“Aahhh,” I yelled as I stumbled back a couple of steps in surprise, and maybe even a little fright. There was nothing to grab onto, and I ended up tripping over my own feet and landing on my ass. The bright light that had accompanied the popping sound had almost blinded me, particularly since it was nearly dark. I blinked to get rid of the black spots floating in front of my eyes and shifted around a little, making sure I hadn’t hurt anything besides my pride. I slowly rose up to my knees and started brushing off the dirt from my hands. I checked myself to be sure I hadn’t ruined my new Colonial costume, consisting of linen breeches and a sleeveless waistcoat over a white shift, cotton knit stockings, and brown tie shoes. It was nearly complete, except I had left my straw hat in the house. I looked like a typical field hand from that period.
“Shit, I better not have ruined anything,” I mumbled; that would be the perfect end to a far-from-perfect day. Elizabeth would have killed me, as she had just finished making it this past weekend. Today had been its premiere at the Bradford House, to much oohing and aahing from the rest of the staff.
The Bradford House was a two-story Colonial, painted brown, built in the 1790s. There was no electricity in the house or barn, because the whole historical site was kept as close to original as possible. It was mainly used to teach school-age kids about life in Colonial times. There were guided tours of the house too, which was furnished as it would have been back in the late eighteenth century. During the spring and summer, the Bradford House hosted several festivals with period-appropriate goods and foods to raise money to support its upkeep and school programs, using the fields on the other side of the barn.
Although it wasn’t visible from where we were, there was a small building on the other side of the main house where the properly costumed staff taught visitors how to make butter, soap out of lye, pieced quilt tops, and candles. I had just finished cutting out all the quilt squares used for demonstrations so the kids could sew two together to see how much work it was for tomorrow’s school visit, and I was heading to my car after closing up. I didn’t have to be there, but I had promised to get things set up for Elizabeth. It was almost dark since it was after seven, but there was still enough light to see the dust and dirt rise after swiping it from my butt with both hands. I sincerely hoped there were no grass stains, but looking around, I was relieved to see more dusty dirt than grass.
“Here, sir, let me help you. I apologize profusely for knocking you down.”
Concerned about my outfit, I had been oblivious to anything else around me. Therefore, I froze in total shock at hearing an English accent in front of me, and found myself looking up at a strange man who seemed quite contrite, and who hadn’t been there two minutes ago. He wasn’t very tall, but I could see that he was dressed quite formally in dark, old-fashioned clothing—with a fancily tied bowtie—and lifting off a bowler hat with his left hand. He leaned over as he held out his other hand; meanwhile, his eyes were taking me in from head to knees, his eyebrows knit. I leaned away from him, sitting back on my feet and keeping a distance between us as I gazed back at him.
“Who the hell are you? And where the hell did you come from? And what the fuck was all that noise and light and shit?” I asked, pulling my hands behind my back. He didn’t look very dangerous, but you never knew these days.
“I’m Thomas Geisel, from London. I’m afraid I’m quite confused as to when I am.” I could see Thomas looking around, noticing the barn to the left of us and the house at the other end of the dirt and grass clearing.
I needed to get off my knees, so I grudgingly grabbed his hand, which was still sticking out, and allowed him to pull me to my feet. I dusted off the dirt from my legs and shoes, grateful that everything seemed to be fine, just a little dirty. Standing up straight, I looked more closely at the gentleman, for he definitely seemed like one. He wasn’t as old as I first thought, maybe in his early thirties; the clothes he wore made him seem older for some reason. I was a couple of inches taller than he was, so I could look down at his luxuriant blond hair, cut short with a very precise part on the right side. He was actually quite good-looking, with blue eyes and light eyebrows that were a bit too bushy for my taste. He regarded me with confusion, his eyes taking in my Colonial outfit.
“I’m sorry, what did you say?” I asked, not sure I heard him correctly.
“When are we?”
“When are we?” I must have looked as confused as I felt.
“Yes, young man. What year is it, please?” He pulled a small notebook from an inside pocket of his jacket and felt around for a pen, then looked expectantly at me. I looked at the pen and was surprised to see one of those old, clear Bic pens. Wait… young man? Pu-leeease, I’m twenty-four. That’s not that much younger.
“What year is it? Ah… 2012.”
“Really? And the date?”
“Right on the button. It worked perfectly. Where are we?”
“Massachusetts.” What worked perfectly? Who is this guy? Why doesn’t he know where he is?
“Yes, I know that. What town in Massachusetts, sir? And why are you wearing that? I can’t believe we would have gone back to Colonial fashions after a hundred and fifty years; they’re not exactly convenient.”
Okaaay. Definitely not all there, if you know what I mean. “Uh, yeah. You’re in Lowell, at the Bradford House. I work here and have to wear this costume so that everything is authentic. That’s why it’s so dark; we only use candles.”
“Yes, that makes much more sense.” He nodded to himself as he glanced around in the faint light from the rising moon, then wrote some quick notes and put his notebook and pen away. He hadn’t looked behind him, where my car was parked, so I could see why he might be confused about the time period.