People were vanishing, yet no one had noticed. The only people who had realized what was going on were young, so no one listened to them. Ace Frollo had thought about it hard; how could people just get on the train in Anderson Park and disappear? “How is it possible that they could erase themselves from time, from space, from life?”
These complex thoughts had confused her for so long. So much about the world was confusing to Ace. For example, everyone said that respect was crucial to society. However, Ace hadn’t gotten the respect she’d wanted, and she often felt that society did not respect its diverse citizens. There was always some type of bullying no matter how perfect or amazing one might be, how pretty one might be, how nice one might be. No one cared, and that was why society was breaking down. Broken government, broken planet, broken climate, broken hearts, broken lives. It wouldn’t stop, and no one did anything about it. There were a few citizens trying to help, but they were told they were too young.
The young ones had somehow figured the system out. They knew it was broken. They knew that people disappeared. They knew they would have to fix it. The thoughts kept twirling around Ace’s brain. How could young people beat the “system?”
She was a Starter in a system that only listened to Elders. Most kids were excited to turn 6 and finally be included as a Starter, but Ace wasn’t. Her father was a member of the Elders, and he wouldn’t listen to anyone who was not an Elder. “I think we would know better, don’t you?” he would say. The challenge was that Elders thought the only problems that mattered were the ones they could see. The whole world could collapse and Elders would only care for themselves.
Ace didn’t like the group system. Kids did not count in any group until they turned 6 and became Starters. When they turned 15, they became Intermediates, and when they turned 35 they graduated to be Elders. What was the point of having different groups if they didn’t care about one another? Ace thought about that a lot. Her mind was always filled with thoughts. When she wanted to think, there was only one place she went to — Anderson Park.
Anderson Park. The place that people gossip about, the place that has the most secrets. It’s well known, of course. For many things: the magic, that wave of energy you get as you place your foot on the grass, the feeling of freedom that comes with every breath you take. It’s also well known for the train. The train that “takes all of your troubles away!” The train that some people kept disappearing from. Actually, come to think of it, the train that Starters disappeared from, and which Elders did not notice.
“That’s it!” Ace screamed from her room as she finally felt like she had uncovered the secret.
Her Dad, Marshall, heard her and climbed up the stairs. “What was that for, Ace?” he said.
Ace replied, excitedly: “Dad! Dad, Dad, Dad, Dad! I figured it out! O.K., so you know how people disappear when they get on the train?” Confusion filled Marshall’s head, as he stammered, “Uh, what?”
Ace continued: “Well, I found out how it happens. I think that they teleport! Or it could be time travel! You have to be a Starter to do it…”
Her dad interrupted with a worried look as he got down on one knee. “Sweetie, I know that your little friends and school projects have taught you all this nonsense, but none of it is real. Think about it, Ace, how can someone teleport? You know that as an Elder, my job isn’t easy. I am the highest rank in society, sweetheart. I would know if people were disappearing, so we have to accept that it is probably fake news. It is not possible to disappear.”
Ace started crying. “Dad, I’m 12. I would love if you didn’t treat me like a 6-year-old all the time! You think you are so amazing just because you’re older, huh? Well, maybe I see things that you don’t! Dad, you are always too busy for me — I go to Anderson Park to think all the time, and I see people disappearing from the train. I know that something is happening! If you came with me, you would see too!”
Marshall interrupted. “No, Ace, please stop this nonsense. I am busy, but I love you and I just want you to be realistic.”
Ace retorted: “I guess that’s why Mom left you. Left us — because you were always too busy. Please go away and just — just let me do this on my own. I never thought of Elders as great people, anyway. I am going to show all of you that I am on the right track, and I will find the end of this mystery no matter how long it takes me.”
Marshall left the room in exasperation, just saying “I love you” as he closed the door behind him.
Ace walked down the road to Anderson park, carrying a little basket. In this basket were some fruits, some sandwiches, a blanket, some drinks, and dessert. She had decided to make herself a picnic, even though she had no one to go with. All she wanted was alone time and peace, to figure out how to get her dad, and the other Elders, to listen to her. Her dad was too controlling, and Ace was ready for freedom. She ate a sandwich. “I wish I could learn and do more, but no one is letting me. All I want is to be heard, to be recognized; maybe when I grow up, they will listen to me and I can be like one of those famous … um …” she stumbled as she tried to think of the word, “… celebrities!” She actually shouted the word out loud. She startled a teenager walking past her to a waiting train. He looked about 14, which would make him a Starter.
As Ace shouted “Sorry!”, she felt like time slowed down, and as the teenager got outside the train door, he just vanished. Ace blinked, and blinked again, but the Starter was gone. The train left the station, and now Ace’s mind was working furiously. Was she right? Did Starters really have the ability to disappear? Maybe she was right, but she wasn’t that sure. After what her Dad had said, she doubted herself. “Test it, test it, test it, test it, sssstttt,” a voice whispered in her head. Ace looked around for confirmation, but no one was there. She sat again, trying to eat peacefully. She heard it again. “What do you mean by ‘test it’?” she mumbled.
“The train. Tessstttt it.”
She caught on. She thought it was trying to tell her to disappear like the other Starter. So she did. She slowly stood up, walked toward the train, and waited. Soon the train arrived. She stood in front of the door, closed her eyes, and in the blink of an eye she was somewhere else.
This place wasn’t Earth. No, this was strange, she thought. She looked around and all she could see were halls with dates and years. Years that started before humanity was created. Years that were ahead of her current time on Earth. Each year and date had a door under it. She looked at the general sign and it said “Bienvenue au Lieu du Temps,” which apparently translated to “Welcome to the Place of Time.” She walked down every corridor, staring at every time stamp. She found one. It said “03/13/2020” and she knew that was three years ahead of the year on Earth. The outline of a door became clear.
She opened the door, and found herself in 2020. Ace spent a good long while there, but then she ran out after an hour. She noticed that everyone was wearing masks, everyone was crying, she saw fires, protests, accidents, and too many electronic screens. “What just happened, and what is wrong with the year 2020?” she asked herself. She saw the door before 2020. It said 2019. She was scared to try this one. It turned out to be fun, even exciting, and she decided to stay there for almost a year. She thought, “What if I could change 2020?” This was a crazy idea, but she thought it might work. Ace started to learn science more and she created vaccines for viruses, and she became a rights activist. She started working with young teens on how to help solve wildfires and climate change. When she felt she had done enough, she walked out of 2019. It was over. She hoped she had fixed everything. The 2020 door was waiting, so Ace took a deep breath and went in. Nothing was wrong with the world anymore. Everyone was happy, everyone had friends, no one was sick, no masks, no crying, no fires, no protests, no teenagers hurting themselves because they can’t handle life anymore. Everything was perfect. People were playing outside, people weren’t starving themselves to be perfect, and life was as she imagined it to be. Ace saw the train returning. She knew it was time to go back, and she thought that Marshall would be worried sick about her. She walked to the train, gave a long sigh, looked around Le Lieu du Temps and blinked.
She was back. Back where she was supposed to be. Her mind was in a calm state and she looked for her picnic supplies. She found them, ate a little bit more, and walked back home from Anderson Park. She then realized she had eaten two-year-old food, and spat it out. But wait — everything looked the same as it had when she got on the train. Did time really stop? She shook her head, doubting these ideas. It isn’t possible, she thought. She continued to walk home. When she got home, her dad looked the same, and wasn’t worried at all.
“Weren’t you wondering where I was for so long?”
Her dad stared at her, confused. “Honey, are you O.K.? Do you need an ice pack? Did you fall at the park?”
She was annoyed and confused, too. “Dad stop it. I was gone for two years!” He looked at her and said, “Ace, you only took an hour at the park. You left at 2:30 and you now came back. It’s 3:30, Ace. Sit down, let’s talk.”
“Dad, I’m fine. I — I need to go figure this out for a second, so please just leave me alone.” She knew what had happened. Time did stop, and she was frustrated that she couldn’t figure out why, but she also knew that it was enough that it had happened.
It was Ace’s 15th birthday. It was 2020. Everything was amazing, as she expected. She remembered what happened three years ago because ever since then, she traveled more. Every month she traveled at least once, not to tamper with anything, just to see how life was or how life would be in the future. By this age, she knew that some Starters and Intermediates had the power to time travel through the train, to fix the problems that the Elders and Intermediates had created. Life was perfect now, and time travel was able to heal all pain. There were always happy people, no matter which group they were assigned. She loved life now, as everyone else did. Marshall had a new girlfriend, Jackie.
They loved each other so much that Marshall proposed. They were going to get married in Anderson Park. Ace had accepted that time heals, and was ready to move on from all the drama. She had accepted that her Mom was never coming back, and was ready to get used to a new life. She didn’t complain about this life at all. This life was like an infinite dream of happiness. Life stayed like this, and it was beautiful.