It was like I’d pulled the pin on a grenade.
“YOUR FRIENDS ARE IMAGINARY!” he shouted. He came toward me, his face turning red. “I wish your mother and I had never let that crackpot therapist talk us into bringing you out here, because it has been an unmitigated disaster! You just lied to me for the last time! Now get in your room and start packing. We’re on the next ferry!”
“And when we get home, you’re not leaving the house until we find a psychiatrist who’s not a complete jackass!”
I wondered for a moment if I would have to run from him. I pictured my dad holding me down, calling for help, loading me onto the ferry with my arms locked in a straightjacket.
“I’m not coming with you,” I said.
His eyes narrowed and he cocked his head, as if he hasn’t heard properly. I was about to repeat myself when there was a knock at the door.
“Go away!” my dad shouted.
The knock came again, more insistent this time. He stormed over and flung it open, and there at the top of the stairs stood Emma, a tiny ball of blue flame dancing above her hand. Next to her was Olive.
“Hullo,” Olive said. “We’re here to see Jacob.”
He stared at them, baffled. “What is this …”
The girls edged past him into the room.
“What are you doing here?” I hissed at them.
“We only wanted to introduce ourselves,” Emma replied, flashing a big smile at my dad. “We’ve come to know your son rather well of late, so we thought it only proper that we should pay a friendly call.”
“Okay,” my father said, his eyes darting between them.
“He’s really a fine boy,” said Olive. “So brave!”
“And handsome!” Emma added, winking at me. She began to roll the flame between her hands like a toy. My father stared at it, hypnotized.
“Y-yes,” he stammered. “He sure is.”
“Do you mind if I slip off my shoes?” Olive asked, and without waiting for an answer she did, and promptly floated to the ceiling. “Thanks. That’s much more comfortable!”
“These are my friends, Dad. The ones I was telling you about. This is Emma, and that’s Olive, on the ceiling.”
He staggered back a step. “I’m still sleeping,” he said vaguely. “I’m so tired …”
A chair lifted off the floor and floated over to him, followed by an expertly wrapped medical bandage bobbing through the air. “Then please, have a seat,” Millard said.
“Okay,” my dad replied, and he did.
“What are you doing here?” I whispered to Millard. “Shouldn’t you be lying down?”
“I was in the neighborhood.” He held up a modern-looking pill bottle. “I must say, they make some marvelously effective pain tablets in the future!”
“Dad, this is Millard,” I said. “You can’t see him because he’s invisible.”
“Nice to meet you.”
“Likewise,” said Millard.
I went over to my father and knelt down beside his chair. His head bobbed slightly. “I’m going away, Dad. You might not see me for a while.”
“Oh, yeah? Where are you going?”
“On a trip.”
“A trip,” he repeated. “When will you be back?”
“I don’t really know.”
He shook his head. “Just like your grandfather.” Millard ran tap water into a glass and brought it to him, and Dad reached out and took it, as though floating glasses weren’t at all unusual. I guess he really thought he was dreaming. “Well, goodnight,” he said and then stood up, steadied himself on the chair, and stumbled back into his bedroom. Stopping at the door, he turned to face me.
“Be careful, okay?”
I nodded. He closed the door. A moment later I heard him fall into bed.
I sat down and rubbed my face. I didn’t know how to feel.
“Did we help?” Olive asked from her perch on the ceiling.
“I’m not sure,” I said. “I don’t think so. He’ll just wake up later thinking he dreamed all of you.”
“You could write a letter,” Millard suggested. “Tell him anything you like—it’s not as if he’ll be able to follow us.”
“I did write a letter. But it’s not proof.”
“Ah,” he replied. “Yes, I see your problem.”
“Nice problem to have,” said Olive. “Wish my mum and dad had loved me enough to worry when I left home.”
Emma reached up and squeezed her hand. Then she said, “I might have proof.”
She pulled a small wallet from the waistband of her dress and took out a snapshot. She handed it to me. It was a picture of her and my grandfather when my grandfather was young. All her attention was focused on him, but he seemed elsewhere. It was sad and beautiful and encapsulated what little I knew about their relationship.
“It was taken just before Abe left for the war,” Emma said. “Your dad’ll recognize me, won’t he?”
I smiled at her. “You look like you haven’t aged a day.”
“Marvelous!” said Millard. “There’s your proof.”
“Do you always keep this with you?” I asked, handing it back to her.
“Yes. But I don’t need it anymore.” She went to the table and took my pen and began to write on the back of the photo. “What’s your father’s name?”
When she finished writing, she gave it to me. I looked at both sides and then fished my letter from the trash, smoothed it, and left it on the table with the photo.
“Ready to go?” I said.
My friends were standing in the doorway, waiting for me.
“Only if you are,” Emma replied.
We set out for the ridge. At the spot near the crest where I always stopped to see how far I’d come, this time I kept walking. Sometimes it’s better not to look back.
When we reached the cairn, Olive patted the stones like a beloved old pet. “Goodbye, old loop,” she said. “You’ve been such a good loop, and we’ll miss you ever so much.” Emma squeezed her shoulder, and they both crouched down and went inside.
In the rear chamber, Emma held her flame to the wall and showed me something I’d never noticed before: a long list of dates and initials carved into the rocks. “It’s all the other times people have used this loop,” she explained. “All the other days the loop’s been looped.”