Jane Hitchcock twitched the feather duster over the shelf of old books, stirring up years of dust that had settled upon their frayed tops. Wonder why they’re hidden away in here where no one can see them, she thought. A treasure they are, so old. And worth a lot of money, I’ll bet.
Her nose tickled. She sneezed, the sound as loud as a thunderclap inside the small closet. The flailing duster snagged one of the books, knocking it to the floor where it lay open, its fragile insides exposed.
Jane bent over—no easy task for her two-hundred-pound-plus frame—and reached for the book. But then she noticed something. Strange. The lines upon the yellowed pages squiggled, wiggled, jiggled.
What in the world…
With a pained grunt, she dropped to her arthritic knees. She pushed back wisps of graying brown hair that had escaped its tight bun and peered at the dancing letters. Something was there, on the page beneath the words. She leaned forward for a closer look.
Her belly shoved up against her ribs, demanding room for itself, almost cutting off her supply of air and causing her to breathe in fast little pants. “What…is…that?” Her chubby fingers splayed over the brittle paper.
And she was falling.
Arms waving, hands clawing futilely for something to hold on to, Jane Hitchcock pitched headfirst into a pale-yellow nothingness.
She tumbled head over heels, a muffled scream spiraling out behind her. The long skirt of her full, flowery dress puffed out and wrapped about her shoulders and head. Cold caressed her dimpled thighs.
Her scream turned into a wail of panic. I can’t see! Expecting any second to feel her body slam onto the bottom of whatever she’d fallen into and splat red like an overripe tomato, she tore at the twisted cloth, I have to see!
She yanked the dress tail, heard the growl of its rip and didn’t care, and jerked it away from her face.
And she was still falling. Yellow all around, yellow above, and below…
A circle of brown rushed up towards her. She was fixing to hit bottom. Oh, my…
She closed her eyes, gritted her teeth, and braced herself for the coming pain.
Then, with a big ker–plop she landed on her butt. And it hadn’t hurt; not one bit. Every bone in her body should have been broken, but…
Jane opened her eyes. Wood-paneled walls, not the library’s cool white walls. And she was—her fingers closed around softness and she looked down at chocolate-brown fabric—on a bed.
She surveyed her surroundings. A smallish room with a low ceiling covered in the same dark oak as the walls. Against the far wall, a sturdy wooden table holding a white porcelain basin and pitcher. A mirror hung above. To one side of the mirror, a curtain billowed, exposing a round window. Below, squatted a sturdy desk and chair. Papers and books and maps littered the desktop.
She felt a gentle ripple of movement. Up and down. Up and down.
Good-god-gussy, guess I’m hallucinating being sick too. But then she realized it wasn’t her stomach flopping around; the entire room undulated like the roll of a—
Ship…I’m on a ship.
Jane vaulted from the bed, lunged the short distance to the window, and snatched back the rainbow-striped curtain. Blue for as far as she could see. Blue water, blue sky. Looked like she was smack-dab in the middle of an ocean. But how? She’d reached down to pick up the book, and then…
Her eyes slid over to the mirror. She glanced in the cloudy glass, then looked away from her reflection, back out to the placid sea. That wasn’t me! Her eyes snapped back for a second look.
In the mirror, a wide-eyed young woman stared back at her. Shiny, blonde curls framed her exquisite face. Big green eyes, slim little nose, and pouty red lips graced her peach-kissed skin. It was the kind of face one would find between the covers of magazines with headlines that shouted: Inside—The World’s Most Beautiful Women!
“Oh, my…” The woman in the mirror mouthed the two words. Jane reached up with trembling hand and touched the glass, and saw her action duplicated there. “It can’t be…”
She looked at her hand, turned it this way and that. No age spots, no swollen knuckles. Then up her toned arm to small, firm breasts. Lower, to her belly, that now appeared to be as flat as a pancake beneath a diaphanous, pale-green gown. She hiked up the tail, exposing trim ankles and tiny feet. “Oh, my…”
Somehow, some how, she had fallen into someone else’s body. This wasn’t even a younger Jane Hitchcock; she’d never looked this good, not even on her finest days in her early twenties. The best that had ever been said about her was that she was plain.
Something behind her rattled. Heart in her throat, Jane whirled around just as a door—she hadn’t noticed a door before, maybe because it was the same color as the walls—creaked open. In walked the most handsome man she’d ever seen in her life. Tall, broad shouldered, chiseled features. Straight, jet-black hair pulled back in a queue. And tight white pants. Every woman’s dream. At least the ones who read all those Harlequin romances, which Jane did. At least two a week.
“Finally decide to get up?” He smiled, flashing perfect white teeth.
“I…uh…suppose…” Flustered, she was at a loss for words. Good-god-gussy, he’s so pretty.
He moved toward her, and the closer he got, the hotter she got. Her face, her entire body, felt on fire.
He caught her hands and brought them to his lips. He kissed her knuckles. “We’ll be in port in the morning, my love.” His husky voice was a caress in itself. “As soon as I can locate a priest, we’ll be married. Then there is nothing your father can do for you will be mine before man and God.” His sapphire eyes snared hers. “Though you are already mine in other…ah…more intimate ways.”
Jane opened her mouth, but no words came out. This man knew her, evidently quite well, and she didn’t even know his name. And she’d always been uncomfortable around attractive people, so aware of her own dowdy looks that she couldn’t even carry on a decent conversation.
A look of consternation settled upon the pretty man’s features. “Angelique, are you regretting coming with me?”
“Oh no, not at all…” What was his name? “…darling. I’m just…” Just what? Shocked? Scared? Wondering how on earth she’d gotten here? Wondering who he was? Wondering who she was? She settled with: “Tired.”
His grin widened, cutting a pearly swath through the forest of black stubble covering his lower face. “I kept you up too late, didn’t I?”
Jane didn’t think it was possible to get any warmer than she already was, but she did. Heat mushroomed in her chest and crawled upward, spreading across her face and scalp in a fiery wave. Why, even her ears burned.
Embarrassed and a bit ashamed—What had this Angelique, what had she, Jane Elizabeth Hitchcock, done with this man?—she looked down at her bare toes.
The pretty man circled her with his arms and pulled her against his body. He kissed the top of her head. “My little innocent,” he said. “So easily embarassed.” His fingers tangled in her hair and gently pressed her cheek to his chest over his heart. “But I would not have you any other way.”
Jane gave herself to the embrace. It felt good, so darn good to be held, to be cherished. In her fifty-nine years of life, other than Papa, no man had ever hugged her, no man had ever loved her. Not that she’d expected it. She was fat and homely and bookish. What man would want a woman like her?
This may be the last time, the only time. Jane closed her eyes. She breathed in the pretty man’s scent, sweat and tobacco and sea brine. She absorbed his feel, the hardness of his muscles. She listened to the steady beat of his heart, the whoosh of blood pumping through his veins.
A series of quick raps upon the door jerked them apart. “Captain, you’re needed on deck! A ship’s off our starboard bow, coming on quick!”
The pretty man grasped Jane’s shoulders and planted a quick but fervid kiss upon her lips. “Stay here. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
And he yanked open the door and was gone.
“Oh, my…” Jane laid her fingers upon her throbbing lips. Her first kiss.
From above, she heard men shouting, the pounding of feet, and wondered what was happening. A ship. The person at the door said a ship was coming. Maybe she could see it if she looked out the window.
Jane started toward the window, but on her second step, her toes bumped against something. She looked down.
And there was a book. The Book.
She squatted beside it. The book lay closed in upon itself. Why it looked like just an ordinary book, old yes, but not a time machine by any stretch of the imagination. Her eyes lit on the title: Eighteenth-Century Pirates of the Caribbean. Hmm…interesting.
She reached out her hand, touched the tip of one finger to the ragged spine. Nothing happened. She drew her finger in a line from the top of the front cover, right down over “Pirates” and to the bottom edge. Again, nothing.
She must be dreaming. After all, one couldn’t fall into a book and be spit out into the past a completely different person. She’d wake up any minute and be in her own bed with Fluffy and Charmin and Dolly curled up around her. And she’d get up and waddle to the kitchen, the kitties weaving in and out between her legs and meowing to be fed, and pour that first cup of coffee. And while the kitties ate, she’d pull the box of chocolate-covered donuts she’d bought last night at Walmart out of the cabinet, and eat the remaining half-dozen.
Jane sat down cross-legged on the floor. She picked up the book and hugged it to her breast.
Only a dream.
Above her head, the racket intensified. Then a thunderous boom shook the entire ship. A cannon? Was that a cannon firing? What in the world was happening?
Jane scrambled to her feet, the forgotten book slipping from her fingers.
Another deafening explosion, this one causing the ship to pitch violently, sending Jane stumbling across the floor of the small cabin. The ship reversed its roll, and she lost her balance. I’m ready to wake up now, she thought as she toppled over backward.
To be continued…
Image from Pixabay