Authors: James Wilson Penn
Text Copyright © 2014
James Wilson Penn
All Rights Reserved
I would like to thank the various visitors to my website
anyone who commented on my threads on goodreads in the lead-up to publishing
this book. I would especially like to thank the two readers, Michelle
Dunbar and Rachel Massaro, who were kind enough to volunteer their thoughts on
drafts of this manuscript. They each offered helpful insight,
encouragement, and constructive criticism. I also owe a great debt to
Rachel Olson, who designed the awesome cover for this book. They were each
instrumental in making the book publication-ready, and I owe them a great
debt. Any mistakes remaining, of course, are my own.
The clock on the
cafeteria wall read 12:05. The red light beside it was not blinking,
which was great news. It had been about two months since it had last
flashed, and Tim Jennings, like most of the kids at school, had once again
started taking its slumber for granted. They almost forgot that at any
moment it could start blinking again and ruin the day of any one of the
students. It could even ruin someone’s life.
But Tim’s thoughts
were not so morbid as he sat at the lunch table and peeled the wrapping off his
chicken sandwich. His line of thought had more to do with the paper he
was removing from his lunch, and the fact that it had likely been put on the
sandwich not twenty minutes before. In another twenty minutes, he would chuck
it in the trash, along with the waste from three hundred other student lunches,
and that was just from Tim’s eleventh grade. It was all quite
unnecessary. Why wrap the food at all if the wrappers were just going to
be taken off and discarded? It wasn’t like his lunch experience was
improved by the grease-stained wrapper. It was awfully wasteful,
especially since there was a war on.
Tim was trying
to decide how he could work this new observation into some form of witty banter
with Julie. She would be sitting down across the table from him at any
moment, and it was crucial that the banter be witty. This was the most
effective way to get Julie to laugh, and he really liked how she laughed.
still pondering the sandwich wrapper issue when Julie came through the doorway.
She looked confused, and Tim gave her a doubtful wave.
she had finally discovered that he was not nearly cool enough for a cute,
popular girl like her to be seen with at lunch. When she saw him looking
at her, though, an odd look of relief came over her face, and she rushed toward
She sat down
beside him just as Tim’s best friend, Sam, plopped down on his other side.
“Changing it up
today, are we Julie?” Sam’s voice was full of exaggerated drama, as if
she’d just told him she was from outer space instead of choosing a different
confused. “Er… yeah, I guess so.”
shrugged. “No big deal, of course, just means Bridget will be alone on
her side. Unless she’s going to sit on your other side, to get as far
away from me as possible. You’ve already discussed this, haven’t
you?” He delivered this last line with mock hurt and shock, leaning
around Tim to glare directly at Julie. Sometimes, Tim thought Sam should
be in the drama club. Other times he just got on his nerves.
Julie gave a
forced, nervous laugh. Something was definitely up.
at the table just then. While she didn’t sit next to Julie, she did,
after a moment’s hesitation at the new seating arrangement, sit in the seat
across from Julie, two seats removed from her normal seat.
Sam threw up his
hands in fake astonishment and hurt. “What’s wrong with me that I must be so
Figured you must smell or something, if Julie already dissed you,” Bridget
answered with a wink and an air of cool nonchalance.
clearly satisfied with the explanation. He began to dig into his bacon
cheeseburger. The cafeteria was filling up now, since even students whose
fourth period class was at the far end of the upstairs hallway had managed to
“Did you forget
to pack your lunch, Julie?” asked Bridget.
and Tim saw this as an opportunity to be his own variety of knight in shining
armor. He sounded just a touch too excited when he said, “I could loan
you a couple bucks!” He heard his disproportionate enthusiasm and worked
hard to sound calmer when he said, “You know... if you need to buy lunch?”
seemed to finally gain control of her tied tongue, said, “Oh, no, I have money
in my book bag… But Tim, could you stand in line with me? I need to
ask you something.”
her eyebrows, while Sam was still obliviously eating his burger. People
at Tim’s school didn’t wait in line with each other unless they both needed
food, but Tim was only too happy to agree.
He wondered if
Julie was going to ask him out on a date or something. He had been
considering asking her for months, and after a moment’s reflection decided that
he would be completely okay with it if Julie reversed normal gender stereotypes
and asked him instead.
Julie to the line. “So, what’s up?”
Julie waited for
a moment before answering. She looked uncomfortable. Tim wished he
could tell her that if she was going to ask him out, he would definitely say
yes. Unfortunately, he couldn’t bring himself to say anything.
There was an awkward silence.
almost fifteen seconds passed and the line moved forward several feet, Julie
blurted, “Who was the 17th president of the United States?”
If Tim was
surprised by the question, Julie seemed doubly surprised by his lack of an
immediate answer. Her jaw dropped. “You mean you don’t know?”
Tim, still confused. “No, of course I know. Andrew Johnson.”
At that point,
Julie said a pretty bad swear word. Tim had never heard Julie swear
before, but they had only started sitting together at lunch recently, so for
all he knew, maybe she did swear occasionally. But Andrew Johnson’s
presidency, no matter how substandard it may have been in Tim’s opinion, not to
mention what 19th century Republicans’ thought about the man, was not something
he would have expected to make Julie say a word like that.
He didn’t have
time to clarify any of this before Julie asked, “And the 18th?”
Grant,” Tim answered immediately.
Julie shook her
head, as if the name meant something more immediate to her than a president who
many Americans rarely spared a thought for.
“Did you, um…
fail a history test today or something?”
Julie wasn’t in
his history class. Tim supposed it was remotely possible that her class
was working on the Reconstruction Era, even though he was in the advanced class
and they hadn’t even covered the Civil War yet.
and for a second, Tim could hear the carefree laugh he usually associated with
her. Then she got serious again and said, “I wish it was something as
easy as that.” Tim didn’t know how to respond to that, so she was the
next one to speak when she said, “So you, like,
right? Like there’s no chance you’re wrong about those presidents?”
Now it was Tim’s
turn to laugh. He had a bit of a reputation as a history nerd. “No,
there’s no chance I’m wrong. I mean… I read a biography on Grant
decided this had been a dumb thing to share with a girl he wanted to date, but
Julie still seemed to have other concerns.
“And… do you
have any idea who Schuyler Colfax was?”
again. Even for someone as into history as Tim was, that wasn’t a name
you heard every day. “Sure, although I bet I’m the only one at the school
who has, aside from Mr. Kauffman.” Her blank stare after the mention of
Mr. Kauffman’s name prompted him to add, “You know, our history teacher?”
He was surprised she wasn’t failing history, if she didn’t even know the
teacher’s name. “Anyway… Colfax was Grant’s first Vice President
after a run as Speaker of the House. Actually, he died in 1885, after
walking three quarters of a mile in negative thirty degree temperatures while
trying to change trains in Minnesota.”
frowned. “But he was never president?”
Tim shook his
Julie seemed to
think about this for a moment before saying, “What are you doing this
“I don’t have
any plans,” said Tim. The idea that she could be asking him out had
completely vanished somewhere around the question about Grant. Now, the
wild thought that maybe the history quiz had been some sort of prerequisite for
having her ask him out flitted through his confused mind.
well… Could you walk home with me? I have something to show
“I guess,” said
Tim, who was getting more confused by the minute.
said, although her voice still made it sound like something was bothering
her. “And you have study hall today, right?”
period” he answered.
“Can you read
something I wrote?” she asked. “You’re going to think I’m crazy when you
read it, and that’s okay, just so long as you keep your promise to walk me
home. Everything will make sense after I show you what I need to show
you.” She paused, and then added, “Okay, well, that’s a lie. But at
least we’ll both know for sure whether or not I’m crazy.”
Tim’s mind was
reeling. But if nothing else, it seemed like Julie really needed his
help. So he agreed, promising that he would walk her home
regardless of whatever it was she was going to have him read.
After they got
back to the table, Tim set about eating the rest of his now cold chicken
sandwich. He barely had time to register that perhaps those wrappers he
had been bashing were intended to keep the heat in. Julie handed him a
small black notebook and warned him not to read it until he got to study hall
and asked him not to talk to anyone about it until he met her in the lobby
Julie acted a
little bit closer to normal after she gave him the notebook, but not by
much. She went off with Bridget to orchestra after lunch like normal, although
Tim was sure he heard her asking Bridget if that was where she was supposed to
As soon as he
got to study hall, he dug the little black notebook out of his bookbag,
deciding that he would definitely blow off the math homework he was supposed to
be doing for his next period if it meant he could find out what was bothering
He opened the
book to the first page, and could almost hear Julie’s voice in his head as he
read the hastily scribbled narrative.
I got a
package in the mail this afternoon --Monday
that this meant the story he was reading took place yesterday.
weird, because I never get mail, except for on my birthday, from my grandma.
Anyway, I open it up and see a silver coin marked with the year
1865, a letter, and a weird looking medallion. Tim, if you’re reading
this, I know it’s going to sound crazy, just… Honestly, you’ll probably
enjoy this story even if you think I’m making it up, but I’m not. I
promise, I’m not.
At this point,
Tim looked up from the notebook and looked around. Julie was coming off
even crazier than she had been at lunch, and it almost seemed wrong to be
reading this with so many people around.
admire the coin for a bit… it looks brand new -- I even start
to wonder if it’s a replica or something, though later events will show
that it’s not… and then I pick up the letter. All it says is to
hold the medallion and the coin and think really hard about 3:00 pm on April
The day Lincoln
was assassinated, Tim thought.
I pick them
up and think about April 15, about Lincoln doing all kinds of presidential
things, being happy that the Civil War’s been won, and looking at a clock and
noticing that it’s 3:00 pm. I mean, obviously, I didn’t expect anything
to happen, but I figured that when I told the story later, it would be funny if
I could honestly say that I did what the note told me to do. Well…
Funny doesn’t even begin to describe it.
done conjuring up the image when I realize I’m not in my kitchen anymore.
Literally, I blink, and I’m in a different place. The first thing I
notice is that the light is different, and then I realize that the only light
in the room is coming through the window of a stone wall. There’s not
much furniture in the room, either, just a wooden table with two benches.
One of the benches is occupied by a middle aged man, maybe 5 foot 9 and
ordinary looking. There’s nothing particularly scary about him,
except for the circumstances. Like him being in a strange room with me when
I’ve never seen him before and I’m seriously baffled as to how I got out of my
kitchen without moving. So I scream.
Tim had read to
this point without looking up again. He wasn’t sure why he had read so
long when what he was reading was clearly impossible. Maybe he was
looking for the punchline. But Julie was right. Even though he
assumed by now that she must be crazy, Julie’s story was entertaining.
More entertaining than his math homework, anyway, and he had to admit that he
didn’t really feel like dealing with Trigonometry right now. So he kept
Chapman?” the man asked. It’s then that I realize he’s now holding the
coin I got in the mail. I don’t have it anymore, although I’m still
holding the medallion.
Yeah.” I said. “What’d you do to me?!”
The man just
looked at me patiently and sighed. Personally, I wanted to scream.
But I didn’t. I had a feeling this guy wasn’t out to hurt me. That
he was on my side or something.
finally opened his mouth, he said, “Welcome to 19th century Washington DC.”
Tim let out a
snort of laughter. Ms. Blanchet, the Study Hall proctor, and a couple of
other students stared at him. He gave a sheepish grin and a wave, which
was enough to get the other students to shake their heads and get back to their
own work. Ms. Blanchet rewarded him with a tight, unfriendly smile,
but redirected her attention to a couple of students who, judging from their
usual behavior in study hall, had probably been shooting spitballs at other
students any time she took her eyes off them.