Greeting Eula as she entered the kitchen the morning after Thanksgiving, Jim’s mom said, “Links and scrambled eggs are on the stove, honey -- kettle’s on the counter.”
Measuring dried leaves into a teacup, Eula, anticipating grandma Laidlaw’s question, explained -- “willow bark and feverfew to clear the head.”
“You young 'uns oughta take them kids for a walk, fall air’ll cure your head sure as shootin’,” added grandma.
Turning to Jim, Eula continued, “Looking at old state maps on your dad’s desk last night --” She glanced apprehensively across to Mr. Laidlaw who just smiled. She continued, “Back in 1903 the S&E railroad ran across the ridge up here an’ then past a big cluster of buildings just before coming out, where the shopping-center is now -- but ain’t hide nor hair of track or town in 1920. Took a gander this morning, grade’s still there, nice an’ wide to walk once you get a hundred yards in.”
“The buildings -- Army depot -- closed down ’bout the time Roosevelt went galivantin’ off to Africa -- mighty queer goings-on from what I heard tell,” grandma interjected.
Eula and Jim navigated his in-laws and three nieces through the roadside brush to the open grade. Fascinated when Eula pointed out a cardinal feeding on highbush cranberries, by lunch time the girls had been introduced to woodpecker-bored trees and a pair of white-tailed deer browsing on corn stubble in a nearby field. When a crossroad offered the in-laws am opportunity to return home -- though Jim and Eula were encouraged to continue alone -- Sadie, Jim’s eight-year-old niece, begged her way into continuing with the pair.
“Auntie Eula, did you know I was blonde? an’ it turned brown after I had the measles! stupid measles!” said Sadie, tucking her hair under her hat.
“Well Sadie, when you get older, you can make your hair any color you like -- now let’s go.”
Entering a forested area, their progress was soon interrupted by a massive iron gate -- an illegible rust-consumed warning hanging crookedly from it -- supported by two crumbling concrete pillars, sitting with a Daliesque incongruousness halfway across a crumbling concrete bridge spanning the narrow creek gorge.
“Don’t worry, we can cross on that old tree, down there,” Eula reassured Sadie.
The grade continued through a quiet mossy forest, the leaves carpeting the floor quickly melding their autumn colours into an even brown. As they progressed the banked grade rose above increasingly grassy, then marshy land. They went on, and soon drew up short: the grade fell away abruptly, the convulsed remains of a concrete culvert and a plume of clinkers testament to a long-ago structural failure. Sadie insisted they continue, but she was obviously tiring by the time they had climbed back up.
A growing earthy, spring smell and coltsfoot brightly flowering on the grade slopes were the first things that hit Eula as being odd. Farther, greening maples, whose canopies rose to the level of the grade and bathed them all in an unsettling pale green pallor unsettled Jim. Eula silenced him, whispering: “Don’t upset the child.” As they pressed on, picking up their pace, the grade descended into a grassy field, then a stand of tall mature forest. It was warmer, all was in full leaf. “Why’s it summer here, auntie Eula?” enquired Sadie. Eula bent over, picked up one of hundreds of chestnut husks which littered the forest floor. “Sadie, listen, remember how Dorothy got all mixed up and went to that funny place in Oz? I think we’ve gone somewhere like that, so you be brave, and we’ll all get home.”
Jim having glimpsed the highway and some buildings to the north, they decided to leave the grade and bushwhack to the road. The sun was rapidly setting behind them, and in the gathering gloom they soon questioned their choice -- they seemed to have been walking far too long. Scattered like a crazy icefield, fragmented concrete slabs made progress arduous. Still the hum of traffic and the appearance of bright lights encouraged them. They emerged on a large paved area, littered with rusted vehicles, and buckled by a number of saplings. The hum and light came from a number of large open rectangles in the brick facade of a turn-of-the-century industrial building.
Jim said “probably private property -- let me talk, people around here know me.” Reaching the large doorways, the whine of engines rose, but they remained unchallenged. Multiple train tracks entering and exiting the building along with the patina of its steel structure and brick facade testified to its age, yet all inside was immaculately clean.
Drawn to the hum, they advanced to find a battery of twelve locomotive-sized electrical turbines mounted on a ceramic base. Heavy gauge copper cable issued from each and entered, at points symmetrically scattered over its exposed hemisphere, a large riveted ball of iridescent metal, ensconced in an oversized ceramic eggcup. As the turbine’s whine rose, the ball appeared to peel off translucent sheets of visually perceptible but physically intangible blue netting. Sadie had climbed upon the ball, basking in the freshly emanating material, and was beaming as if in sudden comprehension. Jim hastened over, grabbed Sadie, and along with Eula -- as the whine of the turbines rose to a near inaudible pitch -- they ran, and ran, and ran, until they tumbled out of the woods into the bright sunlight, behind the Montgomery Ward.
“Why, how you’ve grown Sadie, they boys will be after you in no time,” said Mrs. Finch, a family friend who had met the haggard trio at the shopping centre, and was dropping them off at the Laidlaw’s house. Just then Sadie’s parents and the other inlaws came up the road. “How the he-- did you get here before us?” Sadie’s mother asked, but she stopped short when a tired Sadie pulled off her hat and, shaking out her blonde ringlets, said, “Mummy, look, I must have had the measles again.”
Copyright: © 2011 Georges Dodds
Published in strong competitors to The New Flesh like International Agrophysics and Estudos de Literatura Oral, Georges Dodds has until recently kept his weird writing under mouldy cerements. His recent genre activities include textual resurrection for a publisher of Gothic novels, unearthing and presenting in an e-library some thematic precursors of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan of the Apes, translating early French science-fiction to English, and preparing a collection of American dime-novelist William Murray Graydon's earliest adventure stories. Georges and his 3-species family (4 with the goldfish), lives in a former bus garage, on the now relocated site of an18th century cemetery -- so far tilling the garden hasn't revealed its past.