He thought of it as an apple hanging just out of reach, perfectly ripe, gold-limned in the light of some new dawn. If he’d ever spoken of it to anyone, which he had not, he might have called it his destiny.
Floyd had to tap the glass of the front booth to wake the ticket seller, who squinted at Floyd’s bright blue backpack—stuffed with all the necessities a person might need on a journey through time or, more accurately, all the non-perishable food that was available in his mother’s kitchen before dawn this morning, when the idea had occurred to him—tore an orange ticket from a large roll, and said “Good luck” in a tone suggesting he would need it.
Floyd was undeterred. He walked through the gate with a swelling, billowing sensation in his chest, as if he were finally reaching out for that red, ripe apple. He would have touched the stone without breaking stride, without a second’s hesitation, if it hadn’t been for the man standing in the way.
He was a little older than Floyd, somewhere in that nebulous range between early-twenties and old, which were Floyd’s only categories. Floyd thought he might have been handsome, in a tensile, whippet kind of way, if he shaved those embarrassing sideburns and wore 21st-century clothing. His outfit looked as if it had been stolen from the cover of one of Floyd’s mother’s romance novels: high-waisted pants, a collared shirt, and a stiff red vest that Floyd suspected was called a waistcoat or a cravat, or possibly a cummerbund.
Floyd knew some time travelers chose to dress in period clothing, but this man’s costume had a geographical and chronological specificity that struck Floyd as thoroughly silly.
If he’d heard Floyd’s approach, he made no sign of it. He stood before the stone, staring at it with a strange, lost expression, as if he didn’t know why he’d come or what he ought to do next.
Floyd waited a polite minute before saying “Morning” in the same soothing tone he used to greet stray cats.
The man startled so violently he tripped over his own feet and very nearly fell against the stone. Floyd caught one flailing wrist—so slim and sharp it was like catching a tossed butter knife—and stood him gently back upright.
The man blinked several times, panting and rubbing his wrist. “Thank you.” He had a nasally BBC accent that made Floyd suspect he’d traveled much further than three counties to be here.
“No problem.” Floyd nodded at the stone. “I’ll give you some privacy, if you’re going first.”
“Going…?” The man looked at the stone, then back at Floyd, squinting as if Floyd were standing in much brighter sunlight than he actually was. “No, I wasn’t—that is, I’m just the, uh, groundskeeper.” He nodded vaguely at the trees, which seemed to be keeping themselves perfectly well. “You go ahead.”