Authors: Frank Peretti
Tags: #ebook, #book
“So the vortex acts as a bridge?”
“A bridge, a tunnel, whatever. It's the one point where the past and present are entangled, and if anyone stumbles into that vortex, they could cross over from one side to the other, from past to present and vice versa. So here's my theory . . .” He slipped the paper back in his pocket and looked out over the old ghost town. “Two and a half days ago, right after she escaped from the Bodine jail, Annie Murphy stumbled into the vortex and got lost between time dimensions, between the past and the present. That's when the boys saw her and thought they were seeing a ghost. She was still in the vortex, visible to both worlds but not physically confined to either one.”
Dr. Cooper was figuring it out. “Two nights later, we camped out on this hill.”
“And while we were camping here in the present, the sheriff spotted Annie, looking like a ghost, in the past. He chased her out of town and into that gap in the cliff.”
“Which had to be when Jay and Lila saw her as well, while they were down in the town getting my other camera.”
“Exactly. So the sheriff, in the past, chased her while the kids, in the present, followed her.” Mac slowed down a little, leaning forward to show the importance of what he was about to say. “Jake, from what happened next, I have to conclude that the vortex is somehow wrapped around Annie. It goes where she goes. She could even be trapped in it.”
“So if you find Annie, you find the vortex?”
“I think so. That's what the sheriff and the kids did. When they followed Annie into that little room inside the cliff, they were pulled into the vortex and they traded places: The kids were thrown into the past, and the sheriff was thrown into the present.” Mac hesitated, a solemn look on his face. “Which means we have ourselves a real mess. Now the past and the present are tangled up with each other. Part of the past is stuck in the present and part of the present is stuck in the past, and Annie's stuck in the middle.”
“So how do we get the mess untangled?”
Mac thought it over, then shook his head at the size of the problem. “We have to find the vortex, which means we have to find Annie. Then, somehow, we have to get the sheriff and the kids in that same spot at the same moment and repeat what happened the first time. With luck, we'll switch everybody back to where they belong.”
Dr. Cooper took a moment to digest Mac's idea. “How in the world are we going to arrange all that when we can't get to Jay and Lila?”
“We have to, that's all. And quick.” Mac looked grim. “We've seen how the sheriff keeps fading in and out and catching glimpses of Bodine in the past. I'm sure the kids are encountering the same thing. It's the time/space fabric trying to untangle itself, trying to return to normal. Jake, the vortex can't last. Like any whirlpool or whirlwind, it'll finally run out of energy and resolve itself. The whole mess will untangle.”
Cooper was puzzled. “Isn't that good?”
Mac shook his head. “Good for us, good for the universe, but not good for those trapped by it. For Annie, the vortex is like a protective bubble keeping her alive outside the time domain. If the vortex dissolves, she could perish. And if we can't get the kids and the sheriff back through the vortex before it dissolves, they'll be trapped right where they are with no way to return.”
Dr. Cooper looked over the desolate canyon and the ruins of the old town. His kids were down there somewhereâa century in the past. “Then there's nothing else to do but get started. We need to accumulate as clear a picture as possible of what happened back then, where and when.”
“Every clue will be important,” said Mac. “And who knows? You might actually dig up something about your kids from a hundred years ago.”
“As long as it helps us find Annie Murphy and get the kids back.”
Mac dug out his cellular phone. “I'll call my secretary. She and her son are researching Bodine and Annie Murphy right now.”
“See what they can find out about Sheriff Dustin Potter as well. He's part of this.”
“And the carving in the cliff . . .”
Mac nodded. “Yes, the carving.”
“There's a message there. We just have to figure out what it is.”
In the Bodine of 1885, Deputy Erskine Hatch stepped into the sheriff's office after a fruitless day. Sheriff Potter was still strangely missing, and though the deputy had asked Maude Bennett and several others around town, he never found another trace of the two ghostly kids from Chicago. People were talking, though. The whole town was abuzz with rumors about Annie Murphy's ghost, mysterious rock slides, ghostly kids, and Sheriff Potter. It was frustrating. Asking questions in the course of his investigation only fueled the rumors and speculation, and that made it harder to find out what was really going on.
Deputy Hatch sank into the chair behind the sheriff's desk with a sigh. He was getting nowhere, andâ
Â Â Â Â There was a big gun in a holster resting on the desk. He hadn't put it there. He reached over and pulled the gun out of the holster. A .40 caliber Colt revolver with three live rounds and three empty shells in the cylinder.
Hmm. He'd seen this gun before. He sat for a while to think about it.
In the meantime, Jay was in the alley behind the Bodine Mercantile, shinnying up a drainpipe to get to the roof. It was slow going, and he couldn't be sure the rusting old pipe would hold his weight without tearing out of the wall.
“Okay so far,” he called toward the ground. “Now if I can get my leg over that gutter I'll have it made.” He heard no reply. “Lila?”
He looked up to find his sister already on the roof, giving him a gloating smile. He felt just a little stupid.
“Okay, how'd you do it?”
She chuckled as she offered him a hand. “I found a ladder on the other side.”
He rolled his eyes with embarrassment, took his sister's hand, and with her help clambered onto the roof.
The slope of the roof was shallow and not too hard to walk on. The building's flat fake front jutted up higher than the roof, hiding them from people in the street below.
“Now just why are we up here?” Lila asked, stepping carefully over the cedar shakes.
“Mrs. Crackerby said Annie was looking at the roof of the mercantile, figuring something out. I'd like to know what.”
They reached the ridge of the roof and walked along it to the front of the building where they could peek over. The Crackerby Boardinghouse was directly across the street. As a matter of fact, they could have looked right in the window of Annie and Cyrus's rented room if the shades had not been closed.
“Wow,” said Jay. “Great view if you wanted to spy on them.”
“Yuk!” said Lila, making a face and pointing at the shingles just below the ridge. “Is that what I think it is?”
The roof was spattered with a disgusting brown gook. Jay crouched low, his nose only inches away from the stuff, and sniffed it. Then he made a face too. “
It's chewing tobacco. Somebody's been spitting up here. Makes me want to barf.” He rose to his knees to get some air.
“There's a lot of it,” Lila observed. “All along that edge.”
“Yeah, and look. Feathers.”
Lila plucked one out of a crack between the cedar shakes. “Feathers and yukky spit. What do you suppose it means?”
Jay thought a moment. “It means there was a goose up here chewing tobacco.”
Jay tried to get serious as he examined the roof closely. “No bird droppings, so this isn't a favorite bird hangout . . .”
“Jay . . .”
He looked up and saw Lila peering over the fake front of the building toward the cliffs, her hand over one eye.
“Jay, come look at this. Tell me if you see anything.”
Â Â Â Â He stood beside her and looked toward the cliffs to the east of town. To any casual observer it would have looked like any of the other rugged cliffs that surrounded the canyon. But having seen the weeping woman and Annie Murphy's carvings at the boardinghouse, Jay knew what to look for as he covered one eye.
Lila pointed. “See that old forked tree? Just above it. See a hand?”
Jay saw the hand right away, carved in different rock formations hundreds of feet apart, but lining up just so to create the image. “Yeah. And the arm . . . and the shoulder.”
Lila gasped. “Do you see the face?”
“Right above the arm.”
He recognized it. “Cyrus Murphy.”
They pieced together the rest of the image: Cyrus Murphy, lying on his stomach, with three wounds in his back. It was easy to guess that he was dead.
“How does she do it?” Lila marveled. “That cliff's at least a mile away, don't you think?”
“At least. But the other question is why? Why is she doing it?”
Lila studied the image further. This was no careless sketch of the man. His face was lovingly rendered, the pain of death etching his features. It made Lila feel sad, which made her wonder how Annie must have felt when she carved it.
“Jay, I think I know why.”
He took his eyes off the cliff and looked at her.
He was listening.
“What if Annie didn't shoot her husband? I mean, she carved that bust of him in their room and then this carving of him shot dead. It's easy to see she did it carefully like it really meant something to her. And then she carved herself weeping over Cyrus's grave. If she shot Cyrus just so she could take over the mine, she wouldn't make carvings like this. I think she's grieving, Jay. She loved him. I can see it. I can feel it.”
Jay looked across the street again at the window of the Murphys' once-rented room. “You know, if I were a killer, I could have shot Cyrus Murphy through that window. All I would have had to do was sit up here . . .” he pointed at the tobacco spittle on the shingles, “chewing tobacco to pass the time, and just wait for Cyrus to walk by the window. Then . . .” he took one more careful note of the feathers, “if I shot my gun through a pillow, it would muffle the sound so the people in the street wouldn't notice it too much.”
“And that ladder I found. The killer could have used it just as easily as we did to get up here.” Lila's voice was hushed, the revelation was so overwhelming. “Annie Murphy was framed!”
Jay nodded, awestruck. “Now what the judge and his wife were talking about makes a lot more sense. Mrs. Crackerby knows what happened, and she's feeling guilty!”
“So the judge is in on it, whatever it is!”
Jay looked toward the cliff again. “Remember what Professor MacPherson said about Annie? That she was illiterate. She can't read or write.”
Lila caught his meaning. “So she's trying to tell the world what happened in the only way she knows how: She's carving it!”
“And you can only see the carving of Cyrus shot dead if you stand in this one spot. That means she had to be here on this roof when she carved it.”
Lila could only shake her head in bewilderment. “I just don't see how she does it.”
“I bet it's got something to do with all this time/space stuff we're experiencing. Professor MacPherson could explain it.”
“If only he were here,” Lila lamented. Then her nerves tightened with excitement. “But there could be more carvings, Jay. We don't have the whole story yet.”
“The auction . . .”
“The auction tonight at eightâthat has to be part of the story. They're going to sell the Murphy Mine.”
Lila's eyes widened with recollection. “And the judge said he was going to be there, no matter what.
Do you suppose he wants to buy the mine?”
“There's only one way to find out for sure. We've got to be there.” Jay started toward the drainpipe, then remembered. “Where was that ladder?”
Lila smiled and led the way. “Let's go!”
heriff Dustin Potter was still sawing logs in the tent. Dr. Cooper and Richard MacPherson climbed the short distance to the top of the hill and once again stood on the grave of Cyrus Murphy. For a long moment they studied the cliff carving of the weeping woman, almost listening for her to tell them a clue, a hint of what Annie Murphy was thinking.
“There's a message,” said Cooper. “There has to be.”
“Do you understand how Annie managed to create this carving over such vast distance?”
“She's outside time and space,” Dr. Cooper answered. “So to her, there is no distance, right?”
Mac nodded. “If my theory is correct and Annie is truly trapped in a time/space vortex, that would explain her flat, two-dimensional appearance the boys and the sheriff described. And the outside world appears that way to her. Not only that, it would have no depth in actuality. From within the vortex, the cliffs would not only look like a flat photograph, but Annie would also be able to touch any part of them as if every surface, every detail, was the same distance from her.”
Mac closed one eye and held out his thumb at arm's length, sighting the end of his thumb against the cliffs beyond. “Looking at the cliffs this way, I can pretend my thumb is a chisel, and I can etch out the likeness of a weeping woman on a two-dimensional surface.” He laughed at his own amazement. “Imagine Annie's chisel the size of a major earth-moving machine, digging away at those cliffs over there!”
“But surely someone would see it happening!”
Dr. Cooper exclaimed.
Mac had to think about that one. “Oh . . . I'm sure they'd see rocks and debris falling from the cliff, but you have to remember, Annie was reaching into our world from outside time and space. To anyone who did see her, she was nothing more than a vague, flat image, wavering, ghostlike. It would have been easy for her to hide while she did the work.” He shook his head, marveling. “It's almost impossible to imagine what it would be like to live outside time and space, to be able to see across time, reach across space, as if they weren't there.”