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Locked in time, p.18
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       Locked in Time, p.18

           Lois Duncan
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  “Get down on the floor!” he yelled at me. “The smoke won’t be so heavy there!”

  I did as commanded, doubled over in a fit of coughing. There was another crash, and I heard Dave give a strangled sob, which was the most terrifying sound I’d heard so far, for it was an indication of the hopelessness of our situation.

  Then, suddenly, I sensed that something new was happening. Blinded by smoke, I couldn’t tell at first exactly what it was. Then I felt the movement of air against my face and forced my eyes open. Through the haze of smoke, I saw to my disbelief that the door to the cabin was now standing open.

  Frantically, I began to drag myself across the floor in the direction of freedom. Every inch I covered seemed like a mile. The heat at my back was like a furnace, fanned as the flames now were by the sudden intake of air. Dizziness struck me, and I lost all sense of reality. I could no longer raise my head to see where I was going. Still, I kept inching my way forward on my hands and knees, spurred by the knowledge that my final chance for survival was to reach that doorway.

  “Nore!” someone called to me. “Nore! Not that way, this way!”

  I couldn’t tell from which direction the words were coming. Hands slid under my armpits and I felt myself being lifted and half carried, half dragged, across the rough-hewn boards of the floor. Then, before I could take in what was happening, heavenly coolness washed over my face. Incredibly, I was out of doors, lying in the sweet, damp grass, choking and gasping as I dragged in great gulps of clear, clean air.

  “Are you okay?” an anxious young voice asked me. “I got you out in time? You didn’t get burned?”

  Unable to speak, I managed to focus my bleary eyes. Josie’s worried face hung suspended above me.

  “Are you okay, Nore?” she asked again. Her eyes were huge and frightened.

  “Dave!” I managed to gasp. “Dave—is he still in there?”

  “I’m safe, Nore,” Dave’s voice said. “We both got out, and just in time.”

  His face appeared above me, next to Josie’s. Beyond their heads, I could see an inferno of bright orange flames leaping skyward in a great surging fountain of deadly light.

  “How did you do it?” I whispered to Josie. “How did you get us out? If Dave couldn’t force the door, then how could you?”

  “Gabe gave me the key,” she told me. “He got it off Maman’s ring. He told me he and Maman were driving to Merveille to get the fire department. He said the moment they pulled out of the drive, I was to let you out.”

  “Your mother will be furious,” I said. “When she and Gabe get back—”

  “They’re not coming back,” Josie said. “Maman was tired of me. No mother should have to take care of her kids forever.”

  Her voice was small and tremulous.

  “That’s not why she left, Jo,” Dave said gently. “I’m sure that she and Gabe did go into town to get the fire department. There’s no phone here to call from, and your mother doesn’t want Shadow Grove to burn to the ground. And I’m sure that she is coming back. She would never walk out on you.”

  “They’re not coming back,” Josie said. “I know, because when Gabe left, he kissed me good-bye. He’s never kissed me before, not even on my birthday. Guys don’t do that to their sisters, just to their girlfriends.”

  “He never kissed me, either,” I told her softly. “But, then, I guess I was never exactly a girlfriend.”

  Josie started to cry then in earnest.

  And so did I.

  That was last summer.

  It’s winter now.

  Summer comes late in New England, but winter comes early. Beyond my dorm-room window, a heavy bank of snow clouds coats the silver-gray of the December sky. The first semester of my senior year is almost over.

  This past weekend I was Dave’s date for a party at Harvard, and in another week, I’ll be flying to Guilderland for Christmas. Thanks to the fact that there was little wind on the day of the fire at Shadow Grove, the main house escaped the flames that ravished the slave quarters. The whole estate was recently purchased by the state of Louisiana to be converted into a historical museum. The money from the sale has been placed in a trust fund for Josie, and home for us now is once again our old house in New York state.

  Poor Dad! To lose two wives in two years would be a shattering experience for any man, but my father has borne his second loss better than his first one.

  “I loved Lis, Nore,” he told me the day of the funeral. “Sometimes, though, I had an odd feeling that I didn’t really know her. Even at those moments when we should have been closest, I would find myself wondering what she was really thinking and feeling. If we could only have had more time, we might’ve grown as close as your mother and I were. Lis was so young—so beautiful—!”

  His voice broke, and I put my arms around him.

  “She was beautiful, Dad,” I said in gentle agreement. I closed my eyes and in my memory felt the brush of cool lips against my cheek and inhaled once again the faint, light scent of gardenias.

  I haven’t told my father what happened on that last day at Shadow Grove. He couldn’t handle that knowledge right now, even if he did believe me. It seems enough for him simply to know that Gabe, with Lisette in the seat beside him, missed a curve in the road on their high-speed trip into Merveille. According to police, the force with which the Honda struck the mammoth tree killed both its occupants instantly. The realization that Lisette and her son didn’t suffer gives Dad some measure of comfort, and the knowledge that he’s responsible for raising Lisette’s young daughter provides him with a sense of purpose.

  “You’ll be on your own soon, Nore,” he tells me. “But Josie will still need me for years.”

  I try not to smile at the irony of that statement. The time will come, of course, when he’ll have to know the truth. Perhaps, as the years go by, he’ll become aware of it on his own, or perhaps it’ll fall to Josie or me to tell him.

  The truth must also be handed down to my children, which is why I’m putting this incredible story on paper. Lisette’s journal is gone, and it must be replaced with my own.

  By the time my future children are old enough to read this, they may already have noticed that their “Aunt Josie” is not like other people. It’s likely that they will accept this fact without question, for she’ll have been a part of their lives for as long as they can remember, first in their grandfather’s home, and then in our own. Her face will be as familiar to them as mine is—perhaps even more familiar—for hers will be a constant, and mine will be subtly changing with the years.

  Eventually, it’ll be their turn to serve as Josie’s parents. I hope they’ll love her enough to be patient with her adolescent moodiness.

  It’s strange to think that Josie may be babysitting my great-great-grandchildren many years after I have departed from this earth.


  Young adult author Malinda Lo sat down with Lois Duncan to ask her all about

  Malinda: First, I just want to say, Lois, I’m such a big fan of yours. I read all of your books that I could find when I was a teen!

  Lois: Thank you.

  Malinda: All of your books are really creepy. They have this wonderful scary quality about them, and just to start off, I wanted to ask you, why are you drawn to writing these kinds of supernatural stories, and why do you think teens like to be scared so much?

  Lois: I’m drawn to it because that’s the kind of book that I enjoy reading. I think kids tend to be risk-takers by nature. It comes with the territory, and reading about people their ages in scary situations gives them a way to have those experiences vicariously without the danger of getting physically injured themselves. Today’s kids have also become very conditioned by television and video games, but that wasn’t the case when I wrote the original LOCKED IN TIME.

  Malinda: Do you think that at that time, in 1985, popular culture was safer?

  Lois: I think it was gentler, and kids were being much more protected; howeve
r, back then, and for years and years before that, magic was a theme that was used in books. It was used in books like Mary Poppins and The Wizard of Oz and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. But I took it one step further by inserting it into a realistic young adult novel, which I think was probably the cutting edge right then.

  Malinda: I don’t remember too many books that were like yours. Do you think your books really stood out at that time as being this kind of supernatural suspense?

  Lois: I’m told they did.

  Malinda: Let’s talk a little bit about writing LOCKED IN TIME. Do you remember—I know you’ve written so many books, so I’m not sure what you remember about each—

  Lois: Yes, but this is one of my favorites.

  Malinda: Why is this one of your favorites?

  Lois: The whole concept of being stuck in a time warp and being unable to change it, and having eternal life, is an absolutely fascinating and rather frightening thing. I’ve seen it treated since then. It was Natalie Babbitt who wrote Tuck Everlasting. She wrote that novel before I wrote LOCKED IN TIME, but I had not read it at that time.

  Malinda: There are a lot of YA books these days in which there are immortal characters, and they don’t really address the scary part of immortality—it’s more of a positive fantasy. Can you talk a bit more about why you find immortality a frightening concept?

  Lois: I got the idea for the plot when one of my daughters was thirteen and she was unhappy with her body image. She had zits, she didn’t have a bust yet, and she hated the fact that she was still too young to drive or to date. She was taking everything out on me, her mother, as teenagers will. I told myself it was only a stage and that she’d outgrow it and become my good friend again. Then—you know how writers are—I asked myself the what-if question: What if she never outgrew her adolescence? What if I were stuck forever with raising this same snarly, resentful thirteen-year-old, and there were no end in sight? And what if I brought it on myself and on her? The relationship would be an interdependent relationship that we could never get rid of. She would never grow past it. Everybody we knew and cared about would grow old and die, and there she and I would still be, battling it out. So yes, I think it’s a very scary idea.

  Malinda: Do you think that Lisette, the mother in LOCKED IN TIME, had any idea what she was getting herself into?

  Lois: Oh, no. I think she just thought for the moment, Wouldn’t it be nice to be lovely and beautiful and young always? Then it probably occurred to her, I surely wouldn’t want my children growing older than I am. Wouldn’t that be awful having to watch my children die of old age? So she just saved the children, too, without thinking through the ramifications.

  Malinda: So I want to ask you a bit about the process of updating these books. What motivated you to update them at this time?

  Lois: My publisher asked me to! The original publisher, Little, Brown, decided they wanted to reissue the books in paperback, and approached me with the idea of updating them at the same time, and that seemed like a good idea.

  Malinda: Did you have any reservations about doing it, or did you think it was a cool thing to do?

  Lois: I thought it was a cool thing to do, because the more I looked back on them, the more clearly I could see that they really were dated. This was like rebirthing my children and having them born with wings. I could do things for them that I hadn’t known about when I originally wrote the books.

  Malinda: Like what?

  Lois: Give them cell phones. Give them computers. Bring them into the twenty-first century. Take them out of polyester pantsuits.

  Malinda: Oh, yes. I’m sure they were happy about that.

  Lois: They dress very differently now, and the slang has changed. I tried to keep the plots and the characters the same. It was just little frills that I changed.

  Malinda: How did you get a feel for the kind of slang or the language that teens use today versus what they used in the early eighties?

  Lois: I had to depend on my young editors and my teenage granddaughters, who were a help on that, because that is a difficult thing for me now. I had five children, and in the earlier stages of my career, I was always exposed to them and their friends, so I kept very contemporary. Now they’re all grown up, and I’m not exposed to the teen world the way I was. So I needed a little help from my friends.

  Malinda: Now that you’ve updated several of your books, thinking about LOCKED IN TIME, how did the process of updating this one differ from the others?

  Lois: This was actually one of the easier books to update because so much of it was laid with the background of history, and that doesn’t change. It was also an isolated home where people were not being exposed to the everyday life that teenagers know now, so I didn’t have to worry about making that work. This was a comparatively easy one.

  Malinda: I feel like this one has that really wonderful timeless quality—it could almost be set anytime. But you did have to give the characters cell phones. As a writer creating these suspenseful situations, it’s really a problem if the character can just call for help.

  Lois: Exactly! Because in most of my books, one of the scary elements is that the protagonist is in a dangerous situation and is unable to call for help. Today’s kids would ask, Why don’t they take out their cell phone and call 911? So I’ve had to find ways to get rid of the characters’ cell phones, not just in one book but in ten books, and try not to repeat my methods. This one was pretty easy because Gabe tries to drown Nore in a river and, of course, her cell phone would get drenched and it would be dead. But in the other books, it was harder. I dropped cell phones like dead flies, everywhere. Into toilets, into trash bins. Sometimes I had them loaned to people, I had the batteries run down, I took them where there was no reception. I used up everything I could, and when I was in great doubt, I would phone one of my granddaughters and say, “Granny needs to kill another cell phone. How can I do it?”

  Malinda: I noticed there was not a lot of reception in some areas.

  Lois: Yes, that’s right. I was able to use that, and it served a double purpose; I could get rid of their computers, too, so they couldn’t get on Facebook.

  Malinda: I also loved the sense of place in this book, the Southern Gothic feel of the little town and all the characters in it. Do you have a personal connection to the location?

  Lois: I grew up in Florida, and that’s very much the same type of tropical, damp, swampy climate as Louisiana. My parents were magazine photographers, and when I was a teenager, a travel magazine called Holiday gave them an assignment to illustrate a forty-page article about Louisiana, so my family spent a whole summer there. I became fascinated by that area of the country. It’s very atmospheric; quite different from any other place.

  Malinda: Is there anything about LOCKED IN TIME that you remember particularly vividly from writing it that you want to share?

  Lois: I think the boy Gabe is an interesting character because he has lived through many lifetimes without aging. He could fall in love in each lifetime, and his girlfriend would outgrow him in a couple of years, get old, and eventually die of old age, leaving him behind. I thought, That’s a horrible situation for a young man to be in. Remember that Gabe could never stay very long in one place, because people would notice that he was not aging when everyone else was. So he would have to leave and come back and pretend he was his own nephew. So he could never make long-lasting, committed relationships with anybody.

  Malinda: That’s true. Let’s talk a little bit about the magic in the book, because you do base it on the cultural history in the South. Can you tell us about the research you did to inform the magic that you used in this book?

  Lois: I was no expert on voodoo magic at all. At the time I was first writing this book, the only resources I had were books, and I read up on the whole cultural situation there as best I could. But as I was put into this rewriting process, my editors had their own researchers, who had better methods of research, especially now because we have the Internet, and the
y corrected some things I had gotten slightly incorrect in the first go-round. So that was good. I never would have realized that I made those small mistakes.

  Malinda: What a great opportunity. In LOCKED IN TIME, the main character, Nore, really has to work to figure out the mystery on her own, and when she reveals what she knows to be the truth to her father, he basically dismisses her and doesn’t believe her. Do you feel that a lot of teens might identify with this kind of situation, where they know something and they feel like other people can’t relate to them or believe what they’re saying?

  Lois: I think so. I think in many cases they bring it on themselves. It’s not uncommon for young people to lie to their parents and tell them they’re going to be one place when they’re really in another or see somebody their parents don’t want them to see. So it’s like crying wolf when something bad does happen and they try to tell their parents. The scenario Nore suggests to her father is so incredible I wouldn’t have believed it either. Especially when he knew she resented her stepmother for taking her mother’s place. In this case I don’t blame the father for not believing her and can see through the terrible frustration that Nore or any young person would feel at having knowledge, trying to give it to a trusted adult and having it blown off.

  Malinda: Eventually he’s going to have to believe her.

  Lois: Eventually he’ll have to believe her when he’s raising Josie for the next thirty years and she never goes past the age of thirteen!

  Malinda: Do you ever think about your characters after the end of the book—what happened to them?

  Lois: I let it end itself. I think here there is a suggestion of what may happen next in that Nore knows that she herself will continue aging and that Josie won’t, and I like the ending where she’s thinking about Josie as a thirteen-year-old, babysitting Nore’s own great-grandchildren.

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