Wind-driven rain pounded the pavement on a mid-October Sunday in 2006 when Ken Helbling, 40, walked into Barnes and Noble.
“It was a miserable morning, so I thought I would go have a coffee and look at the books,” he said.
As Helbling stood in line for coffee, he was amused by the conversation with the barista and the man in front of him.
“I was standing behind a tall, rather large man who looked about 65,” Helbling said. The man wore a red-checkered flannel shirt and blue jeans. “When his turn came he said he didn’t have his discount card but could he use his sister’s number. He then rattled off about a 17-digit number off the top of his head. I was impressed.”
Then Helbling noticed two girls, one blonde, one brunette.
“Two girls were waiting for their drinks and looked strangely out of place,” he said. “I looked closely because they were wearing designer jeans and hairdo’s that were 25 years out of date. They looked about 17, but seemed older.”
They also seemed familiar. The girls looked like friends Amy and Alicia he knew from high school. He initially thought they may be his friends’ daughters, but quickly dismissed it.
“While they looked young and attractive, their faces seemed more defined and mature. More like 35 years old,” he said. “In the blonde girl’s case, she looked strikingly like Amy. In the brunette’s case she looked like Alicia but six inches taller.”
Helbling wanted to ask the girls where they got their seemingly brand-new retro clothes, but didn’t.
“I didn’t want to seem like a creep,” he said.
Helbling paid for his coffee and browsed books, picking up one that interested him. “I didn’t buy it, though. I just went home.”
He didn’t think any more of the man in line who’d memorized the long account number, nor the out-of-place girls – until he saw them again.
“Next Sunday, the exact same kind of day, the exact same time, I decided to go back and buy that book,” he said.
Helbling stood in line for coffee behind the same 65-year-old man in the same red flannel shirt and blue jeans who spouted the same long account number.
“Both times he did it he had to do it like three times because it was so fast the (barista) couldn’t keep up,” he said.
The man in the flannel shirt wasn’t the only element in play from the previous Sunday.
“I look over and the same two girls in the exact same clothes are standing in the same spot, but this time they had their drinks,” he said. “When I walked past them they gave me a weird look. I’m thinking this is really strange.”
Helbling bought a coffee and walked to the far corner of the two-level store to find the book he’d browsed the Sunday before. The girls followed him.
“This store is their flagship, two floors and enormous,” he said. “The book was as far away from the coffee shop as you could get. When I got the book and turned around the two girls were sitting on the floor right behind me, staring at me.”
When Helbling noticed the girls, they quickly moved books in front of their faces like they’d been caught spying on him, he said.
“I was so startled I couldn’t say a word,” Helbling said. “I just went down the escalator and went home.”
At home, Helbling began to read the book and found the plot twist revolved around time-traveling tourists.
“I started to wonder if I had experienced something of that nature,” he said. “Were they waiting for me to buy that book? Was the tall man the tour guide? It was something I’ll never forget. I never really thought of time travel ‘til I got to that part of the book then it all clicked.”
Helbling said he thinks the girls he saw at Barnes and Noble on those rainy October Sundays were related to his old friends Amy and Alicia, but were not their daughters – maybe their great-great granddaughters.
“Were the girls were descendents of people I knew, and were they taking a school tour of the past?” he said. “The checkered-shirt guy was possibly the teacher. Or did I slip into an alternative timeline? If you slipped into a different timeline would you ever even know it? And even if you knew it, would it make a difference?”
Copyright 2011 by Jason Offutt
Got a scary story? Ever played with a Ouija board, heard voices, seen a ghost, UFO or a creature you couldn’t identify? Let Jason know about it: Jason Offutt, P.O. Box 501, Maryville, Mo., 64468, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Your story might make an upcoming installment of “From the Shadows.”
Jason’s newest book on the paranormal, “Paranormal Missouri: Show Me Your Monsters,” is available at Jason’s blog, from-the-shadows.blogspot.com.