PART 1: TIMELY DISCOVERY
It was the night before Carrie Waterson’s first argument with a future incarnation of herself. Rather ironically, she was thinking that a time machine would solve all of her problems.
After all, Carrie reasoned, if she had a time machine, then she could make her appearance at Julie’s first major party of the school year, and then later on, travel back in time to now. This meant that her future self would be back here in her room, on the off chance that her father came to check on her later, with the fringe benefit that she would then get a full night’s sleep before Friday morning’s math test.
Of course, her dad probably wouldn’t check. Seeing as, generally speaking, he remained wonderfully oblivious to most of her comings and goings, and indeed, her whole social life. The party wouldn’t even be a problem if she hadn’t accidentally let slip about it during dinner earlier this week. Now, if she’d still had a mother, maybe her mother would have paid more attention…
“But you don’t, so let’s get on with it,” the blonde teenager muttered aloud to herself. She raised her bedroom window, glancing around the backyard. No one was around. Hardly surprising for late September, but since their yard opened right out into the ravine, one could never be sure what people (or small animals) might be wandering around.
After adjusting the strap of her small shoulder purse, Carrie made her way onto the roof, and over to the oak tree. It was with practiced ease that she climbed down via the branches, having no difficulty despite her long hair and somewhat impractical choice of attire. Namely a cropped top, and a skirt that only just reached her knees, either of which could have snagged somewhere. But you didn’t show up to a party thrown by the richest girl in town wearing a long sleeved T-shirt with torn jeans. Particularly not when you had just been declared the head cheerleader for the school year.
Carrie dropped to the ground, smirking a little at the thought of that accomplishment. After all, she wasn’t even part of the graduating class. However, even as a junior, her athletic abilities already surpassed most, if not all of the seniors. Add to that the fact that she was best friends with Julie, one of the two polarizing forces within the school, and it had really been a foregone conclusion. With her reputation established, she could be forgiven for showing up while wearing her running shoes, which would be more practical for traversing the ravine than any sort of heels.
The blonde hooked some errant strands of her long hair back behind her ear, adjusted the blue hairband she wore, and sprinted across the backyard, into the cover of the nearby trees. She glanced briefly back towards the house, seeing the light was still on in the den. Maybe her dad would be so into writing his latest set of short stories that she would be back before he even went to bed; Thursday parties didn’t go past midnight. That would be helpful.
Finally turning her back on the house, Carrie headed down into the band of greenery that cut a swath through the small Ontario town where she lived. There were some paths through the underbrush, to be sure, but they weren’t always obvious. And in the dark, Carrie knew she had to take care not to stumble on a root, perhaps falling and twisting her ankle. It helped that she knew the route through to the park mere blocks away from Julie’s house, having lived in this town all her life.
Carrie peered at her watch. It was nearly 10pm already. She picked up the pace, putting her track and field abilities to good use. Except in her haste and confident familiarity, the blonde cheerleader tripped just before emerging into the park. She fell to the ground, biting back a cry of surprise. And while managing to break her fall, she still slid on the ground, and felt a twinge of pain.
The blonde quickly turned herself over into a seated position, looking down at her knees. Sure enough, she’d skinned one of them. Perhaps she should have worn jeans after all? Carrie sighed. At least her reflexes had still been good, and the rest of her seemed fine… but damn it, if there was one thing she was not, it was clumsy! How had she fallen? Something unusual must have tripped her up, maybe an animal or something.
Somewhat annoyed, but mostly curious, Carrie tossed strands of hair back out of her eyes, sat up fully and peered back along her trail to see what had been in her way.
She blinked. Though it was difficult to see in the dark, with the moonlight Carrie was able to pick out the outline of a black box. Most curious. Carrie approached to look more closely at it – she was sure it hadn’t been there earlier in the week. The box was a rectangular prism, maybe 60cm by 60 cm, by 30cm in height? But it had a digital readout that had been sunken slightly into the front.
It also had a handle on the side, and Carrie’s first impression was that this device was some cross between a computerized slot machine and a cash register. But the readout didn’t depict cherries or lemons. Instead, it featured eight numbers – with no indication of a decimal point. Had someone thrown this device away?
Wait a minute. Holding it up to the light, Carrie realized there was also a slot next to the readout where you could drop in coins… that could be another reason she was drawing parallels with slot machines. But, investigating further, Carrie saw nowhere to collect your winnings, or any other openings. It was also lighter than she might have expected. So what was this thing, and why was it here?
She shook it. She couldn’t hear anything rattling inside. She then ran her hands over the sides of the machine, which seemed to be surprisingly smooth. Something about it struck her as being high-tech, but she couldn’t put her finger on what. Why was it back here in the underbrush of the ravine? Maybe the thing didn’t do whatever it was supposed to. Which raised the question of how it was supposed to work. Carrie decided a few more minutes of inspection wouldn’t hurt at this point. She looked closer.
There was an unexpected flash of light from somewhere in the park behind her, which allowed Carrie to pick out the outline of a circular panel on the top of the device. Carrie tossed a quick glance back over her shoulder, saw nobody, and returned to her examination.
The panel reminded her vaguely of her father’s CD player. This really was a hybrid device. She pressed the top circular section, wondering if it would open, but nothing happened. Maybe the handle? She pulled it down, but again nothing happened. Perhaps it worked like an old style jukebox, only activating when you dropped coins into the slot.
Curiosity completely piqued by this point, Carrie fished around in the small shoulder purse she’d brought with her, bringing out a quarter. Potentially a waste of money, but if this thing did play music or do anything cool, maybe she could present it to everyone at the party as both an interesting artifact and the reason for her lateness.
Carrie plunked her quarter into the machine. It began humming. This seemed like progress. Carrie pressed on the top. Nothing. She pulled down on the handle. There was a flash of light and Carrie had the sensation of being sucked into a void. She screamed, as both literally and metaphorically, her life was turned completely upside down.
Carrie felt consciousness coming back to her. She reached out, felt dirt, and sat up with a start as she realized where she was.
“Dammit!” the blonde cursed, brushing more dirt off of her clothes. Had she fallen again? No, the earth had dropped away from underneath her! But then why wasn’t she down in a hole somewhere?
Carrie looked around. She was still near the border of the ravine; the treeline wasn’t far. But why was she on the ground? What the hell had just happened? Carrie’s eyes set on the black box, which was still in front of her. It had produced a flash of light…
“Damn thing almost electrocuted me!” Carrie deduced, speaking aloud to try and clear her head. No wonder it had been thrown away! Her natural curiosity would be the death of her someday.
Scowling, Carrie picked herself up off the ground, being reminded of her scraped knee in the process. She tried to brush the rest of the dirt off of herself but quickly realized that her clothes could use changing now too. How many things could go wrong in a single evening?
For that matter, how long had she been unconscious? Carrie checked her watch: less than an hour. She should have time for a quick tidy up before taking another run at the party – since Julie’s parents were away again, they couldn’t shut it down early.
Leaving the stupid box where it was, Carrie hurried out of the wooded area behind her house, up towards the convenient tree in the backyard. The wind had picked up a bit anyway, so maybe it would be good that she’d be changing her skirt.
Carrie stopped. Wait. This was her backyard. She turned. But she’d been about to emerge into the park before she found the device… right? What was she doing back on the wrong side of the ravine?
Carrie’s eyes narrowed. Perhaps she had wandered towards the house in a semi-dazed state after receiving that electrical shock? Dragging the weird box with her? Well, it was the only explanation she could think of. Anyway, she had were more immediate concerns, she’d figure it out later.
Carrie clambered up into the tree, slightly favouring her right leg. She soon reached her unlocked window, opened it, and climbed in onto her desk. She swung her legs around to hop off… and in the process kicked the crystal swan she kept there, causing it to fall to the ground and shatter into a dozen pieces.
Carrie froze. Her heart constricted. She wasn’t upset over the noise she had just caused, this was more than that… she couldn’t have just hit the crystal swan she kept on her desk. That particular ornament had been broken over two years ago…
It was then that Carrie heard the movement over in the sheets on her bed. Someone was in her room. No one was supposed to be in here! What the hell was happening?! Carrie sat on the desk, paralyzed in fear and confusion as whoever was in the bed rolled over, looking in her direction as they blinked themselves awake.
On the desk, Carrie’s eyes went wide. Then Carrie let out a scream. But it wasn’t the Carrie on the desk who was screaming. On the contrary, that Carrie’s reflexes were finally kicking in, causing her to get away by practically falling back out of the window, onto the roof. Which left the Carrie in bed alone, as she screamed for a second time.
Carrie tossed her covers aside, rubbing her eyes to try and clear the sleep from them. There was a knock at her bedroom door. “Hey, are you all right in there? Was that you screaming?” her father called out.
“I…” Carrie stopped, not sure what to say. Had she really seen a figure breaking into her room, or had she been dreaming? Wait, hadn’t she closed her window before going to sleep?
Carrie scrambled out of bed and moved towards her window. There was what looked like fresh traces of dirt on the surface of the desk and the windowsill. She peered outside. Nothing immediately apparent, but if the person was quick, they might have made it down the tree and around the side of the house.
So someone had been here. And now that she thought about it, Carrie reasoned that the silhouette had been strangely familiar. Someone from school playing a trick on her? If so, Carrie didn’t think it was very funny.
“Carrie? I’m coming in!” her father announced.
Carrie grabbed a couple of textbooks and stuck them down to conceal the few dirty smears on her desk as her door opened and the lights clicked on. If her dad found out about how she could use the tree out back to get onto the roof, he might chop off the branches – and her social life would be dead on arrival. She didn’t need that sort of aggravation during her first year in high school.
“It’s all right!” Carrie said. “I… I had a bad dream and overreacted.”
Her father paused. “Are you sure that’s all?” He took another step into her room. “It looks like you’ve broken something…”
Carrie blinked, and with the lights on she noticed for the first time the demise of her crystal swan. She choked back a cry of horror. “The swan… the swan mama gave to me,” Carrie said sadly, biting her lip.
But she was not going to cry, damn it. She was not going to display such weakness, not with her father here. Carrie didn’t want any fake words of comfort from him. After all, she knew he didn’t care about her. If he did, he would have explained, as soon as mama had disappeared, he would have explained… anyway, the less attention her dad paid to her, the easier it would be for her to improve her social life at school.
“It… the wind must have knocked it off the desk,” Carrie continued. Even though her father couldn’t know about the prowler, this settled it. Whoever had just been in here, playing this horrible, stupid prank, they were going to pay! She would see to that! Except – how was she supposed to figure out who had done it?
“I’m sorry,” her father replied sincerely. There was a pause. “Maybe I can find you another crystal–”
“Don’t bother,” Carrie said curtly. She reached out and slammed the window shut. “I’ll clean up the mess tomorrow. In the meantime, I’m going back to bed. See you in the morning.”
Her father frowned, perhaps at the abruptness of her manner, but he didn’t seem to know what to say about it. So it was with a final ‘goodnight’ that he turned the light back off and departed the room.
For her part, Carrie curled up in her bed, partly incensed but more despondent than anything else. And with her father out of the room, she finally allowed a tear to trickle down her cheek. Who had broken the swan? One of the few remembrances she had of her mother. Was there anyone she knew who could help her track down the culprit and get revenge?
(ASIDE: Bored? You can now follow young Carrie, into Part 27… links like that will bring you back to Part 1 later.)
Ten minutes later, the doorbell rang at Julie LaMille’s house. Or, mansion really – the LaMilles were by far the richest family in the area. It was only after three rings that Jeeves answered the door. This surprised Carrie on two levels.
Firstly, because she had thought that Julie had given the family butler the evening off, what with the party and all. Secondly, because he was wearing a bathrobe. It wasn’t midnight yet, and Carrie had always thought that the family help didn’t go off duty until sometime after that.
“Yes?” Jeeves said archly. “Why are you disturbing us so late at night?”
“Uhhhh, I’m looking for Julie,” Carrie said uncertainly. She was probably quite a sight too, knee still scraped up, looking dirty, and now sweaty after having run all the way over here. But she simply didn’t know what else to do. Carrie had to figure out what was going on! But there was no party here. Where WAS everybody?
“Miss LaMille is asleep, as is the rest of the house. Come back tomorrow.” Jeeves started to close the door.
“No, wait! Jeeves, just tell her it’s Carrie, please, I… I don’t know where else to go. I think somehow I just met myself… I’m so confused…”
“Neither Miss LaMille nor I know of any teenager by the name of Carrie. So whatever problems you have, either take them elsewhere, or come back at a more decent hour.” With that, the door slammed shut.
Carrie reeled. Now Julie’s family and servants didn’t know her? But they’d been acquainted for almost two years now! What. The. Hell. Were people being replaced by alien pod lookalikes? That could explain the other version of herself had been sleeping in her bed… Carrie suddenly felt like she was lost in some bad science fiction movie.
But everything had been fine not two hours ago! Well, not fine exactly, she’d had to sneak out of her house, and then had skinned her knee on account of that…
The box. That damn black box thing. That had to be it, Carrie realized. Somehow, it had done something to everyone! Or, no… more likely to her! But what? Well, she’d soon figure that out. With nowhere else to turn, Carrie hurried back towards the spot where she’d left the device.
As she approached the location, she heard a rustling in the bushes… someone else was here now! Had the original owner tracked down their property? Would they have answers? “Who the hell is out there?” Carrie demanded.
In response, in the darkness, a shadowy figure jumped up and turned, starting to run away. Screw that – Carrie was fed up with the entire situation now. Whoever this person was, they weren’t getting away.
Calling once again upon her athletic abilities and ignoring the aches in her body, she sprinted forward and tackled the stranger.
Both of them fell to the ground in a tangle of arms and legs.