In Times Ahead
Russell G. Moore
Frederick stepped out of his house and absorbed the morning sunlight. He carried with him a Bible and two apples as he set out into the wilderness to find the sturdy trunk of the elm tree that he propped his back against the day before. He found solace among the trees surrounded by grass fields and the occasional calls from birds wrapped in the sound of the nearby river. He thought had found the most peaceful place in the colony. Few of the neighboring members of the colony woke as early as Frederick, and even fewer could read.
Claire, Frederick's neighbor, although they lived nearly half a mile apart, sometimes joined him on walks among the large trees and well-beaten paths that connected the community. She even joined him when he went out to read and they read to each other. She was among the few who could read and Frederick appreciated that, as well as her other soft, gentle ways. The way she lifted water to her mouth with her cupped hand, the concerned look on her face as she prayed.
On that day, Frederick went to read alone. He looked through the outstretched boughs at the sky to estimate the hour and rested his back against the elm and opened his Bible.
Sarah Sewell stood in the front yard of her house and waited. Jerry always made her wait. Sarah graduated from Danvers High School the month before with high marks and was popular among the boys. Her naturally blonde hair fell to her shoulders and her slender body had the desired curves.
Jerry was the latest in the short list of boys she had dated. He drove a Mustang and had played running back for the Falcons at Danvers High. Jerry Loren had the build of a defensive player, although he played offense. He had red cheeks on his round head which was regularly topped with a bright blue Falcons baseball cap. He enjoyed the sport and played well, but not well enough for a scholarship. He was accepted into the Police Academy and would begin in the fall.
Sarah paced the driveway from the basketball goal to the large tree stump at the other end of the driveway. If she heard a car coming over the hill to the west, she stepped onto the stump and stood on her tiptoes hoping to get an early view of the red mustang she awaited.
It was Friday night and the pair had plans to go out to dinner and a movie. Jerry was late again. If much more time passed, they would miss the start of the movie.
Sarah heard a car climbing the hill and hopped onto the stump and stretched to her toes, her chin outstretched out to see as far as she could over the hill. A black pickup whizzed past the house. She released a sigh and flung her arms down. She was growing impatient. She looked at her watch. Eight thirty-five. As she stepped off of the stump, she heard a voice. It was a man's voice.
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth," the voice said.
"Who's there?" Sarah asked. She stepped off of the stump and walked to the side of the garage. "Hello? Who's there?" She checked the wooded area at the side of the yard. No one there, either. There was no answer and no more man's voice.
If Jerry didn't show up soon, the evening would be ruined. She was dressed for a night out with perfect hair and makeup and she was getting hungry. She was thinking about the many other times that she stood waiting for Jerry. She was thinking that maybe this would be the last time. Sarah paced the driveway again. Another glance at her watch " eight forty-five. When Jerry finally showed up, she was going to really let him have it.
Sarah heard the hiss of oncoming tires over the hill. She hopped up onto the stump to get a glimpse of the hilltop. Once on the stump, she heard the voice once again.
"Rejoice and be glad, for great is your reward in heaven; for so persecuted they the Prophets which were before you," the voice said.
"Hello? Who's there?" she said as she looked around from the height of the stump.
"Claire, have you followed me tonight?" the voice said.
"This is Sarah."
"Sarah? Sarah who?" said the voice. "I don't know any Sarah in this colony."
"Jerry is that you?" Sarah said. "Stop fooling around. You're scaring me. Where are you?"
"I am sitting right under this tree. I was reading. Where are you?" the voice replied.
"I am right in front of the house," Sarah said.
"House?" the voice asked. "There is not a house around here for miles."
"Please just tell me who you are," Sarah said with a telling shake in her voice.
"I am Frederick. Frederick Palmer. I read under this tree every morning."
"Why can't I see you then? Please come out, Jerry," Sarah said. "It's getting really late."
"I cannot see you either," Frederick said. "But I know you are there just as I am here in Salem Village."
"Salem Village no longer exists. Its Danvers now," Sarah said as she sat down on the stump. "My relatives are all from this town since, like, forever."
"I have lived here in Salem Village only since 1689 when I moved here from Maine. The Indians have run the white men from there," said Frederick.
Jerry's Mustang swung into the drive and crunched to a stop. He saw Sarah sitting on the stump and made a pleading gesture with his hands and gave a wrinkled smile.
"I have to go now, Frederick. My boyfriend is here to pick me up. It was nice talking to you," Sarah said.
"It was my pleasure meeting you, Sarah. Please return so we can talk again," Frederick said. She was already up from the stump and could not hear him.
Sarah skipped to the passenger side of the car, opened the door, and before sliding in she gazed in the direction of the stump and smiled wistfully.
Jerry already had the car in reverse. "Who were you talking to?" he asked, looking toward the area that her eyes were locked onto.
Claire was at Frederick's door wearing a sunbonnet and had a basket in hand. She invited him to come along to pick berries in the field. Without hesitation, Frederick accepted.
Soon their hands were busy plucking red and purple berries from their bushy nests. The air sparkled as the sun splashed through the applauding leaves and sprayed a patchwork of light onto the deep green grass.
"I have heard the voice of a girl in times ahead," said Frederick. "While I was reading from the Scriptures last evening."
Claire gasped while suppressing her alarm. "In times ahead? What do you mean?"
"I have heard the voice of a young girl by the name of Sarah. She heard my voice while I was reading from the Scriptures and responded to me. She lives in a time when Salem Village is no more, but has another name," Frederick said.
"Frederick, some would say that hearing such a thing could only be done by a witch or a wizard," Claire said. Her tone took that of an accusation. "If Magistrate Proctor ever heard you say such a thing, you would burn at the stake without fail."
"Be reasonable, Claire. I was reading Scripture at that moment. Besides, I can recite to you the Lord's Prayer this minute. I recited it this morning and I will do it for you now. It is known that a wizard would be unable to do such a thing," he said.
"Please, Frederick, I would love to hear it."
Frederick successfully recited the prayer and then stopped walking so that Claire would also have to stop. She was seemingly convinced, but could not meet his eye.
"Please come to the elm tree with me. It is just over the hill. That is where I heard the girl. Perhaps we shall hear her once more," he said. "Then you too will hear the voice from times ahead."
"I wish to return home," she flatly said.
Sarah was almost finished with her Saturday morning chores and went outside to sweep the front walk. A bird narrowly missed her as it flew by her like a shot and came to rest on the tree stump. She remembered the voice while sitting there the night before.
She walked to the stump and sat down on the edge. She hummed an out-of-tune melody. She cleared her throat, then again, louder. Frederick did not respond. She said his name. Still nothing. She released a sigh and rose to her feet. She must have imagined the whole thing, she reasoned.
As she was returning to the house, the crow landed on a potted flower on the front step and knocked it over. She took a few minutes to curse the bird and clean up the mess. She passed the stump on the way back from the garage where she stored the tools. She gave it a glance, then another. She sat down one more time and whispered Frederick's name.
"Sarah? Have you returned?" Frederick said.
The sound of his voice set loose a swarm of butterflies from inside her. It was the feeling that Jerry's voice used to give her. She remembered the feeling and loved the way it made her feel. It was exciting, in fact it was thrilling. It was a controlled freefall.
"Yes, Frederick. It's me, Sarah. I've been thinking about you."
"And I have been about you also. Won't you tell me about yourself?"
"There's not really that much to tell. I graduated this year and college starts in the fall. I have a boyfriend named Jerry, but I have been having a hard time with him lately. He doesn't think of me as much as he used to. He thinks of his friends and himself," she said.
The excitement of the moment caused her to lose her grasp on the things around her. She was speaking aloud, smiling and gesturing with her hands.
"Tell me what it's like there. What is your job?" she asked.
"When I was in Maine, I was an attorney. After the Indians destroyed the city, I traveled to Salem Village which is greatly populated. The magistrates have no use for an additional attorney. I am now a cooper, reduced to building barrels. It is hard work, but honest," he said.
Sarah's cell phone rang. She excused herself and answered the call.
"I'm calling for Sarah Sewell," an emotionless voice said.
"This is Sarah Sewell."
"This is James from MasterCard. Would you like to upgrade to a Platinum Card?" the man said.
"No thank you," Sarah sighed.
She hung up the phone and tucked it into her pocket.
"Is somebody there with you?" Frederick asked.
"No. It was a phone call. It's a way to talk to someone who is far away."
"That sounds like the workings of witchcraft," Frederick said. "Are you a witch, Sarah?"
"No, Fred," Sarah giggled. "It's something called technology. You wouldn't understand."
Sarah was jolted from the conversation when a car door slammed behind her. She hadn't even seen Jerry pull up the driveway.
"Everything alright, Sarah?" Jerry asked.
"Yeah, I need to talk to you. Let's go sit down." She said.
Jerry walked with her to the wicker chairs that surrounded a shimmering glass table. They lowered themselves into the large chairs. Sarah leaned toward him.
"Jerry, have you ever experienced something unusual " something you think no one else would understand?" she asked.
"I don't think there is anything that no one understands. There is always someone who can understand, Sarah," he answered.
"Well then I need you to understand this. I have made contact with someone from the past. He told me his name, Frederick Palmer, and I Googled it. He says he lives in Salem Village in 1692, and there was a Frederick Palmer there in 1692," Sarah said.
"Okay, so what do I need to understand?" he pressed.
"When I Googled him, he came up as one of the people who were executed in the Salem witch trials. He was burned at the stake on July 19, 1692. That's in two days," she said. "I haven't told him about that. I feel like I should warn him."
"I think you need some time away to relax, Sarah. You're stressed out. My dad's condo in Niagara Falls is vacant. Let's head up there for a few days to unwind," Jerry said.
Claire knocked on Frederick's door. She asked if she could come in to talk. They sat across from one another at his wooden table flanked by two flat benches.
"I've been thinking about what you said yesterday, about hearing the voice of the girl from times ahead," Claire said. "Have you heard from her again?"
"Indeed I have," he said. "She spoke of things unnatural. She has ways to speak to people who are far away from her."
"She is a witch too?" Claire asked.
Frederick stopped speaking and stared into her as if searching for the answer to a riddle. Her words rang through his head. She lowered her gaze and looked squarely at the wide planks of the floor. Frederick rose to his feet and slowly paced to the opposite side of the room. He stood and kept her in his gaze. A single tear traced down her rosy cheek.
"What have you done, Claire?" he said.
Sarah spent her time on the drive to Niagara Falls looking out at the scenery. The radio played although she didn't hear the music. Jerry gave a glance in her direction and asked if she was okay. She said she was just thinking.
After settling into the condo, Jerry fell asleep in the recliner with the television on. Sarah walked outside to a nearby park. There were picnic tables scattered among the trees. A silver lake with folds of shadow spread over the surface was in the distance. The sun was setting and it created a purple and grey abstract in the sky.
She thought about Frederick and how she neglected to warn him of his fate. She knew that the witch trials were an historic fraud. None of those poor people were witches " at least there was no real proof. If she warned him, he would have a chance to escape Salem Village and survive. It would have taken place even if she had never heard of Frederick, or heard from him. But now that she was involved, she had a responsibility to act and avert the injustice.
She walked through the park for a few hours that passed like a few minutes, turning over in her mind the events leading her there. How did she hear a man speaking over three hundred years ago? Maybe Frederick was a wizard. What other explanation was there for the contact? Maybe Jerry was right " she was stressed out about school and starting college in the fall. She must have been cracking under the pressure. Maybe she created a man who would give her the attention that Jerry didn't give.
She walked back to the condo and went inside. Jerry was sitting on the sofa watching baseball highlights on ESPN. He didn't notice Sarah walk in. She stood in front of the television with her arms crossed. He looked up and her and took a sip of soda from his tumbler.
"Oh, how was your walk?" he asked.
"My walk was fine, if you like being tortured by guilt," she said. "How could you bring me here when you knew that I had a chance to tell Frederick what I knew? I had a chance to save him and now I'm seven hours from home. He's going to be tried tomorrow morning probably killed."
"If he was real, then he was a witch. They burned witches because they were dangerous. That's if he was real," Jerry said.
"They burned people because they were accused of being witches. That was all it took to be killed in those days. And of course he was real. I showed you the search that I did. He was real and I had a chance to save him. If we don't leave now it will be too late," she said through her sobs.
"You're not serious."
Frederick waited for a response from Claire. She sat with her head lowered, slightly sobbing. He paced back and forth.
"Claire? Have you talked to anyone about the girl from times ahead?" he asked.
"Frederick how is it possible that you are hearing voices from times ahead and yet you are not a wizard?" she said.
"Claire, have you talked to anyone about it?" he asked with more urgency.
"Frederick, I love you, but..." she sobbed.
Frederick looked though the front door toward the trail leading to the town. He saw through the trees some men in long, black coats riding horses toward his house. He sprinted through the house, hurling things out of his way. He ran out the back door into the field and kept running. He dodged trees and hurdled fallen branches. Panting and sweating, he arrived at the elm tree that brought on his imminent demise. A boulder large enough to conceal him was just inside the tree line of the thick woods where the field ended. He dove behind the boulder and laid still, his heart pounding in his throat.
The mounted men arrived at the elm only moments later. Their voices had the vigilance of a mob in search of a thief. The man seemingly in the lead of the group raised a finger to his lips to hush the others. He thrust his arm in toward the river, directing the men to charge in that direction.
As the sound of the thundering hooves waned, Frederick's heart returned to its place. He closed his eyes and laid his head on the ground, exhausted, and released a long-held breath. He remained behind the boulder for what seemed like hours, but was only a few minutes.
When all was quiet, he peered from behind the boulder. He saw no one, so he slowly stood and looked around. He saw the elm tree and it drew him toward it like a force. He walked from behind the boulder and headed for the tree when a man wearing a long, black coat and hat stepped from behind it, pointing a flintlock pistol at Frederick's heart.
Jerry flung the Mustang into Sarah's driveway and lurched to a stop. The passenger door flew open while they were still moving and Sarah hit the ground running. She ran through the grass and fell upon the remains of the old elm tree.
"Frederick! Frederick! Are you there?" she cried.
Jerry sat behind the wheel watching his once normal girlfriend cry for a man from the distant past. He felt like he was witnessing a nervous breakdown. His aunt Karen had one after her divorce. That was a few years ago. His mother and father explained to him what happened to her and they went to visit her a few times. She was never the same after that. She was, at least according to Jerry's father, less of a person. The family lost touch with her. Now she lives in Denver with her new girlfriend.
Jerry processed this information and came to a decision. The best thing he could do right now is put the car in reverse and cut his losses. He couldn't be associated with a nutcase if he was going to be a cop. He watched her house get smaller in the rear view as he drove away from her.
There was no answer from Frederick. She was too late. She caressed the stump with both hands as she knelt before it. The morning air was cool and it began to lightly rain. She cried big sobs as the rain fell harder and soaked her hair and clothes. Her tears mixed with the rain. She stood up and walked through the downpour to a large round boulder that rested partially buried in the soil a few paces from the stump. She leaned against the rock as she released her anguish.
She threw both hands on the boulder to hold herself up as her strength waned. Her right hand felt a depression at the rear of the boulder, facing the forest. Her sobs stopped and she moved to the back. She wiped away centuries of moss and scale. Her hand traced the lines carved into the rock. Her sadness transformed to awe, even relief as she read the words carved into the big rock: Sarah S. " Frederick P. Escaped to Virginia 1692.
Sarah stood and looked to the dark, raining sky. She heard no sound and felt no cold. She was more comfortable than she had ever been. She kissed her hand then touched the words carved into the rock.