I can’t go home.
That is, I can’t return to the little house where I live with my wife, Miranda.
Shoot. I shake my head to clear it. Little by little, memories of my life – my real life back in the retirement home in Manzanita Heights – are fading, the way bright autumn leaves do toward the end of November. The other memories, his memories, are becoming sharper, more real. My hands once cut down the slender trunks of pine trees, then notched them together to build my home. My eyes had squinted down the shaft of a rifle as I tracked a lone deer. My lips tingle with the memory of kissing my wife – I mean his wife, Miranda.
I’m turning into Wes Turner.
Even my riding skills are improving. I no longer bounce around in the saddle as Delilah trots down the road toward some unknown destination. Oh wait – I know exactly where she’s headed, I realize, as she crosses the rickety bridge over Arrowhead Creek. We’re headed to visit my sister.
My sister – I mean, Wes’s sister, Charity, works as a teacher in the local schoolhouse. When I arrive, the children are all bent over their desks, reading out of a book along with Miss Olivia, Charity’s assistant.
“Wesley!” Charity’s eyes grow round with surprise, then fill with worry. “Is everything all right? Is Miranda feeling okay?”
“’Course she’s okay.” I wince at the way Wes’s drawl sounds slower and heavier than ever. “Why wouldn’t she be?”
Charity glances toward her students, then lowers her voice. “Well, I hear that first-time pregnancies can be a little rough on the mother.”
Now my eyes widen in surprise. Miranda’s pregnant? How come there was nothing in Wes’s memories about that? Maybe he was so scared about becoming a father that he’d blocked it out. “She seemed fine to me when I last saw her.” I wince as I recall how I hadn’t gone home the night before. Miranda is probably worried sick. I can picture her pacing the floor, wringing her hands together the way she does when she’s nervous. I blink hard, trying to focus on my own thoughts. As I do, it occurs to me that Charity is a very attractive young woman. Which is a weird thing to think about your sister, let me tell you.
“Thing is, I need your help,” I tell her. “I’m not sure who else to turn to.”
“Anything,” she says.
“This is going to sound, well, crazy,” I say. “But I am not your brother. My name is not Wes Turner. It’s Al Becerra, and I came here from the future.” I wait for her reaction, certain that she’s going to burst out laughing, or maybe faint the way women always did in old-time movies. But to my surprise, she does none of that.
“Al.” Her voice drips with relief. “Al it’s me.” And right before my eyes, she transforms, just as I had in front of the mirror. Instead of my sister, Charity, I am face-to-face with Melissa Hilargi, still dressed like a schoolteacher. “I’m so happy to see you,” she says in a whisper, her eyes swimming with tears. “I was starting to forget – it’s like I’m turning into Charity.”
“Same.” I resist the urge to grab her hands and pull her into an embrace. “We’ve got to get out of here. Maybe the two of us can find some way.”
Miss Whats-Her-Face rings a little hand bell, and the children file outside for recess. Melissa and I follow them out. To the playground.
“That little phone booth,” Melissa says. “I’m sure that’s how we got here. But how?”
I shake my head. “No idea. But if you’re here, and I’m here, and maybe Richard’s here, then there’s a chance that the phone booth thing came with us, too.”
Forgetting about the curious eyes of the children, Melissa takes my hand and leads me toward the horse stall. “Then let’s go find it. Right now. And Richard, too.”
I sigh. “Can’t we just leave him here?”
Moments later, we’ve both mounted our horses and set off in search of the mysterious phone booth. And Richard.