Savanna could see the open door, plain as day, but she chose not to walk through. Not yet. It would disturb the counselors. She’d been in this particular asylum for two days now, and wasn’t yet bored. They treated her well enough, as well as could be expected, you understand. A time in the loony bin wasn’t a vacation by any stretch. The food was okay, and the beds were nicer than those in a real hospital, that was for sure. They weren’t hospital quality, of course, but they didn’t have the weird side-rails either.
Maybe tonight she would walk out and look at the stars. They never let the patients out to see the stars, or even the sun. Fresh air was forbidden to them, as if their disease was catching, like it could spread in the air. They were locked away in theory for their own good but really it was for the community. It wouldn’t do to have any sort of weakness on display. It was like how some communities banned homeless people from selling newspapers on street corners out of embarrassment that they were proof that homeless people lived within their boundaries.
She’d walk out as she always did. She would simply walk forward, shifting her vision to the past, back to before the building was there. She’d done this for most of her life. It would get her out of here. It was also what happened to get her into here.
Perhaps her unusual gift was a side effect of her amblyopia. Her eyes hadn’t worked together her whole life. Abnormal vision was her normal. She’d learned to switch her vision from her left eye to her right, because she didn’t have bifocal vision. Her eye doctors didn’t like it one bit that she could switch, didn’t understand it. But it made sense. You make do with what you have. You make it work, even when others think it is broken. If you don’t know otherwise, “broken” becomes a blessing, because it teaches you to see in other ways. Sometimes literally.
While figuring out how to use her (unknown to her) defective eyes, she learned to see the space between time, the shimmering edge between “then” and “now”. These days, Savannah calls this a time-slip, but then she wasn’t aware that what she was doing was any different from anyone else. She could push that shimmering line a little, bend it, fold it back upon itself. Then it was just a little effort more to focus with her inner eye to see what used to be. Thankfully her crib had been on the first floor or she would have been in for a terrible drop the first time she tried her talent.
The first time she tried she was six months old. She shifted back to long before the house was there, before the subdivision, before the town even. She fell 3 feet from what was the first floor of the house onto a rolling hill. Breath knocked out of her, she sputtered in her amazement and suddenly found herself in her own time again, but this time falling into the basement. Her Mama found her there, wailing and dirty near the abandoned coal chute. They never did figure out how she got there. She certainly didn’t know, and at that age wasn’t able to tell even if she did.
That experience stuck with her, and over the course of her childhood she learned how to stay in the past longer and walk around. When her Sunday School teacher told the class about Peter walking out of prison she had an idea it wasn’t an angel who helped, but she wasn’t saying. She knew better by then to not talk about it.
She’d noticed that her ability wasn’t just unusual, it was downright unheard-of. After a few tentative efforts to inquire about it, she learned it was better to keep silent. If nothing else, it made games of hide and go seek much easier.
She learned she could walk to wherever she wanted to while she was in the past and then refocus and return to the present. By that point she could be on the other side of the playground or the neighborhood. She could stay hidden for as long as she wanted, or if she was “it” she could pop in on her prey without making a sound. After a while the other kids stopped playing with her, but she didn’t mind. This gave her more time to play with her friends in the past.
They were native children, who had lived here long ago, but had been dispersed when the whites came. They were like wild animals to these new settlers, who were fleeing religious persecution. It was too bad that their religious practice didn’t extend to seeing the natives as neighbors. The natives were relocated – land was found hundreds of miles away. It wasn’t the same quality of land, but it was somewhere, and the whites thought them ungrateful for not accepting their “charity”. The thought never occurred to them that if they had lived in harmony instead of pushing the inhabitants out that such kindness of a gift of scrubland wouldn’t be necessary.
When she was on her early wanders, Savanna had thankfully shifted into a time before all that unpleasantness, a time before the natives had reason to be wary. Plus, she was a child. Nobody felt threatened by a child.
But this was now, and the amusement of being in a loony bin was wearing thin. She wasn’t afraid like most of the residents. She knew she wasn’t trapped. The counselors and doctors didn’t know (or didn’t care) that their locked-door policy only made the symptoms worse for the residents. Large signs warning of patients “eloping” were affixed to the doors to warn visitors to not let a patient sneak out as they left.
There was no sneaking out now. She’d had her supper and the night shift was signing in. It was as good a time as any. She squinted and saw the shimmer of time bunch up. A twist, a shift and she was over the threshold, neat as you please. She walked out into the twilight painted field and went west towards the sunset. A mile later and she shifted back near a corner café with a payphone. She had researched this place a year ago when she moved to the area. It was best to be prepared. She knew the area around the jail too, just in case. Fortunately she had not concerned anyone enough to get put in there, but you never knew. Some small towns didn’t know the difference between dangerous and delusional so they ended up erring on the side of caution.
How has she ended up in this hospital? A time-slip wander that led to a fall, and a trip to a regular hospital had been the beginning. She had not planned on that wander, not that time. She was tired, overworked. Not enough “work/life balance” as her job prattled on about. She mused that if they really cared they would let her work less and pay her the same. Five days of work with two days off wasn’t balanced no matter how you did the math. This was especially true when most of her time off was spent doing chores and errands. When was she supposed to have some of that “me” time that people were always going on about?
That Thursday afternoon she had wandered at lunch and never came back to work. She was found, unconscious, near the river. She had gone back two hundred years before the river had come this far west, before the flood that had rerouted it almost overnight. She had gone back without thought, without plan and lost her bearings in the foggy haze of sleep deprivation and anxiety which had become her normal over the past year. She had spent so long feeling bad that feeling good was a distant memory. She would have been suspicious of it if it had dared to show up.
But then she slipped and knocked her head while “then”, so she woke up “now”, her head bruised. She forgot what had happened, forgot to keep her mouth shut too when she was found, and babbled on about the past and her native friends, and that very night found her the newest resident of the funny farm.
Yet it wasn’t funny at all, and it certainly wasn’t a farm. If it had been either, or both, maybe it could have done some good for its hapless residents. As it was, it only made things worse with its insistence on mind-bending drugs and no exercise out in the fresh air. Her time-slip wander was the only way to get out in under a week, when most were freed in eleven days. Not because they were healed, you understand. That was just when the insurance money ran out.
But now she was out, and it was time to look for a new place to live. It wouldn’t do for word to get out that she was less than normal. She’d have to be more diligent in the next town. All this moving was getting old.
(The photo was found on Pinterest. Unknown photographer or location.)