• R.L. Pope

The Visitors, part one

The front door slams shut behind me, shaking the walls as I barrel up the stairs towards my bedroom. I’m semi-aware of my heavy footfalls echoing through the quiet house, but I don’t slow my pace until I’m in the safety of my room. I pause only for a moment to catch my breath. My bangs cling uncomfortably to the sheen of sweat on my forehead. I brush them to the side with the back of my hand as I pull my journal from its hiding place under my mattress. I sprawl out on top of my bed and flip through it until I find an empty sheet. I don’t hesitate, snatching a pencil out of the cup on my nightstand I begin writing. Dear diary, I begin the entry like every other day. But tonight, my hand is hurried, my usually neat penmanship spiky as the pencil scratches across the blank page. The need to get everything I saw onto the paper while it’s still fresh in my mind drives my fingers forward, scrawling each letter in a frenzy.

It happened again, I write. This time I’m sure about what I saw. I was leaving the picture show with Lucy. There was an elderly man standing on the sidewalk. His face lit up when his eyes landed on me. As though he were seeing a loved one for the first time in years. I swear to you I had never seen this man before, just as I had never seen the others. As I drew nearer, he began weeping. A smile broke through the waterfall of his tears. The red lights of the theatre sign made the liver spots on his hands gleam as they reached for me, and he took a shaky step forward.

My pencil stills. Is this ridiculous? He’s an old man. Maybe he mistook me for his granddaughter? I shake my head. No, that doesn’t explain the rest.

I press my pencil back to the page, the smell of graphite and fresh paper mingling with the scent of my sweat as I continue writing. Lucy noticed. The other times I was alone, but this time I had a friend with me. Her fingers tightened around my arm as she pulled me to a stop, hissing into my ear, ‘Do you know that man?’ Her question proved I hadn't imagined it. I couldn’t speak. All I managed was a slight shake of my head as my heart hammered away in my chest. Could everyone filing out of the theatre hear its dull thud reverberating through my bones, or was it only pounding that loudly for me?

As Lucy’s question left her lips, my previous encounters came rushing back to me. Remember diary? Twice before this has happened. Once with that woman inside of Macy’s, her misty stare was enough to raise the hairs on the back of my neck, alerting me to her watchful eyes. The other time was the boy at the ice cream shoppe staring through the window, his tiny hands pressed against the glass, his face so close his breath fogged the pane. It felt like I was on display at the zoo. But neither of them approached me. They just watched with that odd intensity. As this thought registered, the old man took another step, his arms still reaching for me as he closed the distance between us. I broke out in a cold sweat, suddenly aware of my blood pumping through my veins, readying my limbs to run, but I couldn’t move. My dress clung uncomfortably to the moist skin on the backs of my legs. His watery blue eyes never wavered. I didn’t look away, but my heart leaped into my throat as he parted his lips. He was going to say something. ‘Elenor—,’ my name was like a sigh of relief on his tired voice and had barely left his mouth before he was gone. No lingering shadow, no flash of light, not a single trace that he had been right in front of me. Nothing. Where he had stood moments before was empty pavement.

A loud knocking from the front door makes me jolt upright. The tip of my pencil snaps off, leaving a large dark circle at the bottom of the page. I glance at my watch. It’s ten o’clock. Too late for visitors. Goosebumps prick to life along my arms as a fresh wave of panic washes over me. Is it the old man? How did he know my name? A sense of urgency grips me. I need to hide what I’ve written. I snap my journal shut and dive under my bed. My fingertips search for the familiar crack that marks my loose floorboard, the pounding on the door repeats, this time with more force.

My father grumbles something from the parlor, and I hear him rise from his rocking chair and listen as his feet pad down the hallway towards the knocking. My fingernails slip under the board just as his hand rattles the knob and the door creaks open.

Before he can greet the visitor, a deep voice with an air of authority carries through our home, a far cry from the old man’s wheezy whisper. “We’re looking for your daughter, Elenor.”

My blood runs cold. Why are they looking for me? Do they think I made the old man vanish? I shove my diary into the hole and drop the wooden panel back into place. I rise to my feet. My legs are unsteady, my hands shaking.

“What is this regarding?” My mother’s voice asks from further away.

The stranger ignores her question, “Is she home?”

A beat of silence passes.

“ELENOR!” My father bellows, “Please come down here.”

I smooth my dress over my thighs, wiping the sweat from my palms, and take a deep breath. I didn’t do anything wrong, I remind myself as I make my way down the old staircase, my fingers gripping the railing so tightly my knuckles shine white. Halfway down, the visitors come into view. I knew not to expect the fellow from the theatre. He barely had enough wind in his lungs to whisper my name, still seeing the two men dressed in full police uniform makes me long for the seemingly harmless old man. Their steady gazes fix on my frozen form, sending my heart into overdrive. I’m in trouble.

My father’s eyes are wild as they dart from me back to the officers. “What’s going on?” He asks no one in particular.

All I manage is a shrug, my mouth suddenly too dry to speak.

“We’re from the department of TTRC. We require your daughter for official business. You will not remember us being here or that Elenor was absent from your home this evening.”

At the stranger’s words, my father’s brow crinkles in dismay, a deep crimson blooming on his cheeks at the absurdity of what the man has said.

The officer’s features stay placid as he calmly lifts his hand, a sleek silver cylinder is grasped between his fingers. “As I said, you won’t remember.” He fiddles with a dial before holding the device out in front of my father’s eyes, clicking a button on the top. A brilliant green light flashes, chasing away the shadows of the dimly lit space. My father’s eyes go blank, his expression dropping to neutral as the color drains from his face.

A horrified squeal chokes out of my mother as she goes limp with terror, clutching at the doorway to the kitchen to support her weight. I stumble backward onto the steps. I want to scream for help, but no sound comes. Instead, I watch in horrified silence as the man repeats the process with the green light on my mother.

Wordlessly the second man comes to me on the stairs. With a grunt, he hefts me to my feet. Gripping my underarms, he pulls me out of the house.

The night has gone cold. There’s a heavy dampness in the air that smells like the rain is waiting for the perfect moment to sprinkle down on the steaming pavement. I scan my quiet street, desperate for a neighbor to be out at this hour, but of course, no one is.

Together the two uniformed men usher me into the backseat of a black sedan. The one who green-lighted my parents slides in next to me. I press against the far door, wanting to put as much distance between us as possible. My entire body is trembling as I stare helplessly out the window, watching as my house fades into the blackness.

We drive in silence. Neither of the uniformed men looks at me. I clear my throat, mustering all of my courage before asking, “Where are we going?”

“Just a bit further,” the one next to me replies.

“Who are you, and what do you want with me?” My voice squeaks.

“I'm Agent Smith and this is my partner Agent Johnson.” He motions to the man driving. “We’re from the department of TTCR.”

I stare blankly at Agent Smith. “TTCR?” I whisper the question, hoping it's not a dumb one, but I’ve never heard of the department before.

“Time-Travel Control and Regulation.”

My mouth drops open. I rip my eyes away from his shadowed face, returning my gaze to the dark landscape flashing by the window. I pinch my thigh, holding back a whimper. I’m not dreaming. Time-travel? That’s not real. If it was, what does it have to do with me?

Agent Smith sighs, “The man at the theatre is your husband. He was visiting you from the future.”

I stay still, staring at the silhouettes of trees along the roadside. I’m careful to keep my features neutral, even though he can’t see my face, as I try to process what he’s saying. Husband? I’m only sixteen.

“When traveling to the past, it’s forbidden to be noticed,” Smith continues. “One occurence is an easy fix. Similar to what you witnessed with your parents. After tonight’s incident, the agency reviewed your other visitors.” He pauses to give directions to Agent Johnson. My heart is hammering in my ears. The woman and the boy, I hadn’t imagined them. “Anyway,” Smith continues, “it seems tonight wasn’t your first time noticing someone from the future. Erasing things after so much time has gone by is tricky.”

I don’t turn away from the window. “Is it going to hurt?”

“You won't remember.”

The car comes to a stop. I scan our surroundings, looking for a familiar landmark. We’re in a wide-open field, not a structure in sight. Horror ripples through me. My hand fumbles with the door handle, I topple onto the dry grass in a heap as it swings open. I scramble to my feet and run blindly as the first drops of rain begin to fall.

I barely make it a few strides before Agent Johnson’s arms are around me. My feet hover helplessly above the ground in his unyielding grip. He spins me to face Smith, who pulls the shiny cylinder out of his chest pocket. He fiddles with multiple dials this time before extending his arm straight, the device inches from my eyes.

“This will be painful.” He says, confirming my fear. The regret in his voice does nothing to calm me. “It's unfortunate we didn’t catch this sooner. Because of how far back we have to go, the pain will last for a few hours.” He motions around us, “That’s why a remote place is necessary. No one will hear your screams. When you come to, you’ll be back home. You’ll have no recollection of the visitors from your future or of meeting myself and Agent Johnson tonight. You won’t remember the pain that’s about to ensue.”

He clicks the button. In the silence of the night, it’s too loud, like a shotgun cocking. The green light is blinding as it bursts to life sending a searing agony through my skull.

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