Title: A Change of Grace
Chapter: 6 of 41
Excerpt: Taylor bolted upright, the sudden noise jolting him awake, startling him badly. Eyes wide, sleep draped mind still unable to process, he stared wildly into the air as the incredible racket went on and on. Clattering, clanking, screech of metal on metal, sharp crackings, shouting voices… what on earth was going on out there? Shaking his head, knuckling at his eyes, he quickly aimed for the window, leaning out… bursting into sudden amazed laughter. “A traffic jam! It’s a traffic jam!” Some things never changed, and he gazed with surprise and delight at the tangle of carts, wagons, horses, pedestrians, bicycles… listened with easy familiarity to the cussing and shouting going on. “New York. It’s always been… it always will be…”
Taylor bolted upright, the sudden noise jolting him awake, startling him badly. Eyes wide, sleep draped mind still unable to process, he stared wildly into the air as the incredible racket went on and on. Clattering, clanking, screech of metal on metal, sharp crackings, shouting voices… what on earth was going on out there? Shaking his head, knuckling at his eyes, he quickly aimed for the window, leaning out… bursting into sudden amazed laughter. “A traffic jam! It’s a traffic jam!” Some things never changed, and he gazed with surprise and delight at the tangle of carts, wagons, horses, pedestrians, bicycles… listened with easy familiarity to the cussing and shouting going on. “New York. It’s always been… it always will be…”
Chuckling, feeling a little better than the night before, he wandered out into the hall, trying to remember where the living room was. This place was huge… and in the light of day he could finally see it clearly. It surpassed all of his dreams of the inside of the Dakota, and the fact that he was seeing it new… he could feel himself starting to mentally stall, and shifted his thought line. He couldn’t think about that too much, it seemed to lock up his gears. Now where was everybody? Feeling a little like a snoop, he wandered the vast apartment, counting 17 rooms, peering cautiously into each of them. Most were empty of even furnishings, and none held his companions of the night before. Where were they?
Feeling a slight edge of panic, irritably shoving his hair back, cursing Ben for having taken even his hair tie, he took himself back to the living room, only marginally aware that he was talking to himself. “Okay, they’re not here. That’s okay, Taylor, that’s okay, they’ll be back…” He sat at the table, forcing himself to slow his breathing. “Don’t panic, don’t panic, they probably just went to the store or something, they aren’t going to leave you, just CALM DOWN!” Easier said than done, he felt cold sweat break out the length of his body, and the familiar surge of adrenaline. “Good, good, a hundred years in the past and I’m having an anxiety attack, good… just calm the hell down.” Thinking that if he could handle going to sleep a hundred years before he’d been born, he could certainly handle getting up in the morning without a sitter, he put his head down on his arms, counting. By the time he hit 40 he’d started to come down, and get back in a normal frame of mind. He hadn’t, however, stopped talking to himself. “Okay. Okay, its 1883. You have to go out there and find this Joshua kid. There is no TV. There is no radio. Is there radio? There must be radio… there are no movies. There are no cars. There should be cars… oh GOD!” The sudden knock on the door brought a screech from him, and he found himself suddenly braced to run, panting, gripping the side of the table. “Taylor, calm down. It’s the door. It’s just the door.” The knock came again. “Yeah, see? Just the door…” Again, this time the knock was louder and held a hint of frustration. He looked up, knowing he should be doing something, unsure what it could be. “The door… just someone at the… OH FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, TAYLOR, GET THE DAMN DOOR!” He got up, groaning at how seriously unhinged he seemed to be, and opened the door onto a very peeved looking little man. “Bout time…” The voice was pure New York attitude, and Taylor shrugged helplessly. “I… sorry I… what is that?” Looking at him as if he were an escaped lunatic, the man pushed past him into the apartment. “What is it? What does it look like?” Taylor shook his head, knowing he was being an idiot, somehow unable to help it. The little man held tongs, and suspended between them… a rock? No… it was steaming… beginning to be too frustrated to cope, he sank down at the table again, watching as the man muttered his way into the kitchen, listening as he grumbled about people who were too stupid to know what ice was. Ice. Of course, this was 1883. There was no fridge out there. Iceboxes. They’d had iceboxes. Had they? He’d thought those were more of a fifties type thing. “I should have paid attention in history…” “Well?” He jumped, looking up. The peeved little man stood, thumbs in his suspenders, looking at him with ill disguised contempt. “Well what…” “Well are you going to pay for the ice?” Taylor shook his head, helplessly confused. “It… I… I don’t live here, I don’t have any money… they’re not here right now, I didn’t… you weren’t… I…” He stopped, overwhelmed. “I just can’t…” The little man snorted, and pulled a ledger from the bag slung over his shoulder. Penciling something into it, he tore it off, slapped it down onto the table, and, eyeing Taylor as if he expected him to bite, exited the apartment. Taylor groaned, knowing that if this was any indication, he was going to royally suck at this. Shrugging off the encounter, figuring the ice man had probably met people a lot stranger, his curiosity took him into the kitchen. Yep, that looked like it could be an icebox. All in all, it looked like a pretty normal kitchen, with a stove, sink, all the amenities. “They had a lot more back… back now? Oh God… than I realized…” He looked into the icebox, stomach suddenly snarling at him, and realized he hadn’t eaten since early the day before. “Wow… I wonder if it’s okay to eat this stuff…” He looked into the cupboards, finding plates, cups, silverware. What appeared to be a dry pantry, well stocked with food, as well as the few perishables in that icebox. “Okay. There’s nobody here. They’re not going to expect me to starve to death. I guess if they don’t like it, they’ll just have to go ahead and holler at me.” He toyed briefly with the idea of cooking something, the stove seemed a pretty straightforward gas job, but trouble identifying the food was getting in his way. Eggs he could recognize. But the rest were unidentifiable lumps of greasy substances, and slabs of some kind of meat, that defied definition. Sighing, he settled for slicing some bread off a loaf, and a glassful of milk, and settling down at the table in the kitchen, in front of a little round bay that looked out over the park. The breeze coming in was warm, and sweet, and he found a curious sense of wellbeing stealing over him. It was nice here. Very nice. He bit into the bread, groaning with pleasure. “God, I could live on just this for the rest of my life…” Vaguely wondering if they just made better bread, or if it had to do with being able to breathe, and smell things, better, he sliced off more, hoping nobody would mind. It was just incredible. The milk though, that was something else again. He’d automatically sniffed it first, never overly fond, or trusting, of milk. It hadn’t smelled bad, it was all there was, so he’d resigned himself to drinking it, but God, it tasted weird. Wrinkling his nose he sipped it again. Not sour, no… but too thick, too heavy. Too… milky. Grimacing, knowing he couldn’t run to the 7-11 for a coke, he forced himself to drink it, hating the way it seemed to stick to the inside of his mouth and throat. And it seemed lumpy kind of. God, what was up with this? Why was it… Realization dawned on him, then, that this was very probably raw milk, just out of a cow somewhere. Raising his eyebrows, he held the glass up to the light, wondering if he would see anything different about it. There were little clots of something in it… fishing one out, he realized it was cream. “Huh. That’s just gross…”
He had friends who swore by the stuff, insisting it was healthy. Himself, he’d as soon skip milk altogether, raw or not. Sighing, he finished it off, wishing for some hershey syrup, and set the glass in the sink. He’d have to find some clothes now.
He had a bad few moments trying to find the room he’d slept in, and felt himself absurdly on the verge of tears. The place was just too big, and he was too confused, and to top it off, the milk was sloshing around in his stomach in a way that was extremely nauseating. Finally resorting to a process of elimination, opening each door until he hit the right one, he located the room and for just a moment curled into the bed again. It felt safe, somehow. He lay there, thinking, taking stock of his situation. He had to find clothing. Somehow he was sure he’d open that wardrobe, or pull out one of those drawers, and find everything he needed. It wasn’t even a question. What was a question was the order in which those clothes would need to go on. He didn’t know how people dressed back… now. He found himself not even wanting to look. Still, he knew he’d have too. For all he knew, Kathryn and Ben weren’t coming back, and he was on his own. He couldn’t just lay here until they got fed up and sent him back. He’d have to do this, and he’d have to start with daring to get dressed. Sighing, rolling onto his back, grimacing a little at the way his stomach seemed to roll with him, he slid an arm behind his head, watching the shadow play of light on the ceiling. “Okay. I have to get up and get dressed. I have to find a key to this place so I can come back. I have to get my act together now, and get going on this.” Nodding, resolved, he sat up, and felt sweat break out on his face. “Oh, oh this is bad…” The nausea, annoying until now, had suddenly become acute. “I knew I shouldn’t have drank that, it’s gonna come right back up again, I just bet it is.” Swallowing, trying to ignore it, he opened the top dresser drawer, eyes widening. Nothing, absolutely nothing, looked even remotely familiar. “Do these people not wear underwear, or what?”. He shook out a few unfamiliar garments, and moved onto the next drawer, rolling his eyes. “God I’m not going to be able to dress myself! I want to go home now…” He laughed a little, the ridiculous humor of the situation far from lost on him. “Boy they better come back, or I’ll be running around here naked…” He plopped, disgruntled, on the end of the bed, running a hand through his hair. “Okay… I can’t get dressed. I can’t go out like this. I guess I just…” He cut off, swallowing hard against a wave of nausea so intense it almost grayed him out. “Oh God…” he started to get up, to get to a window or a bathroom or anywhere, knowing already he wasn’t going to make it, when an arm suddenly gripped him tightly and something cold pressed into his chest. “Right here, Taylor. Should have known…” It didn’t last long, and a few moments later he looked up into Ben’s eyes. “Your food sucks, Ben…” The man nodded, waited a moment to be sure, and took the bowl away, calling in from the other room. “You can eat plastic, but you can’t drink milk.” Taylor groaned, stretching out on his stomach and burying his face in the pillow, hating the taste in his mouth, thinking he’d sell his soul for a toothbrush. “I don’t eat plastic!” “Yes you do.” The voice was closer now, and he heard the clink as the porcelain bowl was set down. “And petroleum. And wood. And chemicals. Just can’t handle real milk.” “So I starve?” “You’ll get used to it. Come out now.” Taylor moved the pillow, and Ben took in his pale face. “Still feel bad?” “A little” “Go get some water. And then hurry, you have work to do.” “Right, work. The water’s safe right?” He groaned and got up, going back into the kitchen. “The water’s fine, Taylor.” “I won’t like, shrivel up and die because it has no bleach in it, or anything, will I?” “You’ll be fine…” “You don’t have toothpaste here, do you?” He heard Ben’s voice, again, assumed he’d misheard, and paused. “What did you say?” “I said…” Ben followed him into the kitchen. “Salt.” “Salt.” “Yes. Here…” He pulled a rag from the drawer next to the sink, wet the edge, and dipped it into the salt bowl. “Now, clean your teeth, get your drink, hurry!” “I can’t even figure out the clothes, Ben!” “I know, I’ll help, come on!” Rolling his eyes again, eyeing the salt coated rag dubiously, Taylor shook his head. “I don’t know about this… I seriously don’t know about this.”
“What do you plan to do about his hair?”
Kathryn’s voice was tired, and the sweet patience of the night before seemed to have deserted her. To Taylor’s eyes, she seemed depleted… less substantial. His questioning look had been met with a blank gaze, and a strong sense that it was best not to ask. Now, turning from the mirror, resisting the urge to laugh uproariously at his appearance, he felt an edge creeping in. “What do you mean, “do about his hair” Kathryn? What’s wrong with my hair?” His hands had gone protectively to his head, pulling the hair in question back. She shook her head, sighing. “Boys now don’t wear their hair that long, Taylor. Not if they’re over six years old. You’ll have to cut it.” He laughed, and shook his head, “Oh no, no no no, you’re not cutting my hair.” Ben drew him away from the mirror. “Taylor, with the long hair, you’ll stand out. You can’t stand out. You’ll have to cut it…” He was going for scissors, Taylor could see him. “And you’ll have to bite me!” His outburst froze the two, and they goggled. “We’re not cutting my hair! Don’t you have y’know… individualism? People who make statements? It’s New York!” Kathryn shot him a glare, her patience worn to nothing. “You’re not here to make a statement, and you have to fit in, now stop being so silly, Ben…” “Oh no, Ben you can just forget it. I’m not here to make a statement fine, but I’m not here to cut my hair either. You can say what you want, I’m going along with a whole lot here and putting up with it, but my hair stays just like it is. Period. That’s it.” He backed away as Ben advanced with the scissors. “No, I mean it. I swear to God, Benjamin, you come any closer, you try to TOUCH me with those, and you’ll be pulling ’em outta your eyeball. I mean it. This is not something I’m gonna back down on, now put them away.” Kathryn changed tactics. “Taylor, dear, it’s only hair. It will grow back again.” “Right, it will. You’re not cutting it. I don’t have to help you.” His expression had grown sulky, petulant, and Kathryn sighed inwardly. This was after all, part of the problem they were here to fix. Well… it was just hair. If it scandalized anyone, so be it. “Alright Taylor. Tuck it up under your cap. Let’s see.” Not a bit mollified, Taylor slipped the cap on, and glanced into the mirror, tucking his hair up under it, and surveying the whole picture. White open necked incredibly baggy shirt, with of all things, a white undershirt. Undershirt in high summer… these people were weird. His eyes traveled to the also incredibly baggy blue trousers, and the buttoned on suspenders. Topping off this highly fashionable ensembel was a hat, reminding him of nothing so much as a railroad cap. “God… I look like a paperboy.” Kathryn snorted, and turned her back. “Benjamin, set him up with enough funds to get him through the day.” She started to leave the room, stopping short as Taylor jogged over and took her arm. “Can I talk to you for a minute?” Sighing, she glanced into his face, and nodded. “Fine. Come with me.” He followed her into a small sitting room, nervously remaining by the door. “Well?” She waited, none too patiently. “What is it, Taylor?” Biting his lip, he stared past her for a moment, wondering if it would be better to just leave… but no. “Kathryn… I… if I made you mad… I didn’t mean to.” She shook her head, her smile gone. “Why is that, Taylor? Are you afraid if I’m angry I’ll turn you into fairy dust? Or worse, leave you to fend for yourself?” His head shot up, instantly on alert. Accusations? What had he done to deserve that? “I… no. No, I’m not afraid of you. I just… forget it okay?” He turned to leave, and she reached for his arm. “You’re a vain creature, Taylor Hanson. You’d leave everything in jeopardy over your precious hair. I suspect you would go home, before you would cut it.” He shook his head. “If it was that important…” “And if I were to say it were?” He stared, unspeaking, feeling his hand sneak into his hair as if of it’s own volition. “There, you see? Go Taylor, you have a lot to do. Make sure Benjamin gives you money.” He stood for a moment, not ready to leave yet. “Kathryn how will I find him? Joshua I mean. I don’t know what he looks like… I don’t…” He dropped his eyes, out of his depth and not liking the feeling. “Taylor.” Her hand touched under his chin, and lifted his face to hers. “You’ll know him. You’ve touched *everything*, you’ve felt it, and you’re a visitor in time, you have been given certain… I shall call them gifts. Gifts of intuitiveness. You’ll know where to find him, and you’ll know him when you do.” “But what if I can’t?” “If you can’t…” She ushered him out the door as she spoke, “If you can’t, you will come back here, and tell us, and we will take steps to remedy that situation. Now off with you.” “No wait!” She sighed. “What is it, Taylor?” “You guys aren’t being fair! You’re just sending me out there, with no idea… you drag me here, you don’t even ask, you tell me I have to help you, you give me food that makes me sick and try to cut my hair, and dress me like THIS, and then it’s just ‘You’ll know’?! Don’t you think you could help me a little?!” “You don’t think you’re being helped, Taylor?” “No, I don’t.” She smiled a bit, and touched his face. “Then you, my dear, have a lot to learn.” She turned on her heel then, vanishing into the next room, leaving him speechless.
“My God, there’s nothing here!” Taylor wandered down Central Park West… “8th avenue…” he reminded himself, “it’s still 8th avenue now…” gazing with mingled horror and fascination at the landscape. Gone were the towering apartment buildings, office buildings, hotels. Gone… all gone. In their place stood rambling blocks of single story dwellings, squatters shacks, ramshackle businesses. Handpainted signs advertised wares. Carpentry shop, read one. Window Screens, read another. Between the buildings chickens scratched in dirt dooryards, goats rattled chains and chewed restraining ropes, and small children played amid dust and animal droppings. He watched, for a few moments, a woman busily digging in a scraggly vegetable patch, amazed that this was uptown Manhattan. The urge, suddenly, to walk over and touch her almost overpowered him. She couldn’t be real. None of this could be real. It felt as if someone had whacked him hard between the eyes, with a giant unreality hammer. Nothing made sense. “Not gone…” The thought began to cycle, some kind of island of sanity. “Not gone, not gone… just not YET. Not built yet… not gone…” He eyed Central Park, wanting to head over there, not liking the dug up, unfinished look of it. He knew that up at the Merchants gate it was the way he remembered it. If he had to walk 8 more blocks, so be it. He stayed on the street side, deliberately avoiding looking at the corner that, in his mind, should have been inhabited by the Trump. “Not gone… they’re not gone… they’re just not here yet…”
Shivering despite the summer heat, he wrapped his arms around himself, suddenly lonely. At least he didn’t, in the clear light of day, feel like an alien alone on a strange planet. Though it all looked different, the throng of New Yorkers’ clogging the streets was much the same as it was in his own time, and he could see the writhing mass of traffic at the entrance to Broadway, exactly as it should have been. He headed through the gate, into the park, stricken for a moment with the sameness of it all. Yes, the trees were yearlings, small and spindly, yes the statues were new and gleaming and the roads dirt rather than asphalt, but Central Park had always had a timeless quality he’d loved, and he was excited to see it in it’s newness. “This is it’s RIGHT time” he thought, realizing that the nannies with babe’s in perambulators, and the young children in knickers and long skirts, fit into the overall picture much better than the roller blades and walkmen of his own time. It just seemed to click, and he supposed all places were like that. And all people. Everyone had a time frame that was their own, where they fit the best…
His thoughts wandered with his feet, down winding paths with no direction, until tired, of both walking and thinking, he dropped onto a bench, adopting his typical stretched across the seat, leg hooked over the back, position. He had started to doze, when he heard the voices near him.
“No, no listen.” The voices increased in volume as they came closer.