I know you're not going to believe me when I tell you the story of how I got sucked into this, but I'm going to tell you anyway. It was only six months ago but it seems like a lifetime. I was tasked with going through the stuff in the attic of my Grandmother's house. My mother couldn't bear the thought of doing it, so like the good daughter I was, I volunteered. I'd sort it into piles and then she could go through it at her leisure from the storage unit. Plus, I didn't know my Grandmother all that well and thought this might be a good opportunity to get to know her. She was quite the mystery to me, Grandma Garnet.
I was surprised to find there were tons of old chests full of wondrous objects. Documents, books, knickknacks, all sorts of things really, but what I gravitated to was the old clothes. I always liked to play dress up and thought it would be fun to try on some of the outfits. There were so many. Different decades of the 20th century, dating all the way back to the gilded age. I didn't think my Grandmother was that old, but I didn't know. My own mother didn't talk about her much. I got the feeling they didn't get along. There were flapper dresses, kimonos, fur embellishments which I did not like but what was I to do about it, that was the fashion. Muted fabrics gave way to bolder brighter prints and florals as the years progressed. There were gloves, shoes, and hats galore! So many in every color, shape, and size imaginable. I was surprised at the bounty of them all and appreciated her taste for the finer things.
It seemed my Grandmother was meticulous in keeping her wardrobe organized. Each chest was divided by a decade and within each chest were multiple years in layers. It was like a living timeline of fashion. Not all-encompassing of course, but close enough. I lovingly opened each chest and went through it, taking out the pieces that caught my eye. Surprisingly nothing smelled old or moldy. In fact, if I had to guess some of the pieces had been freshly laundered. Especially those from the 1950s. I pull a crisp white button-down from the top of the pile in 1954 and give it a smell. Yep, definitely freshly laundered. Underneath it was a blue midi skirt, a scarf, and some red strappy sandals. It looked familiar, just like Audrey Hepburn's outfit from Roman Holiday. I loved that movie! I quickly slipped on the clothes. I tie the red white and blue striped silk scarf around my neck and wander to the old mirror in the corner. I look just like Audrey! Well, not with my hair down, it was short in that movie. I pin up my chocolate waves into a sophisticated chignon with a braided twist. I giggle with glee and find the skirt has pockets! I slip my hands in them and in the left feel something small and hard. I pull it out to get a look at it.
It's a purple three-dimensional pointed star with scribbles on it. The points are connected but moveable. Maybe it's a puzzle? I fiddle with it a little and the symbols start glowing blue as the whole thing vibrates. I put it down and back away slowly. Probably not a good idea to touch it I decide. It seems to settle down and I continue searching through the wardrobe.
Suddenly I smell kettle corn. I look around and find the star vibrating and flashing blue. I walk over slowly to it as the smell intensifies. When I reach out my hand there's a burst of blue-purple light. I open my eyes to find I'm outside on a dazzling sunny day. It was just rainy and I was inside. What the? Suddenly someone shouts! "Get out of the way!" I see a frightened horse barreling toward me and I roll into some hay. I notice the star had fallen out of my pocket and is still where I landed but I can't get to it. As I watch from safety, a small herd gallops by, running from something. They all manage to miss crushing the weird purple star. Once they've passed, a woman comes over to help me to my feet. She looks me over once and hands me the artifact. "You alright?" I nod. "Nice outfit, Audrey." She smiles and runs off to join her group of waiting friends.
"Thanks!" I call after her not knowing if she heard me or not. I put the thing back in my pocket. Now that the danger has passed, I check myself over. Not a scratch and just a little dirt on my skirt. I glance around me and see I'm at some kind of fair. It seems to be mid-summer. And the people! Everyone is dressed strangely. Leather jackets, crisp white shirts, Bermuda shorts, bobby socks, loafers, mary janes, jumpers, and full skirts. I feel like I've stepped back in time to the fifties. I start wandering, looking at the booths hoping for an explanation. I'm definitely at a fair, that much I can tell. There's the darts with the balloons, a ring toss, the ball you throw at milk cans and even a test your strength booth. This is so weird! Some guys on motorcycles drive by. They seem to be annoying everyone. I near the entrance and catch a glimpse of a sign, Welcome to the 1954 Suffolk County Fair. Where the hell was I?
I turn around and head to where I woke up, disbelieving. How am I suddenly in 1954? This must be some kind of joke. The sound of firecrackers brings me back to the present. I look around for the source and notice some men in suits looking out of place. They start moving towards me in a sort of formation. Something doesn't feel right. One is dangerously close and he grabs me. "Let go!" I scream violently and wrench my arm away. He does, surprised at the intensity with which I scream. I fall back into another heap of hay. Thank goodness it seems to be everywhere to break my fall.
"Garnet!" I hear my grandmother's name yelled by one of the guys on a motorcycle as he races toward me. I stare at him strangely. He is gorgeous. Actually, he looks a lot like Michael Carrington from the second Grease movie, leather jacket and all. He comes to an abrupt stop in front of me, spraying me with dirt. "Come on, get on!" He hisses at me, his piercing blue eyes trying to convey some kind of message I'm obviously not understanding. I don't know what to do. Should I trust him? The man in the suit has come to his senses and grabs for me again. I kick him in the face from my position in the hay.
"Garnet! For God's sake, get on the bike! They're going to kill you!" Indeed, it seems so as I see Mr. Suit has pulled out a knife. I hastily get up and jump on the back of said bike. Mr. Carrington immediately speeds away. I hold on for dear life.
We drive for what seems like hours until he pulls off the side of the road. He cuts the engine and we both get off. "What did I tell you about wandering off, Garnet?! You've been missing for days and we are on a mission here! People's lives are at stake!"
I clear my throat. "Excuse me. You must have the wrong person. I'm not Garnet. I don't know what parallel universe I've fallen into but you better tell me what the hell is going on!"
He runs a hand through his sandy hair, confused. "What? Now's not the time to be funny, Gar. Do you have the artefact or not?"
"I told you, I'm not Garnet. And who are you if you don't mind me asking. The only reason I got on that bike was because the other man had a knife and you didn't. I need answers so you better spill." I cross my arms and look at him defiantly.
"Well... I'm Michael Whitby." He says it like I should know who he is. "You're not Garnet Watercastle?" I shake my head no. "You sure do look like Garnet Watercastle to me. Who are you then?"
I sigh. "My name is Scarlet Watercastle. Garnet was my Grandmother. Is my Grandmother. I'm so confused right now." I blurt out.
"Oh wow." He says. "Really?" I nod my eyes brimming with tears of frustration. He comes over and starts picking hay out of my hair. "It's the summer of 1954 and you're in Suffolk county, Virginia." He tilts my head up to look into my eyes. "What happened to you, Scarlet?"
"If I knew that I wouldn't be asking you!" I spit out and walk away. He leans against a tree and watches me pace. Once I've calmed down and can think a little, I return to him. "Michael was it?" He nods. "You said something about an artifact. Is this what you were talking about?" I pull the star from my pocket and hold it out to him.
"Jesus Gar! Put that away!" I quickly hide it. "Sorry. I'm sorry. I meant to say, Scarlet. You look so much like her. Do you know that?" Michael says a little softer.
"No. I didn't really know my Grandmother. She was gone a lot. I haven't seen her since I was a little girl. My Mom declared her dead last month. She's been missing for 21 years. I was cleaning out her attic and found this outfit. It looks like..."
"Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday!" He interrupts me. "Yeah! I helped her pick it out after we saw the movie together last fall. She knows I have an eye for details and wanted to get it right. How old are you then?" He asks.
"I just turned 26 last week. Well, from when I came from. I don't know this works. I think somehow that thing brought me back to 1954 from 2019. Why would it do that?"
"It wouldn't. That's not what it's for. May I?" He leans in closer and unwinds the scarf. I can't help but notice how good he smells as he begins inspecting my collar. In the back near the tag, something is sewn into the fabric. I hadn't even noticed. "This is what brought you back to 1954." He tugs at it unraveling the thread and it falls into his hand, a slim chain attached to a charm. "It's Garnet's transportation." He pulls one from under his shirt. "I have one too." I compare the two baubles. They are the same. An Aquarian star on one side and a two-sided face on the other.
"I've never seen anything like this. What does it mean?" I ask looking up at him with questioning eyes.
"You really don't know?" I shake my head. He drops Garnet's necklace in my hand, takes his own necklace back, shoves it under his shirt and starts his own pacing. "Well, that makes sense, if you don't know your Grandmother, she wouldn't have told you. But why not? Especially when you look so much like her. It would be advantageous to have told you. 2019?! Geesh! That's so far." He stops to look at me, his boots crunching on the gravel. "I think it would be easiest if I showed you. Would you come with me, Scarlet?" He hops on his bike and holds out his hand.
"What choice do I have? If I want answers and don't want those men to find me, I guess I better come with you." I mutter and put the necklace around my neck to keep it safe.
"Don't worry Scarlet, I'll take care of you." He gives me a wink and kicks his bike on.
I get back on the bike but not before whispering in his ear. "I'm counting on you, Michael. You better not disappoint me." He gives a quick nod and we peal out and onto the highway once more.
Now that I'm not fleeing for my life and I actually know the name of the person whose bike I'm on, I enjoy myself. I've never been on one before and it is fun. The wind whipping at my hair, trying to undo my fancy updo, the flashing scenery. We follow the windy road and drive over a river. We enter a town and slow through the idyllic downtown. We pass several small houses and a church near a cemetery and this is where Michael turns; into the church parking lot. I get off and wait for him to move his bike into some bushes. There are several others there. He grabs my hand and pulls me towards the front. "Things are going to get a little strange, Scarlet. Just go with it okay?" I nod.
We enter the church. The light filtering through the stained glass makes the space glow beautifully and gives it a warm, cozy feeling. I like it. Michael pulls me quickly down the rows of pews to the pulpit and around it to a hidden door. The one the preacher usually uses. I don't even get to enjoy it for very long. I frown. We move down a dark hall and come to 2 doors. They both swing open easily. "Hello!" He calls. "It's Michael and I've brought a friend." He turns to me, my annoyance forgotten. This seems serious. "Wait here. If anyone shows up, say you're with me." He disappears into the first door. He returns from the second. "Dang. No one's here. I guess I'll have to take you to Darden's. You hungry?" He asks pulling me back through the second door to a small kitchen.
"A little." He opens the fridge. "Ham sandwich alright?" I nod and he hands me a cheddar and ham with tomato and lettuce, cut into a triangle shape. "Leftover from yesterday." I munch on it while he pours us both drinks. He checks his watch then guzzles his down fast and I do the same, even though I'm not done with my sandwich. "We've got to get going. Bring the rest." He grabs my hand again. I like how gentle but tenacious he is with his grip. We exit the back of the church and I see a lot of graves. Up a small hill and slightly to the left, is a row of mausoleums and that's where we're headed.
Half hidden by a pink flowering tree is the tomb with the name Darden on top. This is probably what he meant. He stops in front of the gate and drops my hand. I'm surprised that I miss the warmth of his hand in mine. I finish my sandwich while Michael does some intricate hand movements and then makes a rectangle with his fingers. He scans the gate through the rectangle as if he's looking for something. He finds it, a keyhole off-center and higher than one would normally put a keyhole. He takes off his necklace, putting it into the tiny round space that just fits the charm. He turns it to the right and then gives an elaborate knock in a sequence I can't keep up with. There's a resounding boom that startles me, but not Michael. He then leans into the gate and whispers, "O ingentem draco, obsecro, ad ostium aperi nobis." I frown. Oh, mighty dragon, please open your door to us, is what he said in Latin. I expect he doesn't think I know Latin, but I do. I took Latin to feel closer to my Father as I never knew him. He died before I was born and that was the only thing my Mom would tell me about him. That he was a professor of Latin. It's also why I offered to clean my Grandmother's attic, in the hope I could find some information about him.
The charm falls into Michael's waiting hands and the doors open of their own accord. He grabs my hand again and we step inside the creepy crypt. The place smells of dirt and decay. I feel cold and then the doors slam behind us, swallowing us with darkness. I grip Michael's hand tighter. "Don't worry Scarlet. Just hang on. It's going to be fine." He reassures me. We step forward several steps and I smell cookies and feel a breath of heat. There seems to be a light at the end of a long-sloped tunnel. "We have to go down some stairs," Michael informs me and indeed I see some now that my eyes have adjusted to the faint light. I turn around to discover the gates we entered have disappeared, as well as the outside world. There's only a cold cement wall. I was only a little worried before but now I'm more frightened, though trying not to show it. Where is he taking me? What is going on?
We go down the flight of stairs closer to the light. I notice the light dancing and figure it has to be from a roaring fire. The warmth intensifies as does the smell of chocolate chip cookies and I hear laughter. When we reach the bottom of the stairs it opens to what I would call a dungeon, but not a scary dungeon. It's spacious and cozy, banners in all manner of colors decorate the walls, each bearing coat of arms and strange occultic symbols. A few I recognize from my dabbles at school. There's also a large portrait of a man hanging over the enormous fire framed by pillars. There are a lot of pillars holding up the arched ceiling. The couches are full of individuals around my age with a few older, more formally dressed folks. It reminds me of Hogwarts; if you combined bits and pieces from each common room. Wow! I am a nerd. I think to myself.
Michael gives my hand a squeeze then drops it again. "Hello there, mates. I've returned!" I stare at Michael. He's speaking with a British accent when he didn't have one before. He gives a little bow and a hush goes over the crowd as they spot me. "Oh yeah, I've brought a friend. She doesn't know anything about anything!" I glare at him as I step into the room. He rolls his eyes at everyone. They all stare and start whispering; I feel supremely awkward.
Finally, a girl comes over with a platter of cookies. "Hi! I'm Emily. Want a chocolate chip cookie?" She also has an accent. Michal grabs one, so I do too.
"Thanks?" I say and take a bite. She giggles and goes back to her spot on the couch.
After he finishes his cookie, Michael grabs my hand and pulls me to the open armchair to sit me down where everyone can look at me. "Before you barrage her with questions. This is not Garnet. It's her granddaughter, Scarlet." Michael lets that sink in before continuing. "She looks just like her though, doesn't she? It's uncanny!" There's a murmur that ripples through the crowd. I grab another cookie to stuff in my mouth. I don't know what to say and they are good. Michael sits on the arm of the chair next to me.
One of the older gentlemen comes over, "How did you get here, Scarlet?" He asks with a normal accent. American.
I sigh. I pull the chain out from under my shirt. "Michael informs me it was this. Evidently, it was sewn into the shirt, under the collar so I didn't see it. It brought me here from 2019 when I put on this outfit."
I place my hand in my pocket, ready to pull out the artifact but Michael stops me and shakes his head. "Not yet." He mouths. I pull my hand back out empty and cross my hands on my lap.
"Audrey Hepburn, Roman Holiday. Yes, quite a popular movie last year. Garnet loved Audrey. It would make sense she'd try to emulate it. Your hair is inaccurate though." The man says.
"I know, she cut it off in the movie. I wasn't about to do that in my grandmother's attic." He gives me a questioning look and I imagine I look quite the mess, hay in my hair, my chignon falling out. "I quite like the movie too, that's why I put it on," I explain further.
"It's still around in 2019?" He asks perplexed.
"Of course. It's a classic." I inform him. "Might I ask who you are?"
"Forgive my manners! My name is David. I'm one of the people in charge here. If you could call it that." He chuckles.
"And here would be?" I question.
"One of the safe houses for members of the Atlantean Syndicate of Janus Order of Abraxas. A secret society built from the foundations of Atlantis and the great library of Alexandria. We are magically adept people who can travel through time and space in order to preserve mankind by protecting its treasures and secrets." David tells me as he waves his hand at the rest of the people staring at me. I gape at him as if he's crazy while I try to take it all in. "Yes, I know it's overwhelming hearing about ASJOB for the first time. We come from a long line of occultist and secret societies hidden all over the globe. Many of whom you may have even heard of. Your Grandmother is part of our little group. She has been missing for a few days. When we saw you, we were excited that Michael had found you. Erm, only you're not her so... Awkward." He places his hands behind him and rocks back and forth unsure of what else to say.
I shove Michael off the arm of the chair in a panic and start to run. "Wait! Scarlet!" I hear him yell but I don't stop as I scan the room. I don't know where anything leads so I head back to the staircase and am about halfway up when I realize the gateway isn't there. I don't know how to get out so I sink to the floor, my eyes full of hot tears. I'm frightened and confused, overwhelmed and wondering what I've stumbled into. I see Michael, David, and Emily at the bottom of the stairs, conversing softly, but none of them come up. They are giving me some space and I appreciate it.
I cry silently as I go over everything that has happened to me today since entering my Grandmother's. The pieces start to click into place. The laundered clothes, some of the interesting documents I found, the fair, the puzzle box; I feel that it's still in my pocket. It must be very important. That's probably why my Grandmother was missing... Is missing in this time. It could be why she's also missing in my time and if I'm completely honest with myself, probably what got her killed. I think about that. I know she's dead. I know it in my bones. I don't know how I know it but I do. I cry some more for the Grandmother I will never have the chance to meet now. I let everything I've been told start to settle in my mind. I know how much of a mess I must look.
I hear Michael coming up the stairs and I wipe my eyes again. "Oy there love. Fancy a cuppa?" He says holding out a steaming mug of tea. I nod and take a drink. It's chamomile and lavender. I place it on my knee, closing my eyes and breath in deep, letting the steam invade my senses, trying to calm down. "I'm sorry about that. I should have remembered what it was like when David told me the first time and how overwhelming it can be. Especially with all the other stuff going on right now." He sits down across the step from me and places a rough hand over mine on the mug. I open my eyes to meet his, the earth meets the sky. "I'm really sorry, Scarlet."
"It's ok. I know you thought I was Garnet when you found me. There seems to be some sort of history there?" Michael takes his hand back a little too quickly and nods, a little apprehensive. "I know you'll tell me someday. Right now, I don't think I can handle it." I chuckle but also to show him I will get answers later. I take another sip of the tea. It's starting to ease my anxiety. "Thank you for the tea. It's helping. How are you all of a sudden British?"
"Oy. Yeah. About that. I actually am British, but I pretend to be American so I can do my job here. I've been in the states since 50 on a student visa. Garnet was... is... I'm not sure what is going on with that so I'm going to use present tense ok?" I nod. "Your Grandmother and I are partners. She has a pretty good British accent herself. We met at Oxford, which is where I actually went to school. She was there on a mission and I accidentally stumbled onto some information that was useful to her and... well that was that. Within 6 months of meeting her, I was the newest member of ASJOB." He grins shyly. I knew there was more to the story than he was telling me. I was pretty sure they had a thing and I didn't know how I felt about that so I kept quiet. Especially since I think I might have a thing for him.
"You had me fooled that was for sure. I kind of secretly hoped you were British because you look so much like a character from a movie I really like and he's British and..." I stop. "Sorry, I tend to ramble. You have to stop me sometimes." I take another drink to stop myself.
Michael smiles and stands up his hand outstretched. "I think it's adorable." I roll my eyes at him and give him the tea so I can get up myself. "If you like I'll take you to the loo so you can freshen up. You're really a hot mess." He chuckles again.
"That's quite un-British of you to say, and to a lady, nonetheless!" I smack his arm and try wiping my eyes again, my mascara is practically nonexistent at this point. I'm sure I look like a raccoon. "That term is relatively modern too. When did you pick it up?"
He mysteriously pulls a handkerchief from inside his jacket and hands it to me. I'm able to remove some of the mess on my face. "I've been to the future. Not 2019 future. All the way up to '80s at least. I've heard it around."
"Hm. What was that whole thing about the star before? Why didn't you want me to show David?" I say attempting once more to fix my face. I really do need a mirror. "You better take me to the ladies' room." He nods and slowly starts down the steps. I take my tea back and finish it.
"It's not that. It's that I didn't want everyone else to know about it. It's kind of a secret. The others don't know what we were attempting to do when Garnet went missing, only that it was important." He whispers. "David, Charlotte, Adam, and Renee, the older people out there. And I say that loosely because there probably only 10 years older than the rest of us. They get to dress up fancier because they are higher on the totem pole than we are. They get the orders and determine who best to send out on the missions. I could be one of them if I wanted, but you know." He gives a haughty nod of his head.
"You're a cool rider, aren't you?" He gives me a delicious wink and licks his plump lips. Am I crazy? The sexual tension between us is so palpable, I can hardly think straight and I need to. I bite my own lip in response.
He leans in close, his intoxicating cologne invading my nostrils so pleasantly. Is he going to kiss me?! He grabs the door handle I hadn't realized we'd stopped at. In fact, I hadn't even realized we left the main room and went down several hallways, I was so involved with conversing. "We're here. The girl's area. Across the hall is the closet." He points. "Feel free to change into anything in there if it makes you more comfortable. There's a section marked Garnet you can pick from. I'll send Emily along in a bit to check on you. Okay?"
I sigh in disappointment and a little relief. I mean now is definitely not the time to be thinking about that! I hand him the empty mug and give a nod. "Can you tell her to bring some more cookies. I'm still feeling a bit peckish." I ask instead.
He smiles and digs around in his jacket. "I've got some here. Will that help?"
I can't help but grin as I accept them. "Much." I start to enter the bathroom but turn around to say something and bump my nose into his. "Ouch! Oh, sorry! Are you okay?" He just chuckles at my clumsiness and nods. "What I wanted to say was thank you for being so nice to me especially since I'm not her."
Michael opens his mouth as if to say something then changes his mind. He gives me a little salute then saunters off down the hall, swinging the mug by its handle. I watch him go, wondering if this is the real version of Michael or if I'm seeing a persona he created for his time here in America. I'm not sure, but something inside me feels that Michael Whitby and I are going to have the greatest adventure.