Jonah saw the man before the man saw him.
The man—a total stranger—was standing in the Skidmore family’s living room on Tuesday morning when Jonah came downstairs before school. Jonah had just gotten home from a long, secret trip the night before; as he stepped into the living room, he was lecturing himself: Just don’t say or do anything to make Mom or Dad suspicious.
He was pretty sure that he’d fooled his parents into thinking the night before that he and his sister Katherine had just run down the street to their friend Chip’s house for a few minutes. But Jonah still had to be careful. There was no way he could let his parents find out that he and Katherine—and Chip and two other kids—had actually traveled through time to the year 1918, and to the distant
future, and to a few places called time hollows that were completely removed from time.
And—oh, yeah—Jonah really had to keep his parents from finding out that he’d come back from all that time travel with two bullet wounds in his left leg.
You’re just an ordinary kid on an ordinary day headed to ordinary seventh grade at his ordinary school, Jonah told himself. Then he instantly corrected himself: Well, even if none of that’s true, at least you can pretend it is.
Ordinary kids did not have secret second identities that threatened to ruin their lives. Ordinary kids had not traveled to dangerous moments in four different centuries to try to save other kids’ lives. Ordinary kids had never seen all of time freeze at their school, right in the middle of seventh-grade science. Ordinary kids had not been kidnapped as babies and carried off to be adopted in a totally different time period.
Ordinary kids did not have bullet-hole scars.
But ordinary kids could see a strange man standing in their family’s living room at seven a.m.—couldn’t they?
Maybe Dad’s car broke down and this is some friend or neighbor who’s going to drive him to work, Jonah told himself, scrambling for explanations. Maybe the car battery’s dead, and this is the guy from AAA, here with jumper cables.
But Jonah probably would have recognized any friend
or neighbor either of his parents would have called for a ride to work. This man standing in the living room wasn’t holding jumper cables, either, and he didn’t look like any tow-truck driver Jonah had ever seen.
For one thing, he was wearing a suit—kind of an old-fashioned-looking suit, actually, if Jonah let himself think about it. It was brown, with a checked pattern, and it just didn’t look like it belonged in the twenty-first century.
The man was also wearing a hat.
People wear hats like that in this time period, Jonah told himself defensively. Sometimes. Isn’t that what people call a fedora?
If Jonah knew the name “fedora,” didn’t that mean it was an ordinary thing now?
But people now wear fedoras like a joke. Like how rappers do it, Jonah told himself. Sarcastically.
This man did not look like a rapper. He looked serious. And determined. And—maybe a little lost?
Even though Jonah had clattered noisily down the stairs just a moment ago, the man hadn’t yet turned his head to look in Jonah’s direction. Instead the man seemed to be squinting down at his own hand, which was clenching the back of a chair as if he thought he needed help just to stay upright.
That doesn’t have to mean he’s a time traveler who’s dizzy from the trip, and who’s temporarily lost his sense of hearing and sight because of timesickness, Jonah told himself.
Before his own first trip through time, Jonah had mostly been an “act first, think later” kind of kid. But constantly facing danger in all those other centuries had changed him. So he didn’t call out, Dude! Who are you, and why are you in my living room? He didn’t rush off for one of his parents or yell to them, Did you know there’s some strange man standing in our living room?
Instead he silently backed out of the room and off to the side, so he could keep watching the strange man just by peeking around the corner.
Unfortunately, Jonah didn’t look behind him first. He smashed right into his sister Katherine as she walked by in the hall.
“Jonah! What’s wrong with you?” she cried.
A few months ago if he’d run into her like that some morning before school, she would have gone into full bratty-little-sister mode—not just yelping, but threatening to tattle and ranting that he’d messed up her hair, and now all the other sixth graders were going to laugh at her, and . . .
And, really, Jonah had usually just tuned out Katherine’s rants, so all he’d have heard after a while was blah, blah, furious blah.
But today Katherine asked “What’s wrong with you?” like she was truly worried about him. Running into her,
he’d knocked a strand of her blond hair down from her ponytail, and she didn’t even notice.
Quickly Jonah put a finger over his lips and used his other hand to point toward the living room. Katherine raised one eyebrow and poked her head around the corner to squint curiously into the other room. But she didn’t say anything else.
Jonah stretched his neck out so he could look into the living room at the same time as Katherine. And then everything happened very quickly, one surprise after another.
First the man in the old-fashioned brown suit and hat turned and stared right at Jonah and Katherine.
Next Katherine gasped and yanked her cell phone out of her pocket and, before Jonah had a moment to think about it, snapped a picture of the strange man.
And then the man vanished.