Outside

March 3, 20XX

My therapist wants me to challenge myself; she wants me to step onto my front porch. I don’t have to go any further; I don’t have to stay outside long. I just have to step fully outside the door. I know she wants to help, but I don’t even see the point. I get my groceries delivered. I have Groucho, my cat, for company. And I have friends online. Why bother going outside? But she was insistent, so I’ll try.

March 5, 20XX

No luck again today. Maybe I should try at night. The sun is so bright. Just one more reason to stay inside.

They forgot a few things in my grocery order again. I’ll have to order extra next time. Definitely not telling my therapist about this.

March 7, 20XX

Finally made it outside. Just for a moment, but I did it. Not a fan.

March 15, 20XX

I’ve gone outside for a few moments a couple of times over the last week. Still don’t like it.

The internet is down. It is frustrating because I can’t talk to any of my online friends. I can’t even use my streaming services. I called the company but had to leave a message. Who knows when they’ll get back to me. Glad I kept my DVDs.

March 17, 20XX

Okay, something is definitely is going on. My internet is still down, but my phone is also dead. Yesterday, I figured it was just me since I still have electricity, but then I remembered that our plant is hydro-powered. I think those can run for a while, so having electricity doesn’t really prove anything. There hasn’t been any mail, either. Honestly, except for the internet, my life hasn’t really changed much. I just wish I knew what was happening.

March 20, 20XX

I took the boards down from one of the upstairs windows so Groucho and I could watch the front yard and street. I had boarded up the windows months ago to keep the outside out, but that feels a little redundant now.

I feel a little silly even thinking it, but it might be a zombie apocalypse. I mean, I don’t see hordes of undead everywhere, just the occasional lumbering “person” looking worse for wear. Except for some animals, there aren’t any cars or other signs of life. I guess everyone is dead or has left the neighborhood. Or maybe they’re staying inside too.

Even if I wanted to leave my house, which I don’t, it would be a bad idea. I’m not cut out for a survival adventure, and so far, nothing has bothered us here. No sense in leaving. Groucho sticks pretty close to me these days, like he knows something is wrong. I’m glad he’s here.

March 23, 20XX

The apocalypse is a lot more boring than I expected. Don’t get me wrong, having all this time to read and watch movies is great, but not not having anyone to talk to is starting to get lonely. And yes, I appreciate the irony of it all. Not being able to go outside has done more to make me want to go out than months of therapy ever did. It’s not like I have anywhere to go. I guess I shouldn’t complain.

March 29, 20XX

I spoke too soon. I do have somewhere to go: to get food. We’re getting low. I guess this is why people don’t stay home in zombie movies. Still, I can’t take Groucho out scrounging, and I don’t want to leave him. Maybe someone will come by soon, although we still haven’t seen any other non-zombies. There have to be people somewhere, right?

March 31, 20XX

There’s no avoiding it, I have to go find food. The absurdity of still having electricity but nothing to eat. There is a store not too far from here. I just have to go outside.

April 2, 20XX

I managed to get on the porch again, but I freeze when I stay to step off. I hate this. What few scraps we have left, I gave to Groucho, but he won’t stop crying. It’s breaking my heart. I have to go tomorrow, no matter what.

April 4, 20XX

I made it to the store and back. The “zombies” (I don’t know what else to call them, but they don’t act like zombies from the movies) seemed to ignore me for the most part. But I got too close to one, and it attacked me. It was surprisingly easy to fight off, but I got scratched. So far, there haven’t been any noticeable effects, except Groucho. He hissed at me and is in hiding.

The store shelves were mostly empty, but I managed to get a couple of bags of cat food. Groucho should be okay for a few months.

This is going to be my last entry. I don’t know what is going to happen to me, so I’m locking myself out of the house so that I can’t hurt Groucho. I’ve opened the food bags and left them in the kitchen. I also cracked open the upstairs windows so that he can get out if he wants. If someone finds this diary, Groucho is a white cat with black splotches, including a prominent one around his left eye. He is a good cat. Please take care of him.

I want to say goodbye to him, but he won’t come near me. If you do see him, tell him I love him and that I’m sorry I had to leave.

Motivation

“So, time travel, huh?” Sarah was sitting on the couch in Thomas’s outer room. “Nearly killing me and driving Matthew away wasn’t enough?”

“You’re being dramatic. No one got hurt.” Thomas was sitting in an arm chair across from her.

“You lost a hand!”

“That was Julia’s fault, not mine. You will recall defending her.” Maybe she was imagining it, but he sounded almost petulant.

“And you will recall turning the house over to me. Obviously to keep Julia around so you could use her for your next stupid scheme. You’ve only yourself to blame.”

“If you have come just to berate me, you can leave.” He met her gaze for the first time since she arrived. “I am not in the mood.”

She didn’t move. “Do you appreciate the danger you’ve put the house in? Once word gets out that you have successfully traveled through time, mages are going to come after you. And we’re all caught in the middle.”

“No one is going to find out. Unless someone from this house shares the information.”

“You’re sure of that? No one could view the past and find you? No other temporal mage will notice the ripples your spell created? You know for certain that no one is going to show up looking for your secret?”

Her rapid fair questions appeared to stun him into silence.

“This house is now in jeopardy. Because of you. Tell me why I shouldn’t revoke your membership?”

“You would evict me from the house I founded?”

She sighed. “Thomas, why did you start this in the first place? You don’t trust others, you barely interact with any of us, and you have been entirely unconcerned with the wellbeing of the house. I have stood by you for over a decade, and yet I don’t have the slightest idea what motivates you.”

He seemed hurt by her words. When he spoke again, his voice was quiet and devoid of emotion. “If you tell me to leave, I will. I gave you the house. It is your decision.”

“Thomas, I don’t want you to leave. I want you to consider how your actions affect us all. I want you to care about this house and its members. If you can’t, or won’t, then I don’t understand why you stay.”

Instead of responding, he simply stared into his cup of tea.

“Fine.” Sarah stood up. “If you are going to stay, I need you to come up with some ideas about how to minimize the risk to the house.” Walking over to the door, she stopped and turned back. “Oh, I should tell you. It seems that Matthew had set a trap for you several years ago that Julia fell into. I don’t know why, but I figured you’d want to know.” Without waiting for him to react, she left his rooms.

Recognition

“What did happen with Thomas?” Sarah asked.

“I’m not sure how much Rebecca has told you,” Julia began, “but after we arrived in Thomas’s old lab, I went to talk with Jason. Before I could say much, Jason stopped me. He didn’t want to know anything about the future to avoid changing it. He encouraged me to go back to my own time.”

“That’s why you were so insistent we leave?” Rebecca was listening as attentively as Sarah.

Julia nodded. “I was worried Thomas was going to change something, screw things up. As much as I didn’t want Jason to die, I couldn’t know if Thomas would make things worse. The whole plan had come to seem like a very bad idea. So I shoved Thomas back through the portal, and I had to close it before he could return.”

“You shoved him?” Sarah tried to imagine the two mages coming to blows. “He didn’t use magic to stop you?”

“Casting the spell took all his energy. Well, I suppose I used most of his reserves to power the spell. I needed magic infused with temporal essence to get it to work. I won’t say I didn’t enjoy draining him, but it really was necessary.”

“My guess is that his anger is more about being prevented from finding out more about the attack rather than anything else. I’ll try to smooth things over with him. Maybe stay out of his way for now.”

“Sure.” Julia shifted a little, as though she was uncertain about how to say something. “Maybe now is not the best time to bring it up, but there was someone helping me over the last fifteen years. I think she would be a good addition to the house.”

“I’d like to meet her . . .”

“Me, too,” Rebecca interjected with some enthusiasm.

“. . . but you’re right that we might want to wait for a formal invitation, at least until Thomas has cooled off some.”

“I’ve told her as much. Let me introduce you.” A simple gesture from Julia opened a portal and a woman stepped through. She was the same height as Julia, and her shoulder length black hair was pulled back. She smiled at both Sarah and Rebecca.

“Hi. I’m Aisha. Julia’s told me quite a bit about both of you. You’re Sarah?” She extended a hand to Sarah, who accepted it. “And you’re Rebecca.” She repeated the offer of a handshake. “It’s good to meet you.” Then she turned to Julia. “Well, the house is still standing. I assume the reunion went okay?”

Julia shrugged. “There was a moment when I wasn’t sure. Sarah managed to diffuse things.”

Sarah was beginning to feel overwhelmed, but she made sure it didn’t show. The years had really changed Julia. Technically, she was now the oldest member of the house. And Aisha was personable and disarming, not the sort of person she would expect Julia to befriend. There was a lot to process, and she was doing her best to keep up.

“Aisha, it is a pleasure to meet you. I must thank you for helping Julia. It has been a crazy twenty-four . . .”

Aisha had stopped paying attention and had focused on a framed picture on top of the mantelpiece. She picked it up and walked over to Julia with it.

“What . . .?” Sarah didn’t understand why Aisha would be interested in a photo of the original members of the house.

After exchanging a meaningful glance with Aisha, Julia looked at Sarah. “This is you, Thomas, and . . .”

“Matthew. Yes. It was taken shortly after we started the house. Why?”

“We had a run-in with a mage several years ago. He had been setting a trap for a time mage, someone he said was a friend of his. I knew I recognized him from somewhere. It was Matthew.”