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Across The Threshold by Jack Bode
Chapter 11

Home again! About ten people waited in the lobby of the apartment building. Only one elevator was operating. The other two were on service to accommodate the tenants moving in and out. When you have three hundred and sixty-eight units in a building there are always people moving in and out. Our building has the equivalent population of a fair sized village. Well over a thousand residents call it home.

I felt weak as I squeezed into the elevator when it finally arrived. My knees seemed to be made out of rubber. When we reached the fifteenth floor the crowd had thinned out considerably. I unlocked the door to my apartment and sat down on the stool I keep in the hallway. For some long minutes I took stock.

The submachine gun which had been my constant companion for the past six weeks had changed back into an umbrella. It was completely dry, yet outside the blizzard was still raging. Even my beret was dry. And what about my parka? It was dark blue once more and quite clean. Back in Narvik I had been wearing the light brown windbreaker which had been part of my uniform, and it had been filthy with dried clay and mud and an assortment of last year’s burrs and brambles.

Had it all been a bad dream? I looked at my watch. Not yet three.

In my mind’s eye I saw the events of the past few minutes again. There was that sudden snow shower. Sergeant Johnson had parked the Landrover a short distance away from the building under some scrubby birch trees. I had run towards the house which had been the Medical Field Station No. 2, Narvik, to warn Major Pershing that we were falling back. Just as I was reaching for the door knob I heard the scream of the shell, magnified by the strange acoustical qualities of the falling snow. As I yanked the door open and stepped across the threshold I noticed the bright flash of the explosion, exactly where Johnson was waiting with the vehicle, and I found myself in the vestibule of my apartment building.

It just could not be, I told myself. Heaven knew what date it was. I had spent six long weeks fighting the enemy in Narvik. Despite our valiant efforts the War Office in London had had other plans. General Dietl and his troops would return to Narvik from the small enclave they were holding against the Swedish border. They would return and occupy Narvik and rebuild its totally destroyed port facilities. They would remain in control of Narvik and Norway for almost five long years until the end of the war.

Wearily I stood up. Yes, what date was it? Suddenly curious I switched on the radio. Some rock music was just ending. As I looked around me my apartment appeared to be normal. Nothing indicated a long absence nor had anybody been in to straighten things up. The bed was made as I had left it with the sheets a shade crooked and the door to the bedroom partially open.

“The time is exactly three p.m. on this unpleasant Saturday, the 27th of April,” I heard the announcer’s voice from the radio. “Spring is slow in coming this year ...” I flicked the switch to off. April the 27th. Today. I had left on April the 27th. And it was still April the 27th. I sat down on a chair in the kitchen.

If I left on the 27th and it was still the 27th, then one of two things must have happened. Either it was a bad dream, a nightmare, or a year had elapsed. But a year could not have elapsed. The odds were very much against a snowstorm on the 27th of April two years in a row. And anyway, it could not be Saturday a year later. It would have to be Sunday the 27th. But is was still Saturday. I had just heard it on the radio.

Wearily I got up and looked out the window. There were still five moving vans waiting in the driveway. It certainly was not a year later. And besides, who would have paid the rent all that time?

I filled the electric kettle with water and plugged it in. It would be best to have a cup of tea. My mind kept dwelling on the problem. I had spent six weeks in Narvik in northern Norway. It had been cold all the time. During the six weeks the days had lengthened until there was no night at all. For the past ten days we had had uninterrupted daylight. Still - it had been only a dream!

As I was sitting at the table waiting for the water to boil my eyes fell upon my left hand. And I was shocked by what I saw. The tip of my left middle finger was missing. I examined it in great detail. It was cut off at the joint just below the nail.

The cut was not smooth. The skin had been pulled over the bone but apparently had not been quite enough to cover the injury. There was a small depression right in the center of what was now the tip of my finger. It looked exactly like the repair job a surgeon might have made sixty years ago under primitive battlefield conditions. As I pressed with my thumb on the top of it I found it to be tender. No - it had not been a dream!

The water was boiling and I made the tea. I remembered the past six weeks. Sergeant Bill Johnson. Did he survive? No, his Landrover had suffered a direct hit just as I walked through the door to warn Major Pershing. Narvik and the fight against the Germans had been real enough. I had lost the tip of my left middle finger in the encounter. It could not be shrugged off. But it - the war - was history. It had taken place over sixty years ago!

There was no solution to the enigma. I had spent six weeks in Narvik as a captain in His Majesty’s Forces. I had lost the tip of my left middle finger, yet no time at all had elapsed here on this 27th day of April.

Slowly I reached for the cup of tea and began sipping it.

As the days turned into weeks and the weeks kept piling up my Norwegian experience took on an air of unreality. Often I would think that it had been a dream, a particular vivid dream. And then I would look at my left hand and know that it had not been a dream at all but an actual experience. I had lived through six weeks of the battle for Narvik from April to June 1940, and here in my current life no time at all had elapsed. A paradox? Yes, most certainly. Ye t I could not explain it, not even to myself, except perhaps through magic.

Spring did come that year. In due course it turned into summer, and summer came and went. I kept working in the construction office as I had for years. The following winter was unusually severe with plenty of snow and long stretches of extremely cold weather. On those days when the thermometer dipped to below minus thirty degrees traffic was relatively light as many cars would not start. Nevertheless, traffic grew at an unprecedented rate and it became a major chore to get to work. What used to take twenty minutes now consumed twice that much time, both in the morning and again in the evening.

Still, I should not complain. While the unemployment rate climbed to well over ten percent I had a good job and pleasant working condi­tions. Before I realized it another spring was on its way. With consider­able apprehension I watched the 27th of April approach. Would I experience a repeat of last year? Well, the 27th of April came and went. It was a real pleasant, sunny day with a temperature of around twenty-five degrees. I clearly remember it. It was perfect shirt-sleeve weather.

Tempting fate I went downstairs right after lunch. I descended in the elevator which was empty except for myself. Once again it did not stop. Only on this day, a Sunday, there were no moving vans waiting to be unloaded. The lobby was also empty. Should I take a chance and go outside? What if ...?

Resolutely I pushed the door open. It was quite hot in the vestibule from the sun shining through the windows. Here I had one last chance to change my mind. If April the 27th was a day on which strange things might happen to me ...

There was only one way to find out, and that was to push open the door to the outside and walk through it. And that was what I did.

I half expected to find myself in some strange locality, maybe in some medieval village or deep in the forest or perhaps even in another theater of war. But nothing happened, nothing at all. I stood outside my apartment building, with the flower beds to my left and the walkway crossing the driveway and running straight out to the road, flanked by more flower beds and the two mountain ashes. So there was nothing wrong with the concept of time as a steady progression running from the future through the present into the past.

An hour later I returned from my walk. The rest of the day, April the 27th, went by quite uneventfully. That year we had an early spring. By the middle of May all the trees were in full leaf which was at least ten days earlier than in most other years here where I live in this northern city.

Every morning as I waited for the elevator to take me downstairs I looked out the window at busy Warden Avenue. The lines of cars stopped for the traffic light had doubled in length from the previous year. That was progress for you!

One strange phenomenon had occurred this year though. Begin­ning in early May it had rained every weekend. The other days from Monday to Friday were sunny and warm. During the night from Friday to Saturday it would cloud over and on Saturday and Sunday it would rain all day. It was not just a light drizzle. That would have been bad enough. No, we experienced heavy downpours, more in the nature of cloudbursts. And the rains would last until late Sunday. Then over night it would clear up and we would have again sunny and warm days until the following weekend.

June was a most ideal month. Temperatures were near twenty-seven or twenty-eight degrees with low humidity and brilliant sunshine except for the weekends when it rained.

Being an avid reader I always had several books home from the library. As I sifted through the half dozen volumes sitting on the coffee table in the living room I suddenly realized that three of them were due today. Once more I checked the date. Yes, Saturday, June 21, it said on the library slip in the pocket attached to the inside back cover. And today was June the 21st, and the first Saturday since spring that the sun was shining.

It was the middle of the afternoon of a most pleasant day. I looked at the clock. Just about a quarter to three. I really should take the books back to avoid paying the fine for being late. And I had read them as well. But it seemed such a chore to walk down the two long blocks to the library. However, I could take the car.

But no, on such a pleasant day, who would want to drive when you could walk there in fifteen minutes. And besides, I could do with the exercise. But it was more than a kilometer to walk! I diddled around for a few minutes trying to decide whether to go or not to go, and if I went, whether to walk or to drive.

I’ll go, I decided. I put on my running shoes, took the books, locked the apartment and walked along the hallway to the elevator. I glanced at my watch. Exactly ten to three. I could be back by four.

I pushed the button for the elevator and mentally prepared myself for a lengthy wait. It was Saturday and from past experience it always took several minutes on Saturday afternoons for the elevator to arrive.

People did their shopping and we had three hundred and sixty-eight apartments in our building. I began to walk towards the window to watch the traffic on Warden Avenue down by the traffic light at the corner.

I had taken maybe two steps when the elevator doors opened. That was fast, I said to myself as I stepped inside and pushed the button for the main floor. I had the three books in my left hand. I studied the pictures on the covers. Before I realized it the doors opened again and I was at the street level. I crossed the lobby which was deserted. But outside a couple was walking towards the entrance. They came into the vestibule, fumbling for their keys to unlock the door to the lobby. Both the man and the woman were carrying two shopping bags each. They had been at the Miracle Mart. The printing on the plastic bags said so.

Shifting the books to my right hand I opened the door from the inside.

“Thank you,” the woman said as she passed me.

“Thank you. What a great day,” the man observed. I nodded to them and smiled.

Then I went into the vestibule. Outside the two mountain ashes cast a light shadow over the flower beds in which a profusion of peonies and petunias bloomed.

I reached out with my left hand to open the door of the vestibule to the outside. Briefly my eyes caught the display on my digital watch. It read 2:50:59. I thought nothing of it at that moment. I pushed the door open and stepped across the threshold at the instant the display changed to 2:51:00.

There was a sudden draft. I half turned, looking at the ground. The gust of wind slammed the door shut behind me. As I raised my eyes I stopped dead in my tracks. There in front of me ...

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