Well, damn, I wish I could say this never happened before but I'd be lying. After my fifth or sixth trip to the backside of history I'd discovered something old Peter Garner neglected to tell me when he suckered me into being his time traveling guinea pig -- sometimes clothing was optional. Not when I walked through the ring, but when I was cosmically spit out back a few centuries or decades.
I spent weeks carefully researching period clothing, proper attire, what was and wasn't around when I was going to show up, then randomly I'd end up on the other side of the ring completely au naturel. Thankfully this era seemed to be less populated by shocked natives so far. But as I'd discovered over the trips, that never lasted long.
Sure enough the scream that came from a nearby shrub and rock outcrop alerted me to another human near and within visual range. I blushed and ducked my head, letting my long dark hair fall forward pretty much covering my face. Slowly I peeked open one eye to see a very dismayed redhead with a parasol and a completely appalled look on her face. She wasn't blushing -- which I found at odds with her scream. Then I felt something behind me and turned to see a rather large ragged beast rearing on its back legs and waving very large claws. It took me a second for my mind to download the data -- that's what they called a bear. My 'oh fuck' factor propelled me rapidly towards the woman brandishing her parasol like it was a good defense against the creature. In all my research I'd done I never heard of a parasol being much good for any sort of protection other than against the sun.
"Run!" I yelled while running past her, dodging the visible rocks with my bare feet. She gasped and swung behind me. I knew I was supposed to have done something like flap my arms and scream at the bear for it to think I was menacing but I felt naked, very white, and extremely edible in all the wrong ways.
We both ran up a trail that thankfully was covered with soft dirt and rocks I could see. The creature roared and still followed us. I stopped when we reached a bridge. I wasn't worried about splinters but the crowd in the distance of well-dressed people gathered on the other side. Their backs were currently to us but once we ran screaming with a bear behind us I figured they'd turn to see what we were interrupting. It appeared to me that there was a social function concluding. I stopped dead and looked back at the woman and concluded that I was definitely underdressed. The lady with me said, "Don't worry. I have you covered." After rapidly unbuttoning the front of her jacket she thrust it at me saying, "Put this on and fasten it up. Then wear this for your skirt. I am tall enough your feet should be hidden."
Taking her at her word I began dressing in her still warm clothes. She didn't seem disconcerted by my nudity, which went against everything I'd read about this time period. Reminding myself why we had been running, I glanced back to see that the bear had stopped to sharpen its claws on a tree just off the pathway. I wasn't going to rush and attract its attention but figured we needed to head towards more victims. Keeping that thought silent instead I said, "Thank you."
She smiled at me and said, "Well, if nothing else it's been an invigorating walk. Better than this tea." She nodded her head towards the women and men standing around talking.
We walked sedately across the bridge aware that the bear could decide we were easier to claw than bark. Once we were on the other side of the brook the bridge had spanned I chanced a glance to the woods. I couldn't see the bear anywhere. I shuddered and mentally made a note to smack Peter hard next time I made it home. Nowhere had they mentioned bears in the area of travel.
"Oh, my manners! I am sorry to have been so rude. I am Jenny McBride from Scotland."
I nodded and answered, "Sophia Reynolds."
She smiled and said, "Where are you from?"
That was easy enough, "America." I replied without saying the when. The when was a tad more difficult to explain. I found it unusual she hadn't mentioned my nudity. Everything I'd read about the 1880's led me to think they were rather rigid in their social mores.
"Of course, and when exactly did you leave America?" She had a slight smile dancing around her lips and twirled her parasol in her hands over our heads. Not that there was much sunlight to be felt. The day was starting to take on a definite chill with clouds rolling overhead.
"Around two months ago," I hazarded a guess. I was pretty sure the ships only took at least a month to get across the Atlantic during the 1880s if the weather was good. Besides the current time travel was making me blurry and foggy. I had no way of explaining true jet lag to someone born in the 1860s.
"Oh, really. I was mistaken then in thinking you are a traveler?" She giggled.
"A traveler? I did journey here." I tried to figure out why she was so amused.
"When again? Two months ago and what -- two or three hundred years from now?" Stunned I looked at her as she put the parasol between us and skipped lightly towards a group of women standing and talking a few feet away.
"Aunt Genevieve, there you are! My friend, Sophia made it after all." A woman who looked vaguely familiar turned towards us. I felt underdressed and a bit uncomfortable under the woman's direct glance.
"Oh, child, there you are. We worried you wouldn't make it." She had a bemused look on her lips that mirrored the one that had been dancing on Jenny's since she began talking to me. Then the aunt politely excused herself from the clump of women handing off her teacup and plate to a passing servant. The women dispersed and melted away to other little groupings without argument.
I felt like Alice falling down the rabbit hole without the benefit of any good sips from a bottle. These people seemed mad as a hatter. The bear probably knew they were all insane and hadn't stopped because the woods ended but because their meat was tainted.
"How is your father, Peter?" I neared Aunt Genevieve and then put the face into perspective. This was the woman I was sent back to rescue. Glancing around at clusters of women and men casually sipping at tea and nibbling on bits of pastries I didn't see she was in any danger. In fact, she looked quite at home in 1882 or whenever it was. Peter also had forgot to mention that his time travel rings weren't always precise and I could land anytime within the desired decade. Many a year I'd spent back in the past waiting for the events to unfold where I was required.
I didn't see how I was needed; from all appearances old Aunt Genevieve was perfectly happy when and where she was.
"Dear old father is as difficult as ever and vastly worried about your general health and well being. I am supposed to see you home." I didn't admit to much more.
"Oh, Peter is such an old woman! I am perfectly fine as you can see. Jenny, why don't you escort Sophia back to where she arrived and get the rest of her luggage? I will be there shortly to help you both."
Jenny and I looked at each other and I said, "Bear?"
She met my eyes and softly said, "I'd rather run up against the bear again than my aunt."
We spun away and headed back to the ring I'd arrived into this slice of time. I noticed Jenny took the lead confidently. We soon passed where we'd first met up and she unhesitantly picked the correct trail that would take us to the ring. I asked her, "How did you know?"
"Well, despite what you may have heard it's not normal for people to wander around sky clad during the spring months." She laughed at my mouth gaping open.
"You know about us?" It really shouldn't have been a question but I was stunned.
"Of course, I grew up with Aunt Genevieve." She left it at that. I wondered how long ago that was. Peter neglected to tell me how long ago Genevieve had left. Near as I could remember it was over a dozen years ago and the woman I met looked much older than the one I'd briefly met when I had arrived. I could see my job to get Genevieve back was going to be a major headache. That's what I got paid the big bucks for -- oh wait -- I didn't make much money.
Sighing, I looked at Jenny and said, "Of course you did."
Laughing she danced up to the break in the brush and pushed aside the drape of plants saying, "After you. You can't trigger it yet without Aunt Genevieve, right?"
"That's right." I felt odd returning so soon to the ring. It would take both travelers to trigger the ring and it would take both of our wills. I didn't see Genevieve popping into the ring and wanting to go back from how she'd responded to me. My time here was going to be much longer than I'd planned. Sighing I sat on the edge of a rock and waited. All I had was time.
Originally appeared 2010-01-04