Josh Hewitt is an amazing writer. And an amazing friend. He is there for me whenever I need him, lifts me up, sets me straight. There is simply nothing I would not do for him. My bestie.
And of course it is because of him that this project even exists. He was the first one to ask me to write a short story. It was the first one I ever wrote. And now I can't stop writing the darn things.
I have read many things written by this man, and hopefully , if he allows me, I will continue to read more. The things he writes are brilliant, real, raw, and emotional. So I was totally ready for a tearjerker when he sent me this story.
And it wasn't. It was so completely different than anything he ever wrote before. He was so worried about it. Little could I explain that with his sheer talent, he had singlehandedly woven together all the parts to this blog series. And he never knew it.
So here it is. The man who started it all with the story that completed it all. Starting everything off. Fitting, don't you think?
"This suitcase is weird. Whenever I put my arm by it, my hairs stand up. It's like what happens when there's static in the air from a storm." Jesse repeatedly waved his arm over the worn leather.
"Shhh. I'm trying to really look at these things. Can you hush it?"
"And do you smell that? It smells like…" Jesse sniffed into the air. "like a burning phone line. Where the hell did this come from?"
Both the girl and the suitcase were unaware they were being watched. For the suitcase, this was unsurprising, because it was a suitcase and therefore unaware of everything. But for the girl? Even if she had half a heart to notice, everything had been just too weird for her to care.
Behind the glass, five of them stood, watching little Anna Robinson play with a doll, while the suitcase just sat there. The five observers watched as she picked the doll up and shook it a bit, then set it back down and started to fix it a dinner of the finest imaginary food possible.
Agent Donald, the tallish man in a crisp black suit, looked at the little girl, then turned his attention to the other four. He pulled a bit at his tie before he spoke.
“As you can see, she’s an average ten year old girl." He spoke with an air that tried it’s hardest to be authoritative, but he was very much out of his element here. Everything about him screamed unimportant government agent, someone who was nothing more than a replaceable cog in a greater machine, right down to his bought from Sears tie. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts--the unofficial motto of the US Government.
But before him? This was greatness. These were the parts that were, individually, greater than the whole.
“You four have been brought here due to your excellence in your field. Professor Einstein?" He pointed to the short, bald, wild-looking man with a devilish grin on his face. “Your work with the relativity of time and light speaks for itself.”
He turned to the lady feverishly jotting notes. “Miss Christie, your novels and mysteries reveal your ability to plot even the thinnest of clues to the outcome.”
Agent Donald looked over the bearded man tapping his fingers on his leg. “Mr. Blackstone? You are the world's greatest illusionist of this time, and someone who knows things you probably shouldn’t." Harry just smiled.
Donald looked over the thin, young man who lovingly cuddled a pipe with his thumb and first two fingers. “And, Mr. Canterbury. Your work in, shall we say, the darker regions of science…”
“Doctor." The young man with the pipe responded.
“Doctor." The young man with the pipe responded.
“It’s Doctor Canterbury. I…” the young man smiled a goofy grin, “I just got my doctorate.”
“Congratulations!" Einstein screamed with so much excitement, Agent Donald felt the need to grab his arm. Einstein just laughed merrily. “You shouldn’t be so surly--education is a most worthwhile goal, yes?”
Agent Donald nodded, then released his grip. He composed himself.
“So, why are we here? Your telegraph requested our services for a—how did you put it? A most 'peculiar case'." Agatha inflected, never breaking sight of the girl, still furiously writing, as if she was composing her latest novel off something she saw in the room.
“Yes, that. Well, in May of 1950...” Agent Donald dug into a file folder, looking frantically, “Yes, May 18th, Anna Robinson disappeared from her home. She reappeared four months ago.”
“Doesn’t sound that peculiar at all." Blackstone commented, a whiff of indigence in his words.
“Yes, that doesn’t. Here's a picture of her from before she disappeared." Agent Donald pulled a small photo from the file and handed it to the other four. They each took a moment looking at it, then back through the glass. Then back to the photo. Then, once again, back through the glass.
“She…she’s the same?" Blackstone lost his indigence. “The same age?”
“Yes. The same age. The same height. The same everything. She remembered standing on her parents' porch, then a bright flash of light. She was standing there when her mother opened up the door. Five years later."
“And the suitcase?" Canterbury asked.
“It was with her when she returned. That’s the only variable." Agent Donald placed a small bit of emphasis on the last word, hoping it would impress Albert. Einstein smiled at him. “Other than that, she was exactly the same.”
“Excellent. A variable. Something we can build upon!” Einstein spoke confidently, and with enough enthusiasm to start Harry shaking his head.
“No, no. Any good magician knows that it’s the art of misdirection. The suitcase is to keep us from looking at the facts.”
“I would say it would most definitely be a clue." Christie offered up, finally having put her pencil down.
“I think it’s a suitcase." Canterbury lit his pipe and took a small drag off of it. The others chuckled.
“I think our young friend might be right." Einstein laughed. Agent Donald even smiled a bit, glad the tension had waned. “So, a girl disappears. She reappears five years later with a mysterious suitcase, not having aged a day." He slowly looked at the four of them. “How?”
“Easy. This is a con." Blackstone spoke in a whisper, drawing his audience near. “Yes, a very elaborate one. Obviously, this girl hasn’t been missing for five years. They aged the photo, and set about falsifying documents. Then, this fantastic story—the girl who disappeared for five years, but didn’t age a day. The newspapers will clamor for it! The money will practically print itself. Everyone will buy a copy. Then a book!”
“But, why the suitcase?" Agatha asked, her accent in full lilt.
“Easier still! Like I said—basic misdirection. May I see your pencil?" Miss Christie handed it to him. “I show you this pencil, and wiggle it in my fingers. It looks like rubber. And I tell you it is made of rubber. Then I do this." He held the pencil between the palms of his hands, long ways, and with one smooth and quick motion, folded the pencil in half, his hands meeting with a loud clap. When he opened them, the pencil was gone.
“Astounding!’ Einstein started to clap. “It’s magic!”
“You focused on the pencil, and what you perceived was its bending in half. But before you could process what happened, the clap broke your thought." He gently pulled his left hand across his right, revealing the pencil back in the palm of his hand. “Misdirection. We focus on the weirdness of the mysterious suitcase, meanwhile, the perpetrators of the hoax laugh all the way to the bank.’
“Who would do something like this?" Canterbury asked.
“Some reporter with low morals and a very large imagination. There've been many cases of this—like the Great Moon Hoax of 1835.”
“So, what do the parents stand to gain from this?" Christie looked at Agent Donald, who was already shaking his head.
“The mother’s uncle is a highly respected Cardinal in the Catholic Church. He even christened the baby—fifteen years ago." Donald looked at Harry. “So, highly unlikely the parents dreamed this up.”
“No, no. This is a perfect example of relativity!" Einstein shouted. “This young lady has somehow found a spot where she was able to go as fast as light. To her, time became as less real as the food she was serving her doll.”
“An anomaly like that, someone would have seen something." Canterbury said. “Were there any witnesses to her disappearance?”
“Nothing. Other kids were playing in the neighborhood. No flash of light, no loud sound. Nothing.”
“I agree with Mr. Blackstone. I believe this is a scam. Just one pulled upon the family." Miss Christie said, looking back over her notebook. “Someone kidnapped and murdered their daughter. Then took her place. Back some years ago, I was introduced, through an article, to hypopituitarism. This rare disease can make its victims resemble children. Cutting and dying the hair, using lenses to change the color of the eye…”
“But why?" Agent Donald asked.
“Money. Maybe they are delusional. Or, as Edgar Allen Poe knew, sometimes the best motive is revenge.” She chuckled a bit. “I thought of using the idea for a story once myself. Maybe one day I will.”
“According to all who know the family, they're well liked. And, while they have members of the family who have importance, they aren’t wealthy. It’s probable, but highly unlikely.”
“Can I speak with her?" Dr. Canterbury asked, looking through the window.
“Sure." Donald responded.
Canterbury approached the table where the young girl was still sitting, the suitcase parked neatly beside her. She looked up at the man, who had put his pipe away. He sat down across from her.
“Is it tea time?”
“Silly. Nobody drinks tea.”
“Ah. I’m sorry. What are we drinking?”
“And to eat?”
“Oysters Rockefeller. They're Daddy’s favorite.”
“Very fancy party here.”
“Are you going to ask me about it?”
“Ask you about what?”
“The stuff. All anyone wants to talk to me about. They ask me everything--what I saw, what I heard. That’s all they want to know about me.”
“Not me." Dr. Canterbury leaned a little bit closer. “I want to ask you, why are you not playing with Mr. Potato Head?”
“That’s a baby toy. I played with mine until I was seven." She smiled. “Don’t tell anyone.”
“I won’t. I bet you’re smart.”
“Got the best grades in my class.”
“Heard your Mom and Dad talk about the President, right?”
“I watch the news. Momma likes me to read the paper too. Says it builds vocabulary.”
“Well, let’s see how smart you are. Who is the President?”
“That’s easy. President Dewey.”
After chatting for a few more minutes, Canterbury walked back to the others, a wide smile on his face.
“How did she get the President wrong?” Blackstone said.
“She didn’t." Canterbury replied. “I also know who owns the suitcase.”
“Who?" Agatha asked.
“But, her father said he he'd never seen it before." Agatha's brows furrowed.
“Yes, the man you interviewed hadn’t. But her real father has.”
The other four looked puzzled before Albert spoke. “I think you should make more clear what you're thinking.”
“Simple. I think that, in a way, you were all right. Blackstone, the suitcase was misdirection. But only to us. It wasn’t placed here to distract us—but we chose to let it. Albert, there was an anomaly. But not here. And, Miss Christie, big fan by the way, I don’t think this is OUR Mr. and Mrs. Robinson’s child.”
“Our?" The four asked in unison.
Agent Donald waited on his answer.
“Yes. To borrow a term from Professor Einstein—it’s relativity. Say time is like walking along a path. Suddenly, the path splits into three. You stay on the center path. But, let’s say a version of you chooses another.”
“A version of you?" Agatha scribbled away again, obviously being inspired.
“Yes. time and space are relative. But what if something else is as well? What if, every time you make a choice, another dimension forms? What if reality is relative to time and space? Making it possible to travel between realities.”
“Interesting,” Einstein said, rubbing his moustache.
“If reality is also relative, then we have to assume there are other realities out there. That’s why this Anna believes Thomas Dewey won the 48 election. Because—in her reality—he did.”
“And how is the suitcase misdirection?" Blackstone asked, eagerly awaiting someone to prove him correct.
“Easy. Say, in that reality, Anna’s father is a scientist. Say he is working on a dimensional theory, such as myself. Say he found a way to poke a hole between the two dimensions, the two realities. Like I said before—there was an anomaly, just not on our side. He was trying to send this suitcase—this battered and beaten suitcase across the borders. And, by accident, he sent Anna as well.”
Agent Donald folded his arms across his chest. “This is too wild to believe.”
“Yes. She could have lied about the election. She could have lied about the suitcase. But why would she lie about Mr. Potato Head?”
“I’m not following…" Donald responded.
“Mr. Potato Head is a new toy. Just bought one of the firsts for my nephew two years ago. How could she have played with it up to when she was seven?”
“So, what happened to Anna? Our Anna?" Einstein asked quietly.
“Who knows? Maybe she was murdered. Maybe she ran away. Maybe, if realities are tied together, she was taken to the other one. But, it is my belief that the girl in there is not the Anna from this dimension.”
“Sounds a bit too much like science-fiction for me,” Miss Christie responded. Blackstone just chuckled.
Agent Donald escorted Dr. Jonas Canterbury to a room after the others had left. Donald opened the door, and closed it as Jonas entered. He stayed outside. As soon as Jonas walked in, he saw the figure sitting at the desk. He couldn’t believe it.
“You have a very interesting theory on our little Anna out there.”
“It’s the only one that makes sense." Jonas responded, pulling out his pipe.
“Well, I’d like to offer you a job. New division. Part of the National Security Agency.”
“I thought they were all about code breaking and communications?”
“Don't you think communicating with another dimension would fall into their area of expertise?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, I think you should look over what I’m offering you." He held out a small folder. Jonas smiled.
“All the same, I’d rather stay at the University, Mr. President.”
“Please, call me Harry.”
Two weeks later, Agent Donald presented his report to his superiors. He walked into the office, and looked at the panel around him. He sat down, and gently set his case on the table in front of him. After popping the latches, he pulled out a folder containing the contents of the incredible reappearing girl.
“Many theories. Only theories. No definite proof of anything." He walked over to the main desk and handed the folder to the chief. “Still, the process was entertaining.”
“And your report?”
“Tells everything. The greatest collections of minds couldn’t solve this mystery. But, they all had theories." He walked back to the table, but paused. The words of his Commander-In-Chief resounded in his head…the words he was told after Jonas had left. He turned back and said, “All but Dr. Canterbury.”
The case that sat on the table would have recognized the lie, if it could have noticed anything. It was, after all, just a suitcase.
But Donald, who had kept it after they sent Anna back home, thought it was something more. A suitcase that never was.
for more Josh follow him on Twitter @the_J_Hewitt