Leigh picked her way over downed birch and fir trees as she walked along the shoreline of Lake Kaskade. In no hurry to return to her quiet two-bedroom home in the hills above the nearby town of Orting, she savored the familiar scene. Birds chirped in the overhead forest.
The lake was particularly beautiful that evening just before sunset. In the absence of a breeze, the placid surface mirrored the emerald-green Douglas firs surrounding it and the soft blue hills that swept away to the brilliant white snows of Mount Rainier. Heavy rains the week before had elevated the lake level to such an extent that the path she usually followed was under water, and she’d had to move inland a bit.
Lake Kaskade had always fascinated her, tucked away as it was among the trees in a remote area of Western Washington. Pristine and quiet, she had seen fishermen in small shallow dinghies or canoes paddling along on the complicated little lake, but the dead tree stumps of a long-submerged forest probably kept motorized craft from entangling their blades in what lay close to the water’s surface.
Leigh had read that Lake Kaskade had been formed by a mudflow from Mount Rainier, an active volcano, five hundred years before. The mudflow had dammed up the lake and flooded the forested valley.
Lost in the beauty of the lake, Leigh tripped over a rock. She caught herself from falling and looked down, startled to see that it wasn’t a rock but the tip of a red brick paver embedded in mud.
“How did this get here?” she said aloud. “Hey, little guy,” she murmured, crouching down to run her fingers along the smooth, weathered clay brick. “What are you doing here?”
Leigh scanned her surroundings. “Are they dumping trash here? Is that where you came from?”
Living in seclusion since her husband died in a car accident the year before had given Leigh a bad habit of talking aloud to herself. She worked from home evaluating disability claims for an insurance company, so she didn’t have a great deal of interaction through her employment either, other than the occasional office conference call or company email.
“Oh, hello!” she said. “Here’s another one!”
Beyond the brick she had tripped over lay another one embedded in dirt, and then another, the entirety resembling a walkway of some sort that led into a clump of bushes. Leigh rose and moved toward the bushes, parting the thick foliage to follow the bricks. She gasped at the sight of an old graying concrete foundation, thickly covered with layers of emerald-green moss. It was evident that some building had stood there at one time, a fairly large one at that, given the approximate two-foot thickness of the foundation wall.
Fascinated, Leigh pushed through the foliage to reach out for the foundation. She ran her hands along the cool, glistening moss. As the bushes closed behind her, the birds stopped singing and the forest faded from view.
Leigh awoke to a rhythmic tone that sounded like metal on metal. She opened her eyes to see the outline of a steam locomotive chugging along on a railroad trestle in the near distance. Through the dusk, she could see that the trestle, built upon a hill, spanned some sort of waterway, perhaps a creek.
She rubbed her eyes and stared again at the train—a locomotive pulling several boxcars. Something about the scene struck her as odd. She shouldn’t have been able to see the train through the dense trees of the lakeside forest—if those trees had still been standing.
But the forest was largely cleared, leaving a few solitary fir trees to stand guard. The train rumbled out of view, and Leigh pushed herself upright. Gone was the dense foliage surrounding the concrete foundation. Instead, a green lawn stretched away into growing shadows. Leigh looked over her shoulder and jumped back with a shriek at the large white building towering above her.
She spun around and tilted her head back to scan a two-story building, probably three if one imagined a basement. At eye level was the concrete foundation she had touched only moments before, no longer covered in moss. Light shone through several windows above, doing nothing to dispel the growing darkness around her. She reached out to touch the painted wooden siding. Her hand didn’t pass through the structure, as she might have hoped if she’d been hallucinating. The building seemed all too real.
Other sounds, no longer drowned out by the rumbling train, caught her ears. She heard children yelling and screaming as if they played nearby. Another rhythmic sound grew louder, as if something approached, something that sounded distinctively like livery. A wagon? The sound stopped abruptly, and then she heard men’s voices.
Leigh shook her head, hoping to wake herself up. Had she fainted? She remembered touching the old foundation, but nothing more until she woke up sitting at the base of the large white building.
She pressed her back against the cool foundation, no longer able to hear much more than the loud pounding of her heart. Turning her head to the left, she strained to see in the waning twilight. The lake, only a few hundred yards away, twinkled with pink and orange reflections of the clouds over the setting sun. Above the darkening foothills surrounding the lake, the permanent snow on Mount Rainier’s peaks mirrored those rosy shades.
The familiar beauty of the mountain and the lake calmed and grounded Leigh, and she steadied her breathing.
To her left, a wagon appeared in front of the building, a cloud of dust trailing in its wake suggesting an unpaved road. Leigh couldn’t see the driver’s face in the dusk, but he wore a broad-brimmed hat. Horse and wagon lumbered by in a cacophony of clopping hooves and jingling livery.
Deducing that the front of the structure faced the road, Leigh sidestepped in that direction, keeping her back plastered to the side of the building. She reached the edge and looked up to see a porch surrounded by wooden railings. Soft electric lighting filtered down onto the porch.
Leigh paused, unsure of what to do, unsure of where she really was. The sight of Mount Rainier and the nearby lake fixed her position as near the shoreline, but that was all that seemed familiar. Everything else had changed, and though she was desperate to see more, the growing darkness surrounding her blocked any further inspection.
“Hello there,” a deep male voice said from the direction of the road. “Do you need help?”
The porch light highlighted a man on the porch steps carrying an old-fashioned medical bag. His direction suggested he was on his way into the building. He turned and descended the stairs to round the corner in her direction.
“Do I know you?” he asked. He tipped a finger to a dark bowler cap and waited for Leigh’s response. He wore a dark suit with an impossibly high white collar and tie. His jacket hung casually open to reveal a vest. The lights reflected on a gold chain traversing his vest, as if attached to a pocket watch.
“Miss?” he prompted. “Do you need assistance? Is that why you’re here? I’m Dr. Jeremiah Cook. Have you come to see me?”
“Dr. Cook,” Leigh breathed. “You’re a doctor? A doctor?”
“Yes. Have you come to see me then? Are you ill?”
“Where am I?” Leigh asked.
“You are at my home, miss. I see patients here. Are you injured? Do come inside.”
Rather than approach Leigh, Dr. Cook held out a hand, as if encouraging her to come toward him and take it. Despite her confusion, Leigh couldn’t stop herself from walking toward him. The light fell on her face as she slipped her hand in his.
Leigh heard Dr. Cook draw in a sharp breath as he closed his fingers over hers. His grasp was strong yet gentle. He eyed her from head to foot, and she blushed.
“I do not know you, do I? Where have you come from? Though I think I already know the answer to that.”
“I don’t know,” Leigh said. She wasn’t sure what she should say. From the historical style of the doctor’s clothing to the wagon to the building that hadn’t been there moments before, she suspected she was dreaming. Unconscious more like, since she didn’t think she had fallen asleep so much as fainted.
“Come inside. I will have my housekeeper make you a cup of tea.”
He pulled her toward the front of the building, a Victorian structure fronted by red brick pavers leading up to wide stairs of the same material. Leigh recognized the brick as similar to what she had seen buried in the mud.
Four white columns supported the roof over the porch. Wicker chairs flanked a solid wood door and large plate-glass window. Dr. Cook released Leigh’s hand to open the front door, then allowed her to precede him. Dazed, she passed him, noting that the top of her head barely cleared his shoulders. From her much shorter vantage point, she caught sight of a charming cleft in his chin.
Leigh stepped over the threshold to survey a small, though high-ceilinged, foyer with a warmly varnished dark-wood landing and stairs that led off to the left. Elegant beige-and-white wallpaper in a lacy pattern highlighted the walls.
Several royal-blue upholstered chairs nestled against the base of the stairs. It was to one of these that Dr. Cook escorted her.
“Rest here for a moment while I ask Mrs. Jackson to make some tea. She will also act as chaperone. You need have no fear on that score.”
“Fear?” Leigh mumbled.
The doctor set down his bag and removed his bowler hat, revealing shining black well-trimmed hair, parted on the side, that barely touched the top of his collar. He hung the hat on a coat and hat stand.
“Yes, you must rest easy,” he said, looking down at her with a kindly smile of even, white teeth. As if he wasn’t handsome enough, deep dimples appeared in his cheeks. “I will return in a moment, and then we shall see what ails you.”
“Nothing ails—” Leigh started to say, but Dr. Cook had moved away down the hall toward an open doorway. He disappeared into a well-lit room with pale-green walls. Upon seeing the side of a porcelain sink, Leigh surmised that must be the kitchen. She heard voices but couldn’t make out the words.
Still bemused but assuming she must have been dreaming, Leigh studied her surroundings. She looked up to see a small globe light hanging from the ceiling. A warm ruby-red Oriental carpet ran the length of the hallway. Across the hall, open double wooden doors revealed a large room featuring a forest-green velvet sofa, an equally warm dark-green Oriental carpet and similar wallpaper. A modest electric chandelier lit the room.
She recognized the house as a Victorian-style and assumed the room across the hall was a parlor of some sort. The doctor said he saw patients in his home. Surely he didn’t see patients in the parlor, did he?
Dr. Cook reappeared in the doorway and walked toward her with an easy long-legged stride. Beyond him, a small, plump woman in a long-sleeved white blouse and ankle-length blue skirt followed, carrying a tray. A white apron covered her clothing. Gray hair had been pulled back to a bun at the nape of her neck.
Leigh was unsurprised to see the housekeeper’s antiquated style of dress. She supposed herself to be in some kind of historical dream, though why, she had no idea. She couldn’t for the life of her understand why she had inserted a doctor into her dream.
Dr. Cook reached Leigh’s side and held out his hand to help her rise.
“This is Mrs. Jackson. She already had tea ready for me and has added a cup for you. Please follow me into my examining room.”
“Wait! Your what?” Leigh exclaimed.
Mrs. Jackson smiled kindly at her as she carried the tray across the hall into the parlor. She disappeared from view, and Leigh allowed Dr. Cook to take her hand and lead her into the parlor.
“Did you say your examining room?” she asked, searching the parlor. Mrs. Jackson had disappeared, and she saw her in a connecting room setting the tray down on a bureau behind a large antique wooden desk. It was to that room that Dr. Cook guided her. Upon entering, Leigh saw the same delicate beige-and-white lace wallpaper covered the walls, but that was the only bit of color in the room. The desk flanked one end of the room, with an old-fashioned swiveling wooden office chair.
Several bookcases held books, brown glass bottles and what appeared to be medical supplies, such as gauzes and linens. Leigh’s upper lip started to perspire. The doctor had been serious when he called it an examining room. A metal table draped with a white sheet and metal stool centered the room.
Leigh couldn’t hold back her panic any longer. She pulled out of Dr. Cook’s hand and backed out of the room.
“No, I can’t do this. I’m terrified of medical things. I just can’t.” She stopped in the middle of the parlor. “Thank you, but I’m fine. I don’t need an exam. I’m just—” What could she say? Was she lost? Confused? In the middle of a dream?
Dr. Cook and Mrs. Jackson came to the doorway to stare at her.
“I’m just confused and a little bit lost. I’m probably dreaming,” Leigh said with a tremulous smile. “But my health is fine, and I don’t need an examination.”
Dr. Cook moved toward her, his hands outstretched, and Leigh backed farther away. He dropped his hands.
“Forgive me, miss. You are not the first person to be frightened at the doctor’s office. Very well. Then we shall just have tea in the parlor. Mrs. Jackson, could you bring the tea into the parlor? Why don’t you have a seat on the sofa, Miss...”
“Peters, Leigh Peters.” Leigh remained standing.
Mrs. Jackson brought the tea tray into the parlor and set it on an oval wooden coffee table in front of the sofa.
“Thank you, Mrs. Jackson,” Dr. Cook said. “Will you sit, Miss Peters?”
Before Leigh could answer, Mrs. Jackson spoke.
“Doctor, I have some cookies baking in the oven that I need to see to. Will you need me any further?”
Dr. Cook hesitated, then looked at Leigh.
“Do you feel the need for a chaperone, Miss Peters? We will remain in full view here in the parlor.”
“No, I’m fine,” Leigh finally replied.
Mrs. Jackson threw the doctor an indecipherable look before smiling sympathetically at Leigh. The woman left the room, and Dr. Cook looked down at the tray on the table.
“Shall we drink our tea standing?” He looked up at her with a wry smile.
Leigh’s lips curved into a sheepish grin in response. “I’m sorry,” she said, crossing the room to take a seat on the far end of the sofa. She perched on the edge, still wary about the doctor’s plans for her, unsure if he was about to attack her with a sedating needle when she let down her guard.
“I know I seem a bit paranoid, but I should probably explain that I’ve had a lifelong fear of all things medical, including doctors.”
Dr. Cook sat down on the sofa and poured out the tea, handing her a cup. She noted that his eyes were a lovely shade of azure blue.
“Did you have a terrible medical experience as a child?”
Leigh shook her head.
“No, but my mother died when I was young from a long, painful battle with cancer, and I’m pretty sure that triggered my phobia. All the treatments and hospital stays, and still she died.”
Leigh swallowed hard against the knot in her throat.
“I am so very sorry,” Dr. Cook said in a quiet voice. “How old were you when she fell ill?”
“Eight,” Leigh said. “My parents tried to shield me from her illness, but everyone in the neighborhood knew her cancer was terminal. She couldn’t attend school functions, couldn’t do the things that other mothers did for their children. My father tried to fill in as both parents, but he had to work. I ended up taking care of my mother in the evenings and on weekends for the last year of her life.” Leigh swallowed again. “Don’t think I feel sorry for myself. I feel sorry for my mother. She was the one who suffered through all the indignities of cancer, of the treatment for it.”
“Indeed,” he said. “Did you have no other brothers or sisters?”
“No, I’m an only child. My father died fairly early as well, when I was about nineteen. So I’m on my own!” Leigh, knowing how maudlin she sounded, tried to end on a bright note.
“A pity,” the doctor said, his sympathetic expression threatening to send Leigh into a bout of tears. “Where are you from?”
“Orting. That is not far at all.”
“It seems a long way off right now,” she mumbled.
“Yes, I can imagine it does.”
His eyes dropped to her legs, encased in blue jeans, and she felt oddly self-conscious, though why, she couldn’t say.
“May I ask why you were hiding beside the house when I arrived?”
Leigh paused to think about her next words. “Look, I’ll be frank,” she finally said. “I think I might be dreaming.” She paused. “Although it’s very bizarre that I would incorporate a doctor and his office into my dream.”
“Dreaming?” Dr. Cook repeated. “I can assure you that you are not in a dream, Miss Peters. What makes you think that?”
Leigh stalled by sipping her tea. The doctor’s charming eyes had hardened to a sharp blue, and she thought she’d better be more careful with her words. Doctors had immeasurable power. He could quite easily certify her as insane and have her committed.
Committed? What was she thinking? No doctor could have her committed for thinking she was dreaming. The thought led her to one that had been nagging at her. She didn’t think she was in the “modern era” any longer. Everything about the house, the doctor, his housekeeper, even his examining room, suggested she was no longer in the twenty-first century.
“No reason,” she said, pressing her lips together.
Dr. Cook watched her, and she flashed him a lopsided grin.
“Is it your plan to return to Orting tonight? If so, how? Or are you staying in Kaskade tonight?”
Leigh thought fast. “Oh, I’ll head back to Orting tonight. No need to worry about me.”
“How will you return? The last train has gone. No conveyances run at this hour.”
“Conveyances?” Leigh repeated, again stalling. “Yes, there’s that.”
“There is what?”
“Are you sure?” she asked. “I just saw a guy on a wagon go by. Maybe I can get him to drive me down to Orting.”
“That was Jack. He dropped me off from my visit to the logging camp up near Electron. He was exhausted after a long day and heading home to sleep.”
“Oh! Well, in that case...” Leigh let the words dangle. She drank the last of her tea and rose. “I’d better get going.”
Dr. Cook stood as well.
“Yes, but, Miss Peters, where are you going?”
“Back to Orting.”
“I do not wish to seem obtuse, but you have yet to explain your plan to travel there.”
“Not to worry,” Leigh said. She walked toward the parlor door, hoping he wasn’t going to tackle her. “Thank you so very much. I’m all set!”
Dr. Cook moved after her, and Leigh picked up her pace, reaching the front door in short order. She twisted the knob and pulled the heavy thing open.
“Miss Peters!” Dr. Cook protested. “Wait!”
Leigh heard him but ran out the door, down the steps and around the corner of the house into the darkness.
“Miss Peters!” called the doctor from the front of the house.
Leigh reached out to touch the foundation, following it as she scurried around to the back of the building. A scan of the sky showed no moon, and she worried about her footing. She bumped into a large concrete structure and glanced up to see a door at the top of some concrete stairs. Light showed through a window at the top of the door, and Leigh thought she recognized pale-green walls.
The kitchen. At that moment, the door swung open, and she dropped to her knees in the crevice between the stairs and the building.
“Miss Peters!” Dr. Cook called, albeit in a whisper. “Are you out here?”
Panting from stress, Leigh pressed a hand over her nose and mouth and buried her face in her lap. She waited, expecting the doctor to discover her at any minute.