Chapter Six (continued)
“Now I know you’re all sorts of upset,” Bill said. “But I promise we aren’t gonna hurt-”
“I’m okay,” Josie said over him.
“Oh,” Bill said with a touch of surprise. “All righty then. You’re okay. That’s, well, that’s great.”
“I’m okay,” Josie repeated, and knew it was true. “You said you brought me here to protect me from those men. I believe you.”
“Now, tell me how they disappeared.”
“Ah, well, hum,” Bill dithered and hummed. “That’s kind of hard to explain.”
“Try,” Josie said.
“She’s a clever girl,” Kate said. “I think she can handle it.”
“You reckon she’s ready?” Bill said.
“She’s ready,” Kate said.
“Ready?” Josie said. “Ready for what?”
“All right,” Bill said. He leaned forward and braced his elbows on his knees and clasped his hands together. “You see, and stay with me on this, those men were with the Temporal Anomaly Correction Taskforce. Their job is to correct anomalies in time.” Bill paused, giving Josie a chance to mull that over.
“So they fix things that have gone wrong in… time?” Josie said.
“That’s what TACT is supposed to do,” Kate said.
“Anomalies,” Bill said.
Josie raised her eyebrows, asking for more.
“Anachronisms,” Kate said.
Josie searched her own vocabulary, and came up short. “I don’t know what that means.”
“That’s all right,” Bill said. “I didn’t understand half of what Kate was saying the first time I met her either.”
“She understands me, Bill,” Kate said. She sat once more, stilling herself again. “She's just unfamiliar with the word. An anachronism is when something is chronologically out of synch. Something doesn’t belong in a time period. Such as light bulbs in the 1980’s.”
“They had light bulbs in the 1980’s,” Josie said.
“We had ‘em in the 1880’s too,” Bill said. “I mean not everyone had ‘em, but they were there.” Bill poked Josie in the shoulder. “Kate thinks we’re all cavemen.”
“No I don’t,” she said. “I think you’re all Neanderthals.”
“Yes, but it sounds better when I say it.”
The pair began to bicker again, and under their argument, Josie played back the cowboy’s words. We had ‘em in the 1880’s too. Not they. We. A notion crept its way into her brain. A strange, complicated, huge idea that demanded her attention even though it was impossible. She shook it away before it could take hold.
“So the agents fix things that have gone wrong in time,” Josie said over the pair. “Like things that are out of place. Stuff like that?”
“Right,” Kate said. “Stuff like that.”
“You with us?” Bill said.
“I think I am,” Josie said.
“Okay,” Bill said. “These officers fix things that are wrong in time by traveling back to that period in time and investigating. Or forward in time. Depending on where the anomaly is.” He nervously patted his hands together. “You got it?”
“Time travel,” Josie said, connecting the dots he had laid out for her. “You’re both talking about time travel.”
“Yes,” Kate said. “You were right, Bill. She is clever.”
“Thank you, ma’am,” Josie said. She pictured the pair of men fading right before her eyes. “Those men travel through time?”
“Yes,” Bill said. “I know it’s a little hard to believe.”
“It is,” Josie said. Which is why she didn’t believe them. She couldn’t believe them. “So when those men disappeared from my house, they went to another time?”
“Technically, no,” Kate said. “They returned to their ship, which is outside of time.”
“Excuse me?” Josie said, losing her tenuous grip on the impossible thread of discussion.
Kate sighed. “I guess it was too much to expect you to understand everything.”
“Give her a break, Kate,” Bill said. “She’s just a kid.” He turned to Josie. “You see, in order to move back and forth through time, we need to go outside of it. Kind of like if you wanna get from room to room in a house, you gotta go out a door and into the hallway then into another door.”
“But you’re still moving through the house,” Josie said. “Aren’t you? What you’re trying to say is that in order to go from room to room you have to go out the window and climb down the drainpipe and come in another window. Kind of like that?”
Bill tilted his head in thought. “I guess so. Huh, maybe later on you can explain compound interest rates to me. ‘Cause Kate’s been trying for a while now but I just don’t get it.”
“Wait up,” Josie said. “You keep using that word. We. You just said we. When we need to move through time. Does that mean …” she let her words trail off, too astonished to say them aloud.
“We are time travelers too,” Kate said with a nod of her head.
“You guys?” Josie said.
“You travel through time?”
“With the way you just explained it,” Bill said, “I guess we sort of travel around it.”
“You’re from the Old West,” Josie said, pointing to him.
He grinned. “It wasn’t old then. It was a new frontier.”
“When was then?” Josie said.
“Bill is from 1890,” Kate said.
“Shut the front door,” Josie whispered.
“It’s true,” Bill said. “Which makes me old enough to be both of your grandpas. Great grandpas, even. Maybe even great, great, great grandpas. And I’d be a great, great, great, great grandpa. Don’t you think so, Miss Kate?”
“Shut up, Bill,” Kate said.
Josie ignored Bill’s comments. Instead she looked Kate up and down, trying to gather clues of the woman’s origin. What year was she from?
Kate must’ve guessed the next question laying in Josie’s mind. “I am from 3035.”
Josie didn’t know how to react to that. The cowboy, well, he was almost expected. Josie had seen enough films and TV and read enough stories to know what a man from the 1890’s should dress like. And how they should talk. Bill nearly hit all the high notes in his performance, though his outfit was a bit over the top and he had a habit of mixing in some modern slang when he spoke. And she was fairly sure those pistols at his hips weren’t from 1890, though she would have to look it up to be sure.
“You all right?” Bill said. He snapped his fingers in Josie’s face.
She stared at the pair.
“She’s trying to process it,” Kate said.
“Oh, do we need to get Gap to come and help her with that. Ain’t he good for processing stuff?”
“Not that kind of processing.”
Josie sat back and took in the chatting pair. Past and future. A real cowboy and, well, a real whatever Kate was. Past and future. Could it be real? Certainly not. It was silly. That’s what it was. This whole thing had to be a joke. It had to be something her mother and father arranged. Had to be. She looked around the room. It didn’t look like a time traveling ship. It looked like a room. A round room which was kind of weird, true, but a room nonetheless. This had to be a joke. She giggled. Just a little at first, then it spilled over into a full-on laugh. She laughed and laughed and laughed.
“What’s she laughing at?” Bill said.
“Us,” Kate said.
Josie laughed on, unable to stop. The whole idea of time travel was just preposterous.
Bill leaned in close to Kate. “Did I say something funny that I don’t remember? Because if it’s that funny, I need to write it down.”
“It’s a coping mechanism,” Kate said. She stood again and went to the desk. “Her simple mind refuses to accept the truth, so she’s interpreting it as funny.”
Josie’s laughter choked short. “My mind isn’t simple. I’ll have you know I was asked to skip two grades this year.”
“Two, huh?” Kate said. “Your parents must be proud.” She raised an eyebrow.
Josie swallowed, hard. “They, um, yeah, they are.”
“I never got to go to school,” Bill said.
“That’s glaringly obvious,” Kate said. “Now, back to the matter at hand.” She retrieved something from the desk and headed back to Josie. “What can you tell us about this?” She pressed a heavy object into Josie’s hands.
Josie turned it over, and stared at the cover of a book. She whispered the title almost to herself. Goodnight, Gracie. She turned it over so she could see the image on the back. The familiar woman with the familial features.
“Tell us about the book,” Kate said.
“This was the book those men had,” Josie said.
“Yeah,” Bill said. “Do you know anything about it?”
“No,” Josie said, looking up at him. “Why should I?”
“Because you wrote it,” Kate said.