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Speculative Western Fiction

HOME IS WHEN THE HEART IS

By Andrew Paul Grell

“Are we going to have a house when we get back? And if so, will there be anything in it?”

“Jolene came highly recommended by Mark as his temporary replacement while we were away. The Ford’s used her from time to time and they said she was first rate. Every surface was shining as if it were still in the showroom. I wouldn’t worry about it, unless you need something to worry about while we’re in the Uber, which seems like it’s taking the whole way around Utah,” Hyacinth said,” her psychology training surfacing for a rare non-session appearance.

“I spy with my little eye?”

“Good boy, Doug. That’s the spirit. I spy with my little eye something beginning with the letter “T.”

“Turban.”

“I think that might be cheating, Douglas. It doesn’t count if it’s something already in the car.”

“Really, Hy? I may have to get a ruling from the Eye Spy Association. We’re in a car, but not our car. Everything is new to us, including the Uber driver’s turban.”

“Alright, Douglas F. Ritcheson, Esq. You make a good case. I’ll give you this one, but no more mister nice guy, buddy. Your turn.”

“I spy with my little eye something beginning with the letter ‘R.’”

“Road. Or rock.” They both realized the futility of the game; this part of the state had rocks, narrow roads, trucks, cars, and the occasional tree. That was about it. So they did what everyone did, looked at the vacation pictures of Belize, where they were a mere 36 hours ago. Even though the howler monkeys’ antics and thefts could have filled three National Geographic specials with amazingness left over for America’s Funniest videos, sadly, neither half of the otherwise-talented couple were photographers. At least Hyacinth recorded those world’s loudest primate calls for ringtones.

“Wake up, my precious flower, after nine days in British Central America. We just passed Promontory Point. We’re almost home.”

“Oh, you big dumb tree. I was having the Xanadu dream again. Now I can’t know if there would have been another message.”

“Damsel with a dulcimer or ancestral voices prophesying war?”

“Neither. I was alone. Staring into the caverns measureless to man. It looked like they led back to the creation of the world. Maybe that was the message.”

“Hmmm… Well, it sure beats fan mail from some flounder or what the spirits are about to speak.” Doug checked the GPS on his phone. “We’re in range, Hy. Welcome back to strangeness.”

“Tell me again why we moved to the mountains of the moon?”

“Anomaly? It’s a great place to live, at least that’s what the posters and brochures say. Mayor Bill wants us to become the Cassadaga of Utah. Florida has an interstate running by the Wiccan town. But we may have a greater-than-chance likelihood of some of the weird stuff we see here being genuinely thaumic.  And the house is now free and clear in my name. Seven hundred and sixty-two days before it got out of probate. Eighty-seven days I was mad at my sister, that was poor form on my part.”

“Fir-baby, I am so glad you worked that out. She gets a condo by Prospect Park and we get a homestead. Still not sure what a homestead is. She’s told me many times she wasn’t going to have kids and also that she wanted to be in New York. And, ahem, I never told her the same thing, and we have room to spread out, so to speak,” she said with her dimpled smile and sparkling green eyes. The Uber rolled through Downtown Anomaly, Utah, such as it was, and finally hatched the passenger fledglings into the cold and dangerous world.

“It gets me every time, Doug. Every time I’m away from here for more than a few days. A house that grew from the ground.”

“Glad you like it, precious flower. My great-grandmother lived in it, but according to her letters, she was never comfortable here.

“There are basalt outcroppings all over this part of the state, they’re all the same, hexagonic pillars, flat tops. The only difference is how high each crystal pillar reached. Great Grandad saw a cluster of pillars roughly the size of a good-sized house. He jack-hammered and blasted away everything from the outcropping that wasn’t ‘house.’ Our staircase started out as a random set of pillars that by chance had every sequential flat top nine inches higher than the previous column. But I told you the story many times.”

“I know, Doug. But I like the way you tell it.”

“Alright. Then, there was the asteroid strike, 1895. An asteroid broke up into pieces, three big pieces and a bunch of small ones. One of those small ones left a hole in the ground perfect for a cooling pond for hogs. And now it’s our septic tank. A band of Utes raced up the slopes to see what was going on. They took the celestial display as a sign from Senawahv that he was disappointed that they couldn’t keep their land from being taken by the invaders. The settlers thought pretty much the same thing, but it was Jesus and he was mad we didn’t try to bring the Good News to the friendly Utes. Lucky they came up. The newcomers had a fair amount of shrapnel damage. Nobody in this town ever made fun of the title ‘Medicine Man’ after that. Oh, and some of the Mormons thought it was a sign that Utah would become a state, which it did the following year. And the charged ferrous metal pieces of asteroid plowing into the ground got tagged as the cause of anything weird in Anomaly. Maybe I should have given you a primmer on our Castle Keep before I dragged you out to the high barrens.  Hey, Looks like we’re here.” Doug duked the driver a Grant. “One full day to get back home.   Let’s see what we can do about all this luggage.”

“No visible damage, Doug. And if Jolene held any wild parties while we were in Belize, she certainly cleaned up afterwards. She is a pro, after all.” Hyacinth was spotting for Doug who was toting in their bags. “No rats, no bats, no cats in the kitchen. Food’s still in the fridge.”

“Oh, no!” Hyacinth turned toward the pitiful, tortured cry of her beloved husband and instantly blanched. If she had taken a picture at that moment, it would have been neck and neck with Munch’s Le Cri.

“Doug, what happened?”

“She erased my calendar, that’s what happened. What you used to complain about. The tick marks on the big picture window in the dining room are gone.”

“Tree, I am so sorry. I know what that meant to you, considering, well, you know. Do you think you can start from scratch?”

“Scratch, ha! That’s how my father marked the ticks, how his father before him did it, and how I still do it. That window is Didymium glass, it has some special properties. In Great Grandpa Eliezer’s day, chemists thought Didymium was an element. Turns out it’s a mineral of two different elements that like to be near each other. Tricky little bastard. At least Jolene didn’t break the window while wiping away my days, wine and roses days, diaper changing days, and not to mention the brief-writing late nights. I suppose I will have to start from, well, scratch.”

Hyacinth called their son Ben to let the family know they had returned safely. Douglas emptied the clothing bags into the hamper, and the Ritcheson’s dropped into bed; like Abu Ben Adam, they shared a deep dream of peace.

# # #

“Ritcheson! Anything for ya today?” Doug had decided to take a walk to the Levy’s to pick up Coney, their blue Rat Terrier. The shout came from an actual horse drawn milk wagon With “Guernsey Dairy” painted on it. Doug decided to play along, maybe Boss Guernsy was doing an Old Territory Days promotion.

“Sure, boss. Three quarts of low fat and one half and half”

“Half of what and half of which other, Ritcheson, make some sense. And why’dja want less fat in yer milk, this milk is from Golden Guernsey cows, richest milk in the world.” 

Doug decided to keep playing Boss’s game. “Sure, Boss. Three quarts and two pints of cream. And say, are you headed into town? Could you drop me at the Levy’s? We left Darius with them while we were away.”

“C’mon up. Mind the buckboard, it has a will of it’s own.”

Doug climbed up, Boss shouted “Git!” at the horses, and they eased on down the road, until the hitchhiker almost bounced into the dirt. Doug took a look from the bottom and saw that the wagon didn’t have leaf springs. A line just about as robust as the Maginot was crossed in Doug’s head: Boss wasn’t running a promotion. Maybe he got kicked by the herd’s bull. Then from the Maginot to the Siegfried. Boss didn’t seem to be Boss, something was off.

The wagon made three stops before the Levy’s. Doug reached into his pocket to pay for his dairy. He looked in his hand and saw a Morgan silver dollar, a cartwheel, they used to call them.

“Prepaying, are ya’, Ritcheson? Always appreciate it. Here’s your stop.” Doug hadn’t recognized the three houses the wagon serviced along the way, but the Levy residence was exactly as and where it should be, right down to the intricately carved mezuzah on the doorpost depicting Pharaoh’s chariots chasing the Israelites until horse and driver drowned in the Sea of Reeds. A door on the side of the house bore a Caduceus next to the text “Dr. Lillian Levy, general medical practice. The bewildered lawyer dimly recalled that the Sidney Levy, the soda water magnate from Budapest married a local woman, the first woman doctor in the territory.   As if any other data was needed to convince Doug that the whole town wasn’t playing a gag on the vacationing couple, he could hear the baying of the hounds and prepared himself for the inevitable onslaught of licks, muzzle punches, and paw tags. Darius bounded over the porch rail; The other dog bided her time and descended regally to the street below. 

“You’re not Coney, are you?” The final fixed fortification, the Bar-Lev Line, collapsed at the hands of the (modern) Egyptian Military engineers. The dog was Rabbit, his grandfather’s dog, subject of dozens of photos Doug had seen on visits to his grandparents, a certificate in a frame declaring Rabbit as the champion at clearing jackrabbits from the cornfields of Kansas,  as well as a distant memory of meeting Rabbit as an old slouch when Doug was six. Grandpa Jack, owner of Anomaly’s dry goods store, had a lucrative sideline of renting Rabbit out. Since Rat Terriers don’t eat the small mammals they catch, preferring to break their necks instead. Jack got the rental money plus sales of the rabbit meat and fur.

“Why are you dressed like a Miner Forty-niner?” Hyacinth met Doug at the gate to the yard.”

“Funny, I was about to ask if you switched to homespun. Or is that a feedbag?” They each looked down at their own clothes.

“And whose dog is that, and what happened to Coney?”

“It’s Rabbit. My Grandpa’s dog.”

“Oh, right. The killer of small things.” The feedbag fashionista bent down to get the paper. It was the Anomaly Stentor, March 1st, 1865.

“Let’s get back in, my precious flower, and sort this out. Boss from the dairy was off, three of the houses I passed were log cabins where there should have been split-level ranches. The medical practice was Lillian’s, not today’s David.” As soon as they got on the yard side of the fence, they were a happy couple dressed in Eddie Baur and L.L Bean, holding a copy of the day’s New York Times and leading a 13-pound dog on a Fetch leash and collar.

“I’m calling Ben, Doug. Just to see if we’re still connected to the real world.” Sixteen phone calls later and twelve emails after that, it seemed that the inside of the property line was perfectly normal, but outside it was still 1865.

“I guess you should start back up ticking off the days. That’s the element that’s missing, dear husband mine.”

“I agree. As long as there’s a DO NOT TOUCH sign on the window.”

Life went along more or less normally. New York clients had phone calls and emails answered, family members were in contact, and everyone pretty much bought the story of them not being able to travel because they were in self-quarantine. When Doug wandered over to where he had rented an office before moving back to his ancestral roots. A clerk with a docket book was waiting for him. The plaque on the young man’s desk read “Sean Bartelby, Clerk.”

“You have a hearing with Judge Dayin in an hour.”

“Could you pull the file for me?”

“Absolutely. It’s the case of how the cart got overturned.”

Doug’s most useful college classes for being a lawyer were math and physics. Twenty minutes of vectors and tensors on a chalkboard that his clients turn would not have resulted in the art tipping without the added force of defendant’s five dogs causing the horse to shy. Doug literally glazed over the eyes of everyone else in the room, and he won a judgment for damage to his client.

The happy, but still mystified, couple fell into a routine of trying to find a way out of Anomaly that wasn’t the donkey trail. On one walk, they passed a vintner who was having a tasting of his new Beaujolais; it was better than either of them had tasted back in New York, and they bought a few bottles. Returning home, they enjoyed it a bit too much. In every system, there’s always a joker hiding somewhere. Deep in inebriation, the pair couldn’t remember whether Doug had ticked off the day.

“You know, the Greeks would decide everything twice, once sober, and once drunk,” Hyacinth the psychologist reminded her husband. We’ve already done sober.”

“Right. So I guess we flip a coin.” It turned out heads, and with hands shaking with delirium tremens, added an additional tick mark to the count, and the loving couple fell, entangled, into a dream of archers splitting the tree.

# # #

“It’s January 31st! Here’s the New York Times, Doug!”

Doug read the headline: “House of representatives votes to abolish slavery.”

“We fell asleep on January 29th. I’m sure of it. Was there another paper on the porch?”

“No. I think we jumped ahead a day.”

The physicist buried inside Doug the lawyer decided that since everything was moving forward in time, the jump was possible, especially in Anomaly.

“So, sweet flower of mine, when would you like to go? We should do a couple of test runs, then pick a date to settle down.”

“You might want to make those test runs so you can buy GE, Standard Oil, and Haloid.”

“I always suspected those articles about flora intelligence were for real. I’m getting to work.” Doug had to use the tiniest of  ticks, running the whole 12-foot length of the window; after a few lines he switched to boustrophedonic, left to right, right to left, repeat. At each test landing, the funds and stock certificates were intact at the investment bank they started with.

“It works. So far. Destination, please?”

“1947.”

“Your wish is my command, dear lady.”

# # #

“That was the most marvelous production I’ve ever seen, and that includes Carousel in Wilmot Junior High.” The couple was walking out of the opening night of Streetcar with Marlon Brando.

“Glad to be of service, m’dear. As for me, I can’t wait until Atlas Shrugged comes out and I hear Nat King Cole doing These Foolish Things live.”

“And don’t forget to prepare for laughing through McCarthyism.”

December 31, 2020 19:09

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1 comment

00:34 Jan 07, 2021

Really enjoyed the characters learning about what had happened, the effect it had on thing, and then manipulating time to their advantage. Only wonder if we could have gotten there a bit faster by cutting out a large swath of the beginning, and then spend more time with the two of them manipulating time. Although, given the prompt, that might not have been possible...

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