Jemima Boone arrived home just as the dawn light was creeping into the sky. She had meant to stay at her friend Jenny Martin’s log house until the next afternoon, but Jenny’s ma and pa had got into a spat and Jenny had run to her aunt’s crying, and the aunt had got mad and insisted that Jenny go to the church with her to pray and ask God to forgive her for carrying tales about her parents before taking her back to her house, and Jemima had decided – after seeing the sour faced Reverend Spoonaker who opened the church door – that maybe it was time for her to go home too.
She found the door unbarred, which wasn’t too peculiar early in the morning, though it seemed more so when she realized her ma had fallen asleep on her parents’ bed – and that she was still wearing her work clothes. Jemima thought about waking her up, but decided against it. If Ma was tired enough to sleep in her favorite petticoat and blouse, then she had to be plum worn out. She couldn’t find her pa anywhere, but then that wasn’t unusual. He was probably out hunting or trapping with Mingo. And Israel, most likely, was upstairs asleep in the loft that they shared.
Jemima yawned mightily. Jenny’s folks had started arguing about the time the sun went down, and hadn’t stopped all night. The Martins were good people, but Mrs. Martin had come from Philadelphia and from what she overheard it seemed she was ready to go back. Mr. Martin had served as an indentured servant as a young man, and earned his freedom and the piece of land he had brought his family to in Kentucky after seven long years of hard labor. He wasn’t about to go back. Jenny said it was an old argument, and most likely would only last an hour or so. Six hours later they had still been arguing and that was when Jenny had climbed out of her window taking Jemima with her, and headed for her aunt’s down the road.
In other words, she hadn’t had any sleep at all.
Quietly crossing to where her mother lay, Jemima gently kissed her forehead. She was so beautiful. Even in the poorly lit cabin, with only the pale light of the morning creeping in the eastern window, anyone could have seen that her ma was prettier than any of those fancy ladies in England or France. Why, she bet she was even prettier than that Madame de Pompadour she’d read about in the book Mingo had given her on France. Jemima sighed as she turned to look in the mirror on her mother’s dressing table. She wasn’t pretty like that. She was just ordinary, with her mousy brown hair and plain Jane face. No king would ever fall in love with her. Or a man like her pa. All she was good for was flirting with the likes of Jericho Jones. She’d probably grow up to be some old spinster schoolmarm.
Jemima yawned again. She turned and glanced at the ladder leading up into the loft. It sure was a long climb. She walked to the ladder and stood at the bottom looking up. For a moment she considered just sleeping in the cook’s chair by the dwindling fire, but then something she heard made her change her mind. Her brother was moaning. Israel must be having one of his nightmares. There was nothing usually stopped those except her lying beside him and putting her arms around him and telling him everything would be all right. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” she quietly reminded herself. If she was having a nightmare, she’d want someone to be there.
It’d probably be her brother for the rest of her life.
Tying her skirt and petticoats up to the side, Jemima took hold of the first rung and began to pull herself up the ladder. The loft room had no windows and it was still dark as a barrel of pitch. She paused at the top to unfasten her skirts and lacings, and to drop several layers of clothing until she wore only her chemise and stockings. The whole time Israel kept moaning. She couldn’t see anything of him but a form in the dark pitching from side to side. Gently, she lifted the covering and slipped in beside him. Then she wrapped her arms around his waist, and then –
She started screaming.
Then the man her screaming had awakened started screaming.
Then her mother, rudely roused from slumber below by both their screams, started screaming.
Jemima had jumped to her feet and was backing away from the black silhouette of a man in her bed. It seemed to take him a moment to realize what had happened, but once he did he bolted to his feet, reached out and caught hold of her, and wrapped his arms around her waist. Terrified, she did what her pa had taught her and brought her knee straight up, striking hard where it counted so he doubled over and let her go. Then she continued to back away, completely unaware that her frightened footsteps were taking her closer and closer to the black square cut in the floor that was the open trapdoor leading straight down.
“I say, no! Don’t…you…can’t!” the man gasped as he righted himself and lurched toward her.
“I’m Daniel Boone’s daughter, and I sure enough can!” she shouted back just as her left foot struck emptiness.
A second later she was falling.
Below, in the cabin’s common room, Jemima heard her mother begin to wail. She was going to die. She knew it. She was going to hit the floor sideways and snap her neck and then she would go to Hell because she’d called the Reverend Spoonaker a sour-pussed old goat behind his back and God had heard.
Then again, maybe not.
Jemima jolted and then shook, and then found herself hanging in mid-air. She looked down to find her mother looking up; both hands planted firmly over her mouth, stifling yet another scream. Then she looked up to find that the black silhouette of a man who had been in her bed was hanging out of the loft opening, one hand clinging to the edge of the floor, and the other wrapped about her arm. Only he wasn’t a black silhouette anymore, and he wasn’t hardly even a man. He was young – and almost as pretty as her ma.
She drew in a breath and, absurdly, said, “Hi….”
He blinked and let out a quick, “Whew! Oh, good, for a moment there I thought you wouldn’t like me. Well, of course, you wouldn’t. Who would like a man that they found in their bed when they weren’t expecting to find anyone – let alone a man – in their bed. Oh…Sorry.” He glanced at her mother. “You wouldn’t have wanted her to be expecting to find a man in her bed, would you? Bit young. Well, really very young when compared to…me….” He paused and then asked her, “How old are you? Did you say?”
Still dangling, Jemima shook her head – which made her sway from side to side.
“Didn’t think so. Well, your mother looks like she’s twenty, so you must be….” His smile was brilliant. “Ten?”
“I’m sixteen,” she replied.
“Sixteen, oh well, that’s different. Plenty old enough to be entertaining young men in…. Well, no. Not in your room...er…loft. Wrong…century. No women’s liberation, or sexual…liberation…yet, is there? Probably better off anyhow. Who wants to be a CEO of a worldwide corporation anyhow?” He paused, staring at her. “I’m babbling, aren’t I?”
Then, she passed out.
When she awoke sometime later, Jemima found herself in the cook’s chair after all. She had a cool cloth on her forehead and a front row seat to watch the man who had been sleeping in her loft pace back and forth before the fire. He was wearing one of her pa’s red shirts that hung on him like a sack on a scarecrow, and a pair of brown pants. His hair was near black, but from the fire’s light reflecting in it, she could tell it was really a deep dark brown. His skin was white as the bubbles of foam that rose to the top of the milk during churning. He didn’t look like he’d ever done a lick of hard labor in his life, unless thinking was hard work. That’s what he was at now, walking from one side of the hearth to the other, talking to himself like a school master working out a problem.
Keeping her eyes half-closed, Jemima watched him and listened.
“Kentucky. 1777. Is there anything remotely remarkable about Kentucky in 1777? Henry Clay was born, but unless someone somewhere has something against the war hawks, it is very unlikely that would really matter. Rather obnoxious, Clay. Went to hear him speak. The great orator! Rubbish!” He paced a moment more, striking his forehead with one finger. “Think! Think!” A second later he stopped and looked puzzled. “I remembered Clay. How did I do that? Memory must be a bit Swiss-cheesed as Sam used to put it. There. Sam. But who is Sam?” A second later he began to pace again. “1777. 1777. The Shawnee, Cornstalk, was murdered. Bad. Very bad. American militiamen too quick on the trigger. Might have brought about war if not for…. What? What?” He stopped again and this time took hold of the hank of dark brown hair dripping down onto his forehead and pulled it hard enough that he yelped. “Oh,” he said a moment later, “that was not…a…good…thing…to…do.”
With that, he dropped heavily onto the stones fronting the hearth and put his head in his hands.
Jemima wondered where her ma was. She didn’t think Ma would have let him ramble on in such a way. His words were, well, sort of scary. Not that he’d said anything wrong, but what he said didn’t make any sense. Maybe he was crazy. She’d never met anyone who was crazy before. But no, she didn’t think he was.
He was too handsome to be crazy.
Opening her eyes, she shifted ever so slightly so she sat up straight in the chair. He didn’t notice, but remained where he was. Jemima frowned. She didn’t know what to say, so she’d hoped he’d notice she was awake and say something first. When he didn’t, she took the opportunity to study him a little closer. She hadn’t noticed the bandage around his head while she was hanging on for dear life, or realized part of his pallor came from the fact that he must have been hurt. There was something else she hadn’t noticed, that had become clear as she listened to him just before. He sounded like Mingo.
The mysterious stranger was English.
Time ticked by. After about a minute Jemima decided she had better ask what she wanted to ask before her ma got back, or she would never get to ask it. Christian hospitality was all well and good, but being polite left a girl with a lot of questions. Drawing a breath, Jemima held it for a moment and then let it out slowly before saying, softly, “Mister. You all right?”
He stirred slowly and looked up at her; it seemed, without seeing her. His eyes were green like her pa’s. He blinked but said nothing.
The man blinked again. When he spoke, his words had the sound of someone rousing from a deep sleep. “I…. Where am I?”
“You’re in my cabin. Well, my ma and pa’s cabin. Don’t you remember?”
“Memory,” he murmured, “a child walking along the seashore. You never know what it will pick up and store away among its treasures.” The man fell silent. Then, suddenly, he looked up at her. “Oh. Hello. Have we met?”
She nodded. “You saved my life.”
Jemima’s eyes went to the trapdoor, now firmly closed. “You were in my…in the loft. You scared me and, I guess, I scared you. Then I fell –”
“Yes. Right.” He stood up and walked quickly to her side. Stopping, he loomed over her, nearly as tall as her pa. “I startled you, and you,” the man winced, “admirably defended yourself. Daniel Boone’s daughter, right?” When she nodded again, he stuck out his hand, nearly taking off her nose. “Put it there. Glad to meet you. So,” he said as he took hold of her hand and pumped it hard, “very, very glad to meet you. Which one are you?”
“Which one?” she frowned.
“Which daughter? Susanna? Jemima? Levina? Rebecca Two?”
“He’s only got one,” she frowned. “I’m Jemima.”
“Only one?” the man asked, shocked. “That’s odd. I’m sure there were at least four. Surely the man knows what it takes to have more…than….” He frowned. “How old did you say you were?”
“Sixteen,” she repeated.
“1777? Eighteenth century age of consent, but still a little innocent when it comes to the birds...and bees.” That same grin lit his face – she wondered now if it was not a mad one. “Maybe I am a school teacher. I seem to be able to remember all sorts of scholarly…things…” He stared at her. “…about things that haven’t happened yet…apparently. You’re sure you don’t have any sisters?”
“Well, maybe I can fix that. Well, not fix it – not me with your mother – but fix it metaphorically speaking.” He looked startled. “No, not a school teacher, a fixer…a fixer-upper…uptown…upside-down…down…around…what’s that around….” The stranger’s voice trailed off and his eyes went blank. Suddenly, he was breathing hard. “What’s that around my head? What are you doing? What….” He didn’t scream, but he looked like he should have, and then he sat down on the rough stones and placed his head in his hands again and fell silent.
She couldn’t think of anything to say. Fortunately, she didn’t have to. Her ma did.
“John,” Rebecca Boone said softly, kneeling at his side, “it’s all right. You’ll be all right. You need to rest.”
He shook his head. “No. Can’t rest.” A deep breath in. And out. “Have to go. Have to find….”
“Go where?” her mother asked. “Find what?”
When he looked up, Jemima was sad to see tears in the tormented man’s eyes.
Who was he?
There were flickers – ghosts of memories – but they faded as quickly as they appeared turning to smoke in his trembling fingers, falling apart and dissipating as soon as he tried to catch hold of them. He had reached the bottom of Mrs. Boone’s tea canister, but it had not been enough. He was better – if better could be described as a dull, thick feeling like his head was packed with cotton wadding that needed removed, but couldn’t be or the pillow or chair cushion or comfy sofa would lose its shape and become superfluous. Pointless. Obtuse. Obtuser. Obtusest.
He laughed. Obtuse. Not sharp, pointed, or acute. That was him. Definitely not the sharpest tool in the shack at the moment.
And yet, he knew – he somehow knew – that if he could find the right tool and remove the cotton wadding, whatever was left would be him – him, that was, for about two seconds before his head exploded and he died.
“Ah!” he said softly, “But what a glorious two seconds those would be!”
The night before he had awakened shaking like a man with the delirium tremens to find Mrs. Boone waiting with a cup of tea. She had helped him to climb up into the loft and tucked him in like a baby, telling him to sleep and to let it go. He had slept, but he didn’t know how to let go of a thing he couldn’t catch hold of in the first place. When the Boone’s daughter had climbed into the loft and mistaken him for her brother, he had been deep in the throes of his daily night terror. A ginger haired girl. A greenish glow. A harsh voice. Something gripping him and holding him tightly while a pain exploded in his head and he screamed…. But there was something more. Past the horror, beneath the pain, there was something else. Something he had forgotten.
Something he had to do.
But he knew no more what that ‘something’ was then he knew his name. John Smith. It was his name, but it wasn’t. Doctor John Smith. He waited for the pain that accompanied that term. When it came, he rode it like a brutal wave, cresting with it, and then shooting far out front. He was learning how to control, if not avoid it. And that meant that soon, very soon – if he was very, very careful – he might be able to make it past the pain to find what secrets were hidden in the dark recesses of his tortured mind. There were times when he feared what he would find, but those times were fewer than the ones where he feared he would never know. Somewhere out there, something was waiting for him – calling to him – crying out to be discovered.
It was time to go.
But go where?
Dropping into the cook’s chair that Jemima had vacated in order to do her chores, he sat and stared at the cold hearth for a moment, and then closed his eyes and leaned back, seeking some direction. As the memory of the ginger haired woman didn’t cause him pain, he concentrated on his clearest image of her – the one where they had been hiding, crouched close to one another – seeking to bring it into focus and remember something, anything about the moment that he had not remembered before. In concert with the vision he lifted a hand as if to reach out and touch her shoulder. He felt her flinch. Saw her turn. Her eyes were wide and brown. Beneath those wide brown eyes her pale skin was peppered with freckles. She was very young, but already had laugh lines – so she liked to laugh a lot. She was saying something. Responding to him. He drew a breath and held very still, concentrating. She wasn’t laughing now. In fact, the ginger woman was angry – at him. ‘Oi! You go back,’ she snapped. ‘It’s your blue box after all.’
His eyes flew open. Blue box? Blue box? Was that what he needed to find? What he felt was…missing. A blue box?
Slamming his eyelids closed he concentrated on the image, willing it not to fade away as so many of the images in his mind had of late. He could…almost…see it. Little but big. Old, but somehow brand new. His, but not his, and very, very blue. Dust howled and the wind flew as it…. No. Reverse that. Dust flew and the wind howled as it took shape in his mind, accompanied by a grinding, churning, grating sound; something so familiar and at the same time so completely and utterly….alien.
Still, he had a direction now. Well, no direction really, but a goal. Find the blue box. That brilliant blue box.
Jumping to his feet, the man known as John Smith strode across the common room of the Boone’s cabin and threw open the door – and then stopped, at a loss. He knew nothing about the lay of the land. He knew nothing about the box or where it might be – or, in fact, if it existed anywhere outside of his damaged mind. He didn’t even know if he preferred biscuits with or without jam, or honey on his scones. But he did know one thing. One big thing. Whatever was calling him was growing more insistent, and he, less resistant with every beat of his heart.
Funny thing his heart, he thought as he pressed a flat palm against his chest, it seemed to have an echo.
Unexpectedly, Rebecca Boone appeared on the porch carrying a large basket filled with freshly aired laundry. “Good morning, John. I see you are doing better,” she said cheerily as she pushed past him into the cabin. Earlier in the day a group of men had come from the fort, informing Rebecca that her husband had been there and was now on the search for their son. So was a man named Mingo and several others. Since then, she had been more at ease, though still obviously worried. “Thinking of taking a walk?”
He hadn’t really. But one excuse was as good as another. “Yes,” he lied.
“Don’t go far. Before he left, Dan told me there were reports of a renegade band of Cherokee on the loose. And those soldiers are probably still looking for you – unless of course,” she added with a smile that made him shiver, “they’ve run into Dan.” She put the basket on the floor and then raised a hand to brush a lock of orange hair off her forehead. “We wouldn’t want anything to happen to you.”
“Thank you, Rebecca,” he said solemnly. “I wouldn’t want anything to happen to you or your daughter either. So… I’ll…just…be…going.” He glanced out the door. The sky was a keen blue field dotted with dancing white sheep masquerading as clouds. The air was nippy but not cold and the land that rolled away from the Boone’s simple home splattered like an artist’s palette with autumn reds, oranges and a brilliant, unmistakable gold. He breathed in the scent of dying and decaying flora. Earth in all its glory! No wonder it was one of his favorite places to visit.
He frowned, abruptly realizing how odd that sounded. Was that what he was doing – visiting Earth? Could one visit Earth? Wouldn’t one, then, have had to be from someplace other than…Earth?
“If you don’t mind, will you look in on Jemima on your way?” Rebecca asked, startling him. She was lifting clothes from the basket and shaking them out. “She’s just past the stand of trees to the east picking apples. With what happened with Israel….”
She looked at him strangely. “Well, I’m not sure. But I think so. Why, is it important?”
He didn’t know.
Finding himself uniquely at a loss for words, he nodded his head and stepped outside.
Jemima didn’t see him coming. She turned around and there he was, watching her. “You near frightened me out of my skin!” she laughed. Then she added with a little embarrassed smile, “That’s two times in less than two days.”
The stranger was leaning against a tree, almost slouching. She’d noticed that about him. He was tall like her pa, but didn’t seem comfortable with it. Her pa, well, he was tall as the timber and he walked as if he knew it. This man – she didn’t know why she had trouble thinking of him as ‘John’ – moved more like…. But no, that was ridiculous. Still, it was true. He moved more like Cincinnatus. He kind of rolled when he walked, and his shoulders were usually a little slumped as if he liked looking up through that fringe of dark hair that flopped like a horse’s tail on his forehead. John felt like he was an old man wearing a young man’s face. But that was crazy thinking.
“Ain’t you gonna say anything?” she asked, growing uncomfortable.
Even his grin was sad and kind of old. “Hello.”
“Let me guess,” she said, turning back to her basket of apples, “Ma sent you to check up on me. Well, you’ve seen me and I’m fine. You can go back and tell her.”
“I’m not going back.”
She whirled to look at him. “Not going…. Not ever?”
“There’s something I have to….” He lifted a hand to his forehead and rubbed it hard, like he was trying to make a genie pop out of a lamp. John winced, and then – unexpectedly – dropped to his haunches and picked up one of the apples that had fallen from the tree. “I had a friend once. She liked apples. She had one with a little face carved into it. Tried them myself. Apples, not faces. Though I think I might have had more than one. Faces, not apples. Thought the apples were rubbish – for eating.” He caught two more in his long fingers and then, rising to his feet, tossed them into the air and began to juggle. “Ha ha!”
“That’s really good!” Jemima grinned. “I saw a circus once. It came through Boonesborough. They had jugglers and people who walked on lines strung up high, and a lion, and there was this big elephant that stood on one leg on a blue box and balanced a –”
The apples crashed to the ground. John stepped over them and walked straight toward her, not stopping until he was inches away. “Blue box? Did you say a blue box?”
His look was so intense, she took a step back. “Yeah. Is it important?”
He caught hold of her arms and held her fast, refusing to let her retreat any further. “Where did you see the blue box? And when. Tell me!”
“I haven’t. I…don’t remember.” Tears filled her eyes as she fought to break free. “It was a long time ago.”
“Tell me. Where!”
“Let me go!” Jemima sobbed as she felt his fingers dig into her flesh. “You’re hurting me.”
“Hurting? I…. No. No, I couldn’t do that. I wouldn’t do that. I don’t believe in hurting anyone. I….” With a little cry he let her go. “I’m…. Forgive me. Sorry. I’m not myself. Well, no, that’s not right. I don’t know who I am, so this might be me.” He looked at her – directly at her – gazing into her eyes in a way he hadn’t ever…. In a way no one had ever done. “Is this me?” The words were a strangled whisper. “Am I a bad man?”
She fought to calm her breathing as she rubbed her arm. “No. I don’t think so. I think you’re just…lost.”
“But look at your arms! I didn’t mean to…. I’m sorry.” He ducked his head, unable or unwilling to meet her gaze. “I need to go. Now. See. Look at this.” He turned away from her and moved toward the trees, intending to pass through them and into the forest beyond. “This is me. Going.”
“But where will you go? You don’t know no one but us,” she called after him. “You’ll be all alone.”
He turned back to look at her. “I think that’s how it was meant to be,” he said softly. Then, for a second he just stared at her. “Jemima?”
“Has anyone ever told you how beautiful you are?”
She blushed. “I ain’t…I’m not beautiful.”
He came toward her again, but halted a few feet away when he saw her flinch. A sort of pain crossed over his face, like the thought of her fear was almost too much for him to bear. “Oh, but you are. Since you happened on me in your loft, you have shown me nothing but kindness. And even now, when I acted like a mad man, frightening you...accosted you…still, you are worried about me.” His green eyes found hers and he shook his head. “When I have lost my last hope for the universe, I will think of you and know that somewhere out there in the stars, nobility remains.”
When he came closer, she held her place. She wasn’t frightened of him anymore. He was just a sad old young man, missing a blue box and his place in the world. He looked at her for a moment, and then took her face in his hands – gently, so gently – and then bent it down and kissed the top of her head. “Goodbye, Jemima,” John Smith whispered, and was gone.
Jemima stood for a moment looking after him, and then turned and looked toward her home. She could see the smoke rising out of the chimney. Her ma was fixing breakfast. And if things went right, her pa should be home to eat it soon with Israel. They had each other. The stranger had no one.
No one except her.
Abandoning her basket of apples – and for the most part any notion of common sense – Jemima Boone hitched up her skirts and ran after John Smith, following him into the trees.