“What happened to him?” I asked.
“He vanished.” Grandpa explained as he peeled back the yellowed cellophane layer of the page.
“Let me tell you, this is something I never showed anyone, especially your Grandmother. She just couldn’t handle it and, well neither could I.” His shaky hand fumbled to lift the black and white photo of the boy who would have been my uncle. Beneath it there was a second photo, almost identical to the first, only in this one, the boys’ legs where made of a faint mist. You could see right through them, the wooden porch boards, the house behind him.
“Just vanished, right there before our eyes.” Grandpas’ eyes welled up with tears. He wasn’t so much talking to me now, as he was reliving the moment his youngest son had left his life.
“So what did you do?” I asked
“What could we do?” the words came out almost as if he were being choked.
“NO, like, how did you explain it to people?” I said as point blank as I could. I had to bring him back into reality if there was any fixing this.
“Oh, well, I suppose it wasn’t that much different back then. We filed a police report. The whole town searched for him. But nothing came of it; we knew they’d never believe us, so we never told anyone what we seen. Eventually they all gave up lookin’ and went back to their lives. Boy, it was hard though, especially for her.”
“Can I barrow this?” I asked pointing to the pictures.
“Oh, well, I suppose it’s yours after all, I’m to old to do anything about it now, maybe you’ll have better luck than I did.” He passed the entire photo album to me.
I wasn’t really sure what I was supposed to do, or what exactly it was that Grandpa had been preparing me for, but I knew it was important to him that I do it. So I did exactly as he said, beginning with going all the way back to the house where “Little Frankie just vanished.”
I carefully maneuvered my car around the pot holes and down the old dirt roads, amazed at how clear and precise his directions had been. He must have traveled these roads every day of his 97 years. I nearly missed the house though, he said it had since been fenced up, but he didn’t mention how over grown everything had become.
In fact I might not have found it so easily if the bearded old man hadn’t been standing outside, waving to me to pull over in a clearing. It appeared he made it just for my arrival. I pulled my car in cautiously, hoping not to get stuck out here. I didn’t plan on disappearing out here too. This must be the caretaker that Grandpa mentioned. I recalled Grandpas voice telling me “Talk to him, he’ll know what to do once your there. Do not go in alone.”
I grabbed the photo album off the passenger seat, I wasn’t sure how much explaining I’d have to do, but I’d rather have Grandpas photos with me than anywhere else. The man put his arm around my shoulder as I got out saying “I’ve been expecting you.”
I ignored that strange comment and offered my introduction anyways “I know this sounds crazy, but I’ve…”
He put his hand up “No need to explain. Just come with me, we’ve got work to do.”
“If ya ever get lost out here, this here is what I call the deer path; it leads from the back fence out to the road. It’s always lit just enough to see, the deer got since enough to stay away from this house, it’s the people we had to fence out. They’re path will always lead you straight to safety, so if anything was to happen, well. Hopefully nothin’ will.”
He unlocked an oversized padlock keeping the rusty old gate closed; hesitantly I stepped inside, and watched him lock us in.
“Like I said, this is only to keep out the people who aint got since enough to stay away.”
“It’s hard to believe there are any people out here.” I thought to myself.
“You’d be surprised.” The old man responded, although I hadn’t said anything out loud. This put me at ease, as if Grandpa himself where here with me. For a moment I wished it was him, but I had to remind myself that he wanted to pass this on to me.
My Grandpa had communicated with me in a silent way that no one else seemed to understand. Our thoughts could cross paths effortlessly. Up until this moment I hadn’t successfully crossed thought paths with another human being.
We passed an immaculate vegetable garden along the dirt pathway, leading to the house, the home where Frank had vanished. To my right laid an old car, possibly from the 1940’s, with flat tires, and a rusted body, however the chrome sparkled, and windshield reflected the setting sun almost as if it where new. Right next to it, a mint condition little kids tricycle, candy apple red, with red and white streamers sprouting out of the shiny black handlebars.
“What an odd combination.” I thought to myself, as I imagined my Grandpa driving his family around proudly in what must have been a new car, back in the day. Yet, a tricycle from the same era, as if it had never been touched… I imagined that little boy in the photo riding up and down the dirt path. Images flashed in my mind, a young version of my mother, Grandpa and Grandma, and the life they shared, the joy, and also the sadness they felt. I felt it too, I wanted to turn back, but I couldn’t. I felt both drawn, and repelled all at once, and the overwhelming pain of loss.
“Son! Son! You still with me?” It was the old man, holding both my hands in his rough old hands.
“Whew, I thought I was losing you already.” He dropped my left hand, holding his to his chest.
“You gotta… slow… down for me…” he said, gasping in-between breaths. “I’m to old for this.”
“You better grab that by the way, before it gets away from ya’” he said pointing to Grandpas photo album, which appeared faint, and ghostlike, transparent.
I reached down in a panic, grabbing it up; my touched seemed to solidify the album.
“Jeez what was that?” I asked out loud.
“That’s what just about happened to you!” he responded matter of fact like. “Well, ya see anything while you were there?”
I looked to the old car, which wasn’t there now, and the tricycle, which was there, only it had aged drastically. It was rusted into place, no longer candy apply red, and the streamers where gone, the tires had dry rotted, weeds sprouted up around it. The garden was very much intact.
“There was car right here, and that bike, it was brand new.” I said.
“Good, good, what else?”
“The family, Grandpa, he was so proud, and my mom, but she was only thirteen or fourteen, and then…” recalling the sadness left me at a loss for words. The look in the old man’s eyes let me know he felt it too.
“I know.” He said. “I know.” He continued walking to the front of the house; I followed close behind now, not wanting to vanish into the past again. Not accidently anyways. I wanted to put my hand on his shoulder just to be sure I stayed here.
“You can.” He responded.
“Oh yeah, you can do that mind thing too, I forgot with all the sudden time travel and what not.” I thought to myself sarcastically.
“Young man, if we’re going to do this I expect you to take it seriously.” He said, out loud, turning to face me with a ferocious blaze glaring straight into my soul.
“I didn’t mean for you to hear that.” I said to the dirt path in shame. “I really didn’t, it just all…” his rough old hand grabbed mine, and awkwardly together we approached the front porch where Frank had last been seen.
We both paused, taking in the sight that had apparently changed very little. I took a deep breath, he cleared his throat.
“Well, let’s get started.” He said, facing me once more.
“What is it, that I’m going to do; exactly?” I asked
“Well,” he began “The first part is easy, you just did it a moment ago, only you have to go all the way, to a more specific time and place in the past. I can’t go with you, and I can’t bring you back like I did earlier.” He spoke carefully, trying to explain the unexplainable.
“Your Grandfather, and I, tried this so many times. We’ve tried to stop Frankie at the moment he vanished, but I nearly lost your Grandfather in the process. You see, Frankie, we got there and he was basically gone, when your grandfather grasp ahold of him, Frankie took him too, I grabbed your grandfather, I thought for sure I had lost him, and we were there in 1941, Frankie had vanished. It was so hard on him to do this over and over again. Coming so close, and to relive that moment every time. We just weren’t meant to, relive moments like that.”
“So what do I have to do?” I asked again.
“Right, okay, so it was about this time of year, the family was going to this Halloween party for the kids, something new their church was trying out. Frankie wanted to be a robber, that’s why he had the mask, the black clothes, and the sack full of money. That was in the picture too, but once we returned when your grandfather almost had him, the money bag had vanished from the picture. We changed something that time, but he might still have it.”
He was peeling more photos from the pages of Grandpas album now. I wanted to stop him, but knew it’d only frustrate the old man.
“Here, these photos will help you if he doesn’t believe you. You know how kids are.” He handed me a stack of photos. I hadn’t thought out trying to convince a five year old to go time traveling with me.
“What you’ll have to do is put yourself in his mind, like how we talk sometimes, but only talking to someone from a very distant time. As you do this you will physically be able to reach him. Now, here’s the hard part that we couldn’t figure out. You know how all little boys are when they get to excited, they can’t stop runnin’ around, they can be hard to catch. Now, we’re trying to catch this excited little boy who is also capable of time travel, but he aint got no clue how to use it, or control it.” He paused, letting the information sink in all the way.
“Okay” I said after a moment, shaking my head to que him to go on.
“Your Grandfather and I followed him to the first place, some kind of carnival, we found him, but it was to late, he was already traveling to the next place. You can’t let a little boy like that lead you when it’s time you’re dealing with. You have to get to that carnival, and lead him back to this time.” He was holding the photo of Frankie before he disappeared.
“Leave him there, and then travel back to the here and now. You got that? We don’t want to make to many changes to the past.”
“I’m ready.” I said, stuffing my pockets with the photos. I stood in the exact place Frankie had stood.I closed my eyes and began to imagine I was five again.
“I’m going to a party.” I thought to myself, I heard a crackling sound in my head, and a seen a flash of light through my eyelids. My legs felt numb and weak, my body felt heavy, I heard a woman shriek in fright. I must have passed through the moment in the photo. I concentrated harder on talking; on getting into the little boys mind.
“Like a carnival, I hope there will be rides there, and games, and food!”
It was Frankies thoughts now, not mine. I felt stable on my feet again. I opened my eyes, and there I was just yards away from the little boy. He was clearly confused. He looked around. I could see his chest start to heave as he took those short jerky breaths that work into an all-out cry.
“Ma- ma, Mommy!” He began to cry, dropping his money sack, tears streamed down his little face, through the black cloth that wrapped around his eyes. I ran to him, calling his name, my heart both sank, and beat out of my chest at the same time.
“Ssshhh Frankie, it’s alright, it’s alright.” I tried to calm him as I approached.
“Just stay right here” I thought to him.
“Dad?” he thought back.
“No, but I know your daddy, he’s the one who sent me here, to find you.” his crying had stopped. He looked at me in both confusion, and with a strange familiarity. Maybe we’d met sometime in his travels, or maybe it’s the way we communicated. Either way, it seemed to gain his trust.
“Look, I know you were just headed to a party right!” he shook his head.
“Well, we gotta get you back home so they don’t go to the party without you okay.” I was bent down on my knees now, talking to him face to face.
“Don’t worry; you’re not going to miss that party.” I held his hands in mine. “Close your eyes now, remember where you were before this, Mom was taking your picture in front of the house.”
This time the crackling in our ears was more like a thundering. Our bodies became weak, numb, and motionless; we felt a burning rise up from the ground. This must be what it’s like for the old man to travel, the flashes of light where blinding now, but in a moment it was all over.
We were both in front of the house, the woman shrieked because of me, suddenly appearing, and holding her sons hands.
I dropped his hands and closed my eyes once more. The crackling was soft, and fast, the weightlessness of my body, now free to go back to where I was supposed to be. Flashes of light shone through my eye lids, and once again I stood on solid ground. I was back at the house, with the old man. It was night time now, but I was back.
He looked stunned. He was holding an elaborately carved walking stick. I clutched the porch railing to keep from collapsing.
“I… I did it.” I said in-between gasps for air.
“Who’s there, who is this?” he demanded.
Something had changed. I looked up and met his gaze, his eyes where a blurry white, a massive white dog rose up behind him, crouched, ready to attack.
He held his hand out in front of the dog, it hesitantly sat back down with a deep low growl.
“Look, I don’t know how to explain this, but…” then I remembered what he had said about coming back to the right time, and place. I closed my eyes and began again.