Walking in scattered clusters, the groups held several mini private conversations while they followed Dan and Mark back to Adam’s house. Dan, who looked to be the older of the two men, seemed at ease with the situation, talking with the kids like they were extended family coming in for a visit. He began with an explanation of how they prepared for the group’s arrival. “My wife Ella knows how to preserve just about anything. When she heard about the food problems the soldiers were having in Europe she figured it’d be a matter of time and we’d be rationing. It hasn’t happened yet, but there’s been speculation. If it does, we’re ready for it. He walked them by a door that seemed to be an entrance to an underground tunnel. Excepting the frame holding the door in place, the structure constructed entirely of dirt and grass blended with the landscape. “We easily have six months worth of vegetables, potatoes and beans. I wondered how we were going to eat it all before it went bad. Now we know.”
Brian’s mind raced as he tried to use the information Dan told them to figure out where they were. Yes, the country was fighting the War on Terror when they left, but nobody he knew of rationed. Most people tried to get as much as they could of everything.
Eli, from the farm down the road, showed Brian a room in his house dedicated to the accumulation of ammunition. The walls of the room, from ceiling to floor, held an assortment of bullets. Some of them he purchased. Most of them he made on his own. Meticulously organized, the bullets were shelved in size order beginning in one corner and moving to the left as they increased in caliber.
In like manner, Eli’s wife Alyssa had a room used specifically for food storage. At the time, Brian joked that he knew where to go in the event of a zombie apocalypse. Their current situation made him realize his neighbors probably knew more about the potential for a crisis than him.
They reached the peak of one of the rolling hills to see an immense housing compound. Caitlin’s indifference caused Brian to wonder if they had been on the property all along and he failed to realize it. As if to answer his question, she said, “It looks different without the trees. I mean, I know we had a lot of buildings. It just doesn’t look like it until you see them together.”
Beaming at her comment, Dan nodded his head and said, “So we finally do get this place to look alive.” He quickly added, “Don’t tell me too much, I don’t want anything you say to influence my decisions.”
The two-story house with a deck wrapped around the front seemed odd in the middle of the prairie. Across from the house, a simpler building that Caitlin used to call the dormitory was half painted. “We were in the middle of a project when the storm blew through,” Dan explained.
Several grain bins and the farm equipment Brian and Caitlin played around for their childhood, lacking the wear from years of exposure to the elements, shined like one of the brand new quarters they used to brag about when they were kids.
Caitlin’s eyes scanned the flat land searching for something familiar. “What happened to the farm?”
“I’m glad you noticed. I think we’ve done quite well for the short amount of time we’ve been out here. Most families don’t have as much after five years.” Dan stood taller and took in the scene in front of them.
Damien pushed to the front of the group. “Five years? What do you mean five years? Caitlin, really how do you know this man?”
Dan held out his hands. The gleam in his eyes darkened and his jaw became more angular. “Take it easy there son. The way you’re talking to my granddaughter, I mean great granddaughter is disrespectful and needs to stop right now. Otherwise there will be consequences neither of us wants to see.”
“This is a joke, right?” Damien, the least bit phased by what Dan said, turned and walked ten feet away from where they were standing and shielded his eyes from the sun for a better perspective of the horizon. “You can come out of hiding. We know you’re out there.”
“Son, I wouldn’t do that if I were you. That kind of talk will draw some attention you may not want to receive,” Dan’s eyes lightened showing the shift from protective parent to concerned adult.
“You’re an idiot!” Marjorie yelled.
Looking around him while he returned to the group, Damien said, “I know there is a camera hidden somewhere. I’ve seen things like this on YouTube. You know where they prank a bunch of people and film it.”
“I have a camera, if you’d like, I can go get it for you,” Dan offered.
Pushing his way to the center of the group, with an urgency in his voice, Damien spoke. “This is the plan. We act normal. Don’t react strongly one way or another and they’ll get bored and tell us it was a hoax. But I hope they do it soon, because if we don’t leave shortly, we’re going to miss the science fair.”
Angelica spoke softly, “Damien, I think things would go smoother if you let these men explain things to us.”
Considering the suggestion, Damien’s face softened. “Just don’t get mad at me, if we become the first class to miss the science fair.”
Her expression remained flat. “Our situation is a little more dire than that.”
Dan broke through to regain control of the situation. He said, “Let’s go sit on the porch and we’ll fill you kids in on what’s happening.”
They piled their backpacks by the door and took different seats around a picnic table. The wood smooth and unbuckled invited them to rest. Brian couldn’t decide if the pristine appearance was a result of it being new, or Dan’s long reputed diligence of caring for his belongings. Out of the corner of his eye, Brian saw Andrea nod in response to Selene’s whispered question, “Is this really Caitlin’s house?”
“Yes, but this looks a little smaller.” He smiled at the smirk Andrea gave when Selene looked back at the house in awe. From where they stood, they could see the windows to three bedrooms upstairs and they were only looking at one side of the house.
After everyone made themselves comfortable on the deck of Dan’s house, he asked Mark for his input. “Where do we begin?”
Mark rubbed his chin while considering the answer. “I think you should start with the beginning of the war. That’s when we started noticing changes around here.”
“Actually, I think I’ll start with a question.” Dan spoke to the group, “Has anyone recently wished or thought they wanted to be someplace else?” He searched the kid’s faces to discern the answer he was seeking. When he tried to make eye contact with Marjorie, she cast her eyes downward and started biting her pinky nail. “I may have wished that we could live someplace where we could do something more interesting than science.”
Damien gasped, “I thought you loved science. You’re the best in the class.”
“That’s because there’s nothing better to do.”
“I got into a big fight with my brother and told him I wished I had another family to live with.” Peter’s lips formed a thin line. “I didn’t mean it, I was just mad at the time.”
“I’m tired of having my mistakes follow me wherever I go. Sometimes I want to be someplace where things work out in the world, like they do in my head.” Demetrius’s eyes darkened.
“And I know I don’t have to ask you,” Dan addressed Caitlin and Brian. “Just yesterday Ella and I were wondering if our children’s children would love the land the way we do.”
All of a sudden the ground beneath Brian’s feet grew interesting. He did not want to tell them that being in the middle of an expanse of land was the last thing he wanted.
“Well let me tell you the brunt of what’s happening. Every once in a while a storm blows in. These storms started shortly after the war. From what we can tell, the storm opens something like a door that lets you walk through time. Over the past year, we’ve had three visitors. One was from the 1700’s; the other two came from the late 3000’s.
“I didn’t like them too much,” Mark broke in, “they treated us like we were cavemen and didn’t know how to add two and two together.”
“It was bad,” Dan agreed, “they kept trying to change our system. And don’t get me wrong, I’m open to change, but things like channeling energy from the air so we could have light around the clock was not anything I’m particularly interested in.”
“If that storm hadn’t come when it did, I’d of helped em find their way back to where they belong another way.” Mark snorted and laughed at the sound he made.
Dan’s eyes warmed and he chuckled at Mark’s appreciation of his own humor. “Anyway, when you have enough people wanting to be someplace else, it creates enough energy to open the door. And this is one of the reasons why I wasn’t amenable to using energy to create 24 hours of daylight.”
“If it’s a door, why aren’t the bus driver and Mrs. Almstead with us?” Eugene asked.
“She’s the last warning before you pass through. Did she give you instructions to not leave your wagon?”
“Our wagon?” Eugene raised one eyebrow in Damien’s direction.
“That thing you walked away from to get here. Your wagon. Anyway, did you get any instructions?”
“She told us to wait for her on the bus.” Recognition lit Eugene’s face, “So you mean to tell me that if we’d have stayed on the bus,” his face tightened in accusation, “we’d still be in the year 2015.”
“That sums it up fairly well,” Mark said. “We’ve heard about Mrs. Almstead from the last two people. Apparently she was a teacher of a class that.” He stopped to consider his words. “Anyway, they said they never have got the chance to meet her in person and that she was highly influential in making progress in the country.”
Eugene still trying to grasp the enormity of the situation asked, “So if I didn’t listen to Damien and his great idea we’d be back home.”
Holding his palms in the air, as though they would have a calming effect, Damien said, “How was I to know we’d walk through a door 100 years in the past.”
Demetrius held up his cell phone. “At least that explains why we don’t have a cell phone signal”
“Hey things were like that way before we ever traveled here,” Damien growled. “For mercy’s sake, we live in the middle of nowhere Montana!”
“Let’s focus on the result we want,” Andrea’s voice resembled a fairy godmother instead of a teenage girl. The effect was a natural change in demeanor of those around her. Mostly, she used it to rile people into antagonizing Selene. Her using it to the benefit of the class did not go unnoticed by Brian. He raised an eyebrow in wonder of what else she was able to do.
“Yeah, not that we don’t like it here, or anything like that,” Demetrius interrupted, “We’d like to get home before supper. How did the last group get back home?”
“There was the fire for the fellow from the 1700’s. After the smoke settled, we searched high and low, but never found him. After a while we figured that he went back to where he came from.” Mark said.
“And the thunderstorm. I hope that doesn’t happen again. It took us days to find all our cattle.” Dan added.
“The tornado was worse. Are you kids sure you don’t want to stick around? Every time you leave it does a number on us.”
“So we need to sit around and wait for a natural disaster to get us home?” Brian asked.
“You are home,” Dan offered. “We have something that might make staying here seem like a pleasant situation.”
Brian had no idea of what he had in mind, but it would have to be something cosmically awesome to get him to stay in Montana circa 1915.
Author note: What would you do if you had the chance to go back in time and keep the knowledge of the future? Let me know in the comments, or via twitter or my facebook page.