After the fact by Fred Saberhagen

Now he seemed to remember that she’d even kept on talking to him about Lincoln after he’d passed out. And then—or was it earlier—he’d seen that unbelievable figure in the bed in the next room. And before that, the little monster running across the bedroom hall.

No, those visions must have been hallucinations, brought on by whatever drugs they’d dosed him with. Jerry couldn’t possibly have seen what he now remembered seeing. That would be as crazy as—

Looming to the northwest above the springtime trees and the common rooftops, the bulk of the Old Capitol building made a half-familiar sight, rising above nineteenth-century frame houses. Jerry walked toward it almost jauntily, swinging Jim Lockwood’s bag. There were moments when he was almost dead sure he was dreaming, ready to give in and enjoy himself without responsibility.

There was nothing dreamlike about the square, lined with shops and stores, when he reached it. On the east side, just about where he remembered Pilgrim’s offices being located, was a totally different structure called the State Bank building.

He had found the bank. And now there was something—what was it?—that he had to do.

He walked the wooden sidewalks, liking the sound his bootheels made, attracting no particular attention among men who were dressed in much the same style as he was, and women gowned more or less like the two in the passing carriage. Some people, including all of the blacks in sight, were in much poorer clothing.

Letting himself move on impulse now, Jerry made his way to the front door of the bank and entered. He had taken the big key from his pocket, again without quite knowing why, and now he put it down silently on the polished wood of a counter, under the eyes of a clerk who wore garter-like metal clips pinching in his voluminous shirtsleeves, and held a wooden, steel-nibbed pen in hand.

The clerk scrutinized first the key and then Jerry. He did not appear to be much impressed by what he saw in either case.

“Not one of ours,” the clerk finally remarked.

The compulsion, whatever its cause, had vanished now. Jerry was on his own. “Just thought it might be,” he got out with a clearing of his throat. “I found it. It… belonged to my uncle. It was in a box of his things that got sent to us… after Gettysburg.”

The other at last picked up the key and silently turned it over in his fingers. He looked at Jerry for a long moment, then said, “From one of the Chicago banks, I’d say.” The clerk’s accent was different from Winthrop Johnson’s, and sounded even odder in Jerry’s ears. Indefinably American, and yet harsher than any regional dialect Jerry had ever heard.

Jerry took the metal object back. “I’ll ask around when I get there. Thanks.” It was only on the way out of the bank building that he remembered consciously: Jan Chen advising him, somewhere, sometime, to go to a Chicago bank.

The railroad depot was not hard to locate, being only a few blocks away—nothing in Springfield appeared to be much more than a few blocks from the center of town. Inside the wooden depot a chalked schedule, and a tall wall clock with a long pendulum, informed him that he had two hours before the next train to Chicago. Jerry purchased a ticket for the considerable sum of ten dollars and then returned to the town square. There was an unmistakable restaurant open there, and he listened to people talk cheerfully about the war being over while he enjoyed some of the best chicken and dumplings he’d ever had.

Some of the diners around him were consuming what seemed to Jerry an amazing amount of hard liquor with their meals. Quantities of wine and beer were disappearing also. Remembering last night, he contented himself with a mug of beer, and found it tasty but somewhat warm.

His dinner cost him less than a dollar, a bargain as compared to the price of the train ticket. Well-fed but feeling deadly tired he walked back to the station. Departure at night, by gaslight and lantern, was a scene of many sparks from the wood-burning engine. The engine smoked every bit as much as Jerry had expected it would, and the conveyance jolted noisily along. The sunset had completely faded now, and the countryside outside the window at Jerry’s elbow was as dark as death.

The only light inside this coach was a poor lantern, hung near the ceiling in the rear. Maybe there were first, second, and third class coaches, and he’d got into fourth class by mistake. Jerry buttoned his coat, whose inside pockets held his money, slumped in his seat, and fell into the dreamless sleep of great exhaustion.


The train carrying Jerry labored its way into Chicago shortly after dawn. It looked like the start of a grim day in the city, which was wrapped in an atmosphere composed of coal soot and mist in about equal parts. The railroad station was a darkened brick cavern, smoky and bustling at that early hour, crowded with human activity.

Walking stiffly, he made his way out of the station amid the throng of other overnight passengers, all of them blinking as they emerged into the more-or-less full daylight of the street outside. The streets of downtown Chicago were marginally better, or at least less muddy, than those of Springfield. The boots of an army of pedestrians sounded on the wooden sidewalks with a continuous hollow thumping, a sound regularly punctuated by the sharper tap of crutches. Here and there Jerry noted the different impact made by the crude shaft of a primitive artificial leg.

In the street, as inside the station, soldiers in blue uniforms made up a large part of the crowd. Most of the uniforms were faded and worn. Young men with missing legs or arms, some still in uniform, were a common sight. There must be, Jerry thought, a military hospital or demobilization center near.

Stretching his stiff limbs and rubbing sleep from his eyes, he lugged his carpetbag to a small restaurant a couple of blocks from the station, where he ordered breakfast. He would have paid a princely sum for cold orange juice, but nothing like that was on the menu. At least the coffee was hot and invigorating, surprisingly good. The prices were reassuringly low—incredibly so, in fact, and he fortified himself with hotcakes, ham and eggs.

He ate his breakfast sitting beside a window that gave him a good view of the street outside. The volume of street traffic was impressive, made up of horse-drawn vehicles of all shapes and sizes. This, like the Chicago he remembered, was an energetic city, though so far Jerry had seen no building more than five or six stories tall. Were there any? He wondered.

Many of the men in the restaurant—the place was fairly crowded but there were only one or two women among the patrons—were reading newspapers. Jerry beckoned to a ragged newsboy on the street outside and bought a paper through the open window.

Half of the front page of the Chicago newspaper was filled with advertisements, the other half with news, mainly about the war. The armies of Grant and Lee, it seemed, were still pounding away at each other in Virginia, though from the tone of the reporting, clearly the writer expected final victory soon. It was further reported that hopes were widespread that the “great rebellion” would be crushed completely out of existence in only a few more days.

Jerry sat for at least a minute just staring at the date on the newspaper. Seeing it in print made it official, and therefore somehow more believable. Today was Thursday, April 6, 1865.

Still he sat there, time and again looking up at the world around him, then dropping his eyes to stare at the paper again. Only now, this morning, after a night of exhausted sleep aboard the train, was he able to win the struggle with his outraged sense of logic, his engineer’s scientific propriety, and finally come to grips with his situation. No longer was he going to be able to pretend to himself that any part of this could be a fake, a trick. And he wasn’t crazy—or if he was, there was nothing he could do about it. However it had been managed, every test he could apply indicated that he was really there, in the last days of the Civil War. Whatever that damned Pilgrim had done to him, for whatever purpose—and Jan Chen, that damned, lying, sexy woman—

But first things first. He was a long way from being able to take revenge on Pilgrim and his helper now. Unless some rescuing power should suddenly intervene to save him, and he saw no reason to expect that, he was going to have to somehow find his own way back to his own time.

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred