From: “Candlemas” by Paula Gail Benson, in Love in the Lowcountry, Volume 2 (2022). “Candlemas” is a time travel romance, told from different character viewpoints.
Charles Town, South Carolina 1770
Fear clutched at Amos’ innards like the talons of a black vulture. He could not remember ever being this frightened before. Not as a boy, when his parents were tragically killed in the touring bus accident. Not as a teenager, when his sister struggled on her meager nurse’s aide salary to provide food and shelter for them. Not even when at age twenty he foolishly stole the musty old volume from the community college library because it pricked his fingers with what felt like electric jolts when he opened its cover. From that volume, he learned how to get from the modern times to the past, where he felt most at home.
He never feared time traveling back to Charles Town. What terrified him was sending his colonial-born wife and child forward into a future completely foreign to them.
Dorothy, his wife and the daughter of an eighteenth-century physician, knew his secret–that he had been a twentieth century man. Somehow, she believed his impossible story and trusted him. Now, she stood before him in Saint Michael’s dark churchyard, holding a well-swaddled little Franny. The baby had stopped crying.
Amos lifted the blanket from Franny’s perfect face and hoped he had not overdosed her with laudanum. He could not risk the baby’s cries alerting the watch to what they were about to do.
“You have the letter for my sister, Clara?” He almost said, like the nurse Clara Barton, before remembering that Dorothy would not recognize Clara Barton’s name or know that the Continental Congress would employ women to serve as nurses. “Clara will know how to get Franny the medicine she needs to survive.”
Dorothy’s wide blue eyes gazed into his. “Why can’t you come with us?”
A shudder replaced the gripping fear, as if a ghost passed through him, a phantom of what he might have been if he were a better man. He swallowed and placed his hands on Dorothy’s shoulders, feeling them shiver beneath his fingers.
“When I came back in time, I changed another man’s destiny,” he said, keeping his voice steady and quiet. “That man would have prevented the spread of smallpox among the colonial troops. Now, I must do what he would have done, so that General Washington has the forces he needs to defeat the British.”
Dorothy’s face seemed paler in the moonlight. “General Washington?”
The stress added to Amos’ confusion. Of course, the General had not been appointed yet. There was no Continental Congress. “I mean . . .”
“The Boston massacre killings were a harbinger? War is coming? And, you will be in it?”
Amos hoped his expression might be more reassuring than it felt. “Don’t worry about me, my love. Remember, I have the knowledge to avoid mishaps.”
“Not to avoid changing that man’s destiny.” She looked down at their child. “Or escape disease.”
He dug into his vest pocket, pulling out a locket containing a miniature portrait. “Look. I found this in my parents’ belongings and brought it back with me as a good luck charm.”
She looked at the man’s painted face. “Who is it?”
“I do not know, but somehow, I feel this image is seeking its place in time just as I have been.” He tucked the locket into the folds of Franny’s blankets. “Now, are you ready?”
“Might we stay just a while longer?”
“No, my love. You must go before the first watch passes. Here, take the candle blessed at Candlemas.” He lit the wick and handed it to her. “Hold it before you and concentrate on the flame.”
“What am I trying to see?”
He remembered so well the last image he had focused upon, a poster on his bedroom wall of General Washington’s battlefield standard. “Look for the elusive six-pointed star. As difficult as trying to find a four-leaf clover in a green pasture. Breathe steady and keep your focus. Tell me when you spot it.”
She seemed mesmerized and began taking small steps. “I think I see it.”
“Keep watching, my love. Let your vision expand. There will be a field of blue with thirteen six-pointed stars.”
Her voice grew softer. “Like the colonies.”
He watched as she proceeded into the shadows, finally hearing her cry, “Thirteen stars on a field of blue,” before she disappeared completely.
A light breeze swirled around him, as if closing an unseen barrier.
“Time, be good to them, as you have been with me,” he whispered.
Dorothy, Franny, and the wind were gone. He never felt so alone.
Paula Gail Benson is a legislative attorney and former law librarian. Her short stories have been published in the Bethlehem Writers Roundtable, Kings River Life, Mystery Times Ten 2013 (Buddhapuss Ink), and A Tall Ship, a Star, and Plunder (Dark Oak Press and Media, released January 20, 2014). She regularly blogs with others about writing mysteries at Writers Who Kill. Learn more about her at her personal blog, Little Sources of Joy, and her website.