I wake up to golden, late afternoon sunlight streaming through my bedroom windows. For a moment, I just lie there, my head nestled in the soft, goose-down pillows. I have a dozen more things to do before nightfall – clean out the pigsty, collect a tin of water from the well, and chop some more firewood before Miranda has my head.
“Wesley Turner!” she would scold, fists planted on her wide hips. “You know perfectly well that I can’t get supper started without firewood! How am I supposed to get the stove going?”
Firewood? I sit bolt upright. People don’t use firewood for stoves anymore. And who the heck was Miranda? I’m about to dismiss her as a fragment from a dream when I become aware of my surroundings. Cast iron bed topped with an embroidered quilt. Sturdy wooden furniture. Rough, splintery walls and floorboards.
Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.
I stand up and walk around the bed, noticing right away that my joints no longer creak and groan like rusty hinges. One glance out the tiny window confirms my suspicions – wherever I am, it is a long, long way away from Sleepy Meadows Retirement Home. Gone are the white stucco walls surrounding the garden. Gone are the rows of boxy, cookie-cutter houses that line the streets of Manzanita Heights. Here – wherever I am, tall, sloping cliffs of red rock surround a small, quaint town.
I blink. There has to be some logical explanation The last thing I remembered was stepping into that old-fashioned phone booth prop from Richard’s son. Had I tripped and hit my head so hard I’d fallen into a strange coma? Or maybe my kids had staged some kind of prank while I was sleeping, carrying me off to a wild west-themed bed-and-breakfast in some small town.
Then I catch a glimpse of myself in a full-length mirror. I’m young! Young! A twenty or thirty-something whippersnapper. A spring chicken. Still wet behind the ears. Thank goodness I suddenly have the strong heart of a much younger man, or I probably would have had a heart attack.
My face is round and pinkish, framed by a thick, bushy beard – something I had never been able to grow before. My eyes are a deep, bright blue, filled with the secrets of another man’s life. The life of Wesley Turner, who had traveled here with his wife by wagon train, just after the gold rush tapered off in California, and just before the transcontinental railroad had come through. He had built this house for them with his bare hands. I know all about this other man, whose body I had inhabited. I could feel his memories mingling with my own, trying to take over.
“No!” I tell my strange reflection. “I am not Wes Turner. My name is Al Becerra.” As I’m frowning into the mirror, my reflection shifts. Suddenly, I see myself. My real self, albeit fifty years younger, is frowning back at me. I’m still wearing the same rough, hand-sewn clothes as Wes, but it’s my own face peering out from under the worn felt hat. Then just as suddenly, the reflection shifts back to that of Wes Turner.
I back away from the mirror, my heart pounding. What in tarnation is going on? Have I lost my mind? I stumble down a wooden staircase and find myself in the parlor. I glance at the door. I’ve got to get out of here.
“Wes Turner!” my wife, Miranda, calls out from the kitchen, where she’s rattling pots and pans. “Where is my firewood? Do I have to go and fetch it myself?”
I pause, cringing. “No darlin’,” I say, my voice tumbling out with a syrupy, western drawl. “I was fixin’ to chop some right now.”
Me, chop firewood? I may have Wes Turner’s rough, calloused hands, but I had never chopped firewood before in my life. Even worse, I couldn’t pull out my cell phone and Google “How to Chop Firewood,” because cell phones wouldn’t be invented for more than one hundred years.
No phones. No internet. Not even indoor plumbing. I have been dropped down in an old-time version of the land of Oz, only this trip didn’t even come with a pair of red ruby slippers.