Vanishing, Chapter 2 [fiction]

Author’s Note: Vanishing is an alternate version of Kismet, a story now available at Amazon. I tried to get the attention of book publishers with this and the previous chapter (along with a third chapter, which I will post in the next few days). I never had any takers, but I never gave up on the story.

Lisa found herself driving aimlessly around town, soaking up the sunlight coming through her sunroof, and heading to nowhere particular. She drove past her parents’ house, decided not to stop, then headed to the drugstore to buy a home pregnancy test. Afterwards, on the drive home, she thought it was stupid to do so, but she wanted so much to see the stick show negative and prove the old woman wrong.

But she knew it would show positive. This was the first day of the past three that she had not vomited after waking in the morning.

“So what if I am pregnant,” she said. “That doesn’t prove anything.”

She caught herself talking aloud, a habit when she was upset.

“That’s right, I talk to myself,” she said. “I wonder if that’s in your stupid book that shocks people, lady.”

The pain in her elbow throbbed, but flared when she turned the steering wheel. She winced and bit her bottom lip as she drove into the driveway of her and David’s cottage home at Alice Lake.

She found David behind the cottage, heading to the deer path that led upwards to Myers Ridge’s Eagle Rock Incline. The college art teacher had painted vistas up there during the past two weeks. Lisa grabbed a bottle of orange Gatorade and tagged along, wanting his company and needing someone to talk to. The crazy woman’s strange conversation echoed in her mind until she unloaded on David the event.

At 630 feet above Ridgewood, she finished and David said, “I know. She called me right after you left. Told me the story of how she believes you’re her mother.”

“She’s insane,” Lisa concluded.

“Precisely what I told her.”

David and Lisa said no more while he set up his easel, canvas, paints and brushes. In front of them was a green vista of ravines and drumlins and several gulches around the blue one-mile spread of Alice Lake below. Every earthly feature had been carved into existence by great sheets of ice more than ten thousand years ago. That included the craggy ridge and its Eagle Rock Incline they stood upon.

As a grade school science teacher, Lisa knew well the geology of the old Pennsylvania hill—a mere remnant of the mountain it once was all those years ago. While David painted, she meandered along the hilltop, careful of the surface erosion and cave-ins where sinkholes threatened to swallow her if she wasn’t careful.

Despite the dangers, the place felt peaceful. It smelled sweet and powdery of life beginning to ripen. Lisa felt the love she had for the place stir. And then the atmosphere changed. A few fat raindrops fell from the cloudless sky and landed upon her arms and cotton blouse, chilling her skin. The sunlight scorched away the chill and wetness, so she returned to meander among the grassy landscape which looked like an old field sprinkled with aspen and birch trees.

It was while she was inspecting the outer edges of a sinkhole when she felt the tremor enter her feet and spread up her legs as Myers Ridge grumbled. The tremor quickly became a quake strong enough to bring down three aspen trees behind her—none of them close enough to strike either her or David.

Next to her, the ground around the sinkhole collapsed. She rolled away from the enlarging hole, then watched loose stone and sod tumble down into it. All around her—and David too, who was several yards away and holding his easel to keep it from toppling—the clash and scream of birds taking flight sounded like someone had ripped open the sky.

The quake, which lasted almost fifteen seconds, stopped.

Lisa stood and saw the sky over Alice Lake had darkened with growing rain clouds, as though an artist had dipped a loaded paintbrush into water. Thunder spoke as the sky over Myers Ridge buzzed with immediate electricity.

Lisa knew about the phenomenon of electricity sounding like the buzzing of bees when a static charge is building between ground and sky. As the sky buzzed, she felt the hair on her arms rise and the skin prickle. The fine hair on her face and neck came alive next.

Charged by electricity, Nancy had said. By the lightning storm.

“No,” she cried, “it isn’t possible.” And she wasn’t referring to the buildup of electricity around her. “People don’t travel in time.”

She called out to David while she scrambled to remove her wedding rings and told him to remove his own ring and anything else made of metal. She said it twice, her voice trembling each time, but he only looked at the sky and scratched the back of his neck. Above them, the sound of angry bees sounded angrier.

She ran to him, took his hand—the one still bearing the wedding band—and hurried him down the path.

A sudden wet wind pushed at their forefronts, slowed their escape, and caused Lisa to shield her eyes from the bits of grass and leaves flying at them. She did not see the green light emanating from the new sinkhole that obliterated the large part of pathway in front of them.

David skidded to a stop, but Lisa went on, not seeing the light and the hole until it was too late. Down she went, tripping over deadwood and rock and plunging into the light that filled the hole.

Inside the light, she fell long, and her screams resounded against the force that pulled her down, her mind fearful of what lay waiting for her at the bottom of the abyss.

[To be continued…]

Vanishing, Chapter 1 [fiction]

Author’s Note: Vanishing is an alternate version of Kismet, a story now available at Amazon. I tried to get the attention of book publishers with this chapter (along with two more chapters, which I will post in the next few days). I never had any takers, but I never gave up on the story.

“Don’t think me insane,” the old woman said. “You are my mother.”

Lisa Evans, a twenty-something redhead, remained smiling politely, though a frown had bitten into her otherwise unblemished forehead.

“Surely you’re joking,” she said from her seat at Carol’s Diner.

The old woman across the table said, “As I told you on the phone, my name is Nancy Pennwater Stephenson. I’m from Pittsburgh and I have a book that proves much of what I’m about to tell you.” She sniffled, took a Kleenex from her white wool coat wrapped tightly around her, and brought it shakily to her blue nose. Her nails were painted poppy red and matched the color of her lipstick. She shivered despite the June day’s sudden heat wave that had made its way inside the small air-conditioned diner.

Lisa stirred her cup of tea and looked around. Except for two Amish fellows at the front counter, they were alone.

She said, “Look, I’m twenty-five. You’re definitely much too old to be my daughter.” She smiled kindly, unsure of how to proceed. “You understand that, don’t you?”

“I’m not senile.” Nancy returned the Kleenex to her pocket. “Nor am I insane.” With two wrinkled, blue-gray hands, she hefted her large, black leather purse from her lap and placed it next to her cup of tea on the table. “Before I show you the book,” she said, “I need to explain who I am and why you must believe me.” She picked up her cup and blew at the tea inside before she slurped. “Delicious,” she said. Then, “My father—I mean, the man who raised me—was a physician—Henry Pennwater. He was passing through Ridgewood in 1934, visiting a friend after both had attended a convention at Philadelphia. This friend, Dr. William Geddes, used to vacation here at a place called Alice Lake. Henry claimed it’s very beautiful there.

“The two of them—Henry and Geddes—were hiking along a ridgeline behind the lake and Geddes’s cottage when they discovered a young woman injured and in shock. She went into a coma before the two were able to get her to the cottage where they further treated her injuries. They later transported her to a facility in Philadelphia where she resided in a coma for nine years.

“During her first months while comatose, it became obvious to the hospital staff that the woman—their mysterious Jane Doe patient—was pregnant. I was born eight months later. However, I would never know this until just a few years ago when, on her deathbed, Rachel—Henry’s sister—told me about Jane giving birth to me while in a coma.”

Nancy took a black leather book from her purse. She said, “Henry took me in when no relatives of my mother’s were found. He and Rachel raised me. For years, I was Rachel’s daughter, even when Jane—that’s what we called you. No one knew your identity until—”

“Excuse me,” Lisa said, leaning closer and lowering her voice. “I can see that you believe what you’re telling me, but—”

“Listen. You were brought to us after you awoke from your coma nine years later. I took this photograph of you with my Instamatic camera a year later.” Nancy took a black and white photograph from the book and handed it to Lisa. When Lisa reluctantly took it, a quick spark of static electricity snapped at her fingers. She flinched but gripped the photo and raised it to the daylight streaming through the window at her left. A sad-looking woman stared back at her from a wheelchair. Her anorexic body was lost in an oversized sweatshirt and Capri slacks, and her pale face looked very much like Lisa’s.

“Okay,” Lisa said. “There is a slight resemblance.” She turned the photo over. On the back, someone had elegantly written in blue ink, Jane—1943. “But I never lived during this time.”

“The coma left your body twisted and crippled and in excruciating pain. And your short-term memory was completely nonexistent—you could never remember one day from the next, which caused you grief and torment—you wanted so much to remember your past. But the drugs Henry gave you kept you sedated most of the time.”

Lisa tossed the photo back to the table’s center, then searched Nancy’s face for a glimmer that she was pulling a cruel hoax on her. There was no glimmer, not even the smallest inkling.

She said, “And how did I manage to give birth to you in 1939—”

“1940. The thirteenth of February. I missed being a valentine baby by one day.”

Lisa looked away. Outside the window next to her, Franklin Street in Ridgewood glowed in the sunlight. Three normal, sane boys on bicycles rode by, each in matching summer attire of white T-shirts and blue jeans. Her husband and family and friends were out there, too, among the sane. And until the phone call earlier, she had considered talking her husband into readying the patio grill for supper that evening. Something a lot of sane people did.

“Okay,” she said as she returned her attention on Nancy, “you drove from Pittsburgh, called me from this diner and convinced me to meet with you, just to tell me … what? That I somehow lived in the past, fell into a coma, and gave birth to you? Why? And more importantly, why would you think anyone would believe such a story?”

“Because,” Nancy said, “as crazy as it seems, it’s true.” She held up a hand to stifle Lisa’s protest. “When I was fifteen, I became interested in nursing and medicine and the ideal of eradicating all diseases. I convinced Henry to allow me to start you on an exercise program—physical therapy we call it today.

“During those several months, your health began to improve, so Henry decreased your pain medicine. That’s when you began to confide in me and tell me about ovens that could cook food in seconds, and people communicating to each other through their television sets and sending photographs by telephone. I never believed you, of course; it was 1949, after all.”

She held up the black book. “I kept a daily journal of everything you told me. It’s all here, just as you described it to me, including your name, your husband’s name, and your parents, along with dates, addresses and phone numbers” She placed the photograph inside the book. “Of course, I attributed those so-thought illusions to whatever had put you in your coma. But years later, after I came across my journal, I did some investigating. The information inside matches everything you told me all those years ago.” She held out the book for Lisa to take.

Lisa reached for the book and felt sudden heat emit from its cover. She hesitated, then took hold of the book. A surge of electricity filled her fingers and shot pain through her hand and wrist and into her elbow. She recoiled from the offering, dropping the book in the middle of the table. She cursed at the pain that throbbed inside her hand and arm as she pushed her way out of her seat and stood. She said, “I don’t know why you chose me to screw with, lady, but—”

“I’m sorry about the static electricity,” Nancy said. She rubbed her hand where she had been shocked as well. “I think it has to do with the you in the past touching the book and leaving on it an electrical signature … scientific extrapolation of which I don’t fully understand.”

“Well, whatever it is, you can keep it to yourself.” Lisa pulled two dollars from a pocket of her brown cargo pants, slapped the bills on the table, then said, “This conversation is over.”

“You killed yourself,” Nancy said, hissing the words. “When your memories returned, you couldn’t live with the truth, couldn’t live without David. I’m trying to keep that from happening again.”

“Get some help, Nancy. It’s obvious you believe in something totally impossible.”

“Please, Lisa, it’s going to happen again. You said there was an earthquake before you fell, before you traveled from this time to—”

“Stop it.” Lisa lowered her voice. “Listen to yourself. How can you really think—”

“You’re pregnant.”

Lisa paused, surprised by the sudden … revelation, or lucky guess? Then she said, “No, I’m not.”

“Test it. Prove me wrong. But I know the morning sickness has started. Everything you told me all those years ago is about to happen again if you don’t stop it now. And the first thing you must do is stay off Myers Ridge. That’s where the crystal cave is, the one you fell into, the one charged by electricity by the lightning storm.”

Lisa placed her palms on the table and glared at Nancy.

“I’ve explored many caves at the ridge,” she said, “and there’s no crystal cave. And what’s more important: there’s no such thing as time travel. Now do yourself a favor and find a good psychiatrist.”

She pushed away and hurried toward the front door.

“Wait,” Nancy said. Then, “It’s up to you to change things,” she called out. “Change the future.” She lowered her voice as Lisa stormed outdoors. “Change the future for all of us.”

[To be continued…]

Sinkholes In My Stories [world building]

My fictional Myers Ridge has sinkholes. Oh my.

Pennsylvania sinkholes
Lower shaded areas are where most PA sinkholes happen.

 

A western PA sinkhole
A western PA sinkhole and house destruction.

Since childhood, I have been fascinated with sinkholes, the idea of bottomless pits, and traveling in time. My stories touch on these fascinations, along with lightning strikes, the wonders of electricity, the mysteries of crystal rocks, and the uncharted powers of the human mind.

My stories take place in northwestern Pennsylvania, based on the topography of Erie, Crawford and Warren counties. I live in Erie County (shaded blue on the attached Pennsylvania map above), lived in Crawford County as a child, and travel throughout Warren County often, so I know the topography of these areas well.

Although PA is a high-risk state for sinkholes (also called swallow holes), none of the aforementioned counties has any that compare to the ones in the riskiest areas in PA: the limestone valleys through central PA—around State College and from the Maryland line up through Harrisburg and east to Allentown and Lancaster.

Still, sinkholes happen in the northwest part of the state when empty oil beds and coalmines collapse, and when acidic rainwater and groundwater dissolves the carbonate rocks beneath us. And that is the threat I give to my fictional Myers Ridge.

Timaru, Pareora, New Zealand
Arial photo, west of Timaru, Pareora, New Zealand. Photographer G. R. ‘Dick’ Roberts © Natural Sciences Image Library.

 

Winslow, Arizona
Arial photo of several sinkholes located Southwest of Winslow, Arizona. Photo courtesy of Louis J. Maher, Jr.

The land there us based on land composition not far from my backyard and is karst topography, albeit small in area. As you can see in the two photos above, karst topography can have many sinkhole depressions sculpted in the landscape. Since the bedrock in karst areas is typically soluble limestone or dolostone, chemical weathering has already occurred over thousands of years to produce large voids, known as cavities or caves. From these large voids come subsidence sinkholes and collapsing sinkholes.

With subsidence sinkholes, the fractures in the bedrock grow with time from the rainwater’s chemical reaction with the rocks. As the voids grow, groundwater flow increases, dissolving continues, and land slowly drops as the bedrock dissolves away.

Collapsing sinkholes happen when void spaces become well developed, the arch becomes too large to support the overlying soils, and an abrupt collapse occurs. Factors usually include the water table dropping which results in soils becoming very saturated and dense. Eventually the cavern’s roof cannot support the weight of the overlying material and the cavity collapses instantaneously. Yes, instantaneously. The formation and release of collapsing sinkholes can happen in a matter of seconds. They can destroy entire houses and swallow portions of roads or anything else that sits above the unstable ceiling.

A sinkhole in the Karst topography of northeast Iowa funnels ...
A sinkhole in the karst topography of northeast Iowa. Photo by Tim McCabe, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

 

Picher sinkhole in Oklahoma
This photo of the Picher sinkhole in Oklahoma is a popular image on the Internet. Years of mining for lead and zinc has left the town full of sinkholes like this one.

Despite the dangers of sinkholes swallowing people, places, and things, my stories wouldn’t be mine if it didn’t include some science fiction and fantasy elements. Time travel is a major theme because it is so fun to imagine and write about. Of course, time travel comes with repercussions, which adds greatly to the stories.

So, enough about sinkholes. It’s time to get back to work. The climax and denouement of falling in a sinkhole await my characters.