PART 6: WELCOME CHANGE
“Of all the… how could this… how could you have been so clumsy?!” Carrie choked out, embracing the familiar anger as it swept back over her.
“Okay, wait,” Frank said quietly, fiddling with his broken glasses. “True, I have no depth perception, but with your help–”
“My help? MY help? What are on about, Frank?!” Carrie shouted. “I don’t know the first thing about the blinking lights and circuitry in the time device!” She put her hands on her hips. “There, I admitted it! You happy now?! So, while your temporal theories are keeping you all safe and alive in my past, if I die out here, it will all be YOUR fault!”
She regretted the words as soon as she’d spoken them. That was WAY over the top. In her defence, she was sick, and scared beyond belief, and that was such a foreign feeling – she preferred the anger. Except… pushing away the only guy who could help was really stupid.
Damn it! And after everything with her mama, they were at the point where she didn’t think she had any more tears left to shed…
Frank cleared his throat. “I’m sorry, Carrie. Truly I am. I did find a couple of sturdy twigs and some dry wood before I fell. How about we at least pick it back up and return to the lake?”
Carrie bit her lower lip, stifling another sneeze. She couldn’t apologize, not again – he knew she hadn’t meant it, right? He had to know. “It’s fine. I have no intention of dying here, Frank,” she asserted.
“I know. Let’s go back to the device.” Frank struggled to stand up again, succeeding by favouring his right leg.
Carrie wondered what more she should or could say. Nothing came to mind. So she offered Frank a hand and supported him as best as she could they struggled back up the slope.
Frank sighed as Carrie tossed aside his swiss army knife. “This is so goddamn pointless!” she cried out.
“We’re managing okay,” Frank assured her.
“Oh, shut– Frank, stop with the platitudes,” Carrie revised. She began to count off on her fingers. “I have a headache, and a runny nose, and I’m possibly getting a temperature, and I’m hungry, and tired and goddamn it, you’re no better off, so why am I complaining to you?” She collapsed, putting her head between her knees. “It’s been over a DAY, and we’re no further ahead!!”
Frank rubbed his temples. He was getting used to Carrie’s outbursts of emotionalism. They weren’t a bad thing, actually. Sometimes she could spot a futile effort early on, be it in time machine reparation or the poor shelter construction methods they had been attempting. If only she was a bit more attentive and could verbalize things in a nicer way… but even there Frank was starting to realize something.
Despite appearances, Carrie wasn’t especially shallow, or prone to violent outbursts. The lashing out was more an extension of her desire to keep a particular distance from people. He wondered why that was the case, and whether this experience was giving him any insight into her fourteen year old counterpart – his classmate.
Aloud, all he said was, “It’s clouding over anyway, maybe it’s time for a break.”
Carrie snorted. There he was, acting all calm and congenial again. Saying nice things for no discernible reason, offering help without expecting any favours in return. How incredibly naive. The real world didn’t work that way – being pleasant for the sake of being pleasant only made you into an easy target. Or into a tool that could be exploited.
Under normal circumstances Carrie would personally show Frank the error of his ways… yet right now she was finding this quality of his oddly enviable. And she had to remind herself that this Frank hadn’t spent a couple years in high school yet. She wondered absently whether the Frank of her time period had really managed to maintain the same positive outlook.
“I don’t know if a break will help,” Carrie said with a sigh and a cough. She lifted her head. “We can’t break into the device’s silver coin box. I’ve tried prying at the exterior slot with your knife, jimmying it with your bank card, we’ve dismantled your mini camera for parts to try and activate circuitry, we’ve even fed a whittled down wooden coin into the thing… dammit, I’m ready to just throw it into the fire we made!!” She took in a deep breath. “You were wrong. We should have struck out for civilization this morning. We’re getting nowhere.”
“Again, even assuming I could walk well, we have no idea which direction to go,” Frank reminded his companion as he squinted back at the machine through his broken glasses. “Plus we ARE further along – I believe we’ve managed to readjust the time machine’s month and day. Since we’re already in the correct year, we merely need to TRIGGER the thing.”
Carrie pinched the bridge of her nose. “Yeah. That’s what you said three hours ago,” she murmured.
Frank looked back over in her direction and saw Carrie’s eyes starting to brim with tears. He was surprised it had taken this long – he’d cried a bit himself last night, after she’d fallen asleep. After all, no need to be brave for the both of them if she was unconscious.
For that matter, Frank wasn’t certain if his continued desire to project reassurance was due more to male stereotypes, or this curious temporal situation that seemed to have put her life in greater danger than his own. Since his future existed in her past.
“I hurt, Frank,” Carrie confessed. “Physically, mentally, and now emotionally – I’m not thinking straight any more. A lot of what you’re saying has started to go in one ear and out the other. Worse, those are storm clouds moving in, meaning it’s going to rain.”
Her gaze fell. “I… I’m tired. Maybe… maybe we saved my mother in the past, so now we’re being punished. Meaning there’s no way out of this for me. A life for a life. I should have expected as much.”
Frank pursed his lips. Carrie was sounding so serious it was scary. “You told me yesterday you had no intention of dying.”
“I don’t. But maybe it’s not my decision. Maybe you can’t fight fate. I can’t recall the last time I felt so helpless – unless it’s the day when I finally accepted my mama wasn’t coming back. Which is probably not a coincidence.” Carrie both coughed and sniffled at the same time. “God, why is everything coming back to her now… and why is this damn cold making my eyes water so damn much…”
Frank reached out to gently place a hand on Carrie’s shoulder. She didn’t shrug him off. “Here’s the thing,” he said. “I survive another two years relative to you, right? And I’m NOT going to leave you behind. So we must both get out of this somehow! Yeah?” He ventured a smile.
“You say that now,” Carrie fired back despondently without even looking up. “But I’ve been thinking, if my mother’s alive, and I don’t remember that, I may have changed my history by picking you up too. All we’ve got to point to your survival is my swan – which could have been broken by someone ELSE originally, right? Meaning I’ve changed everything, and my memory is wrong. So my curiosity and headstrong attitude will ultimately kill us BOTH.”
Frank felt like someone had punched him in the gut. “Um. Okay, interesting theory,” he yielded, dropping his arm back to his side.
Carrie winced. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said it aloud,” she sighed. “Maybe there was some hope in what you said.”
“Maybe,” Frank said dubiously. He really didn’t want to think too hard about that though. Because her logic seemed sound. Was there any way he could spin it, to keep her from giving up hope? To now keep HIMSELF from giving up hope?
“Okay, on the bright side,” Frank suggested, “the berries we’ve been eating haven’t been poisonous and no wild animals have attacked us. So it’s not like time is actively trying to kill us, it’s all been pretty passive-aggressive.”
Carrie laughed at that, though her laugh was hollow. “Don’t say it like that, you’ll jinx us,” she chided. She slugged him in the arm, but without much force behind the blow. He wondered if that was intentional, or merely due to a lack of energy.
Thunder rumbled ominously in the distance.
Then the unthinkable happened.
“Did you hear that?” Carrie inquired, snapping her head to the left.
“What?” Frank inquired, blinking nervously. “I was only kidding about wild animals…”
“No, shhh! I thought I heard a person!” The two teenagers both stopped and sat, listening, Carrie straining her ears. ‘Please tell me that wasn’t a hallucination,’ she thought desperately to herself. ‘Please, please… if… if we get out of this alive, I swear I’ll pay more attention to the things I do and say with respect to time and space and people and everything, okay? I mean, I’m not going to become a good little girl overnight, but I WILL try! Okay? So please… please let there be someone–‘ There was the sound of a deep laugh, which Carrie judged to be less than a kilometre away.
“Check it out,” Frank breathed, eyes wide.
Carrie was already on her feet, running with whatever energy she had left, trying to home in on the new sound. She stumbled and almost fell, forcing herself to slow down. The sky was starting to become even more overcast, so it was getting harder to see in the underbrush. “Hello?” she called out, the action sending her into a brief coughing fit. The sounds were closer. Two, maybe three people. People. Oh God, they had been saved, saved… “Helllloooo?” Carrie called out again, desperately.
There was a pause in whatever discussion had been going on. “Hello?” came a reply at least. “Who’s out there?”
Carrie didn’t waste her breath replying, she sprinted the remaining distance to emerge in a small clearing. There were three men there, along with two canoes and what looked like a bunch of camping equipment. They were setting out a large tarp. “Oh God… oh thank God… help, you’ve got to help us,” Carrie gasped out, falling to her knees.
The others stared at her. It dawned on Carrie for the first time what a sight she must present after recent events. She hadn’t even bathed this morning. “Who’s ‘us’?” one of the men inquired in bewilderment.
“Me and a friend of mine,” Carrie replied. “He needs some medical attention. Actually, we both do, so how did you get in here, and can we get back out the same way??”
The second guy automatically lifted his arm, pointing away from the lake. “We’ve been hiking our way in since this morning,” he stated. Inwardly, Carrie shuddered. That meant they probably wouldn’t get out by tonight, certainly not before the rain. However, she reminded herself, these guys had a tarp here, and supplies. There was hope. “But… who are you? How did you get out here??” the guy continued.
Before she could speak, the last man, standing the furthest away, stepped forwards. “I have what you need.” He tossed something small at her. Carrie caught it out of reflex, peering down in confusion. It was a nickel.
“What? I need this?!”
“Yes. Use it to get back home almost immediately. Avoid the rain that way.”
The other two guys laughed. “What, she gonna call someone?” the first man inquired, seemingly asserting himself as the leader of the group. “Come on buddy, we said we didn’t mind you coming along, but don’t start acting crazy, okay?”
The second man made a comment also, but Carrie didn’t catch it. She’d noticed the date on the coin. It was from this year. Frank’s present. It wasn’t a quarter, but could they use… did he mean… Her head snapped back up. “You KNOW?”
The man who had tossed the nickel turned away. She couldn’t pick out his features, as the hood of his jacket was up. But his voice was still audible. “I suspected. Look, it’s yours now. Do what you will with it. Just guard it. Don’t let anyone take it away from you.”
“Why? Who are you?” Carrie gasped, stepping forwards. He did not speak again. “Who ARE you?” Carrie repeated, reaching out to grab him by the shoulder – only to be seized by a sudden coughing fit, forcing her to double over.
“Whoa girlie, easy there,” said the person she’d conjectured as the leader. He bent down next to her. “Don’t mind whatzizname, he’s just tagging along with us because he doesn’t know the trails. Guy seems a bit loopy if you ask me, I wouldn’t worry about guarding his loose change.”
Camping Leader patted her on the back. “You said you have a friend out there, some way we can help the two of you? Can always cut our canoe trip short, particularly if the weather forecast isn’t going to hold up. After all, you’re looking pretty pale…”
Carrie heaved in a deep breath. “I’ll be fine. Once THIS guy gives me some answers,” she retorted, standing up straight again as she tried to summon up enough strength for a good rant.
“You’re not ready for answers,” the figure responded. “All in good… time.” A lightning strike lit up the whole area a split second before he spun. Carrie found herself reflexively taking a step back, as with the hood, his posture did look rather foreboding. He immediately spoke again, with an unexpected edge to his tone. “Now run. Fast. Get back to where you belong.”
The heavens opened up and the rain began to pour down.
‘Why the hell am I running?’ Carrie asked herself. She wasn’t the type to simply obey anyone like that, let alone a stranger. Of course, she was hardly at her best right now… yet the way that mysterious guy had spoken to her, it had seemed so insistent.
A branch thwacked her in the forehead. Carrie pushed it aside and kept on going. She decided it would be futile to turn back at this point. She was cold, wet and miserable, with the rain literally pounding down around her, and moreover it sounded like one of the other well-meaning campers was calling out to her for an explanation. An explanation she couldn’t provide. So let Mr. Enigmatic deal with him. Carrie decided she would be able to think more clearly about things in retrospect.
When Carrie arrived back at the place she’d left Frank, she found him huddling with the device under the makeshift shelter they had constructed last night. He glanced up hopefully at her approach, looking about as awful as she felt. “Well?” he inquired, raising his voice to be heard over the thunder and the driving rain.
“Well… we’re getting out of here,” Carrie stated, producing the nickel as she collapsed down next to him.
Frank blinked. “What? I… I don’t understand.”
“I don’t either,” Carrie admitted. She shoved the coin into the slot on the time machine. There was a rewarding humming noise. “For now, just grab the lever and pull with me. I think…” She paused to cough, then attempted a smile. “I think we’re going back to your present!” Frank needed no second urging.
There was the familiar feeling of being sucked into some sort of void. And then the rain and thunder and lightning were all gone. Carrie blinked her eyes open and looked around. At first she saw only trees, which gave her a second of panic, before she realized that they were simply part of the ravine which bordered her house and the park. They’d made it back! At least geographically. The time being either early morning, or late evening, according to the amount of available sunlight.
“It’s Saturday again,” came Frank’s awed voice beside her. She turned to meet his gaze, as he looked up from the device. “My Saturday. We did it, Carrie. We survived.”
Carrie felt a wave of relief wash over her. “Civilization. Thank Gah-ah-CHOO!” she responded, unable to stifle another sneeze.
“Bless you,” murmured Frank.
“Thanks.” Carrie hesitated, then offered Frank a wan smile. “For everything.” Before she was completely aware of it happening, one of them had initiated a quick hug.
Two hours later found Carrie attempting to tighten the belt she was wearing. She and Frank had returned to his place, at which point Frank had retrieved his spare glasses, tidied himself up marginally, reset the time machine, and then had his mother take him to the hospital to have his arm and head looked at – claiming he’d fallen while in the ravine.
Carrie knew she couldn’t go to the hospital herself, not in this time period. It would raise FAR too many questions. But aside from a few scrapes, her troubles were mainly flu related. So she was off to HER present, having found two quarters from her year of departure in her shoulder purse, which had been left down in Frank’s basement.
As Frank had tidied himself, there had been some brief discussion between them as to whether the time machine was all right, particularly because it seemed to be giving off the aroma of burned wood and pine needles. No doubt due to their improvisations. Frank had offered to take more time to check it out, but Carrie had countered with, “As long as nothing’s visibly broken, go and get that arm looked at. Before I injure your other one.”
Once Frank and his mother had left (Carrie hiding in the basement), she taken the opportunity to tidy up a bit herself, and change out of her wet, dirty clothes, borrowing some old ones belonging to Frank’s mother. It felt prudent. On the off chance she turned up in her present, but in, well… who knew? Nome, Alaska? The only thing was, the pants were a bit big.
A sudden coughing fit reminded her that her health was still up for debate. Carrie finally gave up on the belt. She went to the time machine, brushing her hair back off her shoulders. “Right. Here goes nothing then,” Carrie murmured. One of the coins had already been dropped inside. She wiggled her fingers, then before she could change her mind, yanked down on the lever.
The sensations were becoming almost routine. Carrie didn’t even think she lost consciousness this time, but the disorientation was still tricky to work through. For a moment she wondered if she’d gone blind, only to realize that she was back in the familiar park, and it was merely dark out. ‘Why the park again?’, she wondered. She looked down at the device. She’d undershot by a day – they’d aimed for Friday, but it was still Thursday, the day of her departure. Would she have to lie low for twenty four hours?
That’s when a scream cut through the air, accompanied by a brief burst of light, originating down in the ravine. Something about it felt disturbingly familiar. Immediately on her feet and hefting the time machine, Carrie hurried to investigate. “Hello? Who’s there?” she called out, starting down the familiar path to her house. “Who’s–”
She stopped. Hold on. A scream, a light, a sound effect… that had been HER, hadn’t it! Her leaving on her first trip! Which meant it was late evening, and she’d only just managed to beat herself back before leaving in the first place. Could it have been possible for her to prevent her own departure?
Carrie’s head started to throb, and not merely because of that particular train of thought. She felt incredibly weak and tired. If that really had been her, her bed should be vacant now. Either way, she needed to lie down, and she decided she might as well do so in her room rather than some emergency room, which would only invite more damn questions.
She had enough questions to deal with herself right now, chief among them where the time machine had come from initially, and who that mysterious figure in the woods had been two years ago.
Using the familiar tree in her backyard, Carrie slowly pulled herself up to her window and crawled into her room. She stowed the time device under her bed, then collapsed on top of her sheets. Asleep practically as soon as her head hit the pillow, Carrie didn’t wake up until the next morning… when her window re-opened and a future incarnation of herself also crawled into her room.