Good evening, everyone! Welcome to my New Year's resolution! This year I am going to attempt to write a story in serial form. I will (hopefully) be posting a new chapter here every week, more if I feel the need. This piece, The Unintentional Time-Travelers, is the first book of a longer story called The Last Armagnac Maquis; it should be finished sometime in March, at which point I'll start uploading chapters of the next book.
As you're enjoying the story/questioning my sanity, please don't forget to give a round of applause for lanuitestcalme, my fabulous and long-suffering beta.
Soli Deo Gloria.
Chapter 1: "We regret to inform you..."
Elaine Sholt stared at the letter in her hands and took a deep breath. Honorable discharge. Crap. So much for my career. She had grabbed the mail on the way out of her apartment that morning, intending to read it at the office if she had the chance. The letter from the Department of Defense had been the second thing she had opened, right after the overdue notice from the county library. She had known there were cuts being made in the military; still, the news stunned her. The captain's insignia had only been pinned on her collar a month ago. Life had been going so well; her student loans were finally paid off, she had an apartment of her own, and she liked her job and was moving up in the world. A steady job, a paycheck, a promotion. Then this had happened.
Elaine had been out of college for five years now. She'd double majored in French and history, two subjects that she had always enjoyed. For three years she had maintained high hopes of doing translating work or perhaps archeology, bringing to light the mysteries of an age long gone. Then senior year had rolled around and the necessity of getting a job became apparent. Elaine had considered teaching. No good; she didn't have a teacher's degree. She asked at various private schools. "We'll consider you if a position opens up," they had said, but they never called back. The museums didn't have any openings at the moment, but they were always looking for volunteers.
"If all else fails, you could always join the army," her cousin Rory had joked. Elaine had never considered the army as a serious choice, but the more she thought about it the more she liked the idea. Her parents had both been in the military, and so had her grandfathers. Her best friend in college had gone through ROTC and was stationed in California. The day after graduation, Elaine went down and joined.
The next few years had flown. Elaine had gone through various training programs before being stationed at Fort _ in Virginia. It was a good life. She liked her work; she liked having a reason to stay fit. She thrived on the camaraderie. She put every penny not used on food, rent, or gas toward paying off her student loans and they were gone in four years. Four years of living like a pauper, but Aunt Meg had finally stopped hinting that she had failed in life by not getting a job in line with her major.
And then somebody in Congress couldn't balance the checkbook and I'm the one who loses my job.
She came to the door of the colonel's office and knocked. The voice on the other side told her to come in.
"Whatcha need, Sholt?" Col. Dirkson asked, returning her salute. He looked weary and preoccupied. His desk was littered with paperwork.
"I just got a discharge letter," she said. The colonel headed her off before she could say more.
"Not my choice, Captain." This wasn't the first time he'd had this conversation recently. Elaine stared at him.
"What's going on, Colonel?" she asked. Dirkson avoided her eyes.
"Reduction in Forces. They're cutting the military by twenty percent. Our corps got hit hard." He shifted some pages. "You're not the only one, Sholt." Elaine looked down at the paper in her hand.
"How bad is it?" she asked quietly.
"They're closing the base. The president was on TV last night talking about how it was a sign of progress for the country." The colonel finally met her eyes. The look on his face carried feelings that would have gotten him court-martialed if he'd voiced them. Elaine swallowed.
"You gonna have to move?" Her voice sounded unnaturally light. He nodded.
"The wife's not gonna be happy."
Elaine saluted again. "Been good working with you, sir." She thought the colonel looked slightly ill. As she turned to go, he called after her.
"I heard they're hiring at the Wal-Mart down the road. I'd get while the getting's good."
Elaine had started on the application the moment she got home. College degree, captain in the Army. That's manager material right there. The woman at the interview, three weeks later, had said the same thing.
"It's a shame, but we don't have any managerial positions open," she'd added. Elaine barely managed to keep a straight face. Wal-Mart wasn't the only place she'd applied, and she'd already had three interviews that week. Everyone had said the same thing. There weren't that many positions open to begin with, and the flood of recent discharges from the base had filled all the available ones immediately. This was getting ridiculous.
"I could give a call in to Regional to see if there's anything open, but you might have to be willing to move," the woman continued.
"That would be great," said Elaine. "Have you got any associate positions open? I wouldn't mind staying in the company while I wait on that call." She hoped that she didn't sound too desperate.
"As a matter of fact, we are looking for a cashier. But I'd keep looking, if I were you. With your credentials, you could get a much higher-paying job."
"Beg pardon, ma'am," Elaine said uncertainly, "but there aren't a lot of those around right now." They stood up. "I'll fill out the form for Regional, then, shall I?"
"I'm sure you'll find something," said the woman. "Best of luck to you."
Three days of job applications later, Elaine got a phone call. It was the woman from Wal-Mart, asking if she still wanted the cashier position. Elaine said yes.
And so, a month after receiving the discharge letter, Captain Elaine Sholt found herself wearing a blue mesh vest and operating a cash register at the front of the store.
Better than nothing, she thought. That last check from the Army isn't going to last forever.
The work was dull, but not intolerable. The customers were generally clueless, sometimes rude, and occasionally very interesting. Elaine kept filling out applications and looking for higher paying positions, but for the moment there were no leads. Nonetheless, the bills were getting paid and there was food on the table, which was enough for now. There was only one thing that drove her crazy, one thing that made her call her cousin Rory every other day to vent.
"Holy crap, Elaine, what now? I got stuff to do." Jerry shuffled over, looking sour.
You think I like calling you over here? "The register's being weird again. It won't let me open the drawer." Elaine tried to keep her voice neutral. Jerry tapped several buttons and the drawer popped open. He looked at Elaine as if she'd made up the problem purely to annoy him.
"I thought you said you'd learned to operate one of these," he snapped.
"I do, sir –"
"Don't call me sir. I work for a living." Jerry shuffled off, back to whatever he had been supervising. Elaine stared past the candy display, trying to keep the words "drop dead" out of her mind. The customer she had been helping picked up her groceries and left, looking uncomfortable.
Four months already, but it feels like four years. Is nobody else hiring?