like the train ticket that Levi had from the Salisbury train.
He pushed open the door and found a large open room with a dozen young men at work opening mail and writing letters. One of the closest of them stood and walked over to Levi, "Can I help you, sir?"
"Yes." Levi said, swallowing the lump in his throat, "I'm here to see Mr. Alan Clarke." His hand held onto the check in his pocket as some strange sense of security.
"One minute." The young man disappeared behind a door. Levi noticed some of the other secretaries whispering to each other while shifting their eyes away from Levi. He suddenly got the sense that there was something wrong with him. The secretaries, or letter-openers, or whatever, finally turned their attention back to their work when the door opened and through the door came a tall man with a thick brown beard starting on his upper lip. His build was muscular with arms and legs more capable than Levi's. As soon as he saw Levi, his business-like demeanor instantly fell apart in favor of a panicked look swarming into his eyes. He thanked the young secretary for getting him before approaching Levi. With a deep voice that bordered on the paranoid, he asked, "What are you doing here? I sent you your check."
"You're Alan Clarke?"
The man's mind was thrown into confusion. Levi could tell he suddenly asked a question he should already know the answer to, "Of course. What do you want?"
"I need to speak to you. It's…" Levi's brain was as confused as Alan's, "it's extremely important. Please, sir."
Alan just stared back at Levi, the confused stare only deepening for Levi to find himself losing faith in the man's intentions… whatever they may be.
"Ok… but we can't talk here, and we can't talk now." Alan's voice was lowered to a level where Levi had to strain to hear, "Felicity Tavern. Nine o'clock tonight?"
Levi didn't know where Felicity Tavern was, but at least he got his watch working again. He agreed to the terms and was left with only a regretful, "See you there," from Alan. Levi elected to say little.
When he left the Clarke Printing Company the sky began to release a light drizzle. Instead of an address and a map, Levi simply asked New Haveners where Felicity Tavern was. About fifteen minutes of asking for directions was all it took. After locating the building, colonial and cinematic though the experience was, Levi turned around and headed back to his dark apartment on Whig Street.
Climbing back into the depressing cave he came to associate with the term "home," Levi took off his shoes and the uncomfortable clothes this wretched century required him to wear. Finally feeling comfortable, Levi started looking around his apartment, checking his watch every so often so he gave himself enough time to reach Felicity Tavern.
First Levi rummaged through the armoire finding a drawer of food that Levi couldn't figure out how he was supposed to cook. The two jars of canned apples he probably just ate as is. There was a box of coffee grounds that he must simply mix into a cup of hot water to make a cup of joe. There was certainly no Mr. Coffee… were there even coffee filters? A moment of searching found the kettle necessary for boiling water. Levi figured that his wood-burning stove acted as his water boiler as well. A day in the marketplace might be all it took to get the ingredients necessary for a delicious stew. He decided a cup of coffee would do him good and went to the sink to pump water into the kettle. The stovetop was warm but not the temperature necessary to boil. Levi noticed a pile of kindling and wood next to the stove. He packed the smaller twigs into the oven and put a log on for good measure.
As he waited for the water to boil, Levi wandered over to the bookshelf to find every book he owned was a hardcover copy. There were plenty of works he recognized: The Histories of William Shakespeare, Gulliver's Travels, and Principia Mathematica. He noticed a familiar Thoreau novel: Walden, located right next to a decrepit Bible.
After Thoreau, Shakespeare, Melville, and Hawthorne, Levi found that most of the books he owned were by authors he'd never heard of… or at least didn't remember. Levi pulled out the copy of Walden and flipped through it aimlessly. One the eightieth page, he stumbled on a particular passage:
"Follow your genius closely enough, and it will not fail to show you a fresh prospect at every hour."
Sitting on the edge of his bed, Levi tried to ponder what it could possibly mean for him. After all, Thoreau wasn't just writing for the hell of it, he was writing a letter to mankind, to the wasteful, sinful people of society. Levi realized that Thoreau was just a man in a bran new world. Despite how ingrained he already seemed to be, Levi was a stranger to it. Mr. Alan Clarke? 23 Whig Street? Karen Van Cavalar? How did it fit together like this?
Levi rushed back to the bookshelf holding out a hope that he remembered himself as an active journalist. Sure enough, on the top of the shelf of the bookcase was an entire shelf filled with notebooks in his own handwriting. The very first journal started March 14, 1852. The Levi reading the passage had no memory of writing the entry nor of the events that took place. He learned that the Levi that wrote the journal celebrated his eleventh birthday by purchasing the journal Levi currently held in his hands.
For hours, Levi sat on the bed going through the journals one after another. Only occasionally did Levi skip a date and choose sleep before journaling, but the entire 1850s were covered with Levi paying close attention to the slave economy and events out west. As it turns out the Levi writing the journal entries was a hardcore abolitionist. He didn't care about any politics except when they concerned freeing the slaves. Levi found out that he detested Uncle Tom's Cabin but was a fan of Harriet Beecher Stowe. The Levi that wrote the journals thought seriously about going to fight in Kansas for an anti-slavery government.
Instead, he had an account in the First Municipal Bank of New Haven where he had a sizable fortune thanks to Alan Clarke. For whatever reason, Levi seemed to not feel the urge to buy a Beecher's Bible and trek his way to Kansas.
In 1859, on his eighteenth birthday, Levi joined the military, signing up for the officer's corps and receiving a recommendation from Senator Lafayette Foster which sent Levi to the military academy at West Point. After a year of work, he was assigned to the 5th and then…
The journals ended in September 1860. Levi was busy meeting men in the 5th, almost all of them enlisted men. Given that he'd journaled most days, Levi reasoned that there must be a current journal he was using. After pouring himself a second cup of coffee, Levi checked his watch.
It was a few minutes past eight o'clock. Instead of jumping up and going out to meet Alan Clarke, Levi decided to read through the last journal one more time to see if he missed anything important. He only came to the conclusion that he was excited to fight for any sort of freedom, and ironically that he was not a fan of Abraham Lincoln. It made some sense to the Levi reading the passages: Lincoln was not an abolitionist. He merely did not want slavery to expand into New Mexico.
The Levi responsible for the journals found his political heroes in William Seward and Salmon Chase. Seward gave a speech that abolitionists – like Levi – found to be inspiring and the right direction for the nation. He found that Seward opposed the Fugitive Slave Act and oppose the Kansas-Nebraska Compromise. Being an abolitionist, Levi understood his support of Seward, but could not contemplate supporting Chase.
Chase created the IRS. Chase was responsible for the first ring of dominoes that eventually spelled out financial ruin for the United States. But that was years from now. Chase was still just the White House seeking abolitionist Levi would like.
Internal Revenue Service, paper dollars, hell the entire Civil War still doesn't exist. In one year the First Battle of Bull Run might be the only Battle of Bull Run and a half million lives might be spared. One of those lives might be Levi's.
A goddamned apparition telling Levi lies about the future. That's all it was. Because that made absolute perfect sense. A very elaborate, very enormous dream of a detailed future coupled with terrible amnesia gave Levi the impression that he was a time traveler.
He shut the book.
There was an intense silence that Levi only noticed because he was finally listening to the ambiance, or lack thereof. The kettle on top of the stove hissed out a trail of steam, and occasionally someone would speak louder outside. But there was no traffic noise, no honking horns, no electric interference from fluorescent lights or iridescent bulbs, no unnecessary technology, no cell phones, no computers, no Twitter or Facebook, or airplanes.
The silence was unnerving and disorienting. Levi put his coat and boots on, trying to create some form of noise within his head. Something to keep him from the insanity gnawing at the very back of his mind.
He checked the watch: quarter to nine. It took maybe twenty minutes to walk from Whig Street to Felicity Tavern counting a wrong turn in between.
Levi, luckily, found his way easily and only needed to consult the map once. He entered the Tavern and checked the time: 9:12. He did a quick sweep around the room. His first impression brought him into an old western flick, (you know, Levi told himself, the ones that never existed… will exist). There were tables with shady characters in dark clothing, tables with guffawing gentlemen, tables with single men being entertained by scantily clad dancers, and empty tables. Levi sat at an empty one and trained his eyes on the door.
A busty waitress with a thick New Englander accent approached Levi at the table and asked what he'd like to drink.
He could only assume they didn't have vodka, rum was expensive (being imported from Cuba, logically), and gin was simply not Levi's drink of choice. He asked the waitress for a beer, "Any beer will do." He urged, not wanting to have to choose between brands he had no opinion of… or had forgotten his own opinion of.
When the waitress came back with his mug of frothing gold liquid, Alan Clarke entered the Tavern and thoroughly scanned the room. Levi sensed that the elder man was hoping he wouldn't be there to speak with him. Levi caught the large man's eyes, signaling him forward. Alan was dressed in a dark coat and a low hat as if the shadow of night wasn't enough to protect him.
Alan made a beeline for Levi's table, making sure to sit down carefully in front of Levi. He took off his hat and ordered a scotch from the waitress.
"Hey." Alan said, confused as to why exactly he was here with Levi.
"Look," Levi started, "I don't know what to say."
"You think I do?" Alan answered, "I send you a $100 check ever month and you say you won't bother me. Now what's this about?"
"I don't really know what to tell you," Levi confessed, "I guess I just say I… don't really know who you are. I don't really know who I am to be honest. I reread all of," he found himself struggling to use a personal pronoun, "my journals just to figure out anything, and they left more answers than questions. Why…" he left the open question hanging in the air. He finally relinquished to asking the most simple question, "Why are you sending me $100 a month?"
Alan's eyes were blank. He was stuck between the crossroads of amazement and bewilderment. He tried to speak but found every decent effort at word formation futile. He started nervously playing with an invisible toy between his hands before it dawned on Levi. He immediately felt stupid for not figuring it out earlier, "Oh, my God."
The elder man sitting in front of Levi picked his eyes up off the table to look at Levi head on, hoping he would say it so he didn't have to.
"You're my father."
Alan took a long drink of his beer.
"You never married my mother, did you? Does your wife know I exist at all? Really?" Levi leaned forward with newfound confidence. This small revelation, this small manifestation proving he had a legitimate connection with this world did nothing but empower Levi. He grasped the notion with both hands and would not let go, "And what, you pay me $100 a month so I don't tell your wife because she's a jealous bitch, right? You call it a business expense probably."
"Levi, did you really lose your memory? Or are you just teasing with my head?" Alan was desperate to leave. It was obvious to Levi what kind of vice grip Mrs. Clarke had on his cock.
"No, I really can't remember anything that happened to me. Worse, it's like I know what's going to happen but not…" he stopped. Levi didn't fully understand, he wouldn't let someone else think he was crazy while he himself wasn't so sure.
"Not what?" Alan asked, listening intently to what his illegitimate son was spewing.
"I don't know." The control that Levi once had on his environment was suddenly gone, "I have no family, no friends, and my life is just about to end. Can you possibly imagine how I feel?"
"Your life? Kid… don't…"
"I have a name, Dad. You could at least afford me that since I have nothing else." Levi grabbed his beer and finished the rest of the golden drink.
"Sorry, Levi. But you don't have to commit suicide."
"I might as well, right? In a few months my regiment is marching off to Virginia to walk into a massacre. I should save my life and just go to prison."
"Wait." Alan began, confused as to how Levi knew such detailed military information. He was only a Lieutenant and the war hasn't even started… excepting Fort Sumter, "How can you be sure? Maybe the war will start and end in a month, and you'll be home before Christmas."
"No." Levi said as he stood from the table, "It's going to be a long, terrible war." He started to walk out toward the door of the Tavern when Alan turned to stop him. The elder man grabbed his son's arm and asked a very simple question.
"Where are you going?"
The response Levi mustered was more automatic than anything, but what else could he say? "Home, I guess."
February 6, 2010
Southern New Jersey Institute of Technology
Karen opened her eyes to the strange room. It took her only a few seconds to remember that she fell asleep in Levi's dorm after he told her he wasn't sure if he was ready for a relationship.
She picked her head up to look at the finally sleeping boy. The clock above the room's television read 10:45. Karen usually liked to start her day earlier to leave more time to do whatever she wanted. Right now, whatever she wanted mostly included being with Levi right now instead of later.
Did Karen really break the law to work up the confidence to talk to Levi? Hell, no. She jaywalked, so technically yes, but she had been the law-abiding citizen to always use crosswalks. As for the assholes she asked out and the biker she punched, they were one in the same. He happened to be a tad forceful and Karen felt it was time to punch someone.
She laughed at the memory. When she told Hanners about it, that was when she finally realized that Levi was not an asshole, and there was no reason not to ask him out.
The young economics major didn't want to wake Levi, but for some reason did not want her consciousness left by itself. She whispered her words gently to satisfy her desire to utter something: