Eleanor Louise Jackson stood inside the plain steel box of the time machine. It was about the size of an outhouse, but without a bench or windows. She clutched her cane with one hand and her handbag with the other. It felt like the scan was taking far too long, but she was fairly certain that was her nerves talking.
Her corset made her ribs creak with every breath. She’d expected to hate wearing the thing, but there was a certain comfort from having something to support her back and give her a shape more like a woman than a sack of potatoes.
A gust of air puffed around her and the steel box was gone. She stood in a patch of tall grass under an October morning sky. The caravan of scientists, technicians and reporters had vanished from the field where they’d set up camp. Louise inhaled with wonder that the time machine had worked. Assuming that this was 1905, of course—the year of her birth and the bottom limit to her time-traveling range. Even with all the preparations for this trip, it baffled her sense of the order of things to be standing there.
The air tasted sweet and so pure that she could make out individual fragrances: the hard edge of oak mixed with the raw green of fresh mowed grass. Louise had thought her sense of smell had gotten worse because she’d gotten old.
She drew herself together and pulled the watch from the chain around her neck to check the time, as if it would reflect the local time instead of the time she’d left. 8:30 on the dot, which looked about right judging by the light. Now, she had six hours before they spun the machine back down and she got returned to her present. If the Board of Directors had thought she could do everything faster, they would have sent her back for less time because it was expensive to keep the machine spun up, but even with all the physical therapy, Louise was still well over a hundred.
With that in mind, she headed for the road. She’d been walking the route from the box to Huffman Prairie for the last week so they could get the timing on it. But this looked nothing like her present. There had been a housing development across the street from where she’d left and now there was a farm with a single tall white house sitting smack in the middle of the corn fields.
If she thought too much about it, she wasn’t sure she’d have the nerve to keep going. Down the road, a wagon drawn by a bay horse came towards her. Besides the fellow driving it, the back of the wagon was crammed full of pigs that were squealing loud enough to be heard from here. It made her think of her husband, dead these long years or two years old, depending on how you counted it. She shook her head to get rid of that thought.
Louise patted her wig, though the makeup fellow had done a lovely job fixing it to her head. She’d had short hair since the 1940s, and it felt strange to have that much weight on top of her head again. The white hair wound around her head in the style she remembered her own grandmother wearing. She checked to make sure her broad hat was settled and that the brooch masking the “hat-cam” was still pointing forward.
She hadn’t got far when the wagon pulled up alongside her.
“Pardon, ma’am.” The boy driving it couldn’t be more than thirteen with red hair like a snarl of yarn He had a heavy array of freckles and his two front teeth stuck out past his lip. He had a nice smile for all that. “Seeing as how we’re going the same way, might I offer you a ride?”
He had a book in his lap, like he’d been reading as he was driving. The stink of the pigs billowed around them with the wind. One of the sows gave a particularly loud squeal and Louise glanced back involuntarily.
The boy looked over his shoulder. “My charges are garrulous this morning.” He patted the book in his lap and leaned toward her. “I’m pretending they’re Odysseus’s men and that helps some.”
Louise couldn’t help but chuckle at the boy’s elevated language. “My husband was a hog farmer. He always said a pig talked more sense than a politician.”
“Politicians or sailors. If you don’t mind sharing a ride with them I’ll be happy to offer it.”
“Well now, that’s kind of you. I’m on my way to Huffman Prairie.”
He slid over on the bench and stuck his hand out to offer her a boost up. “I’m Homer Van Loon.”
Well, that accounted for his taste in reading and vocabulary. Boys his age were more like to read the penny dreadfuls than anything else, but anyone whose parents saddled him with a name like Homer was bound to be a bit odd.