The Dandelion Girl
by Robert F. Young
The girl on the hill made Mark think of Edna St. Vincent Millay. Perhaps it was because of the way she was standing there in the afternoon sun, her dandelion-hued hair dancing in the wind; perhaps it was because of the way her old-fashioned white dress was swirling around her long and slender legs. In any event, he got the definite impression that she had somehow stepped out of the past and into the present; and that was odd, because as things turned out, it wasn't the past she had stepped out of, but the future.
He paused some distance behind her, breathing hard from the climb. She had not seen him yet, and he wondered how he could apprise her of his presence without alarming her. While he was trying to make up his mind, he took out his pipe and filled and lighted it, cupping his hands over the bowl and puffing till the tobacco came to glowing life. When he looked at her again, she had turned around and was regarding him curiously.
He walked toward her slowly, keenly aware of the nearness of the sky, enjoying the feel of the wind against his face. He should go hiking more often, he told himself. He had been tramping through woods when he came to the hill, and now the woods lay behind and far below him, burning gently with the first pale fires of fall, and beyond the woods lay the little lake with its complement of cabin and fishing pier. When his wife had been unexpectedly summoned for jury duty, he had been forced to spend alone the two weeks he had saved out of his summer vacation and he had been leading a lonely existence, fishing off the pier by day and reading the cool evenings away before the big fireplace in the raftered living room; and after two days the routine had caught up to him, and he had taken off into the woods without purpose or direction and finally he had come to the hill and had climbed it and seen the girl.
Her eyes were blue, he saw when he came up to her-as blue as the sky that framed her slender silhouette. Her face was oval and young and soft and sweet. It evoked a déjà vu so poignant that he had to resist an impulse to reach out and touch her wind-kissed cheek; and even though his hand did not leave his side, he felt his fingertips tingle.
Why, I'm forty-four, he thought wonderingly, and she's hardly more than twenty. What in heaven's name has come over me? "Are you enjoying the view?" he asked aloud.
"Oh, yes," she said and turned and swept her arm in an enthusiastic semicircle. "Isn't it simply marvelous!"
He followed her gaze. "Yes," he said, "it is." Below them the woods began again, then spread out over the lowlands in warm September colors, embracing a small hamlet several miles away, finally bowing out before the first outposts of the suburban frontier. In the far distance, haze softened the serrated silhouette of Cove City, lending it the aspect of a sprawling medieval castle, making it less of a reality than a dream. "Are you from the city too?" he asked.
"In a way I am," she said. She smiled at him. "I'm from the Cove City of two hundred and forty years from now."
The smile told him that she didn't really expect him to believe her, but it implied that it would be nice if he would pretend. He smiled back. "That would be A.D. twenty-two hundred and one, wouldn't it?" he said. "I imagine the place has grown enormously by then."
"Oh, it has," she said. "It's part of a megalopolis now and extends all the way to there." She pointed to the fringe of the forest at their feet. "Two Thousand and Fortieth Street runs straight through that grove of sugar maples," she went on, "and do you see that stand of locusts over there?"
"Yes," he said, "I see them."
"That's where the new plaza is. Its supermarket is so big that it takes half a day to go through it, and you can buy almost anything in it from aspirins to aerocars. And next to the supermarket, where that grove of beeches stands, is a big dress shop just bursting with the latest creations of the leading couturiers. I bought this dress I'm wearing there this very morning. Isn't it simply beautiful?"
If it was, it was because she made it so. However, he looked at it politely. It had been cut from a material he was unfamiliar with, a material seemingly compounded of cotton candy, sea foam, and snow. There was no limit any more to the syntheses that could be created by the miracle-fiber manufacturers-nor, apparently, to the tall tales that could be created by young girls. "I suppose you traveled here by time machine," he said.