Clockwise - Chapter One

EVERYONE HAS TO LIVE with something.

For instance, my hair is the unmanageable kind of curly, the color of burnt toast. Imagine waking up every morning looking like the Lion King, or having to spend a disproportionate amount of your allowance on hair products that don’t deliver. Like the ones under my bathroom sink. Row after row of half-empty containers of mousse, gel, and hair tamer standing dejectedly like the third string of a basketball team that rarely gets to play.

The thing is, I would be fine with rag mop hair, truly, if only I didn’t have this other issue: uncontrolled time travel to the nineteenth century. I’ve never met anyone else with the same problem, either, so that also classifies me as some kind of freak. 

On the upside—like a blind girl who ultra develops her other senses to compensate for what she can't control—I’ve picked up a few extra skills along the way.  One survival reflex I’ve nurtured is how to be quick on my feet. I have good impulses, you could say.

Well, normally, this is an upside.

Until a second ago.

I was sitting with my best friend, Lucinda, on the sidelines of the football field. As usual, we were watching the yummy football players, rather than the scrimmage going on because really, who cared about the actual game? Despite the glare of the setting sun, I saw the brown speck hurtling towards me.

Impulsively, I jumped up and thump, Nate Mackenzie’s football, signed by the famed Tom Brady himself, was in my arms. I couldn’t believe it. I’d caught Nate Mackenzie’s ball!

Gingerly, I raised my head. Sauntering across the field, with all his hunky hotness, was the cutest boy in the school, the most valuable senior varsity football player of Cambridge High, and the love of my life.  He stopped right in front of me.

“Good catch.” His rugged and manly voice lassoed me. He'd said good catch. I couldn’t move or take my eyes off his face. The way the sun glistened off his sweat, emphasizing his strong jaw and the brightness of his blue eyes, brighter still because of the contrast of his dark, shaggy hair…

“So, can I have my ball back?”

My hands gripped his football with sticky sweat. The ticker tape in my brain searched for the right response before flashing ERROR in red neon twelve-point font.

“Casey?” Lucinda nudged my back. With a slight swivel of my head I saw her expression. Mortification. Give the dumb ball back! Did I just have an aneurysm? I felt woozy, like throwing up. I imagined myself vomiting all over Nate’s feet.

Unbelievably, there are some things worse than puking in front of the football team. A wave of dizziness threatened to wash me away into black nothingness. But I couldn’t be so lucky to just faint. It was happening. Oh no. Not here. Please, not in front of Nate Mackenzie.

In an instant, my world brightened like a nuclear blast as I spiraled through a long white tunnel. When I opened my eyes, he was gone. Nate was gone and so were Lucinda and all of Nate’s football team.

I stood alone, in the middle of a lush forest painted every shade of green. My lungs filled with the sweet scent of undamaged air, my skin tingled with warm humidity. The furry and feathered inhabitants squealed and chirped with enthusiasm. I heard an unwelcome whistling noise and a pop. Nate’s ball, still in my hands, had an arrow sticking out of it.

So much for quick thinking and quick feet. I jumped behind a tree and hid as a couple of kids, maybe ten and twelve, cantered by on horseback.

“You missed it!” teased the older boy. The fortunate squirrel scurried up the tree, its little feet loosening bits of bark that rained down on my head.  I could have been killed or at least drastically injured, but all I could think about was Nate’s football. The air seeped out as I tugged on the hand-whittled arrow. I slid down the side of the tree and groaned.

Tom Brady’s signature had a puncture hole right in the middle of it. I gripped the flattened ball as I stomped through the brush, pushing scratchy branches away from my face. Why did this have to happen in front of Nate Mackenzie? Why?

Pack your bags, self-pity. I was cursed with time traveling. I was a slave to it with no control over when or in front of who it happens, and as far as I knew there was no cure. Not that I had anyone to ask about it. I just had to survive, which fortunately, I'd gotten pretty good at.

I soon came to a wide dirt road scarred with uneven grooves ground in by irregular carriage travel and dotted with hazardous looking empty potholes. I imagined they filled up unattractively with muddy water when it rained. A waist-high rectangular stone marker, leaning slightly like a wounded soldier, had the miles to Cambridge MA etched in it. Good. I knew where I was.

Time travel, as expected, is fraught with complications. The immediate one is what to wear. Or more like what not to wear. As in blue jeans and sneakers I needed to ditch ASAP. I slipped back into the dense covering of the forest and kept hiking. The second immediate problem has to do with food and drink. Let’s just say that to solve these problems, you have to get creative.

I recognized a thick grove of lilac bushes and pushed my way through to the center, where a patch of wild grass opened up like a bald spot on the top of an old man’s thick crown of hair. When I travel—and this started when I was nine years old—I always end up in the same locale. The actual spot on the planet Earth stays the same; just what is on it is different. In the future, this is the location of my neighborhood.

I lifted off a thatch of twigs to expose a deep hole; one I had proudly dug myself having borrowed a shovel from a neighboring farm. Inside was a hatchet, spotty with rust, a piece of flint, a rugged slingshot and two musky smelling burlap bags, which I pulled out, one at a time. The first had food—dried beef, raisins and a jar of well water. I opened the jar, took a drink and grimaced. Stale. The second bag had clothing: a long ivory cotton dress with tiny bluebells hand stitched in a scattered pattern, ladies boots that looked like figure skates with the blades off, a pair of trousers, a pair of men’s boots, (yes, my feet were big enough to wear men’s) and a boy’s cap. I’d borrowed these during various trips, and hoarded them away for the “future.”

A stumpy, fallen log, green with moss and partially hollowed out by ants, served as a bench. I rested against it, laying Nate’s ball on the ground. I stared at it hypnotically, until I was lulled into a deep daydream, back to the football field at Cambridge High. This time I did everything right.

Nate says, Good catch, his eyes admiring me and my obvious, though previously hidden, athletic ability. I say, Thanks, and smile back with confidence, my hair perfectly tamed and my jeans fitting me exceptionally well. And most importantly, I give the ball back, offering it like a prize, our fingers lightly brushing in the pass. Nate throws it far and long, glancing back to see if I am still watching him.

I screamed. A garter snake had slithered over my hand. I jumped to my feet and did a little impromptu rain dance. I wasn’t even afraid of garter snakes, it just startled me. My heart settled back to normal speed and I shook my head, trying to clear it. Focus, Casey. Sometimes it was difficult separating my two crazy worlds. I so didn’t feel like being here in my alternate universe, the year 1860.

I put on the trousers. Fortunately, the fashion for boys in the nineteenth century was loose and baggy, so no need to lie flat on my back to wrestle with a zipper (which wasn’t invented yet, anyway). Picking up Nate’s ball, I tucked it securely under my shirt. I had to make sure the ball came home with me when I went. It served a second useful purpose, adding the illusion of boyish thickness to my waistline. A bit of twine made for a functional belt.

Shoot. The pant legs ended at my ankles. Okay, I forgot to add to my list of imperfections, (chronic bad hair days, the time travel thing, paralyzing crush on a way unobtainable hottie) that I’m also overly tall. Not graceful catwalk model tall or academy award winner beauty tall. More like ostrich tall. Without the feathers. Long limbs with knobby knees and elbows.

I pushed my hair behind my ears and into the cap. I hadn’t picked up the habit of wearing make-up because a) a bare face aided me in my attempts to blend in and b) it was a liability to me when I traveled and wanted to pass myself off as a boy. I practiced at lowering my voice: Hello, my name is Casey.

I cleaned up my stash and worked to wipe out the evidence of a human visitation. I decided to head for the Watson farm, to see if Willie Watson would hire me again. It was grunt work, cows and chickens and the like, but it gave me a way to make a bit of money and get food. There were also a ton of kids and I could easily get lost in the mix.

At the main road I turned east towards Boston. Mid autumn leaves shook in the cool breeze causing goose bumps to pop up on my arms in defense of the chill. I rubbed them vigorously with my long fingers. Behind me I heard the growing rhythmic clip-clop of a single horse and cart. A young man with a mass of red, curly hair came to a stop at my side, stirring up a minor cloud of dust. I recognized him despite that fact he had filled out since the last time I’d seen him and unfamiliar stubble now shadowed his face. It was Willie Watson.

“Can I offer you a lift?” he said.

It was show time. I lowered my voice. “Willie?”


“Yeah, it’s me.”

He cupped his hands over his eyes to block the sun. “I hardly recognized you. You’ve gotten so tall.”

“I’ve heard.”

“Where you off to?”

I shifted my weight, in a manly (I hoped) way. “Well actually, I was wondering if I could work for you again.”

Willie nodded. “We can always use an extra hand. Get in.”

I shared the back of the cart with a bale of hay and a little goat with a gray beard. Willie snapped the reins, the initial thrust tossing me to the back end of the cart where I settled in for the ride. I was happy to get out of the long walk to the Watsons’ farm, not too happy about hitching a ride with a goat. It sensed my discomfort and immediately reached over to nibble on my shirt. I swatted the air between us. “Back off!”

Willie called over his shoulder.  “What happened to you? You just took off last time without saying anything.”

I had my cover story ready. “I had to get back to Springfield. Family stuff. But my ma just had number thirteen so Pa sent me out to work again.”

“Aye, I understand. My own mother is kept to her room with number ten.”

I’d first met Willie when we were both twelve. He’d caught me stealing eggs from their chicken coop. Not my finest moment, I admit, but I plead desperation, driven to petty theft due to the fact that I had crossed off day eight in the past. Up until then, my trips had usually only lasted a couple days, but that summer things changed. Hungry and panicked, I’d thought I was stuck in the past forever, never to return home, never to see my parents or my younger brother, Timothy, ever again. I'd crept like a fox at dawn to the nearest farm.

Thankfully, that was the Watson farm, and the Watsons had turned out to be the nicest and kindest people I’d ever met. Anyway, Willie had caught me with my hand in the cookie jar, so to speak. “You gonna eat those raw?” he'd said. I hadn’t thought about that.  I'd shrugged, too stunned and frightened to say anything of intelligence. “We have hotcakes in the kitchen, you can come for breakfast.” The thought of eating with all those Watsons was just too scary. My face must've reflected that, since Willie went on to say, “That’s okay, I’ll bring you some. Wait for me on the dock.” I'd nodded and watched in silence as Willie gathered the eggs before leaving.

I'd made my way to the small lake situated in the middle of the Watson farm, thinking that I was either going to get a yummy breakfast or Willie was going to return with a gun and take me to the jail house. He'd showed up with breakfast.

“Thanks,” I'd said. Willie’s voice hadn’t yet changed so he didn’t think twice about my high-pitched squeakiness. I ate the warm and sticky pancakes with my dirty, bare hands. I'd tried to imagine what I looked like to Willie. I hadn’t showered in ten days, and my hair was grimy and in hysterics. Just like those kids in Lord of the Flies after a few weeks without parents to boss them around. He never snitched on me about my chicken house raid and got me a job pitching hay. I’d stayed in the past for a full three weeks, and from that point on the “rules” of time travel had altered. Now, I never knew how long I’d be gone.

We rode the rest of the way to the farm in silence. Well, except for the goat, ba-aa-ing and nipping at my pant legs.

I rubbed my butt when we arrived, though the bumpy ride was appreciated by both me and the goat.

“I could use help milking the cows and keeping the barn clean,” Willie said, pointing to the prominent red out-building behind the stately family home. “You can sleep in the loft, like last time,” he added. I strutted away, concentrating on my gait, mimicking my brother’s boyish walk. Swiveling hips would get me into big trouble. Times like this made me thankful for my poached egg sized breasts. Just call me Mr. Casey.

Someone watched me walk across the yard. Of course, there were plenty of people around, other workers, Watson kids playing tag, but I felt his eyes on me. Cobbs.  He was shorter than me now, but beefy like a boxer with a round beer belly popping out. His face was pink and shiny and his dark beady eyes scanned my body.

Ew, what a perv. I’m a boy, weirdo! Or could he tell I wasn’t? Did he remember me from before? Either way he was a creeper. I let my gaze fall to the ground and kept walking, away from the barn. When I was sure Cobbs was out of sight I circled back and slipped into the barn, climbing the ladder to the loft. I hid in the pokey straw and even though it was only dusk, I immediately fell asleep.


The tiny irritating saw of a mosquito buzzed near my face, and I flapped my hands dramatically. A rooster crowed and I sighed, disappointed I was still in the past. Not that I would travel in the night. I never traveled while sleeping. Ever. Didn’t know why. Some kind of time travel law.

And I was hungry. Better go milk me some cows and earn my breakfast. A dozen Jersey cows lined up in a row. Grabbing a tin pail and wooden stool, I settled in under Betsy One. I called them all Betsy: Betsy One through Thirteen.

Willie joined me. “Mornin’, Casey.” He grabbed a short three-legged stool like the one I sat on, and plopped a pail under Betsy Three. It had been a while since I'd had to milk a cow, and honestly, I never did get the hang of it. First of all, cow teats are like short slippery ropes. Kind of gross to touch. And you have to pull on them just so, sort of a milk-releasing-rhythm. The cows get fully irritated when you don’t get it right.

Thwap, thwap, thwap. The sound of milk shooting into a metal pail. Unfortunately, not my pail. Willie was showing me up.

I peeked around the back end of Betsy One, spying on Willie’s Olympic cow milking performance. Betsy One didn’t like my peering around her rear end, and whacked me hard with her tail. Kind of like getting smacked with a bull whip, but one covered in fur.


“You okay, Casey?” Willie called.

“Uh, yeah, fine.” I mimicked Willie’s timing, one, two, three, four, and thankfully the milk started to shoot out.

By the time I finished my fifth cow, (meaning Willie whipped my butt by milking eight), my forearms burned and throbbed like mad. We carried the pails to the kitchen where the Watson kids poured the milk into jars so the older boys could make deliveries in the neighborhood.

The eldest Watson kid, Sara, oversaw the whole operation. Her red hair was parted down the center and two braids close to her face looped up like crimson handles. Though fashionable for this century, not a very becoming look as far as I was concerned. It seemed like she had a large lampshade under her skirt, the way it spread out at the bottom, and since women didn’t normally wear hoops while working at home, I assumed that she must be about to go out. When she saw me, she propped her hands upon her waist.

“Willie,” she called. “Who do we have here?” She didn’t remember me because Willie, and his father when he was around, took responsibility for farm staff. She, when her mother was ill or with child, controlled the kitchen and house staff.

“Ah, you remember Casey Donovan? He’s worked here before.”

“Really? I don’t recall.” Sara pinched her eyebrows together. Then she called out, “Duncan, Josephine, Charlotte, Abigail, Jonathon!” A collection of kids with either curly red or brunette hair entered the room.

With the guidance of a stout and bright faced woman named Missy, they went to work bottling the milk, careful not to get knocked to the ground by Sara’s hoop skirt.

Willie left and I turned to follow, but she cleared her throat, stopping me. I waited to be dismissed, but she held my gaze. She got right to the point. “How old are you?”

“Uh, almost sixteen.”

“Do you shave, Casey?”

“Uh,” My hand jumped to my chin. “Sometimes. I’m a late bloomer. It runs in my family.”

“I dare say. Did you spend the night in the loft?”



“I think so. I fell asleep shortly after my arrival yesterday. I don’t remember seeing anyone else.”

“That’s a relief,” she said.

“Why is that?”

She removed her apron and smoothed out her skirt. Then she looked me straight in the eye. “Because Casey Donovan, I believe that you are a girl as surely as I am one.”


The Clockwise Collection by Lee Strauss - YA time travel romance


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