It wasn’t for the money, not at all—it was for the company, the noise, the life! She never had to think about money; there was always more, another bank account, another vault, another safety deposit box. She had hired Wayne to manage her finances when she became the last of the Whitticks and sole heir to the fortune that came with the title. It was now his granddaughter Elizabeth that looked after her money. It was Elizabeth that made the deal happen. After selling one hundred and twenty acres, her ancestral home was the “crowning jewel,” a sprawling mansion on a five-acre parcel, “the anchor of a prestigious executive community.”
Before the sale and development of “The Whittick Estates,” Mary Whittick had become lonesome. Now in her mid-eighties, it had been over sixty years since the last of her relations had perished. The handful of peers that had survived with her to reach their advanced age had neither the physical or mental prowess to interest her. They also had families of their own. So aside from the occasional tea party and the help (two full time maids Tara and Cheri, one part-timer, Janelle, and live-in-butler David), no one really visited anymore.
While she never did make a conscious decision to become a spinster, that’s exactly what happened. Sitting by herself, as her eyesight began to fail, she knew why. She had lived a great life. Her wealth and her love of the written word had set her on a lifelong learning adventure. She always had her nose in a book, but the love of her life was slipping away with every word she had to strain to see. She spent less time reading and more time thinking, reflecting.
Squinting at herself in the mirror, it seemed almost impossible to her that she was formerly known as a great beauty. She once had plenty of friends. Men, mostly scholars, were attracted by her obvious charms, but ultimately put off by her lack of involvement with them. Gone were her hourglass figure and her long, soft hair. She could nearly put her pinkie finger inside the deep wrinkle that ran, angled to the right, between her eyebrows. She remembered one of her male friends, Charles, would kiss that exact spot, back when it was only a tiny line. He called it her “thinking spot” because the more she was involved in a book, the more it would appear. She used to be so annoyed when he would interrupt her studies. Now what a wonderful memory it was. How long had Charles been dead now? Maybe twelve years? She hadn’t seen him in much longer. He had left her in her early thirties. He knew he would always be second to her books. He had said as much when he left. She had barely taken notice at first, but somehow the longer she went without him, the worse she felt. She didn’t know how to tell him what he really meant to her. She never got the chance. He moved on, got a wife, and had a son.
Well now she had a family, of sorts—her neighbors. They looked up to her as the grand dame of the neighborhood. They took landscaping cues from her garden, invited her to all their neighborhood get-togethers. It was everything she wanted. She loved just about everyone, but she adored the children. Most of them came to look upon her as a grandmother figure. Whenever she was outside, someone always came up to talk with her. She began to regret for the first time in her life choosing education over a family. Every baby she held, every child with sunshine playing off their upturned smiling faces, drove home the loss of children and grandchildren of her own.
She sat one night staring at the face of the clock she knew like the back of her hand, remembering the details, but seeing only a blurred image. She thought of one of her favorite poems about death and flies. “And then the windows failed and I could not see to see,” she whispered to herself. Here she was, a great thinker, a scholar and money at her disposal, accepting her fate. She could change this, but how? Her mind reviewed snippets of books still locked in her head and she hit upon an idea. It was farfetched, and she felt like a silly old woman for even considering the possibility.
Her library was, of course, extensive. Shortly after she inherited everything, she had taken the original library of the house and expanded it to encompass the three rooms around it. In a move that her designer had called “bold,” she also took out the ceilings, removing three bedrooms and a bath. Her two-story wood-paneled library had even made it into a very influential magazine and launched an astounding career for her designer.
Her mind reviewed a passage that had always stuck with her. “Time moves forward, never back again unless you find the warp within.” The book that contained it was one that she had discovered on one of her many trips abroad. It was very old and handwritten, but finely bound and in nice condition. It was simply titled Secrets Kept. She hadn’t paid it much attention, skimming through it when she was home again. She had placed it in her rare books section and not thought of it again. She remembered that the foreword said it was a copy of an ancient text. It read like a journal of an oral history that reached back further. Nothing about it at the time indicated to her that it was anything beyond tradition, herbal remedies, and old wives’ tales. Still, what did she have to lose? She rose slowly and headed to the library, her left leg, sore in the damp autumn weather, causing her to limp. This old age was for the birds!
She found the volume without too much hassle and eased into her favorite reading chair by the massive library fireplace. Using her glasses and squinting like hell, she dug into the section devoted to the warp within. She read it through, had a small nap, woke and read it again. She felt she could accomplish what the ceremony required, but she was concerned about the vagueness of the results. Following all the steps to find the “warp within” was one final line, “Be mindful of your friend and kin when traveling the warp within.”
It was her Tara that finally interrupted Mary from her thoughts. She had a delicious-smelling plate and a glass of cold milk with her. Mary smiled and thanked her. She ate there by herself so often that no one even asked if she wanted to anymore. After dinner, she would start to collect what she needed. It was time to start on a new adventure to find the warp within.
A needle and a thimble to collect the blood, pieces that would give wing to her dreams, to take her to where she had once been, a window open for the winds of change, mud from the graves of those she loved, a candle of remembrance for the flame to unlock, a vessel of water to wash away her fears—she gathered it all. She lowered herself to the floor carefully, by the window, with all of her tools for the warp around her.
Her bedroom was the safest place to accomplish the ceremony. Now that she had retired to her room for the evening, no one would be in until 8:00 a.m. when they asked her where she would like to take her breakfast. She dipped her finger in the thimble and dropped a bit of blood on both of the pictures she had chosen as the pieces to give wings to her dreams. One was of her and the other one of Charles. Both were taken sixty years before. She spread the grave mud on her feet, splashed water on her face. She took a towel and dried herself. She lit a large candle and laid down on the pillow she put on the floor. She pulled her thick quilt up to her chin and breathed deep the cool autumn air through her nose. She smiled and closed her eyes. Despite her bones aching from lying on the floor, this adventure had made her tired. She fell asleep quickly and dreamed of flying.
She woke to sounds of confusion; yelling, shuffling, and finally a key in the door. She looked around to assess the scene. Nothing had changed! What had she really expected? The looks on the faces of the two of her staff, Tara and David, who’d found her summed it up nicely. Rich old crazy lady lying on the floor, her feet caked with mud, surrounded with bloody pictures and a candle.
They seemed as embarrassed as she was when they helped her up. They apologized for disturbing her and expressed their concern when she didn’t answer. She apologized right back, claiming a late night of reminiscing and she would like her breakfast in the library today.
Sitting in the library, it seemed to be taking forever for her breakfast. Finally, Tara came in, walking very slowly and speaking even slower, saying, “Will there be anything else for now?”
Oh terrific, Mary, she thought. They are walking on eggshells, probably thinking you have lost your mind. “No thank you,” she said carefully, “that will be all for now.” Tara left, moving just as slowly as she had entered. What are they, afraid they’ll startle me and I’ll go crazy, she thought, disgusted at herself.
She spent the day thinking, jotting down notes, pulling reference books. She must have really worked up an appetite, because lunch seemed late. She was ferociously hungry, but her clock chimed twelve noon just as Tara entered with lunch.
As usual, her time spent in her library passed without her really noticing; however, her wristwatch indicated it was only 2:15 p.m., almost four hours until dinner, when she became so hungry she could barely stand it. She hit the intercom, asking Tara for a snack. She was so terribly slow in arriving, Mary was about to do something very out of the ordinary and verbally attack her. She squinted again at her watch when Tara came through the door, to quote the exact time it had taken and how it was unacceptable. Four minutes had passed and it was 2:19 p.m. Her fiery words were extinguished before they crossed her lips. Tara moved at a snail’s pace across the library with Mary’s snack, moved her head in a motion that appeared to be more of a scan than a nod. Mary thanked her, and instead of exiting, Tara stopped. Mary asked her if she was all right, and she did not respond. It was in her quiet amazement that Mary noticed the clock had stopped ticking. She held her watch to her ear.
Mary stood and walked around, more than any other reason, to see if she was still able. She assessed the scene again and she heard a tick of the clock start again. Gradually, Tara reached down, took the snack plate, and backed out of the room.
As Halloween approached, the residents of Whittick Estates first started to notice things about Mary, which was referred to around the neighborhood as her decline. Halloween was Mary’s favorite holiday and her usual decorations were impressive. She started with a fall-themed yard, which progressed over a month into a spooky haunted house and realistic graveyard. Not only that, on Devil’s night, she always held a pumpkin carving contest. The winners would be showcased in her spectacular graveyard for the whole neighborhood to see. It was midway through October when the decorations stopped advancing. Though she was unable to do the work, she had, in years past, always overseen every part of her Halloween display. No one saw Mary around much, and whenever they would try to speak with her, confusion would flood her face; she would then smile, nod, and back away. The children of the neighborhood still held out hope that Mary would pull through on Halloween.
Kids and adults alike were always treated well at Mary’s on Halloween night as long as they wore a costume. Standard issue to everyone was a full-sized Halloween loot bag containing six or seven chocolate bars, pop, chips, assorted candy (all Halloween-themed, like eyeball gumballs) and a new homemade treat every year.
Halloween came and Tara, Cheri, and David threw together some treats for everyone. Everyone was polite, but they were disappointed. Mary did not make an appearance. Some of the older children likened it to the day they found out about Santa. Some thought it was worse.
Strangely, the very next night, Mary sat at the door with stacks of treats, looking forlorn that no one came to her door. The rumor of her senility began to spread like wild fire.
It took Mary a while to adjust to time moving backwards. It was agonizingly slow at first, but when things sped up, she took to heart the last line of the “Warp Within”: “Be mindful of your friend and kin when traveling the warp within.”
Because time was not passing, even in reverse, at the same rate as she was going, it was nearly impossible to gauge what day it was. Halloween was nearly upon her when she thought she still had two weeks left. At first, people talked too slowly for her to understand. Once the reversal had quickened, it sounded as though they were speaking in tongues.
One brighter and warmer day, she had a bit of déjà vu. Her closest neighbor, a rather sweet mother of three by the name of Tania, backed across her lawn to where she was standing, smiled at Mary, looked up at her blossoming tree and said, “eert taht evol tsuj I.” She went on to talk for a couple of minutes, but Mary ignored her, remembering what Tania had said to her last spring. Tania, in the meantime, finished what she was saying, smiled at Mary, and backed away.
“I just love that tree!” She remembered how Tania had smiled and the pride Mary had felt as she remembered planting it with her mother decades ago. This was the key. She felt silly she hadn’t thought of it earlier. Learning to talk backwards reminded her of pig Latin, and she picked it up easily enough. She tried to interact with her help and her neighbors again. It worked for three days, maybe, but the time reversal sped up again. To everyone else, she was an unfortunate victim of dementia, acting strangely, disconnected. Within the warp, Mary was trying to communicate with their memories, and much was lost in the translation.
She realized she was one day late for Halloween after sitting at the door feeling like the grandmother abandoned by her family at an old age home. After a short nap in her chair in the front foyer, she realized a new day had donned and Tara and David were taking down Halloween decorations that weren’t there the night before. They were moving so quickly, their edges blurred. Mary tried to assess the scene. It was Halloween, not this one, though; it was Halloween last year. She recognized how she had decorated the hall. In what she calculated was less than a month, she had lost more than a year.
Mary learned to be more self-sufficient, grabbing handfuls of food and a drink whenever she came across them. She very quickly lost complete track of when she was. She attempted bathing a few times, but had been pulled from the bathtub—by whom she wasn’t sure. To them, it might look like she was in there for days before she had dipped toe one. Or maybe they couldn’t see her either anymore, and had pushed her aside to clean. Within her warp, she didn’t know the rules.
When would it stop and where would it stop? She hoped the pictures from her life in her early twenties would halt the warp right there. What if it kept going and she would be born, and then she would cease to exist? She decided that it was time to leave a note around the house somewhere that Tara, Cheri, or David would find it.
She knew she couldn’t mention the warp within her, that would certainly ensure that no one would understand and follow her instructions. She had retained the same staff for twenty-five years, except for the part-timer. They were loyal because she treated and paid them well. Should she cease to exist, or as she carefully put it, pass on, she left instructions on what was to be done with her estate. She had done a will many years back, but it did not include her staff or her neighbors. She wanted so badly to right the situation. She carefully recorded her instructions, added the date it was before she entered the warp and place it down on the large island in the middle of her kitchen.
It disappeared immediately.
People in the Whittick Estates openly mourned the loss of their dame. She began speaking in tongues. She would wander off backwards, looking confused. A new will turned up in the kitchen. It was so caring and thoughtful, Tara cried when she read it. It was dated before all of Mary’s decline. Before that awful morning when she and David found Mary on the floor with her feet caked in mud.
It was the neighbor, Tania, who called the authorities after Mary was found naked in the yard. This began a series of legends surrounding crazy Mary, passed throughout the neighborhood children detailing where she would turn up and who she would kill if you spoke her name three times while walking backwards around her cherry tree.
By this time, Elizabeth had taken Mary’s power of attorney and made sure that every request in her final will was carried to the letter. As they loaded Mary up to take her into the hospital, Cheri stood tearing up while Tara openly wept in David’s arms. She had attempted to say goodbye to Mary, to tell her how much she meant to her. It was too late. It was as though Mary couldn’t see her at all.
As she had stated in her will, Mary was to have neither feeding tubes nor life support when her dementia robbed her of her abilities. After three weeks of hospital care, she slipped away.
Mary started to have more trouble knowing not just when, but where she was, and she guessed after she walked into a wall that she was now in the time before her big library renovation. She had noticed other changes too. First, she quit limping. Her vision returned to normal. She noticed her hair lengthen and soften. Her body toned up, and her waist shrank in.
She tried unsuccessfully to catch her reflection in the mirror. Everything in her face was in constant motion—it was impossible to focus on. And then she could.
A slowing had happened; her face finally came in to focus, and she gasped. It was exactly what she had wanted! She was young, in her early twenties and in the library—not her library, the one original to the house. She needed to sit down.
As if on cue, Charles walked through the door. He took one look at Mary and burst out laughing.
“I would never have thought there would be the day I would walk into the library and not only find your nose out of a book, but you looking directly at me and I can see your thinking spot from here!” He walked over to her and kissed the fine line that had once been a furrow. Mary smiled, stood up and kissed him right back. He laughed out loud, clutching at his heart in not quite pretend shock.
Mary Whittick was buried at the family cemetery that she had started on the northwest side of her one hundred and twenty-five–acre Whittick Estate. She was planted beside her husband Charles, who had pre-deceased her by a dozen years or so. Hundreds of family and friends gathered to send her off properly. A younger friend of hers, Tara, spoke of her generously putting her though school when they met by accident some twenty-odd years before, about how she was a dedicated scholar and a lover of the written word. Tara received a laugh from the crowd when she mentioned Mary’s work to prove that dementia was caused by time travel. Tara concluded that “Mary’s main love in her life was her family, one that I was honored to be a part of.”
©2016 the author — Published electronically at DigitalFictionPub.com. You may link to or share this post with full and proper attribution; however, the author retains the complete and unrestricted copyright to this work. Commercial use or distribution of any kind is prohibited without the express written permission of the author.
Join the Digital Fiction Pub newsletter for infrequent updates, new release discounts, and more: http://digitalfictionpub.com/blog/join-the-digital-fiction-pub-newsletter/