The fog was thick as I rumbled over the old steel bridge that spans the clear, trout-filled mountain creek. Peering through the windshield, I squinted my eyes as if that might give me some kind of visual super-power to see through the opaque mist. I slowed my car, careful to stay on my side of the double yellow line. The village bridge is only 100 feet of steel and concrete, but as I crept over the short span in the murk, stories bombarded me.
"...her homespun dress was smeared with mud as she struggled to cross the creek, now swollen with the runoff from winter's heavy snow. She knew as soon as she gained the opposite bank, she’d have to find shelter and start a fire to ward off the chill sure to set in after enduring the icy water. Her journey was fraught with risk, but necessary. The message she carried could change the course of the war..."
"...he laughed at the message the sign carried: '$5.00 fine for crossing the bridge faster than a walk'. What would the village folk think about his new Ford Model T? Wondering what speed would equal the slow gate of a horse at a walk, he shifted down to first gear and chugged across the bridge. The rumor among motor-car enthusiasts was that Ford would be rolling out a new automobile soon, one that featured a more powerful engine, along with varying body styles and colors. The new Model A would be a sight to see, for certain.
Thaddeus could spare no more time for daydreams; he had an appointment to keep. Revving the engine, he cleared the bridge and swung right, up the hill. The Rector's daughter was waiting for him..."
"...Laura's hair was drenched. Her auburn curls dripped with rainwater as she dashed back to her bright red hatchback. She was fastidious; her 4 years at Dartmouth had taught her to be prepared for such emergencies. She grabbed the faded blue towel that lay on the passenger seat and dropped it on her head, scrubbing it back and forth to help dry the tangled mess. Brushing off her wet raincoat, she tossed the towel into the back, careful to avoid her precious passenger, strapped in the middle seat. The newly matted and framed Bachelor of Science in Biology glinted at her from under its glare-resistant glass. She knew the steep hills of this mountain village might cause the frame to tip over and crash to the car floor, so she’d buckled up for safety.
Pressing the clutch, she put the car in reverse, struggling with the manual steering. When I get my first job, she thought, I've got to invest in a car with automatic steering and power windows.
When the rain storm had rolled in, it brought with it fingers of mist and unusual clouds of heavy fog. In the time it had taken to gas up her car, the entire village was swallowed by the turbid white vapor. She was overdue for a job interview and picked up speed as she approached the steel bridge. Normally a cautious driver, Laura was worried about being late for her meeting, and pushed the car past the speed limit as she made her way across the creek. The fog was impenetrable and she was forced to slow down as she fought to see the double yellow line. Downshifting yet again, the little red hatchback shuddered and stalled mid-way across the bridge. Muttering curses and dire threats against the vehicle, she pushed the shift stick into neutral and turned the key.
The car rolled to a stop in the middle of the road. Laura unbuckled her seat belt, pushed the hazard-flash button, and opened the door. Stepping out onto the wet gray pavement, she crossed in front of the hood and headed to the sidewalk. The air was muffled; an odd absence of sound, save the splashing of the creek below, pushed gooseflesh up on her skin. Concerned that someone would come along and crash into her stalled car, she made her way back across the creek to the gas station for help. As she walked, the fog seemed to thicken further, stirring a sense of worry and urgency in her. She'd never seen anything like this fog; even the sidewalk seemed to disappear from under her feet.
A gust of wind came from nowhere and blew her wet hair across her eyes. Pushing the strands away, she saw that the wind was also clearing the fog. Reaching the creekside, she veered left and headed for the service station. That’s odd, she thought. I don’t remember such tall grass in front of this building. Peering through the rapidly vanishing mist, she looked for the little brick building. To her shock, there was only a thick stand of white birch where the station should have been. The sprightly breeze rippled the green leaves of the birch trees, stopping her in her tracks. Where was she? Spinning around, Laura saw wisps of fog weaving through the steel girders of the bridge; but the bridge seemed different somehow. Stunned with confusion, she staggered for a moment, unsure what to do.
"Hey! Watch where you're going, woman! You'll get yourself killed if you're not careful!
Squinting up into the now brilliant sun, she shielded her eyes with one hand, searching for the source of the loud voice.
"Somtin' wrong, lady? You sick or sometin' ?" The voice came from above her. It was a man. A big, dirty man on a horse. He spat on the ground next to her, rubbing the side of his grizzled jaw.
"Cut it out, Lem." A quiet, deep voice resonated from behind her. "She looks odd, but she's still a lady. Have some manners."
Swiveling her still-wet head, Laura peered up at another man on a horse. This one was different. Cleaner, for certain, but younger and undeniably handsome.
"If I may introduce myself," said the young man, "I am Cyrus Fields." Gesturing to the older, dirty man, he continued. "And this is my neighbor, Lemuel Wilmot. Pray forgive him for his rudeness. He's been gone for months on his trapline. He forgets how civilized folk behave." Cyrus paused for a breath. "Are you on your way to meet President Tyler's train? He's supposed to stop in the village long enough to have supper with the mayor."
Pray forgive? She thought. Who talks like that? Where am I? Then she realized what Cyrus had said.
"President Tyler?" She asked. "President John Tyler? The one who left office in 1845?" Laughing, she shoved her hands into her jeans pockets. "Are you joking? Is this some kind of village-wide costume party? 'Bring-your-own-horse' kind of theme? Cool! I'm late for a job interview, but I suppose I can reschedule. Got a horse I can borrow?" She grinned.
"Madam, I do not know what you're talking about. It is sunny today, and most certainly not cool. It is rather warm, in fact. And to your request for a mount, I am in possession of only one horse, sadly. But you may accompany us to the train station, if you like." Cyrus swung down from his saddle and stood by her.
It was then that Laura was shaken with the devastating knowledge that she was distinctly out of time. Ripped from 1989, and flung back to...to what? Another era? How was that even possible? Science denied the possibility of time travel...."
It wasn't always like this. As I've gotten older, I've noticed that increasingly stories seek me out, instead of the other way around. Celtic folklore has long told of certain people who have "the sight"; an extrasensory perception of sorts. Those with "second sight" are rumored to be able to foretell the future, predict the weather, find underground water sources, solve emotional problems for those who seek their counsel, and even provide love potions and spells.
I believe certain folks do have special insight and heightened intuition. I also think it's interesting that the thoroughly Celtic Irish are especially renowned for their sixth sense- and their legendary wordcrafting skill. When the two are combined, I like to theorize that those considered clairvoyant are simply unrecognized storytellers. When you can spin a tale at 20 paces, it's no hard task to look at someone and quickly invent an interesting past, present and future for them.
As I nurture my writing skills, I find I’m able to observe almost any object or scene and write at least a few words about it. For instance, a particularly lush rhubarb plant inspired a new story- one which I’m currently working on, called Under the Rhubarb Leaf. Many people have asked me, 'why do you write? What’s your inspiration?' The answer is simple. I write because I must. My inspiration is everything; the woods, my children, cheese, antique stores, toll booth attendants, the autumn leaves, my job, the colors of the winter sunset, the shape of flowers, the horseflies that plague my dogs, people I work with, the steaks in the deli meat counter, the smell of coffee. Everything has a story. It might be pure, unadulterated fiction, but it’s there- waiting to be told.
Some authors prepare and lay out elaborate outlines before they proceed with their projects. That’s not my process. I wish I could be so organized! Stories stalk me, nagging and interfering with my life until I acquiesce to their badgering tactics and write them down. Sometimes they abandon me like scorned lovers, and I must approach them with caution and a red rose before they’ll concede to return and finish their narrative. Some days I write for hours, coffee mugs and wine glasses multiplying around me as I watch the tales unfold in my mind, writing as fast as I can to I record what I see.
At the end of the day, words have power, and those who wield them with the right precision can influence the minds of others, and the course of history. It's up to those special people to brandish that ability in the service of mankind; for the joy, inspiration, fear, excitement, fun and happiness it can bring. Controlling that superpower is another thing altogether; stalking stories are very insistent, demanding to be heard. Once they are recognized and embraced, however, they become something altogether magical and uplifting, joining with the collective human spirit, inspiring us, and illuminating the spark that lies within us all.