Chapter 11: Proof

“Miss!  Miss!”

There was a frantic knocking, but it was not coming from the direction of the door.  I was left disoriented as I opened my eyes.  And I was screaming.  Tears fell as I mourned both the real and imaginary fate of my best friend.  Rare British sunlight burned away the nightmare and reality set in.

“Miss, are you alright?”

“I’m fine.”  If I was honest I would have admitted I was just the opposite of fine.  My best friend was dead, I was going insane, and I was embarrassed at having been caught crying by a figment of my own imagination/the forgetful ghost suffering from denial.  I pinched my cheeks to revive some color, careful to keep my back to the mirror as I rolled out of bed.  Facing anyone—real or imaginary—wasn’t safe in my current state of mind.

“It sounded as though someone had been attacking you,” he said quietly, his voice laced with concern.

“Just a nightmare.”  One I had barely survived a thousand times.

The man cleared his throat.  “You know, it would be easier for me to have a conversation with you if you were decent.”

Instead of arguing that a conversation with a hallucination—or ghost—would be irrelevant, I threw on my robe, made a show of cinching the belt, and returned to the bed.

“I apologize.  I thought that since I did not exist, my outfit would not bother you.”

“And since I’m dead my opinion should not bother you.”

“Touché.”

At some point during the night, my unwanted guest had pulled a chair in front of the mirror.  He was sitting sideways, his legs draped casually over one of the chair’s arms.  Judging by the dark smudges beneath his eyes, the man had not slept very well.  He was still wearing his white shirt but it was unbuttoned at the top and wrinkled from wear.  His dark eyes crinkled as he smiled.

The look made my stomach drop then flutter back to its rightful place.  Something about the man seemed so familiar.

“You know, it would be easier for me to believe you exist if you tell me your name.  People who are real tend to have names.”

“Do they?”

“Yes.  At least those of my acquaintance do.  I would like the pleasure of knowing the name of the woman who apparently resides in my bedroom.  It is only proper, after all.”

I was too tired to think of a reason not to, so I decided to play along.  “Callista Franklyn.”

He sat up rigidly and grew somber.  “I’m sorry, what did you say your name was?”

“Ca-llis-ta Frank-lyn,” I repeated, emphasizing each syllable for his benefit.  I waited for his smart remark about my name but none came.

The color drained from his face.

“What’s wrong?”  I asked, immediately alarmed.  He looked like he was going to be sick.  Could imaginary people—or ghosts—get sick?  His face had gone white as a sheet, which would be appropriate if he was, in fact, a spirit.

“You don’t exist,” he whispered.

“This conversation is getting repetitive.  Last night we agreed neither of us existed, remember?”

“Of course I remember,” he snapped.  “It is just that I have not heard that name in ten years.”

“What name?”

Your name.”

“What do you mean?”  Maybe I was not awake yet.  My brain was too muddled to make sense of what was happening.  He had heard my name ten years ago?  Surely I would have remembered meeting such a beautiful man before last night.

“Callista Franklyn was the name of my sister’s imaginary friend when she was younger,” he explained.

Something in my memory clicked.  The man in front of me was older than he was in the photo from the newspaper archive, but he had to be the same person.

“Nicki?”

“What did you just call me?”  His voice came out in a harsh whisper.  He ran his fingers nervously through his hair and searched the room for an explanation that he wouldn’t find.

I laughed at the insanity that had become my life and ignored the faintly hysterical edge to the sound.  “You’re Nicki, Tilly’s big brother.”

Of course he was.

“No one has called me Nicki since I was in the schoolroom.  Who put you up to this?”  He smacked his palms against the glass and scraped at the barrier.  After a few minutes of careful study, his focus returned to me.

“No one put me up to it.”

“How could you know?”

“Tilly told me all about you.”  I stared at Nicholas Dalton II through new eyes.  He was gorgeous and not the least bit scary—for a ghost.

“Impossible.”

“You’ve said that already.”  I shifted and brushed away the hair that had escaped my ponytail.  I really could use a mirror to check my reflection—one that worked.  Even though Nicki was long dead he made me uncomfortably self-conscious.

Nicki’s eyes popped and he stared inappropriately at my chest.  My face went red, and I gripped shut the lapels of my robe.  Ghosts couldn’t be interested in living humans thatway… could they?

“Where did you get that?”

My eyes followed his, noticing belatedly that he had been glaring at my necklace—Tilly’s necklace.

“Ask your sister.”  If he had not believed me before, he would when he spoke to his sister.  The thought of seeing Tilly again, of knowing she was alright—as alright as a one-hundred-year-old ghost could possibly be—sent a thrill down my back.

His voice was sad when he answered.  “I can’t.”

My mind raced with barely concealed panic.  Were the dead not able to communicate with one another?  That did not make sense.  Nicki would not have known my name if that were the case.  There had to be some other unreasonable explanation.

“What’s the date?”  I asked in a rush.  Tilly had died on the twenty-fourth of August.

Wait.  They both had died on the twenty-fourth of August.

He looked at me as though I had gone nuts; I had to be crazy to even consider the theory building in my head, an impossible theory.

“The seventh of July.”

He had gotten the date right; it was July seventh.

“What year is it?”  I pressed, a frantic edge to my voice.

He tilted his head as he carefully assessed my tone.  “That’s an odd question.  What year do you think it is?”

“I asked you first.”

“And?”

“And that means you answer first.”  Tilly had said her brother was stubborn.

“This is an inane argument.”

“Year?” I persisted, crossing my arms to give myself a look of authority.

“You are quite contrary for a hallucination,” he said irritably.

“You know, that’s funny.  I was just thinking the same thing about you.”

“What else were you thinking about me?”  He offered a seductive smile.  I had to shake my head to loosen the spell he had cast.

“What year is it, Nicholas?”  The passion beneath my question surprised me.

He made a face, and I stifled a giggle.  “Nick, please.  My father is called Nicholas.”

He was stalling so I gave him what he wanted.  “Fine, Nick.”

“In unison,” he offered as a compromise.  I nodded in agreement.  “One, two…”

“1902.”  “2012.”

“I beg your pardon? What was it you just said?  I don’t believe I heard you correctly.”  Nick leaned closer, awaiting my response.

“It’s 2012,” I repeated, reveling in the significance of the date he’d provided.

“No, the year.”

“That is the year.”  Tilly had also said her brother was obtuse—more than once.  So far she had been accurate in her descriptions.  Now, if only I could tell the way he smelled…

“Impossible.”  He bent forward and dropped his head to his hands.

“And you think it’s more plausible for me to believe you when you say it’s over one hundred years in the past?”  And yet that was exactly what I was thinking.  I don’t know how it was possible, but I was not conversing with the ghost of Nicholas Dalton II, I was talking to the Nicholas Dalton II.  And he didn’t have an answer.

A million questions were ready to spew from my lips, but one in particular was niggling in the back of my mind.  “Why can’t you ask Tilly about me?”  She had not died until 1912; it had been Nicholas and the rest of her family who had died in 1902.

My stomach dropped and a fresh wave of panic set in with the budding realization: in a little over a month, the man in front of me would die… again.

Nick responded blankly as his eyes searched my face for answers I didn’t possess. “Tilly married Lord Westbrook in May.  She’s currently in London with her husband, Timothy.”

“Tilly… married?”  The question came out in a whisper.  Although I had read that fact in the newspaper, it was different hearing it from her brother.  At least Tilly was alive… sort of.

“Yes.”

“Do they live in London?”  Was she happy?  Would I ever get to see her again?  It was hard to remain calm and silent as I waited for his response.

Nick closed his eyes and rubbed his temples like he was soothing an aching head.  “Yes.”

“Do you think…”  His eyes snapped to meet mine, and I forgot what I was about to ask.

“Do I think what?”  He grinned, understanding the effect he’d had on me.

“What I meant was… does Tilly visit often?”  The forced nonchalance in my voice didn’t fool him.

“Not since the wedding.  But I suspect the brat will be home to plague us at some point in the near future—especially in light of recent… discoveries.”  Tilly’s brother and I sat in a tense limbo before Nick broke the silence.  “So, we’ve moved past the ghost theory.”

“It wasn’t really a theory per se,” I said, uncomfortable.  What grown adults believed in ghosts anyway?  A time portal was a much more reasonable concept.

“If not a theory, then what was it?”

“A contingency plan, a fall-back in case I couldn’t come up with something more logical.”

More logical?”

“Yes.”

“No more ghosts?”

“No more ghosts,” I agreed enthusiastically.

“And now you believe you are from the future?” Nick asked, the skepticism plain in his tone.

“No.”

“No?”

I smiled.  “I know I’m from the future.”  The strength in my voice surprised me.  How was it possible to be this confident in ridiculousness?

“Prove it.”

His demand startled me.  “What?”

“I said, prove it.”

“What is it with you and proof?”

He ignored my question.  “Prove it is the year you say it is, Callista Franklyn.  Show me that you are in the future, or a ghost, or not here at all.  You choose.  I’m inclined to believe the latter.”

How did he expect me to do that?  “How do you expect me to do that?”

You are the one from the future,” he dripped sarcastically, resuming his casual stance from earlier.  His lean frame unfolded gracefully across the rigid chair.  “You tell me.”

Of all the presumptuous requests…  Did he think we had invented time machines or something?  Because he seemed determined in his quest for proof, I searched my mind for a way to validate my theory.  “Fine.  Let’s conduct an experiment.”

“Excellent.  What do you have in mind?”

“You can bury something where no one will find it for one hundred years, and I’ll uncover it.”  He looked doubtful as he considered my idea.  “Or you could just hand it to me,” I suggested, remembering Tilly and her cookies.  My friend had made time travel look so simple, effortless.

That statement dazed him more than the first.  When I processed what I had said I was just as shocked.  My comment had sounded rather blasé for a science-fictional concept.

“Does that work?” he whispered.

“How do you think I got this?”  I pulled my necklace for emphasis.  As I unhooked the clasp, the man in the mirror reached for the dainty chain.  His hand hit the glass decisively and he cursed.

How had Tilly done it?

After his fit, Nick looked smug.

I rolled my eyes, unfazed.  “Okay, let’s try my first idea.”  Nick gave me an assessing gaze but did not budge.  “Just go bury something!”

Like an obedient dog, he got up and started for the door.

“Wait!  Make sure it’s nothing you need back.  From what I can tell, time only goes one way.”  The concept made twisted sense.  It would be impossible for me to bury something and have Nick find it because my actions were occurring after he existed—or whatever it was he was doing at present.

“Wait!”  I called, stopping Nick a second time.  “What are you burying?”

He smiled crookedly and walked out the door without answering.  The moment he left the room, I blinked then faced my own reflection in the mirror.  The image from 1902 didn’t turn foggy or milky, it just snapped out.  One moment I was staring at Nick’s beautiful features, the next I was looking at my own haggard face.  And I looked horrible.

I hopped out of bed and raced to the bathroom.  A little primping was always in order when the most handsome man I had ever seen—a dead man from one hundred and ten years in the past—showed up in my room unexpectedly.

After my emergency makeover, I sat back on the bed and stared hard at my reflection, willing Nick to come back.  Twenty minutes and one pounding migraine later I gave up hope and passed out, defeated.

Someone cleared his throat, and I shot out of bed.  There was a rude snicker but it was quickly stifled behind a more mannerly cough.  Sharing a room with this man, assuming he was going to stick around, was going to be a league beyond awkward.  That hotel was sounding better and better.

“Where is it?” I asked, my voice husky with sleep.

Nick smiled, and I could not breathe.  The way his heavily shadowed face pulled to reveal his dimples was positively sinful. “It’s under the third step from the top of the maid’s staircase.”

I closed my eyes as my brain sluggishly registered the statement.  He cleared his throat for a second time, and I snapped back to what had become my reality.

“What is it I’m looking for?”

His smile broadened as he shook his head.  “You tell me, Callista Franklyn.”

I raced out of the room and down the back hallway to the unused staircase.  With such a small staff, the area was mostly forgotten.  In another house the route would be expectedly dusty and filled with cobwebs, but I knew Rosa had kept it spotless.

Sure enough, the third step creaked when I stepped on it.  I pulled the board and, after a bit of wiggling, freed the panel.  There were cobwebs beneath, and I cringed.  Voices were coming from down in the kitchen; there wasn’t much time to complete my mission if I was to remain undetected.  It would be too hard to think of a logical explanation for why I was pulling apart the staircase.  Telling someone I had been searching for buried treasure would only incur more questions and rumors about my sanity.

Careful to avoid the twisted nails, I closed my eyes, reached in, and pulled out a bundle meticulously wrapped in a piece of faded brown cloth.  The small package was neatly bound together with a leather strap.

I quickly replaced the wood and raced to my room. While unpacking the treasure, I paused in the hallway where no one could see me.  The book was bound in leather and looked like some sort of ledger.  The lined pages were empty but, scrolled inside the front cover, was a name and, more importantly, a date.

Nick Dalton
July 7, 1902

I burst through the door and held up the buried treasure like it was a trophy.  In a way it was; it was proof that both Nick and I co-existed one hundred and ten years apart.

Nick stood up from his chair and ran both his hands through his dark hair.  His fingers shook as he pressed his palm against the mirror.  The swirls of his fingerprints smudged the glass; he wiped at the blight marring the clear barrier between our times.

“Impossible,” Nick whispered.

I smiled smugly and squeezed the volume in my hand, proof that the impossible was possible.  “Do you believe me now?”

I wasn’t sure if I was asking Nick or myself.

 

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2 Responses to “Chapter 11: Proof”

  1. Brenda March 4, 2012 at 8:29 pm #

    Its March 4th. I need the next chapter!!! Lol

    • movingforeword March 4, 2012 at 8:54 pm #

      I just realized I didn’t post it on here! Chapter 11 is available in my Friday-post “Paperback Reality”! I’ll get it on the page asap. Thanks for the reminder! 🙂

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