Bewildering Stories

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Feature and Trailer

by Thomas R.

It all began with a bet or, maybe more accurately, a challenge. Alaska Stern was one of the foremost documentary film makers of the 22nd century. He also had a passion for the 1950’s. He studied the art and politics and even talked to time travelers who had visited that era. He felt so confident in his knowledge that he set himself a bizarre challenge: he would make a film so like that era even the people of the time would not suspect that the director was not one of them.

The project had critics from the start. One said that even if it was not like a film of that era, audiences could not suspect anything because time travel was pure Sci-Fi. To counter this, Alaska stated that he would link the historic committee to the showing through his wristwatch; the committee could judge for themselves if he succeeded.

And the audience’s reaction would tell if he failed, even if the spectators did not recognize what was wrong. He was sure none of them would notice anything strange about the film. On that he proved wrong.

The committee knew that no one could suspect that Alaska had made the film in a studio in the 22nd-century Antarctic Republic of the Southern Cross. In that they proved wrong.

Alaska rolled the film. Watching it, he felt excited. Nothing it in should be anachronistic or off-putting to these wonderful innocents of 1959. He had banned all modern equipment from his set and even trained the cast to speak in the dialect of the times. Some of them found this rather difficult, but at the end he felt they had it perfect. He had watched digitized versions of the Oscar-winning films of the decade. He awaited the spectators’ reaction.

He waited for a long time. The audience seemed subdued. What he assumed they would find funny seemed uninteresting to them. He noticed that a few people even fell asleep. At the end, they left silently, as if he had shown them a documentary of the Korean War. One old woman did shake his hand and say, “Be proud dear, in least you aren’t a snob or a Red like most here.”

Mostly though he got no response. What had gone wrong? He noticed then one couple remained in the theater.

Before they said anything to him, he asked. “Was there something wrong with my movie?”

The woman answered hesitantly. “It’s not wrong exactly. It just looked like something I would see on television. I guess I expected something smarter and more daring here.”

Her husband nodded in agreement. “Yeah, the woman was supposed to be an intellectual, but her banter made June Cleaver look like Katherine Hepburn. Plus her husband gets drunk and slaps her, but that’s supposed to be funny? She even gives up her career to marry him? Maybe ten years ago people thought like that, but not they shouldn’t these days. Although I will admit that actress was a hot number.”

She gave him a look. “Oh, was she now, Jack?”

He just smiled. “Well for the role she was playing. I would expect them to get someone with a sophisticated kind of beauty for this role, not the pinup girl type.”

Mr. Stern now had a sense of the problem, but the question he then asked began the strange turn this conversation would take: “Aside from her, did anything else strike you as being peculiar or... belonging more in another decade?”

Jack, the husband, said. “Well the slang some of them used felt wrong.”

Mr. Stern felt nervous, “How so?”

Jack, “Well, most of it seemed kind of childish. You had grown people talking like my nephew used to, back in ’53. Like, when they first kissed, he goes ‘Gosh, ma’am what a swell thing to do’. If he was portrayed as a naive rural character maybe I could buy that. However you have him as this well-read New England author. So he kisses a woman passionately and all he manages is ‘Gosh what a swell thing to do’?”

The wife — her name was Helen — smiled. “Maybe it’s a kind of double entendre? Actually the whole thing was peculiar. Those actors or actresses almost looked like performers I recognize, but somehow not. Also, even for a film set in winter, didn’t they all seem just a bit too covered up? If it had not been in English I’d have assumed it was made in Russia. Plus what was the deal with the girl on the bike?” to which Jack nodded his agreement.

Mr. Stern, however, felt confused. His movie had no moment where there was a girl on a bike. Out loud he stated. “What are you talking about?”

Helen, “When they were at the deli and he was explaining why they had to write a book together in a week you see this woman riding one of those old-time bikes. On top of that, she had the weirdest color hair I ever saw. No one in the film noticed her, though. Hmm... were you making a comment on postwar apathy or the fact that in a world on the brink of the extraordinary in Space we prefer to discuss the trivial of home?”

Mr. Stern thought about it. There had been an old-time bike race in Perry’s Town during the shooting, but he had not shot in the areas where it took place. On occasion, though, riders got lost, but he had not even noticed. He felt angry at himself for that lack of attention, he thought he had studied every detail.

She still stared. “Something wrong?”

Mr. Stern, “No. Is that all?”

Jack rubbed his chin. “I’m embarrassed to admit this but thinking back it’s like a potpourri of clichés from the last decade or so of TV and film as seen from a distance. Like something someone from the future would make if he only knew about us through...” then he looked at his wife. ”You have more experience on that, Helen. Do you think that’s it?”

Helen looked at Mr. Stern: “What century are you from?”

He had known there was UFO believers then, but time-travel conspiracy theories weren’t supposed to be popular until the 2040’s. They must be nuts; but even if they weren’t... He got up to leave. They heard him mutter “loons” as he walked.

Before he had taken many steps she stated quite forthrightly, “We aren’t loons. We just have had experience with this. I have met three people from the future; and my husband, one. Although the lucky dog had an affair with the only one he met.” She gave her husband a look that mixed admiration and resentment then added. “After enough experience I can see the signs. The things you say, the film you made. Give me your watch?”

“What, no?” however she grabbed it and revealed the mechanism inside after destroying the false clock face.

“This can’t be happening! How did you...?” exclaimed Mr. Stern.

She explained her side: “When I was 9, I played checkers with this man. He gave me a dime with FDR’s face on it. That was in 1936, so I just thought it was a joke. Later I realized what it meant. Then, in college, I attended a speech Churchill gave and found a woman drop a Reagan twenty cent piece. I had a sense before then that she acted too intent or something. So after confronting her with the coin and other observations, she was surprisingly open about her history. Then the last one was in Peru, on our honeymoon. Now he was quite handsome, but I was of course taken.”

The director looked at the husband. “And this future woman you had an affair with?”

Jack smiled mischievously. He remembered some things his wife had said about the near future so daringly stated. “Well my wife never said it was a woman.”

The director blanched at that, which made Jack laugh. He explained. “Calm down, it’s nothing like that. At the time I knew her as a woman. However before she returned to the 11th millennium she explained that she actually had a Y chromosome. It could have freaked me out, but by that time she had inundated me with far stranger things.”

The director seemed almost woozy. “The 11th millennium? I am not from anywhere near that far.”

The woman barely noted that, saying “Of course not, you are still a human, like us.” Then, turning to Jack: ”You know, now that we are talking openly, I’m kind of jealous of your experience, Jack. I mean the first time traveler I met was when I was 9, and the only other male time traveler I met was during our honeymoon. He was a looker, but I doubt even many of the peoples I’ve studied would approve of a time-slip infidelity on one’s honeymoon. Still what with all the genetic engineering and futuristic knowledge you’ve made it sound like ’he’ had I’m quite jealous.”

Despite what he’d said, Jack felt a bit uneasy at Helen’s calling Novella a “he.” Still, he had always respected a woman’s autonomy. Plus, he was in the presence of man that might get a kick out of him calling her bluff. “Tell you what, Helen: if it really has bothered you so, we can take a vacation during this vacation. I’ll go check out some stuff I know you don’t like, and you can go have a fling with this director.”

Helen hoped he was serious but doubted it. “This some kind a joke?”

He nodded. “Not at all, our marriage has always been about equality. Plus, you used to tell me about those peoples in the Pacific or wherever who had happy marriages yet allowed that kind of thing. I never went for it before, but this is a very unusual situation. How can I deny you something I’ve kind of done, even if it was something before our marriage. I mean when you wanted to play soccer, like I did in Mexico before I met you, I didn’t object. So you two can go and have a good time, but if you do that finish up before we have to take the flight home to Massachusetts.”

The director interrupted. “Excuse me, are you offering me your wife?”

Jack stared angrily. “My wife is not something to be offered. Real intellectual women should be independent and able to make their own choices, no matter if they are married. If this is really her dream and she thinks it will balance the equation of our marriage, I’ll just accept it. All I ask is that you two be discreet and finish with your business before we have to go to Mom’s birthday party in Boston.”

The director felt baffled. “This is not what it’s like in your movies.”

The woman held his arm and gave an odd look to Jack. “People are often not like in the movies. They are more diverse and strange than anything entertainment can show. Still I understand if you are nervous. When my husband was in Mexico he learned about something called Marijuana, some call it reefer. It calms some people’s nerves. I rarely use it, but on this trip we decided to stash a little reefer in our hotel. We can go back there together, try it, and than just see what happens. I know at times you future men need something to relax on these trips.”

The director pulled her arm off. “What are you? Beatniks or something?”

Her seductive efforts stopped then and she laughed. “Beatniks are people who don’t have real jobs and write bad poetry. Jack is a physicist at MIT and I teach anthropology at Harvard. We both know there is so much uncertainty in life and that our cultural taboos are artificial contrivances. I wouldn’t say this to just anyone, but I chafe under the conformist and bourgeois expectations of this age. I know in the next decade things will change; I literally know it. You know it, too. So why not start the 60’s early with me?

“No that is not what I wanted or expected here. I wanted the time before all that chaos and idiocy. You don’t know what you have here that you want thrown away. You don’t know what I would’ve given in my youth for the romance and family structures you still maintain. Instead, I find this married woman trying to seduce me into her bed and offer me pot? I could see it 1969, maybe, but 1959? Plus, you say all this madness while your husband watches? What kind of sick freak are you, lady?”

To Stern’s surprise, she went to sit down and seemed close to tears. Before then he had gotten the sense they were playing a game with each other that only dimly involved him. He assumed nothing he said mattered that much. However, she was crying, and Jack, perhaps unsurprisingly, was furious. “Your century has a lot to learn about manners. If you are not interested, fine. I mean, I don’t even know how serious we were about it, but we figured why waste a chance that may never happen again. This is the kind of thing you could remember in your old age. Instead, you try to make my wife feel like a freak for it. Sir, if I weren’t a pacifist I’d fight you right here.” Jack then went to get his hat and prepared to leave.

Stern still felt confused, but he went over to Helen. “Look, this all just confused me. Even in my time this would be seen as very wrong by most folk, and I was raised in a lesbian coven. However, since I was twenty I’ve been a Christian, so I just can’t accept this kind of arrangement.”

She nodded. ”Well, my husband and I are admirers of Bertrand Russell. Like him, I’d never be a Christian, but I understand the appeal more than Russell does. Many of them, I think, believe in peace and even the advancement of women, as we do.” Then she sighed. ”It was unfair of us to spring all this on you. We just so rarely feel open to talk about some of this stuff. Still we should have learned more about you, your century, and all that first. So really, I’m the one to be sorry. Although I can’t deny I’m sad that I’ll probably never get to have the chance my husband had so many years ago.”

To his surprise Mr. Stern said. ”A smart attractive woman like you, the next man from the future would be nuts to pass you up.” That seemed to mollify her, but it still unnerved him.

Mr. Stern returned a surprising success. He lost his bet and became a laughingstock in the cinema world, but he alerted time travelers to the fact some people in the past might be aware of their time-traveling. This led to tightening up protocols and fewer abuses. He became famous among physicists and switched to science reporting.

As for Jack, he happily lived to see his wife be faithful to him until death, as no more time traveling men appeared in their lifetime together. He flushed his last stash in 1968, saying, “I’m many things but not a hippie.” Yet he did attend many antiwar rallies, but mostly with Quakers, having converted to the Society of Friends in 1966.

His wife resented many things about him, and at times they drifted apart, but she grieved bitterly when he died in 1998. She did marry again, however, to an old man from the 28th century. He thought he would retire to the simpler years that started the millennium; and, being a stickler, he interpreted this as starting with 2001. At present they live in a cabin in Maine, and both he and Helen are finding these last years to be full of more strangeness than either of them could have dreamed.

Copyright © 2004 by Thomas R.

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