A/N: My computer problem isn't solved, but it's been circumvented, so I'm back in business. A couple of stories down the line, I'm planning to do another AU anthology of episodes, this time focusing on Julie. For the moment, I present a tale following the premise of the series, and another one with a touch of crossover in it will follow this one. Enjoy!
§ § § - July 25, 2006
"There's another Enstad in the family," Christian remarked in surprise, scrolling through his e-mail messages on a lazy summer Tuesday evening. "Rudolf and Louisa had their baby today."
"I wasn't aware Rudolf was capable of going into labor," Leslie riposted with playful sarcasm, and ducked the halfhearted swat Christian aimed in her general direction. "She was a few days early, wasn't she? What'd they get?"
"Carl Johan and Amalia are beside themselves, I think," Christian said and chuckled. "Louisa delivered a little girl, and her name is to be Katarina Maria Elisabeta Enstad. Now they have another granddaughter to spoil."
"And Louisa can finally stop being sick, poor kid," Leslie agreed, grinning. "That's wonderful. We should send them something."
"It's slightly late to go shopping today," Christian observed, then laughed while he pretended to cringe at her mock lunge with hands curled like claws. "No, I know what you mean. You'll have to let Mr. Roarke know so you can take some time to make a purchase. Ach, you should only see that gleam in your eyes! I hope that doesn't mean you're dying to have another baby."
"Good heavens, are you joking?" Leslie exclaimed incredulously. "I promise you, if it ever actually does happen, it'll be purely by accident. And, if fate is the slightest bit kind at all, it won't happen till the triplets are at least old enough to start kindergarten. Preferably it won't happen at all. If we hadn't gotten three in one shot like that, I might be more open to the idea, but since we did…"
Christian nodded. "I understand perfectly, my Rose. Well, speaking of triplets, we'd better round them up and get them in bed if we expect to have any quiet time together. Besides, didn't the third season of King's Castle just come out? I know you've been dying to watch the DVD."
"Yup. Okay, let's see where they're hiding." Already she was looking forward to losing herself in her all-time favorite TV series.
§ § § - August 5, 2006
After Roarke had introduced two guests who wanted to be professional drag racers for the weekend, he gave Leslie a thoughtful look. "You've lately been watching the newly released DVD of King's Castle, haven't you?"
"One episode a night," Leslie confirmed. "We're almost halfway through the set. Why do you ask?"
Roarke smiled. "Then our next guest should capture your interest, I daresay." He gestured to the dock, where a woman perhaps Leslie's age was trying to get a look at what lay ahead of her, in between being plied with leis and exotic drinks in equally exotic containers. "Mrs. Stacey Buckner Kendall, from Wiscasset, Maine, where she was born and raised and has lived all her life so far. Which, perhaps, is one reason she has always been such a fan of the old television series Trail to Oregon. Do you remember it?"
Leslie thought back a bit. "Some," she said. "I didn't watch it much, but sometimes when I wasn't doing anything else, I'd sit down with Mom and catch an episode. Wasn't it about a family on the Oregon Trail, beating back all kinds of hardships like desert lands without any watering holes, and marauding Indian tribes, and wild animals? I seem to remember one episode where they had to shoot and butcher a buffalo. My sister Kelly was disappointed that they didn't show the actual carcass being sliced up."
Roarke laughed. "Your memory seems to be intact, though you may prefer to discuss it with Mrs. Kendall. She is your age, and as with you for King's Castle, her love for Trail to Oregon has never died. Perhaps it has even increased over the years. She envied the actors who starred in it, wrote numerous fan letters to them, collected autographed photos of them, and has been lately buying and collecting memorabilia of all sorts from online auction sites and wherever else she can find it."
"Dedicated," Leslie commented. "So what's her fantasy, then? About all that's left to do is be on the show."
"Essentially, that's her fantasy. She says she used to daydream about having a new, permanent role created for her, as part of the family in the show, and be a part of the series she's so enamored of. Now she wants to go back, if at all possible, and fulfill that dream."
"Of course it's possible. Isn't everything possible on Fantasy Island, after all?" his daughter countered with a whimsical grin.
He half-smiled back. "More than either you or Mrs. Kendall may anticipate." The native girl appeared with his drink. "My dear guests! I am Mr. Roarke, your host. Welcome to Fantasy Island!"
‡ ‡ ‡
Stacey Buckner Kendall was a slight woman, shorter than Leslie and even more slender, with feathery milk-chocolate-colored waves in her hair and an excited gleam in her tea-brown eyes. Her grin was so wide in her small pointed face that it looked close to splitting her head in half. "Hi, Mr. Roarke," she said, coming into the house a full fifteen minutes ahead of her appointed time. "Sorry I'm early, but I just couldn't wait."
"That's quite all right, Mrs. Kendall. Please have a seat; may we get you anything?" offered Roarke.
"No thanks." She took the chair beside Leslie's and aimed a smile at her. "Do they call you Your Highness a lot?" Her Down-East accent was reminiscent of those Leslie had heard in her early childhood, and it made her smile.
"Not here at home they don't," she said good-naturedly. "Just call me Leslie."
"Then I'm Stacey." The woman tugged at her colorful tropical blouse, which Leslie was sure she must have picked up at the airport in Honolulu on her layover while in wait to board the island's charter. "Wow, you don't know how excited I am. I've lived all my life in Wiscasset, and I love it, but I've always dreamed of seeing other places. So since I moved out on my own, I've tried to take a trip every year. Washington, D.C., New York City, L.A., Chicago…I managed to make it to Canada a few years ago and even went to London once. Last year I got out to Portland, Oregon. I went there partly because I'd heard so much about it through my favorite TV show, you know, and partly as research for this fantasy. South of Portland, they have this place where tourists can go to see where the Oregon Trail ended. They have exhibits, real covered wagons, loads of information…"
"Which no doubt stoked your decision to ask for this fantasy," Roarke said.
Stacey nodded vigorously. "This is my big trip for this year, so now I can say I've seen Hawaii, even if I didn't really get past the airport." She grinned, not the least bit sheepish. "Anyway, I thought it couldn't hurt to see if I could fulfill a fantasy I've had since I was a kid watching Trail to Oregon every Thursday night on TV. You remember that, Leslie? On UBS? The mother and father, three kids and a collie, plus a team of four horses, traveling in a covered-wagon train? I always wanted like mad to be the fourth kid on that show. I wanted it so much I even started writing stories about it, including the character I made up for myself. I guess it's what they call fan fiction now, but back then it was just something I did so I could pretend I was part of my favorite show. And then, well, I was going through brochures at the local travel agent, trying to decide where I wanted to go this year, and I found one for Fantasy Island. It sounded incredible, so I thought I'd give it a shot. I'm still psyched you actually agreed to let me come here and live out my fantasy."
"What kind of character did you wish you could play?" Leslie asked curiously.
Stacey went pink, but that didn't seem to deter her enthusiasm in talking about what was clearly her favorite subject. "The family consisted of two sons and a daughter, which I thought was really unfair—I never could understand why TV shows with an odd number of kids in a family always had to have the boys outnumber the girls. So I inserted myself as another sibling, the sister to the three kids, and gave myself my favorite old-fashioned name—Carrie, after the third sister in Laura Ingalls Wilder's books. I still have all the stories I wrote way back when. To tell the truth, I've rewritten them and done new ones, and posted everything on a fan-fiction site online. It helped me find a bunch of other fans, so I belong to a lot of online clubs for fans of Trail to Oregon now, and have all kinds of new friends. But I'm the first one to try something like this."
"I see," said Roarke, by now looking amused. "So your fantasy, then, is to be your made-up character, Carrie, on this television series."
"That's right, Mr. Roarke," Stacey confirmed eagerly. "Can I start right now?"
Leslie grinned broadly; Roarke chuckled. "Well, perhaps not 'right away'," he said humorously. "First, of course, you must make preparations, and to that end, we have assisted you with the proper clothing for the era. If you'll follow us, please…" As one, the three arose, and Roarke preceded the two women to the door of the time-travel room. Inside, Stacey gasped at the highly detailed covered wagon, built to one-fourth life-size scale, that sat on a large table in the middle of the room. There were several western prints on the walls, a wagon wheel leaning in one corner, and a chair on which sat a box filled with fabric.
"Oh, I want to take this home with me!" Stacey cried delightedly, slowly circling the table with the wagon on it. She peered into the interior and gasped again at the perfect, detailed furniture, bundle-wrapped and crated belongings, lanterns and candles, large cast-iron pots, and even a couple of period-piece shotguns therein. A set of four horses, all brown, were harnessed to the front of the wagon, and the figures of a man and a woman sat on the buckboard, with the man holding the reins. The figures of three young children peered out around their shoulders; prancing beside the wagon was a beautifully lifelike stuffed collie dog, head raised and tail up, raring to go.
"This is fabulous," Stacey exclaimed. "The dolls look exactly like Charles Hobart, Christine Vandermeer, Mills Brentwood, Tiffany Gale and Sammy Hastings. Where in the world did you get them? I mean, even Sadie the dog looks real!"
Roarke just smiled. "Before you become too involved in examining the display, Mrs. Kendall, may I call your attention to these." He indicated the box that sat on the chair, and as if prompted, Leslie lifted out a long, homespun calico dress, printed with small sprigs of daisies, that looked a little faded, as if from numerous washings. "Before you begin your fantasy, you may wish to change into this dress, along with the sunbonnet you'll find in the box, and the shoes here on the floor."
"Oh wow," Stacey gasped. "That's just the sort of dress I always figured my character would wear if I was on the show. How the heck did you know?"
"Glad you like it," Leslie said, ignoring the question the way she knew Roarke would have. "We'll leave you alone to change. Once you're ready, you can go and check out the display all you want. Pretty soon your fantasy will start."
"Sounds great by me," Stacey said eagerly. "Thanks a million, you two. This is just wicked awesome, as my nieces and nephews would say. Thanks!" Roarke and Leslie both smiled at her, wished her luck, and quietly departed, closing her in the little room.
Stacey swiftly changed into the period clothing, her stomach dancing with excitement all the while. How she'd wished to be on the show; now she got to return to the 1970s and actually live out her fantasy, meet the actors, play the role on the series that she had always wanted to! Unconsciously she started humming the show's theme song as she dropped the box on the floor, sat in the chair and patiently fastened up the nineteenth-century high-buttoned shoes, which looked more like boots to her.
Then she arose and once more studied with admiration the covered wagon and the dolls representing the show's characters. As she waited, she thought about what the actors were doing now: Charles Hobart had retired from show business, as had Sammy Hastings, who was now a veterinarian in Iowa the last Stacey had read. Christine Vandermeer had starred in one other popular TV show, a soap opera that hadn't been Stacey's favorite style of program, but which she'd watched anyway out of loyalty to one of her favorite performers. Mills Brentwood had shifted from acting to rock music, and fronted a still-popular country band. And Tiffany Gale, after dropping out of sight for a few years to finish school when Trail to Oregon ended, had made a successful comeback and now starred in a popular comedy series which Stacey watched faithfully, though she still preferred Trail to Oregon. She supposed that made her either stubborn or stuck in the past, but she didn't care. She knew what she liked, didn't she?
She squinted at the figure of Tiffany Gale's character, Emily, then realized why she was having trouble seeing: the whole room was gradually darkening, as of the onset of twilight. Once she became aware of it, the process sped up, so that in seconds all she could see was pitch darkness.
Then she thought she caught something in her peripheral vision and looked up, only to see stars winking on in rapid succession till they pockmarked the ceiling. At the same time, she detected the sound of crickets chee-ing energetically and the soft snap of a fire. She whirled around and saw a figure at the fire, gazing into the flames, without moving.
She must have gasped, or made some other sound, for the next thing she knew he was on his feet, so abruptly it made her blink and shrink back. "Who's that?" a male voice demanded.
"It's just me," Stacey quavered without thinking, too scared to say anything else.
But the man relaxed and lowered the gun he had been lifting. "Carrie Rogers, you gave me a fright," he scolded and squatted by the fire again, balancing on the balls of his feet. "What're you doing up? You should be asleep."
"Well, I, uh…" Stacey faltered.
The man chuckled. "Never you mind. Sometimes you just can't sleep. I understand completely. Come sit here by the fire, don't just stand there making a target of yourself. Few too many Indians out this way, you know."
Stacey, slowly recovering, finally squinted around her and realized there seemed to be something missing: it was very dark, and she could see nothing other than the outlines of about twenty covered wagons, drawn in a circle. No TV cameras, no directors, no floodlights to give the scene the proper illumination. "Where is everybody?" she asked, approaching the fire.
"Asleep, mostly," said the man, whom she now recognized as Charles Hobart, who had played the family patriarch, Jack Rogers. "Come sit here if you're not going back to bed, so that if your mother wakes, she'll see you when she comes looking for you."
"Okay," Stacey agreed and gingerly settled down beside him. She peered uneasily around her once more, then shook her head and decided to provoke the director's wrath just to get her bearings. "What am I supposed to say next? I forgot my lines."
The only reaction she got was from her companion, who slowly turned to stare at her. "Forgot your lines? You're not reciting poetry in school, Carrie, not anymore, not unless your mother insisted." He grinned, his teeth gleaming dully in the firelight.
And that's when Stacey knew. The realization hit her like a bucket of ice water. "Oh boy," she mumbled. "It's not a TV show…it's real!"