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The Guardian Part 14

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"Indeed. And then he changedme into a bird. An eagle."

"Mother..."

"Just hear me out. I know this sounds like madness-maybe Iam mad! But if I don't tell someone, I'll burst."

"Go ahead." His mouth was trembling, his eyes wide.

I hesitated. Could I tell him about Eve birthing herself, about my transformation into a ravenous reptile, about being the Dark Man and watching a world's birth, growth, and death?



"Do you remember Flammarion'sLumen?" He shook his head. "It's the book I read on the Mississippi, that the two French girls loaned to me."

"Oh, yes," he said, visibly relieved. "They were cute."

"The hero of that book. Lumen, has a sort of spirit guide, Quaerens, who takes him out into s.p.a.ce and shows him... something of the nature of the universe. That's what happened to me."

The mantle on the kerosene lamp started to sputter. Daniel lit a candle and turned off the lamp. Our shadows wavered and loomed like watching ghosts.

"So this bird was your spirit guide?"

"He took the form of a raven because it was convenient and appropriate. What he showed me, though..."

I sipped the cooling tea and gathered my thoughts.

"He showed me that every world that is possible does exist somewhere. I couldn't live in the world where you and Doc had died in a senseless tragedy. When I tried to take myself from that world with the Pinkerton man's revolver-"

"We p.a.w.ned that revolver in Seattle."

"Inthis world! In mine, I talked you into leaving it with me, and so in Dawson City you faced a gunman unarmed, and died.

And when I tried to use it to leave that world, Raven-the raven appeared."

"And he guided you here."

"Somehow." I took his hand in both of mine and stopped holding back tears. "Somehow."

He gently extricated himself and began pacing. "And this also happened to the Lumen guy in the book?"

I thought for a moment, wiping my eyes. "No... not to him personally. He just observed it."

He leaned on the windowsill and looked out. The sky was just starting to lighten into peach; short summer nights. "It could have been a dream."

"No."

Still talking to the window: "Watching the crewman die so horribly-that did happen in your world?"

"It did."

"Well, it gaveme nightmares. Probably will for the rest of my life. Maybe-"

"It gaveme nightmares, too-more than half a year ago!"

He turned and gave me a weary and troubled look.

"All right," I said, "If I've been in Sitka for only a day, where and how did I learn Tlingit?Kit-ka'ositiya-ga-yet."

Hearing me say those alien syllables-it had taken me months before I could say them without the children hiding their smiles behind hands-that was probably more solid proof than the clothing that wasn't black.

"What does that mean?" He came back and sat across from me.

"It's Raven's original name. What else would you like me to say?"

He shook his head. "What happens... happened in Dawson City?"

"Some drunkard picked a fight with Doc. You went to help him and the man pulled out a gun and shot both of you, heart and head."

"How did you hear about it?"

"Chuck dictated a letter. The man who wrote it, Morris Chambers, said you were very brave. Doc was, too." I made a helpless gesture. "I wish I could show it to you. But I have nothing from that world except my memories, and what I'm wearing."

"You don't need anything. Mother." He kneaded his forehead. "I have to believe you. Even if that world was some kind of dream, it was also real."

"Or this world is the dream, as it seems to me. Maybe they're all dreams, in the mind of G.o.d."

He almost said something about that, but kept his peace. From my distant perspective now, I can see that I'd just put another piece of fuel on his smoldering atheism. He'd witnessed the most horrible death he would see in his whole lifetime, and then his mother wakes him up in the middle of the night with the strangest tale he would ever hear.

If there is a G.o.d, he would say in later life, he's not the sort of person I'd want over for dinner.

"Are you going to tell Chuck and Doc?"

I thought for a moment. "What do you think?"

"I don't know. Doc would believe you if you told him black was white."

I smiled. "Chuck is not so smitten."

"Chuck's down to earth."

So was I, finally, gladly. "For now, let's keep it between you and me." He nodded vigorously. I stood and picked up the candle. "Now you try to get some sleep. I have to write for awhile."

The room had a small table with a straight-backed chair. I picked up my diary. The last entry was about the horrific accident with the boiler, with a few lines about Sitka. I hadn't gone to meet Reverend Bower.

In this world, I never would, I thought.

I wrote as fast as the words would come. Daniel tossed and turned, silently got up and had another drink, and finally snored.

First I described the worlds Raven had shown me, a sketchy account that I would later expand, and the sun was bright and high by the time I got to my return to Earth and Raven's odd statement. Guardian, not of my life, but of life itself.

The world reborn.

There was a soft knocking on the door. I opened it a crack and saw Doc. "Dan's still asleep," I whispered.

"Chuck, too," he said. "Hard night for them both. You want breakfast?"

I slipped out into the hall and resisted the impulse to hug him and smother him with kisses. He had not known me for nearly as long as I'd known him.

"Nice dress," he said. "Don't recall it."

Downstairs, I smelled ham frying, and my stomach growled almost as loudly as the dinosaur it had inhabited the last time I ate. That amused Doc, and I was able to resist the impulse to explain.

The meal was the first experience of a kind of sensory double vision that would haunt me for the next half-century. The ham and eggs and fried bread were delicious and filling. But they were nothing compared to tearing into the putrid flesh of a well-aged reptile. Nevet again in my life would I eat that simply and that well. (Perhaps because I would never againbe that simple and healthy.) Over breakfast I had to be a little calculating. Doc was infatuated with me-in his world, we'd made love only a few days before, in a way that was pretty serious in 1898. He was a very nice man, but hewas a man, and I was an object of both love and l.u.s.t.

I had a week's more knowledge of him than he had of me, but my memory of that week was a half-year old, and rather a lot had happened between then and now. I also had a memory of a yesterday that didn't quite happen here, and I couldn't be sure what was different, besides the fate of a Skagway gangster and his cronies. Who was president? Did they know Mars had moons?

I knew Mercury didn't keep one face always to the sun. Should I tell anybody?

The breakfast was good. Doc was almost as hungry as I was, and we said little until the plates were cleated and we went to the parlor for coffee.

"Rosa," he said in a conspiratorial tone, "I've been thinking about what you said yesterday." Not exactly what I wanted to hear. "Do you still feel the same way?" He touched my hand.

"Yes," I said, with what I hoped was the right amount offeree. Was it marriage or a loan or the weather?

"Even if we could just break even, selling the kit, we'd have a solid two thousand dollars. Look at this."

He took from his pocket a page of newsprint that had been folded into a small square, and carefully unfolded it.

It was a page of real estate advertis.e.m.e.nts from the paper we'd bought in San Francisco. Doc had penciled boxes around a few of the small farm notices.

What had I suggested? That we marry and become a farm family in California? Better than raising dust in Dodge, I supposed. But me a farm wife?

"Most of these got to be small farmers who took gold fever. If they still own the farm, it has to be producing better than most." The 1893-97 depression had hurt small farms across the country. Banks would foreclose and consolidate acreage to sell to absentee landlords or the large-scale "bonanza" farms.

From the perspective of a half-century later, I can see that buying a small farm and hoping to make a living from it was a quixotic fantasy-competing with large-scale farms that used cheap immigrant labor or, by the 1890s, huge machines for planting and cultivating.

But I didn't know that then. The idea of settling down in a peaceful country place was pretty compelling after the tumult that started when the Pinkerton man knocked on our door. Not to mention a whirlwind tour of the universe.

I studied the ads. "Most of these are orange groves. You've never raised citrus, have you?"

"No, but we had forty acres in fruit trees. Can't be all that different."

"But Chuck's against it."

"Not against us gettin' married." So thatwas the deal. "But him and Dan have this notion that they could still go on to the Yukon. Sell off some of the goods, so that you and me could go back to the States."

I shook my head. "Even with half the worth of the goods, we wouldn't have nearly enough money for any of these." I set the page down.

"That's true," he said, "but we could save up the balance. I could hire myself out to any farm and you could teach or work for a business."

I was about to tell him how long it would take a teacher to save two thousand dollars, when a bell like a triangle rang urgently in the dining room. We got up and went to see what was happening.

It was the captain of theWhite Nights and his mate. The captain spoke stentorian Russian, one sentence at a time, and the mate translated in a normal tone of voice.

"This is for the people standing here who are pa.s.sengers of the vesselWhite Nights. By telegraph we heard from Skagway an hour ago, about.

"No one is docking in Skagway until after the military says so. It is, what they say, a 'n.o.body in, n.o.body out' situation, while they make the tribunal. Two weeks more.

"We can not wait. The boiler is fix; we have funeral at noon and then steam out. We have to be back in Seattle nine days from hence.

"We can leave you and your cargos at Juneau or Fort Wrangell, or you can come back to Seattle with us at no charge. Or you can stay here. But we steam at two o'clock this afternoon." The captain jammed his hat on his head and stomped out, followed by the mate.

There was a moment of silence while the whole dining room, including Dan and Chuck, on the stairs in their nightclothes, watched the two men exit. Then seven or eight loud conversations started simultaneously. We motioned our sons to follow us into the parlor.

"Has to be Juneau," Daniel said, and Chuck nodded agreement.

"You don't want to stay there for two weeks," I said. "The noise would drive you mad." They gave me two quite different looks. "Or so I've read," I added. "We'll see when we get there."

We spent a few hours walking around Sitka. I kept my eyes open for things that might be different, but I hadn't been especially observant before. Doc was fascinated by the octagonal concrete building where, now, I would not be working for the next half-year.

Gordon was nowhere to be seen. There were lots of ravens, of course, but none of them seemed to pay us any special attention.

I had an impulse to wait around until ten, when the students would be coming in for the riot of summer arts and crafts work, to mentally say good-bye to them.

Suddenly I remembered the letter from Grace Loden in Fort Wrangell. I checked my purse and it was there. Doc chided himself for not reminding me about it-but we were both excused because of the horror and chaos of the boiler disaster.

We went inside and found Reverend Bower watering his flowers-but there the similarity to my old world ended. He did have the stock of old McGuffey readers, and some paper and pencils- but they had to be aboard in a couple of hours. Doc went off to hire a cart while Bower and I and the librarian boxed up the books and supplies.

He mentioned the job opening, and I regretfully turned him down.

Doc came back with a mule and cart he'd borrowed for six bits. Bower reimbursed him out of a petty cash box.

The boys were already on deck, and helped us add the school materials to our load. The boxes gave us a good solid wall for our makeshift tent. I thought about the ferocious storm, last time, and realized that we'd just miss it, if the weather in this world was the same.

A few minutes before two, the first mate walked around the deck wordlessly, checking off a list. Then he shouted something down to the dock and returned to the helm. The whistle shrieked and we were off.

We watched the icebergs at the Icy Strait again-this time the crew palpably happy, knowing they wouldn't have to come back and hack them into blocks for ballast. The sky was pure cerulean blue, and a strong cool south wind pushed us along.

I was at the bow-rail with my hair undone, letting the breeze blow through it, when Daniel came to lean on the rail beside me. "So what is Juneau like?" he said quietly.

"Steep and loud. The town is built on the side of a hill. The noise from the rock-crushing machines across the bay is intolerable.

"The streets were rivers of mud, but we'd just had a heavy rain. I suspect they're pretty muddy all the time. A lot of the men carry guns, I guess because they're also carrying gold.

"Doc and I will go up the main street to a parlor where they have an Edison Spring Motor Phonograph.

We'll listen to Scott Joplin on a new kind of cylinder. Brown wax."

He shook his head. "You really think Chuck and I won't be able to tolerate it?"

"I can't tell the future, son. Only the past."

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The Guardian Part 14 summary

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