I was home again, lying in the sun in my back yard, reading a murder mystery on a beautiful July afternoon. A bowl of Washingtom cherries glistening with condensation lay within reach, just under my lounge. Three hummingbirds were flitting among the hot pink blossoms of a lipstick Hibiscus just a few feet to my right, and a bumblebee was investigating the purple and white blossoms of a seet pea bush directly in front of me. Life was very good.
When I first felt the mist, I assumed someone must be spraying water over the fence from the neighbor’s yard. Soon the mist became a shower.
“Hey! If you don’t mind, would you point your hose the other direction? You’re getting me wet over here.”
I heard laughing, but I was still getting wet.
“Hey yourself. Nobody’s pointing a hose at you. Wake up. It’s raining.”
I opened my eyes. Arn was propped up on his elbow a few feet away from me. The sky showed the slightest bit of light in the East. The day was just beginning and it was raining. The cherries, hummingbirds and flowers had all been a dream.
“Its’s raining,” I exclaimed.
“That’s what I said.”
We heard afaint distant rumbling, which seemed to originate beyond the mountains. Soon, flashes of light followed each rolling wave of rumbling.
“If I didn’t know better I’d say were about to have a good old Kansas thunderstorm.”
“We don’t have thunderstorms on Hoth. Never. I’ve read about them, but have never seen one on Hoth.”
“Well I think we’re about to have one and get soaked,” I replied as the rumbling grew louder and closer and the flashes of light grew closer and brighter.
As if to emphasize my point, big drops of rain began to fall on us.
“This can’t be happening, Tammy. We never get rain in summer. Only in winter.”
The drops turned into a downpour in moments. Great bolts of lightning came from the clouds and struck the tops of the mountains that stood between us and the sea. Enormous balls of lightning rolled down the mountain slopes. Never had I seen such a show.
“Let’s run for it Tammy. We’re getting soaked. We won’t be working in the field today,” Arn shouted over the constant peals of thunder. “Follow me.”
He grabbed my hand and pulled me in the direction of the ruins. We ran, laughing, in the downpour.
Why the heck are we going to the ruins? Does he have a chunk of debris we can crawl under to keep dry?
We ran several blocks into the ruins, then slowed and picked our way through the debris field. Arn carefully looked around to make sure we weren’t being watched, then leaned over and moved several chunks of debris to reveal a rectangular chunk of metal about the size of a kitchen table top. He slid it about half a yard away from us, revealing a black hole.
“In you go Tammy. I’ll be right behind you. There are ten steps. Count them as you go down because it’s dark in there. When you get to the bottom, take a couple of steps off to the left so I won’t step on you when I come down.”
“You expect me to go down into a black hole? How do I know what’s in there?”
“Trust me. I’ll be right behind you. I have to go last so I can lock the cover in place.”
Everything in me told me not to go, but I chose to trust someone for probably the first time in my life. I couldn’t think of any possible reason Arn would lock me up in a black hole.
A brilliant flash of lightning momentarily revealed a glimpse of steps and a floor below.
I did as Arn had directed. The moment I stepped off the last step, Arn followed. I heard him walk down six steps, then stop. He slid the cover over the hole, then slid what sounded like an iron bar into place, presumably to lock us in. It was pitch black. I heard him fumbling around, then he lit a match and a lantern.
“There now.” he said. Isn’t that better?”
“Where the heck are we Arn? In someone’s basement?”
“Basically. I think this little room is a side room off of the main part of the basement that was under what used to be someone’s house. When the house was destroyed, the rubble fell into the basement, but not into this part. Apparently there was no house above this room, just dirt.
“See all the crap stopping up that doorway over there? I think that was the main part of the basement and the crap is the rubble from the house when it fell in.”
“How did you find this place, Arn?”
“By pure accident.”
“Those shelves are filled with books. Aha. So that’s how you know so much.”
“That and Gramps.”
“Did Gramps know about this place?”
“I don’t think so. I found it right after he disappeared. Based on the undisturbed dust scattered all over the place it didn’t look like anyone had been in here since the house fell into the rest of the basement.
“Those cabinets over there are filled with odds and ends, boxes of stuff that whoever lived here probably considered old junk, so they stuck it in the basement. That’s where I found the scissors and old makeup.”
“Is this where you come when you walk in the ruins at night?”
“Usually. It didn’t take me long to sweep up the dust and look through the cabinets and boxes. After that I just came here to read. For some reason there were a couple of these light things.”
“Lanterns” I interrupted. “Camping lanterns.”
“O.k. Camping lanterns, and lots of cans of fuel. I come here most nights and read for about an hour. There’s a little wind-up clock so I can read for an hour then go back to my tree and sleep. Most of the stuff in the cabinets and boxes is useless to me. I don’t even know what some of it is.”
“Why don’t you sleep here?”
“I’m afraid I might not wake up when it starts to get light. Maybe I won’t hear the siren. I can’t risk it. I can’t stay in this hole forever. There’s no food or water.”
“So you come here when it rains?”
“Yeah, the last two winters. Two winters ago we had one rain. It dribbled and sprinkled for most of one day and night. We couldn’t work in the fields that day. The next day the dirt in the fields was wet and the plants weren’t dusty, so we didn’t work. Late that day the wind kicked up and dried out everything. By the next morning the place looked like normal and we went back to work.
“Last winter we had another two days off for one rain and one day off for a second rain. But we never get rain in the summer. I’ve never heard those huge booms in the sky and I’ve never seen the sky light up like that, or the balls of fire roll down the mountain. Have you, Tammy?”
“Sort of. When I was a kid we had a really big tree in our backyard. We had huge thunderstorms. That big old tree attracted lightning bolts. They’d strike just above it and the lightning would turn to balls and roll down the branches of the trees. I remember sitting in the window watching it.
“Strange; I remember sitting in the window of what must have been my house, but I can’t remember the house or who lived there with me.”
“At least you keep remembering things. Soon you’ll remember your family and your life there.”
“Do you really think so, Arn?”
“Of course. You just have temporary amnesia.”
“How long do you think it will take?”
“Probably not much longer. Maybe something you see in here or some book will jog your memory.”
“How do you know how to read, Arn”
“That’s a really good question. Someone, maybe Gramps, must have taught me when I was a kid. I can’t remember who. It’s almost like my life didn’t exist before five or six years ago.”
“In a week you went from totally not trusting me to trusting me, even to the point of bringing me here to get out of the rain. What made you decide to trust me, Arn?”
“I guess you said the right stuff, so I thought I could trust you. Look at the titles on these books. Does anything look familiar?”
I walked to the shelves and found some familiar titles, and lots of unfamiliar ones. The books were written in English. I recognized not only book titles, but also the names of publishers and names of the cities where the publishers were located. I read chapters from books I recognized and had read before I had arrived on Hoth. Everything was the same.
I recognize some of the books, some of the publishers and cities. They must be from where I come from. But this can’t be earth. It must be one of those parallel universes that we suspected existed. This is an earth where things turned out different than they did on my earth.
“Anything knock loose any memories Tammy?” Arn asked.
“I recognize some of these books. We have them where I come from. Either I’m in a dream I can’t get out of or this is some sort of a parallel universe, the land of the Dark Tower.”
“How weird, Tammy. Do I look familiar to you, like you knew me where you came from?”
“No, Arn. I’m certain I never met you before I arrived here. Somehow I’ve stumbled into your world.”
“We’ve been down here several hours. I’m going to check on what’s happening with the rain.”
Arn climbed up a couple of steps, removed the iron bar that held the cover in place, slid the cover back a foot or so and stuck his head a few inches above the opening. In a minute or two he slid the cover back in place and turned to me.”
“It’s still raining lightly. The booms and flashes are gone. Do you want to get out of this hole awhile and walk through the ruins? Since you think Hoth is some sort of a weird double for the place you come from, look around and see if you recognize anything. Before the city was flattened maybe it looked like where you’re from.”
“Sure. Anyone out there?”
“Not that I could see. I’ll look again before we crawl out of here.”
Exploring the Ruins
Arn slid the cover open, hurried up the steps and I followed. He slid the cover back in place and replaced the rubble that had been on it when we had arrived.
“You decide which way to go, Tammy. Just keep away from the edge of the city near the fields so we’ll lessen our chances of running into any of the other workers. They’re probably all under their own scrap of rubble until the rain stops.”
“Does Prune Face still make stew when it rains?”
“Yeah. We’ll head over there just before dark for stew and water. We want to finish roaming the ruins before that.”
“Let’s go this way Arn,” I suggested.
We walked in the direction I suggested. Nothing looked familiar, and yet it did. Maybe it was the mountains to our right, with most of the city ahead of us and to our left. That reminded me of something, but I wasn’t sure of what.
We had walked about a mile from our basement when the rain picked up.
Naked in the Rain
“There’s some debris over here we can get under until the rain lets up,” Arn said.
A remnant of the corner of a building about four feet high stood a couple of hundred feet to our left. A chunk of concrete with large pieces of protruding rebar was attached to the top of the remnant, providing a roof of sorts.
We ran to the temporary shelter and ducked under, out of the rain.
“Did you notice that big open space just behind here? Not much rubble. It must have been a park or something like that. This is our big chance to hang our dirty clothes on this wall and run around in the rain and get washed off really good, Tammy.”
“Are you suggesting we get naked and run around together in the rain, Arn?”
“You have a problem with that?”
“Arn, I can’t. I just can’t.”
“I don’t know. I just can’t do that. You go ahead. I’ll wait here. When you get back, I’ll take my turn.”
Arn gave me a puzzled look, but did as I had asked. Soon after we had both taken our turns and were clean, the rain slowed to a drizzle.
My Amazing Discovery
“If we’re going to walk again, let’s do it now. Then we can head back toward the shack so we’ll be near when it’s time to eat.” Arn suggested.
We crossed the open space, walking in what had been a street. After a couple of blocks, the street dipped, curved to the left, then to the right and up a slight incline.
“This topography sure does remind me of something, Arn. Look. There’s the edge of the street and the curb goes down. There’s a driveway that curves to the left and then starts to turn to the right before it’s buried in rubble where the house probably fell on it. Follow me.”
We skirted the rubble field between what had probably been that house and the adjoining house. We approached what appeared to have been the back corner of the house.
“Help me move some of this crap, Arn. I want to see what’s under here.”
We moved rubble for at least twenty minutes. A flat surface emerged. I ran my fingers along one edge of the surface until I found what I was looking for. I did what I had done thousands of times before and with a Whoosh the panel slid open.
“Holy shit Tammy. What is this?”
“My memory, Arn. This is my memory. It’s all back. In an instant I remember everything. I know exactly where I am. I remember my past. Do I ever have a lot to tell you.”
“Fantastic! But where are we? What is this panel that just slid open? Where do these steps lead?”
“To my past. Follow me.”
We descended the steps, turned a corner and faced the blue door I had seen so many times, the door with the little ding in the lower right corner, the ding I had put there when I was twelve, trying to decide if the door really was bullet proof.