The hotel had been an extravagant choice, with its meandering walks along man-made streams. Layered swimming pools were connected by waterfalls bubbling out the sense of opulence and escape that Averie needed just now. It was decision time, and she wanted to be as far from every daily distraction and worry as she could get for it. Besides, Dr. White had said to treat herself. She considered the walking paths while watching the sunset from her balcony. A night walk might be just the thing.
She knew Dr. White’s opinion, when it came to the choice. Her anxiety and paranoia only came on when she was writing. The doctor’s answer was simple. Stop writing. But Averie felt like she was so close to tipping over that final ledge, where things would start coming together from the accumulated momentum of her efforts, that the choice wasn’t so simple as that. She’d had some nibbles of interest recently. The stories she had out there now were eliciting responses, and encouragement, from people she didn’t know. She had fully written novels ready to throw at an interested agent or publisher just as soon as they’d willingly let her through the door. On the other hand, there was the problem. It had gotten nearly intolerable recently… the feeling like she was being watched.
She couldn’t say when it had first started. Everyone gets those feelings from time to time, and early on she did so much of her writing in cafes that it seemed a natural thing. And it didn’t happen every time. Well, it hadn’t happened every time she was writing until recently. She’d changed up her house three times, moving her writing station from room to room, curtaining windows, closing doors, but the feeling only grew. She’d be writing, finally relaxing into her thoughts, and then BAM! Like someone was reading over her shoulder, though she had her back pressed against the wall. Her husband, Gabe, had been the one to encourage talking to a psychiatrist.
She closed and locked the balcony door behind her, drawing the curtain shut. She’d already used most of her roll of packing tape hanging towels over all of the mirrors, and she finished it off tacking the edges of the curtains to the walls. The television had been thoughtfully provided inside a cupboard with doors that could be closed, and though she knew she was giving in to what Dr. White called obsessive tendencies, she checked again that the cupboard doors were firmly shut. She slipped the chain lock into place on the door and shut the bathroom door tight, pulling a couple of times to be certain. She’d decided to try writing one last time before deciding whether it was time to give up on her writing career once and for all. She pulled out her laptop and fired it up.
The keys felt good under her fingertips, and within a couple of minutes the tension began to leave her neck as words poured out. The rhythm was there, that hum she used to get when a plot concept would leap nearly whole onto the page. This was going to work. She could keep writing, it just had to be in a place like this. Somewhere anonymous, where she could relax. The characters were starting to form quirks and personalities that she’d be able to go back and magnify later. Her mind was ablaze now with possibilities, flying through scenarios as her fingers thundered her words into being. She realized she was smiling. And then it was there. As if someone were standing right behind her.
“No!” she shouted, shoving her laptop aside and leaping up.
She wanted to pull her hair out. She wanted to scream. For a few minutes, just a few, it had seemed possible. Her face in her hands, she took a deep, cleansing breath like Dr. White had taught her to do. She had to face her anxiety. Show herself that it was in her head. Slowly, taking her time to turn toward the direction of the sensation, she pulled her hands away and forced herself to look. And she did scream.
The boy standing in the corner of the room somehow looked more frightened than she was. He was somewhere in his teens, his clothing and hair painting a picture of social rebellion and angst. He held up his hands defensively, his eyes searching over his shoulder for something that wasn’t there.
“This wasn’t supposed to happen,” he was muttering, trying to back away until the corner of the room pressed against his shoulders. He pushed against the walls in desperation, his hands seeking, as if there were a lever for a trap door. “They said it was one way,” he said, his fingers scrambling over the wallpaper. “This can’t be happening.”
“How did you get in here?” Averie demanded, picking up the phone and glancing away just long enough to find the button for the front desk.
“They said it was one way,” said the boy, still examining the wall. “You weren’t supposed to know I was watching, and I definitely wasn’t supposed to be able to fall through. I knew they were lying! I thought the restraints were there for show. To build the suspense, you know?”
Averie could hear the front desk clerk asking if she needed assistance and remembered to bring the receiver to her ear.
“Sorry,” she said, “I dialed you by mistake.” She returned the receiver to its cradle. “You were watching me?” she asked.
“Well, sure,” said the boy, giving up his search of the wall and slumping onto the bed. “You’re Averie Montahue. You’re one of the best attractions.”
Averie picked up the receiver again. “You have one minute to explain yourself,” she said, “before I call for the police.”
The boy raised his hands again, his eyes wide. “Please,” he said, “please don’t do that. My mom’s going to kill me.” With a groan, he dropped his face into his palms. “She isn’t even born yet,” he mumbled.
“Thirty seconds,” snapped Averie.
The boy dropped his hands to his lap, but he made no effort to rush any kind of explanation. Finally, he said, “there’s this historical tourism industry in the future. They say the past is totally safe. That we’re just peeking at the past as it happened and not interacting with it or anything.” He shrugged. “They lied.”
A rapid dial tone in the phone’s receiver reminded Averie that it was still in her hand. She placed it in the cradle and found a chair.
“You want me to believe that you’re from the future?” she asked.
The boy nodded, not looking at her.
“And you’re part of some historical tourist…”
“No,” the boy said quickly. “I went today, and we were watching the moment in the cafe when you first came up with Sunflower Girl, you know? And I thought it was stupid that they made us stand behind these barriers like herded cattle, you know? So I snuck back in after they closed, and I went to the epiphany room, and…”
“What’s the epiphany room?”
“Your midnight walk, when you made the choice to devote all of your efforts to becoming a writer. It’s the best part of the attraction. But everybody’s seen that walk. I wanted something more legit. Unknown, you know? So I went back by a few hours.” His voice trailed off and he studied his fingers despondently. “It’s not like you adopt me or anything. I’m not in your history. I don’t know what’s going to happen to me.” He choked on the last word and turned his face away from her.
Averie wondered vaguely if she had finally cracked. Come up with an explanation and a character to deliver the concept. She certainly had the imagination for it. It wasn’t a stretch to believe. But that explanation didn’t interest her. She wanted this boy’s story to be true. Especially the part about her being a writer the future would bother to know. Fine. She’d go with it. The alternative was a heap of trouble she’d only worry about if it turned out to be true.
“What’s your name?” she asked.
He looked up in surprise. “Sanyon,” he said.
“I have a character named Sanyon,” she laughed.
“I know,” he said. “My mom’s a fan of your books. So am I,” he added.
“You weren’t named after my character?” Averie said in disbelief.
She’d been considering changing that character’s name to something more mainstream, in case that was why her queries kept getting rejected. She’d suspected it was too… novely. She resolved to keep it now.
“My sister’s named Kalania,” he grinned.
Averie whistled. She wasn’t sure if she’d done them a favor or a disservice with those names, but Sanyon didn’t seem to be complaining.
“I saw you once, when I was little,” he said. “When my mom told you my name you ruffled my hair, and said, ‘Sanyon my sweet boy, you grow up big and strong for me, and be extra kind to your mother.'”
He was smiling at the memory, and Averie could just about see that sweet little boy under his gaunt teenage features and purposefully unattractive style choices. His face fell.
“You also said…” he looked at Averie alertly. “I started to cry,” he said, “when it wasn’t our turn in line anymore. And you said, ‘don’t worry, little Sanyon, we’ll meet again.’ But I didn’t believe you because you were old.” He stopped talking suddenly, his eyes wide. “Sorry,” he said quickly.
Averie laughed. “You show up in my locked room, scare the living daylights out of me, tell me you’re from a future that stalks me, and you’re sorry about telling me I live to be old?”
Sanyon blushed and studied his hands again. “Sorry,” he said again, though Averie wasn’t convinced she’d been meant to hear it.
“It’s with your permission,” he said.
“It isn’t stalking,” he said. “You gave the museum the times and dates they could share. Most of them are when you came up with your most famous characters, or instances of you writing in some of your favorite places, you know? After the epiphany there aren’t as many,” he added.
“And the epiphany is tonight?”
“In an hour or so, yeah.” Their eyes met and Sanyon’s mouth fell open. “There aren’t as many after the epiphany because you knew,” he said.
“That’s what I’m thinking, too,” said Averie. “So, this epiphany… what do I say? What do I do?”
Sanyon shook his head. “No, it’s beautiful. It’s the most beautiful moment because it’s real. I’m sorry, Averie Montahue, but I can’t allow myself to believe that the epiphany was staged. I’m not going to tell you.”
“It’s okay,” said Averie. “I get it. Now, what do we do with you? You say that I don’t adopt you, but there’s no way my husband and I are going to leave you stranded.”
Sanyon looked relieved, but only a little. He glanced backward again with a frown.
“I wonder what they have to drink,” said Averie, opening the mini fridge. “If I’m going to be on stage in an hour I think I need some liquid courage.” Not to mention the courage she’d need to have the adoption conversation with Gabe. “They have soda in here,” she called. “Do you want one?”
Sanyon didn’t answer. When she looked up he was gone.
Had he been a hallucination then? A shard of a fragmenting mind? Her eye fell on the rumpled blankets where he’d been sitting, and she decided to make herself that drink. She had a midnight walk ahead of her, after all, and a future to plan.
Written by W. C. McClure http://www.wcmcclure.com. The names, events and characters in this short story are fictitious. This story may be shared (and please do); just please be sure to share it in its entirety, unaltered (and including this fine print), with credit given to W. C. McClure. Comments are welcome at http://www.farsideofdreams.com. Oh, and if you want to show your support, tell your friends about this short story blog – and pick up a copy of “The Statues of Azminan” by W. C. McClure. Thanks!