by Dwight Krauss
“What’s that?” Lewis asked.
“It’s a time machine,” Krieger responded.
“No, seriously, it is.” Krieger patted the top of the stainless steel, refrigerator-looking contraption sitting in his basement. “Works pretty good, too.”
Lewis snorted, “Sure, McFly. A DeLorean, right?”
Krieger laughed. “Funny stuff, Lewis. That’s why I’m giving you the next trip, ’cause you keep me entertained.”
“What’s the gag?”
“No gag.” Krieger pulled a switch and a hatch folded down, showing a cramped jump seat. He gestured, “Go ahead.”
“I’m not getting into that thing.”
“Yes you are. You keep saying how you screwed up your life and if you had a chance to change things, you would.” He flourished a hand. “Here ya go.”
“How stupid do you think I am?” Lewis shook his head. “I know what you’re doing. You’re filming this. When I come out, it’ll look like prehistoric times or something and there I’ll be, all over YouTube, looking foolish.”
“Hm.” Krieger put a hand, professor-like, to his chin. “That’s actually not a bad idea. I’ll save it for Dan. But in your case, this is legit.”
“Stop it, I said.”
“Oh, if you’re worried about paradoxes, don’t. You assume your place in the time stream wherever you come out, so no chance you’ll run into yourself as a baby, like Stewie did. You just pick up where you would have been, with the extra plus of knowing everything that’s going to happen from that time to this.”
“Would you just stop? Geez.” Lewis fumbled with a flux capacitor or something like it on Krieger’s workbench. “I’m not falling for it. Besides, I saw that movie, A Sound of Thunder. Something always gets messed up.”
“Actually, it doesn’t.” Krieger fiddled with the nest of wires snaking out the top of the machine. “Things pretty much stay as they are, except for what you personally change.”
“The Butterfly Effect.”
“No.” Krieger was scornful. “Not that, either. There’s no Time God of Irony. You just make adjustments to your own life. F’rinstance, instead of staying out all night with you guys and failing that physics exam, I blew you off, passed it, graduated, got a doctorate from MIT, and made some distinct improvements to this baby.” He patted it again.
“No you didn’t. All you did was miss the Greatest Night of All Time, something, I believe, you often bitch about?”
“I say that just to keep up the fiction.”
“You’re killing me here, you know that? So, Mr. Time Traveler, why aren’t you the ruler of the world or something? I mean, why you still living in this crappy house?”
“Well, see, that’s the thing.” Krieger frowned. “You still are who you are.”
“Doofus!” Lewis threw his hands out. “How could you go wrong? You’d have known every football game’s outcome since high school!”
“Yeah, but memory is a tricky thing, and I didn’t have the foresight to bring a sports book with me. Even if I did, bookies are suspicious people, and you try to lay a big bet, you attract unwanted attention, know what I mean? Especially when you win two in a row.” He rubbed the top of his head ruefully. “Anyway, I made enough to get the parts to fix this thing up right.”
“Fix it up right? What was wrong with it?”
“You know prototypes, there’s always something not quite in synch. The first one... mind you, not that I’m admitting anything, but the Kamchatka blast definitely wasn’t a meteor.” Krieger waggled an eyebrow.
Lewis stared at him. “You tell me that, and you expect me to get inside?”
“It won’t happen again. I swear.” Krieger blinked at Lewis and once more gestured towards the hatch.
Lewis started to laugh. “Okay, great, good, I gotta admit, this is one of your best. Like that time you got Andrea believing the blizzard of ’96 resulted from one of your particle experiments.”
Krieger chuckled. “Yeah, that was a good one. Not so funny when the CIA showed up, but memorable. This, though,” and he flourished a hand, “isn’t a joke. It’s real, so sit down, strap in, hang on, because it’s gonna be the ride of your life.”
Lewis sighed. “I do not believe a word you’re saying, so any jokiness you hope to extract from this situation is wasted. But I know that if I don’t get in, you’ll hound me for the rest of my life.”
“Okay, okay.” Reluctantly, Lewis grabbed hold of the door handles and pulled and grunted himself into the chair. “I get it,” he said, “the humor comes from watching me squeeze in.”
“That was amusing and I thank you but in about five minutes, you’ll be thanking me.”
“Yeah, you should be walking down the basement steps in about five minutes to tell me your adventures.”
“Right, time travel, but, uh...” Lewis adjusted his cramping neck. “Don’t you mean I’ll be back inside the machine, no sense of having moved at all, and everyone will be purple blobs or something?”
“Purple blobs? Oh yeah,” Krieger nodded appreciatively, “that William Tenn story. I’m surprised you remember it. But seriously, there won’t be any paradoxes. Just don’t expect a lot. And, no, you won’t come back in the machine. It stays here; just you go.” Krieger fumbled with some things on the outside of the refrigerator and a rather alarming vibration started along Lewis’ seat. “Okay,” he said, nodding, “as soon as I close this, you’re gone.”
“I do reserve the right to kick your ass later.”
“Fine.” There was a whoosh of air and the door began descent. “Oh yeah, almost forgot,” Krieger bent down to look at Lewis as the door dropped, “I didn’t own this house in 1973 so, it could be a bit awkward. Just deal with it.”
“June 12th, to be exact. The day you met your wife?”
His wife. Gloria, that sorry, soul-stealing harridan. Good day for Krieger to pick. If there was one thing he needed to undo...
The door closed. Lewis felt like someone stroked him with a sledgehammer. “Ow,” he yelped.
“Aiiieeee!” someone else said, or, more accurately, screamed, which didn’t help the major migraine Lewis now had.
“Please, stop that,” he moaned, muffled, because he was face down on a thick plush orange rug.
“What are you doing in here?” the shrieker shrieked again, which made Lewis wince and look up from his sprawl on the rug and confirm that anyone with that amount of volume and timbre could only be a teenage girl. A cute one: blonde, pedal pushers (pedal pushers?), wearing sandals. Lewis frowned. “Don’t I know you?” he asked.
“Get OUT! Get OUT you pervert, you junkie, GET OOOUUUUUT!” the shrieking reached crescendos Lewis thought beyond the human voice range, but that punishment was secondary to her pulling off a sandal and beating him on the back, which, itself, was trumped by a chihuahua rushing over and grabbing his ankle.
“Stop it stop it stop it!” Lewis protested and dodged his way up the stairs and down the hallway past the surprised Mr. Larken sitting at his breakfast table with a newspaper spread open, the headlines “Dean to Testify on Watergate.” He glared as Lewis scooted past, kicking the dog off his foot, and ran outside to the sidewalk.
Mr. Larken? Wasn’t he in a home now? And wasn’t that Suzie Larken, the class whore? Watergate? Lewis blinked. “No way,” he breathed.
“Duuuuude!” the long-trailed greeting in rich vibrato made Lewis turn. Tree, all six-foot seven of coal-black coolness, Tree, the man, the myth, the current CEO of Calder Securities who resided in a Bahamian condo and a Lear jet, stood there, pointing two fingers at him, wearing white polyester pants, a rayon paisley print long sleeved shirt open to reveal about twenty chains, red platform shoes, and sporting the tenement-hiding Afro he wore in high school. High school. “What’s the haps, Lewis, my man?” and he brought out a twisted fist and proceeded to dap but Lewis got lost.
“Man, you all right?” Tree peered at him, “you ain’t lookin’ too good.”
“Tree,” was all he could say.
“Yeah man!” Tree stepped back into pose. “The one, the only soul brother and woman-lover, dancing machine and in between.” He spun on his gigantic heels, then presented himself.
“Tree,” Lewis gasped, “it’s you.”
“Do I gotta do that again, man? And what you doin’ rushin’ outta Suzie Poosie’s house all jonesing? She lay some trim on you?” Tree waggled his eyes.
“No. Never. Hey, Tree, what day is it?”
“The first of the rest of your life, my man.”
“No, yes, right,” Lewis shook himself, “I mean, what’s the actual date?”
“It’s June 12th.”
“Okay, great. What year?”
Tree looked at him suspiciously, “You messin’ with the Tree?”
“No,” Lewis raised a hand, “swear.”
“’Cause you mess wid da Tree,” and he stood up straight, “you no longer gonna be.”
“I’m serious, dude.”
“Man,” Tree’s eyebrows rose, “you gonna hafta lay some of that superb herb on me. It’s 1973, Lewis, my man.”
“Holy Mother of God,” Lewis breathed. He paused, thinking fast, and grabbed Tree’s arm. “Tree! What time is it?”
“Hey man, lay off the threads!” Tree pulled back and straightened his shirt. “This stuff wrinkles, ya know.” He pulled out a pocket watch, typical Tree. “It’s close on 6, Lewis. Why, you got a date?”
“Yes!” he shouted, “yes I do. With destiny!” Lewis whirled and ran then stopped and ran the other way while Tree watched, amazed. “Which way to Gino’s?”
Tree pointed. “Man, you will get me some of that plant, right?”
“Right,” and Lewis took off. He sped up, amazed at how he flew, how light he felt, how strong. He hit the corner and tore down the street, spotting the red columns of Gino’s in the distance. He accelerated, making it in about three minutes, barely breathing hard. Big difference between 17 and 52, wasn’t there?
“Hey man!” Tom shouted at him from the front of the Valiant. “Where you been? We gotta go now!” and gestured furiously at the car.
“Yeah!” Annie, red-headed little twit, echoed from the other side of the car, standing next to Carol and Dan and Irene, “Starship goes on in 45 minutes!”
Lewis stared at them and knew he had arrived at the most critical moment of his life. “Just hold on a second, I’m gonna get a shake.” They all groaned and Tom threw up his hands. “Hurry up, dude!”
He went in and there she was in line, all slim and brunette and shapely about to order a chocolate milkshake just like he would one second behind her. His heart pounded. My God, she was gorgeous! No wonder he had started kidding her and got invited out and told Tom to go without him and spent the night and they had a great summer and he married her three months later and joined her father’s construction business and spent the rest of his life watching Krieger and Tree and Tom and Irene go off and grow successful and rich while she grew morbidly obese and carping and hateful and ended up taking everything when he stupidly told her about his little honey in the next county.
“Chocolate milkshake,” he said, pushing past her.
“Hey!” she yelped.
“I’m in a hurry,” he said over his shoulder, grinning.
“You don’t have to be a jerk about it,” she moued and huffed.
He took a big, slurping strawful. “So long, Gloria. Have a nice life. Tataaa!” he sang and danced his way out the door and slid into the Valiant next to Annie the twit. “S’go.”
Starship rocked. Hot Tuna rocked, so did Papa John Creech, well, with the help of the weed Tom brought. But what really helped was the lightness of being, the sense of freedom, the soaring. My God, he was free! Annie the twit had her head on his shoulder and it was midnight and they were tooling back, buzzed, spent, ecstatic.
“Stop by Krieger’s house,” Lewis said.
“That dweeb? I haven’t talked to him since he blew us off the other week.” Tom shook his head in disgust.
Right. The Greatest Night of All Time. No paradoxes, Krieger’d said, but best to leave things alone. “Cool,” he said and pulled Annie the twit closer. What the hell, he was free now.
Now? Forever, man!
Six weeks later, he was sitting in Annie the Twit’s living room, terrified. “She’s pregnant.” Annie the Twit’s father loomed over him, ham fists, no neck, strong rumors of mob connections. “You gonna marry her.” He pointed at the red-faced, teary-eyed Twit. “You gonna come work for me. In two months.”
Thirty-five years later, he ran down Krieger’s basement steps.
“Right on time,” Krieger said, looking at his watch.
Lewis stopped in front of the time machine. “Again,” he said.
Krieger shrugged. “Suit yourself,” and opened the hatch, “but, hey, don’t try talk to me again back there about this, okay?”
“Yeah, yeah,” Lewis said and squeezed in, a little harder to do now with his little fingers missing, and Krieger closed the hatch. He looked at his watch and, five minutes later, Lewis came stumbling down the stairs. “Again,” he croaked.
“Lewis,” Krieger shook his head. “Mrs. Crenshaw?”
“Hey!” Lewis shook a fist at him, “how’d I know her tales of being loaded were lies? You could have warned me, ya know!”
“Well, it never occurred to me you’d be stupid enough to hit on the coach’s wife. And, besides, I didn’t know about it until you went back. No paradoxes, remember?”
“I got your paradoxes right here,” Lewis pointed viciously at his own crotch.
“And a case of mutant crabs, too, if the rumors are true. So, you sure you want to do this again? It’s getting Homer Simpson-ish.”
“Just send me back,” Lewis said through gritted teeth.
Five minutes later, Lewis slumped down the stairs. Krieger stared at him. “Good move with the stock picks, I gotta give you that, SEC notwithstanding. But Coach Crenshaw himself?”
“He’s the one who actually had the money.”
“Okay.” Lewis pulled the switch and the hatch opened up. “Here ya go.”
Lewis paused, reached into his jacket and pulled out a ball peen hammer. He advanced on the machine, Krieger watching idly. “No, not this time,” and he reared back for a mighty blow. “As Homer said, ‘close enough’.”
Copyright © 2008 by Dwight Krauss