Thursday, December 14, 2017

A Yuletide Yarn, 1: The Time Capsule

“Mom, what’s happened to the rock?”

Oliver was standing over a largish stone that had just given way beneath him as he tried to sit on it. He had brushed the light dusting of snow off of it without incident, but as soon as he’d eased his slightly larger than average girth onto it, he’d heard a severe crack and felt the stone almost tumble over beneath him.

The stone had always served as the singular bench in the small, private garden behind his family’s ancestral home in the posher part of Camden, London. The home itself was ridiculously large, with six bedrooms, standing separate but at the end of a large terrace house just off of Torrington Place. None of the family lived there at this point, opting instead to let it out to high-end visitors to the area. Maintaining it was getting to be more of a hassle than it was worth, however, and Oliver’s parents were considering selling it so they could retire earlier. Before they did, however, they requested that the entire family gather for one more Christmas together there, which seemed a bit odd to Oliver. They hadn’t really spent many Christmases there in his youth. Still, he had a tendency toward the sentimental, and his nostalgia for all things English was strong this year. He hadn’t been back to London in quite some time, so he was glad that his mother had insisted on the visit.

“I don’t know dear,” came the reply from the other end of the garden. Oliver’s glanced at his mother as she stopped whatever she was doing and approached the stone bench from the other side. She looked at it, then back at Oliver, then back at the stone again, smiling. “You’ve cracked it, obviously."

“No I haven’t!” Oliver exclaimed. His mother eyed his midsection critically. “I’ll admit that I’ve put on a few pounds since I left for college, but I’m certainly not heavy enough to crack a solid stone.”

His mother sighed. “That you aren't. Let’s have a closer look, shall we?” She bent over the stone, brushing away the remainder of the snow. “Hmm, that’s odd,” she said, running her fingers gently along the crack that had formed at the edge of the stone. “This stone isn’t as solid as we've always assumed. I think you’ve broken the seal on a stone container of some kind. This must be the lid!”

Oliver bent down over the stone as well, trying to get a closer look. Sure enough, what he’d originally taken as a crack in the stone was actually too straight to be an accident. He looked at his mother, and she smiled mischievously at him. “Help me with this,” she commanded as she began pulling the lid toward her in an effort to fully dislodge it.

Oliver moved to the side of the stone next to his mother, wriggled his fingers as far into the small opening as he could manage, planted his feet on the base of the stone, and began to pull. It took several moments of their combined effort to affect the lid, but they managed to swivel it enough to cause the lid’s own weight to pull it off of the top of the stone. The heavy lid slid down the stone’s side, landing awkwardly on its edge. It teetered there a moment, then began a slow tumble over. Oliver and his mother managed to jump back just as the lid fell flat, bottom side up, next to the stone. There were words engraved on the now-exposed bottom of the lid.

TIME CAPSULE
Interred December 1850 by Timothy Crocket
In honor of his father Robert and “Grandfather” Scroggie
To be opened in 1950

Oliver read the words slowly, trying to remember from which branch of the family tree these names might dangle. He wasn’t the ancestry buff that his father was, but felt slightly ashamed at not remembering any Timothy or Robert from that time period in their family.

His mother saved him a bit of embarrassment. “I don’t remember any of those names ever being mentioned as a part of our lineage. Regardless, if this is a time capsule, it’s a strange one. I thought they were always built into cornerstones…” She trailed off as she began looking through the contents of the time capsule. Oliver joined her, curious about what it contained.

Whatever “Timothy” had originally done to preserve the items in the capsule had performed nearly miraculously. It was all in a passable state of repair, and much of it looked interesting. There were a couple of ancient newspapers, a few ticket stubs, a collection of small, handmade toys, and two books. One of the books, bound in brownish red cloth, read “A Christmas Carol,” and contained the following inscription:

Tim, your story has changed the way I think about Christmas and society en toto. Despite my best efforts, I cannot find the proper expression of gratification for your generosity in sharing it with me, and thereby with everyone who reads what I’ve subsequently written. I, and the world, are forever in your debt. As you will see, I have taken a few liberties with your tale; I hope you approve! - C.D.

“Uh… Mom…” Oliver began, but couldn’t form a thought coherent enough to transform into anything resembling speech. As he gurgled softly, his mother tried to pry the book from his viselike grip. Failing that, she leaned over to read the inscription for herself.

“You don’t think… No, it can’t be. Oliver, let go!” his mother almost yelled at him. Her raised voice shocked him out of his stupor, and he managed to loosen his finger joints just enough for her to slip the book out of his grasp undamaged. She turned another page, and after examining it for a moment, said, “1843. I’d have to check to be sure, but that seems like the right timeframe to be a first edition. I’ll bet your father—”

“Mom!” Oliver choked on the exclamation, his thoughts finally coming together. “Timothy… Robert Crockett… Scroggie — they’re Tiny Tim, Bob Cratchit, and Scrooge! A Christmas Carol wasn’t purely a work of fiction! It was based on a true story, the story of the people that built our house!” He said it with such force, such conviction, that his mother took an involuntary step backward. She raised her hands to him placatingly.

“Let’s not jump to any hasty conclusions, Oliver. I’ll wager your father will know more about this. Grab the other things in there and let’s go back into the house.” Without waiting to see if he complied, Oliver’s mother turned on the spot and walked back into the house, her gaze never leaving the book as she turned it over and over in her hands. Oliver dutifully grabbed the other items, fumbling them a bit, but eventually steadying them enough to follow her inside.

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