~ Journey ~
Mason braced himself and tried not to look as scared as he suddenly felt. He clenched his teeth and wondered if he should sit down for his own safety. The humming mounted steadily until it filled the air and rattled his mind.
Then it stopped.
The door creaked as Old Ken pushed it open.
Mason blinked. Nothing had happened. He was still inside the time machine. He could see the same shade of light streaming through the front windows of Old Ken’s house. He tried not to flush with anger. He should have known it was all a joke!
Old Ken was grinning triumphantly. “Welcome to Friday,” he said, stepping aside.
“Yeah, thanks, whatever,” Mason muttered, trying not to sound as frustrated as he felt. “I guess I had better get going now.”
“Sure, kid,” Old Ken said, showing him to the door. “You’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Mason kicked every rock, root, and dead leaf along his way home. Stupid old man! No, he was the stupid one for believing that time travel could work. That the crazy old hermit knew how to do it. That he could really go back and fix everything. That James could just suddenly be alive again.
Looking up, he found himself in front of his house.
He groaned. James was dead. And there was nothing he could do about it. He shoved his hands into his pockets and headed for the front door.
As he reached for the handle, the door flew open and a tall body crashed into him.
“Hey, watch it, man!” James cried.
Mason’s jaw dropped and his head reeled. It was James. Standing in front of him. He stared. The tall young man didn’t evaporate. “James?”
“Yeah…?” his cousin asked. “What’s the matter?”
Mason almost screamed, “You’re alive!” but checked himself just in time. James didn’t know that he had died. That he was dead. But – no! James was alive! It was all Mason could do to keep from whooping and hugging his cousin.
Instead, a huge grin split his face. “Ha! Got you!” he exclaimed, then started laughing. And laughing. And laughing. James watched him as if he had gone crazy. Maybe he had.
A buzzing sound, accompanied by a generic ringtone, brought Mason back to the present. James, with one eyebrow arched at his cousin, pulled his phone out of his pocket. “Oh, that’s my mom,” he said, looking at it. “I gotta go. See you tomorrow?”
“Yeah,” Mason said, trying to look nonchalant. He was still grinning madly. “Oh, wait!” he cried, as James turned to leave. “You doing anything Sunday?”
James folded his arms. “Church, Mason.”
“Well, yeah, I mean after that.”
James thought for a minute. “No, I don’t think so. Why?”
Mason almost exploded. “Wanna go for a bike ride?”
“Sure, I guess,” James said, with a grin. “Sounds fun. See ya then!”
Mason watched his cousin go. James was alive! And he wasn’t going to go pick up those missionaries on Sunday! Mason’s pulse raced. He couldn’t hold it in anymore. With a wild whoop, he leapt into a sprint and tore around the house. He didn’t care that the neighbor’s cat was regarding him scornfully from its perch on the fence. He didn’t care that every robin in the county had been shocked into a coma by his unearthly howling. James was alive!
Sunday afternoon, the two boys bounced down a rough dirt trail in the woods. James yelped with laughter as he steered his bike over rocks. Mason followed him, his teeth rattling in his skull, his heart soaring with joy. This was the life! Wind rushing through his hair, lacy brown shadows blanketing the forest floor, James ahead of him, full of life. Life. James was alive!
“Hey, look,” James called, slowing down slightly and edging to the side of the trail so Mason could come up beside him. “It’s Daniel.” He pointed ahead to a rider heading in their direction.
“Daniel Booker?” Mason asked, watching the grinning, dark-haired boy riding to meet them. He was the pastor’s son. They’d known each other back when Mason’s parents had made him go to church with them. “Howdy, Dan!” he called ahead. “It’s been a while!”
“It has,” Daniel answered with a salute. “How have you been?”
“Pretty well,” Mason replied, grinning back.
“So, where are you going?” Daniel asked.
“Nowhere particular,” James answered. “Care to join us?”
Mason felt something inside him grumble. This was his ride with James! He just got James back! Well, the rest of the world didn’t know that. Besides, he’d have James for a long while yet. James was alive.
“Sure,” Daniel said, yanking his bike up and turning it around.
“Why don’t we go down to the river trail?” Mason suggested. “We can get going pretty fast down some of those slopes.” Maybe if they took a difficult trail, Daniel would chicken out and he’d have James to himself again.
“Sounds great!” Daniel said. “Let’s go!”
Next thing he knew, Mason was pedaling at top speed behind James and Daniel, dodging rocks and bouncing over roots in the trail. He heard himself shouting with delight.
“Hey, let’s head down here,” Daniel called, taking a sharp turn and plunging down a steep slope. James was right behind him.
As he watched his cousin turn onto the new trail, the world froze around Mason. He saw with terrible clarity as the front wheel of James’ bike twisted in the clutch of a root. He saw the bike falter. He saw the back wheel leap up. He watched helplessly as James flew through the air. James’ awful scream was cut short as he thudded into the ground. Mason heard the snap and crunch of bushes when his cousin landed. And he heard the snap of something else, too. Bones.
Mason leapt off his bike and plunged down the slope. He froze when he saw James’ broken, twisted form stretched out in the nest of broken underbrush. His eyes were closed and he wasn’t moving. Mason shivered with the pain of the terrible cold snaking through him.
“James,” he moaned wretchedly, stretching out his hand to touch his cousin’s forehead. What could he do? His blood pounding in his head, he put his ear to James’ chest. Buried somewhere in the still body, there was a low beating sound. Mason almost sobbed with relief. “Do you have a phone?” he demanded, without turning to Daniel.
“Yeah,” Daniel said, his voice thick. “But I don’t think I can get service out here.”
“Then get on that bike of yours and find someone who can help us!” Mason snapped, reaching for James’ hand. His stomach turned over when he saw that his arm bent sharply halfway between his wrist and his elbow.
The gears of Daniel’s old bike rattled as he pedaled away.
“You’ll be okay, James,” Mason said, suddenly aware of tears running down his cheeks. “You’re gonna make it.” His heart cringed when he realized that, so recently, he had seen his cousin like broken and pale just like this.
And James hadn’t made it that time.
Photo Credit – https://pxhere.com/en/photo/1440091