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Anna ran for all she was worth as the mercenaries chased her, fleeing her father's farm with no destination in mind except away. Two of the mercenaries followed her, shouting as she ran for her life and virtue. She didn't notice the change in the landscape until she ran over the edge of a small cliff and collided with a strange man.
Another scream ripped from her throat as she looked around. Strange men in strange black clothes were all around her, surrounding her and the man she had collided with. She looked down and saw some sort of medal on his chest. That medal proclaimed him the leader, and her fear redoubled as she imagined the punishment he would inflict for her seeming attack upon his person. Again instinct sent her surging to her feet and running away, down the hill and across a stream that shouldn't be there.
Behind her she heard the boom, boom of two arquebuses being fired in rapid succession, followed by several sharp cracks that sounded like pitch-bubbles snapping in the hearth. She didn't look back. If the new men were fighting Tilly's bastards, all the better. It gave her more time to escape and hide.
George Blanton was spending his Sunday in the same way he had spent every Sunday for over twenty years: watching sports on TV. It didn't matter what sport was on. Football, baseball, basketball, hockey, soccer, horse races, car races, even golf: if it was a sport, he watched it. He was watching his favorite "all sports" channel when the world suddenly went white. Tremendous thunder roared through his house, making his ears ring.
George sat stunned as the world around him returned to normal, except that the TV was off. Looking at the clock, he saw that the second hand had stopped. Power failure? he asked himself, nodding as he saw that even the VCR's incessantly flashing clock was blank. Yep, power failure. Shit. But what was that flash and boom? Standing, he walked to the pantry and opened the breaker panel. A quick inspection showed that nothing was tripped, and the tattletale on his incoming power was off. It was the line again.
Anger and disappointment roiled in his belly, making him clench his teeth. He had been complaining for more than a year about the lines into his farm, and the power company still hadn't done anything. Walking over to the window, he looked outside as he angrily picked up the phone. He knew the number by heart, and started dialing before he noticed that there was no dial tone either. Power and phone? Lovely. Well, he had a solution to one of his problems. Dave's generator was already hooked up and ready to start. Slamming the phone back onto the hook, he stomped out to the back porch, turning the main breaker off as he passed the pantry.
He paused before starting the generator to say a quick prayer for his son, Dave. Dave had gotten divorced a few years after George and Mary had retired and moved to the farm. The place was big: fifty acres of pasture and a ten-acre garden that Mary had adored, and the farmhouse had six bedrooms. There had been more than enough room for their only child to join them.
That was before Mary had gotten sick. She had played it down, refusing to go to a doctor. She had sworn that it was just her misspent youth catching up to her. Three months later she was gone. Cancer had taken the love of his life.
Dave had taken his mother's death hard. He'd been working at the mine, bringing home decent wages, but he had become eccentric. That's what his friends called it; George called it bonkers. Dave had decided that the end of civilization was near, and had begun hoarding things: guns, ammo, food, water purifiers, survival books, assorted other weapons, and clothing. And booze. The hayloft out in the barn was packed with his stuff—cheap department store footlockers full of it.
The union contract had allowed Dave to list his parents as his beneficiaries, rather than his ex-wife, and George had become financially independent on the same night that he'd lost his will to live. Dave had been driving home after drinking with his buddies, and had died when his truck hit a tree.
George shook off his momentary grief. Mary had been gone for seven years, and Dave for three. The generator had been one of Dave's better ideas. It was a good one, commercial quality, and it was tied directly into the house. So long as the main breaker was off, it would power the house and barn. The flick of a switch turned George's power back on.
George went back in to watch TV again, dismissing the flash and thunder as figments of his imagination. He was drifting these days, and figured that he had drifted off in a doze until something happened to wake him up. Probably whatever it was that knocked out the phone and electricity.
He spent fifteen minutes fiddling with the satellite receiver, but couldn't locate a signal. Now he was really getting mad. Sports had become the only thing that he looked forward to anymore. Stomping over to the phone, he grabbed it to check for a dial tone, but it was still dead. Then a flicker of movement drew his attention outside. Someone had just run into his barn.
His eyes narrowed even further. He didn't like his neighbors. They knew it, and didn't like him either. None of the kids in the area even cut across his land any more. He had seen to that by having a few of them arrested for trespassing. Now someone was in his barn.
His anger at the power company transferred to whoever was out there, but now it had become a quiet fury that bore little resemblance to his earlier boisterous rage. He walked silently out of his door and crossed the yard. The barn doors were open wide, and his Dodge Ram pickup was sitting right where he had left it. Looking around, he couldn't spot anyone, so he yelled, "Who's in here? This is private property! Get out!" Nothing moved. Then he heard a scraping sound from the loft, and something that sounded like a stifled sob.
"Come down from there!" he shouted, but there was no response. Climbing the ladder, he carefully looked around. He didn't want to be surprised and lose his grip. When he didn't see anyone, he climbed the rest of the way up into the loft. There was a trail of sorts in the dust that had blown in since the last time he had been up there, and he followed it to the back corner. As he drew near, he saw a flicker of movement. Moving closer, he grabbed the top locker in the stack that whoever was up there was hiding behind, and pulled it toward him.
A shriek pierced his ears as he spotted the disheveled young girl in the dirty dress. She was plainly terrified, and he quickly backed away. It didn't do much good. She continued to shriek as he held his hands over his ears. "Stop that noise!" he roared, almost drowning out the girl's shrieks.
Something about his shout silenced the girl. When his ears were no longer being assaulted, he took a step forward, but she shouted, "Nein! Nein! Geh weg! Geh weg!" George stopped. He didn't understand everything that she said, but he understood "Nein! Nein!" Anyone who had ever seen a WWII movie knew what that meant. "No! No!" In German.
German? What the hell?
George looked at the girl for a moment, and then started to put two and two together. Power and phone dead. Loud noise. Messy, frightened girl who speaks German hiding in his barn. Nodding to himself, he figured out exactly what had happened. A car or busload of German tourists had crashed and taken out a telephone pole.
Now that he knew what was going on, he calmed down. Looking at her, he saw that her dress was torn and she was covered with dirt. Well, that explained some of her fear. She'd probably heard all sorts of horror stories about the sexual habits of hillbillies. Chuckling to himself, he looked around. There were a few things in the loft that weren't part of Dave's hoard, and a box of them was right where he needed it to be. Opening the box, he brought out the old bathrobe that Mary had given him one Christmas. He hated the thing, but it was from her, so . . .
He walked back over to the girl and tried to hand it to her, but she shrank away from him, still frightened. George was getting annoyed now and stepped back to glare at her for a moment before sighing deeply. Take it easy, you old fool. She's frightened and doesn't understand, he silently said to himself before deciding on a plan. He put the robe on to show her what it was, and almost cursed when it stopped short of closing with six inches of his belly still exposed. Mary had given him the robe a long time ago. Taking it off, he again tried to hand it to the girl, but she still cried out when he stepped closer. He finally gave up and threw it at her.
"There. Put it on or don't, I don't care. Come down to the house when you feel like it." He pointed over to the house as he spoke, but the girl just sat there staring at him. He decided to try some of the pidgin German that he had picked up from the movies and said, "Comen see to da housen, ya?" The girl still just stared at him, so he gave up and left.
George returned to the house and tried the phone again. Still dead. Taking a deep breath, he looked around. Nothing seemed to be out of the ordinary. Looking back out at the barn, he nodded to himself. That girl came from somewhere. The power and phone were out for some reason. That left only one thing to do: drive to town.
The keys to his truck were hanging near the door. That had been Mary's idea when they first moved here, to hang the vehicle keys by the door like her parents had done. Now there were only two sets hanging there: the truck and the tractor. Grabbing the truck keys, he left, carefully locking the door behind him. No telling if anyone else was going to follow the girl to his farm.
He got into the truck and started it, then looked up at the loft. There was no sign of the girl, so he backed out and headed to town. He drove slowly, watching for pedestrians or any sign of a wreck, but there was still nothing out of the ordinary. He made the turn off of his road and headed toward town, but slowed and stopped in the middle of the road as his mind finally registered the countryside. There was something very wrong with what he was seeing. There was supposed to be a hill off to his left, but it wasn't there. A column of smoke was rising into the air off to the south, but there should have been trees in the way.
Cautiously driving on, he kept his eyes open for any other signs of trouble. He made it into town and found people milling about, lining the streets. Whatever the problem was, it was widespread.
An old woman in her Sunday dress waved him down and immediately climbed into the truck. "George, take me out to Jimmy's house. I have to get to the children."
"Beth, what the hell's going on here? I don't have power or phones at my place, and there's a little girl in my barn shouting German at me."
"I don't know, George. No one does. But the word we got was that Dan Frost has been shot, and there's lunatics on the loose with antique rifles, shooting at whatever moves. Now, move, damn it! I have to get to the children." Elizabeth glared at George as he put his truck in gear.
"All right, Beth, all right. If there isn't any help here in town I may as well go home, too. Damn, I wish I knew what was going on around here." He started driving back out the way that he had come, then slammed on the brakes. Looking closely at Elizabeth, he lifted one eyebrow. "You said the police chief has been shot? Who's in charge, that fool Dreeson?"
"Drive, George. No, not Henry Dreeson. Mike Stearns has taken charge. Dan deputized him and the UMWA before he passed out. Now go. You said that there's a girl in your barn? Ken Hobbs said a girl ran over the side of some cliff and collided with Dan just before he was shot. The men that shot Dan was chasin' her. That might be her. It happened out your way. I'm surprised that you didn't hear any gunshots."
"Men were chasing her? With antique rifles? God Almighty! That would explain why she's so afraid, but why's she shouting in German? And it still doesn't explain where she's from." He shrugged. "As to hearing anything, I've got the generator going. It's quieter than most, but it's still noisy as a lawn mower. Can't hear much over it if I'm close." George drove on, thinking about what he was going to do when he got home. Men with antique guns running around shooting folks. A girl in a torn dress in his barn. He almost missed the turn into Jim Reardon's place, but managed to make it without getting off of the gravel.
Elizabeth gave him a sour look, but didn't say anything until he stopped in front of the house. "Go home, George, and lock your doors. And get out a shotgun. Just ain't safe 'round here right now." She hurried up the steps and was met by Jim's wife. Once the door had closed behind them, he drove off.
George pulled into the barn and climbed out of the truck, carefully locking it behind him. It was the first time that he had ever locked his truck at home. He started to climb the ladder to the loft, but decided that he should listen to Beth and get a gun first, so he turned toward the house.
The doors were still closed and locked, and there were no broken windows. Unlocking the door, he started to put the keys back on the hook, then thought better of it and put them into his pocket instead. Then he went to his gun cabinet.
The guns were mostly sporting rifles and light shotguns, but not all of them. Nestled inconspicuously in the corner was the M-14 that Dave had been so proud of. Antiques my ass, he thought as he quickly loaded the rifle. Then he went to the barn again.
At first he couldn't find the girl, then he heard her on the other side of the loft. Walking carefully over to her, he smiled and held his hands open out to the sides. "Young lady, you don't need to be afraid. I'm not going to hurt you. What's your name? I'm George. George Blanton." He patted himself on the chest and said his name several more times, just like in the movies. The girl continued to stare at him.
"Are you hungry?" he suddenly asked, desperately trying to get some reaction out of her. He took a step forward and reached out his hand.
The girl shrank away from him, shouting, "Fass mich nicht an!" She was trying to crowd herself farther into the corner, and her eyes were so wide that he could see the whites all around.
He still didn't understand what she was saying, but the way that she was acting made her meaning clear. She was still frightened. "Okay, I'll just stay over here," George replied softly, taking a step back. "Are you hungry?" he asked, pantomiming eating. The girl didn't say anything, but she swallowed and licked her lips. George nodded and backed away.
The footlockers in the loft were all labeled, and he picked one marked ready to eat. In it he found vacuum-packed beef jerky, crackers that might still be edible, and an assortment of Army MREs. Where Dave had gotten them, he had never asked. And after asking to try one once, he had never asked that again either. Sheesh! The things they feed to soldiers. Grabbing some jerky strips, he turned back to the girl. She was watching him intently, and he tossed two strips to her.
She picked them up and looked at them with wide eyes and a confused expression on her face. George cleared his throat to get her attention, and, when she looked up, tore one of the packages open and took a bite of the jerky. Or at least he tried. The tough meat gave his dentures a real workout.
The girl looked carefully at the package in her hand, then followed George's example. The plastic clearly confused her, but it was when she took a bite of the meat that she finally showed some sign of life. The first piece disappeared in seconds, and the second quickly followed. And after a few moments she had the reaction that George had been waiting for. She began swallowing and trying to clear her throat. Whatever else you wanted to say about jerky, it was dry as a bone.
George smiled and waved for her to follow him as he climbed down from the loft. There was a sink in the barn, and he always kept a cup or two handy. Now he made a big show of getting something to drink as the girl watched over the edge of the loft.
She finally gathered her courage and her skirts and climbed down, nervously watching over her shoulder to make sure that George didn't try anything while her back was turned. Once her bare feet were on the ground, she carefully walked toward him. George put an old coffee mug on the side of the sink and left the water running as he stepped back.
The girl came forward cautiously, watching George all of the time. When she reached the sink, she picked up the old red and white checked mug and looked it over carefully, then got some water. She seemed to find the running water fascinating, and trailed her fingers through it as she drank. After three mugs of water, she put the cup down.
George was watching her carefully, and moved over to the side of the barn, staying in her field of vision, and picked up a scrap of cloth. He tossed it to her, but she just caught it and stood there. He pantomimed washing his face, and she dropped the cloth and backed away. Then her eyes opened wide and she looked past him down the road.
George spun around, unslinging the rifle and bringing it up to his shoulder fairly quickly. Scanning the area carefully, he turned back when there was a sound behind him. He glanced back just in time to see her disappear into the loft again.
George was torn between anger and amusement, but the amusement won out in the end. "Why, you little scamp! You suckered me," he said, turning his face up toward the loft. A chuckle rumbled in his chest, and he felt himself grinning. Girls: born to deceive. Shaking his head, he went to the house and left her to her own devices for a while. The jerky had awakened his appetite, and he intended to deal with it properly.
His mother had taught him to cook when he was a child so that he could help with his brothers and sisters. During his more than seventy years he had almost always cooked. Not everything, mind you. It had been part of Mary's pride that she held a job and kept up her household as well, but there were times when she had needed his help. When Dave had been born he had been given a choice of cook or change diapers, so he had immediately gone to the kitchen. Now that Mary and Dave were both gone, he tended to himself. And his unasked-for guest.
He thought about the girl as he rummaged around in his pantry. She looked to be about fourteen, maybe a little older. Wracking his brain for a moment, he finally remembered what Dave had eaten most when he was a teenager: macaroni and cheese. Fortunately, he had a ready supply and years of experience fixing it. He quickly filled a pan with water, salted it lightly, and set it on the stove to boil. Then he grabbed a box of mac-and-cheese and a measuring cup.
He caught himself humming a merry tune as he worked, and paused to wonder why he was so happy. When he finally realized what he was so happy about, he had to stop and sit down. He had been lonely for so long, and he had always driven off everyone who tried to befriend him. Now a stranger, a frightened little girl, was forcing her company on him. And he loved it.
The hiss of water splattering over the rim of the pot brought him back into the real world, and he quickly added the noodles to the water and prepared the rest of the fixin's. Ten minutes later he had a pot of prime teenager chow ready to go.
Two bowls balanced nicely on top of the pot, and he grabbed two spoons and a serving spoon. No sense in being a barbarian about things. Then he returned to the barn and stopped in his tracks. How was he supposed to get the food up to the loft? An idea occurred to him immediately. Setting down his burden, he walked over and grabbed his stepladder. Setting it up beside the loft ladder, he put the pot on top, climbed halfway up the loft ladder, then reached down and put the pot up on the loft floor. Then he climbed the rest of the way up.
The girl was peeking out from behind a stack of footlockers as he heaved himself up the last step. "Well, there you are," he said, slightly out of breath. "You could have helped a little, you know." He bent over and picked up the pan and bowls, groaning a little as he straightened back up. "And don't you dare giggle." He glared at the girl, and she immediately vanished.
George spent a few minutes arranging a picnic area. Two stacked footlockers made a table, and two more, one on each side, made benches. Then he placed the bowls and served the mac-and-cheese. "Come on," he said gently, waving to the pair of eyes that was peeking at him over a pile of lockers. She came forward shyly, like a kitten, and he swore to himself that if she'd had whiskers they would've been twitching. George sat with his hands in his lap, waiting. When she was seated across from him, he bowed his head and said Grace. He really didn't care if she joined him or not. He had been saying Grace and a lonely prayer for Mary and Dave for years. When he looked up, she was sitting with her head bowed, her lips moving silently. Then she crossed herself and looked up into his eyes. "Ladies first," George said softly, indicating that she should take a bowl.
The girl looked at him, then slowly took the bowl that was closer to her. He nodded and took the other bowl. She waited until he had taken a few bites before she started eating, but she was done long before he was. He smiled as he remembered that Dave had been much the same at that age. She was all but licking the bowl, and kept glancing at the pot, so he chuckled and waved for her to help herself. There wasn't much left, but it was gone entirely before he finished his. They sat there staring at one another for a few moments, and she seemed about to say something when there was the sound of a car horn honking on his road, coming closer by the minute. She was up and hiding in a flash, and George felt his annoyance growing again. Damn it all, the girl was acting like she had never heard a horn before.
Leaving the dishes where they were, he climbed down and waited at the tailgate of his pickup. A sedan soon pulled to a dusty stop in front of him, and Beth Reardon climbed out. "George, is that girl still here?"
"Yes. I was just about to get her talking when you drove in, honking like a flock of geese."
"Harrumph! Not likely. George, Jimmy just came back from the high school. Seems that there was more trouble than we thought." She quickly related the story of the firefight at the farm. "That girl the miners rescued claims that we're in Germany, Year of Our Lord 1631."
George stared at her for a moment, then looked back over his shoulder. "Bullshit." WHACK! He stared at Elizabeth as if she had grown horns and rubbed the suddenly sore spot on his chest.
"Don't you curse on the Sabbath, George Blanton." Elizabeth glared at him, and he felt surprisingly contrite. "Haven't you ever read any time travel stories?"
George eased away from her a little. "When I was younger, and didn't know any better. In the fifties. Even TV has given up on real time travel."
"Well, TV didn't come up with this, George. Those men who were chasing her raped her Ma and damn near killed her Pa. She doesn't speak German by accident, and she doesn't speak English at all. And she's never seen anything like us before." Elizabeth stopped talking and looked up into the barn. Sure enough, there was a dirty face with wide eyes staring down at her.
Walking over to where she was just below the girl, she held out her hand. "Come down, child. You're safe here." Reaching into her pocket, she pulled out a book. George looked over her shoulder and saw that it was a English-German dictionary. Looking up words as she spoke, she said, "Kommen," flipped a few pages, "Unten," flip flip, "Mädchen." "Come down, girl."
The girl had set straight up when Elizabeth spoke, and looked confused. Elizabeth pointed to the girl, then to the ground at her feet and repeated the three German words. "Kommen unten, mädchen."
The girl was looking perplexed, but she climbed down the ladder. She shyly stepped up to Elizabeth and said, "Wer sind sie?"
That was the first calm thing that George had heard her say, and he almost knocked Elizabeth down reaching for the dictionary. "What'd she say?"
"Hold your horses, George," Elizabeth snapped. "Let me look. Ver sind zee." She looked, but couldn't find the word "ver." Then she looked at the pronunciation guide. "W is pronounced V. Wer, translates as 'Who.' Sind translates as 'are.' Zee translates as—see. Ocean or Sea. That can't be right. Let's try sea. Nope, that ain't it either. Sei. Looks like 'be.' Sie could be 'she,' 'them,' or 'they.' Who are they?" George and Elizabeth looked at one another and shrugged.
"How about 'Who are you?'" George suggested, and Elizabeth nodded.
"As good a question as any." Turning to the girl, she patted her chest. "Elizabeth. Elizabeth." Then she turned to George and patted his chest. "George. George." Looking at the book, she flipped a few pages. "Was. Was? Oh, I forgot. Vas," flip, "ist," flip, "euer," flip, "name. Was ist euer name, mädchen?"
"Anna. Ich heisse Anna."
"Glory be," George muttered as he rolled his eyes toward the sky. "Her name is Anna." Looking at Elizabeth, he grinned. "Ask her where she's from."
During the next hour they learned that she was from, "over there." The men who were chasing her were, "mercenary pigs." If they had caught her she would have been, "raped and killed." George grew angry at that and looked back toward the south. Then the girl whispered something to Elizabeth that he didn't catch.
"What did she say?"
Elizabeth started to open the dictionary to look it up, but stopped. She hadn't raised three daughters and ten granddaughters without seeing that facial expression and posture hundreds of times. "George, get out."
"Because there are some things that a gentleman leaves a lady to do in private." Elizabeth glared at him and he backed away.
"Well, all right, you don't have to get nasty about it," he muttered as he walked away. "Bossy females."
Elizabeth knew the Blanton farm well. She and Mary had spent many an afternoon in the garden complaining about their menfolk. She knew exactly where the toilet in the barn was, and she quickly led Anna to it. She had banished George because the toilet stall was just that: a horse stall with a toilet in it. It had been built that way because there was normally only one, or at most two people in the barn at any given time. And since it was mostly men, they usually had their backs to the rest of the barn anyway.
Anna looked at the white porcelain fixture with a mixture of awe and confusion written clearly across her face. Elizabeth almost laughed. "What did you expect, a board with a hole in it over a hole in the ground?" It didn't bother her at all that Anna couldn't understand her. She walked forward and lifted her skirt, then took care of her own needs first. Then she flushed the toilet and waved Anna toward it.
The girl was clearly unsure, but also clearly about to burst. The feel of the smooth, cool plastic seat was a surprise from the look on her face. When she was done, she pushed the handle and watched the water swirl away. Her eyes were wide as she turned back to Elizabeth.
Elizabeth had been busy with the dictionary while Anna had been occupied, and said, "Kommen mit mir." She hoped that it really meant, "Come with me." From Anna's reaction, it did, and the two of them walked up to the house. George opened the door as they climbed the steps and ushered them through, closing and locking the door behind them. "Phone's working, Beth."
"Oh, good. I have to call Jimmy." Elizabeth quickly grabbed the phone and called her son. She related the details of what they had found out about the girl, chattering a mile a minute.
George glanced over and saw the girl watching Elizabeth talk on the phone. The look on her face said clearly enough what she was thinking. Mad. She was trapped by people who were totally mad. It was more than he could stand, and he burst out laughing. That earned him an even more troubled look from Anna, and a reprimand from Beth.
"George, what's gotten into you?"
"Her," he gasped, waving at Anna. "The look on her face, seeing you talking to yourself like a loony."
"I was not talking to myself, George Blanton." Elizabeth planted her fists on her hips and glared at him while he continued laughing.
"She doesn't know that. She really doesn't know that Jim was on the other end of the phone. She was just standing there, watching you have a conversation with no one. I swear, she was about to run back out of the house."
Elizabeth stopped snapping at George and looked at Anna. Sure enough, Anna looked like she was about to run away. Quickly grabbing her dictionary, Elizabeth looked up some words. "That; das. Is; ist. Our; unser. Way; weg. To; zu. Speak: oh, this is better. To speak to; ansprechen. Someone; irgendeiner. Far away; weit weg."
Anna looked at her as if she had grown horns.
"That book ain't going to do us much good for explaining things like phones or radio or TV. The girl doesn't have the background to understand. Hell, Beth, you and I both remember when TV first came out. Movies in the home. What a wonder, and we had had radio all our lives. If what you tell me is true, then she doesn't know what radio is or even that sound propagates in waves. If you showed her, she would probably think it was a demon." He paused and smiled. "Been known to think of the phone as a demon myself now and again."
Elizabeth gave him a sour look, but nodded. "Kommen mit mir, Anna," she said softly. She led Anna into the kitchen and flipped on the light. Anna's reaction to that was almost comical, but Elizabeth didn't laugh. "Sit," she commanded, waving toward a chair, and Anna obeyed. George suspected that Anna hadn't understood the word, but had understood the gesture.
Over the next hour Elizabeth tried to explain a little of what they knew, fumbling through the dictionary over and over again when Anna clearly didn't understand what she meant. It was only the ringing of the phone that finally distracted her.