The last thing Frankie remembered was moonlight on metal and thunder. She’d just finished installing the last of her enormous sculptures in City Park. She’d hired a crew to help her move and bolt down her large pieces, paying extra for their discretion and willingness to work at night.
The crew had packed up and left once done, leaving Frankie and Joe alone in the park while it started to sprinkle. Frankie and Joe weren't exactly close, but he was a big supporter of Frankie's work, and the only other person she'd told about the commission. He owned the studio space where she’d worked on her sculptures for the last six months. Joe had offered Frankie the space rent-free in exchange for letting him in on her secret, and allowing him to accompany her on the final installation of the pieces. Maybe she’d mention him in her speech tomorrow, but strictly speaking that wasn’t part of the deal.
Frankie stared at her work, not quite believing that she'd pulled it off. She had designed, built, and installed eight huge metal sculptures commissioned by the city - all of which would be on permanent display from this day forward. It was by far her most ambitious work.
She took a moment to appreciate the way the moonlight lit the tiny beads of water running down the metal, while reflecting on the incredible journey that had led her here.
She could call herself a real artist, now. And it was all thanks to someone leaving behind a crumpled copy of the 'Harper’s Landing Herald' at her usual spot at the cafe. She’d won the commission by submitting scaled down models of the sculptures to the city board six months earlier in response to an ad she'd read in that cumpled local paper:
Calling all artists! Have you ever wanted to see your work on display in our beautiful city? Now's your chance!
Harper's Landing will be turning 150 years old this fall. We'll celebrate this historic event on Founder's Day by unveiling eight new pieces of artwork around the city. Submit your proposal and budget for the work, but please, don't provide any information about yourself other than an address where you can be contacted. A third party will coordinate the project between the artist and the city board, so the artist's reveal will be as much a part of the surprise as the art itself!
This was exactly the kind of opportunity she'd been waiting for. Until this commission, she'd had several proposals approved, only to find herself laughed out of one conference room after another when she finally met with the potential employers to discuss the execution of the work. Noone believed that a twenty-two year old girl who topped out at five foot nothing in her work boots could be a serious metal worker.
Thunder began to rumble overhead, as Joe shuffled around nervously next to her.
"We better get out of here, half-pint," Joe said.
She turned to Joe, ready to ask him not-so-nicely to quit it already with the dumb nicknames, but before she could open her mouth, everything changed.
After a blinding flash of light, she found herself sitting alone in an unfamiliar, all white room. White walls, floors, doors and ceiling. Even the desk in front of her and the chair she sat in were white.
A moment later, the largest man she'd ever seen walked through the door, with a white file tucked under one muscled arm. He gave Frankie a perfunctory smile as he closed the door behind him and sat down across from her at the desk.
Frankie could only stare at the giant, her mouth slack in shock. His thick, dark hair was pulled back in a messy man-bun. His eyes were the icy light blue of a winter sky. He was impossibly gorgeous, but also slightly ridiculous - between his size, his muscles and the fact he was wrapped in layers of flowing gold fabric.
He opened the file and skimmed the contents quickly before looking up at Frankie.
"Francine Sullivan, twenty-two. Is that correct?" the man said in a deep, silky voice. She registered a trace of an accent - Irish maybe?
"Uhh yeah, that's me - Frankie," she finally said. "But who are you? And where am I?"
"Please tell me the last thing you remember," he continued, ignoring her questions.
"I was in City Park…" Frankie trailed off.
"What about thunder? Lightning?" He probed.
"Yeah, sure. I remember hearing thunder. Why?"
"This will be hard to hear, but you were struck by lightning."
"Seriously? So, what… I'm dead then?"
"Not exactly," the beautiful giant said. "Lightning death is tricky, and technically it isn't death. It's more like displacement. You can't go back to the when and where you came from, but you can go to the future or the past. Or if you'd like, I can remove the tether to your body completely and you can move on."
"Move on? You mean die? What happens then?"
The giant shrugged, "Nobody knows. I'm not really supposed to advise, but you are still quite young so I'd recommend displacement to the future or the past."
Frankie opened her mouth to respond, but the man held up his hand as if he were an angry crosswalk guard. He closed her file folder and sighed.
"Now, I know you have a million questions, but unfortunately you only have five seconds to decide."
This whole thing was too wild. Frankie started to laugh but then she saw a digital display of the five second countdown appear on the white wall behind behind the man. Three, two…
"Future!" Frankie yelled, right before the buzzer sounded.
The next time she opened her eyes, she found herself in bed, in her loft. She heard the hubbub of a large crowd outside and went to the window to see what was going on.
It was the Founder's Day parade and it looked like there were about ten times the amount of people they'd been expecting. She watched the people in awe for a moment, her belly full of butterflies as she thought of speaking in front of all of those people.
Suddenly, a cold panic took possession of her body as she realized that she must have massively overslept. She should already be down there. The letter she'd received said she would be invited by the mayor to come on stage to introduce herself and her work when the parade reached the steps of City Hall - only two blocks over from her loft!
She rushed around, throwing on a reasonably clean, though wrinkled dress and her boots. She pulled her mass of curls into a ponytail and called it good.
Not waiting for the elevator, she rushed down the three flights of stairs and out onto Main Street.
People gave her funny looks and scolded her as she pushed through the crowds.
"Excuse me! I'm speaking up there! Sorry! Make way!" Frankie tried to make herself heard over the marching band and the general roar of excitement.
She was still a half-block away when the high pitched feedback from the microphone quieted the band and the crowd.
"Welcome! Welcome all to another Founder's Day!" a young man said from the makeshift stage.
She was too late. She stopped trying to make her way through the crowd and scowled in frustration.
The crowd around her clapped as she muttered to herself, “Now, who is this fool?”
An older man next to her heard and responded curtly, “That fool is our mayor, young lady. Have a little respect!”
Frankie felt her cheeks redden at his admonishment. The man sniffed, obviously pleased with her reaction. That wasn’t the mayor, though. Not the mayor she remembered, anyway. For the first time, she wondered about the strange man and the white room. She rubbed her arms, realizing it was much cooler outside than she’d expected.
She stopped rubbing her arms when she felt the raised bumps running down her left bicep. She reached her arm out in front of her for closer inspection. She saw a long white scar in the pattern of lightning. She rotated her arm this way and that to get a better look. The primary bolt of lightning ran from her shoulder to the thumb, while smaller branches arched off around the curves of muscle. Everything around her suddenly felt surreal as she looked at the mark.
“This is a very special Founder’s Day, as you all know,” the supposed-mayor continued. “Today marks two hundred years since our fine city was founded. And fifty years since our iconic statues were first revealed!”
The crowd clapped and cheered. Frankie flushed with pride. Okay. It seemed she really had traveled to the future. So, maybe she’d disappeared for fifty years - that sucked. But at least people remembered her, and remembered her work. She imagined her city would embrace her with open arms now that she was back. They'd hail her for her art and for being a time traveler. That didn't sound so bad.
“Our unique and special pieces have drawn people from all over the world to our lovely city, and we could not be more proud. I know you’re all getting tired of hearing from me, so in a moment I’ll turn things over to the artist. But first, on behalf of the city board and the people of Harper’s Landing - we want to acknowledge this incredible contribution by presenting the artist with the keys to the city.”
“That’s me!” Frankie said. She started to push her way through the crowd again, not stopping to wonder how they knew she was back. She just needed to get up there, take her bow, and tell them all about the inspiration for the pieces.
“Mr. Joseph Connelly, it is our distinct honor to present these keys to you as a token of our gratitude.”
Frankie stopped cold and stared at the stage. An elderly man got up from his seat behind the mayor with the help of two women, one on each side of him. Once up, he kissed each one of his helpers on the cheek while the crowd “aww’ed” like it was the most endearing thing they’d ever seen.
Joe shuffled to the mayor’s side and accepted the keys while shaking the mayor’s hand in slow motion, posing for the photographers. Once the photo op was over, the mayor engulfed the old man in an impromptu hug, and the crowd made that heartwarming sound again.
The mayor pulled away, face twisted with emotion and motioned for Joe to take the podium. Were those tears in the mayor’s eyes? Give me a break, Frankie thought. She made a disgusted noise in the back of her throat, earning her several disapproving looks from people close to her.
Joe finally made his way to the microphone as people cheered. He waved his hands for them to quiet down, and like magic, they did.
“You all have been way too generous,” Joe said, all false modesty. “All I did was see the beauty in this city and make somethin’ I thought would honor it.”
More clapping and cheers. Frankie rolled her eyes. Did he seriously not see the symbolism of the pieces? Each sculpture captured the distinct spirit, culture and history of one of the eight oldest neighborhoods in Harper’s Landing.
“Now, I know people keep asking me to make more. But I retired after making these for a reason. I knew I’d never make something again that expressed my soul so completely. These are my masterpieces because they convey my love for Harper’s Landing. My love for all of you.”
Joe motioned to the people in the crowd with one outstretched arm. He looked out at them like a benevolent father, making eye contact with one person, then the next. When his eyes landed on Frankie, the smile dropped from his face and he went pale.
“Well… that’s it,” Joe said shakily, turning to leave. The two women returned to his side, concerned.
“Are you okay?” one of the women said, too close to the mic, and clearly audible.
“I'm fine! Get off me, will ya!” Joe growled, shaking the woman’s arm off his.
A few people in the crowd gasped, while the Mayor swiftly resumed control of the mic.
“How about a big hand for the artist - our very own Mr. Joseph Connelly!” The mayor led the crowd in a lackluster round of applause as the women escorted Joe from the stage and out of view.
“Please join us at City Park for music, rides and other treats this afternoon to uhh… continue the celebration.”
The mayor seemed flustered now. Clearly, he'd expected more from Joe’s appearance. The crowd milled around, equally confused.
Frankie was the only person who seemed to know exactly where she was going and exactly what she was doing. She was going to confront that snake, Joe Connelly.
Frankie found Joe sitting on a bench in City Park, alone. The crowd hadn't made its way this far yet, and Joe had slipped free from his female entourage of two.
"Hello Joe," Frankie said ominously as she stepped in front Joe.
He looked up at her, stunned. Frankie studied his face carefully. She could still see the quiet, lanky, thirty-something young man she'd known in the old man's features. To her surprise, he reached out for her, his eyes glassy.
"Is it really you, Frankie?" Joe whispered.
"Of course it's me. You know, the actual artist."
"But where have you been, Frankie? And how are you still so young?" Joe said, his voice full of pleasure and wonder.
Frankie sat down next to him on the bench. All of her anger drained away in an instant.
"I don't really know," she admitted. "One moment I was with you, here in this park. The next, I was in a white room with a Thor-looking dude, and he was saying I'd been struck by lightning and that I had five seconds to choose between going to the past, the future or death. I chose the future, and landed here maybe forty minutes ago. It's too weird. "
It sounded ridiculous when she said it out loud, but Joe didn't laugh.
"You were struck by lightning," Joe said, nodding. "And then you… you just disappeared. It was the strangest thing. I didn't know what to do. I went to the police and told them what happened and you know what they did? They put me in jail overnight. They thought I was drunk, Frankie!”
Joe let out a humorless chuckle before continuing.
"The next morning, they released me and I went straight to the studio to look for you. It was a media circus! Everyone had seen your sculptures already and somehow the address of the studio had gotten out. They all assumed I was the artist, even though I kept telling everyone it was you, Frankie. The more I protested that it wasn't me, the more the story blew up. Soon, people from CNN and the like were showing up and putting me on the spot."
Joe shook his head at the memory.
"After a while, I started wondering if maybe I had made the sculptures and then made you up for some reason. I didn't even have rent checks or anything to back up my claim that you'd been the one working in the studio."
"Woah..." Frankie said. She tried to imagine what she would’ve done in Joe’s shoes. "I guess I can see how that would mess with your head."
Joe turned to Frankie, his face bright with a sudden idea.
"Would you come back to my house with me, Frankie? I'd like to introduce my daughter and granddaughter to the real artist."
Joe’s smile was full of sincere admiration.
"Sure thing, old man," Frankie said and winked.
"Help me up then, half-pint. My place is three blocks thata way," Joe responded, nodding his head to the east side of Main.
As they slowly walked away from the park, arm in arm, it started to sprinkle.
"Just like old times, huh?" Frankie said, holding her palm up to catch the rain.
"Hurry, Frankie!" Joe yelled, his voice full of fear. He started to move faster than Frankie would have thought possible, pulling her along instead of the other way around.
They were almost to the house when lightning struck for a second time.
Joe never saw Frankie again.