Kristy insisted that I write up this sitting job even though the only people here who can read this are me, her and Janine, and I already told them everything that happened. This is thousands of years before the invention of paper, apparently, but Janine knows how to make something similar called papyrus using these reeds that grow by the river. I'm sort of getting the hang of this stylus, though. It's kind of like my old-fashioned calligraphy pen with its broad nib, except that I have to keep dipping it in this ink that we made all the time, which is kind of annoying.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. First, I should explain who I am and how I got here, in case any historians in the future find this papyrus. My name is Mary Anne Spier and I'm originally from Stoneybrook, Connecticut. Which is a town on the eastern coast of the continent of North America. (If you haven't discovered North America yet, try sailing west from Europe or Africa, or maybe east from Asia. I promise that you won't fall off the edge of the world.) Anyway, I am, or was, or will have been, from the twentieth century A.D. If you don't have years A.D. yet you're in B.C. but you don't know it yet because B.C. stands for Before Christ. Now Janine, who is reading over my shoulder, is trying to explain ancient calendar systems to me, but I don't really get it.
Not because I'm dumb or anything, I mean. A lot of people don't always understand what Janine is talking about, because Janine Kishi is a bona fide genius. (That means that she's a genius for real and I'm not just exaggerating here. It's Latin, I think.) Her I.Q. is two-hundred-something and she's already taking all these incredibly advanced college classes. Kristy and I are just normal eighth graders at Stoneybrook Middle School, but we know Janine because her sister, Claudia, is one of our best friends, and also a fellow member of the Baby-Sitters Club. More about that later. Anyway, Kristy and I were over at Claudia's house, hanging out in her bedroom before our club meeting, and I had a question about my algebra homework.
"Does this make any sense to you?" I handed Kristy my notebook. We had just started doing quadratic equations, and they still seemed hopelessly confusing to me.
"I don't know. I haven't even started my assignment yet," she replied. "Why don't you worry about it later?"
"Well, I kind of want to finish it now," I said. "After our meeting, Mal and I are sitting for the Pikes from 6:30 until 10:00, so I won't really have a chance to work on it after that." All of my friends baby-sit a lot, especially since Kristy came up with the Baby-Sitters Club. We meet Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 5:30 to 6:00 and parents can make one call and reach seven reliable sitters. Brilliant, huh?
"Don't look at me," Claudia said. Claudia's amazing with art, but she struggles a lot to keep up with the rest of her schoolwork. Math is probably her least favorite subject, closely followed by all the others. Now Stacey, who is Claudia's best friend, is excellent at math, which is why she's the treasurer of the Baby-Sitters Club, but she wouldn't be coming over until it was time for the meeting to start, and Kristy hates it when we let outside business like homework distract us from meetings. "You could ask Janine, though. I think she's home," Claudia added.
Kristy groaned. "Yeah, and she'll probably start telling us about how to solve it with calculus or something." I must have looked particularly woebegone, because Kristy added, "Come on. We'll go ask her together." I smiled at her gratefully. Sometimes I can be incredibly shy, especially when it comes to asking for things from people I don't really know very well. Kristy is pretty much the opposite: she never seems to be afraid of any one or any thing, and she can be kind of a loudmouth. In spite of that, we're best friends. Maybe because of that, we're best friends.
I knocked on Janine's door. Nobody answered, although I heard some kind of weird noise inside, so I was pretty sure someone was in there. Kristy banged on the door. "Hello? Anybody in there? We have questions about math!" she called. Janine loves to talk about math, after all, and usually she has trouble getting anyone to listen to her.
"Maybe she's busy with something," I said, but Kristy was already opening the door and barging into the room. I followed after her.
Janine's room was a wreck. Unlike Claudia's room, which is covered with sweater-dresses, tubes of fabric paint, and fezzes, Janine's room was filled with screws, computer parts, and other things that I didn't even recognize.
"Wait!" Janine shouted, emerging from behind the large, squat device that was occupying pretty much her entire room. "I haven't finished correcting the malfunctioning shielding and we're reaching dangerous levels of power saturation -- "
At least, I think that's what she shouted. I wasn't sure what half of the words meant and it was hard to hear her over the incredible roaring sound. Plus, it felt like my brain was being sucked out my ears.
The next thing I knew, I was lying on the ground in a strange place where the sun was very hot. It didn't look, feel, or smell like Stoneybrook. I sat up and saw that Kristy and Janine were close by.
"Oh no!" I said. "Are you guys okay?" I bent over Kristy to make sure that she was still breathing. She coughed.
"Where are we?" she asked when she opened her eyes.
"I have no idea," I replied.
"We could be anywhere at any time!" Janine put in. "I was trying to re-calibrate in light of my latest calculations and I accidentally broke the regulator and I just barely had things under control when you two interrupted me -- "
"Wait just a second," Kristy interrupted. "What do you mean, 'at any time'?"
Janine blushed. "You see, I was working on an extra credit project for my physics class and I established a novel theoretical framework for time travel and I thought that as long as I had proceeded this far, I might as well attempt to create a functional prototype before formally presenting my findings in order to prevent the scientific community from dismissing my work as the ravings of a crackpot, and -- "
"Wait." This time I was the one who interrupted, which isn't something I usually do. "Are you saying that we traveled in time? Isn't that impossible?"
Janine sighed. "See, this is precisely the reaction that I was attempting to avoid."
"Well, we've got to figure out where we are," Kristy said. "We'd better stay together in case there's anything dangerous here. We'll mark this spot and then orient ourselves from here." She took off her precious collie baseball cap and set it on the ground. "Come on, troops."
We both followed Kristy, who has a way of taking charge of things, although Janine kept trying to figure out what had happened with her experiment and using words that I, personally, did not understand.
To make a long story short, because there was a lot of walking and complaining and sweating involved, we eventually ended up on the bank of a river, with Kristy and me soaking our feet while Janine rigged up a makeshift lab to see whether the water was drinkable, or as she put it, "potable", which apparently means the same thing.
"This water should be eminently potable insofar as I am able to determine without proper equipment," Janine pronounced. She drank from her cupped hands. "However, it does not taste like the purified, fluoridated water to which we have become accustomed."
"It tastes great to me," Kristy said, gulping it down. "I'm dying of thirst."
"Actually," Janine said, consulting her watch, "I do not believe that we were in any danger of suffering from dehydration in the near future, although if we had been farther from a clean source of water, our situation could have become dire."
"I think our situation is already dire enough," I said, more than a little bitterly. "After all, we're stuck in an unknown time and place with no food and no supplies and no way of getting back to where we came from."
"As I told you, I can replicate my time machine and incorporate several improvements if I gain access to the necessary materials, which merely requires that we reach civilization!"
"Assuming that there even is civilization and that we don't die before we get there," I said. I couldn't help it. All I could think about was all the ways that something could go wrong and how horrible it would be to die out here, alone. Well, mostly alone.
"Well, yes, those are the necessary postulates. I don't see that there can be any conceivable benefit of focusing on the negative."
"Whatever," Kristy said. "Let's follow this river and see what we find."
"An excellent suggestion, Kristin," Janine said. "Rivers were extremely important to ancient civilizations, both as a source of water and a method for transportation. Consider the role of the Nile to Egypt, for example, or the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers, which together created the 'Fertile Crescent' which has been called the cradle of -- "
"Look, you guys!" I interrupted the lecture on ancient civilization. "There are people!"
I pointed upriver. Kristy and Janine stopped and stared. Off in the distance, almost too far away to see, there were people standing on the riverbank.
"Hey!" Kristy yelled, taking off like she was heading for home base. "Where are we? And where can we find a city or something so we can get back to where we belong?"
"They almost certainly won't be able to comprehend your speech!" Janine shouted, running after her. "The likelihood of our happening across persons capable of understanding modern English is astronomically low!"
In spite of this, we heard the strange people calling back to us. "Who are you? And what do you want with us?" As we got closer, the man stepped out in front, shielding the woman and two boys with his arms.
"See, we can understand them just fine," Kristy said. "Don't worry, we don't mean any harm. I'm Kristy Thomas and I'm the president of the Baby-Sitters Club." She stuck out her hand.
"But I'm telling you, this shouldn't be possible!" Janine said worriedly.
"I'm sure that they aren't going to hurt us," the woman told her husband, or whatever he was.
"But who are they? I thought that we were the only people here. We have not seen anyone else since ... well, since you know. And they are wearing the most peculiar garments."
"We're time travelers," Kristy announced cheerfully. "We're from Stoneybrook, Connecticut."
"Stone-y-brook," the man repeated carefully. "I'm pretty sure that I didn't name that."
"Probably not," Kristy agreed. "We're from another time. From the future, I'm guessing, based on those furs that you're wearing. I mean, I'm not much of an expert on fashion, but I don't think anyone has been wearing those for thousands of years."
"Kristy!" I exclaimed.
"No offense," Kristy added hastily. "I'm sure they're very ... warm," she added, dubiously.
"I think you might find that a knitted or woven fabric would be more breathable," Janine interjected.
I decided to ignore them and knelt down to get a better look at the children, who were hanging back shyly by their mother. They appeared to be close in age -- my guesses were four and six years old. They stared back at me with dark, serious eyes for a moment. Then the younger one with the honey-brown hair ran to me threw his arms around me impulsively.
"Hello, I'm Mary Anne," I said into his neck. "What's your name?"
"Abel," he replied. "And that's my big brother, Cain."
Those names sounded kind of familiar to me, but I couldn't quite place them. In my own defense, it had been a long time since I'd gone to Sunday School, and I was a little disoriented by everything else that had been happening. Janine, however, made a little cry of recognition.
"Cain and Abel?" she said. "Then you must be Adam and Eve!"
Adam recoiled. "Sorcery!" he cried. "Abel, come away from that witch immediately!"
"No, no!" Janine exclaimed. "We're not witches!"
"We're just ordinary girls," I added. "From the future. We've read about you."
Adam did not look convinced. Eve, on the other hand, was smiling at us. "You seem to be very good with children," she said.
"Yeah, we baby-sit all the time," Kristy said. "In fact, I'm the president of the Baby-Sitters Club. You can call one number and be sure to reach a reliable sitter."
Eve furrowed her brow. "Call one number?" she repeated. "I'm afraid that I don't understand. And why would you want to sit on a baby?"
"The term in question is a modern idiom which simply means 'to take care of a child in lieu of a parent or guardian'," Janine put in.
"Ah," Adam said. He still looked like he would rather have his son back, and he hadn't entirely ruled out the possibility of stoning us as witches, either.
"How interesting that you can otherwise comprehend our speech extraordinarily well, however," she went on. "It must be because the events mentioned in the Hebrew Torah, more familiarly known to the Christian world as the first five books of the Old Testament, have not yet brought about the divergence of languages. How very fascinating."
Abel wasn't interested in any of this. "Are you going to play with me?" he asked me.
"I don't know," I said. I tried to tactfully let go of him, but he was clingy. "We have to get permission from your parents first."
"You can't play with them because they're witches," Cain told his brother smugly. "Witches are evil and stuff."
Abel's upper lip trembled. "Mary Anne isn't a witch! She's nice!"
"Hush!" Eve said. "So, you girls look after children while their parents are busy?"
"Essentially, yes," Janine said.
"Well, that would be very nice for a change. These two have been such a handful lately, always squabbling about something, you know."
"I don't know about this," Adam said.
"Oh, come on, Adam! Let's just do it."
"The last time you said something like that, things did not turn out very well, did they?" Adam said darkly.
"That has nothing to do with anything and you know it," Eve retorted.
"I want to play with Mary Aaaaaaaaaaaaanne," Abel wailed.
"I want to play by myself," Cain said. "I'm tired of playing with Abel. He always wants to play play shepherd and I don't like playing shepherd. Sheep are boring."
"We'll play something else," I assured him. I stood up, balancing Abel on my hip. "I can teach you two all kinds of games."
"We could play softball," Kristy suggested. She eyed us speculatively. "Well, okay, maybe we don't quite have a full team."
"Well, if no one has any further objections, I'm going to go enjoy some well-earned time to myself," Eve announced.
"No problem, Mrs. -- uh -- Eve," I said, setting Abel gently on his feet. "Come on, Cain. We need someone grown up like you if we're going to play this game that I have in mind." I had dealt with plenty of cases of sibling rivalry before, so I had a few tricks up my sleeve.
"I still don't like this," Adam muttered, but he disappeared after his wife awfully quickly nevertheless.
"In my earlier calculations, I neglected to account for the prevalence of the supernatural during this epoch," Janine said. "Taking that into consideration, I ought to be able to to proceed in a manner that would have been entirely impossible in our own era."
"What does that even mean?" Kristy asked. Janine blinked.
"It means that we may be able to return to our own time even in the absence of the materials I employed in my original design which are not obtainable in our present location."
"Oh," Kristy said. "Can I help you with anything?" And then both of them disappeared, leaving me standing with Cain and Abel by the river.
"So, what are we going to play?" Cain demanded. "It better be good."
I thought quickly. I wished that I had my Kid-Kit, or any of the other things that I took for granted back in Stoneybrook, for that matter, but I was going to have to make do with what I had, which wasn't much.
"This game is called Sleeping Lions," I said. "Do you guys know what lions are?"
"Yes," Cain shouted. "They're big and they're furry and they have huge teeth and if they catch you they'll eat you right up. Rawr!" He pounced on his little brother, who squealed. Abel sounded like he was enjoying it, but I knew from experience how quickly fun and games could turn to tears.
"Everyone who wants to play Sleeping Lions, follow me," I announced. It got their attention. Both of them followed me away from the river and into shade, interested. "One person is going to be the hunter, and everyone else is going to be the lions."
"I'm going to be the hunter," Cain said immediately. "I'm going to kill you dead!" He started to go for his brother again, but I held him back.
"All the lions will lie down on the ground like they're sleeping," I went on. "They have to lie very, very still. The hunter's job is to try to get the lions to move, but he can't touch them at all." I emphasized the last two words very firmly.
Cain looked disappointed. Abel asked, "So what does he do, then?"
"He has to make them laugh."
"Oh," Cain said. "I can do that." He puffed up his chest. "Lie down, everybody." Abel tumbled over and stretched out on the ground like the dead. I followed suit, making sure to position myself where I could keep an eye on both of them.
Abel started giggling almost every time that his big brother went anywhere near him. And then, once he started laughing, I had a hard time keeping a straight face, either. Cain, who was enjoying himself immensely, insisted that we play over and over and over again, which was fine with me, as long as it kept both of them happy.
"All right, let's play again!" Cain shouted. "I'm the hunter."
"I don't wanna play again," Abel said.
"But you have to, because I said so."
"But I don't wanna!"
Abel sounded decidedly cranky. "Do you usually take a nap?" I asked.
"Cain, does your brother usually take a nap?"
"Yes, because he's a baby."
"I am not a baby!"
"You are so!"
"Both of you knock it off, right now!"
They stared at me, wide-eyed.
"Now, Abel, we're going to find a nice place for you to lie down and you're going to take a nap. And Cain, you're going to stay with me, and we're going to play--quietly--while your little brother sleeps. Got it?"
Both of them nodded, awestruck. Cain ran and found me Abel's blanket, which had been abandoned by the riverbank, and I tucked him in under a tree. He fell asleep almost immediately. I racked my brains again, trying to think of something quiet that would keep Cain busy, but before I could come up with something, he was tugging on my sleeve.
"Want me to show you all the plants and what they're good for?" he asked me quietly. "My mommy's been teaching me them. My daddy named all the plants, you know. He named all the animals, too. My daddy named 'most everything."
We looked at plants, most of which I had never actually seen before and some of which actually tasted really good, and after a while Abel woke up and Cain showed him plants too. Neither of them so much as raised their voices. I was impressed. It was like a miracle.
Kristy and Janine wandered back around dusk. "We've made a great deal of progress," Janine announced, looking very pleased with herself.
"Oh yeah?" I said hopefully. Janine waved something in my face, which turned out to be sheets of papyrus covered in that weird math writing with the numbers and the letters and the other letters.
"I've created all kinds of new equations to reconcile the metaphysics of this epoch with the more familiar ones of our own," she said.
"Does that mean that we can get home again?" I asked.
"Assuming that my conclusions don't prove to be unfounded and my material substitutions function according to my projection, maybe."
"Oh," I said. "Well, good luck, then."
Kristy shoved some more papyrus at me. It was blank. "You can record your sitting job on this," she told me.
"How about I just tell you about my sitting job?"
"No, you have to put it in writing," she said. "That's what we do. Besides, in this case you should definitely leave a record in case Janine can't get her time machine rigged up and we all die here."
"Kristy!" Janine gasped, disapprovingly. Tears started to well in my eyes.
"I don't want to die here without saying goodbye to my dad or Tigger or Logan or Dawn or anybody!" I choked out in between sobs. Kristy put an arm around my shoulder awkwardly.
"We probably won't die here," she said. "Janine's really smart, you know."
"Yeah," I said, wiping my nose on the back of my hand. I wished that there were Kleenex, at least. Abel had noticed that I was upset and he ran over to put his arms around my legs.
"Don't cry, Mary Anne," he said. "We'll tell my daddy and he'll make it all better."
"He can't always make everything all better," Cain said wisely.
"He can too!"
"We better go find your daddy anyway," I said, sniffling. "He didn't tell us what time he'd be back, but it's getting late."
Cain and Abel led us back to their tent, singing the song that Kristy taught them at the top of their lungs. "Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream!" Abel kept singing "Warily, warily, warily, warily" instead of "Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily" and Cain kept laughing at him, but mostly they were getting along beautifully.
Adam and Eve met us at the entrance to the tent, which was pretty large. Eve was wearing something that looked like a rug. "I can't possibly thank you girls enough," she said. Adam nodded vigorously in agreement.
"We played Sleeping Lions!" Abel shouted.
"Yeah, and I was the hunter every single time! And then I showed Mary Anne all the plants! I got all their names perfectly except for some of them I didn't remember," Cain added.
"This time, we better have a girl," Eve hissed to her husband.
"Might I inquire whether there is any suitable place where we might retire for the night?" Janine asked. Adam and Eve stared at her blankly.
"She means, where are we going to sleep tonight?" Kristy translated.
"Oh!" Adam said. He pitched this nice tent where all three of us are sitting right now, and I'm definitely ready to go to sleep, except that Kristy wanted me to write this down first.
We are hereby preparing to seal this document in a time capsule which we will bury tomorrow. If we don't writing anything else on this papyrus, you must assume that we returned to our own time, or perished in the attempt.
Kristy! Don't write that! It's bad luck!
Well, if we die, don't you want to be remembered properly?
We're not going to die!
You don't know that!
The probability of our dying is miniscule at best, as none of the materials we will be handling are particularly dangerous unless they are combined improperly, and I am an experienced lab technician.
Thanks, Janine. I feel a lot better now.
Anyway, Cain and Abel are awfully cute kids, aren't they? I wouldn't mind sitting for them again, even though I definitely don't want to be stuck here for the rest of my life.
I'm afraid that particular story doesn't have an especially happy ending ...