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A Window in Time - Chapter 1

Kris pushed back the bangs of her short, mousy brown hair. “I think we should do truth or dare on the way home…it’ll be fun.”

 

Kristine Albany, Shauna Rice and Julia Stokes, who had been best friends since early childhood, had emerged from a local diner in the early morning hours after an evening at the theater, followed by a long, drawn out supper. Now they faced a lengthy walk home. 

 

It was a bright night, filled with stars, and the full moon glanced at images on the highly waxed cars as they stepped by them. Julia often contemplated that the small town of Lancaster, just by the shores of the Lancaster River, must have the most meticulous car owners in the country. 

 

Shauna, who towered over Julia and Kris, spoke quickly. “Oh, Kris, give it a break. Every time we walk home, you ask us to play that silly game.” 

 

She waved a finger at Kristine. “Can’t you change the record? Besides, it’s way too late. Although… I like the feeling of being a night owl. It’s the basis of what’s to come in college–all night parties and stuff.” She wiggled her eyebrows.

 

Julia studied Shauna, always amazed by her athletic build, derived from rare, sporadic exercise only. The word envy often came to Julia’s mind when she thought of her friend. “Let her have her fun, Shauna. It might be the last time we are all together for a while,” she pointed out. It was only a month before she would be leaving for a university a hundred miles away

 

Her friends turned to her. 

 

Shauna, piercing her with a steel blue gaze, wore a look of incredulity on her face. “That’s a first, Jules! You hate the game.”

 

Julia shrugged. “Not hate it exactly… I think it’s a waste of time, that’s all.”

 

“I know why she thinks that,” Kris said. “Because there’s nothing to tell in the truth department. Maybe I should just call it the dare game since zilch happens here that we don’t already know about.” 

 

Indeed, there was little mystery about the girls or about the rural town where they’d been born; they were quite typical.

 

Kris smiled, winning them over. Her smile had always had an infectious quality that invariably allowed her to get her way when there was a disagreement among them—but truthfully, there weren’t that many arguments. She slapped Julia’s back. “Exactly my feeling, too. I can’t remember the last time anything interesting happened around here.”

 

Julia’s hand snaked around to rub the part of her anatomy where Kris had inflicted pain. Sometimes Kris didn’t know her own strength.

 

Shauna stood at the edge of the sidewalk and pulled at her chin. Her black hair was cut in a boyish style, which defied the laws of physics by not moving one iota as she vigorously nodded. And Julia knew physics; her life was filled with the study of that favorite subject. “Ok, I’m game. Whose night is it?”

 

Kris laughed and pointed to Julia. “It’s Julia’s. But wait. We do need to set the forfeit before we start. Any ideas?”

 

Julia shook her head. Her hair fell forward and she pushed back her hair—rat-tails, as Kris called it—wishing she’d brought along a headband. 

 

Shauna pursed her lips and threaded her fingers through the side of her own hair. 

 

Julia noticed the gesture and smiled as she recalled the unruly mop Shauna had once had. No amount of visits to the hairdresser had ever tamed it. Over the years, she had tried about every product on the market without success, eventually wisely deciding that a short style was the only approach left. 

 

“I have a suggestion. Why don’t we have her give up a day of our break week for the Christmas holiday if she loses?” Shauna suggested.

 

“To do what?” Kris frowned. 

 

“Hmm, I hadn’t thought of that….” Shauna chewed on her bottom lip.

 

“I could help out at Juniper’s Rest Home. They’re always looking for volunteers,” Julia interjected, pleased when her friends agreed.

 

After some thought, the decision for the dare was made. “Julia, we dare you to go inside the old hippie compound and spend as long as you can there, but no less than the fifteen minutes we both took on our dares last time,” Shauna pronounced.

 

“That’s not fair! You both had easy dares.” Julia frowned. “Why do I end up with the creepiest one?”

 

Kris grinned. “Sorry, Jules, but it’s the only place left around here. Let’s face it, of the three of us, you’re the most likely not to be scared.” 

 

Kris paused and looked Julia up and down. “Don’t get me wrong, but you look the part too.”

 

Julia gave her friend an indignant look as she smoothed a hand over her serviceable plaid shirt and worn jeans. Turning, she gazed at the long abandoned hippie compound that had been empty for the past ten years. 

 

Her mother, when she was growing up, had warned her not to go anywhere near the place, and disobeying her mother to satisfy her curiosity back then hadn’t been worth the hassle. Now? A full moon in a sky filled with stars were the only evidence of light that shone on the dilapidated buildings and overgrown grounds.

 

 “What can you both possibly be scared of?” Julia scoffed. “It’s a mass of old buildings. End of story.”

 

“I’ve heard rumors that there are ghosts,” Shauna said.

 

“Really? When did you start believing in ghosts?” Julia said, laughing.

 

Shauna drew back her shoulders. “Well, of course I don’t…not exactly…but some people have said they’ve seen things.”

 

“I’ve heard it too.” Kris came to Shauna’s defense.

 

“I’ve never heard any such thing.” Julia shook her head. “You are both such cowards. Ok, I’m game. Fifteen minutes, right?” 

 

Julia looked at her wristwatch. “It is one fifty-five now.” 

 

She pushed at the chained and padlocked gate, which gave way enough for her body to slide through. She was suddenly glad she was thin. Looking back at her friends, Julia grinned. “Both of you are going to spend your day at Juniper’s because it won’t be me. See you soon.” 

 

Julia walked away jauntily, her path made easier by the light from the brightly shining moon.

 

 

Kris looked at Shauna. “Do you think we should follow her? You just never know if vagrants are living in there…or something else.” Her eyes strained to see Julia who had disappeared into the darkness. 

 

Shauna shook her head. “You know Julia…she wouldn’t thank us for that. Besides, she’s right, it’s just old wives’ tales about this place.”

 

“Well, I think she deserves to win the bet for just going inside. The place gives me the creeps,” Kris said, still anxiously peering into the darkness.

 

Shauna laughed as she checked her wristwatch. “She has another twelve minutes to go.” 

They both stared into the eerily dark compound. 

 

 

Julia whistled softly as her footsteps took her closer to the main building. Whistling was one of the defense mechanisms that took over when she wasn’t sure of what she was getting into. Not that she’d say she was scared, but the place was somewhat creepy. Derelict buildings flanked her path. Some were barely huts, while others, like the one she passed on her left, were large, barn-like structures. Continuing on, Julia heard the sounds of creaking wood as a breeze drifted by, followed by scuttling noises. Her senses increased as she peered around at her surroundings—nothing was there to make her scared. In most other circumstances, she’d have expected her friends to try a stunt to make her jump out of her skin. However, from the conversation she’d had earlier, it was an unlikely possibility this time.  

 

“Probably mice or worse, rats. Brrr,” she told herself. A shiver of aversion ran down her back at that last possibility. If she squealed like a little girl, her friends might discover that she wasn’t as fearless as they thought. Determinedly, she walked on before pressing the light on her wristwatch—exactly two am. 

 

“Ten minutes to go. A piece of cake,” she announced, more to bolster herself than for any other reason. 

 

Increasing her pace, she saw what she thought was the area’s largest building; a three story house. Must be the original community building, she thought. 

 

She giggled suddenly and covered her mouth. “Or the Bates motel,” she whispered aloud.

 

The moon glowed overhead, drawing her to the building like the welcoming beacon from a lighthouse. She stopped abruptly at the foot of the four steps that would take her onto the porch, which appeared to circle the entire lower floor. 

 

Julia cast her eyes upward. It was a three story building that was, she thought, probably quite presentable in its heyday. 

 

“Well, I guess I’d better knock.” 

 

Julia carefully climbed the creaking steps. She reasoned that the elements, which had dilapidated the other buildings, wouldn’t have left this one unscathed. She wondered why such a fine building had been left to rot. She had heard all kinds of stories about the place, even about developing the place for a new residential area, a sports complex, a mall; yet nothing seemed to pan out. Arriving at the main door, she drew in a deep breath. 

 

“Here goes nothing.” She lifted her hand and rapped on the door loudly. The sound echoed around her.

 

While standing on the porch, Julia turned to gaze at the regimental layout of the surrounding buildings. Obviously, someone had gone to great lengths to make it structured and orderly. Odd for a hippie establishment. 

 

I wonder why people wanted to live like that, she thought idly.

 

An unusual sound penetrated her musings and she swung around. Her face screwed up in consternation. “No way.” 

 

The sound continued, slightly louder this time. Julia studied the area with a puzzled frown and then shook her head before loudly shouting out. “Ok, girls, which bright spark decided to turn on the radio.”

 

There was no answer. All she heard was the distinct soft tones of the music. “Look, this isn’t fair. I don’t do this on your dares.” 

 

The melody continued. 

 

“I’ll get you both back for this. I just need to find you. Where are you?” she muttered. Her gaze swung to a window, which the glow of the moon had singled out. She moved her head to the side and realized the music was coming from the same direction. “Funny. Ha, ha, girls,” Julia said, shaking her head.

 

Confidently heading toward the window and the music, she was astonished to see that the moon wasn’t giving off the light. Cupping her hands to look inside the remarkably clean window, she saw a single, naked, glowing light bulb hanging from the room inside the building. 

 

Julia frowned. How come they have power? Then the more she thought about it the more she decided there must be a caretaker. 

 

“Yeah, that stacks if there is interest in the property,” she told herself aloud.

 

Although she hadn’t heard there was interest, recently. Maddy, a high school friend, had a father who owned the biggest real estate brokerage in the city. She hadn’t mentioned it and Julia was certain she would have. Maddy made sure she passed any new property on her Dad’s listing around school. Extra marketing for her dad was what she called it. 

 

For a few moments, Julia allowed a kernel of fear to wrap itself around her heart before shrugging it off. “I can do this. I can.”  

 

Her natural curiosity took over as she peered once again inside the window of the starkly lit room. It was sparsely furnished and clearly retro. A pod like plastic chair in black and white stood on the left. A wooden slat bed with the gaudiest bedspread she’d ever seen outside of an art deco shop covering it. It was the only color there. The walls were white with a large black mural painted on each one. To Julia’s sensibilities, the swirling stabs of paint she saw on each wall hadn’t any rhyme or reason to them.

 

On a small wicker table to the right of the bed, she saw a white plastic oblong shaped radio with two dials, one on either side, and four buttons on top. A gold mesh screen on the front covered what Julia surmised was the speaker. A speaker that obviously still worked as the music grew louder. The big question was—should she knock on the window and attract the attention of whoever was inside? Her eyes tried to peer deeper into the room to see if anyone was there. She didn’t see anyone and decided whoever must be out on a patrol of the grounds. 

 

Glancing at her watch, she saw that she had another five minutes to go. 

 

“Well, I guess it can’t do any harm to knock on the window.” She rapped softly on the pane of glass. She was still amazed that the window was clean, unlike the grimy panes on the other windows she’d passed. She ran her eyes over the rest of the building—nothing else appeared as clean as this window.

 

Julia, once again, peered inside the window. Nothing. She decided to knock one last time with increased force. The sound echoed into the still night. 

 

There was the distinct sound of crunching gravel behind her and she swung around, as her heart raced. Whoever might be behind her might not react favorably to her intrusion. Oh, crap!  

 

Her initial sweep of the area showed she was still alone.

 

Julia gave the area around her a puzzled look before turning back to the window. Her heart jumped as she swallowed a shriek of fear. A face had appeared in the window and was staring at her with deep, indigo eyes.

 

Scared by the appearance, yet mesmerized by the intensity of the gaze, Julia fractionally withdrew. She could do nothing to draw her eyes away from the scrutiny. Like a tug of war, their eyes pulled at one another in an effort to win. Julia wanted to escape the enforced dominion the indigo eyes had over her. 

 

When the link abruptly broke, Julia almost fell over in surprise. She drew in a shallow breath. Here goes nothing. “Hi, I’m sorry to disturb you. I didn’t realize anyone was here.” Although her voice wasn’t steady, what it lacked in conviction, she tried to make up for with a bright smile.

 

Full, over-large lips returned the smile. With a sense of relief, Julia felt the tension in her shoulders ease. She watched in fascination as slim fingers unhooked the latch that held the window closed and slid it open without a creak or groan. 

 

“Hey, look, I didn’t realize that anyone still lived…or…worked here. My name is Julia. I live not far from here. My friends dared me to check out the place,” she explained, with a shrug and a nervous chuckle. “They say there are ghosts here, but it looks to me like it’s more that no one realizes there is a caretaker here.”

 

There was no reply or comment to her explanation. Julia frowned then scratched the back of her neck. 

 

“I guess I’ll be going then.” She turned to walk away but was sure she heard the muffled sounds of a voice.

 

Please, don’t go. 

 

She turned, half expecting to find the window shut and dark with no one there. 

 

That penetrating gaze caught her again. 

 

“Are you the caretaker here?” Julia asked.

 

The intensity of the gaze continued, but this time Julia broke the contact and shifted her gaze to the floor. When she looked up, she deliberately took in the appearance of the stranger on the other side of the pane of glass. It was a woman, with lengthy brunette hair that hung loosely around her shoulders. Her face was arresting. The eyes, which had caught her attention immediately, were now eclipsed by flawless, creamy skin. Skin with a lack of appreciable aging. Julia had no idea how old the woman was—she could have been anything from twenty to–who knew? 

 

Her clothes, matching the retro feel of the room, were something out of a time machine. A long purple skirt and a tangerine-colored blouse, heavily embroidered with pink stitches, adorned the woman.  

 

How very strange, Julia thought.

 

Julia attempted once again to converse with the silent woman. “Have you been here long?”  

 

Julia’s eyes widened when she received an unexpected reply in an enthralling, rich melodious tone.

 

 “Come inside?” 

 

Taken aback by the request, Julia allowed a pesky kernel of fear to take over. She backed away. “I think I’d better go back to my friends.”

 

The stranger stared at Julia, and the intensity made her fear ebb. Something about that compulsive gaze made her feel safe. “Sure, is the door open?”

 

The stranger merely looked toward the window. 

 

With a slight frown, Julia gazed at the window. “Ok, the window it is then.” 

 

Gingerly climbing inside the room, she was surprised that the rickety-looking frame took her slight weight without any problem. She half expected it to crumble away. When she climbed inside, Julia stared at her new surroundings. 

 

“Was this all left intact? It’s remarkable considering the circumstances. It must be worth a fortune now. Some of this retro stuff in this good a condition costs a fortune.” 

 

I’m babbling, she thought.

 

The woman didn’t reply and motioned for Julia to sit. Julia chose the weird egg shaped chair. She had to crawl into the thing but found it wasn’t as uncomfortable as she’d expected. 

 

“Good to meet you. As I said earlier, I’m Julia, Julia Stokes. Have you been caretaking the place for long? How come I haven’t seen you at the Spanks grocers? Everyone goes to Spanks for something around here.”

 

“You ask a lot of questions.” 

 

“Sorry, it’s in my nature. My mom taught me to ask about things if I didn’t understand. She said it was the best way of learning,” Julia quipped with a wave of her hands. “Between you and me, she regretted it in the end. I’ve never stopped since I began to talk. I’m going to California Technical University next month and she’ll finally get a break.”

 

Julia noticed that the indigo eyes softened at her comment. Her eyes traveled over the stranger’s figure, hard to make out with the flowing nature of the clothing she wore. She had a way of holding her body that was like a tree swaying in a light breeze. It was just like the rest of her—fascinating.

 

“What will you study?”

 

“Physics.” Julia grinned. “I know that’s a rather broad brush statement. I’m still unsure on which branch I want to concentrate on.” 

 

She paused and shrugged. 

 

“I pretty much love it all, so far that is. I do love astronomy though. I find it fascinating watching the stars and everything else about the universe. When I went to high school, they recommended extra tutoring to meet my full potential. My mom worked a second shift for two years to provide a private tutor. I travel every Saturday morning to Brinkley, which isn’t too bad, only thirty miles away. When I was old enough to have a part time job, I paid for the tutor myself.” 

 

Julia blushed. Why had she said all that? Not cool. 

 

“You not only ask a lot of questions, you talk a lot too.”

 

“Really? Wow, no one has ever said that about me before. In fact the opposite—generally,” Julia replied.

 

Julia considered that. What she said was true. Of her friends, she was the one least likely to begin a frivolous conversation. 

 

Perhaps the fact that this stranger is different, she thought. She’s interesting, like one of my scientific puzzles. 

 

“Well, you don’t talk much at all, do you? I don’t even know your name.”

 

“Evelyn Carter.”

 

Julia smiled. She felt the skin crease on her forehead as she concentrated on whether she should say anything else. Then a question simply slipped out. “Are you related to the Carter’s who live at the Tremont house?”  

 

There was an intense look from Evelyn before she nodded. 

 

Julia couldn’t equate this woman with the Carters. 

 

Maybe she is the black sheep of the family. 

 

The Carter’s on Tremont were the richest family in the area and owned pretty much all the real estate worth owning in town and in half the state too. They were always immaculately dressed and wealth seemed to permeate them like an expensive perfume. Checking out Evelyn’s clothes again, Julia was sure none of them would ever be seen dressed like her.

 

“I think I mentioned this was a dare, right? I suspect my friends are becoming worried about me, probably think I’ve been accosted by a ghost,” Julia said. She chuckled and then glanced at her watch frowning—it had stopped. “Oh no, my watch has stopped. Please do you have the time, Evelyn?”

 

An enigmatic expression crossed Evelyn’s features as she inclined her head, her words matching the appearance. “I have all the time in the world. Dance with me.”

 

The suggestion took Julia aback and apprehension began to dissolve her previous bravado. This was a weird scenario. Kris and Shauna would never believe her. She wasn’t sure she believed it herself. The curious connection she had felt when Evelyn Carter caught her gaze overturned any fear in its compulsion, drawing her into the woman’s suggestion like a Venus flytrap to its unsuspecting victim. She listened to the song playing on the radio. “Oh, it’s a slow song. I don’t do slow songs.” 

 

“With the right person, the slow songs are the best. Remember this song, Julia Stokes.”    

 

Taking a hint from the sensible part of her brain at last, Julia stood up. “I’d better get along, or you’ll be entertaining three silly girls.” 

 

The word entertaining was hardly a fitting euphemism, but it appeared to make Evelyn smile. She held out her hand. “It was good to meet you, Evelyn. Maybe our paths will cross again…when you shop in town perhaps.”

 

When Evelyn took Julia’s hand, somehow she made it appear miniscule in her grip. Evelyn’s slim fingers curled around Julia’s hand and for a second, Julia had the distinct impression that in some way the two of them were connected. 

 

That is a ridiculous thought. 

 

For several seconds, she almost regretted the decision not to dance with her. 

 

“Good luck in your studies, Julia Stokes. I think the stars are there for you.” Evelyn paused for a moment as a smile curved her lips. “One shooting star in particular.” 

 

With a faint smile, Julia looked at the door and then Evelyn pointed to the window. 

 

I guess it’s polite to go out the way I came in. She almost laughed out loud at the thought, and then climbed out through the window. 

 

With feet firmly on the porch, Julia turned to say goodbye to Evelyn—but she wasn’t there. Gazing back through the window, she heard the radio still playing the same tune.

 

She also had the distinct impression that as the music receded, the light bulb faded.

 

Must be a trick of my eyes in the dark, Julia thought.  

 

With fleeting steps, she headed back the way she came, grateful when she saw the two shadowy, yet familiar, figures at the fence. She couldn’t mistake them— little and large. 

 

Sliding through the entrance she’d made earlier, Julia grinned at her friends. “Did I make the time? My watch stopped at five past two?”

 

Suddenly both her friends hugged her hard.

 

“Hey guys, what’s wrong?”

 

Shauna drew in a shuddering sigh and looked at Kris. “You tell her.”

 

Kris blew out a breath. “There was a bright light over to the left side of the main building. It was like a beacon. We figured at first that it was the moon, but the intensity of it was remarkable and it was like a shaft of light just in one spot. Then it disappeared. When we didn’t hear you scream, we figured it must be the moon. Then the light appeared again and all of a sudden, here you are.” 

 

Julia’s face contorted in consternation. “That doesn’t make any sense. There wasn’t any bright light where I was.” 

 

No light bulb can make that kind of impression, she thought.

 

“Are you both sure that you’re not just making it up? Besides, if you were that worried, why didn’t you both just come get me?”

 

Her two friends shared a guilty glance.

 

“Don’t tell me you were scared!” Julia scoffed. “I wasn’t taken by aliens nor had an encounter with a ghostly apparition. In fact, it was a simple matter of meeting the caretaker. She was quite nice…well, kind of the silent type. Her name is Evelyn Carter. Have either of you heard of her? She said she was related to the Carter’s on Tremont, though I think she’s far removed from them now.” 

 

Julia quieted and looked at her watch. “Ok, girls. How long was I gone?”

 

Kris glanced at her watch. “Twenty five minutes.”

 

Rubbing her hands together, Julia grinned. “Gosh, it didn’t feel that long. I win my dare. Now it’s up to you two to decide who should do the forfeit.”

 

“We both decided to go together as we were such cowards. There could have been someone hurting you and we didn’t have the courage to help,” Shauna admitted. 

 

Julia giggled. “Let’s go home, I’m tired. I’ll tell you about Evelyn, as we go…not that there is much to tell. She actually thought I was gregarious.” 

 

Her thoughts recalled Evelyn saying I think the stars are for you. 

 

Maybe they are. Julia glanced at the full moon. Yes, maybe they are. 

 

The tension disappeared as her friends gave incredulous hoots of laughter at her comment. Then, as they headed away from the derelict buildings, Julia began her narration of the events. 

 

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