(A fantastical contemporary tale)
James W. Nelson
Copyright 2012 by James W. Nelson
Published by James W. Nelson at Shakespir
Dedicated to construction workers the world over
Chapter To The 19th Century
(6300 words) Eating their lunch from the steps of their next project, demolition workers Selby Staples and Rivet Foreston see people going about their business in the 19th century, then crossing an invisible line and reappearing in the 21st century. The two men don’t know it yet, but they are witnessing a very dangerous time warp. Demolition of Matherby Hall must stop. Only Selby and Rivet will stand between time passing normally forward, or reverting backward to chaos.
Crab-like, the crane’s jaws lowered and closed. A crunching, then a high-pitched groan followed, almost human-sounding as the iron teeth ground in. Bricks and mortar crumbled. Glass screeched. Dust and cobwebs from the ages poured. But the YMCA tower resisted.
Selby Staples, mechanic for Urbank Wrecking, already stopped for lunch, had fond memories of handball and swimming in the small pool in the old building, and silently cheered for it. But to the operator he shouted, “Give’er hell, Rivet!”
Rivet Foreston, a huge man with burly moustache and bulging eyes, eased a lever. The cables tensed. YMCA held.
The boom tilted, the tracks dug in. Foreston kept the Cables tight, lowered the boom slightly. Dust hung like a pall, particles glittering.
YMCA would not budge.
Then came a sound like an animal growling. “Rrrrrr…,” Selby tilted his hardhat to shade his eyes. “…rrrrr…,” Foreston sat taut as the cables, teeth showing and clinched, both hands on levers, eyes wide, emitting the sound growing in intensity, “…rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrRRRRR…”
“Damn, he’s gonna bust a cable.” The voice of the foreman came from behind.
Selby rubbed his hands uncertainly, “Nahhh, he’ll get’er.”
A low crunch, then bricks and dust began falling again as the crane swung free, jaws filled with the last remaining identity of YMCA.
Applause erupted from the crew. Selby threw the foreman a thumbs-up, then drew two coffees and joined the crew walking out to meet Foreston emerging from the crane’s cockpit and gathering praise with both arms raised, “RRRRRRRRRRRRHRHRHR!”
The growling shout ended as Foreston, best operator at Urbank, likely best in St. Regal, probably all Ohio, doubled his fists, shook them, and leaped from the tracks.
Selby, slightly taller than Foreston’s six feet but not nearly as thick and muscled, handed over the coffee, “Startin’ to wonder, there, Rivet.”
“Hawww, you know better’n that, little buddy.”
“Hey, Rivet,” another worker piped up, “Ya ready for Matherby Hall next Monday? The place’s got spirits, ya know.”
Everyone faced Addleman, stockily-built with black, graying hair, “It has the will of steel and the fortitude of granite,” Adelman said, “As for spirits, I have never said that.”
Implied though, and it seemed all Addleman would talk about were how all old buildings should not be torn down, especially Matherby Hall. But it was next. Everyone turned quiet. Some glanced toward where it stood two blocks away. The hall’s European medieval front contrasted the modern section of St. Regal. An ‘eyesore’ according to a unanimous vote by the city council.
Dark red bricks mixed with ocher-orange. Brick portico with columns. Two large windows. A huge wooden door. Every man from the crew had at least walked past. The rumor of ‘spirits’ had been around long before anyone met Addleman.
Selby still gazed toward the building after everyone except Addleman had left.
“Kind’a grows on ya, doesn’t it?” Addleman’s dark eyes were piercing, “The place does have spirits, Selby.”
“Hey, Selby!” Foreston shouted, “Ya comin’?” then gestured and started to where everyone ate their lunch.
Selby waved at Foreston, then started away.
“The spirits won’t allow that building to be demolished, Selby.” Addleman darkened, “Some things on this earth are inviolable. Matherby Hall is one of them.”
A shiver shot up Selby’s spine as he threw a glance at Addleman, and, walking away, suddenly felt somehow entangled. But with what, he did not know.
The next day, after a night of troubled sleep, Selby pulled Foreston into privacy at first chance, “What say we check out our next demolition site during noon, Rivet?”
Foreston’s eyes bulged larger, “Matherby Hall?”
“We can eat our lunch there on the steps. How ‘bout it?”
Foreston sucked a deep breath. His chest expanded like a tire filling with compressed air, “You ain’t lettin’ Addleman get to ya, are ya, little buddy?”
“Nah, I’m just curious about the place.”
Foreston sucked another breath.
“Humor me, will ya, Rivet?”
“If it means that much to ya, you bet’cha.”
“Thanks. And keep it between you and me.”
Selby and Foreston arrived at Matherby Hall as a noon siren went off.
Foreston glanced around, “Never heard that whistle before.” Across the street a group of women left an office building and walked to a coffee shop at the end of the block. “But maybe I just never noticed.”
“Neither have I.” Selby was staring at sculptures set at each side of the door, “Rivet, look at this.” He pointed, “That woman, with her full skirt and bonnet, is from the nineteenth century.”
“Hold it, little buddy. That woman’s dress looks old, like the pioneers, and the nineteenth century ain’t that long back, just about nine or ten years.”
“This is the twenty-first century, Rivet, the nineteenth was over a hundred years ago,” Selby pointed to the other sculpture, “That man is dressed just like today.”
“Then what happened to the twentieth century, if this is already the twenty-first?”
“That’s a tough one.” Selby glanced at his friend, “It’d take awhile to explain, Rivet, and I don’t really want to get into it right now.”
“You sure you know what yer talkin’ about?”
“Not always, my friend, but I am sure about that. But look at the other sculpture.”
“Yup. A bare-headed man in a business suit. So what?”
“So, how did they know over a hundred years ago, how a businessman would dress today?”
“I sure don’t know. But next week I’ll be aimin’ the wreckin’ jaws at it.” Foreston rubbed his chin, “Too bad about the statues, though. Nice if somebody’d save’em.”
“Yeah, that’d be nice. C’mon, let’s look around before we eat.” They set their lunches on the steps.
Spotless. The grounds near Matherby Hall had no trash. The soil was so smooth as to have been swept. At the rear Selby walked close to the wall, scuffing his boots, feeling the bricks. The building was solid, even the foundation.
“C’mon, little buddy.” Foreston tapped his shoulder, “There’s nothin’ back here. Let’s go eat.”
Selby nodded, then led the way around the back of the building to the opposite side. The same. Spotless, absolutely clean and solid. And empty, not even a stray board or a weed.
At the portico Foreston sat on the bottom step a little right of the center of the steps, on the side away from Urbank Wrecking, then pulled a cold hot dog, “If’n we was back at the company trailer I could’ve heated this dog, little buddy.” Then he grinned.
Selby grinned back, “‘Preciate your support, there, big buddy.”
Foreston then faced the frantic noontime activity across the street from the roped-off future demolition site.
Selby fondly slapped Foreston’s shoulder, then pulled a sandwich from his lunchbox sitting beside Foreston, took a bite, then climbed three steps and faced Matherby Hall’s entrance, soon saw himself in one of the large front windows. He approached and leaned close, saw a razor nick and some missed stubble. His reflection was clear and bright, but he could see nothing through the glass.
He bit into the cheese and mustard on whole wheat, strolled toward the other window. Passing the padlocked door he heard a pounding like hooves, and looked quickly around.
Nothing. But he had seen many horses in St. Regal. In fact, if one didn’t see a horse at least once a week, then one could figure something was wrong in the world somewhere.
The second window presented the same opaque surface. Disgusted, he started for the steps, again passing the door. Again he heard hooves, and stopped, listening.
Maybe several horses. Maybe even a wagon, and a driver ‘hawing’. But the sound had stopped, having lasted maybe two or three seconds. He could explain one fleeting horse, but several? A wagon? A driver? He shook his head, started down the portico, sat halfway vertically, about halfway horizontally, lounging his body left, “Rivet, throw up my lunchbox, will ya?”
Foreston accommodated. Selby reached, for a second heard the horses again, and thought Foreston seemed…older, and…kind of…gawking. He caught his lunchbox, glanced back at Foreston, who again appeared quite normal, except that his eyes may still have been bulging a little extra.
But he dismissed it, then wolfed a tiny can of pickled herring, wrapped the can in the first sandwich bag and started another sandwich, catsup and peanut butter on rye.
A few minutes passed as both men worked on their lunches. Occasionally, as Selby changed position, he would again hear horses. Nearby parade. Had to be. He could have asked Foreston for verification of horse sounds, but he had to consider the long working hours lately, and he also considered just exactly where they were sitting.
The steps of Matherby Hall. Source of endless rumor.
A couple more minutes passed. Selby removed his hardhat rested his elbows on his knees, folded his hands, hung his head, relaxing, his hair falling forward. A sudden breeze cooled him. He tilted right, becoming very centered on the portico.
Came the sound of horses, several, and a driver ‘hawing’, maybe several drivers ‘hawing’. The sound stayed. He barely breathed, very slowly lifted his head and saw, alive as Cinerama.
Left, toward Urbank Wrecking, were cars, slit skirts, neon signs, things of the twenty-first century. But right, toward Foreston still eating his lunch, whinnying and stomping horses, carriages and buckboards, derby and western hats, full-skirted ladies with feathered hats and umbrellas.
The nineteenth century.
Foreston appeared as moments earlier…older. Without moving, Selby called quietly, “Rivet….” No answer. “Rivet…!” Nothing. Finally Selby leaned forward, found himself fully in the nineteenth century, “No….” He froze.
“Selby, what’s goin’ on?” Foreston stood in front of him, his face ragged and old, “Where’d all these horses and everything come from?” The big man sounded frightened, “Selby, what’s happenin’? Man, I think I’m scared.”
Selby leaned toward his original position, again saw the unnerving parallel world. He moaned. Had to return to his own time. Holding his breath he reached and gasped. Sheer determination jolted him back to the twenty-first century.
“Selby…Selby, guy.” Foreston whispering, shaking him, “Addleman was here.”
Wanting to get away from wherever he had been, Selby rolled left, then down the remaining steps onto the sidewalk.
“Hey, little buddy.” Foreston laughing, “What’d ya do, fall asleep? Them steps ain’t that dang soft.”
Selby scrambled to his feet, grabbed Foreston by both arms, felt the powerful muscles tighten, “Rivet, didn’t you see it?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know what I saw. It all happened so quick. On again. Off again.”
“Then you did see something. Describe it, Rivet.”
“Maybe I was sleepin’ too. It’s purty dang hot out here.”
“Rivet!” He shook him, “Talk to me, my big bud.”
“Selby, when you called for your lunch, well, I felt so dang strange, and you, you were sittin’ there like ya were asleep, or dead. Man, for a few seconds I didn’t know what was happenin’, and I was scared—and I don’t get scared. I felt like I maybe had died, or soon would, and then I saw Addleman, and he dang sure didn’t look like himself, either.”
“Addleman?” Selby released Foreston, stepped back, stared up at Matherby Hall, “Rivet, you game to try something?”
“After what just happened I’m not so sure.”
“I think it’s…probably…not real dangerous.” Selby’s hardhat lay a few feet away. He looked up at the solid door, the center of the building, maybe a line separating the centuries, but the steps seemed to be where the action was.
He climbed halfway, glanced at the door to be sure his body remained in the twenty-first century, then fixed on his hardhat, by his guess about a foot into the nineteenth century. He reached. His hand passing did nothing. He eased his head over and heard the horses, but saw nothing. But he had proven his theory. He slung his hardhat on.
Foreston watched with interest, “Don’t know what yer doin’, Selby, but I’ll try savin’ ya if‘n ya get yerself in trouble.”
They both laughed quickly, somewhat nervously, yet Selby could not make himself believe they faced any real danger. He faced the busy street, took a shaky breath, then moved onto the line. Nothing. Coordinate head and body. He moved back and forth, glancing at the door for position…until at last.
The two worlds. This time he would control things. He leaned left, back to the twenty-first, “Rivet, step up here and join me. Man, it’s great.”
Foreston’s eyes bulged slightly more, but then he stepped up and stood waiting, as if expecting Selby to lift him. Selby laughed. Then they both laughed again.
“Works like a charm, Rivet.” He guided Foreston around to face the street, “Just like climbin’ onto a carnival ride. Now, slide your right foot over to match up with mine.” He guided and balanced Foreston through the moves.
“Hey, little buddy,” Foreston said, “I sure hope nobody’s watchin’, cause we sure must look kind’a kinky.”
“Probably so, big bud.” Selby concentrated hard, “Now, you should be able to see exactly the same as me.”
A car from their left emerged to their right as horse and buggy, the passengers’ clothing transformed. From their right, barefooted, baggy pants with suspenders, white shirt with sleeves rolled, hawking newspapers, a young boy. He passed in front of them, suddenly wore tank top, cutoff jeans, and zoomed off on a skateboard.
“Man, oh, glory be.” Foreston’s comment confirmed it.
The nineteenth and twenty-first centuries together.
“So, you have discovered the secret.” Addleman’s voice came from the right.
Selby glanced at him. Addleman’s face, too, was aged, the black hair grayer.
“Come over, Selby. You I decided I could trust long ago.”
“Rivet comes, too, buddy, or I don’t.”
“Of course, bring the big fellow.”
“Do we have time, Selby?” Foreston sounded concerned, “Our dinner break must be about over.”
“Don’t worry, boys. While you are here, time for you there will cease. We’ll all have time to return to work.”
Selby slapped Foreston’s rock-like shoulder, “Let’s go.”
With one step they went to the nineteenth century.
The first thing Selby noticed was Foreston’s aged face.
“Your face, Selby,” Foreston exclaimed, “It’s all wrinkled.”
“It’s temporary,” Addleman said, “I assure you.”
“What about the people in the street?” Selby gestured, “Doesn’t anybody ever notice anything, and call the police?”
“Those people pass in and out of the time warp without ever knowing it.” Addleman chuckled, “You see, Selby, the past, present and future all exist at the same time. You’re still doing what you did ten years ago and you’re already doing what you will in the future, but only in the present do you have true awareness. The people we see here are aware, mainly, of a very hot day in 1899.”
“Over a hundred years ago? And they’re the same people?”
“Ancestors. You see, my father, Sam Matherby the Ninth, was a warlock, and his father before him, and on and on back.”
“What’s a warlock?”
“Male witch.” Selby glanced at his big friend, felt glad he was along.
“More correctly,” Addleman interjected, “A warlock is a sorcerer, a wizard, a man of magic.”
“So you’re a warlock too.”
“Yes, ‘Addleman’ is a name I took from a regional phone book. My name is Sam Matherby the Tenth, and I’m a warlock. But come, I’ll show you why this building must not be demolished, and why I need help stopping it.”
Inside, they passed through a foyer with lush carpeting, mahogany walls, a large oval mirror on each end. Selby approached one, saw his graying hair, deep facial lines. His face did not look that bad, just too early in life.
Beyond his image the mirror on the opposite wall reflected his same image only smaller, and beyond smaller still, infinitely echoing back-and-forth like a gleaming time-tunnel.
“Hey, Selby,” Foreston shouted, “Com’n’ look’t this stuff!”
Selby scrutinized himself once more, waved, grinned as his dozens of images waved and grinned back, then followed.
Inside the auditorium-like room the high ceiling glowed with a rendition of the zodiac.
Matherby, just inside the door, hands clasped, stood like a statue, “Welcome to The Museum of Magic & Sorcery.”
Selby nodded and stopped next to him at a statue of a three-headed dog, read the inscription, “Cerberus, the hellhound, guarding the gates of Hades.”
Followed by Foreston, then Matherby, Selby moved to a pole with burn marks. Dried grass, wood shavings and branches lay at its foot, also showing burn marks. And ashes. Addleman narrated, “Burned at the stake. An effigy of what has happened to hundreds, nay, thousands, of our people.”
“Our people?” Selby asked.
“Yes, burned, drowned, beaten to death, tortured until they admitted to crimes of witchcraft. I say ‘our’ people because most likely were not witches. Many were simply psychologically unstable, but usually accusation was enough to get them killed. The true witches and warlocks were too crafty to get caught.”
A stone monument stood beside the burning pole, with several names and dates. Selby read one, “Giordano Bruno, 1548-1600,” then asked, “All warlocks?”
“The opposite. These men offered opposition to the inquisitors, the witch-hunters and burners.”
Selby glanced at his host. Matherby had changed more than his name, had become a dignified man with a purpose.
Many labeled glass jars were next, “Tansy, belladonna, Dogbane…,” At witch hazel he read the uses, “Liniment, eye wash, astringent…divining rods…?”
“Divination is a most ancient form of foretelling the future,” Matherby chuckled, “Not just for finding water.”
“Wow,” Foreston said quietly, “I feel like I’m walking through a haunted house on Halloween, like the devil’s gonna jump out any minute.”
Selby silently agreed with his friend’s interpretation.
More glass containers followed, “Muzzles of wolves…hog’s hair…bone bits…spittle….” Dozens more, then came narrow-necked bottles with stoppers, apparently for shaking out drops—or just the essence—of curses. His spine tingled as he read, “Emaciated…sleepless…irritable…death.”
“There is much power here,” Matherby said, “In medieval days herbs and chants could stand against threats, but not today.”
They arrived at the end of one side. Selby started toward the other wall, where more strange objects waited in silence. Masks, animal skin robes, huge books of ancient prayers and spells, racks of amulets and bracelets, odd-shaped hats.
At the end Matherby directed the two men to a small room.
“Witchcraft has never been looked upon with favor by the masses,” Matherby said, directing Selby and Foreston to chairs, while he remained standing and pointed to a shelf holding photo albums and other family trappings, “The first Matherby to arrive in the United States, came to Ohio during a time of persecution, built Matherby Hall, and began gathering what you see here.
“Warlocks, astrologers, clairvoyants, people of magic the world over sent and delivered personal memorabilia, began holding meetings here, and séances. Reynard himself sat in the very chair as you, Mr. Foreston.”
“Reynard?” Foreston touched his chair, gawked at it, his eyes bulging, “Who was that?”
“The greatest magician medieval Europe ever saw.”
“Medieval?” Selby asked, “Yet he was here?”
“The greatest mystics never really die, Selby, and by normal human standards are never really born. They make appearances during times of interest to them, hoping for understanding.”
“But has understanding ever happened?” Selby asked.
“Not really.” Matherby patted the shoulder of a bust beside him, “This man, Joseph Glanville, 1636-1680, English philosopher, defended witchcraft, suggesting rejection led straight to atheism—a much greater threat to religion—and wrote and experimented physically on the subject.
“But, people do not accept what they cannot understand, and when discovered what this building held, a mob formed. They came at noon—it’s said the twelve o’clock bell served as their signal—with sledges, pick axes, torches. They would have destroyed Matherby Hall but for intervention by Reynard, and the casting of his spell. One hundred years ago at noon this coming Monday.”
“Spell?” Selby asked.
“Yes, Acceptance without question. I assume Reynard meant it to last forever, but that has not happened. Had you read the labels on all the jars you would have seen that particular spell.”
“Wowwww…!” Selby felt amazed, “You mean that stuff in those jars really works?”
“Yes, that stuff really works. Everything you have seen here is real, actually owned and used by great warlocks. But not all have the knowledge to ensure working. I may not.”
“But what happened? How could a spell stop a mob?”
“Reynard was aware of the growing hostility, so had taken temporary residence in the upper story.” Matherby pointed, “I sleep there myself at times. When the mob appeared, Reynard went straight to the roof with a glass canister of the spell. Normally it is just sprinkled in minute portions, but a mob required a full charge.
“Just as they reached the steps, Reynard stood in full view, raised his arms, chanted, and threw the canister. It shattered on the steps approximately where you ate your lunch, Selby, and a glittery white fog enshrouded the mob.
“No bloodletting, no violence, just a gentle casting of a spell. The mob became just people going about their business. Their unquestioning genes have passed to following generations. Today those genes have thinned. But enough descendants from the mob remain to keep the spell alive, though weaker. But it will have to be re-cast.”
“Then everything is okay?”
“No.” Matherby shook his head, “We are approaching a very dangerous period.” He hesitated, “I’ve…discovered some of Reynard’s notes. Maybe they were left just for the purpose of someone—me, for instance—to discover. They aren’t very descriptive, I can mostly only speculate, but they mention disappearances, and things are disappearing. Oh, unimportant things, what most people wouldn’t miss. A discarded barrel in the alley, scrap boards, weed trees—”
“Wait a minute.” Selby remembered the swept look outside, “A barrel? Maybe they’re just cleaning up.”
“Cleaning up? When next Monday demolition is scheduled? I think not. Nobody comes near this building, not for cleaning, anyway. Just yesterday a door, a door, mind you—albeit one not likely used anyway—disappeared from the side of the building next door, and no sign of re-construction work. Just…gone, as if it had never been there.”
“What are you saying?”
“I expect the disappearances are a warning.” Matherby shook his head again, more intensely, “The spirits simply don’t want this building destroyed. They also don’t want to come in force to stop it themselves. So, I—we—have to. But in a hundred years my descendants will have this same problem to deal with. I want the spell to last forever.
“You, my friends, were able to see both time-periods simultaneously, or separately, simply by moving your heads and bodies, because time—here at Matherby Hall—hovers that precariously. We will go on infinitely inventing new technology, or, likely, revert back a hundred years. With all involved, there is no guarantee everything will happen again as it has happened.”
“You mean Hitler maybe would win this time?”
“Or worse. For this would not be a simple step back for one or two people, but all humanity. Although time goes on continuously, we three are creating the immediate future. What we do will determine whether time goes benignly on, or if the past hundred years will slip into unpredictable limbo.
“That is also why we gained age. Here at Matherby Hall the future might not exist at all. Know this, gentlemen, if events go badly in the next few days, you, Selby, indeed, all three of us, maybe will have never been born at all.”
“This sounds serious, Selby.”
Foreston was correct, “So what can Rivet and I do to help?”
Matherby motioned for them to follow.
Outside, Matherby guided them to the left side of the portico. Selby noticed Foreston’s youthfulness had returned, “Hey, Rivet, you got your baby face back.”
Foreston turned on Selby, clasped both sides of his face, squeezed his lips into a pucker, “You’re the one with the baby face, little buddy.”
“Gentlemen, must I remind you of the seriousness upon us?”
“No, sir!” Foreston released Selby immediately.
“Just a little horseplay, there, Mr. Matherby.”
“I realize that. I simply do not want you to be imbued with false security just because we have returned to the twenty-first century. It’s vital that apathy does not set in.”
“After the tour we just had I don’t believe I’ll feel apathetic about anything ever again. How ‘bout you, Rivet?”
“I don’t know what ‘apathetic’ means.” Foreston’s brow raised as his eyes bulged, “But I don’t reckon I’ll ever feel that way again, either.”
“All right, gentlemen. Your assignments.”
Motioning Selby to wait, Matherby took Foreston by the arm and led him to the bottom of the steps, then onto the sidewalk.
About four minutes passed.
Foreston walked about fifty feet in the direction of Urbank Wrecking and the YMCA site, and waited.
Matherby motioned to Selby.
“Mr. Foreston’s job of laying the crane’s jaws on the steps for a few seconds at noon Monday, so that I will have a stable target, presents very little difficulty.”
“I assumed I wasn’t to know his job,” Selby said.
“But you must, Selby. Knowing his job is your job.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Think of my dilemma, Mr. Staples. Mr. Foreston is the crane operator. Had it been you, I would have brought you here alone.”
“Well, so, why couldn’t you bring Rivet here alone?”
“Think, Mr. Staples, or I will have to question my judgment in bringing you here.”
“Ah, I know.” Selby slapped his head, leaned close, “Because Rivet is not the smartest man on earth. But then, neither am I.”
“I imagine you are not, but without your settling influence on your big friend, well, I could not chance with just Mr. Foreston alone. I must shatter the canister right after the noon whistle, which should put it close enough to one hundred years. You must see to it that the crane gets here no sooner and not much later. And one last thing.”
“I already told Mr. Foreston, but you must make sure. He must stop the center of the crane on the twenty-first century side of the line. The door is your guide. Just a few inches but the center of the crane must not sit on the nineteenth century, nor the center. We must project this spell from the present into the future, not the opposite.”
“Okay.” That part had sounded kind of important, “Well, see you Monday.” Selby started to leave, then stopped, “Say, why didn’t you just call Reynard back?”
“In the first place, Mr. Staples, I am not exactly in personal contact with someone like Reynard. In the second place, his spell has lasted only a hundred years. Reynard’s canister shattered on the steps. I want mine to shatter on the vehicle of destruction. The crane’s jaws.”
“What you’re saying, Mr. Matherby, is that you don’t know if any’a this’ll work.”
“I told you. My knowledge is limited. No warlock can simply wave a wand and presto the spell is cast. Even Reynard has to work with the physical laws of nature.”
“What’ll we do if it doesn’t work?”
“If it doesn’t…,” Matherby’s jaws tightened, “Then you’ll likely never know what hit you. Nor will anyone else on earth.”
Monday morning dawned bright. By eleven o’clock the crew of Urbank Wrecking was ready to move. Selby was helping load trucks when Foreston began firing up the crane. He had not seen the big man all weekend, and hoped their interlude with Matherby had not retreated to foggy imagination, the way Selby sometimes felt.
Gear box jamming. The crane jerked, smoked, back-fired, started moving. Selby waved. Foreston halted. Selby leaped up to the cockpit, “Too early, Rivet. Matherby said noon.”
“A couple minutes after the whistle to be exact, little buddy. About twenty-five feet from the wreckin’ site, this ol’ smoker’s gonna cough once, then die, and it’ll take me exactly however much time we got left to fix it.”
“Okay, my friend.” Selby jumped down.
The trucks were about loaded. Selby decided to walk. His heart began to thump and throb, his chest felt kind of tight. Physically he was in perfect health, so he knew the reason was the rising tension of the morning. He removed his hardhat, wiped sweat, then left his head bare.
After a moment he caught Foreston, who waved and lifted his hardhat, and shouted, “To the Nineteenth Century…!”
Selby smiled and returned the toast, then put his hardhat back on, tilting it over his eyes as normal. He felt better. Foreston was confident, evidently had even
seen some humor in the situation. He picked up his pace.
At Matherby Hall Selby slowed. The building stood silent. Matherby not in sight, but little doubt he was on the roof.
He watched Foreston approaching, handling the huge machine as if a tricycle. Suddenly the engine coughed and died. Foreston let out a lingo of profanities, then jumped to the street, yelling and raising both arms, “Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrhrhrhrhr-rh-rh-rh…!”
Selby smiled and checked his wristwatch.
Eleven-thirty-five. A long time yet to wait.
Almost twelve. The crew arrived, and the foreman, “Can’t believe Foreston is till screwin’ with that engine.”
The noon whistle sounded. Several comments went around that nobody had noticed it before. Foreston slammed his tools into the crane’s storage area, raised his right arm toward the crew, and roared, “RRRRRRRRRRRHRHRHRH-RH-RH-RH!”
Cheers and applause. Foreston climbed into his cockpit, fired the engine, and smoking and belching the machine again thundered to life.
Selby checked his watch. One minute after twelve. His big buddy appeared to be in total control as he and his crane rumbled toward Matherby Hall.
Directly in front of the building Foreston stopped, gingerly swung the boom and jaws and laid them on the building’s steps, as if in curtsey to a romantic partner.
A few seconds passed.
Already Matherby should have thrown the canister. What was wrong? Selby jerked attention from crane to boom to Matherby Hall’s roof. Matherby was just standing there. His attention flew to Foreston.
The man sat frozen at the controls staring straight ahead, his face aged, “My God…,” Selby sucked breath, spoke barely aloud, “Maybe it’s already happened.”
“Staples, what’s going on?” The foreman’s voice, “Why is Foreston just sitting there?—Pete!” he shouted, “Get up there and see what’s wrong with Foreston.”
Pete hustled toward the stalled crane. Selby ran to intercept. Pete leaped onto the tracks, then shook Foreston. Selby leaped up too, “Leave him alone!” then grabbed Pete and pushed him from the tracks.
“Staples!” the foreman shouted, then ran toward them, “What the hell is going on?”
“Rivet!” Selby exclaimed, “Man, I think you’re sittin’ on the line.” Foreston did not respond. Pete grabbed at Selby’s legs. Selby kicked at him, then put his hand on the left side of Foreston’s face, gently pulled toward himself, said quietly, “You’re on the line, Rivet.”
“Selby, I saw Matherby on the roof, but he wasn’t movin’.” Foreston’s brow was sweating, fear showed on his face, “I done my part, Selby—man, what’s happenin’?”
Too late for explaining, “Move the crane back, Rivet.”
“Which way?” Foreston stepped from the driver’s seat.
But Pete was back, and punched Selby, knocking him from the tracks, then jumped onto him.
“Rivet!” Selby yelled, “Back it!”
“Toward me, damn it! Hurry!”
Foreston grabbed the levers, eased the jaws from the steps, walked the crane about eight inches, lightly dropped the jaws back down, then jumped toward the struggling men.
At last released from the time-lock, Matherby shook out his tensed muscles and glared at the crane’s jaws, his target. He took aim, chanted a few seconds…and threw.
The canister struck, and exploded in a glittering white fog, enveloping the whole area with an inky, alchemistic veneer.
Having walked from YMCA site, Selby stopped when he reached Matherby Hall, and glanced idly at the old building, then removed his hardhat, wiped an arm across his brow. When Foreston arrived Selby grinned and pointed at their new quarry.
Foreston waved back, slammed levers, raised the jaws high.
Sirens were heard. Selby felt a strange sentience, as if a hand had touched him and raised his arm, causing him to speak, “Hold it, Rivet.”
A police car and a second car squealed to a stop just beyond the crane. Two policemen, and a shorter man holding the hand of a small boy who looked just like him, approached.
“You in charge here?” one of the policemen asked.
“The foreman’ll be along in a couple minutes.” Selby stared at the man with the officers, wondering where he had seen him, “But, reckon I can be in charge, temporarily.”
“This is Mr. Sam Matherby the Tenth.” The officer handed Selby papers, “And this is a copy of his writ canceling demolition of Matherby Hall.”
The foreman arrived. Selby handed over the papers. The foreman read, and then surprised Selby with his comment, “Good. That’s about the oldest building in St. Regal. I was hatin’ to see it go down.” The foreman then gave hand signals to the approaching crew, to Foreston, “We’ll be loading the crane on the flatbed and moving from this part of town.”
Foreston revved the crane’s engine and began moving. The foreman left to meet the crew. The police car sped away and the other car parked. Selby watched the Mr. Matherby and the small boy mount the portico to the old building, open and remove a huge padlock, then unroll and tack up a white sign. Selby removed his hardhat, held it to block the sun, read.
FUTURE HOME OF MATHERBY & SON’S WARLOCK MUSEUM
“Visit sometime, sir,” Matherby called, “And bring your friend who drives the crane. I will give you a personal tour.”
Selby tipped his hat in friendly salute. Warlock, huh? Could be a peaceful way to spend a Saturday afternoon.
From an alley across the street a tall man with ice-gray hair and goatee, three-piece black suit and top hat, white shirt and gloves, watched as the different parties left. Even though from medieval Europe, Reynard preferred to dress—as a contemporary magician would dress—in whatever time in the world he chose to visit. When quiet he introduced a slim, pencil-like object about ten inches long and held it in thumb and forefinger, point up. In monotone he chanted in some non-English tongue, then waved the pencil-like object.
A gentle burst enveloped Matherby Hall in a cloud of golden glittering flakes and granules. For a moment the old building shimmered, as if in the throes of absorption.
The man then waved the pencil-like object and the cloud evaporated, “Can’t just wave a wand, eh? You have a lot to learn, journeyman Matherby. May you learn and pass your learning to your son and his children’s children before the next hundred years pass.”
The man then held the wand before himself, gave it a twist, and disappeared in a cloud of the same golden glitter.
“[*There is a sacredness in tears….They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition and of unspeakable love.” *][
Winter in July
(The doomsday clock is ticking…it will reach midnight)
(A place, or maybe just a state of mind,
for if you go there, and partake, you will be changed…forever)
Pharmacological Research Gone Berserk
Daughters Book 1
(The heartbreak of human trafficking)
Daughters Book 2
(Emma gets payback)
Daughters Book 3
(The Lure of Pornography)
Daughters Book 4
(The Little Girl From Down the Street)
Daughters Book 5
(Sorority Animal House)
(Vietnam War action by fleet submarines)
(The mother of all disasters)
The Light at the End of the tunnel
(A supernatural thriller)
New World Order Rising Book 1
New World Order Rising Book 2
(The New Civil War)
New World Order Rising Book 3
(The Next Generation Fights On)
The Short Stories
Strange & Weird Stories
(The unknown: as close as beside you)
A Collection of Short Contemporary Stories
(Stories about people just like you)
Dying to Live (memoirs)
(The life & times of Jimmy Nelson)
One Morning Nature Series
(For children, 3-103)
Book 1 One Morning at Boxelder Cove (Tamius, the Red Squirrel)
Book 2 One Morning at Juneberry Row (Sybil, the Cottontail Rabbit)
To the Nineteenth Century (fantasy, time-travel)
He had it Coming (crime, mystery)
Waiting to Die (the new pandemic)
Into Tilovia(war, romance, adventure)
The Commons(environment, time-travel)
30 Seconds to the Ground (a skydive gone wrong)
From the author: In my fiction I do not try to create super-heroes, but rather bring alive common and regular people who try to find love, survive, and react to circumstances as best they can, and, usually, try to do the right thing. The books are more than one genre, from war to sex and violence to romance to humor to horror to fantasy to science fiction to adventure, I write in third-person with viewpoints by men, women, and children.
For more detailed descriptions, synopses, reviews, please go to:
Winter in July (65,500 words) (The doomsday clock is ticking…it will reach midnight) (nuclear war drama) In 2019, many more nations than the superpowers have nuclear weapons and dependable delivery systems. Kirby Yates, 40, helps his town prepare for the ultimate war, which nobody believes will ever happen.
Callipygia (66,100 words) (love, sex, violence, sexual violence) (A place, or maybe just a state of mind, for if you go there, and partake, you will become changed…forever. Stephanie Daniels, 29, journalist, goes on the undercover assignment of her life, and finally finds true love, with another woman.
Pharmacological Research Gone Berserk (82,500 words) (Needed: volunteers) (medical mystery drama) Shea McTory, 31, homeless, volunteers to be locked up six months for a human nutrition research study, learns to deal with nine other volunteers—one a psychopath—and—the good part—meets the love of his life.
Daughters Book 1 (40,200 words) (The heartbreak of human trafficking) (abduction, crime, prostitution, love of a father) Emotion and love in the house where Emma, 18, grew up was rare. When she was abducted into prostitution she was hardly missed, until the one person who truly cared about her finds out.
Daughters Book 2 (45,000 words) (Emma gets payback) After six months of living with her foster father, Bailey Forbes, Emma and new best friend, Alexis, leave the safety of Abundance, Montana, and venture 200 miles farther west to the campus of University of Montana, Wyman, where her past will come back to haunt her.
Daughters Book 3 (59,200 words) (The Lure of Pornography)
Emma, in her second year of college (studying psychology & criminal justice) goes undercover into the dark world of pornography.
Daughters Book 4 (49,000 words (The Little Girl From Down the Street) Emma is home for a visit and a little rest, but a local nine-year-old girl in trouble. Her mother is suffering from the early effects of Alzheimer’s. Her boyfriend and his son have turned to the healthy daughter.
Daughters Book 5 (42,000 words) Sorority Animal House
Emma is graduated with degrees in social work and criminal justice, working toward a black belt in Taekwondo, and has partnered with a young lady attorney. They will specialize in helping victims of human trafficking.
(A young woman “Little” says “No!” to the sorority’s brutal initiation rites, starts to leave, would have been stopped and forced, but her big sister “Big” has a change of heart and comes to her rescue.)
Boat Sailors (65,000 words) (Vietnam War action by fleet submarines) Fresh from the farm, Brice Moser, 17, will leave his loved ones behind, pay his dues in bootcamp, then Class A Weapons School where he’ll experience more life in 9 weeks then the whole 17 years before, become a Torpedoman’s Mate, Seaman Apprentice, and soon will discover his rating covers much more than torpedoes.
The Bellwether (229,000 words) (The mother of all disasters) (economic & environmental meltdown) (love, sex, violence, drama, adventure) Aaron Hodges, 32, has one month to take his future colonists 300 miles to northern Minnesota wilderness…not by truck but overland across farmland and forest by horse and wagon, but first he has to convince them to want to go.
The Light at the End of the Tunnel (68,600 words) (A supernatural thriller) (one theory of reincarnation) (capital punishment, horror, crime, drama, foster care) (if the state kills a worst-of-the-worst criminal, does he really die?)The prison chaplain, 35, recruits nurse Nicole Waters, 30, to help him find and stop the reborn worst-of-the-worst criminal, Les Paul, now rampaging through foster home after foster home.
New World Order Rising Book 1 (52,200 words) (The Abduction) Carter Banks, 47, recruits his childhood friend (ex-army special ops) to help track the abductors of his daughter, Chantal, 24, and granddaughter, Dodie, 6, and gets a hair-raising short course on the true goals of the Illuminati, composed of elite politicians, CEOs, and generals, in their quest to eliminate 85% of the world’s population and create a one-world government: The New World Order.
New World Order Rising Book 2 (56,000 words) (The New Civil War) Carter and his load of young girls rescued from the Satanist Illuminati (while avoiding the black-uniformed police) takes two weeks getting home from Kansas, to his sister’s farm, discovers she is militia leader of southeastern North Dakota, and learns North Dakota is the front line of resistance, among a group of states west of Interstate 29. Seven-year-old Jocelyn by proxy takes the place of the missing six-year-old Dodie, and brings new life to the heartbroken Carter and Chantal.
New World Order Rising Book 3 (66, 500 words) (The Next Generation Fights on)
Ten years pass. Seventeen-year-old Jocelyn is now staunch at Carter’s side as his aid and lieutenant. Sixteen-year-old Dodie escapes her abductors, returns to ND to reclaim her birthright, joins in the fight, and is not too pleased about Jocelyn’s position with her mom and grandpa.
James W. Nelson was born in a little farmhouse on the prairie in eastern North Dakota in 1944. Some doctors made house calls back in those days. He remembers kerosene lamps, bathing in a large galvanized tub, and their phone number was a long ring followed by four short ones, and everybody in the neighborhood could rubberneck. (Imagine that today!)
James has been telling stories most of his life. Some of his first memories happened during recess in a one-room country schoolhouse near Walcott, ND. His little friends, eyes wide, would gather round and listen to his every hastily-imagined word. It was a beginning. Fascinated by the world beginning to open, he remembers listening to the teacher read to all twelve kids in the eight grades.
He was living in that same house on the land originally homesteaded by his great grandfather, when a savage tornado hit in 1955 and destroyed everything. They rebuilt and his family remained until the early nineteen-seventies when diversified farming began changing to industrial agribusiness (not necessarily a good thing.) He spent four years in the US Navy during the Vietnam War (USS Carbonero and USS Archerfish, both submarines.)
After the navy he worked many jobs and finally has settled on a few acres exactly two and one half miles straight west of the original farmstead, ironically likely the very spot where the 1955 tornado first struck, which sometimes gives him a spooky feeling.
A little more Biography:
He lives among goldfinches, chickadees, nuthatches, blue jays, crows, cottontails, squirrels, deer, mink, badgers, coyotes, wallflowers, spiderworts, sunflowers, goldenrod, big and little bluestem, switchgrass, needle & thread grass, June berries, chokecherries, oaks, willows, boxelders and cottonwoods, in the outback of eastern North Dakota.
Thanks for reading for reading my book. If you enjoyed it, won’t you please take a moment to leave me a review at your favorite retailer?
James W. Nelson
In my fiction I do not try to create super-heroes, but rather bring alive common and regular people who try to find love, survive, and react to circumstances as best they can, and, usually, try to do the right thing. The books are more than one genre, from war to sex and violence to romance to humor to horror to fantasy to science fiction to adventure, [_I write in third-person with viewpoints by men, women, and children. _]
Author page at Shakespir
Feel free to contact me.
Occasionally I list a book as free for a day, sometimes more . Look for those announcements on my blog, Twitter, and Facebook.
“Everyone has talent. What’s rare is the courage to follow it to the dark places where it leads.” by Erica Jong
Author of the 1973 novel “Fear of Flying,” Erica Jong turned 72, March 26, 2014.
“The longer I write, the more often I find myself going deeper into dark places, but I question whether that is truly courage.”
Selby Staples and Rivet Foreston are eating their noon lunch, sitting on the steps of their next demolition project. They both enjoy the hectic noontime activity across the street as office workers and other people hurry about finding a place to eat. As Selby works on his lunch, occasionally changing the exact location of his body, he keeps hearing the sounds of horses whinnying, wagons creaking, and drivers hawing, but sees nothing. Eventually he becomes exactly centered on the steps and sees people going about their business in what looks like the 19th Century, then crossing what evidently is an invisible line and reappearing in the twenty-first century. Seeing the two worlds simultaneously is a bit unnerving. His buddy and co-worker, Rivet, sitting on the bottom step, looks up at him...Rivet's face has aged. The two men don't know it yet, but they are witnessing a very dangerous time warp. Adelman, another co-worker with a yet-unknown connection to the old building, appears and tells them demolition of Matherby Hall must stop, and he needs help stopping it. Only these three men will stand between time passing normally forward, or reverting backward to chaos.