Lost in Timebythrillerauthor©
FORWARD: The following story is taken from the diary of Dawn Sather-Ridley, who died in Manhattan in 2081. By all accounts, Mrs. Sather-Ridley led an uneventful life as a homemaker and mother. It was not until her diary was discovered after her death that her extraordinary story became known.
* * *
“Mommy, why do we have to wait here?” The little girl tugged at her mother’s coat as she pressed against her in the crowded passageway.
“Hush, Irene, just wait till your father gets back.” Her mother, holding Irene’s baby brother in her arms, put on a brave face despite the fear and confusion around them. Dozens of men, women and children were huddled together, jabbering nervously in Gaelic, English, and other languages which Irene had never heard before.
Suddenly the iron grate in front of them opened, and the crowd of humanity surged forward, up the staircase towards the lifeboats. Everything seemed tilted at a crazy angle, and Irene almost lost her balance before she let go of her mother’s hand to grasp hold of the railing. “Mommy! Mommy!” she cried as a mass of bodies came between them.
The lights went off, and screams filled the air until they came back on again. “Irene! Irene!” she heard her mother calling above the growing din. Irene clutched at her skirt and petticoats as she tried to take the steps two at a time, but she was stopped by a solid wall of humanity. Desperately she darted through an opening and half climbed over the man in front of her, stumbling out through an open door into the bitterly cold night.
She felt very alone as the other passengers ran this way and that across the enormous wooden deck. Then she saw her mother and father, hugging each other as they reunited next to an enormous white funnel. Her father took her brother into his arms as Irene’s mother scooped her up and held her against her breast.
Irene looked up at the sky, which was filled with brilliant stars. Off in the distance, she could make out little specks of white bobbing on the water. At first she thought they were ducks, until her father spoke his last words. “They’re all gone. All of the boats are gone.” Suddenly the lights went off again, and her mother lost her balance as the deck seemed to disappear beneath their feet. Irene was falling, and then she was under water, and it was so dark, and so cold…
* * *
I woke up in a cold sweat from the recurring nightmare.
The clock on the nightstand said six forty-five. It was already getting light outside, and it looked like it was going to be a beautiful September day. This time of year, I liked to sleep with the window open, despite the cacophony of New York street sounds. I walked over to the window and closed the blackout curtains before I switched on the lights.
Today was going to be a momentous day: my first living full time as a woman. After years of guilt, confusion and denial, I had finally consulted a psychiatrist, who had subjected me to a battery of tests and extensive therapy before prescribing the first step in what might be the beginning of a new life for me. I was still not sure I wanted to give up being a man, so Dr. Elliott had counseled me to go slowly as we continued to explore my compulsion to dress in women’s clothing.
I had persuaded my supervisor to let me work out of my apartment on a trial basis, without divulging the reason for my request. Since moving to the city two years earlier, I had accumulated a substantial female wardrobe - in fact, I had thrown out more women’s clothing than I currently owned, during periodic episodes of revulsion over my fixation. But each time I vowed never again to indulge in my secret fetish, the overwhelming urge to dress as a woman soon returned, and eventually I built up the courage to venture outside my apartment en femme.
One would have thought my nerves would have given me away, but I soon realized that I was completely passable as a woman. My slim physique and slight stature, which worked against me as a man, were natural assets in my transformation. My nondescript face painted up pretty, my shaggy brown hair was just long enough to style, and my body was shaved down for my daily regimen of swimming at the Downtown Athletic Club.
My past excursions had been like living out a fantasy, but today was for real. As I brushed my hair and put on my makeup, the usual feelings of excitement were strangely absent. This was going to be my routine for the next six months, maybe for the rest of my life, and I went about my little tasks with a mixture of wonder and determination. Why did it feel so good to put on lingerie and stockings? It used to arouse me sexually, but today it just seemed right somehow to feel silk and lace under my skirt and sweater. I selected a khaki skirt and a black mock turtleneck to wear with black flats, accessorized with a scarf and some simple jewelry.
I watched the Today show as I made myself breakfast and coffee, lingering with a cigarette before I cleaned up my kitchenette and put on a fresh coat of lipstick. The weather report confirmed that it would be cool and sunny, so I put on a short black jacket and checked the contents of my purse. After a long look at myself in the mirror, I set out for my nine o’clock appointment with Dr. Elliott.
* * *
“Good morning, Mr. Haas. Or should I call you Kristin,” Dr. Elliott said when the receptionist showed me into his office. He got up from behind his desk and waited for me to sit down on a low leather couch before he took his customary chair beside it. “You look lovely,” he said as I self-consciously crossed my legs and tugged my skirt down over my knees.
“Thanks,” I blushed.
“How are you this morning?”
“It’s funny, but I feel like I’ve been doing this all my life.”
“Good. Before we talk about that, have you had any more dreams?”
“Yes. I had one last night.”
“I was on the Titanic again.”
“And was it the same dream as before?”
“Yes. I was a little Irish girl, traveling in steerage with her parents and baby brother. And there were no lifeboats for us, just like before. Only I woke up before I drowned this time.”
“Any other dreams?”
“Not last night, but I had a different dream the night before last.”
“Tell me about it.”
* * *
It was beastly hot in my Queens apartment, and the pathetic window air conditioner was gasping and groaning as it dripped water onto the avocado shag carpeting. My heels and flight attendant’s uniform were strewn on the floor, where I had left them after returning from the airport half an hour earlier. Both of my roommates were out on trips, so I was able to grab a quick shower and put on my makeup in record time.
The buzzer rang! I pushed the intercom button and left the door ajar, stopping to scoop up my uniform and heels before I raced into the bedroom that I shared with the other girls. I rifled through the hangers in our closet until I found a Pucci minidress that Carol told me I could borrow sometime for a special occasion. Tonight certainly qualified for that: a date with Roger, the dreamy copilot I had been shamelessly flirting with for the past three weeks, hoping that he would ask me out.
I heard Roger coming down the hall as I tore open a new package of L’eggs and tugged them on. “Come on in, I’ll be ready in a minute!” I shouted through the bedroom door as I dropped Carol’s dress over my head and zipped it up. It looked perfect on me! I stepped into a pair of platform heels, threw a lipstick and my keys into a fake Gucci purse I had brought back from Mexico, and fussed with my hair. It looked wild and sexy…Roger didn’t stand a chance!
He gave me a wolf whistle when I walked into the living room. “You look great, Jackie,” he said, and I must have blushed through my summer tan as I did a little twirl for him. “Coffee, tea or me?” I said as we headed out the door.
* * *
After my session with Dr. Elliott, I took the subway uptown to Bloomingdale’s, which was having a blowout sale on fall and winter fashions. For the rest of the morning, I lost myself in the aisles of women’s clothing, trying on dozens of tops, skirts and dresses. Then to the shoe department, where I found a pair of calf-high leather boots on sale. On to the salon, where my mousy brown hair was styled into a sassy bob. Did I want my nails done? Of course!
When my credit card was maxed out, I made my way out to Lexington Avenue and caught a taxi to the New York Public Library. A brisk autumn breeze whipped my skirt around my knees as I sprang up the Fifth Avenue steps, laden down with shopping bags, looking every inch the Manhattan career girl. Never in my twenty-four years had I felt more content with my existence. I stopped to catch my breath at the top of the steps, reveling in the sensation of wind playing with my skirt, while the majestic lions guarding the steps seemed to wink at my secret.
After checking my packages, I made my way through the massive reading room to an alcove on one of the upper floors. A research assistant remembered my telephone inquiry of the previous day, and she produced a stack of magazines and newspaper articles which I took into a study carrel. For the next two hours, I was transported back to the summer of 1977. I closed my eyes and tried to bring back the dream that had haunted me the night before last.
* * *
We were sitting in Roger’s Porsche outside my apartment. Dinner and drinks at Dangerfield’s had been so much fun, and I wanted to make this evening last forever. He had his arm around my shoulder, and I waited patiently for him to kiss me. When he did, I put everything I had into it, teasing his tongue with mine as I ran my fingers through his soft brown hair. He squeezed my knee and ran his hand up my silky leg, under my dress towards my waiting…
BANG! There was a deafening explosion, and when I opened my eyes, I saw a gun pointed through the shattered window next to Roger’s face. BANG! Roger’s head exploded, covering me with blood. The .44 revolver swiveled in my direction, and I watched helplessly as the unseen assailant pulled the trigger…
* * *
The Summer of Sam, New York’s terrible trauma, was now my recurring nightmare. Why did I keep imagining myself to be one of the victims? As I leafed through the contemporary reports of the killings and the investigation, I felt like I had been there somehow, during those hot summer nights in 1977, even though that was the year that I was born. On July 16th, the same day that two of the killings took place. I gasped as I looked at the photograph of the female victim of that day’s attack, a Pan American stewardess named Jacqueline Ethier, shot to death in the car of the other victim, Roger Barrister, a pilot for Pan Am. In her pert uniform, she looked achingly young in the newspaper photo, but that was not what had made me gasp. Jacqueline Ethier was a dead ringer for me.
I searched for hours, trying to find everything I could about her, but there was next to nothing about her background or family. Jacqueline Ethier had been born in France on June 5, 1944, and emigrated to the United States under a work visa after she was hired by Pan Am in 1965. At the time of her death, she was sharing an apartment in Queens with two other stewardesses, one of whom was quoted in a brief article in New York Magazine. “’Jackie was like a sister, and I would have done anything for her,’ said Carol Hensler, who had been away on a trip at the time of her roommate’s death.”
* * *
“It must be just a coincidence,” Dr. Elliott said after I told him about my discovery the following day.
“But how did I know her name? And her roommate’s name, or the name of the guy she was killed with?”
“Are you sure those were the names in your dream?”
“Yes! It’s all so weird. She even looks like me…I mean, like I look now,” I said, glancing down at my skirt. “And how do you explain the fact that she was killed the day I was born?”
“I can’t explain it, Kristin. I’m a psychiatrist, not a psychic. Now tell me about your first day as a woman,” Dr. Elliott said.
‘I don’t know, doctor, it all seemed so…natural. Except for my trip to the library, everything else was so routine, almost humdrum. A nice humdrum. I really like myself this way.”
“Have you given any further thought to discussing this with your parents?”
“Not yet. They’re not ready for that, and neither am I. Let’s wait until I’m really sure about all this before we drag them into it, okay?”
“Are you sure they have no idea?”
“Positive. Well, almost positive.”
“What do you mean?”
“When I was a little kid, maybe seven or eight years old, my mother made me dress up as a girl on Halloween. My hair was pretty long, and she managed to make me over completely. My own father didn’t recognize me when I came to the door trick or treating after he got home from work.”
“Was that the only time?”
“Well…no. But my parents never knew. At least I don’t think they did. I used to put on my mother’s clothes sometimes when she was out, and I never got caught. But once or twice she made funny comments which made me worry that maybe she had caught on to what I was doing. I never took the bait, and so far as I know, it was just my imagination.”
“Perhaps. Or perhaps she knew you better than you knew yourself.”
* * *
After my session, I returned to my apartment and went to work. It was great sitting at my personal computer, firing off emails, fielding phone calls, and faxing off reports as if I were back in my cubicle. I watched in amusement as my polished fingernails flew over my keyboard, wondering what my colleagues would think if they could see me now, skirt hiked up to my thighs and stockinged feet tucked under my ass. I broke for some cottage cheese, determined to maintain my girlish figure despite the temptations of my refrigerator, and continued to pound away at my computer until I was totally caught up.
At five o’clock, I put on my jacket and walked to a local market, where I filled two grocery bags with frozen dinners, fruits and vegetables, even a bottle of wine to toast myself as I settled into my new life. I wondered if the loneliness would start to get to me. One thing was for sure, I would be spending my evenings alone for the foreseeable future. No way I wanted any of my friends knowing about this until I was sure it was really for me.
Who was I trying to kid? I loved my new life. Pushing a shopping cart down the aisles, stopping to look at the cosmetics and nylons, was like a dream come true for me. The old pressures of my masculine life melted away as I busied myself with the little things that were an ordinary part of a woman’s routine, and as I took some money out of my purse to pay for my purchases, I looked up to see a handsome young man smiling at me as he paid for his things at the next register. He held the door open for me as I went outside, a shopping bag in each arm, and tried to strike up a conversation as we both began walking in the same direction.
“Can I carry one of your bags?”
I juggled them as I smiled back at him. “Thanks, that would be nice.” He took the heavier one and hoisted it up next to the ones he was carrying. We stopped at a light and I tried to think of something to say. “Cooking for one?” I blurted out, blushing furiously after I said it. What had gotten into me?
“Afraid so. You too?”
“Yep,” I sighed.
“Well, we should pool our resources sometime. I’ll buy the food if you cook it. Whaddaya say?”
“You haven’t tasted my cooking.”
“Can’t be worse than mine.”
We got to my building. “Maybe not. Thanks for helping me out,” I said as he handed me back my groceries.
“Any time. My name is Jack Traynor.”
“I’m Kristin,” I said. “See you around.” My heart was pounding as I waited for an elevator. My name was Christopher, not Kristin. What the hell did I think I was doing? I had never been attracted to a man in my life, and I sure as hell didn’t need a man in my life now.
I put away my groceries and changed into a nightgown before I had a frozen dinner in front of the TV. My second day as a woman had exhausted me, and I soon dozed off on the coach.
* * *
“What is your objective?”
My name is Anthony Russell. I am a major in the Royal Marines. My serial number is…”
My interrogator slapped my face with his leather gloves. “Unless officers in the Royal Marines have taken to wearing dresses as their uniforms, you are obviously a spy, and you are not entitled to the protections of the Geneva Convention.”
I looked up at him in despair. Caught behind enemy lines on a secret mission of the utmost urgency, disguised as a woman, my situation was desperate. How long would it take them to beat the truth out of me? How long could I hold out?
“Such a pretty thing to look out…no wonder they picked you for this mission,” the Gestapo man said with a sneer. “There is barracks down the road full of men who have not seen a woman in months. I am sure they would like to meet you.”
I bit my lower lip and tried to maintain my composure. Not an easy thing to do when you are wearing a dress and high heels, staring back at the business end of a Luger. “I have nothing to say to you.”
“How curious,” he went on. “I wonder…why would the English insert a Royal Marine disguised as a woman into this godforsaken part of France, on such a dreadful night.” Soaked to the skin, I had to agree with him about the weather. “Fortunately, we have ways of making you talk.” He motioned with the Luger and pointed me towards his waiting Mercedes.
My instructions were clear: if captured, I was to commit suicide before allowing myself to be subjected to interrogation. The cyanide capsule was tucked behind my ear, held fast by a bobby pin in the hair which I had been growing for over two years in preparation for this mission. What a waste of my life! Years living in skirts, learning to impersonate a woman while the war raged on, only to end now in miserable failure. I reached up and pretended to brush my hair out of my eyes, and in a flash my fingers had found the capsule and it was in my mouth. I bit down on it, and swallowed hard.
“Was ist los?” I heard the Gestapo man shout as I tumbled to the ground, arms and legs akimbo, and my face came to rest against the folds of my dress. Would they bury me as a woman?
* * *
The next morning, I played back my dream for Dr. Elliott, who was uncharacteristically quiet. He asked me to repeat the name of the major in my dream, and we sat in silence for some time before he finally spoke. “I have a colleague in London who has a hobby of sorts. He has become a leading expert in tracking down British servicemen who were lost in World War II.” Dr. Elliott glanced at his watch. “He should be back from lunch by now. I’d like to cut this session short so I can talk to him. We can reschedule this session for later this afternoon, if that’s okay.”
“Doctor, I don’t understand. These are just dreams, aren’t they? I mean, you were the one who said you’re a doctor, not a psychic. Why do you want to talk to this man in London?”
“I’m not sure, Kristin, but we may be on the brink of something incredible, something which could revolutionize psychiatry. Please, do as I suggest.”
I left in a fog, utterly bewildered by the doctor’s sudden change in attitude. What was he on to? I went downstairs to the street and began to walk towards the South Street Seaport. It was a beautiful day, and it would be nice to have lunch outside overlooking the East River. As I approached the Seaport, I saw several posters for an exhibit which was in its final week. “Titania”, it was called. “Actual artifacts from the bottom of the Atlantic bring the great ship back to life.” I was drawn to it like a moth to a flame, and before I knew it, I was wandering through a vast hall filled with photographs of the famous ship, glass cases containing cutlery and china from her dining salons, full size recreations of staterooms and the bridge, and a huge section of the actual iron hull. I was mesmerized as I walked down a teakwood deck, studded with lifeboats and mannequins dressed in period costumes. A vivid diorama of the sea and stars seemed to transport me back to the deck of the doomed liner on that terrible night, and a chill ran through my veins.