Originally posted at the JOC Fanatics BBoard
They were running through the dark alleyways, trying to stay ahead of the frenzied mob, which was calling for "death to the witches!" They only had one more minute on this world before they could finally escape to another, hopefully friendlier, world. After racing around one more corner, Quinn paused to activate the vortex. The appearance of the vortex’s blue whirlpool effect only served to reinforce the locals’ belief that the Sliders were, indeed, in league with the devil. As soon as it opened, Maggie dove in. She was soon followed by Remmy, then Colin, as Quinn waved them on, shouting "Go! Go!"
Just as Quinn prepared to dive through, he was overtaken and clubbed down. Knowing that if he didn’t make it into the vortex he wouldn’t survive to see the next window, Quinn managed to throw the timer into the vortex before he disappeared from sight within the mob. ‘At least the others made it,’ was his final thought. As if in response to the crowd’s accusations, the vortex shot out angry bolts of energy as it began to flicker and shrink from existence. The people closest to it began to push at those behind them in an effort to escape the wrath of this "demon," leaving a battered and bloodied form in their wake. It started to slowly, painfully make its way towards the vortex…
In a secluded wooded area, a beautiful blue whirlpool appeared. One by one, three people tumbled out of the vortex. If not for the circumstances in which they’d left the previous world, this would have been an enjoyable slide for them…no one had landed on anyone else!
"Man, I thought we’d never make it off that Salem world! " exclaimed Remmy as he gave Maggie a hand up.
Colin stood up, brushing the grass and leaves off, and looked around. "Uhmm, Remmy… Maggie…where is Quinn?"
Turning to the vortex, they saw not the usual winking out of the blue whirlpool, but a flickering and spiking maelstrom gradually decreasing in size. "Have you ever seen it like this before, Remmy?" asked Colin.
As Remmy wordlessly shook his head "No," they all stood and watched the unusual activity, hoping to see Quinn come falling through. Just before it finally closed, the timer came flying out of the vortex… alone… without Quinn.
"Quinn!!! NOOOO!!" Colin cried out in anguish as the vortex closed.
Remmy walked over to Colin and placed a hand on his shoulder, turning Colin to face him. "Colin, listen to me man. There’s a chance that Quinn did make the slide but, for some reason, ended up somewhere else on this world. It’s happened more than once since we started sliding…remember that world with the crazy TV show? I hope to God that’s the way it is now. With night coming on, the best thing we can do for him and ourselves right now is to head for the hotel. With luck, Q-ball just landed on the other side of town or something and will meet us there!"
Colin cast one more glance at where the vortex had been, then sighed, "I hope you are right, Remmy."
Though just as shaken by this turn of events as the others, Maggie called upon the officer she had been in an effort to get through it. She walked over to the timer and picked it up to see how long they had on this world…how much time they had to find Quinn. "It looks like we’re going to have a lot of time to find him, guys. The display shows 41 days…almost six weeks for us to search for him." She didn’t add in the odd hours and minutes…she just couldn’t bring herself to add Quinn’s trademark ‘and change’ at this point.
The three friends walked slowly out of the park and into town, each silently praying that Quinn would be waiting for them at the hotel.
* * *
The young woman had just finished her shift at the coffee shop and, calling out "Good night, Mrs. Henry," walked out the door. As she stepped out onto the sidewalk, she noticed three people passing by on the sidewalk across the street. A dark-haired woman, a tall, sandy-haired young man, and a dark-skinned older man…all three walking quietly, somberly down the street.
She turned to head for home, but paused and looked back at the three one more time. There was something about the older man…what it was, she couldn’t say…but there was something about him that seemed so familiar, like she should know who he is. She watched them pause outside the Dominion Hotel, engage in a brief conversation, then enter. After standing there a moment longer, she shook her head then hurried towards home. Mom would be worried if she dallied much longer.
* * *
Meanwhile, on a farm several miles out of town, a dog started to bark excitedly. After a few moments, the front door opened and the farmer stepped out onto the porch to see what all the commotion was about. He knew that when Rhiannon carried on like that, something was up.
"What is it, girl? Something out there?" The dog was now nervously looking off to the east, in the direction of the front pasture. He looked off that way too and, against the darkening sky, he saw a bluish glow suddenly appear; it disappeared almost as quickly as it started. Even more concerned now, because his dairy herd was pastured out there for the evening, he ducked back into the house, grabbed a jacket, then headed for the machine shed.
"C’mon Ree, let’s make sure our girls’re okay." With that, he backed the tractor out of the shed, and headed off towards the pasture, Rhiannon running alongside. The headlights would light up the area much better than any flashlight could, even though the front-loader did block the view somewhat. Besides, it was a lot easier on his ‘old bones’ than stumbling over the rough ground in the dark.
* * *
The flickering vortex had briefly opened onto a wide, grassy expanse and a limp form tumbled out and lay where it fell.
All the while they had been walking down the street, everyone lost in their own thoughts, Remmy kept thinking things looked so familiar…he just couldn’t put his finger on what it was though. One thing he was sure of was the feeling that it was imperative they keep the timer out of sight. And, the most important lesson he’d learned in these years of sliding with Q-ball and company was to go with his gut feelings! With that in mind, he paused before entering the Dominion. "Ah, Maggie girl, would you hand me the timer please? Something just doesn’t seem right here. Maybe I’m just spooked because of what’s happened to Q-ball, but I think we need to keep that thing out of sight for the time being."
"Sure thing, Rem," said Maggie as she discreetly handed the timer to him. As he slipped it into an inner pocket of his jacket, she started to take a closer look around, trying to determine what it was that had Remmy so concerned.
The three friends entered the Dominion Hotel. Maggie and Colin headed straight to the reception desk to check in. As they crossed the lobby, they noticed a group of people gathered around a large console on a variety of sofas and chairs, all listening to, and cheering about, the play-by-play narration of a football game. It was the curious contraption on the other side of the desk, however, that piqued Colin’s interest. There was a woman sitting there with a headset on and, whenever there was a ringing tone, she pulled a plug from one of a series of holes, inserted it into yet another hole, and then spoke into her headset! He turned to ask Remmy about this and spotted him still standing just inside the doorway, a shocked look on his face.
As a sense of déjà vu washed over him, Remmy muttered to himself, "Can it be? Did we actually return to a world we’ve been to before? Oh man, I sure wish Q-ball was here!"
Colin crossed the lobby, back to Remmy, just in time to hear this comment. "What do you mean, Remmy? I do not recall being here before."
"No, there was this world we were on a couple years ago… looked just like this one," Remmy explained, "but that was back when Wade and the Professor were still with us. I wonder if…? C’mon, let’s get up to the room. Tomorrow morning, Farm-boy, we’re gonna start checking this place out!"
* * *
As the tractor crept over the gentle rises in the pasture, Ree excitedly ran on ahead. Trusting that she knew where the cattle were, the farmer followed along behind, looking all around as he drove. He finally spotted the herd milling around in the far corner of the pasture, their attention focused on a hollow between them and the safety of the barn. As he drove closer, the dog’s hackles rose and she started stalking carefully towards what appeared, in the shadowy twilight, to be a pile of old, discarded rags; although why anyone would come all the way out here to dispose of some trash was beyond him.
He drove his tractor around to bring the lights to bear on this discovery and, in doing so, the shadowy pile of rags took on the shape of a man. "Good Lord!" he exclaimed as he climbed down off the tractor. He hurried over to the horribly battered, apparently young, man… although it was hard to say really, with all the cuts and bruises. Someone had really worked him over!
By this time, Ree had relaxed from her alert stance and shifted into the ‘mothering’ mode she so often used when finding a lost calf or abandoned kitten and was gently nudging the man’s face and hands. Knowing she wouldn’t have relaxed had the assailants been anywhere near, the farmer knelt down and checked for a pulse…yes, this young man was still alive. But he certainly wasn’t going to be going anywhere anytime soon!
Thankful now that he hadn’t yet removed the front-loader from the tractor, the farmer climbed back on, dropped the bucket down to ground level, and slowly inched it to within a couple feet of the young man. Dismounting once more, he carefully slid the injured man into the bucket, then rolled his jacket up and gently placed it under his head. Once back on the tractor, he started the slow, careful trip back to the house with Rhiannon trotting anxiously along side.
As he approached the house, his wife came out onto the porch. He drove the tractor right up to the front steps, knowing Kate would forgive the damage to the flowerbeds as soon as she saw what he was bringing in. After carefully lowering the bucket, he shut the tractor down and hurried around to the front. Kate, by that time, was already checking on the young man.
"Sean, what’s going on? What do you have there? Oh my…the poor boy!! Where did you find him? Did you see who did this to him? Oh…never mind, we’ll worry about that later! First things first! Let’s put him in the back bedroom…the one the summer help uses." And, before he could get a word in edgewise, Kate had disappeared back into the house to get the bed ready for their unexpected guest. He sat down on the front steps and smiled, she was always like that when someone, or something, needed her special attention!
Within minutes, she was back outside and, together, they managed to bring the young man in. After getting him settled into the bed, they removed his shoes, jeans and what remained of his shirt and began to assess the damage done to him. They both sighed with relief when no broken bones were found. From the bruising of his forearms, it appeared that he’d attempted to shield himself from whatever, or whoever, had done this. And as bad as it looked, it seemed to be no more than a lot of bruising on his upper body although the cuts and bruises from the blows to his head were worrisome. They gently cleaned and bandaged the wounds, being especially careful of his head. Oh, he was going to be very sore for a while, but it looked like, all things considered, he wouldn’t be too much worse for the wear after a few days of Kate’s tender care.
Having done as much as they could, they gently covered him with blankets and, with the exception of a small lamp in the corner, turned off the lights. All there was left to do now was wait for him to wake up. Then, perhaps, the mystery of how he came to be here, and in this condition, would be solved.
* * *
Later that night, just as she was drifting off to sleep, a name popped into the young woman’s mind… "Rembrandt!" Suddenly, she was wide-awake and anxious for the morning to come.
The following morning found Remmy, Colin and Maggie seated at the local coffee shop. There had been no word from Quinn yet and, at this point, they had no idea of where to even start looking for him. The first to break the oppressive silence was Colin. "Remmy, what did you mean last night when you were talking about returning to a world you had been to before?"
"Well, it was a couple years ago…Wade and the Professor were still with us," Remmy began, looking down at his cup of coffee. "We had landed on a world where it seemed the rain would never end. Then, when we slid out of there, the vortex was hit by lightning and…"
"Rembrandt?" A familiar voice interrupted him.
At the sound of her voice, Remmy looked up and his face lit up. Standing right in front of him was the person he’d been so hoping would be here. "Gillian! Oh, sweetheart, you don’t know how good it is to see you again!" He quickly stood up, enveloped her in a bear hug that would have done the Professor proud, and then pulled a chair out so she could sit with them. "Can you join us, or are you working right now?"
"I don’t start until this afternoon. I saw you last night, but didn’t recognize you then. This morning though, I just had to find out if it really was you!" Gillian went on excitedly. "How are you? Where are Wade and the Professor? Where’s Quinn? Wasn’t he able to rejoin you when he slid out of here last time?" With this last comment, Maggie and Colin just exchanged confused looks and hoped that someone would start explaining what this girl was talking about.
"Yes, yes he did," Remmy started. "But he didn’t make it through the vortex with us last night. When I started to recognize this place, I was kind of hoping we’d find you and that you’d be able to tell us that, for whatever reason, he’s trapped on the astral plane again." As he was talking though, Remmy’s facial expression changed from one of joy and hope to one of despair as he realized Gillian wouldn’t have asked about Quinn if he had been present.
Gillian reached over and held his hand. "I’m so sorry, Rembrandt!"
Maggie cleared her throat, then quietly spoke up. "Hi, I’m Maggie Beckett. I joined Quinn and Remmy about a year ago. And this is Quinn’s brother, Colin." Looking over at Remmy, she continued, "What do you mean, ‘trapped on the astral plane?’ What is the ‘astral plane?’ Why don’t you start at the beginning, Remmy, and explain to everyone what’s happened."
Once the introductions were out of the way, Remmy proceeded to tell Maggie and Colin about their last visit to this earth. He described the slide in, not being able to find Quinn, and how they were almost arrested for possession of illegal technology…the Professor’s watch! Laughing, they decided unanimously that Quinn must have had something to do with the officer’s horse spooking and running off at such a fortuitous moment.
When Remmy reached the part about going to the church in search of information, Gillian took her turn in telling the tale. She told of the pain caused to her and her mother because of the ‘voices’ she heard and how she’d almost been committed because of them. She went on to say how she had believed Quinn to be just one more voice, albeit a ‘visible’ one, that she wanted no part of. They shared looks of amazement when she told of the woman walking ‘through’ Quinn. Everyone laughed as she described how she had run out of the church with him chasing after her, trying to get her to explain what was happening and asking for her help in contacting the others.
Time flew by as Remmy and Gillian took turns telling the tale of their previous visit. Eventually, the talk turned to Mike Mallory. Remmy told of their first meeting, of finding out that the Quinn of this world had died of polio. "Man, the guy was really eaten up over the loss of his Quinn, especially when he found out that the technology on our world had come up with a vaccine so long ago. I think I can understand why he got involved with the Bayside Power group." And, with that, he proceeded to tell of Mike’s 5-year stint in jail, his involvement with the power company officials, and their attempt to steal the timer to profit from its technology.
Remmy sighed, then continued on, "You should’ve seen him when it came time to slide… he was threatening to shoot us if the Professor didn’t shut down the vortex. And then Q-ball stepped in front of the vortex and was illuminated by it – we were actually able to see and hear him! The look on Mike’s face as Quinn talked to him… I tell ya, it was the look of a man who’d been in hell for way too long and who desperately wanted to believe there was a way out!"
"And then we slid out. We did so believing we were leaving Q-ball behind because the vortex hadn’t opened on the astral plane yet. That was the hardest thing we’d ever had to do," Remmy concluded amidst the silence of the others. After a moment, he turned to Gillian, "What happened to the three of you after we left?"
"Well, Mr. Mallory knew those people from Bayside Power were going to be looking for all of you, him included. He was just sick at what he’d almost done to you. And, after having Quinn ‘back’ for those few moments, he realized he couldn’t keep working for them, even if it did mean going back to prison."
Gillian paused for a moment, then continued, "It took Mom a few minutes to sort it all out, but she decided that the thing for Mr. Mallory to do was to go straight to Father Jerry. He did and, I’m not really sure what happened then, but Bayside has left him alone ever since."
"Ever since that day," Gillian went on, "Mom’s been so much more relaxed about everything. I mean, those events showed her that there really are things that can’t be fully explained or seen, yet they do exist. She’s not afraid that I’m ‘losing it’ anymore either. As for me, I still don’t understand it, what Quinn referred to as my ‘gift,’ but I have a better idea of how to live with it."
"AND," she said with a smile, "ever since Quinn helped me find the stolen money, very few people care to tease me anymore. I think they’re afraid I’ll start telling all their little secrets. As if I even knew what they were!" After this last bit, she had to explain in even further detail the episode of the stolen money and just exactly how Quinn helped her recover it…he’d never mentioned that to anyone. Once again, there was a healthy dose of laughter following that tale.
Then it was Gillian’s turn to be the audience as Remmy and Maggie told about the Professor’s death on Maggie’s world and how she had come to join them in sliding from one dimension to the next. Tears were shed as they told of Wade’s and Remmy’s capture by the Kromaggs, Remmy’s subsequent rescue, and the fate that had befallen Wade.
Remmy then told of how Quinn had discovered the truth about his parents and the fact that he had a brother. He and Colin took turns telling about the day they slid to Colin’s world. Gillian was amazed that Colin’s world had feared and restricted technology even more than hers! She and Colin started comparing each other’s worlds. Both of them were amazed at the similarities in their experiences as the ‘different’ ones.
Maggie was jolted back to the present when she noticed that the lunch crowd was now coming in. Where had the morning gone? She decided to head back to the hotel to see if Quinn had checked in or called yet. Taking one look at how Colin and Gillian seemed to be drifting off into their own world, Maggie just looked at Remmy and, nodding towards the door, said, "C’mon Remmy, let’s go see if we have any messages."
Smiling at the two, Remmy stood up and followed Maggie out the door.
He was running, though from what he didn’t know. All he knew was that he had to get somewhere, find the others… What others? He fell…tried to catch himself, but couldn’t! It hurt so much to move! As he struggled to get back up, he heard a gentle voice saying "Easy, dear. Relax. You’re safe now. Rest now, we’ll take care of you."
As though through a thick, cloying fog, he struggled upward. Gradually the fog seemed to clear. There was a soft light, filtering in through a curtained window. He shifted his head and promptly moaned because of the pain. He was in a bed. But he had such a narrow field of vision! What was going on? He tried to speak, but all he was able to manage was "What…?"
Then he heard the voice again; it was so soothing… "Just rest, dear. You’ve had a rough time of it. You’re safe now." The owner of that voice came into his limited field of vision. She was a pleasant looking woman with dark hair, generously sprinkled with gray, a gentle smile and blue eyes that mirrored the concern evident in her voice. She gently lifted his head and held a glass of water to his lips. He managed a couple of swallows before the fog drifted back in to reclaim him.
Kate sat back in her chair, watching the young man as he sank back into a healing sleep. She looked up as Sean walked in and placed a hand on her shoulder. "How’s he doing?" he asked.
"He’s just gone back to sleep," said Kate. "He must have had a nightmare, he was tossing so, but he woke out of it a few minutes ago. The poor boy, his eyes are so swollen he could barely see! What kind of people would do something like this?"
* * *
Upon returning to the Dominion, they learned there was still no word from Quinn. "There’s one more place I’d like to check out," said Remmy. "If he’s not at Mike Mallory’s place, we’re gonna have to start checking with the police and hospitals. I just don’t want to believe that he never made it off Salem world."
"Okay, so we’ll start by dropping in on Mike Mallory. Should we stop by the coffee shop and see if Colin and Gillian want to come along? I have a feeling Colin would be disappointed if we went without him, regardless of the company he’s keeping at the moment," Maggie added with a grin.
As Remmy and Maggie walk out of the Dominion, Colin and Gillian greeted them. "Hey, Gillian has offered to take me over to my father’s, err, Mr. Mallory’s house and introduce me to him!" Colin exclaimed as they gathered together on the sidewalk. "Do you want to come along?"
"We were on our way to ask you the same thing, Farm-boy," said Remmy. "I guess I’m kind of hoping that, somehow, Q-ball has found his way there. Do you remember the way there sweetheart?" he asked Gillian.
"Oh yes," Gillian replied. "Mom and I have been visiting him ever since the last time you were here. I mean, Mom and I only have each other since Dad died and Mr. Mallory doesn’t have anyone since his wife left him. In fact, even his parents will have nothing to do with him since he went to prison. And, besides, who else would we even dare discuss your ‘sliding’ with anyway? We’d all be committed for sure!" she added with a grin.
Colin’s face lit up as Gillian was talking. "You mean my grandparents are alive on this world? I have never known my grandparents, not on my home world, nor on any other we have been to since!"
"Well then, let’s get going," said Maggie. And with that, the four of them headed down the street.
* * *
"Okay, here we are…316 Commonwealth," said Gillian as they walked up to the front door. Shortly after she knocked, the door opened.
"Gillian! It’s good to see you! How’s you mom doing?" said Mike. Then he noticed the other people with her. "And who have you brought along? Wait…" he said, looking closely at Remmy. "I’ve met you before, haven’t I?"
"Yes sir, my friends and I were here a couple years ago… with Quinn," Remmy replied.
"Oh my God…come in, come in!" Mike said with a shocked look on his face. He then stepped back so they could enter. "How is Quinn? Is he still… um…what did you call it?… on the astral plane? Where are the other two who were with you?"
"Quinn’s fine, at least he was up until we slid in last night. He never made it out of the vortex with us," Remmy explained. "It’s possible he ended up somewhere else on this world, but we don’t know where to even start looking. Coming here was kind of a last hope that he made it to a familiar place."
Remmy went on once again to explain what had happened to Wade and the Professor. He then proceeded to introduce Maggie and Colin to Mike.
"You’re my ‘other’ son from an alternate world? I still don’t think I understand all of this," said Mike in amazement. "It’s been so long since my Quinn started exploring his theories on inter-dimensional travel."
"You’d mentioned that last time we were here too," said Remmy gently. "How old was your Quinn when he died?"
"That was eight, nine years ago now. He was only 15 and so full of promise when he… Damn that Bureau of Anti-Technology and this world’s refusal to see that technology can enhance, even save, lives – not just destroy them!" Mike paused a moment. "I’m sorry, it still hurts like it was yesterday."
"No apology necessary, man. I can’t even begin to imagine how it feels," said Remmy. "Gillian mentioned that Bayside’s goons have left you alone since we left. What’s the story there?"
"Well, at her mother’s urging, I did go in and have a long talk with Father Jerry," Mike explained. "He recommended I write down everything I knew about Bayside’s plans to corner the market on technology as soon as their lobbyists pushed the needed changes through. I described their methods of ‘acquiring’ some of the technology. He has a copy, and there are other copies as well. If anything were to happen to me…well, they’ve agreed to leave me alone as long as I’m not trying to ‘compete’ with them. I know it’s not the perfect solution to this mess, but it’s worked so far."
"What about your parents?" Colin asked. "Gillian mentioned that they’ll have nothing to do with you?"
"That’s an old story now," Mike said. "My dad quit talking to me long before Quinn died. He felt my ‘dabbling’ in such illegal activities would bring no good to the family. Oh, it was just fine as long as I could fix a tractor or keep some other piece of machinery running a while longer, but he didn’t feel it should go any further than that."
With a weary expression, he continued on, "I really think he even blames me for Quinn’s interest in the sciences…as if I would have been able to discourage him! Quinn saw so many good things that could be accomplished and his enthusiasm just couldn’t be contained! Then, when the polio struck him down, Dad permanently locked the door against me! You see, despite Quinn’s fascination with technology, he had really meant the world to my father. I think Dad wanted to blame someone for what happened to Quinn, and I was the one he chose. The last time I saw him was at the funeral, and even then, he refused to so much as look at me."
"After that, well, I just didn’t care about anything any more. My wife couldn’t cope with losing Quinn and, essentially, me too. She finally gave up trying and went back east. Shortly after that, Anti-Tech busted me and I ended up in prison and, well…I guess you know the rest," concluded Mike.
After a moment, Colin spoke up, "In spite of all that, I would really like to meet them. They are my grandparents, even if they are not from my world. Is there any way at all that you could arrange that?"
"No, I’m afraid not," Mike stated flatly. Colin wisely let that subject drop, at least for the time being.
Breaking the silence that had fallen over the group, Gillian announced it was time for her to leave for work. Colin offered to walk her back to the coffee shop. Remmy and Maggie decided to stay with Mike a while longer. They needed to figure out where else to look for Quinn and, just as importantly, they had to find jobs since they were going to be staying for quite a while.
* * *
Late that evening, Sean was sitting in with the young man. Kate had insisted on staying up the previous night with him and had spent most of the day with him as well. She finally gave in to Sean’s recommendation she lay down…but "only for a little while!" were her words as she lay down on her bed. In no time at all, she was fast asleep.
Sean had just about finished reading the day’s paper when he heard a soft moan coming from the bed. Looking up, he saw their guest gazing back at him.
Slowly, the young man asked, "Where…am I?"
Before Sean could answer, the young man tried to sit up. He gasped in pain. Sean leaned forward and helped ease him back down. "Just take it easy, son. I found you out in our pasture last night. You’re safe here in our house now. My wife and I have been very concerned about you."
"What…what happened…?" the young man asked, his voice ragged with the effort to talk through the pain.
"It looks like someone, probably several people, attacked you. I’m guessing it was several at once because you’re bruised from all sides," Sean explained. "We checked you over last night. It seems nothing’s broken. The swelling’s already starting to go down, but your face and upper body are sporting a good many shades of black and blue. You’re going to be pretty stiff and sore for a while, ‘til the bruises heal up, but other than that, I’d say you were lucky."
At that point, Kate came into the room, carrying a tray with steaming mugs on it. "I thought I heard voices in here!" she said, "It’s so good to see you awake, my dear. I’m Kate and this is Sean, in case he didn’t think to introduce himself."
"Come on, Kate," Sean said, "he just woke up!"
"Well, okay," Kate replied with a smile. Turning back to their guest, she brought a glass of water to him and asked, "How are you feeling?"
"I hurt all over…" he stated. "Thanks…for taking me in."
"Our pleasure," said Kate. "Now, what is your name, dear? Is there someone you would like us to contact…to let them know where you are?"
"I’m…I…my…my name…" he stammered. A stunned look came over him and all color drained from his face. "I…I don’t know!" he whispered hoarsely. He didn’t even notice the shocked looks exchanged between Kate and Sean. It was as if everything else had ceased to exist, he felt so utterly empty and alone.
Kate’s heart went out to him. He looked so lost! She knew she had to snap him back out of his shock quickly. "Well!" she said briskly, "I’m sure it’s only temporary…for the time being, let’s just work on getting you back on your feet!"
"Sean, bring in some extra pillows, would you? We need to get this young man propped up so he can have some of this soup I brought in."
Gradually his eyes regained their focus and he became aware of his benefactors again. "What…?"
"Come, dear. We’re going to help you sit up. I think a bit of soup and another good night’s sleep are just what you need right now." She took the pillows from Sean and, as he gently helped the young man sit up, she propped them up behind him. Once that was finished, she brought over two mugs. She smiled as she handed the hot chocolate to Sean, then she sat on the chair next to the bed and helped the young man with his soup.
Not long after, she and Sean headed out to the kitchen. Kate was worried about their guest. While he did manage to eat some of the soup, he didn’t say another word that night. Instead, he just lay back on the bed, his blue eyes haunted, staring off to only who knew where. Thankfully, sleep had reclaimed him shortly thereafter.
* * *
Morning found him able to sit up on his own and, with a little support from Sean, he joined them at the breakfast table. "I want to thank both of you for taking me in," he said.
"It was the least we could do," replied Sean.
"You’re certainly welcome to stay here if you wish," added Kate. "Unless you’d rather we call the police and ask their help in finding out who you are and locating your family?"
"No, if you really wouldn’t mind, I’d like to take you up on your offer to stay for the time being." He then continued, "It’s so peaceful here, and I have this feeling that that is something I don’t find very often."
"Good! Consider yourself home for as long as you want," Kate said with a smile.
"I don’t know, son," Sean added with a gleam in his eyes. "You might find yourself being mother-henned to death here!" He ducked as a dishcloth sailed across the table at him.
And for the first time since they found him, the young man smiled.
* * *
"Rise and shine, sleepyhead," called Remmy. Colin just pulled the pillow over his head and mumbled something unintelligible. "Oh, come on now Farm-boy, you know we’ve got to get out and find jobs today!"
"Yes, I know," mumbled Colin. "But do you have to be so cheerful about it?"
"Well, I wasn’t the one who stayed out until, um, what time was it that you finally came in anyway?"
"It wasn’t that late," Colin protested as he reluctantly climbed out of bed. "I walked Gillian home after she got off work. I met Mrs. Mitchell. Then Gillian and I sat on the front-porch swing and talked for a while, that’s all."
"That’s all, huh?" Remmy said with a grin. "You’ve fallen for her…hard…haven’t you!"
Uncomfortable with the way the conversation was going and wanting to change the subject as quickly as possible, Colin asked, "Have you checked for messages yet?"
"Yeah, Maggie and I have already been downstairs. Still no word. I really don’t know what else we can do, unless we want to go to the police…and how do we explain our situation to the authorities on a world that’s so paranoid about technology?"
"I do not know, Remmy," Colin said. "I suppose the best thing is to keep doing what we already are and hope for the best."
* * *
That afternoon, the young man was seated on a rocking chair out on the front porch. It was an unseasonably warm day and Kate had said a bit of fresh air could work wonders on a person. ‘She was right,’ he thought. ‘This really does feel good.’ He reached down alongside the chair and gave Rhiannon a pat on the head.
Earlier, as Sean had helped him out to the chair, she had come bounding up onto the porch and positioned herself at his side. Sean had grinned, "Both my girls are going to be mothering you now, son. Once Ree finds a stray, she considers it her duty to take care of it, regardless of what ‘it’ is!"
Knowing the conversation was about her, the Australian Shepherd had perked her ears up and her short, docked tail had started wagging excitedly.
He had decided that morning to take Kate’s advice and focus on…how had she put it? Oh yeah, getting back on his feet. He was still a little shaky in that department. He’d already learned the hard way not to move too quickly…the world tended to spin out of control if he did. If Sean hadn’t been there earlier, he would have fallen flat on his face.
It felt so strange, having no memories, no future that extended beyond today! He hoped Kate was right in her assumption that this was a temporary condition! His entire world at this point consisted of himself, two other people, a dog, the warm afternoon sun, and the leaves gently rustling in the breeze. At some point during this line of thought, the fresh air worked it’s magic on him, and he nodded off to sleep.
Colin had just finished changing the oil in the last car of the morning, and he hurried to clean up before lunch. As had become his routine over the last couple of days, he was getting together with Gillian for lunch. This time they had decided to meet at the Lamplighter, adjacent to the Dominion.
He smiled just at the thought of her…she was so amazing! Briefly, a frown flickered across his face; was it right to be spending so much time with her, knowing that he would be leaving in a matter of weeks? Hurriedly, he brushed his doubts aside…he was going to enjoy her company for as long as he could…and that was that!
A few minutes later he was hurrying across the street and into the Lamplighter. Gillian had already arrived and was waiting at a table for him. Smiling, he made his way across the room and sat down across from her.
After inquiring how each other’s days were going, they slipped into their comfortable conversation about anything and everything. They always seemed to be able to pick up right where they’d left off the morning, evening, whatever time of day before.
"You are so amazing, Gillian," Colin said.
"That’s what Quinn told me once, in fact we were sitting in this room when he said that," she said with a smile. "Of course, I was lucky there was no one else here when we had that conversation. Everyone would have assumed I was talking to ‘ghosts’ again!" As she was talking, she noticed Colin’s expression change. "What’s wrong?"
"I am sitting here, thoroughly enjoying your company, and I do not even know what has happened to my brother! I feel guilty for being so happy while he could be seriously injured or dead for all I know! And I am certain that would be his fate if he did not make it off the last world," he said with a tormented look on his face. "How can it feel so right to be here and happy with you and, yet, so wrong at the same time?"
"We have to keep hoping that you will find him," Gillian urged. "But ask yourself too, if the worst did happen, would he want you to shut yourself off from the world or would he prefer you get on with your life and remember the good times you’d shared? You aren’t forgetting him, Colin, and you aren’t betraying or abandoning him."
"Why don’t you tell me more about the day you met your brother," Gillian continued with a grin. "And I’ll tell you even more about the time he was here."
"Like I said before, Gillian," Colin said with a hint of a smile returning, "you truly are amazing."
* * *
Kate was out in the backyard, hanging laundry on the line. As had frequently been the case ever since Sean found him, her thoughts turned to their young guest. Physically, he was doing much better. He was able to move around without assistance, although he was still taking it slow. He no longer suffered from vertigo whenever he moved too quickly. The bruises were fading to varying shades of purple, green and yellow. And although he had not regained any memories yet, he seemed, hmmm, content to wait for them to come in their own time.
Yes, that was the best description of him at the moment…content.
He wanted to help out around the place...‘to earn his keep,’ is how he’d put it. She had finally relented, but only on the condition he didn’t try anything strenuous yet. He had grinned mischievously at that and said, "Yes, Mom…whatever you say!" She had hurried out with the laundry at that point; she didn’t want him to see the tears that word brought to her eyes. It had been so long since someone had called her that.
Having hung the laundry, she walked back into the kitchen. The young man looked up with a grin as she walked in. "Done already? I’ve just finished too," he said as he put the last pan in the rack to dry. He turned back to the sink and pulled the plug to drain it. Kate started to walk through to the other room, when she noticed his expression change. Gone was the easy grin and the gleam in his eyes…in their place was a distant stare. She walked over to him and looked in the direction of his stare. All she saw was the whirlpool effect as the water drained from the sink.
Once the water had drained, he seemed to become aware of his surroundings again. He looked at her with that lost look she’d seen the night he first woke up. She gently guided him to one of the chairs and coaxed him to sit down. "You remembered something, didn’t you, dear," she stated quietly.
He heard Kate speaking as if from a great distance. He slowly answered, "The vortex…"
"Tell me about what you saw," she said, hoping that having him talk about it would not only reinforce the memory, but clarify it as well.
"It was so big! Blue…silver…green…all swirling together. And the roar of the wind…it was trying to pull me in…" He looked up at her, pleading, "Why would I see something like that? Why not people or places instead?"
"I’m sorry, dear, I wish I knew," she said quietly as she laid a hand on his arm. "I do have an idea though. Why not keep a journal? After all, your memory will probably come back in bits and pieces and some of those pieces, like this one, may not make any sense at the time. Maybe by writing them down and reviewing them later, things will start to make sense."
He brought his hands up and rested his head on them momentarily then, with a sigh, lifted his head again to face her. "You’re right, it does make sense to record my observations," and a shadow of his earlier smile played over his face. "Thanks, Kate."
Kate retrieved a notebook and pen for his use and he retreated to his room. Then Kate went back to the desk and opened another notebook. ‘Thursday, December 2,’ she wrote. ‘After being here almost a week, our mysterious young guest experienced his first memory today, a flashback to something from before he arrived here. He was so shaken by it! At my suggestion, he is starting a journal in the hope that it will help him regain what he has lost. I’ve decided to start a journal of my own. I want to record things he says, gestures he makes…all those things a person doesn’t think about but which can tell so much about someone.’
‘From the look on his face and the tone of his voice when he called me mom, I believe this young man has a very close relationship with his mother,’ she continued. ‘Most people would think of a whirlpool when watching water drain, he used the word vortex instead. And then his comment about recording observations; my boys were always doing that…and it drove Sean up the wall!’
For the past few days, Remmy, Colin and Maggie had been checking places out, hoping for word of Quinn. But there was still no word at the Dominion and no unidentified person or body had been brought into the hospital or morgue. The next day would mark one week on this world already…none of them wanted to give in yet and admit to themselves that they would never see Quinn again.
That evening, the three had gathered at Mike Mallory’s house for dinner. Everyone relished the opportunity to sit back, relax, and talk about everyday kinds of things…something they seldom had the chance to do while sliding.
"It’s been a pleasure having all of you around this week," Mike said. "You said you had, what, another five weeks here? Why don’t you just move in here until it’s time to leave…it’s nice not being alone all the time. Besides, Christmas is just a few weeks away. Why not spend it with ‘family’?"
"Hey, man, that sounds great!" said Remmy enthusiastically. "It’s been a couple of years since I’ve experienced anything even remotely resembling a family Christmas."
They agreed to move in the next day. A short time later, Colin excused himself, saying that he was meeting Gillian when she got off work to walk her home. Never one to pass up an opportunity to tease someone, Remmy started in on him again, "Man, you sure have fallen head over heels for her, haven’t you Farm-boy!"
When Colin started to blush, as Remmy had known he would, Mike came to his rescue. "Cut my boy some slack, Remmy," he said with a grin. "Gillian’s such a nice girl…I’m glad Colin’s taken such a liking to her."
With a surprised look on his face and turning redder still, Colin replied, "Uh, thanks…Dad!" and hurried out the door.
Remmy and Maggie just exchanged amused looks. Both of them were starting to wonder if either one of the Mallorys, or Gillian too for that matter, would be able to say "goodbye" when the time came.
* * *
After sitting around all week, the young man was eager to get out and move around. Kate finally gave in to his request that he be allowed to make a trip out to the barn during evening chores, but only on the condition that he didn’t overdo it.
Kate’s first job of the evening was tending the chickens. He was not sure what he had expected, but somehow he didn’t think it would be this feathered mass of chaos. After she had waded through the eager flock to feed them, Kate asked him to help gather eggs from the nest boxes lining one wall. She made it look so easy, just reach under the hen and retrieve the eggs she was sitting on. He didn’t fare as well on his first attempt though. He had just managed to get an egg in hand when the hen pecked at him. Kate couldn’t help but laugh as he jumped back, egg dripping through his fingers! As he stood there looking at the crushed egg, however, his eyes took on that same distant stare she’d seen earlier.
"What do you see, dear?" she asked.
"I…I see someone…a girl…with short, dark hair," he whispered as he struggled to describe what he saw in his mind’s eye. "She fell…she landed with her hand ‘in’ an egg. The egg is enormous!" His focus changed back to the present and he looked at her with eyes wide, "What on earth has an egg that large? It’s as big as one of these hens!"
Instead of looking as lost as he had earlier in the day though, he just shook head and said with a wry grin, "No way are you gonna get me to gather THOSE eggs, Kate! If you want ‘em…you get ‘em!"
Bringing the eggs with them, they moved on to the milk house. The eggs were put in the cool room for cleaning and sorting the next day. Kate then showed him how to assemble the milking machines. By the time they finished that, Sean had the cows in the barn and was feeding them. Milking time had begun.
The young man was at a loss about what to do next. All these cows…and they were so big! Kate came to his rescue and told him he’d done quite enough for one day. She suggested he either take a seat on the straw bales at the end of the aisle or, if he preferred, head back up to the house. Fascinated with all the activity, he chose to stay. He watched as Sean and Kate started with the cows at one end of the barn and worked their way back towards the milk house. Once they had finished a half-dozen cows, Sean opened the barn door and released the stanchions of those that were done. Rhiannon then herded them out of the barn, nipping at noses or heels where necessary.
Once she had finished her duty, Ree reclaimed her spot next to him on the bales. This routine continued throughout the milking process. When milking was almost done, the cats wandered in for their evening milk. As a long-haired gray cat came strolling through, the name ‘Schroedinger’ came to mind. ‘Now where did that name come from?’ he wondered. ‘Well, one more entry for my journal, I guess. That name and the giant eggs!’
As Kate tended to the last few cows, Sean brought him down to the lower barn. Built into a hillside, this barn consisted of three levels. Constructed of stone, the majority of the main level was dug into the hillside with the loft above being accessible by a ramp outside and ladders from the main level inside. Accessible from the main barn by covered stairs, the lower barn was an extension that sat at the bottom of this hillside.
It was in the lower barn that Sean wanted to show him his pride and joy. In the stalls down there, stood a team of sorrel Belgian draft horses with coppery red coats and flaxen manes and tails. He explained to the young man that, while the horses were no longer a necessity, with tractors and all, he just couldn’t bear to part with this, his last team. It was obvious to his guest that, while the cows were his livelihood, the horses were his passion.
One of the horses nickered as they came down the steps, knowing it was finally time for their supper. "Hey there Cody, I’m coming!" Sean called out to him. "Cody always greets me when I come down here. Buddy, on the other hand, is the silent partner of the team," Sean explained.
Once they’d been fed and watered for the evening, and the stalls cleaned, Sean led the way back up into the main barn. He hid his grin as he thought about how overly cautious their guest had been when he approached the horses. He looked ready to jump the wall of the stall if Buddy had so much as looked at him!
Sean paused after turning off the lights in the lower barn. "Sometimes, especially after a hard day," he said quietly, "I just sit here on the steps for a few minutes, with only the light from the main barn filtering down. I can see the red glow of their coats in the soft light and I listen to the sounds of the boys contentedly munching their hay. It’s a great way to let the tension drain away at the end of the day."
Later that evening, after the men had gone off to bed, Kate took a moment for a final entry in her journal. ‘Our young man gets along well with the dog and cats. He seems especially drawn the gray cat. So far, he’s been very quick in understanding the mechanical aspects of the farm. He is, however, somewhat nervous around the livestock. I doubt he’s had much experience with them in the past. Now, as for the "giant" eggs he described…I don’t know what to think!’ She closed the book, but before she put it away, she reopened it. ‘I’m not sure what it is about him, but he seems so familiar. As if I’ve met him, a long time ago.’
‘Saturday, December 4…three weeks ‘til Christmas.’ Kate wrote after morning chores. ‘I find I’m dreading the day our guest remembers who he is and where he’s from more and more as each day goes by. I fear it will happen before Christmas, and he will then go home for the holidays. Sean is so much more into the spirit of the holidays this year than he has been in oh, so long, and I believe this young man is the reason why.’
‘The dear boy has quickly taken over preparing the machines for milking. He’s also been repairing all the little things that Sean has been saying he’d get around to someday. He has, however, decided to leave the egg gathering to me; he said he had never truly appreciated the meaning of the expression "hen-pecked" before! He is much more comfortable working with inanimate objects than the animals.’
‘I know he’s had other episodes of remembering…his eyes always take on that distant look…although he seems to be more accepting of these incidents now, rather than shocked as at first. The squeaky gate into the horses’ paddock, though, really shook him up. When I asked him about it later, he said it reminded him of home, but when I asked for more details about home, the wistful look on his face disappeared. In its place was an agonized expression as he hoarsely whispered that he couldn’t get back there. With that said, he quickly retreated to his room. Why would he feel can’t he go back?’
‘I believe the memories are starting to invade his sleep as well. He was restless last night and this morning he looked like he hadn’t slept well at all.’ As she finished writing this, she looked out the window. There were the two men now, talking and laughing easily, as they came back in after herding the cows out to the back pasture. Kate’s breath caught in her throat…for a moment there, she saw Sean and their son…as they had been so many years ago!
* * *
The weekend had arrived. Remmy was glad they finally had the opportunity to live a normal life, even if it was only for a few weeks! He walked out into the kitchen to find the coffee was ready and Mike and Colin were working on pancakes and sausage. "Good morning!" he said.
Mike looked up as Remmy poured himself some coffee and announced, "Colin and I were just talking about going out and getting a tree today. I know I’ve got ornaments stashed away, just haven’t had much use for them lately."
"I think that’s a wonderful idea," said Maggie as she walked in and headed straight for the coffee. "It’s been a long time since any of us have been able to enjoy the holidays, hasn’t it!"
"Yeah girl. Did I ever tell you about the time Q-ball, Wade, the Professor and I got stuck at the mall in the sky?" Remmy asked with a chuckle. "I wish you could’ve seen Q-ball and Wade as elves…pointy ears and all, the Professor as Santa, and me as his helper!" He went on to describe all the events of that slide, including how he fell victim to the subliminal ads that had been run. "It all finally worked out, though, and we spent Christmas Eve with Wade’s father and sister. Until now, that’s the only time we were able to celebrate anything resembling a family Christmas since we started sliding."
As soon as breakfast was over, Colin was out the door, calling out over his shoulder, "I’m going to invite Gillian and her mother to join us when we go tree shopping."
Remmy watched him go, then turned to Maggie, "I have a feeling that Farm-boy’s thinking about staying when it comes time to slide…especially if we don’t find Quinn."
"I think you’re right, Rem," replied Maggie, "And, you know, I don’t think I’d blame him at all if he did."
* * *
The evening milking was a little behind schedule tonight. When Sean went out to bring the herd in, he noticed one of the cows was missing. Knowing she was due to calve in a couple days, he went out in search of her. Sure enough, he found her in a secluded spot away from the rest of the herd, standing watch over the wobbly little calf. He slowly guided the two back to the barn.
The calf was placed in a pen at one end of the barn and the cow went to her stanchion, anxious for her feed. Once she had been milked, however, the milk was poured into a bucket rather than sent up to the milk house. Sean then handed the bucket to the young man and asked him to feed the calf.
Unsure of what to do, he took the bucket from Sean and walked over to the little black and white bundle of legs. "Okay now, little guy, let’s see if you and I can be friends here, okay?" he said. And with that, he walked into the pen and held the bucket out to the calf.
The calf was hungry and could smell the milk but mom was no where in sight! He came over and tried to suck on the side of the bucket…that didn’t produce the desired result. So he did what any self-respecting calf would do…he butted his head against the bucket to bring the milk down.
Sean and Kate both hurried over when they heard the young man cry out. There he stood, drenched in milk, trying to keep the still-hungry youngster away from him! The look he shot at both of them as they failed in their attempts not to laugh caused both of them to try just a bit harder to stop. Sean, still chuckling, took the bucket and went to refill it…he hadn’t poured out the remaining milk just in case something like this happened.
Kate, in the meantime, went to his side and held the calf back. "I don’t know if I’ll ever care to drink milk again, Kate! Especially not after wearing it!" he said in exasperation.
"I’m sorry about that dear," she replied. "We’re just so used to doing this that we didn’t even think to show you how to do it. And don’t feel too bad about it, dear. It still happens to us once in a while too! I could show you how to do it now if you’d like; or would you rather head up to the house and change instead?"
"No, I guess that can wait a little," he replied. "I’ve got to figure out how to get along with all these animals if I’m going to be of any help to you! I’m getting the distinct impression that I never had much to do with animals before."
By then Sean had returned with the refilled milk bucket. Kate took the bucket and showed their guest how to dip his hand down into the milk, then curl his fingers upward as he lifted it out and offered his hand to the calf. The youngster eagerly grabbed on to his fingers and started to suck. After a couple attempts, he was finally able to coax the calf to lower his head while still sucking on his fingers. Within a matter of minutes, the calf was greedily sucking milk from the bucket, still holding tightly to the young man’s hand. A smile slowly spread across the young man’s face, the spilled milk forgotten for the time being.
* * *
That evening found everyone gathered at the Mitchell household. Remmy had convinced Mike and Maggie to try something from his childhood and they soon found themselves in front of heaping bowls of popcorn and cranberries, laughing and talking as they threaded it into garlands for the tree.
As Colin and Gillian strung the lights and hung the ornaments on the tree, the rich scent of cinnamon, cloves and other spices drifted in from the kitchen…Mrs. Mitchell had started baking cookies.
* * *
Later that night, Kate awoke with a start. After a moment, she heard the young man tossing restlessly in his sleep. A short while later, he got out of bed and quietly slipped out of the house. Kate started to follow him, but Sean stopped her. "I think I know where he’s going, Kate," he said quietly. "Let’s just give him some time to himself right now; let him try to sort things out." As they watched, he and Rhiannon entered the barn and the entry light alone was turned on.
‘Saturday, December 11. It’s been two weeks now since Sean and Kate found me and took me in,’ the young man wrote in his journal. ‘There have been many bits and pieces coming back, but nothing makes sense! I see faces but have no names to go with them, yet there are names too without faces. I feel safe in saying I’ve had very little contact with animals in the past. With the exception of Rhiannon and the cats, especially the gray one, I’ve been very uncomfortable around them. I know I’ll never take another egg or glass of milk for granted again!’
‘I have to admit that, despite this memory loss, I feel an incredible sense of peace here. There’s something in going about all the chores to help feed and care for these animals that helps me get through the day. I have the distinct impression that peaceful is not a word someone would use to describe my past. And the one memory that should have been so comforting was one of the most disturbing…why does it hurt so much when something reminds me of home? Why do I feel I’ll never get home again?’
‘Sean doesn’t ask much about my past,’ he continued. ‘I’ve found that he’s not one to say much about anything, but when he does, it’s straight to the point. Kate’s trying so hard to help me remember anything. I’m sure she knows there’s things I’m not telling her about…but how can I even start to describe some of the things I’m seeing at in my dreams!’
‘No, the only ones I can confide these images to are Rhiannon and the "boys." Cody always greets me, regardless of the time of night I show up out there. Buddy will at least acknowledge me with the twitch of an ear. Rhiannon is my shadow whenever I’m outside. All three are willing to listen to me talk about vortexes of varying colors, flying ships unlike any planes, and beings that are indescribable…not only in their looks, but in their unspeakable actions as well!’ He paused a moment, seeing these creatures once again. ‘From what I’ve seen in these nightmares, do I really want to remember my past?’ With no answer to this question, he closed his journal and lay down to rest a while.
* * *
After morning chores were finished, the young man had headed for his room. He hadn’t been sleeping well this past week and asked Kate to wake him in an hour or so. Kate decided the time had come to discuss with Sean what had been on her mind more and more lately.
"I’m really getting concerned about the boy, Sean," she started. "He’s trying to keep up appearances that he’s doing well, but we both know he’s getting very little sleep these last few days. And, from the sounds of it, some of his dreams must be terrifying!"
"I agree," Sean replied. "But there really isn’t any more we can do, other than being here for him whenever he needs us."
"You’re wrong, Sean. As much as I don’t want to see him walk out of our lives, I think we owe it to the boy to get some help in finding out who he is!" Kate took a deep breath, then continued on, "I think we’re going to have to go to the authorities and ask for their help in identifying him."
"No!" Sean shot back. "I refuse to do anything that will bring the authorities, with their questions and accusations, back to this farm!"
"This has nothing to do with what’s happened in the past, Sean Michael Mallory!" Kate cried. "We have to do what’s right for the boy! You know very well…" she broke off suddenly when she saw the young man in the doorway of the kitchen. There he stood, holding onto the doorway for support, his face drained of color and eyes dark with shock, repeating the words, "Michael Mallory!" Suddenly, tears started to fall and he staggered out of the house.
Stunned, Sean and Kate exchanged worried glances, then hurried out the door to find him. They didn’t have far to go…he’d only made it as far as the front porch before his legs refused to carry him any further. They found him sitting there, knees drawn up to his chest with his arms wrapped tightly around them, rocking back and forth, mouthing the words "Michael Mallory" over and over.
Sean quietly sat down next to him and put an arm around his shoulders, halting the rocking motion and holding him tightly, comfortingly. Kate then knelt in front of him, and taking his face into her hands, she started talking, murmuring soothing words and sounds, trying to bring his focus back on her.
Finally, his eyes shifted back to her and he quit murmuring that name. Kate’s heart broke for him at the pain reflected in those eyes. He looked at her with such desperation! "Tell me what you’ve remembered, dear," she said gently.
After what seemed an eternity, he finally spoke hesitantly, "No! I – I can’t! Michael Mallory? – can’t be – oh God, it hurts – it hurts so much!"
* * *
Sometime later, Kate and Sean were sitting at the kitchen table; both of them drained from this unexpected turn of events. It had taken them a while, but they’d finally calmed the young man down enough that they were able to guide him back into the house and put him to bed. He was asleep before his head hit the pillow.
Sean looked up from the cup of coffee in his hands, long gone cold, "I think this young man must have crossed Mike, or some of those people he’s been working for, Kate. What other explanation can there be for the condition we found him in and for what just happened?"
"I don’t know, Sean," Kate replied. "But surely there must be some other explanation! No matter what the authorities said about him, I refuse to believe Mike would be capable of something like this."
"I hope you’re right, Kate," Sean said. "I’m going into town now and will try to get some answers." That said, he headed out the door, leaving Kate to worry about both of her boys…the unnamed one sleeping in her house who had come to mean so much to them and the one she longed to see again after all these years.
* * *
Remmy had just come home from work when there was a knock on the door. Mike opened it and there stood the one person he had never expected to see again. "Dad!" was all he could say.
"Can I come in Mike?" Sean asked.
"Yeah, um sure," Mike stammered. Then he noticed the look on Sean’s face. "What’s happened? Please tell me it’s not Mom!"
"No, she’s fine. But I have come to talk to you about a young man who, I have reason to believe, knows you. Are you still involved in all this technology stuff? How many more people have to get hurt because of that? I thought I’d heard you were leaving that behind…why didn’t you!"
"Wait, hold it, Dad," Mike interrupted. "What are you talking about? I haven’t had anything to do with that for a couple of years now. And this young man…who is he?"
"That’s what your mother and I were hoping you could tell us. You see, we found him unconscious a while back and he’s been staying with us ever since. He’s suffering from amnesia because of his injuries and, this morning when he heard your name, he…"
"Dad, stop! This young man…" Mike went on excitedly. "How long ago did you find him? What does he look like?"
"Well, let’s see, I found him two weeks ago today," Sean answered, a puzzled look on his face. "He’d been horribly beaten and left out in the front pasture. He’s in his mid-twenties, brown hair, blue eyes…"
"And he’s your height, isn’t he, Dad," Mike finished. It was a statement, not a question.
"Yes, so you do know him?" Sean inquired.
"Yes, Dad, I believe I do," Mike then gestured for Sean to take a seat. "Dad, I have someone I’d like you to meet. This man and your young man are the ones responsible for helping me turn my life around a couple years ago." He walked to the hall entrance and called out, "Remmy, there’s someone here I’d like you to meet."
As Rembrandt entered the kitchen, Mike introduced him to Sean. "Rembrandt Brown, I’d like you to meet Sean Mallory, my father. Remmy, I believe Dad has found your missing friend!" As Remmy’s eyes lit up and he drew a breath to start talking, Mike interrupted. "Before we go any further, though, you and I are going to have to explain a few things to him. Now Dad, what Remmy and I are about to tell you will sound very bizarre, but please believe me, every word of it is true!"
"Remember how Quinn was always going on about the possibility of other dimensions and traveling between them?" Mike asked. With a questioning look in his eyes, Sean nodded. "Well, Dad, Remmy has traveled here from one such dimension. He came here with several friends a couple years ago and just arrived back here two weeks ago. Dad, I believe the young man staying with you and Mom is the one who invented the technology that allows them to do this. His name is Quinn Mallory."
"Qu…Quinn?" Sean stammered.
"Yes Dad. And, in addition to Rembrandt Brown here, there are two other people traveling with him. One is Maggie Beckett and the other is Colin Mallory, his brother."
"But how can this be?" Sean asked, his eyes pleading for someone to offer an explanation he could understand.
"You’ll have to ask Q-ball, err, I mean, Quinn to explain that to you," Remmy said. "He’s the genius that invented this whole sliding business. How’s he doing anyway? Why hasn’t he tried to contact us?"
"He hasn’t been able to explain much of anything to us," Sean replied. At the alarmed look on Remmy’s face, he continued on, "You see, when I found him, he was in very bad shape. It’s only this past week that he’s started to remember anything. It’s all just scattered bits and pieces right now, nothing Kate and I can make sense of, and it’s obvious some of these memories are very painful."
"Physically, he’s doing well. It’s just that now that these fragmented memories are coming back, he’s not sleeping well anymore. And today, Mike, when he overheard your mother and I arguing, he heard her use my full name – Sean Michael Mallory." He looked at Mike with an amused glint in his eyes. "You know how she always does that when she really means business!"
"Well, hearing that name was quite a blow to him. He wasn’t able to explain why other than to say it couldn’t be, and how much it hurt. I just assumed he’d tangled with some of the people you used to know, Mike. Do you know what he was talking about?"
"Yes, sir, I do," Remmy said quietly. "You see, on our world, Quinn’s father was killed in an accident when Quinn was 12. His name was Michael Mallory."
* * *
It didn’t take Mike long to gather the group of friends together to share the news that Quinn had been found. Everyone was eager to see him, but Sean insisted that only one or two come out at first. The last thing he wanted was another episode like this morning! He knew Kate would agree with him.
A couple hours later, Sean was on his way back to the farm. With him were Colin and Gillian.
Kate came out to greet them as they walked in. Her hopeful expression died away when it became obvious that Mike had not come. "Weren’t you able to find Mike?" she asked.
"Yes, I found him," Sean replied, "and he’s doing fine. Mike will be out tomorrow with more of our young man’s friends…but only if we feel he’s up to it. We thought it best if we didn’t overwhelm him with a group of people right away. How’s he doing? Did he wake up while I was gone?"
"No," Kate answered. "He’s been sleeping so soundly, I didn’t have the heart to wake him as he’d asked."
"Well, then, I guess introductions are in order," Sean said as he gestured towards the two who’d accompanied him. "Kate, this is Gillian Mitchell. She works at the coffee shop in town and she first met our young man when he was passing through a couple years ago."
"And this young man," Sean went on with a smile, "is Colin Mallory. He is Quinn’s brother."
"Mallory? Quinn?" Kate was stunned. "How…? What are you saying, Sean?"
"Let’s go back inside," Sean said. "It’s an incredible story, and it will take a while. But here’s how Mike explained it to me…"
* * *
Slowly, he opened his eyes. Lethargic, reluctant to move yet, he lay there thinking…for some reason, he had the impression that something had happened this morning…something he should remember. ‘Okay, I helped with chores, had breakfast, made an entry in my journal and laid down to rest a while…so why do I feel I’m missing something?’ As he tried to sort this feeling out, he heard voices coming from the kitchen. Sitting up, he noticed the time… he’d slept for hours! Why hadn’t Kate awakened him as he’d asked?
As he sat on the edge of the bed, trying to clear the cobwebs from his mind, Kate came into the room. "Oh good, you’re finally awake dear!" she exclaimed. "There are some people here who are anxious to see you."
He followed her out to the kitchen with a questioning look on his face. There was Sean with a young couple. They both turned to greet him. He stopped abruptly…there was something about them…should he know them?
"Hello, brother," said Colin, with a huge smile lighting up his face.
"Hi, Quinn!" Gillian added. She wanted to run to him and finally be able to hug him, but wasn’t sure if she should, just yet.
"Brother? I’m sorry…who…?" He was at a complete loss for words. "I, uh, don’t know what to say…" Truth be told, he was scared. Scared of what he’d find out. After all those nightmares, he didn’t know if he really wanted answers anymore. He looked at Kate, his eyes pleading for help. Then he shifted his attention back to his brother, "I don’t understand, how’d you find me?"
"I went into town today, Quinn, to get some answers," Sean said. "After what happened this morning, Kate convinced me we had to try something more to help you."
"What do you mean…what happened this morning?" Quinn asked. Seeing the concerned looks everyone exchanged worried him. "I woke up feeling that something had, but what? Tell me…please!"
"You heard me say a name, dear," Kate said gently. "The reaction it triggered worried us so much, we knew we had to do something."
"A name?" he asked. "What name?"
Looking first at Sean for support, she nervously replied, "Michael Mallory."
On hearing that name, a sense of sadness and longing washed over him. "He… he was someone… who meant a lot to me. Was he my…my father? He’s…dead…isn’t he?"
"Yes, Quinn," said Colin. "And there is so much more you need to know. But how do I explain something that I am still learning about…something you invented?" He took a deep breath, then continued on. "Quinn, you have been sliding between parallel dimensions for several years. You have frequently encountered your doubles on the various worlds you have been too. Here, on this world, Quinn Mallory died when he was 15. His father, Mike Mallory, is still alive. These people, Quinn, are Sean and Kate…Mallory. They are Mike’s parents. This world’s Quinn was their grandson."
"I don’t understand what you’re saying, but somehow… I know it’s true," Quinn replied quietly. He looked at everyone, trying desperately to make sense out of everything that he’d heard. "You’re my brother? I…I don’t even know your name!"
"I am Colin Mallory…and you are my brother, Quinn," Colin answered. "This is Gillian Mitchell, a friend of ours. You were on this world a couple years ago and met her at that time."
"I’m…I…what do I do?" Quinn felt so confused right now, trying to remember family and friends…trying to make sense of ‘sliding’…just what was that? "Please, I need some time to think about this…try to sort everything out." And with that, he headed out the door.
Colin started after him, but Sean held him back. "Your brother will be fine, son. You’ve told him so many things that, right now, he just needs a chance to let it all sink in. Let’s give him that time…he’ll let us know when he’s ready for more." Pointing out the window, he continued, "See…he’s going out to the milk house. It’s time for milking and I have a feeling that, with everything he’s got on his mind right now, he could do it all by himself tonight and not even notice whether or not we’re there!
‘Sunday, December 12. Today Mike will finally come home again!’ Kate wrote. ‘I had resigned myself to believing this day would never come. As much as I’ve dreamed about this day, however, I find I’m very concerned about how Quinn will react when he arrives. Quinn…it seems so strange, and yet so wonderful, to say that name again. It’s no wonder Sean took to the boy right away, and why I felt he was so familiar…he is like our Quinn was in so many ways.’
‘Sean was right last night. Quinn did help with the chores as usual. The only difference being that he only spoke when it was necessary to the job at hand…otherwise he was deep in thought. It was evident in his eyes that, while he didn’t fully remember all he’d been told yet, he was coming to accept it. He didn’t have that lost, haunted look about him. For that reason alone, I dare believe this incredible story is true.’
‘We all stayed up rather late last night. Colin and Gillian had so much to tell us and then Quinn started asking questions. We now know why that squeaky gate affected him so deeply and why he felt he couldn’t get home. Colin described the vortex that they slide through… again, another piece of the puzzle explained. Gillian told him about his last visit here and gave him such a big hug…she said she’d been waiting two years to be able to do that!’
‘I think Gillian and Colin could have gone on all night; they were so excited to see Quinn again. I brought it to an end though, and sent everyone off to their rooms for the night, when I noticed that Quinn was starting to look overwhelmed again. I hope we aren’t being too hasty in allowing the others to come later today…but it is something Quinn is going to have to face eventually. And, I have to admit, I don’t want to delay seeing Michael another day!’
* * *
Kate and Gillian had been busy all morning, preparing for the guests who would arrive later that day. Gillian chattered on about both of the boys…how Quinn had been her first real friend and, now, Colin was too. Her chatter helped what could have been seemingly endless hours pass quickly. Kate smiled as she listened. It was so nice having young people around again. And, whether Gillian realized it or not, Kate knew the dear girl felt a lot more than mere friendship towards Colin.
Rhiannon’s excited barking brought an end to the preparations as Kate, followed by Gillian, hurried to the door. As Kate watched, Mike started up the walk, followed by three others. Unable to wait a moment longer, Kate was out the door and in Mike’s arms. "Michael! I’m so sorry…I’ve missed you so much!" She lost track of how long they stood out on the front walk, crying, holding each other tight.
"Me too, Mom…me too," was all Mike could say.
When both of them were finally able to release each other and make feeble attempts to dry their eyes, Mike gestured to the people who had accompanied him. "Mom, I’d like you to meet Lois Mitchell, she is Gillian’s mother. Though she may deny it, her friendship has helped me a great deal over the past two years."
Kate walked to Lois, "I’m very happy to meet you, my dear. Thank you for being a friend to Mike."
"I’m glad to be able to meet you too, Mrs. Mallory," Lois replied. "These past two days have been filled with so many stories of the farm."
Mike then moved back into the conversation. "Mom, these are Quinn’s friends…Maggie Beckett and Rembrandt Brown. You’ve been told that Quinn had been here two years ago? Well, Rembrandt…um, Remmy… was with him at that time as well. He’s been with Quinn from the very first slide."
"I’m pleased to meet you ma’am," Remmy said with a smile. "We can never thank you enough for all you’ve done for Quinn. We were beginning to believe we’d never see him again! Where is that boy anyway?"
"He’s out in the barn with Sean and Colin. They should be just about done with chores by now," Kate replied.
Before she could say anymore, Remmy broke in, "Now, I can understand Farm-boy being out in the barn…but Q-ball? This I’ve got to see!"
At the puzzled look on Kate’s face, Maggie smiled and offered an explanation. "All three of the ‘boys’ have nicknames for each other. Quinn is Q-ball, and you’ll have to ask Remmy how he came up with that one, Colin is Farm-boy because of the world he grew up on, and Remmy here was a singer on his home world and was known as the "Cryin’ Man."
With Kate and Mike leading the way, everyone went out to the barn. They entered just as the three men were returning from herding the cows out to the back pasture.
"Q-ball, I swear, I never thought I’d see the day you’d become a farm-boy just like your brother!" Remmy called out.
At the sound of that voice, Quinn stopped and looked up. "Rem…Remmy?" he asked, tentatively.
"Yeah, man, it’s me," Remmy beamed. "You sure had the Cryin’ Man worried there! We all thought we’d lost you on Salem world."
"Salem world…?" Quinn asked.
"The last world we were on," Remmy replied. Seeing the confused expression on Quinn’s face, he continued on. "We were being chased by a mob that wanted to burn us at the stake as witches. You opened the vortex and sent us all through ahead of you, as usual…but you didn’t make it through with us. I don’t know if you lost hold of the timer while in the vortex or threw it in…all we knew was that we had the timer, but not you."
"Being chased by a mob?" Sean interjected. "That would certainly explain the condition we found you in, son."
By this time, Maggie could wait no longer. "I was afraid we’d lost you, Quinn," she said as she wrapped her arms around him. Not sure how to react, Quinn just returned the embrace, "Hi, Maggie."
He looked up as Mike stepped forward… "Dad? It…it can’t be…" Quinn started, then stopped and collected himself before he continued, "They…they told me about…that you’re my father’s double on this world, but…I…"
Mike replied, "I know how you feel, Quinn. Until I saw you at the vortex last time, this ‘double’ story was hard to believe! To borrow your words of two years ago, I’m not the Mike Mallory you knew, but I am your father. Then, after you left, Gillian gave me your parting message…those words, Quinn, really made me take a good look at what my life had become! It’s good to finally be able to thank you, son."
Sean and Kate exchanged looks of relief because, despite the fact there’d been plenty of talk about Mike and the others the night before, they had still been very concerned about how Quinn would react to actually meeting Mike.
* * *
The day passed quickly amidst stories of Mike and his Quinn and how they, Quinn especially, were always driving Sean to distraction with their tinkering and scientific observations. Remmy, Maggie and Colin in turn shared tales of their home worlds and of past slides.
Quinn sat back and listened to these, finding some of them familiar. He’d occasionally ask a question but, for the most part, was content to let the others do the talking. After a while he spoke up and asked, "Remmy, the other day I remembered something about giant eggs. I remember Maggie…no…it wasn’t Maggie, was it? Who was she? Anyway, she landed with her hand in one of them."
"That was the world where dinosaurs were an endangered species. And you’re right, Q-ball, Maggie wasn’t with us then." Remmy paused, he really didn’t want to be the one to tell him about Wade…he’d been hoping that ‘that’ piece of the past would have come back to him on its own. "Wade’s the one who landed in the egg."
"Wade? She, umm…" Quinn stopped, deep in thought, ‘There’s that name again. Why can’t I picture a face to go with it? We were friends, weren’t we? Yes…was it more? Why can’t I remember more about her?’ He didn’t even notice that all conversation had ceased.
Kate saw Quinn’s eyes take on the now familiar expression as pieces of the past came back to him. She also saw the concern in his friend’s faces…she had a feeling that something had happened to this Wade, something none of them were eager to talk about.
As she looked over to Sean, he nodded to her then broke the silence, "This had been a great day, but it’s time I head out to the barn. You know how it is, Mike, milking won’t wait!" As Mike stood up, offering to help, Quinn snapped back to the present again. Deciding to wait until later to sort out his thoughts about Wade, he joined Sean and Mike as they went out to do chores. Colin followed close behind.
As Quinn left the house, Kate noticed the looks of relief on the other’s faces. "From the looks on your faces when the talk shifted to Wade, I know there must be some very bad news about her," Kate began. "I’ve also noticed that, so far, you’ve kept your stories to the good experiences you’ve had. We all know that life doesn’t let you get away without the bad as well. Please tell me about what happened to Wade. Quinn has had nightmares that he won’t talk about…if I’m going to be of any help to him, I need to know more."
* * *
Later that night, after everyone had left and Quinn had gone to his room for the night, Kate proceeded to tell Sean what she had learned, not only about Wade, but the Professor as well. She then told about the Kromaggs and the atrocities that they’d committed. With tears in her eyes, Kate concluded her summary by telling about the guilt Quinn had been carrying for years over not being able to get everyone home.
"Then he’s going to need us even more now that the memories are coming back," Sean quietly replied. "And we’ll be right here for him when he does!"
As soon as he’d finished dinner, Colin hurried out the door to walk Gillian home. While the rest of them cleaned up the kitchen, conversation turned once again to Quinn. Remmy, Maggie, and Colin were making a point of at least one of them visiting him on a daily basis to answer any questions that may have come up. Maggie had been out to visit today.
"I tried to convince Quinn today to move into town with us but he won’t even consider it," she said. "As far as he’s concerned, he’s home. With the exception of that world with the chasm, I’ve never seen him so ready to give up sliding…but then, since he still doesn’t remember much of it, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Besides, Mike, your folks have been so good to him."
"Has he said anything more about Wade yet?" Mike asked. He was concerned; so far Quinn hadn’t said another word about her since last weekend.
"Actually, yes he did, but it was really strange," Maggie said. "He said there was a name that kept coming to mind, but he couldn’t place it. He wanted to know if I recognized it. Guys…the name was Wade! What’s going on here? I mean, we just talked about her last weekend!"
"Yeah, I noticed that yesterday too," Remmy replied. "Our conversation was really strange at times…almost unreal. There were some things he didn’t remember at all from our last visit and then there were times when we’d end up repeating previous conversations."
Mike spoke up then, "I think you’re doing about all you can at this point. Just keep spending time with him, talk about the past…ALL aspects of it, no matter how painful it is for you or for him."
"We’ve got about three weeks to go before we slide," Remmy continued. "What do we do if he hasn’t recovered by then? Right now, Maggie, you and I have about as much chance of fixing the timer as he would if anything went wrong. Who knows what kind of world we could be stranded on? This sure makes you realize just how much we’ve taken it for granted that, as long as Quinn’s with us, he’ll be able to come up with the answers!" Remmy added.
"It does feel strange, doesn’t it!" said Maggie.
"And, another thing," Remmy added, "What if he doesn’t want to slide when the time comes? I’m beginning to think it could be just you and me, girl, ‘cause I don’t think either brother will want to go. Do we go on without them?"
"I don’t know, Remmy. I just don’t know," said Maggie.
* * *
Colin and Gillian had just left the coffee shop and were slowly walking hand-in-hand towards her house, enjoying all the festive light displays along the way. Colin found his thoughts drifting…drifting back to his home world. As much as he had believed he had loved Susannah, he now realized it was nothing at all compared to what he felt for Gillian. Just the thought of her, the sound of her name, her voice, made his heart soar and brought a smile to his face!
Gillian looked up at Colin and saw a faraway look in his eyes, then watched as a smile lit up his face. "Where are you right now?" she asked. "Can I come too?"
Colin wrapped an arm around her shoulder and said, "You are there already! I was just thinking about my home world and found my thoughts kept coming right back here…with you at my side. The timer may say we have three weeks left here, but I feel like I am home right now."
"Why do you have to go then? Couldn’t you stay a while longer?" Gillian inquired.
"If we do not slide out of here at that time, we will be here for another 29 years before there is another chance to slide," he explained.
"Then let me go with you," she replied.
Colin came to a stop and, facing her, said, "As much as I love you, I could not do that. I would be afraid that something would happen to you…that I would lose you. At least if you stay here, I would know you were safe."
"Nothing can guarantee anyone’s safety, Colin Mallory," Gillian said, as she wrapped her arms around him. Looking up into his eyes, she continued, "But I can guarantee that I’ll always love you."
On hearing those words, all thoughts of leaving vanished. With joy and wonder shining in his eyes, Colin cupped her face in his hands and leaned down into the kiss he’d wanted for so long…words could no longer fully express his feelings for this incredible woman!
* * *
He burst into a large room with the others following close behind him. There, in the flickering orange light of a large vortex, stood a soldier. Crying out in rage, he threw himself at the soldier, only to be thrown backward by a sweeping blow. As he staggered to catch his balance, another man pulled him back, then stepped in front of him. Spellbound, he stood watching as the soldier drew his sidearm and, as if in slow motion, fired the gun…the man in front of him collapsed…and time resumed its normal pace.
Dropping to his knees at the fallen man’s side, he cried out, "PROFESSOR!" This time, as he heard the words, "Get them home!" he allowed the tears…the ones he’d denied the first time…to flow.
The anguished cry from the other room awoke Kate and Sean with a start. They rushed to Quinn’s room. There they found him sitting up in bed, horror reflected in his eyes, as tears streamed down his face. "Professor…no!…Please…don’t leave me!" he whispered brokenly. "I don’t know how to get them home!"
As Kate moved to his side, Quinn woke up. He frantically looked around, trying to orient himself. He took a couple of deep breaths in an effort to calm down, then ran a hand across his face, wiping away the tears.
"Tell us about the dream, Quinn," Kate said softly.
Looking first at Sean, then back to Kate, he shakily drew a breath and said, "He took the bullet to save me."
Sean asked, "Who did, son?"
Quinn climbed out of bed and started pacing nervously as he tried to relate the details of this latest nightmare. "The Professor. He…he was like a second father to me. He slid with Remmy and me from the beginning."
He paused, running his hands through his hair, then resumed. "We were on Maggie’s world…it was about to be destroyed…A soldier…an officer?…had attacked the Professor. We caught up with him before he could slide. I tried to stop him…he drew his gun on me…the Professor pulled me back and stepped in front of me. He took the bullet that was meant for me! He died and there was nothing I could do to prevent it!"
They watched quietly as he finally stopped pacing and turned his haunted eyes to them once more, "He told me to get them home. I’ve failed him…and them!"
"No you haven’t! From what your friends have told us, you’ve been trying for years!" Kate replied. "Most people would have given up by now, Quinn. You can’t keep beating yourself up over it."
"With everything your friends have said about the Professor," Sean added, "it’s safe to say that he loved you as a son. It sounds like he was a remarkable man, Quinn. I can’t believe he’d want you to let this eat at you like it is!"
Drained, Quinn finally sat down again. "Thanks," he said quietly. "God, I miss him so much! As long as he was around, I knew there was someone I could turn to when I didn’t know what to do!" With a tired grin, he continued, "He could be the most pompous person you’d ever want to meet…it was just his way…but he always meant well."
"He must have been a truly wonderful man," Kate said. "Talk to your friends, Quinn. Give them a chance to help. They just might surprise you. And, if you decide you want it, this can be your home. Regardless of the world you grew up on, we are family."
"Well!" Sean cut in with a smile. "Right now, son, I’d say you look about the way I feel…let’s all try to get some more sleep!"
With a sheepish grin, Quinn crawled back under the covers as Sean and Kate left the room, turning out the light as they went. He fell into a peaceful sleep shortly thereafter.
‘Friday, December 17 – I don’t believe we’ve had as many visitors in the past couple years as we have this past week! Quinn’s friends have been taking turns coming here every day. They are trying to help him remember his past, but they are still reluctant to talk about the unpleasant parts of it. I can’t help but think they are somewhat envious of his amnesia.’
‘Maggie did try to convince him to move into Mike’s house with the rest of them yesterday. I have to admit I was a bit apprehensive about that…although I don’t think it was out of concern for Quinn as much as my reluctance to see him go. I was so relieved when Quinn told me that he had decided to stay on the farm; saying it was a childhood dream come true. He said his family had spent time one summer on an aunt’s farm and how, at the time, he had wished it would never end. Then he added that his father died shortly thereafter.’
‘Whether he realizes it or not, more and more of his memory is filtering back. I know his friends are concerned at times because they’ll catch him repeating questions or forgetting earlier conversations, but that is happening with less frequency as time goes by.’
‘I’m glad Rembrandt and Maggie told me about happened to Wade, the Professor, especially those Kromaggs and all those other sad or terrifying events. It has enabled Sean and I to help him overcome the nightmares. We at least have some idea of what he’s trying to describe and can help him sort out these images. Last night was a very good example of this. He was actually able to talk at length about the Professor this morning. Quinn obviously thought the world of this man.’ As Kate finished this sentence, there was a knock on the door, followed by Colin’s voice calling out, "Hello!"
"Good morning, Colin. Come on in!" Kate replied. "Quinn’s still out with Sean. They’re going to walk the fence line this morning, checking for a short. I think they’re still gathering supplies together if you want to join them."
"Actually, you are the one I wanted to talk to this morning, if you do not mind," Colin said, somewhat nervously.
"Not at all! Why don’t you have a seat then. Would you like some coffee?" Kate replied. She was curious about what Colin had to say…it was obvious something important was on his mind.
"Um…yes, please," he said. Now that he was here with the person he wanted to talk to, he wasn’t sure how to start. He took the cup Kate offered as she sat down. "Thank you. I wanted to get your advice on something…um, we only have three more weeks until we slide and…"
"Three weeks? Why do you say that?" Kate was surprised; in all their talk about sliding, no one had mentioned anything about a time limit.
Relieved to have a chance to pull his thoughts back together, Colin explained about the timer and what the consequences were if they didn’t leave at that time.
"Has anyone mentioned this to Quinn yet?" she asked.
"Now that you mention it; no, I do not think so," Colin replied. "I guess I’d better do that when I see him later."
"Alright. Now, you said you wanted advice on something?" Kate inquired. She knew Colin had something serious on his mind and, besides, she really didn’t want to stop and think about Quinn leaving right now.
"Yes, it has to do with Gillian. I, um, I think I am…no, I KNOW I am in love with her. But we slide out of here in three weeks. She has asked to come with us, but I cannot let her do that." As he paused a moment, Kate reached over and placed her hand on his. "I want to stay with her, but I also feel I should go with my brother. We are looking for our birth parents. They may have a way to defeat the Kromaggs and that is something that could benefit many worlds."
"I feel so at home here on this world though, and Kromaggs seem like nothing more than a bad dream! Am I being selfish to even think of staying?" he asked as he looked up at Kate, torment in his eyes.
"I’m honored that you felt you could come to me with this, Colin." Unsure of how to answer him, she paused before continuing, "I have to admit that I enjoy having grandsons around and, because of you and your brother, I have my son back. You know that you’re more than welcome to stay if you choose. I know Gillian would be thrilled."
"Do I feel you’re being selfish to want to stay? Absolutely not! But I can also understand why you see it that way. The only advice I can give right now, I’m afraid, is for all of you to talk to Quinn. I see all three of you avoiding talk of Wade and the Kromaggs. You haven’t even told him of the time limit here yet. Help him remember these things now, while he still has time here to deal with it. And in helping him, you may find you have a better idea of what your future should be." Then she added, "I’m sorry I couldn’t give you a better answer right now."
"That is okay. I guess you are right. We have been avoiding the parts we would all like to forget," Colin sighed. "I will see if Remmy and Maggie could come out here tomorrow to talk to Quinn."
"Tell you what," Kate said. "I’m going to town tomorrow to do some Christmas shopping and was planning to drop in at Mike’s for a while. I’ll just ask Quinn to come along. It’ll be good for him to get a little change of scenery."
"Thank you!" Colin said with a smile. "You said Quinn and Sean were going out to check the fence? If you don’t mind, I think I’ll go catch up with them and help."
As he hurried out the door, Kate shook her head with a smile, then headed out to the milk house to clean and sort the eggs.
* * *
The next morning, as Kate walked up the steps to Mike’s house, she noticed Quinn had dropped back and was approaching the house hesitantly. "What is it, dear?"
"I remember being here, but everything seems ‘different’ somehow," Quinn explained. "I remember walking along behind the others…they couldn’t see me. Then when Dad came to the door…we all froze in our tracks!"
"Well, I can think of a couple of reasons for it to look different since the last time you were here," Kate said with a smile. "First off, it is the holiday season and Mike and your friends have decorated the house. Second, didn’t they say you were on the astral plane last time you were here…and you were actually able to pass through objects? I would think that alone would make things look quite different."
Kate knocked on the door and as Quinn came up the steps to stand next to her, the door opened. "Mom! Quinn! Come on in," Mike said as he stepped back to let them in. "Everyone’s in the kitchen. Would you like a cup of coffee?"
After everyone was seated and greetings were made, Mike turned to Quinn and asked, "How are you doing, son?"
"Doing better every day, Dad," Quinn said with a grin. "Kate and Sean have been taking very good care of me."
"Sean and I would like all of you to come out to the farm for dinner on Christmas Day," said Kate. "And Colin, do you think Gillian and her mother would like to come? They’re certainly welcome."
"Thank you! I am sure they will. I will invite Gillian when she stops by later," replied Colin.
"Well then," said Kate as she stood up. "I’m off to do my shopping. I’ll be back in a few hours!"
"Hold on, Mom. I’ll come with you…I have a few errands to run myself." And with that, Mike followed Kate out the door.
Once Mike and Kate left the house, the four friends sat around the table in silence. It had been so long since it was just the four of them; no one was sure where to start. Finally Quinn broke the silence, "Will someone please tell me about Wade…what happened to her?"
"What do you remember, Q-ball?" asked Remmy.
"Well, the first thing I remembered was her landing with her hand in that giant egg," Quinn replied. "Then the other night I dreamt she’d died in my arms, but then she was there… alive…and I was holding her so tightly…and she kept trying to see something…but I wouldn’t let her."
"Oh man! That was one of our first slides," Remmy explained. "We were on a world where the Soviets controlled America. Wade did die in your arms on that world, Quinn, but it was the Wade of that world, a leader in their revolution. You and I didn’t realize that though until our Wade caught up to us and then, you’re right, you ran to her and wouldn’t let her anywhere near her double."
"I have the distinct impression that she didn’t care for Maggie at all," Quinn added. "Other than that, it’s just been little bits and pieces in my dreams or nightmares and I wake up with this tremendous sense of sadness and regret."
"Quinn, after the Professor died, you just seemed to shut down. It was like you didn’t care about anything anymore," Remmy went on softly. "Wade saw you pulling away from her, but she felt it was because of Maggie."
Quinn took all this in quietly, trying to make some kind of sense out of all the pieces he had. He stood up and, running his hands through his hair, he started to pace back and forth. "I remember another time when we were separated from Wade by this mob…a mob of women? You, the Professor and I were all hiding in this house with another guy… we were running, but I was shot with something…then I watched as Wade drove a van through the vortex. What was that all about, Remmy?"
Maggie and Colin sat back and watched the two friends. This was something neither of them knew about.
"Yeah, that was the world where most of the men had been wiped out by a virus released during a war," Remmy replied. Then he continued with a grin, "I never thought I’d see the day the Cryin’ Man would go anywhere in drag, but on that world I did. Wade tried to get me to shave the mustache too, but I had to draw the line somewhere!"
"We were separated when we escaped from that re-population center and Wade managed to get most of us together to make a run for it in that van. Not knowing what had happened to you, we just had to hope that you’d make it to the rendezvous somehow. And you did."
"Re-population center…" Quinn’s voice drifted off as he stopped pacing. "It was called the Oakland Breeding Facility…breeding?…oh God, Remmy…no!…that’s what happened to Wade, isn’t it?"
His haunted blue eyes locked onto Remmy’s dark ones as he pleaded, "You have to tell me what happened to her!"
"Okay, Q-ball. I guess you’re right," Remmy said as he gently guided Quinn back to a chair. "I’ll start with the last world we were on together, the one with the mutants…"
* * *
‘Sunday, December 19 – Quinn has been in a very somber mood since his visit with the others yesterday. He said very little on the way back to the farm, but Sean did get him to open up a little last night. Rembrandt did finally tell him about what happened to Wade and it seems he didn’t spare himself or Quinn in the telling.’ Kate paused a moment, remembering the look on Quinn’s face as he shared this with them. ‘No wonder those dreams haunted him so!’
‘Is his continued silence caused by his attempts to put the pieces back together in his mind, or is he falling back under the burden of guilt that Rembrandt told us about last weekend? I hope Colin’s visit today helps break him out of this mood.’
* * *
Once Colin arrived, he and Quinn headed outside to talk. It was obvious they both had a lot on their minds and walking out across the fields just seemed the right setting for whatever they had to say.
"We never did tell you how much time we have on this slide," Colin started. "Thankfully, this has been a long one, Quinn. We still have about two and a half weeks left here. Maggie and Remmy are beginning to doubt that you will even want to leave."
"I don’t know right now," Quinn replied. "It feels so right just being here…like I’m finally home. It’s twice now that I’ve ended up here on random slides. Both times something had gone wrong with the slide in, yet the help I needed was always right here, just waiting for me."
"On the other hand, if I do stay, wouldn’t that be making the decision for you, Remmy and Maggie too?" Quinn asked. "And what if there’s a possibility of rescuing Wade?"
"Well, that is something I wanted to talk to you about, brother," Colin said. "I would like to stay here with Gillian but I feel my place is with you, trying to find our parents and, with them, a way to defeat the Kromaggs."
"No!" Quinn exclaimed as he came to an abrupt halt. "Don’t make the same mistake I did! I just took it for granted that Wade would always be there and that I could wait until we made it back home before acknowledging what she meant to me. Follow your heart on this one, bro. Trust me, you’ll regret it if you don’t. I don’t want you sliding because you feel ‘obligated’ to do it. Do what you know is right…I’ll back your decision no matter what."
"Thank you brother," Colin said with a mischievous grin. "Now I’d advise you to follow your own advice in making your decision as to whether or not you stay."
"Yeah, you would. Me and my big mouth!" Quinn smiled as he clapped Colin on the back. "It’s a good thing we’ve both got time to think these things over then, isn’t it. Let’s head back in. I think Kate’s worried long enough about both of us, what with the way we were moping around when you first got here."
‘Friday, December 24 – As it turned out, we all ended up at the Mitchell house on Christmas Eve. Dad (it doesn’t feel right to call him Mike!) came out to the farm to help with evening chores and with four of us working, we finished in record time.’ Quinn paused in his writing for a moment, thinking back on the evening.
Lois Mitchell had invited everyone over for dinner that evening. Colin was there ahead of everyone else, helping with the preparations. By the time the rest of the Mallorys arrived, Remmy and Maggie were busy fixing drinks for everyone.
A great deal of talk and laughter accompanied the dinner. If anyone else had wandered into this house, they would have been hard-pressed to believe that, just a few short weeks ago, a gathering of this sort would have been unimaginable to any of the participants. They were truly caught up in the wonder of a holiday unlike any they had experienced in recent years.
After dinner, everyone moved into the living room. Some found seats next to the fireplace, others stood gathered near the tree. There in the soft glow cast by the fire and the lights on the tree, Remmy sang "Silent Night" and other carols, with the others joining in from time to time.
Smiling as he thought back on that, Quinn continued writing, ‘For some reason, when Maggie started to sing, the picture that came to mind was that of an old-west saloon! I have to remember to ask someone about that.’
‘I was standing near Kate and Sean when Colin and Gillian finally entered the room and took a seat by the fireplace. During one of Remmy’s songs, I noticed Gillian whisper something to Colin and gesture towards her mom. We both looked over in time to see Dad move to Lois’s side and put an arm around her. Lois smiled contentedly and, putting an arm around his waist, rested her head on his shoulder. Gillian’s face mirrored that same contentment as she snuggled in closer to Colin. When he wrapped his arms around her, she reached up and placed her hands on them. In that movement, a glint caught my eye.’
‘Yes, Colin has made his decision – there was a ring on Gillian’s finger. I’m very happy for both of them,’ Quinn wrote. ‘Now what should I do? I want to stay and I want to find Wade too, but I have no idea how to do that. If I go, will I find out I’ve forgotten something that could be critical to our ability to slide? I’ll have to talk to Remmy and Maggie about this. Whatever I decide will affect them too.’ And with that, Quinn set his journal aside and turned out the light.
* * *
Christmas Day dawned bright and clear. Kate was bustling about the kitchen, making preparations for a continuation of the holiday gathering. Quinn had offered to help, but she chased him out – one of the other things they’d learned over the past few weeks was that he was more of a hindrance than help when it came to doing anything in the kitchen.
The festive mood of the previous evening carried over into the new day as everyone arrived for lunch. The talk turned to plans for the future and recounting even more sliding adventures.
After a while, Quinn drifted off to another room, away from everyone else. Remmy noticed this and soon followed. He found him in the living room, staring out the front window. "Hey, Q-ball, what’s up?"
"Do you and Maggie want to keep sliding? Do you think we have any chance at all of finding Wade?" Quinn asked as he turned to face Remmy. "And if we do, can we find our way back here?"
"My mom is gone and my birth parents, well, all I know of them is a recorded message. Colin’s staying here," Quinn went on. "Remmy, I have more family here than I ever had anywhere else and I like how it feels. Is it wrong of me to consider this home now?"
"No, Q-ball, it’s not," Remmy replied. "I figured we were going to have this conversation pretty soon. Maggie and I have been discussing this since back before we found you. We both think we could make a comfortable life here. But I can’t help wondering about Wade too."
"As for whether or not we can get back here, there have been a couple times where we selected the world we wanted to slide to," Remmy continued. "My question now is, do you think you’re up to sliding yet? ‘Cause, face it, Q-ball, you’re the brains behind this whole sliding business. If something goes wrong with the timer, there’s no way Maggie or I would be able to fix it."
"We will keep trying, Quinn," said Maggie from the doorway. They both looked up in surprise, neither of them had heard her enter the room. "I figured it out quite a while ago that Wade stole your heart long before I came into the picture – and I’m willing to bet it happened when you didn’t even notice it! I’m also pretty sure that your nightmares lately are the result of the guilt trip you’ve been on from the start and that they won’t let you off the hook until you’ve found her."
"Rather than constantly going through random slides though, let’s spend the rest of our time here developing a strategy for our search. It’s obvious this continual sliding at random isn’t getting us any closer to her." As Maggie moved to stand next to them, she continued, "We will slide out of here when the time comes, but we can return here with the following window. Let’s use this world as our base of operations. Granted, this world’s not as advanced as yours or mine were, but Mike’s no slouch in the technical department either and who knows what he and Colin can come up with while we’re gone!"
"It would be nice to know where we’re going at least some of the time!" Remmy chimed in. "What do you say, Q-ball? You ready to go find Wade?"
A look of relief washed over Quinn’s face as he reached out and pulled his friends into an embrace. "Yes, I’m ready. You know, Kate was right all along. She told me to give you a chance to help. I just didn’t know how! Thank you!"
‘Thursday, January 6 – The house feels so empty now that Quinn is gone,’ Kate wrote as she thought back on the morning’s events...
Everyone had gathered at the farm for the slide that morning.
As Quinn said his goodbyes to Mike and Lois, Remmy activated the timer. Everyone, especially Quinn, stopped to stare at the vortex. Saying "Goodbye" one last time, Remmy and Maggie leapt into the vortex.
Quinn then went to Colin, "Goodbye, bro. Take good care of everyone for me. We’ll be back soon – don’t want to miss the wedding!" He then turned to Gillian and wrapped her up in a big bear hug. "Thanks for everything, angel. I’m truly happy for both of you!" He then kissed the top of her head – and remembered the times he’d done the same with Wade.
Eyes glistening with tears, he finally turned to Sean and Kate. "I love you both and can never thank you enough for everything you’ve done for me."
Reluctantly, Quinn moved to the vortex. Pausing one last time, he smiled and called out, "Whatever controls our fate brought me to this world twice now, and each time it’s provided the help I needed. This is my home now. I will be back and, with any luck, I will have Wade with me!"
…smiling, she continued, ‘He did promise to return. Sean and I will be right here, waiting for him!’ And with that, she closed the journal and turned out the light.
Alternate Earth 117
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