A stream of harsh light flooded in from the blinds. I groaned, stirring from sleep, and flopped an arm over my eyes. At that moment, my clock radio went off, the d.j. welcoming me to a new day. I wanted to strangle him.
“Ugh, snooze. Snooze button!”
But I found I was too stiff to move, so I let the man talk. I opened my eyes, looking around, groggily. Why was I in the den? No wonder I was stiff: I had slept in Dad’s recliner! And why was my clock radio in the den?
With all my early-morning strength, I sat the recliner upright and looked around again, thouroughly confused. This was really weird. Did it have something to do with my dream from the night before: about the hobbit and the time machine?
“Good morning to you, Ainariel!”
That voice sent me through the roof. It had been a dream, hadn’t it?! Was I still dreaming?! At any rate, I jumped so hard out of fright, I reclined the chair on accident, which scared me even more. My heart raced wildly as I stared at Merry, who looked slightly concerned.
“Did I frighten you?” he asked.
“You’re…you’re real!” was all I could stammer. Merry nodded, even more concerned.
“As I was last night,” he said.
“Last night? Last night wasn’t a dream?” I asked, beginning to work myself into a frenzy.
“I don’t think so,” Merry said, “Do you want me to call your mum, Ainariel? You look a little ill.”
“My mom?” I echoed, “Have you met my mom?”
“Yes, she’s very kind. I’ve brought some breakfast that she made for you, but if you don’t want to eat now–” I looked down and saw that Merry held a tray with sausage and eggs on it. If I wasn’t so confused and scared, I may have thought this rather cute. Instead, I stood, tripping over my clock radio, which I had obviouly taken with me when I had settled in the den for the night, and bumbled into the kitchen where Mom had sat down with Patrick for breakfast.
I stood in the doorway, panting a little. Merry came to stand at my side, shrugging at Patrick. I looked first at Merry, then at Mom.
“Has Dad seen him yet?” I asked, indicating to Merry. Mom shook her head.
“Your father left before he woke up,” she said, “Don’t worry; I’ll talk with Prof when he wakes up.”
“Good,” I said, “Tell him to hurry up and fix that machine. Merry can’t stay here, Mom, why can’t Prof see that?!”
Merry looked a little hurt as he stared up at me, like he wanted to tell me something but couldn’t.
“Try to be nice, Shannon,” Mom said. I sighed, taking a seat next to Patrick.
“That’s like asking an egg to grow hair,” Patrick snorted. I slapped the back of his head, playfully, as Merry laughed.
“I’m going to call you ‘Thalinar’,” Merry told Patrick. Patrick reacted in much of the same way that I had: he raised his eyebrows and kind of quirked a smile.
“Ok,” he said, “Why?”
“You remind me of someone I met on my travels,” Merry said, “A lot like him. Almost too much like him.” Merry’s eyes almost misted over, “But it’s been so many years now, I can hardly remember his face. But you say things like he would.”
“And his name was Thalinar?” Patrick asked. Merry nodded. Patrick shrugged at me over Merry’s curly head. Mom stood, taking Patrick’s plate.
“Would you like something to eat, Mr Brandybuck?” Mom asked Merry. I have no idea how she could stay so calm. Merry sat back, inspecting my plate of food.
“That sounds marvelous,” he said, “Don’t be shy; I’m starving.” I grinned down at him, thinking suddenly:
Careful, Shann, or you’re going to get attached!
The day was amazingly sunny, so much so that it was rather hard to keep my eyes open while Patrick drove us to school. I turned the radio up to kill, trying to stay awake. Already, I knew this was going to be a long day.
The entire first half of the day, I was a nervous wreck. All of my thoughts were on Merry; how he was and where he was. I had given him strict instructions not to budge from my room until my mother returned home from work at noon. But there was something about Merry that made me know that he wouldn’t stay put very easily. It got so bad that by science class, when I was asked to give the scientific definition for the disease that stunts growth, I almost said “hobbitism.”
At lunch, I found my friend Katie and we worked our way through the lunchline. Patrick and his friend Chad found us near the register.
“Shannon, Patrick says that you’ve had some excitement at your house,” Chad said, “only he says you can explain it better than he can.” I looked at Patrick, rolling my eyes. Why couldn’t he tell him? Patrick just gave me a stupid grin.
“I thought you’d might like to vent,” he said.
“Thanks, bud,” I returned.
We paid for our food and found a table in the far corner, away from everyone else.
“What’s this all about?” Chad asked, once we were all settled.
“Ok, do you guys promise to keep this a secret?” They agreed, but I was still hesitant.
“What I’m about to tell you is really weird. I mean, weirder than reality. Patrick can back me up–“
“Just talk,” Chad interrupted, “We’ll believe you.”
I sighed and told them: everything from the wild noise last night to Merry this morning and his weird names for us. Katie gave me several incredulous glances before she finally seemed to decide that it was probably too weird for me to make up.
“…and so, we left Merry in Prof’s care till Mom gets back from work around noon. So, it’s, like, since we’re not weird enough, now we’re baby-sitting a fifty-year-old hobbit and harboring a nuclear time machine in our basement.”
“Correction,” Chad spoke up, “I think what this is called is ‘hobbit-sitting’.” The name struck me as kinda funny, so I giggled, and turned back to Katie.
“So, Katie, that’s why I’ve been all stressed out today. My world is falling apart,” I told her. Chad snorted in laughter.
“‘You think this is funny?” I demanded to know.
“Naw, you’re just such a trip,” he said, then rolled his eyes, “‘My world is falling apart’!” I loaded up my spoon with corn, making ready to aim at his forehead when Katie dropped what she was eating and a gasp escaped her throat.
“Shannon, um, your hobbit’s outside,” she said, trying to act calm. I’m not as composed as Katie. I dropped my spoon with a clatter and spun around to see what Katie looked at.
At the far end of the cafeteria, outside the tall windows, I caught sight of Merry slipping into a corner of the courtyard. Only someone like Katie would have seen him, and, thankfully, the only people who eat by the window are the preps, and they never notice anything except their boyfriend/girlfriend.
My three friends noticed him in an instant and our lunches were abandoned. We all scrambled to get to the courtyard door, and burst out into the fresh air.
The courtyard was barren, saving for us and Merry. Our school is big enough that no one would miss us if we slipped out for a little while.
I collared Merry and we slipped around the building to a corner where there were no windows. I bent down to eye-level with Merry, giving him a harsh shake.
“Did I or did I not tell you to stay put, Merry Brandybuck?!” I asked, putting on my demanding-mother tone of voice.
“I stayed put for awhile,” Merry said, “but I kept looking out the window and the world was just calling to me. Your time is so interesting.”
“I don’t care if the world was calling to kill you, you should have stayed inside!” I cried, “What am I supposed to do, Merry?! How can I trust you to go home even if I do ask you to?!” Merry shrugged, sheepishly.
“I don’t even know how to get home,” he confessed. I straightened myself, groaning. This was just great. I looked to Patrick.
“Do you think you could take him home?” I asked. Patrick shook his head.
“I have a chemistry test right after lunch,” he said. I didn’t even look to Katie or Chad; they both ride the bus. I scratched my forehead, looking heavenward for some kind of inspiration. I could drive, but I hated Patrick’s car. It was a stick-shift and the clutch always screwed up whenever I drove it. But it looked like I had no choice. I looked at my watch, then at Katie.
“I’m going to have to go home,” I told her, “Tell the secretary that I had a family emergency. And could you get the homework from my other classes?”
“Sure,” Katie nodded. Patrick tossed me his keys and he and Katie turned to head inside. But Chad lingered for a second. He looked down at me with his dark, intense eyes. I hated it when he looked at me like that, because it always meant I was doing something wrong. This time it was just instructions.
“Put him under lock and key, Shannon,” he told me, “The less he sees, the less chances there are of him going back and messing up time. But don’t underestimate him. He’s not as stupid as he looks.” He looked down at Merry, ruffling his hair.
“Namarie, Meriadoc,” he told him, and then going to join Patrick and Katie. Merry’s face lit up so brightly, I smiled in spite of my predicament. He looked up at me, beaming so happily, I thought his face might break if he smiled any wider.
“He’s a Tolkien freak,” I explained, “Not that I have anything against it, the movies are awesome, but…you know….”
“No, I don’t,” Merry said, still smiling, “And I don’t think he does either.”
I drove Merry home with very little trouble concerning the clutch, saving the fact that I’m very partial to the third gear. I can’t stand first gear and second gear’s all right, but once I get to the third gear, I don’t go back for anybody, and I think that might have made Merry a little carsick. I pulled into our driveway and Merry practically fell out of the car, breathing in the sweet Iowan air.
“I don’t like that thing,” he told me, panting.
“Are you going to be all right?” I asked him, offering him a hand. He accepted my outstretched hand and stood.
“I think so,” and he nodded to Patrick’s car, “Terrible thing. What happened to horses and carts?”
“They went out in the early 1900’s,” I replied, “The invention of the horseless carriage had everybody in an uproar. There are very few people in America today that don’t own one.”
“Travelling used to so pleasant,” Merry said, “I can’t imagine spending days in one of those.”
“Oh, people fly now,” I told him, as we walked up to the front door. His incredulous stare almost made me laugh. I suppose it did sound funny; the idea of people flying.
“I mean, in machines,” I explained, “We have giant machines called airplanes, and they take people to all places of the earth. Cool, huh?”
“Do you think so? I find it rather warm myself.”
We stepped into the front hallway of my house, and Mom came in from the living room to greet us.
“Thank God, Merry, I was terrified!” was the first thing that came out of her mouth as she rushed to us.
“Hi, Mom, nice to see you too,” I greeted. Mom hugged me, telling me that she was happy to see me too.
We went into the kitchen, and Merry sat at the table and snacked. I pulled out some milk for myself and sat across from him.
“Mom, Prof has to get on the ball about the time machine,” I said, “I can’t watch him everyday, even though I’d like to stay home from school, but hobbit-sitting was really not on my agenda for this week.”
“I spoke with him before I left for work,” Mom said, “but he went out, leaving Merry all alone, so he could go down to the Palo Power Plant for some fuel. I called your father about him.”
“You called Dad? What did he say?” I asked.
“He’ll have a talk with Prof this evening,” Mom answered, “Honestly, Shannon, if this keeps up, I don’t think Prof will be able to stay with us.”
“What?” now I was a little emotionally torn. Prof was crazy, but he had always been around, even before I was born. He had always been there to bandage skinned knees and to play Scrabble when nobody else liked to. I was very fond of the old man.
“Why?” I asked. Mom looked forlornly into space for a moment.
“Shannon, he’s not sane anymore,” she said, “He’s meddling with things that nobody should meddle with. I love him, too, but I have a family to think about and if he’s keeping radioactive things in my basement, I’m sorry, but he may have to go.”
“Mom, I know he’s a little weird, but he’s more sane than a lot of the people at school and they all have some type of home. He needs us, Mom.”
There came a knock at the back door, and Merry rushed to open it. Prof came shuffling in, his arms full of giant canisters of something unsafe. He hardly gave us a second glance and made his way down to the basement. I looked back at Mom when he had gone.
“This’ll pass, Mom,” I told her, “I’m sure he has a reason for getting uranium in great quantities.”
“Maybe,” Mom answered, “but if I don’t see a reasonable one by the end of next week, your father and I will seriously begin consider finding him a new home in assisted living.”
I sat, shocked for a moment. Why? They had never considered this before! They couldn’t take my Prof away; he needed us…
“I’m done eating now,” Merry said, “and I think I’d like to go someplace.”
“The only place your going is up to my room,” I told him, “but I think you’ll find there’s plenty of stuff to do there.”
“Why are there cards flying all over the screen?”
I looked up from my homework at where Merry sat at my computer, playing Solitaire.
“That means you won,” I told him. Merry gave an excited cry and clapped his hands.
“I’ve won my first computer game!” he cried, “How wonderful! What’s next?” My head hurt. How many times had he said that over the past two hours: 50 times, maybe 75? I’d lost track. I stood and peered over his shoulder at my computer. I clicked on the Internet icon. I figured he was ready.
“What’s this?” Merry asked.
“It’s your key to the world of 2003,” I told him. He gave a mischivieous giggle that caught me off guard. I typed in my password and after a few minutes of buzzing and bleeping, we were connected. I settled down in a chair beside Merry, clicking on the Favorites icon.
“What would you like to know?” I asked, “You can learn anything here. Absolutely anything.”
“Is there anything about hobbits? What are the hobbits like in 2003?” Merry asked. I looked over at him, almost painfully.
“Merry, there are no hobbits in 2003,” I said, “if there are, they keep themselves very hidden. Nobody’s ever seen a real live hobbit until now.”
Merry looked down at the keyboard, sadly. I really hoped he didn’t start crying, because the last thing I needed was for him to make my keyboard short-circuit. But he then looked up after a few moments and declared, happily,
“I’ll wager they just keep themselves hidden. That sounds like something they’d do. Trying to keep away from all those terrible cars and the like. Hang on! He looks like a hobbit!”
I had scrolled a little and there was a picture of Elijah Wood in his Frodo costume. It was an ad for Lord of the Rings, Two Towers. I scrolled back up, rapidly.
“Oh, no, his name’s Elijah Wood and he’s completely human,” I said, “That’s just an advertisement for a movie he was in. Actually, he’s from around here. He was born here in Cedar Rapids. His dad, Warren, still lives here, but I’ve never met him. They’re just normal people like us. Well, not like you, like me.” Merry shook his head, in defiance.
“He is definetly a hobbit. No questions,” he said, “but what was that? ‘Lord of the Rings’? That was the name that Frodo gave to his book. Scroll down, Ainariel, I want to see.”
“NO! No, I don’t think that’d be a good idea,” I said.
“Why not?” Merry wanted to know.
“Because it’s, um, it’s, um, a little obscene,” I quickly typed in another site, hoping to draw away his attention. Thankfully, that wasn’t necessary. Prof appeared at the door.
“Are you ready to go back, Merry?” he asked. Merry lept from his chair, totally physched. I slipped out of my chair, a little sad. I was kind of having fun with having a hobbit tailing along behind me.
“Shannon, would you like to do me a favor?” Prof asked. I nodded.
“Sure, what?” I asked.
“Could you run down to my room and get out the two dark green travel cloaks in my closet,” Prof instructed.
“You and Patrick are taking Merry home.”
“I cannot believe you’ve talked me into this!”
It was about fifteen minutes later and Patrick and I were readying ourselves for our adventure into the past. I was wearing a cloak over my blue jeans and tommy-girl T-shirt, which I had to admit, was an interesting mix. But we didn’t intend on staying in Middle-earth very long. Prof was giving Patrick instructions, but I had insisted on “driving”. Merry had already piled into the back seat and awaited anxiously.
“Shannon, come here,” Prof beckoned me. I came to his side, and looked into the driver’s side of the front seat.
Prof pointed at a gauge ontop of the dashboard.
“This gauge will tell you your present time and location as well as the time and location of where you are going,” Prof said, “Right now, I have it set to just minutes after Merry and I left, so Merry will not be missed. It’ll be like he never left. This gauge here shows you how much energy is left in the battery.” He pointed to a gauge behind the wheel, “Right now, you’re fine to get there and back again, but no more than that without a bit of a jumpstart, which is why I have supplied you with necessary cables for that sort of thing, in case anything goes wrong. This book,” Prof held up a large, three ring binder, “will tell you everything you need to know in case of an emergency. Are you ready to go?” I nodded, a little uneasy.
“Now, when you arrive, you will experience a little TTS syndrome–“
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Time Travel Shock syndrome,” Prof said, “I discovered it last night. You’ll feel a little shaken and maybe nauseated, but that’s all. Now–“
“Prof, why aren’t you doing this?” I asked, truly confused. Prof looked at me with that look that showed his age and wisdom.
“You cannot know now,” he said, “but given time, you will understand why I have sent you instead of me.”
“You know something!” I exclaimed, “You know something we don’t!”
“Haven’t I always?!” Prof asked, “Go, now! Your questions tire me!”
I slid into the driver’s seat with Patrick beside me. I turned the key and the machine roared into life. I gave Prof one last look before closing this door, then open the time throttle wide. A moment later, I wondered realized how incredibly stupid I was to agree.
I felt like loads upon loads of bricks fell ontop of my shoulders as we hit maximum velocity. I tried to keep an eye on the gauge on the dashboard, but everything ached like nothing else I had ever felt. Merry was screaming and so was Patrick. I felt like I was going to puke. A moment later, however, it stopped. I looked at the gauge: both of the times and locations were alined. We had made it.
We all sat, totally shaken, for a few moments. Then, slowly, ever so slowly, I moved to open a door. I got out and looked around me, and drew in a breath of joy. It was so cute!!
Rows and rows of little hobbit holes with lights in their circular windows dotted the green hills. It was nighttime and nearly every hole had a light on. I wondered about what those hobbits were like, and what they were doing inside their warmly lit holes. Merry got out and looked around.
“Hobbiton,” he said, “Sam’ll be expecting me up at Bag End.” He turned to me, “I’d best be getting on, now, Ainariel. Thank you so much for your hospitality. I hope our paths may cross again.”
“I doubt that, Merry,” I said, “but I hope you get back all right. I’ll miss you.”
“And so will I,” Patrick said, climbing out of the car.
“Farewell, Thalinar! Farewell, Ainariel! May the light of the elves ever look your road in happiness!”
“Merry, there aren’t elves in our time,” Patrick told him. Merry shook his head.
“You’re all so ignorant,” he laughed, and turned to walk away. We watched him leave, wondering about what he had said. I looked over the vehicle at Patrick.
“Let’s get back,” I told him, “This is really starting to creep me out.”
I started up the machine again, setting the destination time for that Monday evening in 2003. Patrick climbed back in and we closed the door. I opened the time throttle and the machine started up, a little slower than last time, but the ride was just as bumpy. However, halfway through the ride, the gauge on the dashboard began to blink on and off. However, that wasn’t the worst thing. The time was moving farther and farther back with each blink.
“Patrick! Why is it doing that?!” I cried. Patrick hit the dashboard, momentarily ceasing the blinking. But a few seconds later, it started up again.
“Patrick, make it stop!” I yelled.
“I can’t! I don’t know what’s wrong!” Patrick yelled back.
“Well, figure it out!” I shouted, throwing the three-ring binder at him. But at that moment, the machine jolted foward so badly, the air bags popped out and everything went black. The only thing I noticed before blacking out was that the gauge had jumped back about sixty years and then frizted out. We were out of power.
******To Be Continued…
Author’s Helpful Hint: Just a small hint, do not forget Chad!! He doesn’t play a huge role in the overall plot, but he’s important in the end! And don’t forget the Prof, either, or the teens Merry-given names! They all play an important role later on! That’s all! Hoped you liked it! ~Ainariel