I was one of those babies left by their mothers on somebody’s doorstep. My mother was crafty, if not original. She picked only rich doorsteps. The first couple of times it didn’t work, on account of how much competition we had from the other babies. My cuteness has always been but middling.
I got in at the third-richest house, after my mother thought to write a note of explanation that included details on what a rare gift from above I am. The note suggested, and did not specify, that I might be of alien origin. It had a P.S. concerning my superpower: “Handle this child with care. She is an active time-machine.”
Julian Furbeus Rex promptly took me up as his ward. He was of middling kindness and warmth, as expected – a doddering inventor with gigantic specs. I dutifully grew to love tennis and lapels. Craving Julian’s approval in amounts appropriate to my situation, I inexhaustibly strove to unlock the time-traveling power within me.
I did a great many uncomfortable things in this pursuit. Whenever I heard mention of an electrical appliance on the fritz, I’d dash to the scene and wiggle my fingers around all the sockets with the hopes of receiving a trans-dimensional shock. I stood a long time underneath buckets and things I spotted on the edge of balconies, waiting for a triggering conk on the head. I looked for people who believed in superpowers, and made them my friends, and nonchalantly would bring up time-travel to see what their theories were. Sometimes their theories were stupid and I had to fight them. Other times they’d suggest electrical shocks and conks on the head could work, and I’d be inspired again to go off looking for buckets on balconies.
The times when I felt I was closest to getting somewhere, however, were the times when I was alone, in my bed, at the brink of falling asleep. Then my skin would change – I would feel it getting hot all over. Or my muscles would tingle, weakly – like pins and needles. If I could keep myself suspended in that state, between wake and sleep, I’d whisper guesses to my bones. I’d say, “You know me, bones. You know my secrets. You know how to take me through space-time.”
A couple of times dreams followed this, so strange and clear that in the morning I was almost sure I’d been somewhere. Then I might prepare for the day in silence, holding close to me the sense of awe and accomplishment for as long as I could. This length of time generally extended as far as breakfast, where from the end of our long fruit-laden table Julian showered me with the traditional affectionate reminders of how and in what ways I’d failed him. There were the protocol-required barbs against my intelligence, style, and penis size to shrug off before old Rex could roll an orange down the table and say, “Eat up, Diana. The country isn’t going to hostile-takeover itself.”
Sometimes I felt weak for no reason. This could happen while I was walking down the hall at the academy, or swinging my racket on the tennis court, or sitting alone in my room with my hands folded pristinely on my desk, as my schedule demanded.
The weakness would come either as a twinge in one limb, or as an all-over fuzziness that hurt if you thought it over. If I could grab the corner of something solid and brace, it would go away in a matter of seconds. But the older that I grew, I tried not to do that. I began to think that maybe the weakness was an answer, coming out from my bones – that maybe this was the feeling of falling into the voids of space-time, and that maybe I should just let it happen. It hurt, but maybe it wasn’t a thing of strong people to keep away from hurt.
So I let it, the weakness, take over.
It was a time when I was at my desk with my hands folded pristinely. I felt it start in both forearms at once, and then my mid-lower back. Like a chill, but one that started on the inside, as deep as you could get. Probably in my bones. And it chilled like fire and reverberated over into my guts. It was crawling and skittering from the kinks in my spine up to my neck and down, to the space between my shoulders, and staying there, in the spot where you can’t reach without help ever no matter what. It was weight, yanking me down by every shard it grew on. It held me in place and it grew, from guts buried behind one set of ribs, and kept growing, around to my back, up and down. I was heavy and bent with no strength to lift up my own head. I was wailing fierce shrieks at the top of my lungs, and my lungs felt it, my left ribs felt it, my guts inside me shook and my fever spread over me making me hot and cramped and damp and my crying met no love and I was the baby I had been, left on a rich bastard’s doorstep, just for a second, hearing the voice that I needed cut under the wind, saying “Shhhhhhh…”
I came to, shaking and sweating on my bedroom floor. I reached up slowly in astonishment, and touched the two spots directly under my eyes. There were tears there. Real tears, I hadn’t cried since I was a baby. I dabbed them into my handkerchief with care, folding it over and placing it back in my breast pocket. That was the evidence I needed.
I’d really done it this time.
I’d gone right back through time.