“I’m not playing games.” He held the camera. “Come with me. I’ll show you for real, but we gotta be quiet.”
“Fine. I hope it’s not far.”
“Over the ridge. I sat on the hill watching them.”
“Right.” I didn’t believe him for a second, thinking maybe he had seen a mirage or had lost his mind. I felt like I was losing mine.
We wandered through a field to an incline, where we scrambled to the top, my heart racing from the exercise. Before we had reached the ridge, Phil grabbed me. “Easy. Look over carefully. We don’t want them to see us.”
“Okey dokey.” I dropped to the ground, grateful to be seated, while Phil lifted his head, his face partially hidden in tall grass. “There. Look.”
I took a peek, seeing what appeared to be a campsite in the distance. Two men, who wore what looked like leather skirts, sat and ate, the smoke from the fire lifting into the air, carried by the wind in another direction.
“Look through this.” He gave me the camera.
I lifted it to my eyes, staring into the distance. The people at the camp sat on the ground, with what appeared to be fur on their feet, tied with strips of leather. They were men, with incredibly long hair and beards, their bodies muscled and stocky.
“What do you think? Am I making it up? Does that look like a video to you?”
“No.” I continued to look, mesmerized by the spectacle, the carcass of an animal on the ground near the fire. “I … I don’t know. Where the hell are we?”
“It’s more like when the hell are we?”
“What?” I gave him the camera.
“I’ve been thinking about this. Something’s not right with this picture at all. That mastodon … that’s … when I saw that, I knew we were screwed.”
“It’s a wildlife preserve.”
He shook his head. “It’s another time and place.”
“We’ve ended up in another time and place, Janet.”
“Come on. That’s ridiculous.”
“How do you explain those people?”
“Homeless. They’re living off the grid. People do it all the time.”
“Looking like they just stepped out of the Encyclopedia Britannica?”
“They … they’ve gone back to nature.”
“I remember studying Paleo-Indians in eighth grade. Seeing an artist’s rendering of what he thought they looked like. It was close, but these guys have way more hair.”
I sighed. “That’s totally ridiculous. Go down, and say hi. I bet you five bucks they’re some weirdos living off the land.” That idea appealed to me. “They can direct us to the road. Maybe they have a satellite phone.”
“I’m not doing that.”
I got to my feet. “Then I will. I’m tired of this shit. I’m tired of being out here. I want to go home now.”
He grabbed me. “Get down!” he hissed.
“Ouch!” He dragged me to the ground. “Are you crazy? They’re just a coupla weirdos at a fire. They can help us.”
“We’ve no weapons. Did you get a load of their spears? They look lethal. Did you see their builds? Those men look like they belong to the WWE.”
“Pro wrestlers. I’m not goin’ down there. No way.”
Unpleasant thoughts drifted through my mind. “We need help, Phil. We’re going to have to talk to those guys.”
He stared at his fingernails, which were dirty. “I gotta think about this. Something’s totally messed up about this place.”
“Are you delusional? Are you hearing voices?” Maybe he hit his head in the crash.
“I’m perfectly fine. I’m not nuts. I didn’t bang my head. I’ve been observing people my entire life, Janet. It’s what I do for a living. I’ve been a professional photographer for fourteen years. I’ve traveled all over the world. I’ve some experience with this. I know my shit.”
“I know my shit.”
“I’m aware of that, but this is different. Something happened to us on that plane. We … we went through an electrical storm that somehow threw us back in time.”
“Oh, Phil.” I smiled sympathetically. “This experience has been tough on us all. I wa—”
“I’m not crazy!” His eyes blazed. “I’m trying to tell you that we’re in another time and place. Everything we knew before is … over.”
“I want to go down and talk to them.”
He chewed on a nail, staring at me. “If we go, we gotta go together. We gotta stick together.”
“We’re heading in that direction anyhow.”
“I can’t go down unarmed. I gotta find a pocket knife at least.”
“You do that.” I got to my feet, scrambling down the hill. “You get your weapons all in a row.” I was being facetious, but I was too damn tired to care.
When we reached the others, music played, Claire draining the battery of another phone. “Hey, guys.” She smiled, having changed clothes. She wore jeans and a t-shirt. Pink lip-gloss glistened on her lips. “I’m so hungry. What’s there to eat?”
“Nothing,” I muttered.
Phil dug through his luggage, searching for something, lifting out what looked like a pocketknife. “Thank God.”
“Was that in your checked bag?” I asked.
“Yeah.” He slipped it into his pocket, glancing at Martha and Claire. “There are two guys camping in the valley. Janet wants to go down and say hi.”
“What?” Martha sat up. “You see people?”
“People who live off the land,” I said.
“What does that mean?” Claire stopped the music.
“I say they’re Paleo-Indians, but Janet thinks they’re a bunch of survivalists.”
“I’m not buying the time travel theory. It’s completely ridiculous.”
“What are you talking about?” Martha tied her sneakers. “What time travel theory?”
“Phil thinks we’ve gone back in time.”
Claire laughed, “It feels like it.”
“We have. Something happened to the plane. I’ve video of a mastodon on my camera. I’m seeing camels and cavemen. I’d say, yeah. We’ve gone back in time.”
Martha gave me a look, silently communicating. We thought Phil had lost his marbles. “Um … okay.” She got to her feet. “Let’s talk to the campers. I’m sure they’ll know how to contact the authorities.”
“I’m so ready to go home.” Claire held her suitcases, her eyes shaded by sunglasses. “I’m really starving now. I can go two days without food easy, but I usually eat something on the third day.”
Not knowing how to respond to that, I grasped the handle on my bag, dragging it behind me. “Awesome. Maybe the campers have something for us to eat. I’m getting to the point where the bugs are starting to look good. Protein, you know.”
“Ew … that’s gross.”
Martha came up to me. “Is Phil all right?”
“I don’t know. I saw the campers. They look … a little weird. They’re taking ‘being one with nature’ to the next level.”
“What do you mean?”
We trudged onward, strolling through the field to the incline, where we dragged our luggage to the top of the hill. Once we crested, we stared into the valley below, seeing for miles and miles, until a forest appeared far in the distance, with a mountain range jutting beyond.
“There is nothing out here,” muttered Martha. “Absolutely nothing.”
Phil pointed. “Not true. Natives. Check ‘em out.”
“The campers?” Claire stared. “I see them. I hope they’re cooking something good. I’m so hungry.”
I remembered the image in the video of the man drinking the blood from the animal. “Oh, it’s gonna be good, all right,” I said sarcastically. “If you’re a vampire.” Not wanting to waste more time, I passed them, dragging the luggage down the hill. I planned to prove Phil wrong by communicating with the men, who would no doubt speak English.
We stirred up a fair amount of dust, our approach anything but stealthy, and when Claire tripped and stumbled, screaming, “Fuck my life!” The men at the campsite took notice, springing to their feet. “I ripped my jeans. These are Dolce & Gabbana!”
Several blisters had formed on my hands from dragging fifty pounds worth of clothing and water bottles. I tasted dust when I ran my tongue over my lips, feeling thirsty. We were yards away from the campers, approaching slowly, although they stared at us, having brandished their spears.
Phil looked nervous; a sheen of perspiration had appeared on his forehead. “Slow, guys, slow.”
“What on earth?” Martha stared at the men. “What are they wearing?”
“Animal hides or something,” I said. “Hey!” I called, “Hi!” I waved. “Do you guys have a phone?”
We closed the distance fast. The strangers had taken up defensive postures, each with a spear in his hand, while their eyes flashed with alarm.
“Don’t go any further!” shouted Phil. “Stop. That’s close enough.”
I stared at the men, finding them utterly bizarre-looking, their features sharper than our own. The bridge of their foreheads bulged slightly over widely spaced eyes. They did not seem to know who we were, looking at us blankly, fearfully, seemingly just as nervous as Phil was.
“Hi,” I said, garnering their attention. “We’ve been in a plane crash. Do you guys have a satellite phone? We really need to call for help.”
They exchanged a glance, their eyes glittering with confusion, although I glimpsed a hint of intelligence in the taller man. The man with the unibrow spoke, uttering something guttural that did not sound like any language I had ever heard.
Phil came up behind me, murmuring, “What did I tell you, Janet?” He indicated the campers. “Meet primitive man. Primitive man, meet Janet.”
I threw my head back laughing.
“This is super creepy,” said Claire. “What’s going on?”
Not believing what Phil said for one moment, I continued forward, approaching the men, who stared at me with wild, frightened eyes. “Hi. I really need you guys to quit the whole historical reenactment thing. I appreciate the effort. You look fantastic, but we’ve just been in plane crash. We haven’t had any real food in days. We need to use your phone.”
In a flash of movement, I stared at a spear tip, pointed directly at my face.
About Avery Kloss
Having grown up on military bases and traveled the world, Avery Kloss is happily settled now, and ready to pursue her dream of writing. Her first effort is the time travel romance trilogy “Caveman”, which will be followed shortly by “Caveman 2” and “Caveman 3”.