by Jeffrey J. Lyons
When the nausea faded Henry first saw the glass. He shook his head, rubbed his eyes and realized that it was all around him. It was as if he was encased in a solid bubble.
Next Henry saw their stunned, awestruck faces. Two men and one lovely black woman gaped wide-eyed in his general direction. He looked at the woman’s shoulder-length dark hair and brown eyes. Her slightly sunken cheeks still made her appear very feminine.
The first man was balding, and what hair he had left was gray. It reminded Henry of his own thinning hair. The man’s wire-rimmed glasses rested low on the bridge of his nose. His face was round and corrugated. He was not elderly but the wrinkles around his eyes and lips suggested middle age. The second man’s sneaky eyes gawked over a bony nose toward a keypad on which he tapped rapidly. His thick eyebrows offset his thin squinting brown eyes. Henry thought he looked like a witch and he waited for him to cackle.
The first man’s mouth moved as if he was speaking but no words came out. The lady nodded her head in agreement.
Five seconds later a raspy voice penetrated Henry’s eardrums with, “I don’t know about you but I’m impressed.” Almost in unison a firm female voice muttered a simple “Mm-hmm.”
Henry, perplexed, looked at the three spellbound faces, the older man’s finger pointed at him as his mouth moved. The younger man turned away and tapped relentlessly at his keyboard.
Before Henry could speak he heard the same raspy voice, “Are you all right sir? How do you feel?”
Henry patted his hands against his chest as if to feel the solid presence of his own body. He banged his hand on his gut, slightly hidden by his baggy blue sweatshirt, and remembered that his power walk awaited him later this afternoon. Everything seemed to be in order. He asked, “Where am I?”
The lady tipped her head and turned her right cheek, her attention focused on Henry who waited for an answer. The computer user stopped his incessant keying as all three glanced furtively at each other, wide-eyed, and seemingly surprised. Mouths moved, no words were heard.
“Did you hear me? I said what is going on?” Henry repeated.
The lady stared squarely at him with her mouth closed tight. Her eyes studied his face and then the three lurched back in surprise once more. Then a chorus of voices sprouted exclamations like “What the...” and “huh?” And then he heard those words again.
The older man’s mouth yammered rapidly and his hands whirled about the air. The lady shook her head. Her mouth moved. This time Henry heard from what he deduced was the man, though the lady’s mouth was going. “There seems to be a delay. It’s as if he is speaking but we don’t hear his words—”
“—It’s like he’s out of phase. The time hasn’t quite caught up with him. This is incredibly fascinating,” the lady’s voice interrupted.
This at least explained something to Henry. He likened it to a low budget monster movie where the words are out of syncopation with the actions. This was not a movie; he experienced it in real life. It still did not explain where he was and what was going on.
The younger man with the keypad spoke, or his mouth did, but Henry later heard a voice with a slight effeminate lisp, “Yes there is a time dilation. There is a delay of approximately five seconds.”
This was maddening. Henry could not keep up. He could not respond because he never knew to whom he responded. He looked around his cozy chamber and saw a small speaker box in the upper right corner. Behind his chamber stood a wall with a dreary dark olive tone. Above him were a series of round metallic hollow tubes with protruding thin gold wires. Henry thought of the cable connector on the back of his television. He was quite secluded.
The older man declared, “Extraordinary.” His back was now to Henry, who watched the older man pick up some notepaper. The shuffling sound followed five seconds later. He saw the back of the older man’s hand slap the paper soundlessly on a table, only to be followed five seconds later with the slap.
“Can’t you at least answer one of my questions?” Henry exclaimed. As he did so the woman’s mouth moved and she pointed a finger at him.
“He’s saying something,” she said five seconds later and then, as if interrupted. “Oh, yes, I think we should at least try to explain this to him Dr. McDonough.”
“How do we explain it when we don’t understand it ourselves, Violet?” responded the older man who Henry presumed was McDonough.
Henry waved his hand and said, “Try me.”
McDonough and the woman, whom Henry assumed was Violet, turned to him. McDonough talked very slowly, as if by some chance this insane communications breakdown might make more sense. “You were the accidental by-product of a time travel experiment Mister... and I’ll wait for it.”
He did not like the idea of being a by-product of anything. “Henry, just call me Henry.”
McDonough paused, “Well, Henry, I am Stanley McDonough. My assistant is Violet Jamieson (she nodded) and over there is Benton Fionates, our clerk and reporter. It’s my style you see to know my subjects.”
”Subjects? Why I ought to,” Henry spat and slapped his hand on the glass. He moved his knuckles to his lips and blew on them to relieve the sting. What could he say? “This is another fine mess you’ve gotten me into Stanley.” Henry was amused to see McDonough’s dour expression expand into delayed embarrassment. It was like he did not get the joke the first time but then suddenly figured it out.
McDonough stepped sideways and peered over the shoulder of Benton, who had resumed his feverish typing. “Damn,” Benton said as he slammed his fist on the computer table and keyed in more mathematical quotients and factors to resolve this crisis. “That didn’t work.”
Henry felt his skin crawl when those words penetrated his skull a breath and a half later. “Can’t you at least get me out of this test tube?” Henry asked. He felt more deflated than claustrophobic as he eyed his surroundings again to see if he missed some sort of hidden doorway.
“Well, we’ll just see what we can do about you,” Violet said as she bent over to pick up a dropped piece of paper. Like trees bending in the breeze, McDonough leaned back and Henry leaned forward, both of them with their eyes on Violet’s long, shapely legs extending from beneath her short skirt. They leaned back when she stood up.
Henry remembered that it started as a typical day. He stepped onto the Red Line in Boston on his way to Newbury Street. It was crowded so he grabbed an overhead bar rather than fight off the throngs for a seat in toward the back of the car. It would only be a short ride. The driver had just announced the next stop when a wave of nausea overcame him and the car filled with misty fog. It lasted for only a few moments but the next thing that he knew he had arrived here among these loonies.
“You are in Chico, California,” Violet said, “Almond country.”
Now it was Henry’s turn to run the gamut of facial expressions from confusion to astonishment. “How can that be?” he asked as he peered at the clock on the wall, which read 1:35. He peered at his watch, which read 10:35. He felt dizzy.
“This was our first attempt at physically transmitting molecular matter from one place to another. We have been successful with detouring light from one venue to another,” Violet explained with a toothy grin. “We were supposed to get Benton’s old sneakers in the conference room down the hall. At least that’s what the transmission interceptors were focused on,”
McDonough added, his humility apparently recovered. “Red ones, the sneakers.”
Violet said, “You know one of us should pop down there and see if the red sneakers are still there.” She shot a coy smile at Benton, waved her hand in front of her nose and said wryly, “Although they might have walked away by themselves.”
“Don’t start, Miss Smarty Pants,” Benton quipped without missing a beat on his keyboard.
“Red sneakers? I don’t give a damn about red sneakers,” Henry puffed. “How do I get home?” His thoughts turned to Effie, his wife of 25 years and her sweet smile and golden voice that always reminds him to take out the trash. He wondered if he would ever see her again. These idiots are taking away my life, he wanted to say, but he thought it instead. That incessant five-second delay between moving mouths and audible audio infuriated him.
Violet roared into drawn-out soliloquy of theoretical procedure in which the scientists would attempt to reverse the polarity of the transmission field so it would return Henry to where he came. Her words reminded Henry of a red cardinal. They flew right over his head. Henry decided that he did not want to trust these scientists as far as he could throw them.
“Grand,” Henry sighed. “That’s as clear as mud, just like I completely understand why my hearing is off.”
McDonough postulated, “The five-second delay must be due to a bouncing effect off of the orbiting satellite. Somehow Henry’s molecules had been transmitted from Boston to the upper atmosphere and back to Chico. It appears that some of his particles continue to resonate from the satellite and in theory, part of him may still be riding the... what was it... the Red Line.”
Henry’s head spun. It felt like his soul had disconnected from him. He wondered if that other part was angry as this part. Violet shook her head in agreement with McDonough. The two of them slapped each other’s hands. Henry heard Violet exclaim, “Give me five,” and then heard the slap. Violet shuffled toward a door on the right side of the room and then out. He saw the door close quickly and heard the slam echo in his brain five seconds later.
Henry’s initial infatuation with the lovely Violet disappeared because not only did she bewilder him but also her legs were not all that nice after all. Effie’s face played in his mind even as he wondered where Violet might be going. Meanwhile Benton typed away. Didn’t he ever stop?
“So I take it that I can’t get out of here,” Henry muttered in disgust.
“Oh, you’ll get out of there once we send you back. But there are considerations to be made,” McDonough said. Henry watched him reach for a digital video recorder about one-third of the way through that last sentence. Before the last words were out the camera was pointed squarely at him and the red record light flashed. Henry rolled his eyes.
“It’s for posterity you know, so you might at least act ecstatic.” Violet said as she returned to the laboratory. She marched up to McDonough “The red sneakers are still there. I could tell without even looking.”
“Leave it,” Benton laughed.
The video camera caught Henry’s angry face and rapid-fire open mouth movements. The words came out later and they were not kind.
Benton chimed in, “I think that you may be able to try it again. The data indicates that it may be ready for another go.”
“That’s the thing about government grants,” McDonough said, “We have a lot of time to kill. Oh, Henry keep talking so we can get some more of this. Thank you.”
Henry glowered at McDonough. He pounded on the glass with his other hand and immediately shook it and winced. The glass, he determined, was unbreakable but his hand was not. Now both hands sought comfort and solace behind crossed arms.
McDonough set the video camera down and proceeded toward a large mechanism on which Violet already played with the electronic switches. It hummed and buzzed. Benton typed and the others scurried around the machinery.
McDonough flashed thumbs up in Henry’s direction and shouted a couple of soundless words. They came out, as “You’re golden. You were only passing through.”
“Or transmitting through,” Violet snickered.
The tubes above Henry flashed slowly and then quickly. Henry felt that now familiar sensation of nausea building up inside of his gut. He propelled his left hand to his mouth and puffed his cheeks while his right hand grabbed his stomach. He did not think that this was going to feel very pleasant. The moment came when all he saw was black and then...
...And then Henry found himself standing on a cement floor with the squealing sound of metal sliding along a subway guideline. He smelled the aroma of coffee in the air and heard the muddled voices of unconnected conversations all around. He stood in the middle of Boston’s Government Station near the outbound stage for the Red Line. His legs were weak and began to buckle. Two teenage boys raced to his side to help keep him from falling.
“You OK, man?” One of them asked.
Blurred, Henry nodded. He was relieved that the boy’s voice was in sync with his mouth. Henry grasped the boy’s shoulder and steadied himself upon his wobbly feet.
“Hey man, you need new sneakers,” the other boy exclaimed.
Henry looked down. Red sneakers. That was the least of his worries.
Copyright © 2005 by Jeffrey J. Lyons