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The day was perfect. Nothing could have denied the crisp breezy afternoon of the fall season. A clear blue sky, fluffy white clouds, and green grass dotted with decaying leaves polished off the beautiful homes on the street of Sterling as the elderly Mara Lyn Malcor casually walked her German Sheppard around her neighborhood block. The light panting of Ducky, the old graying German Sheppard, and the birds chirping on the telephone wire beside the road were enough to give Mara Lyn the comfort of home.
The gentle older lady with golden red hair slowly turning to silver, was nearing the end of the street a block away from hers when suddenly a golden SUV appeared from around the corner. It didn’t appear to be just cruising along by as it should have but instead, raced around the corner going full speed ahead in the direction of Mara Lyn. Panic took hold of her brain and she dashed in front of the house to her right where they wouldn’t be able to hit her. With hardly a second to breathe the car veered off the road heading straight towards Mara Lyn again. Mara Lyn took a big leap to her left, feeling the creek of her old bones, and dashed around to the side of the house leaving hardly inches of any spare room where she would have been hit. The car crashed into the front wall of the beautiful home she had been admiring not even ten seconds ago. She felt her eyes pop wide open with disbelief. When the sound of car doors slamming rang heavily in her ears, Mara Lyn looked around frantically for a place to hide. An instant thought of fear bounced ferociously around in her mind. What if they were after her? Mara Lyn suddenly felt ridiculous for she had no reason she could possibly think of for having to be chased after. But the nearing voices of men yelling at each other led her to think otherwise. Spotting a fence that must have led to the back yard of the now ruined home, Mara Lyn hobbled as quickly as she could and avidly strained to pull herself over the tall brown fence.
“Hey!” a gruff voice yelled. Mara scrambled to the top and tried to roll over when she heard a piercing noise like and arrow had just been shot. Mara looked back to see two men that looked like tough body guards decked out in typical stereotyped black spy gear. One chuckled and she was quite horrified that these men could do such a thing as this when she felt the awful pain and wooziness of the fence jabbing into her brittle side.
“Well looks like that’s one more we’ve taken care of.” A deep troubled voice observed.
With a spark of confusion, Mara Lyn toppled over the fence to the other side she had been trying to escape to and landed with a harsh crack. A moan escaped her paralyzed lips and before she could even think another though, she closed her eyes for the very last time.
The two men, who continued on harmlessly like they had caused no trouble, could easily have been pin pointed as father and son, a stocky young fellow and a thin slightly older man. They broke down the fence together with a few urgent kicks and were suddenly peering down on the horror frozen face of Mara Lyn Malcor. The older of the two men bent down and yanked Mara Lyn’s jacked off of her right shoulder before taking a knife from his pocked.
The stockier man sucked in a quick breath and asked hesitantly. “What are you doing with that?” Without answering, the other man sliced the upper part of Mara Lyn’s long sleeve burgundy sweater and examined the exposed bare shoulder that had light folds of soft wrinkles.
“What’s that?” The younger man asked eyeing what lay on the now exposed shoulder of the old lady.
“What does it look like?” bit out his colleague.
“We did all that just to look at a tattoo? Heck man we could’ve pulled over and asked to see it nicely.”
“No stupid!” The man with the gruff voice stood up and spit with great agitation as he slapped the younger man on the side of his face. “It’s the mark, Mr. Brilliant! She’s not the last one.”
Bethany Carson struggled to keep her eyes open as she pulled off the main road to her calm and quiet neighborhood street. The garage door of her stunningly polished brown house, opened slower than she would’ve liked as she waited to pull her car in. Once inside the house, her beautiful Collie dog, Lacey, greeted her with happy licks. “Hey girl! It was a long day!” she exclaimed before kicking off her high heels, enjoying the soft carpet on her stiffened feet. She collapsed back onto her modern black leather couch taking in the deep dark red walls surrounding her. Being a well paid Psychiatrist had its pros and cons and it sometimes did her in to thinking she was much older than her thirty three years of age.
Glad it was a Friday afternoon, Bethany tried not to think about the seventy some patients she had seen that week. With a slight head ache she pulled her long dark blonde hair from the tight bun she always wore it in to work. She then grabbed the TV remote on the leather ataman in front of her and flipped through some channels on her flat screen. Her eyes began drooping again when her door bell rung. Surprised, Bethany jerked back up into an upright position and peeked around the wall to the front door. No one appeared to be standing there and she hadn’t been expecting anyone.
Figuring it was probably just a package from UPS or something she stretched her legs and went to retrieve whatever the unexpected package might be. She opened the front door only to reveal an empty porch. Filthy little ding dong ditching kids, Bethany thought to herself.
While she was up she decided to go retrieve her mail. She snatched the key from a basket beside the front door and called to Lacey. “Come on, out front, Girl!” The two walked down the street and were back within two minutes.
Bethany noticed a strange foreign car parked near her house as she closed the front door behind her but she chose to think nothing of it. Once back in the house, Lacey began barking frantically.
“Be quiet!” Bethany hushed her dog.
The dog stood unmoving, barking ferociously at something in the living room. Bethany followed her dogs bark, half expecting to see one of her cats sitting on the couch staring back as if it owned the place. Instead a man covered in black clothing, sat sprawled out casually like he was about to watch a movie. Bethany couldn’t tell whether he was young or old because of all the material covering up his face except the eyes and mouth. Bethany shrieked. She lunged for something near her that she could throw at him.
“Woah, woah, woah!” The man said standing up holding his hands up defensively. “I’m a good guy! I’m not here to hurt you or steal anything.” His big light blue eyes that barely showed through the small slits of his mask held innocence but Bethany had worked with enough people in her life that she knew better.
Still standing in a poised position ready to throw the glass candle holder she had grabbed, Bethany didn’t dare believe a word he said. “Yeah? Well you look like a robber of some sort to me!” She threw the glass candle holder at him but he ducked just in time as it crashed against the wall, shattering to pieces behind her couch. Frantically searching for her cell phone, Bethany pulled it from her pocket and began dialing 911 when it was abruptly snatched away from her hand. A black gloved hand was holding it high up in the air while the other held up and index finger to the man’s mouth. “Shhh.” He pleaded. “Can you listen for a moment please?”
“No because you’re going to take advantage of me and either steal something or murder me!” Bethany screamed while tearing around trying to find something else to throw. She had dealt with crazy patients before, but she had at least had some security those times.
“Fine.” The man muttered. “You brought this one upon yourself!” he warned before dodging another flying object. In one swift motion, he grabbed Bethany’s wrists, pulled them her back and pinned her to the floor. He jumped to the side, only holding her hands together and pushing her down against the floor with one hand while he lowered himself to her head level. She tried to blow her tangled hair away from her face and failed while struggling to wiggle free.
“Alright, will you listen now?” he asked in quite an amused tone.
Bethany could only glare until she began screaming at the top of her lungs. The man cupped her mouth with his hand.
“No matter what you hear, see, say, think, or do,” he pronounced each word slowly and carefully as if to prove to her his point, “I’m the good guy in this situation. Know that…”
She yelled into his hand and he lifted it off so that she could speak. “Then why are you wearing black? Hmmm? You don’t look like a friendly neighbor stopping in to say hello.”
The guy looked away quickly and then back, clearly frustrated with her unwillingness to cooperate. “They insisted on me wearing it because it’s caught all that fancy security and protection built into it and I was supposed to sedate you anyway before you saw me…” at this Bethany began screaming again and the man in black cupped her mouth again nonchalantly as if shushing a crying child. “Don’t worry I wore clothes underneath so that I could discard these as soon as possible. Now stop asking questions until I’m through.” He was about to continue when Bethany began to scream sporadically again. He gave her the chance to speak.
“They? Who are “they”? Is somebody paying you to ransack through my house? You know you look so much more suspicious wearing all black.”
With an irritated sigh, the man ignored her and put his hand over her mouth again, determined not to let her speak anymore. “Ok, my name is Devon. I’m here to help you. As long as you go along with me and do what I say you’ll be fine.”
“Is that a threat?” Bethany tried to scream through his hand.
“Well, yes I guess you could say that. But with all this, just understand two things. Can you do that one simple thing for me?”
“No. You’re absolutely crazy.” She attempted to mutter.
Apparently Devon could still hear her because he replied, “Well, you’ll do it anyway. First thing first, I’m the good guy.” He said with emphasis before continuing. “Two, no matter what, I’m not here to hurt you. Got that?”
Bethany tried to nod her head.
“Okay.” With that Devon let her go. She stood up quickly, brushed herself off and dashed for the door. He tried to grab her wrist but wasn’t quick enough. She sprinted towards the front door and flung it open ready to barrel out.
But Bethany stopped dead in her tracks once she was out front on her porch. Horror stricken, she watched as a large golden SUV rammed into the neighbor’s house across the street, only to watch men in black, dressed like Devon, pile out and chase after Mara Lyn, one of her elderly friends a block away, who had been walking peacefully just moments before. The big German Sheppard painfully tried to attack the nearest guy, only to get kicked in the side and shoved over. A sharp piercing noise struck the air as Bethany watched Mara Lyn who was struggling over a fence fall helplessly back to the ground.
With crazy thoughts pulsing through her mind, she ran back inside where Devon stood a few feet from the door. “Did you see that? Are you with them?!” Bethany shrieked, freaked out and not sure whether she was seeing delusions or going crazy herself.
Still ignoring her question, Devon pointed across the street to where the awful occurrence had just happened. “Now those are the bad guys.” He said in a voice full of pride as if to confirm he had been right all along.
“We need to call the police. How do I know you’re not with them? Give me my phone!” Bethany cried frantically as she began searching for her cell phone only to realize that Devon could easily still have it hidden from her.
“No!” Devon said tugging Bethany backwards by the arm. “That’s the CMI, Corporal Management Investigations, they work for the government. You’ll be bringing more grief to yourself then you will them. The CMI will cover up somehow, make themselves look good. They always do. They appear to be something they’re not. That’s why they are the ones you want to avoid.”
“I’ve never heard of the CMI.”
“Of course you haven’t.” Was all Devon said.
Then before she could realize what he was doing, he started meandering through her house and locking all her doors.
“What do you think you’re doing? I want you to get out of my house right now! Don’t make me call the police!” Bethany half pleaded, half demanded.
“Ok we don’t have much time before they figure things out. They’ll be here before you know it. So…” When Devon looked back at her he seemed puzzled that she wasn’t as worried as he was.
Bethany almost had a sense of pity for the man as he looked at her that way as if a bear were breaking into the house. “Alright look here…sir, if you give me my phone back I think I can get you some help. I know a great place down in the city that would be glad to…”
“I’m NOT crazy! I know with all this happening it sure seems like it but get this. I know your name is Bethany Carson, you’re thirty years of age, and you work at your own Psychiatrists office in downtown Seattle on West 11th avenue right next to a medical eye doctor’s office and a big music center. You lived in San Francisco all your life and attended Fresno Pacific University and met Eric Michaels, you then moved on to graduate school at Stanford University. After that you followed a job offer back to Seattle where Eric found his job offer also and here you are now today, four years later.”
Bethany couldn’t remember her face ever have been more contorted with horror, disgust, and fear then at that moment.
“Tell me again, am I crazy?” Devon questioned as if he were scolding a child.
“Yes and you’re a stalker too! Oh my goodness! Where is my phone?” Bethany could barely get the words out of her mouth. She wasn’t able to think straight until Devon came over and put a hand on her shoulder. She was too shocked to shrug it off.
“Hey, I’m sorry. I apologize for such outlandish behavior but you have to trust me because I’m a good friend of Eric’s. We grew up together all through high school and finally parted ways when we went to separate colleges. His death was the most tragic thing I’ve ever lived through.”
For a moment Bethany thought she could see through his fake grief until she saw a water actually lining the insides of his eyes. “You really knew him?” she asked quietly still not quite sure she believed him as she thought back to her fiancé’s death three years ago.
Eric Michaels and Bethany Carson had just come back together after all their schooling and he had proposed to her during the early summer month of June. The wedding was planned to be on the Christmas Eve of that year and when it was only four weeks away, a tragic accident happened. Eric had been out hunting and camping with his father when a huge Douglas fir tree toppled over and fell on him, crushing his back and killing him instantly.
Bethany pulled herself from the past and looked Devon straight in the eyes. “So what do you want from me?” she asked as uncontrolled tears tugged at her eyes.
Leaving her unanswered as he seemed to like to do, Devon rushed away from her and to the window where he paused and stared for awhile. Then he took fast imperative strides back to her.
“It’s not what I want from you. It’s what you want from me. Now quick! Your house will be our home base! Do you have a picture of your house anywhere? In an album, photo, anything…?”
With surprise still coursing through her it took her a moment to respond. “Why?”
“Just find a picture! I’ll explain later!”
Following his instructions, Bethany dashed around the house in search of a photo. She suddenly remembered the frame next to her bed that held a picture of her fiancé and her sitting on the couch in what was to be their living room, not hers. Running for it, she snatched it from the bedside table and hurried back to Devon. “Will this do?”
Tearing his eyes away from the window Devon took a quick glance at it and pulled her closer with an alarmed expression frozen on his face. “That works. Now listen closely. This is crazy, unearthly, I know, but I need you to take us into that picture.” He motioned to the photo on his right and her left of a black and white panoramic view of Praha, the capital of the Czech Republic, back in the early nineteen hundreds.
“But that’s a picture!” she pointed out.
With both hands Devon rubbed his temple as if he were in pain.
“Just do as I say!” He pleaded with his intense blue eyes.
Bethany couldn’t stop herself from going back into the past again when she was a teenager and she was invited to take a tour with a family friend down in New Zealand. She had been deathly afraid of water and most of all flying over seas when her father told her, “Take chances. Take Risks. Go for opportunities as long as you know you won’t regret it. Otherwise you’ll end up like me.” Her father wasn’t a man for much excitement. At the time she didn’t know what he meant but now she did. For all of his life he stuck with what was familiar to him such as living in the same town forever and traveling nowhere, leaving him no life stories of adventure to tell.
Bethany started back at Devon distrustfully. “Not until you show me your whole face.
Almost as if he was pulling off a Halloween costume, Devon ripped the black wrap off of his head and threw it on the floor without a care. “Now,” he was all business.
But Bethany could hardly think. He looked so much like...Eric, her fiancé. His oval shaped face and perfectly arched eye brows and dark almost black hair only added to his other fine features. The resemblance was so similar, yet it was impossible. She longed to stroke his face and believe for just a moment that he was Michael. Bethany tried to stop admiring him but couldn’t until he snapped at her. “What? Am I turning green?”
Bethany could only imagine what her own oval, rosy cheeked face and green eyes looked like as she blushed and turned away.
Devon still seemed unfazed by all the commotion that had taken place in the past few minute. “Close your eyes and imagine this picture in your head.” He told her, pointing to it again. “Then grab a hold of my arm and say these words, ‘Ta mig där’.”
“What does that mean?” Bethany asked with wonder.
For once, Devon answered her. “It means ‘Take me there’ in Swedish. You have Swedish in you, right?”
This time Bethany didn’t respond. With confusion swirling around her head she did as he told her right as a booming loud knock came from the front door.
“Ta mig där.” Bethany whispered, trying to mimic Devon’s way of saying it. After a brief moment of nothingness, a sudden white flash swooped around their heads when, suddenly the black and white photo which had just moments ago been properly placed on a shelf was now buzzing around them like they were actually in it. Within a few seconds, Bethany noticed that when she took a 360 degree turn, she really was in the picture. But what she wasn’t able to comprehend was how everything was still in black and white like it had been in the photo. “Why is everything still…?”
“Black and white?” Devon finished for her. As she looked back at him she noticed he was taking off his black ensemble of clothes. Underneath he wore casual dark jeans and what she guessed was probably a dark blue button down dress shirt with a grey t-shirt beneath it because she couldn’t’ see any color. “I have so much explaining to do.” He said with a playful smirk.
Soon enough his black clothes were thrown somewhere but Bethany didn’t see where because she was too busy taking in the sight around her. The two of them were standing on a very wide sandstone bridge lined with tall statues of saints. The bridge overlooked a glossy probably blue river that streamed in between two sections of land full of architect more detailed than anything Bethany had ever seen. The body of land closest to her held an intriguing castle with big pointed towers that looked they belonged on a Catholic cathedral. Smaller structures that looked like apartments with dark gray roofing piled almost in horizontal stacks in front of it. Everything looked hundreds of years old.
“That’s the Prague Castle,” Devon said, following her gaze to the beautiful castle in the distance. “This is the Charles Bridge we’re on. And that,” Devon said pointing to the sparkling river beneath us, “is the Vltava River.”
“I’ve never seen anything like this!” Bethany couldn’t capture the entire stunning city at once. “Have you been here before?”
“Let’s just say I know my history.” Devon said nonchalantly. “How about we stroll through the city while I give you a run down on what’s happening?”
Bethany was only half listening. “Sure.”
When Devon began strolling away without looking back to see if she was coming, she snapped back to the present and raced after his long legged stride.
“Still have that picture with you?” Devon asked curiously once she caught up to his side. Bethany nodded as they neared the end of the bridge which met up with a medieval looking dark brick castle that showed its years of wear and tear with a high arch that framed a quiet street beyond. She could see a gray cement sidewalk lined with hanging street lamps attached to more detailed buildings that were pushed together to become one massive long row. Their seas of windows even had striking window panes around them.
“I wish so badly that there was color, why is it still black and white?” Bethany sounded whinier than she meant to.
Devon looked like somebody had hit his magic button. “You see, you’re a Hoppare. Well you’re actually an Avbilda Hoppare…”
“A what?” Bethany’s voice squeaked, surprising herself.
“It means ‘picture jumper’ in Swedish…I know it sounds childish but it is what it is.”
“What does that have to do with black and white?” Bethany could feel herself getting pushy.
“Would you just be quite and listen please?” Devon pleaded. She could see the urgency in his eyes as he stopped walking and turned to gaze into her eyes. The way he looked at her reminded her too much of Eric and she couldn’t help blushing.
“I’m sorry. I’ll stop.” She apologized with sincerity. “I’m used to asking questions like crazy.”
“Believe me, I’ve figured that out by now.” He replied to her with a quick smile. “And you’ll have plenty of questions when I’m through. Now back to what I was saying. You have an ability to travel into pictures whether they are of the past or present. But whatever picture you go into, whether it’s a real picture, a painting, drawing, black and white, you name it, the place is in that exact same form when you enter it. If this were a painting, you and I would look like paintings ourselves. So this picture is in black and white because it was probably taken way back in the past. I’d guess right now we’re in the early nineteen hundreds. But it’s still real life. No dream, no fantasy. Right now we’re thousands and thousands of miles away from your house, though at the moment it hasn’t been built yet. It’s basically like being able to teleport yourself.”
“Then how do we…” Bethany slapped her hand over her mouth, catching herself.
This time Devon didn’t get frustrated but just smirked and continued. “That’s where you’re picture comes into play. No matter what picture you go into, you have to have a picture of the place you just came from or else you can’t go back. Having a picture of your house will enable us to go back and forth between there and different places. ”
“So, you mean we’re in the past right now?”
“You see any American tourists?” he asked right back. Bethany shook her head. “This place is usually buzzing with them. But planes haven’t been invented yet so they can’t exactly get over here right now.” Bethany began to wonder whether he was telling the truth if he’d really been there or not. She began pinching herself, convinced she was dreaming when she heard a muffle of words.
“Entschuldigen Sie mich.”
Bethany glanced over at Devon with her eyebrows raised. “What did you just say?” she asked only to find Devon speaking a different language with one of the local villagers passing by. The frail pheasant looking woman who was wearing a matted dirty dress shook her head and so Devon moved onto a younger woman who looked more put together and said the same thing again. “Entschuldigen Sie mich…” a few more sentences flew out of his mouth but she couldn’t make out any of it.
“Präsident Taft, Herr.” She responded shyly and nodded before striding away.
“Well Mr. Know-it-all, you speak other languages too? I’ve just been told I’m a Avibli Hopp…whatever and can teleport, maybe you should lay low on all the rest of the surprises you have on your back before my brain explodes from my inability to comprehend this all.”
Devon took a moment of consideration before replying, “I only speak German and French. Here they speak Slovak and German. I was just lucky to find someone who understood me. I asked her who the president was in America. Taft is president, we’re in about 1910.”
Bethany wasn’t sure what to say. Devon however went back to the situation at hand. “So, tell me, do you have any tattoos?”
Bethany tried to hide the furrow her brows suddenly created. “Why would you like to know? You know you better not ask too many questions either because I hardly even know you. I might just “jump” back to my house without you.”
“I’ll need a reason first.”
“You’ll regret it.”
“What makes you so…
“Bethany!” it was the first time Devon addressed her by her name. She copied him, “Devon,”
He gripped her shoulders. “Do you have a tattoo?”
“Yes I have a tattoo!” she said shrugging herself out from under his grip.
“How did you get it?”
Bethany glared at him. “That’s it!” she snapped fumbling for her photograph. She noticed that she hadn’t changed from her work clothes and finally fished it out of her pants pocket. About to jump back to her house, Bethany couldn’t remember the words to use. The photo inconveniently flew out of her hands. It fluttered in front of her face and she tried to grab it but Devon had a death grip on it.
“Look, I’m sorry, I’ll stop asking questions too.” Devon apologized this time as Bethany ferociously tugged at the photo. “The reason I was asking about your tattoo is because it’s your mark, the mark that makes you a hoppare.”
“That’s impossible. I got this tattoo when I was sixteen with my friend Marsha. She has the same one…”
“No, you were born with it, but it doesn’t show up until you turn sixteen and each hoppare has their own made up story of how they got it. But it’s only the mark’s way of appearing without freaking you out. No hoppare has the same mark as another.”
“So I was brainwashed by a tattoo?” Bethany rubbed her temples.
“Pretty much. Ok I know this is a lot to take in, why don’t we head down to the market and grab something to eat and sit down somewhere.”
At the mention of eating Bethany’s stomach gurgled. She’d forgotten how famished she was and she hadn’t realized how slowly they’d been walking. Though it was quite long, they’d only come to the ending of that first street of the bridge.
Bethany was about to insist that he keep on explaining until she felt the beginning of head ache and reconsidered.
Nunda, New York
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