Even civilized nations are wont to have messy frontiers. The frontier between Niagara Falls, New York, USA and Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada is no exception. Some fairly valuable bric-a-brac can be found littering the immediate border region, especially within the Niagara River Gorge, which washes ashore a considerable pile of flotsam and jetsam jettisoned by five of the Great Lakes, most of which create the Canada-USA border, at least where people live.
I heard tale of a gentleman who went down into the gorge early one morning for smallmouth bass fishing. Darkness seals the nether regions of this frontier long after the sun is illuminating the grand bridges, the war-commemorative monuments, and the towering bluffs themselves. Light plays tricks on the water down there: the Niagara River is still hustling along at a fair clip, producing some real white water, so with the blues of the sky, the reds of the bluffs, and whatever might be reflecting from automobile traffic, the eye can be deceived. Besides, to get a decent fishing spot, you have to get up pretty early in the morning, so your mind is sleepy, in one way, but also working hard to make sense of the changing light environment. It’s like Nature herself is conducting an experiment in psychological perception, the one where it is demonstrated that the mind will construct “reality” from the ethereal.
The way his wife tells the tale, he was down there at about five a.m. one morning late in June (right about the time for sunrise everywhere but in the gorge), when his eye caught a glint in the water. It looked every bit like the strange rainbow-like effect a laser-inscribed hologram produces when light reflects off it. This little glint, whatever it was, had him, and made its way toward shore where he was standing, bobbing there, holding itself against the current, still reflecting light from somewhere. He reached down to pick it up.
It was a Trusted Traveler Card, a kind of credit-card sized passport for frontier locals to make their cross-border traveling more expedient. The photograph was quite vivid, but, aside from the holograph inscription, everything else had eroded from the facing of the card. It was blank. He rubbed it with his thumb, and when his thumb touched the hologram, he found himself in a field in the middle of nowhere. Yes, he had been teleported to south-central Ontario, which resembles in many ways the farm country of Iowa. For a while, he was confused about where he was, but he made his way to a highway, and finally deduced from the evidence where he was.
“I remember him saying,” she said, “that in the movies, something nefarious should have happened, but nothing did. He called me on his cell, and I got his stuff from the river, brought along his travel papers, and fetched him. The border guards were none the wiser. We had a nice supper in Niagara Falls that evening.
“Now, I won’t go to saying that it wasn’t unusual, and that we didn’t, you know, think about its unusual-ness, but we really didn’t thing much of it. He took it out at dinner and rubbed on it, but nothing happened. I was kinda disappointed.
“The next day, however, he took it out and rubbed on it, and -poof- he was gone again. Scared the bejeesus out of me, you know? There was no smoke or anything: he was just gone. It’s not like TV at all. Your heart jumps, and your eyes blink, and fear comes up in you, like when you nearly get in a car wreck, you know. Pretty soon, the phone rang, and he was in the same place as before.
“What’s so great about a magic charm that transports you to south-central Ontario? Magic charms are supposed to be something you make wishes on or maybe bring you adventure, even if it is nefarious.
“Anyway, he rubbed on it and rubbed on it and rubbed on it all that evening, but nothing happened. He handed it to me, and I rubbed on it and rubbed on it, but I couldn’t figure out how to make the thing work, either. So we set it aside.
“The next day, he says to me, ‘I wonder if you’re supposed to hold one thumb on the guy’s face while you rub the holograph.’ Before he even finished the sentence, he vanished, just like before. Except this time, he forgot his cell phone. I drove over to where he appeared the other two times, but he wasn’t there. I even asked around if anyone had seen him, but no one there had actually noticed him from the other two times, so they were no help at all. I’m really worried about him.
“And, no, I can’t call the police: they’ll think I’ve murdered him. A Trusted Travel Talisman? Can you imagine?”
The way she tells it, when you take a look at how she handles the rest of her life–clean house, goes to work, plays with the grandkids, nice garden, etc.–you can’t help but believe what she’s saying.
Right now she’s telling people who ask that he’s visiting Vietnam to lay some old ghosts to rest.
Me? I’m just a powerless authority figure she can trust. I’ve changed enough of the details to protect her should anyone get more interested.