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American Drama Fantasy

Sepia Sanctum—George Davis

  Rummaging through the attic in my old Victorian home, I came across a tired-old box filled with someone’s memories. They weren’t my remembrances. The box was here when I bought the house a year ago. I don’t like it up here. It is dusty with a myriad of spider’s webs woven from ceiling to the floor. However, today I decided to check and see if the attic held any priceless antiques. What I found beside grime and numerous displays of spidery gossamer was this dilapidated carton. Under its tattered lid, I began my search. As I lifted the top layer of old documents, I discovered an old sepia photograph of an obese woman and a small child. From the looks, it appeared to be taken somewhere around the first of the twentieth century; maybe 1900-1910. 

  The space at the top of my house, under the roof I spent my afternoon. Finding the picture, I turned it over and read: To my beloved Cecily…love forever, your admirer, Stephen… who might this Stephen be? A suitor perhaps, or maybe a daughter from an estranged father. It was certainly a mystery to me. For the next two days, I spent my time researching the records of my old home. I discovered that the house was built in 1898 by Severence Masterson, a stonemason from Boston. 

  Did Masterson have a wife and children? I went over to the Bickford library to research the history of our town. One record I found stated Severence Masterson worked for Nathan Bickford the town’s founder. And, I discovered Severence was married to Emily Chute from Portland, Maine the city thirty miles south of Bickford. Masterson and his wife had one daughter, Cecily Mae. They originally came from the Bay Area of Boston.

  Looking again at the photo, I decided the images were that of Emily and Cecily Masterson, taken in the front yard of this home. I recognized the large, gray ornate porch overhang.

  “Henry,” the librarian, Rose Smart sounded from somewhere deep in my being. “Henry, I’m getting ready to close now. You know the library hours: ten-three Monday-Wednesday, and nine to twelve on Saturday.” Her shrill voice woke me from my reverie. “Okay, Miss Smart. I’m done anyway.” I nodded as I passed her at her desk, half-glasses perched precariously at the end of her long, aquiline nose. “Thank you, Miss Smart.”

  “Remember, Orville Steinbock. We close at three.” It was a stern warning. “Okay, Miss Smart. I will remember.” 

  I gathered enough information to whet my genealogy appetite. I went online and searched through two ancestry websites. There wasn’t much more information than what I had gotten at the library this afternoon. However, I did learn Masterson was married before. His first wife died of consumption, TB in 1879. There are no children from that marriage. 

  There was something about that photo that was eerie. I mean, I felt, whenever I looked at it, somehow I was transported back to the time this picture was taken. It was only in my mind, but it seemed so real.  

  That night, I dreamed I was present when this photo was taken. I was standing behind the photographer watching him duck out from under the black cloth, he used to cover his head. His head kept bobbing up and down like a duck in a shooting arcade. “Smile,” he said, holding up the chemical flash.

  “Come, Severence, we have company coming tonight to our party. We have a lot to do before the guests arrive. Help me carry the table and chairs out here on the front lawn. It’s going to be the party to end all parties, Severence.” I stood and watched the scene unfold before my eyes. It was as if I was here over a hundred years ago. 

  “Henry,” Emily Masterson shouted, “Are you coming inside?” I stared in disbelief. Was she talking to me? How could it be? I live in the 21st century. I don’t believe in the metaphysical. But, believe it or not, here I was in the 19th century. My clothes were of the period albeit a little snug in the waist. 

  “Come quickly, Henry, we have a lot to do to get ready for the party,” Emily said, Cecily, hanging onto her long skirt. 

  I shook my head. Was I dreaming? Did I go back in time? Was I a part of this ethereal scene?

  “Coming, Emily,” I heard myself say. “I’ll be all set for tonight. I promise.” 

  “You better be. There are a lot of very influential people coming to our party. We all need to be on our toes. The Governor and his wife will be here, along with Senator Clark and his girlfriend, Sarah. How did I get here? The last thing I remember. I was staring at the old photograph when suddenly, here I am, a hundred something years in the past at a cocktail party given by the Severences. 

That night the guests arrive by horse and carriage. Some wagons were adorned with silver and gold fixtures, while most were chauffeur operated. 

  “Henry,” Emily called. “Please pour the punch, and don’t drink any of it. I want you sober tonight. I need you to be alcohol-free. Is that clear?” Yes, you old bag of sour wind I’ll remain sober for your party.

  Severence sat down at the piano and played mostly classics, which should have been accompanied by several strings. However, the strains of Chopin’s Polonaise, one of my favorite pieces for piano. 

  The kerosene lamps were lighted giving off a faint glow over the large hall which I discovered was my living room. 

  “Severence,” I said. “I’d like to talk to you Alone.” 

  “Certainly, Henry. We can go into the pantry. There is nothing to disturb us.” We went into what I now use as a walk-in closet in the front hall. 

  “What is it, Henry that it takes me away from our guests? You do know you have a lot of work to do tonight, don’t you?” I wasn’t exactly sure what he meant. Was I a servant, or a friend? I would soon find out. 

  “Henry, I want you to keep the punch coming. I added a bottle of gin to the mix. When these people are half in the bag. I want to ask them to donate to our special cause, the Severence Masterson Fund.” He winked. So make sure our friends drink a lot of punch tonight, Henry. There will be a bonus in it for you,” Severence said. 

  That answered my question, was I a friend and guest, or still a pauper. I was an employee of the great Severence Masterson. I was transported to the early town of Bickford from this modern rural town. 

  “Henry,” it was my son’s voice. “Time to get up, Dad.” I sat up, shook out the cobwebs, and called down to my boy. “Coming right down, son.” My twenty-five year old son from college came home to live with me. He was a good boy, but I’m afraid I’ve spoiled him. He has no gumption. He’d rather sit around the house, texting his friends, who by the way, all have jobs. My son has an aversion to work. He could lay down beside work all day, and never strain more than his thumbs. I don’t know why I ever bought him a cell phone with all the bells and whistles. From day one, he has neglected anything that even hinted of manual labor. Instead, he lays on his bed texting or is lost in a mystery novel. 

  I worked all my life, beginning in my teens I held down three jobs for the next fifty-four years until I retired from Portland Life Insurance Company. The management honored me with a bronze clock, its weight too heavy to tote it around. So I have it on my mantle where it will stay until my son inherits it. 

  These past few twilight years, I’ve spent researching the history of my old home. It has become an obsession for me. I spend four to six hours a day poring over online documents. 

  This is Monday the fifth day of July, and I have been able to accumulate over twelve boxes of local history. Since I did my family history five years ago it would be redundant to research it again now. 

  I dug out that old photo and looked at it again. I was shocked. The picture changed. Standing in the back of Emily Masterson and to her left, I saw my own image, dressed in the style of the day. I wasn’t smiling. A sober expression covered my face. 

  Is that me? It sure looked like me. I turned it over and read the back again. This time the photo’s writing was different: Over my head, the words said: Stephen Steinbock, an alias I sometimes use when I submit a manuscript to my publisher. 

Had I been back to the late 19th century. Was I one of Cecily’s suitors? It was truly a mystery. If I were a suitor, the picture was written on a whole lot later than this scene was pictured. I wouldn’t have written that message to a—what five-year-old? Stephen must have come into Cecily’s life somewhere around 1910-1912. Why would I be in this picture to start with? If I have time-traveled to the 21st century am I really someone who lived in two centuries? How could that be? As I was trying to solve this enigma, I heard the front doorbell ringing with some urgency. I ran downstairs. When I opened the door there was a small child who stared up at me.  “Help me, mister. I am lost,” she cried. This young girl looks very familiar. Oh, it is the girl, Cecily in the old photo. “What is your name, little girl?” 

  “Cecily Masterson, sir. I am lost. Please help me.” Thinking this cannot be real. I pinched myself. It is real. “Who is your mother, Cecily?” I asked. “Where do you live?” 

  “My mother is Emily. I was playing croquet with my mother when suddenly, I found myself on your doorstep. Somehow, this all looks familiar to me. I mean, this looks like my house, but it can’t be. Your house is neater and cleaner than my house. And we don’t have any stone fairies on our lawn.” She then reverted back to when she first appeared. “Can you help me, mister? I need to get home. My mother will be worried.” How could I help this poor frightened child? As I was pondering the situation. She vanished before my eyes. Problem solved. 

  As time passed, I forgot the strange time in my life when I was in and out of the 19th century, and that I was visited by Cecily Masterson. 

  I moved into Happy Haven Rest Home two years ago. The nurses and staff like my stories. I tell them often enough with great delight. I don’t think they believe me when I tell them I have time-traveled to another century. Nonetheless, it is true.

  As I was sitting in the wicker rocker reading an Agatha Christie novel with her favorite Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot, I looked up to stare into the face of Emily Masterson. She was still huge, maybe three-fifty on a five-four frame. She was wearing modern attire, a plaid blouse to which a small pin was clipped that read: Emily Townsend RN.

  “Hello, Emily.” I addressed her as if we’d been old friends.” She only stared at me. “So you’re the one telling all these old stories to the help.”


  “I work in the other wing. I came by to listen to one of your stories. Mind you, I’m on a lunch break, so I don’t have a lot of time. Tell me about your time-travel experience.” 

  I wanted to say, Emily, you know all about them. You were there, but I didn’t. I told her of my going back and forth in time to another time. Her expression never changed. “So you say you actually left this town and went back in time, Mr. Steinbock?” With that, she disappeared around the corner. I didn’t hear from her again. 

  One day, I was talking with one of my nurses and I told her of Emily’s visit. “She said she worked in another wing. She is a rather large woman, sixtyish, gray hair, round face, and pink cheeks.”

  “Orville, there is no such person on our staff. I’ve been here fifteen years, and I’ve never met a large nurse named Emily. You must have been dreaming.”

  Maybe so, maybe my life is one big hallucination. I don’t know. I came down with dementia two years ago. After all. I am one-hundred and six years old.

  I’ll close with this quote: “All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.” 

― Edgar Allan Poe

July 19, 2021 11:49

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1 comment

Cass Marie
01:03 Jul 23, 2021

Very nice "knitted" of different time periods. The idea is intriguing and substantly solid. If I may... You've written as though you've been writing the time periods as they occurred as opposed to being from the final time frame looking back. Was that intentional or am I, personally reading something incorrectly? But for that, I really like the story and feel it could be a good novella written more in depth. Thanks for the story.


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