Abyss & Apex : Fourth Quarter 2010: Remembrance of Things Past

Remembrance of Things Past

by James Hartley

 

At 3:17 PM on November 3, 2009, my seventy-first birthday, I pushed the button on my time machine. I had absolutely no idea what was going to happen.

I had found an old handwritten paper that talked about time. The paper was unsigned, but it looked like photos I’d seen of Einstein’s handwriting. It seemed to say one could warp time around to connect the present to a point in the past. As a bachelor with light faculty duties at Montcalm College where I worked, I had plenty of spare time (no pun intended), so I built a time machine. Since it was my birthday it seemed appropriate to set the other end to an earlier birthday, and I chose my seventeenth, in 1955. Then, as I said, I pushed the button.

#
Ken Doyle was standing in the school hallway near his locker, getting ready to go home, and he was feeling good. It was his seventeenth birthday, and it was Thursday, and tomorrow was the big dance, and he had a date to take Jane Stevens to it. Jane was a little odd, she was the only girl at Bradford High School to ride a bike to school. But then he himself rode a bike to school, and likely would most of the year, since he had flunked Driver’s Ed and it would probably be six months before he could get his parents to teach him so he could get his license. He pushed the thought that he would be the only seventeen year old in the school without a license to the back of his mind and tried to concentrate on happy thoughts. His birthday. The dance tomorrow.

“Ken, I need to talk to you,” said a voice behind him. He spun around. It was Jane.

“Hi, Jane. What gives?” he replied.

“It’s the dance. I can’t go with you after all.”

Ken was stunned. “Why not? You said you would. What’s the problem?”

“It’s you, and it’s me, and it’s some girls I’m just getting to be friends with. Look at you! You ride a bike to school, everyone else drives, or walks, or takes the bus. You wear a stupid flannel shirt that looks like it belongs on a farm in Iowa. And you stuff a Booster book and six pens and pencils in your pocket. You’re a total square!”

“But, but, but,” stammered Ken, “you ride a bike to school?”

“Not any more I don’t. Patsy got her license two weeks ago, and her mother is letting her drive to school. She’s taking Beth and Alice, and now my Mom says Patsy can pick me up too.”

“But, but, but,” stammered Ken again, then he couldn’t think of anything to say.

“When Patsy found I was going to the dance with you, she said if I did she wouldn’t drive me after all. And Beth said if I broke the date with you and went alone, she’d introduce me to some cool guys she knew who were going stag. So I’m sorry, Ken, I have to break our date.” She turned and walked away.

Ken stood there feeling like he wanted to sink into the floor. This was the worst birthday, in fact the worst day, he had ever had.

 

#
I had pushed the button on the time machine, and the next thing I knew I was lying on the floor, memories of 1955 ringing in my brain. Apparently I had somehow connected with my earlier self, and relived a horrible scene I had managed to forget about for almost fifty years. So that’s what a time machine does? Is that all that it does?

Then the thought hit me, could it be a two-way transfer? Could I send thoughts to my earlier self? Maybe, just maybe, I could change something, influence the past … hopefully for the better. I would have to figure out what I might want to change.

Well, the shirts, for one. And leave the pocket empty, put the Booster book, pens, and pencils somewhere else. I thought I could remember zippered pencil cases back then, or even notebooks with zipper compartments.

But even more important, the Driver’s Ed class. Back then they gave the class on a stick–three on the column, how lame!–but I have never switched to automatic, right up to my Miata with six on the floor, so I should be able to coach my earlier self. Could I take over the left leg to control the clutch better? Just have to try, I guess.

I got up and went over to the computer to Google a 1955 calendar and figure out when the first driving class was.

 

#
Ken was very nervous. The teacher had bundled the three students into the ’55 Chevy with the special controls and driven over to the big empty parking lot at the Bradford swimming pool, now closed for the season. The teacher got in the shotgun seat with the extra brake and clutch pedals, and each student took the driver’s seat in turn.

The other two students went first, and both did pretty well, admitting on questioning to practicing in the driveway. Then it was Ken’s turn. He climbed into the driver’s seat, looked over the controls, adjusted the mirror as he had been instructed, and took a deep breath. He pushed the clutch pedal to the floor, put the car in first, gave it a little gas, and prepared to let the clutch out.

At that point a little voice sounded in his head, saying, “Let it out slowly, very slowly.” At the same time, he felt a strange sensation in his left leg, as if someone else were controlling it. He went to raise his left foot, but it wouldn’t move very well. It came up slowly and carefully, the clutch engaged smoothly, and the car moved off across the lot. Nearing the other side of the lot, something took over his arms and swung the car in a half circle so it was facing back out. His left leg pushed the clutch down, and he retained enough presence of mind to brake and put the shift lever into neutral.

“You been practicing in the driveway, too?” asked the teacher.

“No, Sir, I’ve just been listening carefully to your instructions on what to do.”

The teacher looked at him unbelievingly, but didn’t say anything.

After the Driver’s Ed class, the school day flew past. Riding home on his bike, Ken stopped at the Five and Dime and bought a new notebook cover with a zipper pocket. It mortally wounded his week’s allowance, but that same little voice told him it was worth it.

When he got home he transferred everything to the new notebook, and put the contents of his shirt pocket in the zipper pocket. Then he went downstairs to the kitchen. “Mom,” he asked, “can I get some new shirts?”

“Why do you want new shirts, Kenny?”

“Well, I heard some guys talking, and one of then pointed at my shirt and they all laughed. One said that my plaid flannel shirt was the squarest he’d ever seen. I want some shirts like all the other guys wear.”

“Oh,” his mother answered. “Well, I’ll see what we can do. I’ll have to talk to your father about the budget, but we can probably squeeze a few shirts in somewhere.” She paused. “By the way, how did your driving class go?”

“It went swell, Mom. The teacher said I seemed to have a real good feel for it.”

“That’s good, Kenny. Maybe I’ll tell your father the shirts are a prize for doing well in driving class.”

 

#
I woke up on the floor again, and saw that several hours had passed this time. Probably a consequence of staying in 1955 for a longer time. I also had a very noticeable headache this time, so I carefully levered myself to my feet and went in the bathroom for a couple of Ibu’s. Then I sat down and just rested for a while, trying to get some strength back.

This time travel really took it out of you, and I still had to go back several more times. I was pretty sure I was going to have to cover the rest of the driving lessons to make certain my seventeen year old self passed. And then November 3 again to check on the results.

I was right, it was only my coaching and controlling that got 1955 Ken through the class. Took me almost a week, present time, to do those two months of 1955, I had to take time after each trip to regain strength for the next one. But finally the class ended and 1955 Ken passed. I was ready to repeat the birthday scene and find out if my efforts had paid off.

 

#
Ken Doyle was feeling good. It was his birthday, and it was Thursday, and tomorrow was the big dance, and he had a date to take Jane Stevens to it. Jane was a little odd, she was the only girl at Bradford High School to ride a bike to school. But then he had been riding a bicycle to school, and would until next week when he went for his license test. His mind was filled with happy thoughts. A driver’s license and no more riding a bike to school. His birthday. The dance tomorrow.

“Hi, Ken. And Happy Birthday,” said a voice behind him. He spun around. It was Jane.

“Hi, Jane. What gives?” he replied.

“Oh, nothing much, I saw you here and wanted to congratulate you on passing Driver’s Ed.”

“Thanks. I just wish I had been able to schedule my test today or tomorrow so I could have driven to the dance. But I guess we’ll just have to ride our bikes.”

“What?” exclaimed Jane, looking startled.

“Just kidding, just kidding. My Mom or Dad will drive us, and pick us up. OK?”

“Of course. You had me going for a moment there, Ken, you’re a great kidder.” She paused, looked at her watch, said “I have to get to the Arrow Magazine meeting. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“So long, see you tomorrow,” said Ken as she walked away.

He stood there for a moment, then jumped as another female voice behind him said, “Hi, Kenny. What were you doing talking to Jane?”

He hated to be called “Kenny” by anyone except his Mom and Dad. He turned to see who it was. “Oh, hi, Simone. I was talking to Jane because I’m taking her to the dance tomorrow. Something wrong with my talking to her?” Now he knew why the voice had called him “Kenny,” Simone was always a pain in the neck.

“You asked Jane to the dance? Why didn’t you ask me? I would have loved to go with you.”

“Well, I don’t know.” He didn’t want to tell her right to her face what a pest she was. “I, well, I just asked her first. Maybe next time I can ask you.” He had absolutely no intention of doing so, but was trying to weasel out of this as gracefully as possible.

“OK, Kenny, I’ll hold you to that.” She moved in close and kissed his cheek, leaving a bright red lipstick mark. “Anyway, I’ll see you at the dance.” She turned and walked off, leaving Ken to try to rub the lipstick off.

 

#
I woke up as usual, lying on the floor. I had managed to change things, all right, but I didn’t much like that bit with Simone. I figured maybe I ought to check things out further, maybe go to the dance, but first I had one more “must” task. I set the controls for the next Wednesday and hit the button.

 

#
Ken climbed into the driver’s seat and the Motor Vehicle inspector got in the other side. He adjusted everything–Dad had been driving on the way over, he didn’t know why Dad hadn’t let him get a little more practice, but that’s the way Dad was. Ken started the car, and when the inspector told him to go, he put the clutch down and put the car in gear. He hit the gas and started to let the clutch out. He could feel the usual tension as if someone was controlling his leg, but by now he pretty much had the feel of the clutch and the controller let him do it himself. There were a few touches of control and a few of the little warning voices in his mind as he followed the inspector’s instruction, but far fewer than there had been during the driving classes.

Finally he pulled up to the curb and stopped. The inspector said, “You passed,” handed him his papers, and got out. Ken’s father, who had been standing there watching, came over, and this time he got in the passenger seat instead of insisting on driving.

“I passed, Dad,” said Ken.

“Congratulations! But you have to get back to school. Drop me at the house, I’ll tell your mother, and you can drive to school for the first time. OK?”

“Yeah, that sounds good, Dad.”

When Ken got to the school, it took him some time to find a place to park. He got in the building just as the bell rang for the end of third period and hordes of students poured out of classrooms and into the halls. As he plowed through the mob to get to his locker he saw Jane, and he waved and called, “Hi!” He was dumbfounded when she went by him, first giving him a quick dirty look, then turning away as if he wasn’t even there.

 

#
I woke up, thinking, Oh, damn, what happened? Now I knew I had to check out the dance. But I needed a little rest first. I took a couple of Ibu’s–sure cure for anything–and settled in the chair. Finally after half an hour I was getting too antsy to wait any longer, so I got up and set the machine for the dance. I pushed the button.

 

#
Ken and Jane walked into the gym holding hands, both smiling. The room had been set up with tables around the dance floor, and place cards on the tables. They found their places and sat down. When the music started they danced, between dances Ken went and got them cups of punch and snacks. The evening was going well until Simone showed up.

“Hi there, Ken, Jane. How’s it going?”

“Hello, Simone,” said Ken. “Everything is fine.”

Jane didn’t say anything, but Simone turned to face her. “Jane, have you been in the ladies room?” Jane shook her head, and Simone continued, “They have a really great display of photos in there, you ought to go take a look.”

Jane turned to Ken and asked, “Do you mind?”

Ken said, “Of course not,” although he thought that a photo display in the ladies room sounded kind of strange.

Jane got up and looked at Simone, who said, “Oh, I’ve seen them already, you go ahead.” Jane walked off toward the ladies room. When Jane had gotten out of hearing range, Simone said, “I’ll just keep you company until she gets back, Ken,” and slipped into Jane’s seat.

But she had barely sat down when a voice came over the speaker, saying, “The next dance will be Lady’s Choice. Go gettum, girls.”

Simone immediately said, “Well, Jane isn’t here to ask you, so you can dance with me, Ken.” She stood up, grabbed his hand and pulled him out of his seat and onto the dance floor before he had time to resist. As they danced, Ken finally figured out that Simone must have checked the dance schedule and sent Jane off to the ladies room knowing the Lady’s Choice dance was next.

When the music stopped, Simone had managed to get them right next to her table. She sat down at her place, and pulled Ken into an empty seat with no place card next to her. She continued to hold Ken’s hands, and when he attempted to pull away, he was amazed at how strong her grip was. He looked around and saw Jane heading back to her seat, a furious expression on her face–now he was sure there had been no photo display in the ladies room.

“Simone, I think I had better go back to Jane. After all, she is my date.”

“Oh, no, Kenny, sit here and talk with me. You don’t want to leave.”

Suddenly Ken noticed that he and Simone were hemmed in by a ring of large male students, mostly jocks, who looked prepared to make sure he didn’t go anywhere. They also made Simone and him pretty much invisible from the dance floor, and from most of the tables in the gym. He realized he was stuck, and he sat there listening to Simone chattering away and making a few non-committal answers.

Finally the announcer called, “Last Dance! Last Dance!” The blockade melted away and Simone dragged him out on the floor. About halfway through the number he saw Jane walking out the door with her friend Patsy and a couple of other girls who had apparently come without dates. He knew Patsy had a license and had probably driven. When Jane couldn’t find him, she had undoubtedly asked Patsy for a ride. He thought briefly about breaking away from Simone and running after Jane, but by then she was out the door and he doubted he could catch her.

When the dance ended, Simone said, “Thanks, Kenny. I really enjoyed dancing with you. My father is coming to pick me up, so you don’t have to drive me home. I’ll see you in school Monday.” She planted another lipstick-laden kiss on his cheek, then turned and walked away. Ken just stood there, stupefied.

 

#
I woke up, as usual, and plopped in the chair, trying to think. All I could do was wonder why, after that, 1955 Ken was surprised when Jane frosted him in school a few days later. I decided she had been avoiding him until the change in his schedule caused by the driving test threw them into contact unexpectedly. What was I going to do about this? If anything.

Suddenly the door opened and someone came in and called, “Hi, Honey, I’m home.” I recognized the voice instantly. Simone! Oh my God, was I married to Simone? I sagged down in the seat. She came around in front of me, pulled some piece of feminine clothing out of a bag and held it up for me to look at. I nodded admiringly, while noting that she wore a wedding ring. Out of the corner of my eye I could see that I was also wearing one. Yes, apparently I was married to Simone.

She put the clothing back in the bag and said, “I’m going to go up and put it on to wear to the party tonight. And you better come get dressed, too. We don’t want to be late.”

I got up and followed her. Memories from this timeline were beginning to surface. I had been married to Simone for almost forty-seven years. Forty-seven years of parties and social events. It was amazing that I had been able to find the time (no pun intended) to build my time machine. What was I going to do? What could I do? I doubted that I could manage more than one or two more trips with all the things Simone had us doing. I was going to have to plan carefully and make those one or two trips count.

It was almost a week before I got back to the time machine, set the dials to my seventeenth birthday, and pushed the button.

 

#
Ken Doyle was standing in the school hallway by his locker, watching Jane walk away. She had wished him Happy Birthday and confirmed their date for the dance, but then had to go to an after-school meeting.

Ken jumped when another female voice behind him said, “Hi, Kenny. What were you doing talking to Jane?”

He turned to see who it was. “Oh, hi, Simone. I was talking to Jane because I’m taking her to the dance tomorrow.” Now he knew why the voice had called him “Kenny,” which he hated. Simone was a pain.

“You asked Jane to the dance? Why didn’t you ask me? I would have loved to go with you.”

“Well, I don’t know.” He didn’t want to tell her right to her face what a pest she was, but suddenly he felt the controlling sensation he had experienced in driving class. It took over his voice and he blurted out, “Because you’re a pain and I don’t want to take you out!”

“Oh, Kenny, what a sense of humor you have.” Simone had the hide of a rhinoceros and remarks like that just rolled off her. She moved in close and aimed a kiss at his cheek. Ken stepped back, and without any volition on his part, his arm swung up and slapped her face, hard, leaving a bright red handprint. Simone paused for a second, then laughed and punched his arm. “Anyway,” she said, “I’ll see you at the dance.” She turned and walked off, leaving Ken shaking in reaction.

 

#
I awoke to find Simone standing over me, tapping her foot impatiently. “Kenny, were you fooling with that gadget again? Honestly, I wish you’d stop, it’s a waste of time. You have to go get dressed, we’re playing bridge with the Enfields tonight and we don’t want to be late.”

I dragged myself to my feet and headed for the bedroom to get dressed. As I was doing my tie, I began to think about what had happened … and what hadn’t happened. Insulting her, even slapping her face, just hadn’t been enough. She must still have pulled the stunts at the dance. The non-existent photos in the ladies room, and the crowd of blockers–she must have bribed them–keeping us from being seen.

Simone had little activity calendars she printed up and left all over the house. There was one on my bureau, and now I looked at it, trying to find a time for one more try. Aha, there was a Red Hat something next week, women only. I would have to go back to the dance, that was the only remaining chance. I could hear Simone yelling at me to hurry, so I put on my tie clip and left the bedroom.

The bridge game that night was a disaster. I was so busy thinking about the dance in 1955 that I misbid, I reneged, I did everything wrong. I didn’t do much better at the other activities that week, either. It’s hard to mess up going dancing, except for occasionally stepping on your partner’s feet. But people get upset when a bowling ball goes in the gutter, bounces out and over the dividing barrier, and scores a strike in the adjoining lane.

Finally it came time for Simone’s Red Hat gathering. As soon as she was out the door, I went to the time machine, set the dial for the dance and pressed the button.

 

#
Ken and Jane walked into the dance holding hands, both smiling. They were having a good time until Simone showed up.

“Hi there, Ken, Jane. How’s it going?”

“Hello, Simone,” said Ken. “Everything is fine.”

Jane didn’t say anything, but Simone turned to face her. “Jane, have you been in the ladies room?” Jane shook her head, and Simone continued, “They have a really great display of photos in there, you really ought to go take a look.”

Jane turned to Ken and asked, “Do you mind?”

Ken started to say, “Of course not,” but suddenly he lost control of his voice, and what he actually said was, “Don’t go, it’s a trick! There are no photos.” Jane looked at him in astonishment. “There’s a Lady’s Choice dance coming up, she’s going to use that to drag me out to dance, then hide me so you’ll think I left without you and break up with me.” Jane nodded and turned to face Simone.

“Has he been drinking spiked punch?” asked Simone. “Of course there are photos.” But her face lacked just a little of her usual total confidence.

Just then a voice came over the speaker, saying, “The next dance will be Lady’s Choice. Go gettum, girls.”

Jane nodded again. She said, “Slut!” then swung and slapped Simone’s face, leaving a handprint brighter than the one Ken had left a few days earlier. “Simone, get out of here. And if I catch you trying to steal Ken again, you’ll get a lot worse.”

Simone stood for a minute, then, realizing that Jane really meant it, hurried off.

Jane turned to Ken and said, “Well, this is Lady’s Choice, may I have this dance?”

 

#
As I awoke, the door opened and a female voice said, “I heard a noise in here. Are you all right, Dad?”

Dad? It wasn’t Simone’s voice, and she and I hadn’t had any children. Then the memory filtered in and I knew it was my daughter Katherine. Jane’s and my daughter. “No, I’m OK. No problem, Katherine.” Through the open door I could hear a herd of elephants–well, small elephants–stampeding through the house. Obviously some of the grandchildren, probably Elisabeth, Victoria, and Alexandria.

Then the door opened wider and Jane entered. “What’s the matter, Ken?” She saw the time machine on the table and continued, “Are you still fooling with that gadget, Dear? What is it anyway?”

“Nothing important, Darling, just something I had a couple of my grad students put together for me. It’s done everything for me that I needed, and I was just about to get rid of it.” I noticed a hammer lying on the table. I picked it up, and smashed the time machine with it several times, leaving nothing but a pile of wreckage. “No, I don’t want it to do anything more, ever.” Then I grabbed Jane and kissed her, long and hard.

creb
 


James HartleyJames Hartley is a former computer programmer. Originally from northern New Jersey, he now lives in sunny central Florida. He has published two fantasy novels, “The Ghost of Grover’s Ridge” and “Teen Angel,” and has a third, “Magic Is Faster Than Light,” due out soon. He has had stories published in the “Desolate Places”, “Strange Mysteries 1 & 2”, “Book of Exodi,” “Christmas in Outer Space,” and “Free Range Fairy Tales” anthologies, and in various e-zines and print magazines. He is currently working on a new novel, “This Wand for Hire.” He is a member of IWOFA and the Dark Fiction Guild. His website is http://teenangel.netfirms.com .

 


 

Story © 2010 James Hartley. All other content copyright © 2010 Abyss & Apex Publishing.

 





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