Thursday, May 26, 2011

Friday Fiction for May 27, 2011

Julie, The Surrendered Scribe, is our gracious host for Friday Fiction this week. While her entry is titled, “No Idea,” you can bet there’s a good idea behind it. Be sure to check it out!

I missed last week, with all the preparations for a dive trip to Mexico, but I made sure to get another installment written for tonight. If you’re just coming to the story for the first time, click back to Part 1 first, and read through to this latest chapter.

Step Through

Part 4

“Ian? Is that you?” His father’s tone changed. “Are you okay? You don’t sound right.”

“Yeah, Dad, I’m fine.”

“Are you in trouble, boy? Something wrong at school? I know you should be in class right now.”

“No, there’s no trouble, Dad. I just - ” His voice broke on the emotions. “I was talking to a friend, and it occurred to me that we just never know when the last time might come to tell someone what they mean to us. I just needed to call and tell you how much I appreciate all that you’ve always done for us.”

“You don’t need to worry yourself none on that count, Ian. You’re gonna be stuck with me for a long time to come. I ain’t goin’ nowhere on any of you. You know that, don’t’cha?”

If you’d succeeded in saving him, we’d already know it. Jeff’s words echoed through his mind. Yeah, Dad, you will go somewhere, but I can’t stop it from happening. “Yeah, Dad, I know.”

“Okay, boy. You’d better get back to class, now, y’hear?”

“You’re right, Dad. I really should get back.”

“All right, then. I need to get on to work soon, too.”

“I love you, Dad.”

There was silence on the other end of the line.

“Dad? Are you still there?”

“Yes, boy. I was just tryin’ to remember the last time you said that to me. Seems when you kids reached a certain age, you just quit tellin’ your mother and me that you loved us.”

“I guess I’m just having a moment of maturity, or something. I should warn you, too, that if you mention this to me later, I’m not going to remember it.”

He chuckled. “I understand. It’s just not cool to say things like that to your old man, huh?”

“Yeah. It’s part of being a stupid kid who thinks he knows everything already, but hasn’t learned anything worth knowing yet.”

“Well, then you’d better get back to class and get to learnin’ it, all right?”

“Sure, Dad. Good bye.” He hung up the phone, and stood there leaning on it for a moment.

“Hey, pal. Are you going to just stand there all day, or can someone else use the phone now?” The guy in the business suit gave him an impatient look, and glanced at his watch.

Ian nodded, and walked away from the corner. He wandered the district, reminiscing over the businesses he and his friends had frequented as kids, and particularly the ones that had closed down in the years since.

The old theater still occupied its corner. In another five years, its single screen and outdated sound amplifiers would lose the battle against the multiplex theaters with their cutting-edge audio systems. The marquis still used large plastic letters, placed one at a time by an employee with a long handled tool. It wasn’t so bad, though, since there were only two titles to change each week. He bought a ticket from the matronly lady in the booth, and handed it to the uniformed usher in the lobby before stopping at the refreshment counter.

Faded red velvet curtains hung down in front of the screen, and music recorded by the local radio station played over the speakers to keep the few mid-day patrons entertained until the movie began. Thread-bare seats in curved rows stood on the uncarpeted floor, which before the final showing that night, would have ample sticky places where customers spilled their sodas. For the first showing of the day, though, the floor was still clean, and Ian slid sideways to the center of one aisle, mid-way back from the screen. The front rows were where you sat with your buddies, particularly for a scary movie. The back row was for sitting with a date, offering the illusion of privacy for those stolen kisses during the slow moments of the movie. The center of the theater was where people sat to just watch the movie, especially since the balcony had been closed several years earlier. Families no longer needed to worry about things being dropped on them by trouble-makers overhead.

The lights dimmed, and the main curtain was raised, while the sub-curtains parted and were drawn to either side of the screen. Random stains on the screen showed before being obscured by the colors of the advertisement for the refreshment stand, and then teasers for new movies that would be arriving soon.

He munched his popcorn as the film started, enjoying seeing the movie on the big screen again after so many years. A few other movie-goers wandered in a bit late, taking their seats as the opening credits played. His home theater system back in his own time gave better sound and picture than the old theater could offer, but there was something comfortable and enjoyable about the style and ambiance of the outdated building. Audiences would forget – they would be mesmerized by bone-rattling audio and the choice of a dozen different movies at the same theater. They would prefer the convenience of the cinema at the mall over having to park in the old downtown area to stand in line at an outdoor box office. The red velvet curtains and the local radio station would be replaced by an always-exposed screen, playing a continuous loop of commercials before the movie started. The “no talking during the movie” admonition would be amended to include no cell phones or texting, and no recording devices.

The world was going to change. He’d already lived through it, and there would be no changing the course of it, but for a few short hours, he could sit back and enjoy life the way it was, when the world still included old theaters and a not-so-old man he called Dad.

To be continued…

Friday, May 13, 2011

Friday Fiction for May 13, 2011

Speak to the Mountain, and find our gracious hostess for Friday Fiction this week, Catrina. What better way to cap a busy week, than with some great fiction?

Did you ever stop to think about what you couldn’t use in the past, if you could go there?

Step Through

Part 3

By Rick Higginson

Ian looked from the check, to Jeff, and then to the floor. “What if I don’t want to step through?”

“Do you think my call was random? Dude, I already know you will, and I know why, even if you don’t know yet. Go – you’ll figure it out once you’re there. Just leave your modern tech here. It won’t do you any good back then, anyways, and if you accidentally pull it out, it could draw more of that unwanted attention.”

He handed his phone to Jeff, and walked through the oval before he thought better of it. I should feel something, he thought. The sensation was no different than if he’d walked from one side of the room to the other, and Jeff smiled at him through the aperture. “I just walk back through when I’m ready to return?” he asked.

“Depends on how long you want to stay. If you’re going to be just a few hours, I’ll keep the Step Through active. If you want to hang around for a few days, though, I’ll shut it off for now, and re-open it after the amount of time you tell me.”

“You’re not pulling my leg? I’m really twenty-one years in the past?”

“Walk around the Step Through; you’ll find I’m not there. Then, go downstairs and find any newspaper machine. Oh, you’ll need this - ” He tossed a keychain through the opening. “Front door key. You’ll find it easier getting in and out the normal way, rather than trying to break in again.”

“Okay. I’ll be back in a few hours, then.”

The stairs were dark, and when he reached for the switch for the LED lights, there was only bare wall. He descended by feel, and emerged into the dimly-lit front room. Light penetrated the dirty windows, except for the much newer one that admitted a bright beam towards a far corner. The dusty floor was liberally marked with scuffs and shoeprints, leading from the repaired window towards the staircase and the door to the back rooms.

He paused at the door, looking through the glass pane. No one milled about the old area, so he slipped the key into the lock and released the bolt. With a squeal that begged for some penetrating oil, the door swung inward, admitting moderately warm, and only slightly damp, air. After locking the door from the outside, he turned and looked skyward. Only a few scattered clouds drifted overhead, and none that even hinted at a threat of snow.

A Navy jet passed overhead, on approach to the nearby air station, and with a sense of wonder, Ian realized he hadn’t seen one of that model flying in over fifteen years. He really did it – I am in the past. Walking faster, he hurried away from the deserted old building, towards the business district and a bank.

The sidewalks soon filled with people, and he fought to keep from laughing at the way they were dressed. I can’t believe we used to think that looked good, he thought, glancing at the way one young man wore his hair.

He found the bank that matched the check Jeff had given him, and waited his turn in line for a teller. When he reached the window, he handed her the check. “I’d like to open an account with this,” he said.

She pointed to a far desk. “New accounts are over there,” she said.

“Oh.” The large sign above the desk stating ‘NEW ACCOUNTS’ made him feel a bit foolish. There appeared to be several people already waiting to create their accounts. “Well, can I just cash the check for now, and open the account later?”

“Certainly,” she said. “May I see some identification?”

Without thinking, he pulled his wallet and opened it to his driver’s license.

Her eyebrows raised for a moment. “I haven’t seen that style before; must be a new type they’re trying out.” She wrote the number on the check, and typed the information from the check into her computer.

With his heart thumping, he quickly put the wallet back in his pocket. Oh, man, if she had paid attention to the dates on my license? I wasn’t quite old enough to drive on this date.

“Are large bills okay?” she asked.

“They’re fine, through I do need some small stuff, too, and maybe some change. There is a payphone close by, right?” When was the last time I needed to ask that question?

She counted out the money, and had him sign the receipt. “Just outside the door, then turn left to the corner. There’s a stand of phones close to the bus stop. Will there be anything else, sir?”

He shook his head. “No, that’s all I need for now, thank you.”

“Have a nice day,” she said, and then looked towards the line. “Next, please.”

There was a wait for a payphone, and he chuckled at that reminder of an obsolete concept. There are cellphones, but not nearly as common or as affordable as in the future. Man, what would they think of my smartphone? A computer that doesn’t do a fraction of what it does, is freakin’ huge.

His turn came for the phone, and he dropped the coin in the slot. He dialed the number from memory, wondering if the time would come that he would ever forget it, and listened to the sound of the ring signal.

His heart jumped when the voice answered with a slightly annoyed, “Hello.”

Ian swallowed hard, and barely managed to choke out, “Dad?”

To be continued...

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Friday Fiction for May 6, 2011

Karlene is our hostess this week, and you’ll find the Linky Tool for Friday Fiction on her blog, Dancin’ In The Rain. Check it out for some refreshing reading, and don’t forget to call Mom this weekend (if she’s still around) and wish her a Happy Mother’s Day.

As promised, here’s Part 2 of Step Through…

Step Through

Part 2

By Rick Higginson

“He is precisely where he appears to be. What has changed is when he is there. I call this a ‘Step-Through.’ It’s a step through time.”

“A time machine? You figured out a way to travel through time?”

“Kind of, but not how the time machine is typically portrayed. Chonos, front!”

The dog jumped back through the oval, and sat at Jeff’s feet, holding the ball up for him to take.

Jeff took the ball, and tossed it to another corner of the room, releasing the dog to chase it. “For longer than we know, we’ve referred to the ‘time line,’ when what we should have been referring to is the time-helix. Time isn’t a straight line, it’s a coil, or a spring, and each wind touches the previous. What this does, is connect between the two winds where they touch. Step through, and you change from this part of the coil, to the previous turn.”

“You’re serious? You can go back in time? You can, like, go back and see the day you were born?”

“Uh, no. You see, the problem with the step through is that it only connects to the point in time that corresponds to the previous turn of the helix.”

“So, how far back is that?”

“Six hundred, sixty-six million, six hundred, sixty-six thousand, six hundred and sixty-six seconds. About twenty one years and fifty one days. That’s the duration of each turn of the helix, and the step-through interval never changes. That’s another difference from classic sci-fi time-travel. In sci-fi, you could return to the moment you left, and to those waiting, it was like you were never gone. With the Step-Through, however much time you spend in the past, is how much time has elapsed here when you return.”

He ventured a hand towards the opening, reaching through even as he leaned around to look at the other side. “This is just too freaky. I can still feel my hand just fine, but it’s not there.”

Jeff laughed. “Sure it is. It’s there, twenty-one years ago. The Step-Through isn’t like a transporter beam that scrambles your molecules and reassembles them on the other side. It’s just a doorway between the two coils, just like stepping from one room to another. If you stick your hand through a door into another room, your hand doesn’t cease to exist if you can’t see it. Think about it – if there was a problem having one part of the body on one side, and the other part on the other, how could Chronos jump through? For at least a moment, he’s on both sides.”

“And this is your business now?”

“Yep. I’ve made a pretty good living with this since building it. I even managed to finance building it by using it.”

“How? I can understand how you could make money with something like this, but how did you finance building it?”

“I anonymously invested in my own work, through a fund I set up just for the purpose. When you know what stocks are going to do well, and especially which IPO’s are going to eventually take off, it’s not hard to make plenty of money. The trick is, don’t put too much in one stock. Good gains from a diversified portfolio keeps the risk of unwanted attention at a minimum.”

Ian stared through the opening, considering the implications. “We could change things. We could stop terrible things from happening with this.” He swallowed. “I could save my Dad. I could tell him to get to the hospital before the heart attack. He could have lived if he’d gotten medical attention right away.”

Jeff rested a hand on his shoulder. “You could try, but I can tell you already, you’ll fail. If you’d succeeded in saving him, we’d already know it. You see, everything we might do in the past, has already happened. We saw that window fixed – it didn’t change from the history we remembered, because I became a part of that history. The same would be true for your Dad. If you went back and contacted him, and told him to go to the hospital the day of his heart attack, he would either ignore your advice, thinking you were some kind of crackpot, or when the time actually came, he’d forget. All the fears of paradox? They’re pointless.”

“But what about things like the mass shootings at schools or offices? Surely, we could save lives on something like that.”

“Any lives you might save with a warning, you’ve already saved. Those that we could, right now, read about having been killed, would still be killed. Even with the Step-Through, we can’t change the past, because it’s already happened. That’s the biggest point you have to understand – whatever times you decide to go through, you’ve already gone through. You won’t be doing something that never happened before.”

“Then what’s the point? Why bother if we can’t change the past?”

“We don’t change the past, but we can change our future, and what we do in the past becomes our knowledge in the now. You’re probably already a wealthy man, but you won’t know what your bank accounts or investments are, until you go back and make them. The money is already sitting somewhere, just waiting until you come back through, knowing where to find it.”

“I guess I should have brought some money along.”

“No worry. Remember that ten bucks I borrowed from you years ago, and never paid back?”

“I’d forgotten all about that.”

“I didn’t. I went back and invested it.” He handed him a check. “Here’s the dividend on the investment, that I went and withdrew last week.”

Ian looked at the total, and then at the dates on the check. “This check is twenty-one years old, and it says, ‘Not Valid After 180 Days.’”

“Okay, let me point out one other thing to be careful about with the step-through. Dollar bills? They have serial numbers. If I grab a circulated dollar that was printed over twenty-one years ago, and take it back to spend, then there will be two bills with that serial number in that time. While the odds are extremely slim, if someone figures out there are multiple bills with the same number, it raises counterfeiting concerns, and attention we don’t want. I started with change – it’s untraceable, and twenty bucks in quarters is still twenty bucks. Twenty bucks on a long-shot horse that history recorded winning, makes for a nice gain. Once I started gaining money in the past, I simply reinvested it.” He pointed through the oval. “Take the check, and either just deposit it in a simple account, or buy some stock that you know will take off. It’s your money now – well, actually, it’s your money back then. That check is worthless now, but on the other side of the Step Through? It’ll be worth whatever you decide to make of it.”

To be continued…