“What are you doing?” the girl asked with the conviction of a disappointed parent. Alan pulled his hand back from the bubbling air, his arm causing a wave to erupt from the temporal pool in front of him. They had been walking around the fields of the in between for what felt like weeks. Alan finally realized that the pools were points in time. He couldn’t resist trying to help his friends.
“I was just,” Alan pointed with the hand he pulled from the temporal pool, but the girl could see that his watch was gone. Alan followed her eye line to his missing watch. Hand in the cookie jar.
“What did you do?” she asked with a hushed, angry viciousness that scared Alan a little. Alan was being yelled at by a ten year old girl, and he was second guessing his decision to leave a clue for his friends.
“I need to help them,” Alan stammered the explanation. “They need to know I’m still here.”
Alan pulled his body back, and looked at the pool of air swirling in front of him.
The girl’s eyes welled up, “You promised me you’d help me find my dad.”
“I know, and we will, but my friends-,” Alan explained.
“… will be there when we get back,” the girl countered. “That’s the beauty of time travel.”
“Ramona,” Alan said like a condescending adult.
“Stop,” Ramona snapped, holding a finger up to shush Alan. “You made a promise.”
Alan ran a hand through his messy hair, clearly frustrated about being led along by some little girl who couldn’t find her daddy. He tongued his gritty molars and exhaled a frustrated breath. “Yes. Yes, I did. Let’s keep going.”
Ramona exhaled a sigh of relief and straightened her white jacket, then she let her arms flow down her periwinkle dress. She pointed past Alan to another temporal pool forming in the field of tall grass that made up most of the surface area of the in between, the strange island found lost in space and time.
“Are you sure?” Alan asked uneasily. He didn’t like sticking his head into dimensional wormholes. It tended to scrambled the senses.
“I made this place, Mr. Mitchell. I know every inch of the in between. And the nexus to all other time at my fingertips is pointing me in that direction.”
“You’re a creepy little girl,” Alan replied, looking back at the wormhole. This was all completely out of his element. Time travel. Babysitting. Ten year old girls talking about nexuses and temporal wakes. Nothing was normal. Everything was upside down and topsy turvy. Alan repeated, “Creepy, little girl.”
Alan turned back. Ramona was now older, a full fledged teenager. Her clothes had adjusted to the age change, seemingly by some strange magic. Her long dark hair brushed back to reveal hazel eyes that portrayed a knowing intensity, aware of the age of her new appearance.
“Holy shit,” Alan yelped, falling back into the tall grass. He looked up at the blue sky overhead, a golden sheen floating over it and lending an ethereal, light-headed quality to the atmosphere. Teenage Ramona’s face came into view, a smirk plastered on her face. She burst into laughter.
“Time is irrelevant here, Mr. Mitchell,” Ramona said. “It’s outside of what we call linear time. Age. Years. Months. It’s all just a construction in these destinations, not here.”
“Good to know,” Alan grumbled.
“That is, it’s a construction for me. I’ve never pulled another person into the in between. You could die.”
“Gee. Thanks,” Alan jeered sarcastically.
Ramona held out her hands, and Alan rolled his eyes and accepted the help. He made it to his feet, and fixed his wrinkled shirt. “Good to know I’m your first guinea pig.”
“I don’t understand that reference,” Ramona said casually, her eyes studying the rippling air they were walking towards.
“It’s about scientific testing. I guess they used guinea pigs? I’m not really sure actually. It’s just something I heard,” Alan explained, a little unsure how to explain some vernacular that he never really learned the lesson for in the first place. Weren’t mice testing animals in labs? It didn’t seem to come up that way. Lab rats? Maybe. “I’m having a hard time concentrating.”
“We’ve spent too long in here. It tends to make the mind foggy.”
“Worried to follow you, knowing how long you’ve been in here,” Alan joked.
Ramona shot Alan an unamused sideways glance from the corner of her eye. Everything was a wisecrack with him. Alan couldn’t just let words stand unopposed by his shallow wit. Ramona cleared her throat, her eyes steadfastly peering into the temporal torrent. A few stray sparks of lightning struck within the swirling mass.
“My father leaves a temporal wake behind him. Breadcrumbs. We just have to keep following the trail to him.”
“So you know breadcrumbs, but not guinea pigs?” Alan asked in a mocking tone.
Ramona cleared her throat and looked at Alan, who was brandishing a sheepish grin. She grabbed his hand and flung him into the pool, sending Alan down the time tunnel and out of her sight. Ramona laughed as she heard a whiny shriek echo through the void, fading off in the distance.
Alan tumbled to the ground, rolling along the grass in a small park. He dusted himself off, finding his way to his knees. He coughed a few dust clouds out of his lungs and shook the cobwebs from his brain. Things were starting to get a little clearer in his mind now that he was out of the in between.
“I’m okay,” Alan’s voice cracked. He cleared his throat out of embarrassment.
Ramona stepped through the pool of swirling air, a big smile plastered on her face.
“You’re quite the entertainment, Alan Mitchell,” Ramona joked.
“Glad I’m here for your amusement,” Alan coughed, his upper body heaving over his knelt form. Alan looked around the park he had tumbled into. “This place looks familiar.”
Alan stood up, using a merry-go-round to pull himself up. The blue tinted slides. The red monkey bars. Alan scratched his head. This place was full of memories.
“It should. You played here as a youth.”
“What?” Alan questioned.
“We’ve jumped into your timeline. I’m still trying to figure out exactly when we are,” Ramona explained.
“Ten years ago,” Alan interjected. Ramona gave him a puzzled look. Alan motioned forward to a young boy – about ten or eleven years old – running out in front of his parents.
“Yeah,” Alan responded with a barely audible murmur. “What are we doing here?”
Ramona cleared her throat. She had a hunch, but she couldn’t be certain for sure what was happening. “I don’t know. We’re just following my dad.”
“Why is your dad here?” Alan questioned.
“He isn’t. At least, not anymore.”
Alan felt the uneasy sense that he was being followed. Hunted. For whatever reason, he was the target for some elaborate time-traveling weirdo’s hunting habits. Alan stared at his younger self. The boy’s eyes were filled with a youthful exuberance and optimism that Alan could hardly remember. It was a strange, unearthly feeling to stare at one’s self from the outside.
“I don’t like this.”
“We should get going,” Ramona said, grabbing Alan’s arm as the young boy looked up from the slide stairwell at them – pair of strangers across the park. Alan nodded, his mind uneasily detaching from the surreal memory visitation he was experiencing.
Ramona pulled him backward by the arm, and they opened a portal around the side of a tree to jump back to the in between.
“Is your dad looking for me?”
“It would appear that way,” Ramona replied, visibly uneasy with this new variable.
“Why?” Alan questioned her with an interrogating tone.
Ramona confessed, “This may have something to do with how I found you.”
“I thought I ended up here by accident,” Alan said, confused by her admission. Ramona lowered her eyes, staring intently at the flowing long grass of the field of the in between.
“I found you when I was looking for my father. There was a strange nexus of temporal energy around you and my father.”
It all made sense now.
“Your father is the Director?” Alan asked, his voice shrill and markedly upset. The girl stared at the ground.
“I never knew him by that name, but I have heard it uttered before.”
“Your father is a monster,” Alan shouted, “He’s been destroying our kind for decades. Why didn’t you tell me this earlier?”
“He wasn’t always this way, and he wasn’t always this Director. In my time, he was my father and he loved my mother.”
“Whatever man you knew, the one you’re looking for is hunting me down through time. That’s why you found me. He was going back to destroy me before I could stop him. He would’ve killed ten year old me just now if we didn’t show up at that park.”
“I’m deeply sorry. I didn’t know,” Ramona apologized.
“Don’t be sorry. You’re going to help me catch him. And stop him.”