Dedicated, with much love, to a Philadelphian Country Gentleman.
I was sure that the Time Machine had brought me to New England, between 1775-1825. The Northernmost of the Red Rocks that bracketed the Colony of New Haven loomed above me, and I saw the milepost “NH XI”, by the highway. Only…I had no idea what year. Or what season. But it was cold. I only had eighteen hours.
It looked like an early Spring afternoon,though it was unclear what time it was. Without a clock set to local time, I’d have to figure out what day it was by the evening stars. But I needed to find food and shelter before dark.
There was a farm house in sight. Fairly well off, it looked like. But were are no animals in the pen, and the fields were still unplowed. Drawing nearer, I found there are some crops, but not developed, and in some shady places, there’s…snow?
But it wasn't white, or even the grubby color when the water melts and the dust cores appear. It was pinkish-orange, like pale human flesh, and the clouds in the sky were yellowish. Above me, the evergreens had lost their tops, as if singed. At least I had daylight.
But what kind of daylight? The Sun was hazy, and I could look at it easily. But it wasn’t the familiar white disk of a cloudy day: it had a sickly look, as if it were made of rotted cheese, and I realized I could see sunspots. As the Sun set, the sky turned a multitude of colors: red, orange, yellow, but also streaks of purple and even green in spots.
I walked towards the farmhouse. My knocks did nothing. Trying the door, it swung open.
There was a Star Spangled Banner on the wall— fifteen stars, the Standard of the Republic. It wasn’t often seen in homes, however, but rather in places connected with the military. Perhaps their boy had gone to sea.There are only three books in the room: a Bible, an almanac and an unlabeled book, which appeared to be an accounts book, or journal. Leaving the almanac aside, I examined the Bible.
Like many other people, there was a genealogy in front, which detailed the fortunes of the Atwater family, from 1684 to 1812: they were James and Mary (Merritt), who had had three children, two daughters and one son, one of whom died in infancy, one who left for Points West, and the son, dead in 1812, apparently in the War. As the light faded, I looked for candles, finding none, I brought the books away from the windows, and used my flashlight camera. The farm had not been large, but in the past few years, it appeared that the weather had turned crazy. They’d been unable to harvest, last year, and they’d planted not once, but several times this Spring. They’d tried to make up the difference by selling off their livestock, but it hadn’t been enough.
It would appear that I shouldn’t be expecting them home, for quite some time.
I finally found some candles, and my flashlight was strong enough to take pictures for the historians. I went from the Big House to the Little House, the Back House. There was a couple of…hams? sides of venison? hanging in the barn. There wasn't enough light, and I didn’t want to go too far.
I documented the clothes in the closet, the bed, the furniture. Antique dealers would vie for this knowledge. I took my emergency rations out, put out a vermin ward, and made to sleep in the kitchen. But first, I took a look outside.
It’s dark. But those aren’t Spring stars I saw through the haze, those were early Summer. I looked to the Almanac. And now I knew.
A year before this, Mount Tambora had blown its top in an eruption with a force three times greater than the strongest of all atomic bombs. In Switzerland, in the Villa Diodati, Mary Shelley is writing Frankenstein, and Lord Byron, Vampyr.
In the morning, I peeked into the barn.
I do not open the door to look at them.