Thomas was ten years old and on a plane, a plane going to his grandparents’ house on the shore of Lake Michigan. He hadn’t seen his grandparents since his father’s funeral three years ago. All he could remember was his grandpa smelled like apples and his grandma made delicious chocolate-chip cookies.
Thomas got off his plane at the airport. He took a taxi to his grandparents’ address and had the driver drop him off at the beginning of the long winding driveway. He slowly dragged his suitcase up the driveway and found… nothing. It was as if there had never been a house there. Thomas did recognize the old dead oak, but for some reason, it was alive. Strange, but he was sure he was in the right place. Grabbing his suitcase, he ran back down the driveway, which was now nothing but dirt, rocks, and dead leaves. Thomas tripped and skinned his knee but got up and kept on running until he reached the road. It was now dirt with wagon ruts on either side. He saw the beginning of another driveway a little ways down the road to his left.
It took Thomas a short time to reach it and he walked up the flower-bordered drive. A stately white Victorian house appeared, enclosed within a wrought-iron fence. It looked very out of place. Thomas stepped through the gate, walked onto the porch and knocked. The door was answered by a redheaded girl about six years old wearing a white dress and a sash that matched her sea-green eyes.
“Um, e- excuse me, but could you tell me the date?” Thomas asked, somewhat afraid of the answer and unnerved by the way the girl was staring at him.
“It is June 15, 1908, of course!” she laughed. This is not happening, Thomas thought. This only happens in movies or comic books! I’m dreaming. Yes, that must be it. Wake up! He pinched himself. It hurt. But wait a minute… this doesn’t seem to be a dream because I can feel and smell and hear everything. It isn’t fuzzy like my other dreams… so maybe this isn’t a dream? He pinched himself again just to make sure.
“You’re from the future, aren’t you, Thomas. 2004 to be exact,” the girl said quietly. “And all you want right now is to get back to your grandparents’ house.”
“Yeah, but I don’t see how that’s possible,” Thomas said. “Unless you know some magical way to time travel,” he added sarcastically.
“My name is Charlotte, and yes, I do know a ‘magical way to time travel.’”
Charlotte shut the door and skipped around the back of the house to the lakeshore. Thomas stood there, stunned, not sure if she was joking or if she actually could time travel. He decided it was worth a shot because he somehow trusted her. Thomas dropped his suitcase on the porch and followed her.
Down by the lake, the mid-afternoon sun was glinting blindingly off the water. Charlotte handed Thomas three pebbles she had picked up from the shore. How were pebbles going to get him back to 2004?
“Skip them while wishing as hard as you can to get back,” she said cheerfully.
“But what happens if they don’t work?” Thomas asked.
“Oh, don’t you worry, Thomas. My pebbles will work, I guarantee it, just as long as you believe,” she said confidently.
Slightly unsettled by Charlotte’s certainty, Thomas skipped the first pebble. Nothing happened. He glanced at Charlotte, who smiled innocently at him, then skipped the second one. Again, nothing. Thomas was starting to wonder if he was going to be stuck in 1908 forever.
Gloomily, he picked up the last pebble. He threw with all his might, but the third stone came skipping back. It was shining with all the colors of the rainbow, flying back towards him. There was a flash of bright blue-green light and Thomas found himself standing on his grandparents’ front porch with his suitcase.
* * *
Thomas’s grandparents were, of course, happy to see him. They fussed over how much he had grown and asked what had taken him so long. Thomas mumbled something about delayed flights. His grandma, sensing that something was wrong, immediately fed him a plateful of warm chocolate-chip cookies and a glass of milk. Soon feeling better, Thomas put a Band-Aid on his skinned knee and helped his grandma with the dishes.
In his bed that night Thomas replayed his conversations with Charlotte in his head and noticed something that he hadn’t before. She had known his name, the year he came from, and exactly what he wanted. How? Who was Charlotte? I’ll bike down the road tomorrow and see if I can find her house, he promised himself as he drifted off to sleep.
At seven o’clock the next morning, Thomas wrote a note for his grandparents and dug the old bike out from beneath all the other junk in the garage. Coasting down the driveway, he turned left and pedaled hard up the hill until he found the spot where Charlotte’s driveway had been. Now, it could not even be called an animal trail. Hopping off the bike, he walked up the trail until he found the fence, and beyond it, the house, still standing, if a bit overgrown and falling apart.
Leaning the bike against the fence, Thomas walked cautiously onto the wobbly porch and knocked on the door, half expecting Charlotte to answer it.
“Hello? Is anybody here?” he called, slowly forcing open the rusted hinges of the door and peeking inside.
“Um… Charlotte?” he whispered.
“Hello, Thomas.” Charlotte’s voice sounded whispery and seemed to come from everywhere at once. “I told you my pebbles work.”
* * *
Thomas’s mouth fell open. He was stunned. What was happening?
“Follow my ribbon, Thomas,” Charlotte said.
Thomas noticed her sea-green sash draped across a coat stand. Suddenly, the sash twitched and started floating.
OK, this is definitely not normal, Thomas thought, but I trust Charlotte. She must have a good reason for this… maybe…
The sash fluttered down the once-grand hallway and into the dining room; there were dusty place settings arranged on the table. The elegant French doors slowly opened and the sash darted out and soared into the woods. Thomas dashed after it, attempting to dodge branches and undergrowth. After a few wild minutes, the ribbon stopped by an old stone fence.
Thomas halted, panting, and wiped at the scratches on his face, then realized that the stone wall was the border to a private cemetery. The ribbon beckoned him over to a small granite gravestone. Thomas knelt and read:
Charlotte Catherine Adams
April 5, 1902–June 16, 1908
Thomas stared at the blurry words as tears filled his eyes. He hadn’t known Charlotte at all, but he felt like she was a little sister.
“Charlotte… w- where are you?” Thomas called. “Charlotte?”
“Thomas,” said Charlotte’s voice by his ear.
Thomas wiped his eyes and glanced up, and she was standing beside him, looking exactly the same as she had almost a century before.
“Charlotte, it says that you died the day after I came to your house. Did I do something that made you die?” Thomas whispered, hoping with all his heart that the answer was no.
“No, Thomas. It was a decision I made. I have to go now, but I wanted to say thank you.”
“Thank you? For what?” Thomas asked.
“For believing. You won’t be alone, I promise,” Charlotte said, handing him a pebble. “Goodbye, Thomas.”
“What? Charlotte, don’t go!” Thomas pleaded.
But she just smiled and faded into the early morning mist.
“Bye Charlotte…” Thomas whispered to the open air.
* * *
Thomas sat, frozen, for some time until the harsh caw of a crow startled him out of his trance. Stiffly getting up, he picked up Charlotte’s now lifeless ribbon and put it back in his pocket along with the pebble. Thoroughly depressed, he decided to head back to his grandparents’ house. Climbing onto his bike, he bounced back down the trail and onto the road, where he almost crashed into a redheaded girl picking wild blackberries by the side of the road.
Hearing the brakes squeal, the girl whirled around and Thomas almost fainted. She looked exactly like Charlotte, right down to the blue-green eyes. Noticing his astonished expression, she smiled a gap-toothed smile, stuck out her juice-stained hand, and said, “Hi! My name’s Lottie. Want a blackberry?”
And Thomas knew what Charlotte meant.