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April 2007

April 2007: Travel

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  • Fiction: Pieces of Who I Used to Be
  • Fiction: ALCAN Daisy
  • Fiction: The Path

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  • ALCAN Daisy
    by Shannon Wolff

    Ah, the wind in my hair, cruising down the highway in a convertible, my favorite song blaring on the stereo. That's the way to travel. Unfortunately, that's not the way I'm traveling. I'm stuck in the back seat with the most annoying little brother in history, bumping down a dusty dirt highway while my dad repeats the few facts he knows about the Alaska Canadian Highway over... and over... and over again.

    "ALCAN Daisy." The pest next to me cries as another little bit of gavel is thrown up by the tires of the car in front of us and chips our windshield.

    "Mom, can you get him to stop doing that?" I moaned and rolled my eyes.

    "Now, Daisy, he's only amusing himself." My mom replied over her shoulder, not bothering to look back. Ever since she told him what an "ALCAN Daisy" is that's become my unofficial nickname. I'd like nothing better than to loose it.

    Sighing darkly, I leaned back as Dad launched into another repeat lecture about how all the roadwork for the Alaska Canadian Highway, the ALCAN, was finished in eight months. It was mildly interesting the first time I heard it.

    We were somewhere between Big Delta in Alaska and Whitehorse in Canada, on the Canadian side of the border, and I'd heard nothing but ALCAN this and ALCAN that for hours. And the only reason we were even taking this trip was because my grandpa was one of the thousands of workers who built it. That was something else I'd been hearing about for hours.

    Dad thought it would be "fun" to drive around on the ALCAN for a few weeks this summer, Mom thought it would be an "experience", and the pest thought it would be "cool". I thought there were better things I could be doing with my last summer before college, but apparently my opinions don't count.

    "ALCAN Daisy." The pest cheered and poked my ribs as another bit of gravel pelted the windshield.

    "Do you have to do that?" I muttered and narrowed my eyes; the first time was irritating, now I was in danger of strangling the runt.

    "I'm just amusing myself."

    "How'd you like it if I amused myself by strapping you to the hood of the car like a deer carcass?"

    "MOOOOOOOOOM!"

    "Daisy! Be nice." Mom snapped, interrupting Dad's narrative on how there were no accurate maps of the area in 1942, when work started.

    "Maybe we should stretch our legs." Dad suggested as he pulled over to one of the photo opportunity areas.

    "Hey, Dad, tell us again how Grandpa Jack built the road." The pest demanded as we piled out of the car. I used every ounce of self-control to keep from strangling him.

    "Well, he didn't build the road by himself, son." Dad started as if the twerp didn't already know that. "His job was mainly repairing equipment when it broke down. And they had their fair share of breakdowns. This was rough country back then."

    I sighed and blew some hair out of my eyes as Dad droned on. I had to admit the scenery was nice; too bad it was obscured by the dust the other vehicles kicked up. Dad continued on with his story, as though everyone in earshot hadn't heard it a million times. How Grandpa Jack got hurt one day and was patched up by a nurse who would later become our Grandma Ethel, she worked for the U.S. Public Health Service then. And how when it looked like equipment was breaking down a little too readily people suspected Grandpa Jack of sabotage until he found the real saboteur. It was probably a minor incident, but to hear Dad tell it, you'd think Grandpa saved the highway.

    ".... And after the road was finished your Grandpa Jack married your Grandma Ethel and they moved to Fairbanks." Dad concluded his story for the million and first time.

    "And it's about time we got back on the road." Mom added giving me a strict look, like it's my fault my brother's a pest.

    Growling under my breath, I started back towards the torture chamber on wheels the rest of my family was climbing into. I was so busy trying to convince myself this trip had to get better; I didn't see the semi trailer barreling down the road. When I did look up I had just enough time to close my eyes and cover my face as the cloud of dust the semi kicked up swallowed the area.

    I opened my eyes expecting to see my dust coated family, but was in for a surprise. I wasn't standing next to a dirt and gravel highway in the June sunshine. I stood surrounded by bulldozers and other pieces of heavy equipment under the light of the full moon.

    I blinked. Once. Twice. And, to my dismay, I was still there! Full moon over head and road construction equipment all around me, I started to freak out. Somewhere between telling myself I was dreaming and fighting the impulse to scream, I heard a loud clank behind me and spun around just in time to see a tall lanky man carrying a huge toolbox come towards me, staggering under the toolbox's weight.

    Stifling a gasp, I hid behind a bulldozer as the man dropped the toolbox to the ground with a thud and moaned as he stretched his back. I know it wouldn't be unreasonable to ask this guy for help, or at least for directions back to reality, but as the moonlight hit his face I saw something in his eye I instinctively didn't trust.

    "Time to come out and play." The man cooed in a sinister tone as he started to undo the latches on the toolbox.

    "Hold it right there, Charlie." Commanded a familiar voice as another man stepped out of the shadows. As the moonlight hit the newcomer's face I couldn't help but gasp. He looked exactly like my Grandpa Jack, in the photos from when he worked on the ALCAN.

    "I was wondering when you'd show up, Jackie-boy." Charlie scoffed and stood up to face Jack. "Me finding you out here won't make those sabotage rumors go away."

    "You didn't find me out here, I found you. You're the saboteur!"

    "You should have stayed with Ethel, Jack. The rumors would have blown over eventually." Charlie's tone grew menacing and he rested his foot on the toolbox, which squirmed under his foot. "The rumors would have blown over and you and Ethel could have gone off into the sunset. Now I have to get rid of you."

    I swallowed hard as Jack continued to glair at Charlie. This couldn't be happening, a guy named Jack, who looks exactly like my grandpa did in 1942, has been accused of sabotage, and has a girlfriend named Ethel. That would mean I was actually in 1942 and "Jackie-boy" there really was my grandpa. And if the tone of Charlie's voice was any clue, he was about to be in major trouble.

    Charlie's maniacal laugh brought me out of my thoughts as he reached to open the last latch on the toolbox, which was now avidly struggling to escape, and I realized whatever was in that toolbox should stay there.

    "I was going to set these little monsters loose on the machines, but I guess tonight they get to take you apart." Charlie laughed as Jack's eyes scanned down, finally noticing the moving toolbox.

    "W-what's in the toolbox?" Jack stammered, his eyes suddenly taking up most of his face.

    "Gremlins. They love taking things apart; I let them out every now and then. They get too loud if I don't. I usually just let them mess with a little construction equipment and call it a night. You should see the look you guys have on your faces when you try to figure out what happened. The look you get on your face is particularly amusing, Jack. But, tonight, I guess I'll get to see how you look disassembled."

    To this day, I have no idea what I was thinking when I launched myself out from behind the bulldozer and darted towards the toolbox. I threw myself over it as Charlie undid the last latch and Jack raced towards him. Almost as though the gremlins inside could since the last latch was undone their struggles intensified. The next thing I knew, Jack and Charlie were fighting somewhere off to the left while I fought to keep the toolbox closed.

    The box bucked and shook under me as I tried to refasten the latches. The sweat from my palms made the smooth metal latches slip in my hands as the gremlins clawed to get out. I'd nearly gotten one fastened when the toolbox gave a violent lurch and I felt the rough corner of the lid cut my hand.

    A cry of pain died in my throat, the sound of little claws scrapping against the inside of the box demanding my attention. Claws the little monsters would no doubt use to take everything in reach apart. My breath coming in ragged gulps I threw all my weight against the lid of the toolbox and slammed my hands down on the latch only to be thrown off the box a moment later.

    I squeezed my eyes shut as I hit the ground. If I was about to be ripped apart I didn't want to see what was coming next. So, it was with closed eyes and my arms shielding my face I waited... and waited... and waited. But nothing happened.

    When I'd gathered enough courage to open my eyes I saw the toolbox leaping and pitching back and forth on the ground. I'd secured the latch after all! I almost laughed as I realized I wasn't about to be torn into unidentifiable pieces and ran for the toolbox again. I might be safe for the moment, but I don't know how long the one latch would hold back the gremlins.

    Several of the longest minutes of my life later, all the latches were refastened and I groaned as I stood up, shaking the pain off my cut hand. By now, Jack was sporting a black eye and a split lip, but was looking much better than Charlie who lay on the ground moaning. For another long minute we just stood there looking at each other. I guess Jack wasn't expecting his T-shirt and jeans clad granddaughter to show up.

    I opened my mouth to say something, anything, when a voice far to the left called Jack's name. Within moments several voices were calling for Jack and long narrow flashlight beams appeared around the corner. I could only guess they were authority types come to pick up Charlie and clear Jack's name, but I didn't have the chance to find out first hand. Soon as one of those flashlight beams rounded the corner it caught me in the eyes so I closed my eyes and held up my hands to shade them.

    And opened my eyes in the June sunshine. I had to shake my head and wonder what was going on as the dust from the semi settled again and I could see the car. What just happened? Was I really back in 1942? Telling myself that was ridiculous I started back to the car, assuring myself the whole thing was a delusion brought on by phenomenal boredom.

    "Daisy, what happened to your hand?" Mom asked as I opened the car door.

    I looked down and there was the cut I'd gotten from Charlie's toolbox, my mouth instantly went dry. I hadn't imagined it.

    "I don't know." I muttered and slid into the back seat.

    I didn't know what happened, or how I managed to go back in time, but I do know one thing: I'm going to have a long talk with Grandpa Jack when I get home.

    ,

    Shannon Wolff was born in Alaska and grew up in a little town called North Pole. This fact has lead every one of her relatives not familiar with Alaska, and complete strangers, to ask if she knows Santa Claus. She now resides in Cartersville, Georgia and is having mixed results with informing her new neighbors about her previous residence.
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