Todd lay huddled underneath the covers of the bed in the darkened guest room, propped on one elbow. He had pulled the dark-red satin quilt over his head, to make it look as if he were sleeping, in case an adult entered the room. In the next room, Allison was sleeping with Amiga.
With one hand, he grasped a flashlight. Its beam shone on the BATMAN AND ROBIN comic book he had sneaked out of his backpack after saying good night to the others. Todd had been a devoted Batman fan from his earliest years, and learning of Zorro and his incredible similarities with the Caped Crusader had only enhanced the young boy's enjoyment.
Todd's chest itched. Attempting to scratch it, he dug his fingernails into the linen nightshirt Don Alejandro had loaned him earlier.
The gruff clearing of a man's throat startled the guilty boy, who froze. In the next instant, a hand yanked the quilt off his head.
"You're supposed to be asleep, young man, not reading comic books." Uncle Ted's stern voice. The flickering light of a candle flame.
Todd gazed up at him, shining his flashlight on his uncle's own borrowed nightshirt below the neck. Against the backdrop of the pitch-black room, the beam of light highlighted his uncle's chest and head.
"Yes, sir." His voice faltered. "I just couldn't help it. I'm not sleepy. I'm too excited." He gazed up at his uncle hopefully.
Uncle Ted chuckled. "After all that's happened today, no wonder. I can't sleep, either." He set the candle on the nightstand.
The mattress sagged and creaked as the professor perched on the edge of Todd's bed. Todd lay the flashlight on the pillow, but kept it on so he could see his uncle's face. "Todd, I have some questions to ask you. Since neither of us can sleep anyway, suppose I start now?"
Todd closed the comic book, rolled over, and pushed himself into a sitting position. His uncle switched the flashlight off. Now, only the flickering candlelight gave out a tiny beam of light, revealing the outlines of furniture and the shape and outlines of Ted's face. Moonlight shone through the open window, forming a faint square of light on the carpeted floor.
"Todd, how did you and Allison get back to 1998 the first time?"
Todd swallowed. "Remember the cave Don Diego told you about?" Uncle Ted nodded. "There's something magic about it. When the sky's brassy, anyone who goes in it gets sent to another time. We had to wait till the sky was brassy again before we could get back."
"How long did that take?"
Todd hesitated. "Uh--six days." He scratched his nose as he spoke.
Uncle Ted gaped at him, then shook his head in evident disbelief. "Yet you arrived back home the same morning we went to the mission." He shook his head again. "It stands to reason, then, that no time will have passed this time, either, when we return to 2001."
Todd grinned. "Allison's watch has stopped working when we came here. Both times!"
Ted chuckled. "Mine has stopped working, too, since we came to this time period. Tell me, did Allison's watch resume its functioning when you returned to 1998?" The boy nodded.
"You know, Uncle Ted, we're going to be stuck here till the sky's brassy again." Todd fidgeted.
Ted patted his shoulder. "In that case, we'll just have to make the best of it until that day comes. The ship will still be there when we do, and maybe what we learn here, in Spanish California, will enhance our understanding of whatever we find when we do explore the remains." He gripped the boy's shoulder. "Until then, we're going to have to be very careful. I saw the way that man was looking at you and Felipe, and I'm pretty sure Don Diego did, too. I don't want any harm coming to you or Allison, and I don't intend to let that happen."
He paused. "All right, now, another question. Did you get Amiga here?" Todd nodded again. "Who gave him to you?"
"Remember we said some boy gave her to us?" His uncle nodded back. "It was Felipe. He gave us Amiga. The night before we came back."
Ted chuckled. "I'm not surprised. Felipe's a fine boy. Now, tell me--why didn't you tell your aunt and me about your adventure before?"
Todd made a face. "Would you have believed us, if we had?"
Ted sighed. "No, probably not." He shook his head in evident disbelief. "Your aunt and I have a hard time believing it even now, and we're actually here!" Todd laughed.
Ted gazed at his nephew for a long moment. "You know, Todd, your aunt and I wondered and wondered about your sudden change of heart toward touring the old mission. We were pleased, of course, that we didn't have to strive so hard to win your interest, but we were also puzzled. We couldn't help wondering what had happened to cause you and Allison to feel so differently toward visiting historical sites--and in the few hours we were out helping our friend before we could set out!"
Todd laughed. "Going back in time did that. You know, Uncle Ted, the mission in town's the same one we went to that day. The very same!"
His uncle smiled. "That really brought things into focus, didn't it? Seeing the mission AND this region as it once was, firsthand. It also sparked your curiosity that has since been insatiable. You and Allison asked the tour guide so many questions!"
"Yes, and sometimes, you're as bad as that young man is." Aunt Alice appeared in the doorway, holding a candle in front of her chest. "Todd, you should have been asleep two hours ago."
"Yes, Aunt Alice." Todd couldn't hide the sheepish grin spreading across his face. His aunt shook her head at him, then at her husband. The flickering candleflame illuminated her face.
Ted tousled the boy's hair. "Your aunt's right, Todd; it's way past bedtime. Tomorrow, I want you and Allison to tell us all about your adventure from last time, but tonight, we've both got to get some sleep. No more reading, Todd; it's time to shut your eyes, or you're going to be sleepy and bleary-eyed tomorrow." He wagged his finger as he spoke.
Todd yawned. "Yes, sir." Silently, he added, I can't tell you ALL about it. I can't tell you about Zorro. Neither of us can."
His uncle rose to his feet, bent over, and hugged the boy tightly. Glancing down at the comic book, he picked it and the flashlight up. Alice entered the room to fetch the candle Ted had set on the nightstand.
"Uh, Uncle Ted?" The professor gazed down at his fidgeting nephew. "Think we should tell Mom and Dad, when we go back to Oklahoma City?"
Ted furrowed his eyebrows, then glanced at his wife. "That's a tough one, Todd. Your aunt and I are hesitant to tell them, for the same reason you were hesitant to tell us. However, I think we should wait till we return to our own time, and then decide."
Ted looked at the flashlight. "Another thing. Until we return to 2001, let's not use our flashlights, video camera, or laptop computer any more than we just have to. We've got to save the batteries; there are no Wal-Marts or Radio Shacks here where we can buy new ones."
Todd nodded reluctantly. His uncle was right.
Ted strode across the room, laid the comic book and the flashlight on the table, closed the shutters, then followed his wife out the door. Pitch-blackness enveloped the boy. Yawning again, Todd lay his head on the soft pillow and closed his eyes. Within minutes, he was dreaming of his previous adventures in 1820 Los Angeles, three years before.