It was inspired by road trips along US-1, where many derelict motels and diners still stand–remnants of times past. Much of it takes place in St. Augustine, which is a museum of a city, the oldest in America, with countless fascinating places on every street and byway.
Here is a post I wrote about some of those abandoned places along US-1.
I have posted the opening chapters below. If you’d like to contact me about this story, email me at tia at tianevitt dot com.
Addy was afraid. They’d driven all through the night. Yesterday, their journey to the tempo fair had gotten even scarier. The highway had filled with fast-moving, honking things, and Mama turned onto side roads. She didn’t say so, but Addy knew they were lost. And Mama, who was always able to answer her questions before, had no answers this time.
Mama kept looking behind them. Nothing was ever there, but the cousins had already found them—twice. Both times, they had been resting. Both times, Mama managed to outrun them, thanks to the fine horses that Papa had gotten just before their trip.
Addy had never known that cousins could be so scary. But all the cousins that she ever knew before were Papa’s cousins, not Mama’s.
They returned to the highway. The wide one, with the grassy lane down the middle. As long as they kept moving, Mama said, they didn’t have to worry about those cousins, or those honking things.
But the horses were getting tired.
Lights appeared ahead—a town. Mama entered the town, ignoring the strange red and green lights that they pass under. Everything was quiet. Then Mama urged the horses into a wide area paved with macadam. Addy saw a cross as they went by—it was a church. She was relived. The priests will help. The nuns will help.
Mama helped her and Mikey out of the coach, took them to the churchyard, and had them sit on a bench near a fountain. They watched while she fed the horses and led them one-by-one to the fountain, where they drank. Then, she hitched them to the coach again, came back for them, and lifted them into the coach, Addy first.
“You two still got your quarters?” she asked as she tucked a blanket around their legs. It wasn’t cold, but Addy didn’t mind.
Addy stuck her hand in her pocket and pulled hers out. “Yes, ma’am.” Mikey showed his quarter, too. Mama kept asking about the quarters. It was just an ordinary quarter, bright and silver, with Lady Liberty on one side and an eagle on the other. Addy never had her own quarter before.
“Keep them safe,” Mama said before she closed the door and got in the driver’s seat. Addy put her quarter back in her pocket. The coach lurched into motion, and the churchyard moved away. Addy leaned back with a sigh, ready for another long ride.
The horses stopped.
Addy slid open the panel between them and their mother in the driver’s seat. Beyond their mother, she could see one of those fast-moving things from the highway—an automobile, as Mama called it. She squinted at the twin lights that shone from the front of it. There were two thumps, and her mother’s cousins emerged from each side.
Mama turned around and slid the door shut. “You children stay safe inside,” she said. “Get down on the floor. I’ll handle this.”
Addy and Mikey slid to the floor. The coach shifted as Mama got out. Mikey looked at her, and then crept back on the seat and slid the panel open again. Addy followed him. They peered out as their Mama walked out in front of the coach, her shotgun in hand and aimed it at one of the cousins—Bill was his name. George was the other one. Mama said George was the tracker, but that he wasn’t as smart.
“Now don’t be getting squirrelly,” Bill said.
“You two get back in that thing and leave us alone,” Bethany said. “I mean it.”
“You know we’ll just track you down again,” Bill said. “You can’t stay awake forever.”
“Neither can you,” she said.
“Maybe not, but I don’t have to.”
Mikey pulled Addy’s sleeve. “Look.” Addy followed his pointing finger. The other cousin—the one Mama wasn’t watching—had his gun out and was creeping toward Mama.
Mikey grabbed the rifle and cycled the bolt. “I’m gonna help her.”
Addy hesitated a moment, and then nodded. Mama said he had to be the man of the family until Papa found them again.
She kept watch out front, her knuckles in her teeth. The door opened behind her. Mama’s head spun around and in that instant, Bill had his gun out.
“Stay in the coach!” she shouted.
“Now Bethany,” Bill said, “you’re outgunned.”
She didn’t answer, and everything got quiet, just for a moment.
Then, Mama said, “Not for long.” And she pulled the trigger.
The force of the blast threw Bill to the ground, but before Addy could gasp, Mama was cycling the shotgun and turning toward George.
But George was faster, and Addy’s world exploded with a flash and a boom.
Mikey sat in the playroom, holding what the lady called a toy car. By now, he had been inside a car. This was just like it—a police car, black and shiny. He stared at it. He could hear it again, see it again. That awful boom, his mother hitting the pavement. It didn’t help when he closed his eyes. He knew he is an orphan, now. Well, Papa was still alive, but not now. Only back then.
They said he shot a man. He didn’t remember.
The door opened. He opened his eyes and looked up. Several ladies and gentlemen kept coming in and out, but they made no more sense than the light that glowed overhead or the toys that made the strange chirps, like birds.
Right now, it was that redheaded lady—Susan. He felt funny calling an adult by her first name, so he didn’t call her anything at all. She had an older woman with her. Mikey looked at them, waiting for them to start talking to him again. They always did. They asked questions that he didn’t understand, and they didn’t understand his answers.
“Mikey, this is Jan.”
Mikey looked at Jan. Her face is like the skin of Papa’s oldest cow—deeply tanned and wrinkled. She smelled of tobacco. “How do you do, ma’am?” he asked.
The two women exchanged looks, as if he said something wrong. That happened a lot. Susan placed a folder on the table in front of him. Some of the papers within shifted out, but she didn’t notice.
“Mikey,” Susan said, “could you tell Jan what you told me, about where your mother was supposed to meet your father?”
Mikey looked at Jan. “At the tempo fair.”
Jan said, “What does that mean? What is a tempo fair? Some sort of music festival?”
“I don’t know,” Mikey said. “I’ve never been to one.”
“Were your parents musicians?”
Papa sometimes played the harmonica on the front porch, but … “No.”
“Do you know where it is? What city it is in?”
“We didn’t know,” he said. “We were gonna find out when we got there.”
Jan frowned, adding to her abundant wrinkles. “That doesn’t make any sense. How can you find out where you need to go once you are already there?”
“When we got there,” Mikey corrected.
“Mikey,” she said. “I don’t understand the difference.”
He didn’t say anything. He didn’t understand what they said. They don’t understand what he said.
Jan turned to Susan with her brows lifted. Susan said, “He must have overheard his parent’s plans, and didn’t quite understand what he was hearing.”
“It could be,” Jan said. “Although we should not rule out the possibility of a developmental disability.”
“I suppose not, but he seems bright enough.”
“I’ve seen it before,” Susan said with a know-all tone. “They sound smart, but …”
Mikey stops listening. He stared at the papers that Susan had placed on the table. He could read already, and do arithmetic, too. Before this trip, Mama told him and Addy to pay attention to dates. It was two nights since his mother left them. The date on top of the papers was January 17, 1995. So January 15, 1995 was the day he needed to remember when he saw his Papa again.
Part One – A Road Trip through Time
Thursday, Feburary 19th
Before starting on any time trip, thoroughly research your destination era.
From A Motorist’s Guide to the Fourth Dimension
Mike opened the door to his sister’s excited face.
“Adele,” he said. “What’s up?”
“Wait till you see this,” she said as she brushed past him.
He closed the door and followed her into the living room of his condo. She beelined for the dinette, where—to his amusement, she plunked down a backpack and started pulling out her video equipment.
“So, this is for a webcast?” he asked.
“Yeah,” she said. “I want to catch your reaction on camera.”
He just leaned against the kitchen counter and watched her.
She glanced up at him. “Don’t look at me that way.”
“You must be expecting a pretty interesting reaction.”
“I’m afraid ‘interesting’ won’t save our website.” She paused. “Mike, I got chills.”
He felt his brows lift. “Chills?”
“Right up the spine.” She resumed her unpacking. “You’ve gotta see it. It’s pretty fucking freaky.”
Now, he was bemused. Adele rarely swore. She liked to say she wasn’t any good at it.
She twisted the camera onto the tripod, leveled it, and aimed it at one of the chairs. “Have a seat.”
He sat. She usually had him be the subject of stuff for their vlog. She claimed that he was the better looking of the two of them. Not that he had the girls lined up to prove it.
She flipped on the camera and handed him a large, padded envelope. It had already been opened, killing—he thought—some of the suspense.
“So, this arrived in the mail today,” she said. “Recognize the company name?”
He looked. Some kind of tech company, but unfamiliar. “Nope.”
“Neither did I. That’s our domain privacy provider.”
“Their address is on our website registration. They receive all the junk mail our site gets, and forward on the important stuff. Guess when the last time they forwarded something was?”
“Uh … I give up.”
“Correct. Never.” She took away the envelope and pulled out the contents. It consisted two envelopes, one large and the other small. She handed him the smaller one. Her name was by itself on address portion of the envelope. In the return address area, the words, “AFTER FIVE DAYS RETURN TO” were above two lines, obviously intended for a handwritten name and address, but which were blank. Underneath were the words, “NEW AUGUSTINE, FLORIDA.”
“Have you ever heard of New Augustine, Florida?” she asked.
“No—only St. Augustine.”
“Neither did I, so I Googled it. There’s no such town.”
“Well, go ahead and look at the letter.”
He took it out of the envelope, flipped it open, and for the benefit of the camera, read it aloud. “Dear Miss Blaine,” he read.
I understand that you started your Internet site when you were searching for your missing family. I have reason to believe that we are related.
Enclosed is an article about a man named Abraham Blaine. I share his name—it’s common in our family. His family went missing when he went to jail. They were never found. I believe he is your direct ancestor. I know this sounds strange, but I think you will find my evidence compelling.
I am told that you have in your possession two antique quarters—
Mike looked up. “How the hell did this guy know about the quarters?”
“That’s what I wondered. Keep reading.”
I believe I can explain why you were given those quarters. I invite you and your brother to visit me in St. Augustine, where I can show you more. If this story is not as fruitful as I think it will be, perhaps it will still be of interest to your website. I understand you make such trips for your vlog.
I have enclosed a packet with additional information, including your destination address. If you decide to come to St. Augustine, please use Route US-1, as it is part of the history. Please do not open the packet until you are on US-1.
I will look for the possibility of your coming in the next few months, but I advise you to come before summer.
Oh, and don’t forget to bring those quarters.
Mike looked up and just stared at her.
“It’s weird, alright,” he said. “Have you ever told anyone else about those quarters?”
“Probably every foster mom we ever had. I had to explain that they were the only things we had from our mother.” She shrugged. “Maybe some childhood friends, too.”
“I think Brad’s the only one who ever knew about mine, and that’s only because he found it while poking around my room one day.”
“Well, I was right there at the time.” He scrubbed his hand through his hair. “I gave you mine before I went to Afghanistan. Where are they?”
“In a bank deposit box.”
He looked back down at the letter. “Where’s the article this letter mentions?”
She handed him an article. It was dated March of 1903 and the headline read, “Local Farmer Convicted.”
Mr. Abraham Blaine was convicted today of the Sandler jewelry theft. He was sentenced to ten years in prison. The victim, Mrs. Bernard Sandler, had no comment. The judge, the Honorable Clarence G. Hotchkiss, sentenced him to ten years in prison. He will serve his time at the St. Johns County Jail.
According to Sheriff Joseph Buckles, Mrs. Blaine, a suspected accomplice, is still at large.
Mike lowered the article and looked at her. He was glad this Abe guy had to go through that privacy provider. There website had attracted all kinds of crazies after their family search went viral. Was this another one? But they had never mentioned the quarters–how would a random stranger have known about them?
“Well?” she said.
“The mention of the quarters was more compelling,” Mike said. He waved the article, “This is only interesting because of our last name. Do you really think it has anything to do with us?”
“Well, web searches turned up nothing, so I dived into the archive services that I use to research our trips. I didn’t find much—they haven’t digitized everything yet—so I drove to the university to do some research in actual microfiche. I had to get special permission, but when I told them I was the owner of touringhistory.com, they let me in.” She grinned. “We’ve got clout, bro.”
“Nice to know.”
“Those old microfiche viewers are fun. It’s like driving through pages and pages of ancient newspapers. I got sidetracked a few times—”
“—but then I found that article, and several others.” She handed him some printouts. “So, someone stole the Sandler jewelry in January of 1903. There was a lot of interest, because I guess they were big-shots in St. Augustine at the turn of the century. An anonymous tip led to Abraham Blaine’s farmhouse, where the jewelry was found hidden. The prosecutor thought Mrs. Blaine was his accomplice, but she and her children disappeared.”
“Interesting, but you promised spine-chilling.”
She smirked. “Well, one of those articles was about the missing wife and children. Read the highlighted text.” She handed him a final printout.
He read, “Mrs. Blaine is a young woman with brown hair and brown eyes, medium height and slender build. The children are five-year old twins, a boy and a girl, both with … with blond hair. Their names are …” He stopped and blinked at the names.
A tremor sprinted up his spine.
“Ha! You just got a chill—didn’t you?”
He looked up at her. “What the fuck?”
“That’s exactly what I thought.”
“Ok, ancestors with our names, I could buy. But another set of twins?”
“It can’t be a coincidence,” Adele said. “We’ve got to be named for them, and therefore, we must be descended from one of them, at least indirectly.”
“It sure looks that way.” He stared at the article for a moment, and then looked back at the others. “Felonious grandparents. I never expected that.”
“More likely, they would be our great-grandparents.” She thought for a moment. “Or even great-great.”
He sighed and made a slashing motion across his neck. She paused the camera.
“I don’t know about you, but I’m about to go broke. If we make this trip, it’ll drain my account. The only thing we’ve ever had to go on was our last names and those damned quarters, which you always said aren’t that valuable—”
“And if these two are our great-whatever-grandparents, there could be a lot of descendants to sift through.” He held up the letter from Abe. “And this guy would be a what—third cousin? Fourth?”
“Hey, any cousin is better than no cousin—right?”
He could hear the longing in her voice. Having no family had always affected her more than it did him. Or so he tried to tell himself. “Well, I guess we’d better check it out.”
She grinned and unpaused the camera.
He looked at the letter and frowned. “How do we get hold of this guy?”
“That’s another weird thing—there’s no contact info.”
She held up the unopened envelope. “It must all be in here.”
“Which we open … when?”
“Once we’re on the road.”
He looked at her and met her gaze. “You know … this is really weird.”
“I know, but … Mike, those are our names. And he knows about the—”
“The quarters, I know. Ok. I guess we’ll play by his rules.”
She grinned and gestured to the still-rolling camera. “This’ll be our best episode ever.”