A Whisper in Time

By: Elizabeth Langston


To Bobbye and Chuck, my first model of selfless love



Although I had lived in this century for five weeks, I had still not grown accustomed to its vehicles. They moved too quickly and stopped too abruptly. Even now, as Mark drove me downtown, I pressed against the passenger seat, comforted by the belt strapping me in, and kept my eyes closed. It was best if I did not watch.

His truck lurched to a halt. The driver’s seat creaked. When Mark’s hand closed over mine, I turned to him.

“It’s going to be all right,” he said with a reassuring smile.

I tried to smile back. “Will it?”

“Yes. I promise.” The warmth of his hand slid away as the truck whined forward, its speed increasing at an alarming rate as it rushed toward a version of Raleigh I had never seen before.

I first visited the capital city in 1796, which had been only two months ago—or perhaps I should say two hundred and twenty years. The town in my memory held buildings of wood, huddled beneath tall oaks. Its air had been filled with the crack of hammers and the scent of fresh sawdust.

A different capital city stretched before me. Trees were dwarfed by large buildings of brick, glass, and stone. Wide streets of rough pavement divided the city into blocks. While my previous visit had been exciting, the Raleigh of today overwhelmed me.

There had been little opportunity to travel since my arrival in the twenty-first century. It had taken most of August to recover from my injuries. I’d stayed the initial three weeks at Mark’s grandparents’ lake house, soaking up the simplicity of the country as my body healed.

When Mark returned to high school near the end of August, I moved into his parents’ home. Their neighborhood rested along the quiet fringes of the city and felt nothing like downtown.

Mark turned the truck onto a driveway and through a large door in the side of a tall brick barn.

“What is this?” I asked.

“It’s called a parking garage.”

His answer was not helpful. We drove up and up a winding road, as if climbing a concrete hill.

We were in a building that contained nothing but cars.

He pulled into a parking spot and shut off the vehicle. I could sense his scrutiny on my face.

“We’re here, Susanna. The building we want is just down the street.”

I gave a nod. Why had I come? Was I truly ready?

“Hey. Are you okay?”

“Yes,” I said in a firm voice that belied the quivers in my belly.

He hurried to my door and held it open. I stepped out, smoothed the loose folds of my best gray skirt, and took the hand he offered me. As I walked beside him, my nose twitched at the smell of smoke and fuel.

We crossed a street and entered the tall building that housed the Register of Deeds. Mark preceded me through “security” and then strode toward two metal panels in the opposite wall. When he pressed a button beside them, the panels hissed open, revealing an empty closet.

He stepped in. I did not.

“Get in, Susanna, before it leaves.”

I stared at the small space he stood in, not trusting its ominous clanking. “What is the purpose of that closet?”

His forehead creased. “It’s called an elevator. It’ll lift us to a different floor, so that we don’t have to walk up the stairs.”

Two men pushed past me and waited beside Mark.

He gestured for me to come. “You don’t need to be worried. It’s the fastest way to travel in a building like this.”

“I prefer to travel slowly.”

One of the men cleared his throat. Mark stepped out. The panels hissed shut.

“All right,” he said, his expression patient, “we’ll take the stairs.”

We climbed to the third floor and stopped before a gray-bearded gentleman, sitting at a desk with a sign that read Check In. I waited until he looked up.

“Hello, sir. I am here to speak with Mrs. Heather Cox.”


“Susanna Marsh.”

He inclined his head. “Go down that hall. I’ll let her know you’re coming.”

The hallway had bright lights, plain walls, and a shiny floor. A woman appeared in the doorway at the hall’s end. I studied her as she beckoned to us. Mrs. Cox was tall and thin, with skin of dark brown and the most elegant hands I had ever seen.