Philadelphia, February 25, 2020
It was an average parking garage on west Franklin Street. Once housing the cars of dozens of government employees in the high rise business district, it now stood sad and empty. However, Tony knew a secret about that garage. At the top level was the most incredible night view, twinkling stars and sparkling city lights. Its only out of character feature was the chipped painted mural on its side, that said “Handley Shoes - We Handle Shoes!” That’s what Mason must have meant about it being a factory.
Twilight darkened and Tony was ravenous. So ravenous he thought about salvaging a meal out of the dumpsters, but decided against it. He was nauseated and shaky. Touching his forehead, Tony realized it was hot. Probably just needed some rest.
Heading to his little camp on the 7th floor of the parking garage Tony thought about what Mason had said. No one knows if he stayed in town, left or ever came back to Philadelphia...They say you can see him in that old factory, because they think that’s where he took shelter...No one knows...old factory...ever came back...old factory…
Melancholy penetrated Tony’s hearty spirit. He missed having someone to talk to. He felt scared and alone, but felt he couldn’t trust anybody anymore.
Tony shook his head. He was getting dizzy. Maybe he should crash on the first floor tonight. So he stood over the puddle he had seen last week, the same lamplight refracting its image into the murky water. Tired, Tony slouched against the wall on the first floor, head nodding.
Splash - “AAAhhhhh!”
Tony’s head jerked up and he whirled around. There sat two boys about his own age, dressed in old-style clothes as if they’d walked out of a painting. They were soaking wet, but only on the top, looking very much as if they had fallen UP from the same puddle. Up from a puddle? How? Tony shook himself.
“I say, give a fellow some space will you!” the one said irritably, and the other replied, “Space? That’s swell, you pushed me in!”
Tony stayed in the shadows. They hadn’t seen him yet. Maybe these two dweebs would walk away. The first one turned and saw him. Too late, Tony thought.
“Oh! How do you do? I’m Philip Perkins Sanders. Please call me Perks,” the boy made a shallow bow.
Nonplussed, Tony answered, “Uh, hi.”
“Don’t let him rattle you,” the other boy elbowed Perks. “He’s a little half-cracked if you know what I mean. I’m Chip - er, Charles Handley.”
Tony rose on shaky feet, silent in shock. “You…” his question trailed off, unspoken.
For the first time the three boys surveyed each other skeptically. Perks was the most formally dressed, of course, still wearing his tricorne hat. Chip wore knee breeches and a long sleeved, billowing shirt, as if he’d stepped out of an old horror movie. Tony wore his faded, holey jeans and T-shirt.
“Are you alright, there’s a good fellow,” Chip asked, noticing Tony was extremely pale in the lamplight. He reached out and touched Tony’s arm. Tony jumped and yelped as if he’d touched a porcupine.
“You are a little skittish, aren’t you. We won’t hurt you, old chap,” Perks said.
Finally, Tony found his tongue. “But how - how did you…?”
“We fell into the puddle; it all went black for a split second and then we landed here…” Chip broke off his sentence. “Is this Franklin Street? Where’s my dad’s shoe factory?”
Tony motioned to the side wall with the old painted mural.
Chip examined it, relieved. “Well, I guess it WAS my dad’s old shoe factory. But what is it now?”
“Uh, it’s for cars,” Tony replied.
“You mean motorcars?” Chip cried excitedly. “May I see them?”
“Motor-cars?” Perks puzzled to himself.
Tony showed them an abandoned, gutted car which sat in the corner of the parking lot. “See? Don’t you guys know anything?”
Chip looked as though he’d just seen a spanking new Lamborghini. He touched the rusted chrome finish, the torn sunroof, the busted out headlights and flat rubber tires with awe.
Tony added, “Of course...this one’s dead. There’s a lot nicer ones in other places. If you really want to see some good rides you can go to the highway overpass and watch traffic…”
Chip’s face lit up. “There’s more?!”
“Uh, yeah. Are you Amish?” Tony asked incredulously.
Perks answered for both of them. “No, my good man, we are not Amish, Quakers or any kind of Anabaptist. My family came from Poland originally, although I was born in London. My parents immigrated to the Colonies, hoping their silk trade would prosper.”
Tony smirked. “Colonies? You mean, the United States? Sheesh, you guys sound like you’re off some kind of a movie at school or something.”
The boys chatted for hours into the night. Tony was completely perplexed to find out they were here only because they had fallen into a puddle and somehow magically been plunged over 100 years into the future. Perks and Chip were equally astonished when Tony told them of all the things that had changed in over 100 years time. One thing the boys found in common. All three had no home. None of them had a family. And all of them were hungry.
They decided to walk along the street and see what they could find. Perks and Chip told Tony about yellow fever and Spanish flu.
Chip looked thoughtful. “I don’t remember it but my parents used to talk about it. The yellow fever killed 30,000 people between the United States and Europe over a 50 year period.”
Perks stopped. “Thirty thousand? Are you sure? When?”
“By 1905 it was that many...it’s calmed down a bit though. But Spanish Flu took over. The government made us keep 6 feet away from each other and everyone else, and we have to wear these,” Chip said, pulling out his mask again.
Tony frowned. “The vice-president wants all the people in hospitals and places to wear those.”
Fear flickered over Chip and Perks’ faces. “Why?”
Tony explained, “There’s this new virus from China. They call it Corona, like beer. Over there in China it’s been killing lots of people since Thanksgiving and Christmas but I think it just got here to the US. It was because some American students came back and brought it with them. It surely can’t get too bad. Nowadays, we have all these medicines and equipment that you guys didn’t have. So we’ll be fine.”
Chip and Perks exchanged a look. “I hope so, Tony.”
Philadelphia, March 18, 2020
After another experience in the puddle, Tony, Chip and Perks scrounged for food. Tony found a newspaper lying on the ground in the puddle. The headline stood out in bold lettering on the front page:
Stay-at-home Order Issued for Philadelphia: Mayor Jim Kenney issued a stay-at-home order to begin March 23, 2020, due to a rising death toll in the city of Philadelphia and the state of Pennsylvania in general. This order will prohibit excessive gatherings, limited to ten or less. Masks are mandatory for all essential personnel, and encouraged to be worn by the general public to protect against the novel Coronavirus, COVID-19. Social distancing is required, to lower the spread of disease. All Americans need to help flatten the rising curve of hospitalizations and death. Deaths due to COVID-19 have reached an alarming toll of 100 in the United States alone.
Tony looked confused. “This paper is dated...March 17, but March 17 hasn’t happened yet! I don’t understand.”
Chip shrugged. “Well I live to see 2020, but that happened, so I don’t know why you’re confused.”
Perks quietly kicked at a soda can on the pavement. Chip placed a hand on his shoulder and asked, “What’s going on Perks? You can tell a friend.”
“It’s just...I’ve seen all this before. Instead of evacuating people out of town they’re just evacuating people to their houses. But it’s all the same. You won’t be able to go to the store, or play ball, or go to school, or anything. You’re going to be frightened of everyone around you, and think maybe they have the fever - or, whatever this new one is, Covid. You can’t be around anyone, but that means you’re alone.”
Chip swallowed. “I know what you mean. With the Spanish flu it was the same way. People wearing masks, staying far apart, not going out to the store or church or anything. My dad, before he...well, you know. He had to close the factory because people started getting the Flu and he couldn’t keep enough workers to make shoes. It was terrible. Then he came home sick one day; then my mother and sister got it. Before you know, they were gone.”
Tony felt bad for his two friends, but he was frightened. Was this really going to happen? “No, dude, it just can’t get that bad. Listen, there’s doctors and they have medicine way better than that.”
Chip and Perks frowned at him. “You think that just because you haven’t seen it that it can’t be that bad?”
Tony slowly began walking backwards down the street. “That’s not exactly what I mean. See, it’s like a cold. All you have to do is take some…Woa, aaahhhh!” Tony tripped into the puddle outside the parking garage and suddenly got sucked in, disappearing into the murky water.
Chip and Perks looked at each other. In unison, they both jumped in after him.
Philadelphia, September of 1793
It was hot outside. Tony’s skin, accustomed to the cold, began sweating profusely.
Tony’s eyes searched frantically around him for his two friends...for anything familiar for that matter. All he could see were people lying in the street, puking, coughing, sitting with stone cold, hopeless expressions.
A horse-drawn wagon was plodding down the road, piled high with bags, a broom, furniture, a tea kettle poking out of a woven basket and other household goods. The family in the wagon looked very sad, driving out of town.
To Tony’s left was an open market, similar to a farmer’s market he’d visited once. But very few people were in line. Mostly they just paid, ducked their heads into a shawl or coat and scurried off, as if they were afraid to be seen.
“You goop, will you stop landing on top of me every time…” Tony turned to see Chip and Perks sitting a few feet away from him, sprawled in a tangle on the ground.
“See here, you mare’s nest, you were the one who made the ride get jumbled in the first place when you grabbed my foot!” Perks retorted, jerking his foot away from Chip.
Tony rolled his eyes. “Where are we? Do you guys know anything?”
Perks looked up. “Why, I’m back! That means I can just...hold on a moment.” Perks grabbed up a scrap of newspaper in the mud. Groaning, he showed it to the others. “We got jumped back to last September! Oh, I do not want to live through this again!”
“Maybe...we are supposed to do something...or learn something, eh, Tony?” Chip wondered.
“I don’t care what we are supposed to learn or do. I just want out of here. Everything is so...weird.” Tony eyed the men walking by wearing tricorne hats and the women in long dresses and petticoats.
Perks looked up. “We are on the corner of Sanders Place! My home should be…” he pointed down the street at a Tudor-style house.
The boys followed his finger. “Are you saying we lived in the same house?”
Perks smirked. “No. I live there. You don’t because neither of you have been born yet.”
Tony punched Perks’ arm. “Dork!”
Perks motioned proudly to the tall capitol dome, slicing into the sky. “There’s our nation’s capital,” he remarked. “Isn’t she beautiful?”
Tony looked at the large building. “No, it’s in Washington DC.”
Perks shook his head. “No, they made Philadelphia the US capitol just a couple years ago.”
Chip poked Tony and whispered, “To Perks it hasn’t happened yet, but don’t you remember American history? The capital didn’t get to Washington DC until May 14, 1800.”
Tony shrugged. “Oh.”
Perks looked sadly at another wagon leaving town. “This means we have to leave Philly again. My family is dead. My sister got buried last Saturday.”
The boys found themselves following at a distance behind several families headed out of town. When they came to the next town, they hoped someone would take them in. After people found out where they’d come from, fear flashed over every single face and the door was shut over and over until the three had to spend the night in the back of a hay wagon.
The next morning, Tony rubbed his eyes, poking his head out of the hay. “Oh, no!” he yelled. They were back in Philadelphia.
The farmer driving the wagon saw the boys and angrily pushed them out. Tony, Perks and Chip looked at each other. “The puddle!” they exclaimed together, running back to what would be eventually Franklin Street.
Philadelphia, October of 1918
Tony found himself staring up at an imposing 4-story structure with an austere front door featuring an old-fashioned lock and door knocker. The house was surrounded by maple trees changing to auburn and gold. “Where am I now?” he wondered.
The air was crisp, and a cold wind bit into the boys’ skin through their thin clothing. Tony shivered. Chip was crouching behind the iron gate in a peculiar way as if hiding from the large house.
“What in the world, Chip?” Tony said, striding over.
“Ssh!” Chip said. “I’m back at the orphanage.” He reached up and pulled Tony level with himself and Perks. “Someone’s coming.”
Two policemen were opening the door from the inside, talking to a tired-looking woman who wore a frown, a graying knotted bun and glasses. “Three days ma’am, but then it has to close. Mayor’s orders.”
They walked past the boys unseeing. The woman sighed, her shoulders sagging lower, and she looked upward at the sky, as if in prayer. Finally she shut the door.
Chip pulled Tony and Perks around the back of the orphanage to peep in the window at the dormitory. The room had two rows of beds, mostly filled with children who were coughing and thrashing restlessly in bed. Chip was looking at one child, whose pale face gazed wanly out the window.
“That’s my best friend Tommy,” Chip said. He swallowed a lump in his throat. “He...he died the day before we all had to go homeless.”
Tony moved over and gave Chip a side hug. Perks whispered, “I’m sorry, old fellow.”
Tony frowned. “Reminds me of one of my foster homes. Actually the one I ran away from the last time. They had nine kids, but they were really mean.”
“Mrs. Lansford wasn’t mean,” Chip stated. “She was very kind, but she couldn’t care for us all. Most of us were dying and then she started getting the cough so she tried to find a home for the rest of us but couldn’t. She ended up going to the sanitarium.”
“So...what’s being in a home or orphanage like?” ventured Perks.
Chip and Tony looked at each other. “Awful,” they answered together.
Philadelphia, Morning of March 10, 2020
Tony woke up, feeling like a brick had hit his head. His arms and legs felt heavy. At first he wasn’t sure where he was. White ceiling. Grey walls. A beeping sound. Hospital?
Eyes blurry, he took in his surroundings and focused on someone sitting next to his bed. He didn’t know this person. She was a middle aged woman with kind eyes and dimples in her cheeks. She was round and pretty, with a polka dot blouse and jeans.
“Tony?” she said. “Hey, you’re awake! We were worried about you!”
Tony blinked. His mouth felt like rocks and sand. And he was going to...oops. The woman quickly removed Tony’s oxygen mask and reached for a bag, holding it onto Tony’s mouth to vomit.
A nurse came in. “So he’s awake! That’s great news. Mrs. Armstrong, the tests and scans of Tony came back and showed he has a bad case of food poisoning, pneumonia, a broken rib, a concussion, and...we think he may be positive for COVID-19. Do you know how he got any of these injuries?”
“No! We just found him lying in an alley 2 nights ago. You know the rest - we noticed his ID was for Tony Brinkley, we contacted Social Services and called an ambulance to have him brought here,” Mrs. Armstrong replied.
The nurse nodded. “Well, we very much appreciate your help. His foster parents contacted social services also but what they didn’t say was they were committing food stamp fraud. We’d like to place him in another home, but he has no responsible living relatives. His mother who is currently in state custody.”
“We are registered with the foster care system and would be glad to take him. My husband agreed with me on that when we talked last night.” Mrs. Armstrong turned and smiled at Tony.
Tony blinked. He was going home with this woman? Maybe he’d be OK after all. She seemed way more genuine than the others.
“We think,” she was saying, “that God sent Tony to us for a purpose.”
Tony smiled when he entered the Tudor-style house with Ted and Rebecca Armstrong. It was modernized and remodeled but it was still the same old house, with a loving family inside. Tony had been released from the hospital on strict orders to self-quarantine and remain on bed rest. That evening, he lay in the living room watching TV with his new foster parents. Maybe they were right. Maybe God did have a plan for this.