The Inscrutable Darius Hobbs

📅 Published on August 17, 2021

“The Inscrutable Darius Hobbs”

Written by Keith McDuffee
Edited by Craig Groshek and Seth Paul
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

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ESTIMATED READING TIME — 22 minutes

Rating: 9.00/10. From 2 votes.
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I cannot deny that my chosen profession is one of great fascination and—truth be told—amusement for myself.  I am sure the same does not always hold true for the clients I serve, but that is of no consequence of concern for yours truly.  I am called upon to provide my services and I set about my work, and I do so with the utmost level of skill and profession.  The comfort of my clients is of much secondary precedence to me.

There are, however, some undeniably hard, cold and cruel facts about my line of business that I have come to accept, and I cannot say they delight me in the least; the unexplained remains just as such, being the most woeful of all.  Being in such a predicament as to abandon an ongoing inquiry is downright and utter failure in the eyes of someone much like myself.  Though, I must offer you sincere apologies if you are led to believe I share this unusual occupation with others.  I have a reasonable suspicion that I do, though I cannot say for certain where or when they exist.

The name is Darius Hobbs, born and bred of Baton Rouge, Louisiana in the year 1845.  I am a chosen-to-be bachelor of thirty-seven years, residing with my dear lady friend and assistant, Miss Sadie Cartwell, thirty-two, within the apartment above the reputable “Office Of The Investigator Darius Hobbs,”  along Saint Charles Avenue, New Orleans.  My father, a sometimes respected though oft disputed man of science of the southern states, left the office and residence to me upon his passing, some ten years ago.  Herein is one such account of which I cannot claim success in understanding nor in its solving.  Mayhap those few supposed others with business dealings such as my own may chance upon this record and find it of some level of assistance, though I cannot claim it will be of aid in any explanation.

On the evening of June 13, 1881, after Sadie and I had long since retired, there became a racket of unrelenting knocks upon the office door of the floor below.  Now, I must be sure to make you aware here that it is not within the normal course of my business dealings that I make allowances for such an intrusion.  It would be within reason and expectation that I simply ignore the foolish commotion and hope to cause them to turn tail and return at a more appropriate time for appointment.  There was, I dare say, something I sensed extraordinary in this caller’s purpose and insistence, and it allowed my unduly curious mind to overcome me.

Garbed in night clothes, I went about unlatching the door to the unspoken though obvious protests of Sadie at my back.

“Don’t worry, dear,”  I said.  “This will take but a moment.  I only mean to end this incessant noise so that we might have a blink of sleep this evening.”

Outside stood an unfamiliar man of approximately fifty years of age, built solidly though not heavily set.  Crowning the fellow’s head was a brown derby with a yellow band, of a quality unlike the rest of his garments; though dressed dapperly, his other clothing did appear to be of some age and wear.

He seemed at first surprised to see me.  I spoke out angrily before he had the chance to make an introduction.

“What in damnation is the meaning of this?  Do you have any inkling of the present hour?  You, sir, have quite a nerve in paying the ‘closed’  sign no heed whatsoever and in intruding upon my own domicile in this manner.  This must indeed be of the utmost importance, so do please, sir, enlighten me or be on your way.”

“Mister Hobbs?  Mister Darius Hobbs?  Oh, thank the Lord!”  His voice was not one from around those parts of the south; more than likely Carolina, Haywood, perhaps.  He seemed to speak as though I had said nothing.  That infuriated me.

“Get on with it!”

The gentleman removed his hat and said, “Mister Hobbs, I am sorry for disturbing you and the missus this evening, but if you would give an honest man like myself a brief moment of your time, I think we’ll come to an understanding.”

“See here, sir.  If you are seeking to sell us some of your snake oil, not only will I throttle you with the serious end of my walking stick, I will make certain the constable is made aware of your egregious solicitations.”

“Oh!  No, no, Mister Hobbs!  I assure you, I am not here selling anything!  I’m here about a…problem that I was told you were…the kind of man to be of help with.”

Again I allowed my curious mind to best me, inviting the interloper through the door and into the office.

“You have one minute, sir.  Out with it now.”

He nodded with understanding and set about with his story.

“Mister Hobbs, I have quite this problem with…you see, there is this hole.”

“A hole?”

“Well, more like a door, really.”

“A door, you say?  Mister…”

“Beaton, Mister Hobbs.  Chester Beaton.”

“…Beaton.  I see.  Well, Mister Beaton, have you somehow mistaken me to be a tradesman in the craft of carpentry?”

“Well no, I-”

“Then why is it, Mister Beaton, that I should be standing here in my bedclothes at this godforsaken hour to listen to a nuisance such as yourself carry on about doors?  Or doors with holes in them.  Hm?”

I must admit that it was quite unreasonable of me to have unloaded with such displeasure at the gentleman.  The interruption in my nightly ritual had gotten the best of my manners, I am afraid to admit.

“This…hole, Mister Hobbs.  It’s not on a door.  It is the door.  It…hangs in the air, above the ground.”

At that, I took a moment to comprehend.  “If this is, as you say, a hole – and it floats about in the air on its own accord – then how is it that it can be seen?”

“Because when I peer through it, there’s something.  There’s someplace.  Someplace else.”

“Hm.  Well, Mister Beaton, I will admit that you may have sought out an appropriate person to investigate such a phenomenon, but I do not see why it could not have waited to be brought to my attention at a more decent hour.”

“There is something sinister about that hole, Mister Hobbs.  It is not merely some curiosity to ponder.  There are…things…that come out of it from time to time.  I have not seen them for myself, but I’m very sure they do.  But that is not why I’ve sought you out with such urgency, sir.”

The man then cast his eyes downward and began to weep.

“It’s my son, Mister Hobbs.  My fool boy’s gone into the hole and hasn’t returned.”

The coach to the outskirts of Dalcour was a downright miserable experience, but I must say I appreciated Mister Beaton’s gumption in assuming its need.  It was indeed of great assistance in transporting my person and necessities to this portal’s whereabouts.  I would not have taken near as many of my instruments if traveling on horseback and, likewise, Sadie with me.

“You say this portal Mister Beaton speaks of…something’s come out of it?”  Sadie asked.  “Did he say what things?”

“No.  ‘Things,’  is all he said and all that I need to know at the moment.  It was sufficient enough of a description that we should be on our way to this place without delay.”

“I can’t say I believe we’ve ever encountered a case where anyone has experienced travel through these portals.”

“In fact, no, Miss Cartwell.  We have not.  We’ve been told what manner of things have gone into this particular portal, one being Mister Beaton’s son.  I’m curious to know what, in fact, has come out from it.”

The time on my watch read half-past five o’clock when the coach finally came to a stop, and the sun began to light the cloud-filled sky.  Outside the southernly window: An open and empty clover field, stretching as far as the distant marshlands.  To the north, a most peculiar sight: More of the same field of clover, though set about with a small grove of trees and an uncountable number of what appeared to be unmarked graves.

“This is the place, Mister Hobbs,”  called Chester Beaton from his seat outside.  “There, to our right.”

Sadie and I withdrew ourselves from the carriage and faced the field with the upturned earth.  “What is this place, Mister Beaton?”  I asked.  “Is this property of yours?”

Mister Beaton stepped to the ground beside us.  “It is indeed, sir; twenty-three-and-a-half acres.  Deeded to me by my dear Uncle Forrest when he passed on in the War Between the States.  Hadn’t come down to these parts to look into it until last week.”

“Your uncle left you a graveyard?”  asked Sadie.

“Well, ma’am, I didn’t rightly know what Uncle Forrest left me until I’d arrived.  I must say, it was a troubling sight, to say the least.”

At first approximation, I would say there were a good several hundred graves with varying amounts of overgrowth.  Those closer to where we stood seemed the freshest, with a dozen or more freshly dug and empty.  None were with cross or tombstone, with only a fist-sized, round stone placed upon each with purpose.  And then there was, of course, the staircase.

Standing twelve risers high stood a great set of granite steps, situated some distance away, at the very back of the field of graves.  Ornate, wrought iron railings ran the length of both sides, raised hip high upon curved, metal balusters.  Both railings and topmost stair terminated at nothing at all, merely unoccupied air.

“What’s the meaning of those stairs, Mister Beaton?”  I asked.

The expression on the man’s face grew grave.  “They lead up to the hole I spoke of, sir.  Where Daniel went in and has yet to come out.”

Mister Beaton could no doubt see by my puzzled expression that I saw nothing of the sort.  “You’ll be able to see the hole when we get a bit closer.”

“What was it that stood behind it before?”  Sadie asked.  “Was there once a chapel, perhaps consumed by fire in the past?”

“No, I don’t believe so, ma’am.  I can’t say it looks like anything was behind it, at least not for a coon’s age.  Field is flat and thick with clover there.  Not a stone foundation, no chimney.  Just the stairs.  And that hole.”

I removed my top hat in respect to the deceased and gestured toward the empty holes.  “And is it you who is still burying people in these graves, Mister Beaton?  It seems someone has been quite recently.”

“No, sir.  Those were already here when my son and I arrived.  Though that covered one there was empty two days ago.”  He pointed to a plot onto which there appeared to be the freshest soil.

“Well, if that isn’t peculiar,”  said Sadie.

“Quite.  Who else knows of this place?”

Mister Beaton shook his head and said, “As far as I know, not a soul.  I’m sure you can see we are quite in the middle of nowhere, Mister Hobbs.  The closest parish is miles away.  For a person to cart the dead so far, out to this remote spot, seems a bit, well, foolish, wouldn’t you say?”

“I would.  And with no markers apart from small stones,”  I said.  Without another word, I retrieved a smaller satchel of my instruments from the coach and began walking through the field of graves to the queer set of stairs.  Sadie joined my side while Mister Beaton lagged a tad behind.

Sadie said to me in a hushed voice, “What is your assessment of all this, Darius?  Mass graves?  Fresh ones left to be filled?  I fear the man is deranged and has led us here and means for us to occupy two of them.”

“Nonsense.  The gentleman is clearly mightily distressed over losing his boy, nothing more.  As for these and who has been filling them, I will forgo my assessment until I’ve taken a closer gander at the true object of interest here.”

Mister Beaton was correct: The portal was most definitely evident as we grew nearer the staircase.  Upon first glance, it had similar visual properties to those few I’d encountered in the past.  I was most interested in the supposed ability for matter to pass through this particular instance.

The stairs were a bit larger than I had supposed when standing by the cart path.  They appeared rather new as well, without the weathering of time making its mark; not a bit of rust on the railings, nor blemish upon the stone.  I put on my specs for a closer look.  It was then I noted clear indication of treading upon the steps, dirt clogs in many large, boot-shaped patterns.

I said, “These boot marks, Mister Beaton.  Would they be from yourself or your son?”

The man appeared mesmerized by the peculiar swirling patterns made along the edges of the portal.

“Mister Beaton?”

“Uh, sorry, Mister Hobbs.  Those prints?  They aren’t mine, though I don’t see how they could be my son’s, either.  He’d only gone up them the one time.  And those…it’s some ungodly large feet that made those.”

Sadie had already withdrawn one of the instruments from my satchel and was passing it over one clump left on the bottommost step.  I approached the staircase and began to climb.  Beaton called after me, “Uh, Mister Hobbs!  Please, sir, do be careful,”  but I paid him no mind.

I did not need to get close to the anomaly to see into it.  Through it I could see what appeared to be a small commercial location, though it did not strike me as familiar.  Though it was early morning where we stood, the place in the portal was in darkness.  The signage upon small buildings was difficult to discern, though they were a most peculiar shape and color, unlike any I had seen before.  The signage, buildings and roads were kept lit with an unprecedented number of electric lights.  A most striking feature of the portal, as outrageous as it may sound, was its smell.  A cool breeze was issuing forth from it, carrying the undeniable scent of something similar to burning coal.  Not a soul could be seen nor heard.

I reached into my waistcoat pocket and withdrew a one-cent piece.  I took a step downward and threw it into the portal.  The coin vanished as though I had thrown it through a window.  There came the faint sound from beyond of its fall onto something solid and firm, likely stone.

“Can you see my son, Mister Hobbs?  Is he in there?  Daniel!”

“Pipe down, Mister Beaton.  I see no one.  And I don’t mean to attempt stepping foot in there to locate him.  It could very well be that this…door, as you call it, is only visible on this side.  I would not want any of us to become lost like Daniel.  T’would do no one no good, most of all yours truly.”

“Then what can we do?  How can I get my son back?”

I lifted my top hat, gave my head a good scratching and thought for a brief moment.  “Miss Cartwell, how recent would you say those prints are?”

She adjusted the dials on the instrument and looked bemused.  “I would say the most recent are no older than half a day, though I can never be sure with your…instruments, Mister Hobbs.  You are the expert.”

“That’s it, then.  We will wait for whoever made those prints to return.  When they do — as they inevitably will, judging by the recent work here — I will confront this person and get to the bottom of who they are and where your son Daniel might be, Mister Beaton.  What is most important now is that you leave Miss Cartwell and me here alone.  We can’t have your cart frightening them off.  Meanwhile, we’ll wait under cover of those trees there.”

It took a bit more persuading for Beaton to agree to leave.  We gave him instructions to only return for us at nightfall, preferably with more provisions for Sadie and myself.  We unloaded the remaining boxes and bags that I’d brought along, then watched the coach with Mister Beaton trot off and out of sight.  We brought everything and ourselves under the small grouping of trees, a fair distance away from the staircase though close enough to keep close eyes upon it.  One of the devices I had with me, an exdimeter, was one Sadie and I had made use of on several investigations.  Of its function, I will say that it is for detection of the presence of beings not of our particular worldly dimension.  I understand that may be a baffling concept for many to comprehend.  So, to save time and further confusion, I will not get into the technicalities of its inner workings, nor will I of the magtrap we had set upon the ground some distance away.

Several hours progressed without incident.  Sadie and I passed the time, each with a downturned head to a book or conversing about the case at hand and another that had been confounding us for some time.  In that particular investigation, we had spent two months in similar circumstances, left alone along the shoreline of Lake Salvador.  The clients in that investigation had gotten reports from local townspeople of sighting their drowned daughter, standing along the water’s edge on several occasions and in the same location.  Only when Sadie and I had finally caught sight of the girl ourselves, standing across a small inlet from us with her reflection cast upon the water, the exdimeter chimed.  This itself was not unusual nor unexpected.  It was the sight of the second reflection of the girl beside the first that we were unable to fathom, most especially when the second visage waved in our direction and disappeared, and the exdimeter silenced.  When we called out to the girl, she turned and walked into the trees behind her.  We haven’t received any reports that she’s been seen again.

It was setting upon supper time when the exdimeter sounded.  Sadie silenced it immediately, and we turned eager eyes toward the staircase.  Indeed, there was what appeared to be a person exiting the portal.  To say that this individual was large would be a monumental understatement.  He was enormous, the largest person I do believe I had ever seen before or have since.  His head appeared the size of a prized fair watermelon and as hairless as a newborn babe.  His clothing was certainly not suitable attire for the likes of the deep south: A long-sleeved shirt of what appeared to be wool, dyed black and red, with suspenders supporting grey burlap trousers.  Over one shoulder, he carried a large, black sack that appeared to strain him no more than a bag of straw to a normal-sized man.  We thought it likely that it contained another body for one of the unfilled graves.  Indeed, that is just where the behemoth was headed.

“What now?”  Sadie asked.

“I believe we will get little progress in this investigation without confronting this giant.”  With that, I withdrew my coil revolver and left the tree cover.  I determined by Sadie’s intense exasperation that she was none too pleased by my actions.

“Will you at least take a proper weapon with you and not some knickknack?”  she said, though I paid her no mind.

The man had already reached the edge of one of the empty holes and stopped, his back to us.  “You, there!”  I called out as I pointed the business end of my gun toward the man.  “I was wondering if you would please pardon my precautions and be so kind as to enlighten us as to what your business here might be and from whence you’ve come.”

The man’s bald head shot up in a flash.  He tossed the large bag into the deep hole as easily as one would drop a sack of grain, and I heard it land loudly onto the earth below.  Then the man turned to me.  Though the sky around us had grown a shade darker, I was still able to discern that the man’s face was obscured with some kind of mask.  As absurd as it may sound, the mask was that of another man’s face.  Its steely expression was most disconcerting, to say the least.  He made no move; said not a word.

I spoke with as much intrepidity as I could muster.  “I do not know where you come from, sir, but I do know that wherever that is, it’s through that portal there.  Someplace far from here?  Am I correct?”

He still said nothing, though now his hands were balled tightly into fists.

I continued, “Regardless of where that is or what your business here might be – and that is business we will get around to discussing, sir, mark my words – there is someone who has gone through that portal who needs to be retrieved.”

“Daniel!”  Chester Beaton’s voice boomed from behind.  Through the goings-on around us, I hadn’t noticed his return.  He approached quickly, seething, donning a rifle that was firmly pointed at the masked man.  “Where’s Daniel?!  You bring back my boy!”

“Mister Beaton!”  I said.  “Please don’t do anything foolish.  You kill this man, and that will make certain you never see your son again.  I doubt you want that.”

Beaton looked queerly at my coil revolver, then more so at me.  I had no doubt he’d never seen anything the likes of it before.  He then cocked his rifle and took aim at the large man.  “What in the hell are you?  Is that…is that some kind of mask you’re wearing?  Where’s my son?  You have until the count of three to tell me where Daniel is, or by God I will fill you with lead!  One!”

The masked man finally made a move and began to walk toward us with some sense of determination.  I activated the internals of my revolver with my thumb, and it powered on with a hum.

“Two!”

“You stop right there, sir,”  I said to the menacing man.  I would have liked to have told Mister Beaton to lower his rifle, but I was fearful just the same.  The monster quickened his step.

“Three!”

“Mister Beaton, no!”  Sadie called from her spot in the grove.  It worked in getting the attention of Mister Beaton, who turned his head in a fair smack of surprise.  In that heartbeat, the masked man had moved with speed I’d never seen from a human.  That monster was on Beaton, quick as a snake, and clasped one of his beastly hands around his neck.  It came around it as completely as my own grasped the hilt of my gun.  Beaton’s legs came a clear foot from the ground, the rifle still in one hand.

“Stop!”  I said.  “I will fire!”

He paid me no more attention than if I’d been a swamp fly.  Beaton’s head flew to one side at an unnatural angle.  The sound of its breaking came like the cracking of a branch in a storm wind.  Beaton’s body grew limp, his rifle clattering into the grass.  The man tossed Beaton’s body aside as easily as he’d done with the black bag.

“Darius!”  Sadie yelled.

I took aim and pulled the revolver’s trigger.  The air crackled and smelled electrified.  The shot of blue lightning came forth from the gun and struck the man broadside.  I’ve used the coil revolver several times in the past, and it has felled larger living beings than this with ease.  This time, however, it didn’t slow him a lick.  He continued his charge my way.  It was time I directed his movements toward the magtrap.

“Darius!  Let me put him down!”  Sadie yelled.  She was already brandishing her own set of pistols of the traditional sort.  Overly eager, she was, as always.

“Easy, Miss Cartwell!  Follow along with the plan!”

The man picked up speed as I darted away to my right, as best I could with my crippled leg.  He gained nearly forty feet on me in no time at all, but he was right on target.  In my understandable haste, I stumbled and fell flat to the ground.

“Hit it now, Sadie!  Now!”

I heard the lever by Sadie slam shut, and immediately a circle of ground at the monster’s feet came alive with electricity.  It held fast, working as it should, to anchor his feet.  He showed no bewilderment of any sort and made no further attempt to move.  He remained still, with clenched fists the size of hams.

“Booyah!”  I exclaimed, pushing myself to my feet.  “Excellent timing, Sadie.”  She stepped out into the clearing beside me, still armed.

“You and your booyahs.  The things you say are as darned as the things you have and do, Darius Hobbs.”

“Well, I do have you, Miss Sadie Cartwell.  Don’t forget that.”

“Not yet, you don’t,”  she said beneath her breath.  She gestured toward the imprisoned man.  “Well, you’ve got him.  Now what?  He killed poor Mister Beaton over there.  I’m thinking he’d mean to do the same to us if he gets free of your circle of…sparks.”

As though Sadie’s words were a premonition, the circle of ground beneath the man began to crackle and fade.  The sound of the magtrap capacitors that were placed behind the trees gave a downright unhealthy clunking sound.

“That, Miss Cartwell, is not a good sign.”

She pulled back the hammers of both pistols.  “You and your damned doodads.”

The man stepped freely from the dimming circle, once again headed precisely in our direction and with decidedly ill intent.  Sadie let loose a shot from each of her guns.  The result seemed to be no more than holes in the beast’s woolen shirt.  Before she could fire again, a sound came from the direction of the portal.  A shrill whistle, sounding from the mouth of an unseen man.  It came in two tones, one higher than the next.  It caught all our attention, most especially that of the lumbering beast who stopped dead in his tracks.

Sadie said, “What was that?  Was that someone from the portal?”

The tune came again.

“I do believe t’was,”  I said, then watched as the huge man turned from us and made long, running strides back toward the portal, like a dog being called home by his master.

“Stop!”  I yelled.  I fumbled for the coil revolver at my waistband, but it’d fallen from my hand when I fell.  “You, there!  Stop!”  It was a feeble attempt to halt his progress, I know, but a man in desperation does indeed perform desperate deeds.

Two more shots reported from Sadie’s guns.  Mister Beaton’s coach horse whinnied in the distance, beyond the edge of the field.  The bullets made contact with the man but had no effect in halting his retreat.  Sadie very much took the lead from me as we made pursuit.

“We cannot let him pass through that portal, Sadie!”  I said between gasps for air.  She shot again, one hitting the ground at the monster’s feet and the other sparking off the stone stairs.  By the time Sadie had the hammers back again, he’d ascended the stairs entirely and passed through the portal as one passes through a door, just as Chester Beaton had called it.

And then they were gone.  Not simply the portal, but the stone stairs as well.  Soundlessly and without grandeur, they had utterly disappeared.  To say I was downhearted would be a vast understatement.

Sadie knew.  She holstered her pistols and lay a hand on my back.

“You know that I have lived to see most matter of things inscrutable to most.  There are experiences that I have provided assistance in explaining, and there are those I’ve been left to wonder about for the rest of my living days.  Of a portal that can bring a living thing to and fro, in and out from this plane of existence, I cannot comprehend.  But Sadie, I need to try.”

The silence that swept over us as the sun completed its descent below the tree line was broken by another sound from the exdimeter, as it chimed once again from the trees.  We turned toward the empty space left by the missing stairs.  Nothing.

I said, “What could be-”  and was interrupted by the sound of muffled screams from a woman.  They were coming from the empty grave.  The black bag, left by the monster.

“Quickly!”  I said, and Sadie and I set off in the direction of the sound.

Sadie was in the hole before I’d reached its edge.  “What…what is this holding it closed?  Looks like steel teeth.”

“I’ve seen something of this sort before,”  I said.  “Pull it by the larger part, there, at the end, then slide it across.”

Sadie did as she was told, and the bag opened as though peeled like a banana.  Inside was a girl, tied at the hands like a hog.  Her dress was unlike any I’d seen before, especially in the southern states.  Her hair was long and golden, though blemished with a bloody gash above an eye.  Her face was painted with more make-up than a two-bit prostitute.  Across her bosom, she wore a shirt bearing three symbols – or, rather, letters – that I believed to be greek.  She appeared somewhat dazed though looked at us in utter surprise.

“Oh my God, thank you!  Thank you!  Thank you so much!  That…that thing tried to kill me!”

“Take it easy, ma’am,”  said Sadie.  “That man is gone now.  Can you tell me your name?”

“Uh.  Jessica.  Jessica Storey.”

“Miss Storey, I’m Miss Sadie Cartwell.  That up there is Mister Darius Hobbs.  We’re here to help you.”

The woman spotted me atop the mouth of the would-be grave.  Her expression turned from relief to downright confusion, then.

“Wh – why are you both dressed like that?”

“Like…this?”  I asked, quite confused, I must say, as I had the same question for the young lady myself.

“Well, I do not know how to put this to you delicately, miss,”  said Sadie.  “But the circumstances which brought you here are quite of the…unusual sort.”

“Unusual sort?”  she said, with some growing anxiety.  “What the hell does that mean?  Where the hell am I?”

I gave a look to Sadie that told her that I would take the conversation from this point forward.  “Where do you think you are, Miss Storey?”

“I … I was at WSU.  I was walking to a party on Linden Street.  Then that…that bald thing came out of nowhere and grabbed me.  And then…then I don’t remember anything.  I woke up in the dark, in this…I dunno, a fucking body bag?”  She became beside herself with weeping.

“WSU?”  I asked.

She took a moment to answer, then nodded.  “Washington State University.”

I collapsed onto my backside and took my hat into my lap.  My face had become clearly flushed, and I felt as I might become sick.

The world around me darkened.

“What’s the problem, Darius?”  Pa asked me.  I’d been crying something atrocious since leaving the schoolhouse for home.  The lines through my dirt-streaked face were a clear indication of that to my observant father.

“Pa,”  I said.  “Allan says you ain’t ever had a ma or a pa.  Is that the truth?”

Pa propped his spectacles atop his head and placed the metalwork he’d been tooling onto the bench he was seated at.  “Who told you that?  The Nichols boy?”

“Yes, sir.”

Pa laughed.  “Well, that explains things.”  He picked up a part from the bench, a piece of a dismantled gun of some kind.  “Step over here and help me out with this.  You can hand me my tools.”

“What is it?”  I asked.

“Y’know, I’m not sure yet.  It’s something new.  Now hand me that piece that looks like a spring.  I’m just about done.  Then we can go and try it out.”

He dropped his specs before his eyes again and began to push the coil of metal into place with metal pincers.  “So Allan Nichols is going on again about your grandpa, is it?”

“Yessir.”

“Well, let me tell you something, Darius.  And this is between you and your pa, you understand?”

I nodded.

He snapped the open piece of the gun shut with both hands.  “Alright.  Hand me that screwdriver first,”  he said, and that’s just what I did.

“Your friend Allan is ill-informed, Darius.  I do have a mother and father.”

“Have, Pa?  Do you mean ‘had?’”

“No, I mean ‘have.’  They are still alive…or, well…they are alive at the place they are.  Or, rather, when they are.”

My father sensed the confusion from my lack of response.

“I’m not from this time, Darius.  Remember those stories I told you about the state with George Washington’s name, the place I was once a great teacher of science?  Those were not just silly bedtime stories, son.  It’s where I’m from.  When I’m from.  My mother and father are still there.”

I slammed a hand down onto the bench with a fair bit of resentment.  “Stop!”

“Darius?!”

“Stop your silly stories, Pa!  The children of school poke fun at me!  They call you a fool and a liar!  They call me a fool and a liar!  And now here you are still telling me your foolish lies!  Stop it, Pa!  Stop!”

My father, as always, retained his calm demeanor and made no answer.  He went about tightening the screw of the last piece of the gun together and tossed it gently from hand to hand.  He seemed to struggle within as to what should next pass his lips.

“Come on,”  he said, finally.  “Let’s give this a go.”

I followed him as we stepped outside into the field beside the shed.  Surrounding us on three sides was not a thing but swamplands and bayou.  Not a blessed soul for a mile around.

“Ready?”  Pa said.  “Watch this.”

He aimed his fancy gun at a sole, greenless tree some fifty feet into the swamp.  I heard the gun make a strange popping noise, then a sound I could only match to that of the crackle of burning gunpowder, with a smell unlike anything else.  The sound grew louder, and the smell grew more foul, when a small bolt of lightning flew forth from the gun and struck the tree, blackening it bark-to-core.

“Booyah!”  Pa heartily belted out.  My mouth hung open sure enough to catch a swarm of flies.

“I’m sorry, Darius.  You’re right,”  Pa said.  “I should’t be telling you any of my stories like they’re the truth.  The honest truth is for you to discover for yourself, and you shouldn’t be simply taking the word of anyone without setting out to seek the proof for yourself.  Remember that, and maybe you’ll understand your pa a bit more someday.”

“Darius?”  came the concerned voice of Sadie, bringing my wits back to the present, so to speak.  “Darius, are you well?”

I managed to speak, though I had barely the breath with which to do so.  “What year is it, Miss Storey?”

“What?”  the girl named Jessica asked.  No doubt my question came as a bolt from the blue.

“What year do you believe this is?”  I repeated with some heightened urgency.

“Wh – why is he asking me what year it is?”  she asked Sadie with a fair bit of understandable concern.

“Just please answer him, miss.  What is the current year?”

“Uh…ninety-three?”

It was then that I felt more enlightened to what I, until that moment, had come to believe was an impossibility.  Ludicrous, I would and have said with certainty.  All I’d come to learn from my father before my days as an investigator of the strange and unorthodox had suddenly been brought to brilliant light.  The truth I’d been seeking to refute had become irrefutable.  It had incited in me a refueled purpose that until that moment had all but been snuffed out.

“1893,”  said Sadie.  “You believe this to be the year eighteen-hundred and ninety-three?”

“What?  Eight- No, I-”

“Doctor Archibald Gideon Hobbs,”  I interrupted.  “Do you know of a Doctor Hobbs, Miss Storey?  At the school?”

“Professor Hobbs?  Y…yeah, one of my sisters has Professor Hobbs, for EE.  Electrical Engineering.”

I said nothing.  Both ladies’  eyes were upon me, awaiting my response.

“Darius?”  Sadie said.  “Archibald Hobbs.  That couldn’t be.  Could it, now?

“Why?”  the girl asked.  “What’s he have to do with this?”

“Nothing, Miss Storey,”  I said.  “But it does appear that the things my father told me as a boy had indeed been true.  You see, Doctor Hobbs fathered me some thirty-seven years ago, when he unwillingly came to this here time and place from the very time and place you’ve come, Miss Storey, and in a very similar manner.”

Sadie steadied the girl as she sat upright, clearly still dazed from the blow to her head.  “Wait, what is he talking about?”  she asked Sadie.  “What time and place?  This is a prank, right?  You guys hit me in the head, and you put me in a fucking bag, then tell me I’m what?  A time traveler?  Ha-ha!  But this is not funny!  It’s sick!  You’re sick!”

“Darius?”

“She comes from the future state of Washington, Miss Cartwell.  From the late twentieth century.  Why she was brought here by that…thing – why all of these poor souls were brought to this place and time – I sadly cannot comprehend.  Though without another portal to take her back, this is where she is destined to remain.”

“Wait, what?  Remain?  No.  No, no, no.  Where am I?  Where is this?  Take me home!  I want to go home!”

“Louisiana, 1881, Miss Storey,”  I said, pushing myself to my feet and taking a gander back to where the stairs and portal once stood, where the girl and the monster had emerged not moments before, and where now there was not a thing but a field of green.

I patted my hat back atop my head.  “For better or worse, this is now your home.”

Rating: 9.00/10. From 2 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Written by Keith McDuffee
Edited by Craig Groshek and Seth Paul
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Keith McDuffee


Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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