The Lost Days
G. C. Dillon
It was a lovely winter morning. A light snow from the night before covered the grass and the red clay soil of the hillsides.
An elderly man made his way through Memorial Park of the largest town in Smithfield County, Virginia. He pushed a Bi-Lo shopping cart along the concrete walkways, cutting half-inch deep ruts in the snow. A ripped ad for toothpaste hung on the front of the cart, almost, yet not, a car's license plate.
The man wore a faded, brown trench coat, fingerless gloves, and sneakers with a small hole in the toe of the right foot, from which soiled newspaper could be seen. He stopped at a trash bin, and began to search through it. It was his daily ritual, to canvass the park and pick up soda pop cans and plastic bottles before the maintenance workers came by. While there were fewer to collect during the colder season, it was easier as no high school students are hired to clean the park.
"Megrim, you wanted to meet." A voice came out of a small clump of bushes, mostly bare branches this time of year. It came from a Pixie, an Elf, a Fairy, a Sidhe, one of the Wee Folk, call it what you will. Its kind has been known by many names, by these and many more. It had jade skin, pointed ears, and wispy, curnute antennae.
"Shh, Tior. They'll think I'm talking to myself," he said, pointing a grimy thumb at two business-suited people having an early morning smoke in the park. White clouds streamed from their mouths. Church bells rang through the air, tolling nine o'clock. The old man took a can out of the bin, and poured its remaining contents on the ground. A small orange stain ate into the newly fallen snow.
"Does this state even have a bottle return law?"
Megrim looked pensive a moment, then said, "No matter. I'll bring them back in a state that does.
"Chilly this morning, eh? Must be only a single degree. Wait. That's on old Isaac's scale. Guess I still gauge the temps in it. That would be …oh, let's see… subtract thirty-two, times seven twenty-fifths, add seven and a half… 37.5 degrees Fahrenheit. I studied with him, you know. Newton I mean."
"Megrim, you wanted to meet." Tior was growing impatient.
For a moment, Megrim frowned. "I did?" It was so easy these days to get lost in the overflowing warehouse of his memories. Live long enough, and everything reminds you of another place, another time. Finally, he managed to recall why he had come to the park. "I did! I need your assistance. Get in."
"In there?" The Pixie pointed at the cart, scowling in distaste.
Megrim moved his ripped plastic bag aside to reveal a corrugated cardboard box with the name of a local egg farm printed in stylized lettering along the side. "Johnnie Greene's" it read. It looked surprisingly clean and dry.
"As warm as a dragon's egg and twice as safe."
"I need you to be my anchor, my lifeline back."
"Back from where?"
"The Lost Days."
"What is today?" asked Megrim, the wizard.
"Dies Dominica," Tior said. "Sunday."
"February 29th, in fact. It's known as leap year."
"I recall. An extra date in those of your years that can be divided by four evenly."
"Unless divisible by one hundred, but not by four hundred."
"You humans make everything so difficult."
Megrim began to chuckle. "That we do."
"Not that I am not happy to see you, but do you not know any other wizards who can help you? Prospero perhaps?"
"Despite all we have learned, every talent we may employ, every feat we can accomplish, we wizards are still human. Earlier I said I thought of the temperature in the measuring I learned in my youth as an alchemist so long ago. I also think in terms of a calendar. I may miss a day or two, here and there, but I am still living in mortal time. I am susceptible to The Lost Days. You, Tior, are not."
Megrim continued pushing his cart. Slowly the scenery changed, from the downtown park, through the quaint old Main Street businesses, to the sprawling mega-store franchises. Slowly the houses became older, built with long porches and stately widow's walks. A few of the buildings had small bronze plaques listing their date of construction.
"What do you know of calendars, Tior?"
"They have pictures of puppies and covered bridges, or else swimsuit models and firemen."
"Fascinating topic," the wizard continued, ignoring his comments. "The strict Islamic calendar relies on actual sighting of the moon, which can be quite a spot of bother in inclement weather." Megrim laughed softly.
"The Hebrew calendar has regular, incomplete, and abundant years. The Gregorian calendar replaced the Julian one. Not to be confused with Julian period or computerspeak's Julian dates…"
"Julius Caesar's calendar was replaced by Pope Gregory XIII -- né Ugo Buoncompagni -- not the Great one, I'm afraid -- in the Sixteenth Century."
"Megrim!" Tior shouted. "Get to the point. Please."
"I was just getting to that. Tsk. Tsk. Immortals should have more patience." Tior settled himself uneasily in his cardboard carton. "Where was I?" The wizard began to stoke his long white beard. "When the new dating system went into effect in October of 1582, dates were removed: the calendar jumped ten days. Great Britain and its English possessions, being a proper Protestant country, didn't adopt the papist, Gregorian calendar until anno Domini 1752 when Wednesday, the second of September, was followed by Thursday the fourteenth."
"Megrim," pleaded the Pixie in the box.
"This fine state was an English possession at that time so this area lost those eleven days."
"The Lost Days."
"Yes, one grouping of them at least. But that's not exactly the reason I called you."
"No?" Tior asked, exasperated.
"What if someone had been caught up in that missing time?"
"By caught up," Tior said, "you mean trapped."
"Exactly my point." Megrim slapped the handle of the cart. "Who told you?"
Tior looked about. The wizard had stopped on the steps of a large mansion. A wooden billboard near the cart relayed the hours of the Stoughton-Endicott House Museum. It opened at noon on Sundays, and the 'Gift Shoppe' opened at 1:30 pm. The sign informed all that the original building had been built by Fitzhugh Endicott and had been turned over to the Smithfield Historical Society by the two Stoughton sisters in 1956. 'Dowagers,' Megrim mouthed.
"Today, being the one hundredth third Gregorian leap year, gives me a natural portal into The Lost Days. Any leap year, any hiccup in time, will do. Oh, I suppose I could even attempt it at the start to Daylight Saving Time, but that is less than a blink to the cosmos, a bit of flatulence in the chronosphere. Besides, who wants to stay up till 2 a.m.?" Megrim paused. "A least in this city." And smiled.
Megrim began to go through his pockets. "Now, where was it? I shall need it." The wizard stopped and rummaged in the plastic bags in Tior's cart. "Ho, hee," he cried, and pulled forth a slender orchestra conductor's baton, a small green price sticker still stuck to its weightier end.
"Is that your wand?" asked the Pixie.
Megrim looked startled. "Course not!" He lowered his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. "It's me staff." He straightened.
"I must be a pied piper to lead these rats out of the temporal prison of Hamelin." He brought the baton to his lips and pretended to blow into a flute, his fingers tapping fluidly on the wood.
‘You mean children, don't you?"
Megrim thought a moment. "Yes."
Megrim began to wave his "staff" about and intone various words, some not spoken in centuries. "Chronos and Janus, dispel the vapors of time, reveal the Othergate," he finished, and put the baton into his left breast pocket. "Nothing clears the mind or excites the blood like a spot of magic. It's like mystical snuff. Come along." The Pixie followed the wizard. The air seemed heavy and the Pixie's normally sharp eyes could see little in the hazy atmosphere. Did they go through a doorway? Or was it Megrim's Othergate? Then Tior's vision cleared suddenly and they were in a spacious room of the mansion.
The sitting room was occupied by two people. One was a tall man who wore knee-length breeches and a black waistcoat. His hair had just begun to sprout grey hairs. The other was a woman of the same age. A woolen shawl was cast casually about her shoulders and bodice. An oaken table was set with a white lace cloth and piled high with plates of scones, bowls of boiled peanuts and tea set. A tea ball slowly dripped its excess onto a small tea towel.
"There is something off about this food. It's not rancid exactly, but off in some way."
"Tior. What do you expect? It is over two hundred twenty-two years old."
The man approached them. Surprisingly, he did not appear surprised by two strangers suddenly appearing in his house. "Colonel Endicott at your service. Are you an itinerant preacher, sir?"
Megrim paused a moment, recalling that the Great Awakening was barely a decade past for Endicott. He hooked his thumbs into his coat lapels and said, "Verily." He then pulled an oblong leather book from his pocket. A thin black ribbon was thrust between two leaves of the tome, marking an important passage, no doubt.
"Is this your slave?" the man asked, bending down to get a closer look at Tior. "He's a bit -- green. I've never seen the like."
"You keep thralls!" Tior's bronze dirk was halfway out of its sheath by the time Megrim gently laid a hand on his shoulder.
"They're not here. Different calendar. Their entrapment ended ages ago." Though, the wizard mused without informing the Pixie, household servants -- slaves -- could be present. Megrim saw something that interested him in the corner. He strode toward a piano. Lifting the lid over the keys, he mashed his fingers over the ivory. Even Tior could not recognize Straus's "Thus Spake Zarathustra" from the wizard's rendition.
"I say," Endicott interjected. "Is that in tune? I spent quite a few sterling having that shipped from Liverpool."
"Fitzhugh, you do so go on about that. You will embarrass our guest. Parson, do have some of our pee-can pie."
"Miss Julia, I am not embarrassing anyone. I am simply stating a fact. We in his Majesty's Colonies are honest, but roughhewn, craftsman. These amenities of luxury come from the motherland at no little price."
"You are a Tory, sir." Megrim smiled widely, pointing with his book. Before another word could be spoken, a child's slight voice sounded.
"Momma, have you seen Phoebe?" Tior turned toward the speaker. It was a young girl -- blonde, dressed in the long and simple Colonial garb. A white apron covered her cotton shortgown, and a small blue country cap covered her hair. She carried a rag-doll sporting a burlap blanket shirt; its corncob face was painted with a big smile and the wide eyes of the Manga au courant two hundred years hence.
"No darling. I haven't seen her all... all..."
"Day?" suggested the wizard to Mrs. Julia Endicott.
"Oooh, who are you?" the young girl asked. Her brown eyes grew wide looking at the Pixie. "My name is Sarah."
"Hello," he replied. "I am Tior."
"You haven't seen Phoebe have you?"
"Is Phoebe…" Tior turned toward the wizard. "Is she one with a different calendar?"
Megrim shook his head affirmative. Sarah answered: "She's my nanny."
The wizard then took the Endicotts by the arms and led them to a seat by the windows. September sunshine shown down upon their faces. The afternoon shadows lengthened as they conversed. Megrim tried desperately to impress the danger of The Lost Days upon the Southern couple. Their faces betrayed the fact that they believed him to be a madman. The wizard took Julia's hand in his own. "Mrs. Endicott, please, you must believe me."
"I do not understand why you wish us to abandon our home," Endicott replied finally to the wizard.
"Colonel, I implore you. Everyone in this house must follow me and my guide"
"Your guide? It's not Croatoan, is it?"
"No. Not very likely." Megrim looked back at the Pixie as he sat on the floor with Sarah Endicott. He leapt from his seat and called out.
"Tior, can you still see the way back?"
"Yes. It is right there." The Pixie pointed.
"I cannot. We must leave, even if I have failed."
"Megrim, we cannot leave these people like this. They are not living. I would not even say they are existing."
"I can't force them. They have chosen to be here. They will not listen to me, not listen to reason."
"But the child!"
"There is nothing we can do. They're trapped completely by the temporal anomaly."
Megrim stepped in the direction the Pixie had indicated the way back was. Tior grabbed the child's hand and began leading her away too.
As before the air around them became cloudy, as if the fog of time had settled about them. If smog is smoke and fog, is this timog? Megrim chuckled to himself.
But Sarah cried out, she twisted her wrist to escape the Pixie's grasp. "Momma. Momma," she called out. "Phoebe, help me!" She broke from the Pixie's grasp.
"Tior. Tior, are you there?" Megrim the wizard found himself lying on the snowy lawn before the Stoughton-Endicott Museum. His body formed an unintentional snow-angel as he struggled to rise. If anyone looked carefully they would have noticed there were no footprints leading to the angel. He looked around frantically for the Pixie.
"I am here."
"She could have found her way back from The Lost Days."
"Sarah is not here."
"Her way back is to the Eighteenth Century C.E. Or she could have gone deeper in to be with her family. I'll never know. This portal is closed to me now. No stamping of the hand for reentry, to be sure."
"A single cast of the die," the Pixie said sadly.
Megrim sighed. "There are others we can try to rescue -- in four years, that is. An eyeblink for you, a short nap for me, and -- no time at all, really, for them. But for now -- for now, help me find my cart! We need the cash from those returns. You look like you could use a cuppa tea. And I surely could go for a mug of coffee. I know a glamour spell that might just get us both into Starbucks."
© 2005 by G. C. Dillon
Bio: The author tells us: "G.C. Dillon is a Connecticut resident by birth, a computer programmer by training, and a writer by inclination. He has appeared on aphelion-webzine.com's May poetry section and contributed to quantummuse.com's July Museletter. He been published on scribaltales.com, scifidimensions.com's January & May Letters to the Editor and deep-magic.net's March Writing Challenge; as well as The Cenacle magazine, Across the Universe fanzine, and Trap One Report newsletter of UNIT-USA. When he is not engrossed in legacy COBOL, Java, Python or PL/SQL, he likes to shoot off his mouth at the Aphelion Lettercol under the nom-de-plume (nom-de-ordinateur?) of 'Cuchulain'." More recently, his story Pixie's Lament appeared in the September 2005 Aphelion.
E-mail: G. C. Dillon
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