Categories
Science Fiction short stories

To Engage With Time


Edward Hopper, Nighthawks, Oil painting, Americana,

What makes Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks” painting one of his most celebrated works? Created in 1942, Nighthawks is considered the incarnation of existential art, capturing the alienation and loneliness symptomatic of modern urban life. The following story is inspired by the painting.

I mount the time machine and dial the year nineteen-forty-two. I have a keen interest in the war years. Activities like storming the beaches of Normandy are not high on my priorities list. I stay far behind the front lines. I find the study of American culture during the war years fascinating. I stay away from heavily populated cities to remain inconspicuous. You might say I’m not truly adventurous, excluding, of course, time travel and my voracious appetite for knowledge. I’m a scientist, first and foremost. As soon as I’ve perfected my time-traveling technology, I intend to unveil it in a white paper report and work with a team to use my discoveries for the betterment of mankind.

I finish entering all of the pertinent data into the onboard computer and push the launch button.  Seconds later, the machine deposits me in the small town of Independence, Ohio. On this trip, I find myself on a corner across the street from an all-night diner. My trans-spacial watch tells me it’s two-thirty in the morning. Materializing in small towns on deserted streets in the middle of the night is a proven method for avoiding stampeding crowds.

Illustration of a time machine from the story "A Lesson In Time" by David Gittlin

I’m a bit freaked out by the feeling of emptiness the town exudes. I console myself with the thought that I’ve arrived in the middle of the night and everything is closed except, it seems, the diner across the street.

Through the panoramic window, I see four people sitting at the counter inside. My curiosity peaks as I begin, once again, to study life in the past, this time eighty years ago. This morning will be different than the others in one important respect. It marks the first time I will interact with people and environments of the past. I feel that I’ve learned enough from my previous trips to take this momentous step. And, I can no longer resist the urge to relate to people instead of simply observing them.

As I cross the street, I check my reflection in the large window. I’m dressed appropriately for the era in a blue business suit and matching tie with black wingtip shoes and neatly barbered hair. I’ll blend right in. Swinging open the glass and chrome door, I enter the cafe and take a seat at the counter a measured two seats away from a man sitting by himself. 

The small diner smells of stale cigarette smoke, fresh coffee, and the faint scent of body odor from the man two seats away. To my right, half the wall is fitted with small bins containing tempting muffins, cakes, and breads.  Across the counter, a nice-looking middle-aged couple sit demurely drinking coffee. The man is wearing a gray suit with a matching hat, blue tie, and he’s smoking a chesterfield unfiltered cigarette. The pack lying by his hand on the counter tells me the cigarette brand. The man looks like a lawyer or a doctor. The woman is wearing a green silken cocktail dress. It sets off her blazing red hair nicely. By the looks of the two-carat diamond ring on her hand, I figure the couple is well-off and married.  I suppose the couple is drinking coffee to sober up for the drive home after a festive dinner party.

The man behind the counter approaches me. He is undoubtedly either the owner, or someone related to him. This is an independent operation as so many of these places were before chain automats and eventually Starbucks put most of them out of business.

“Coffee?” the man behind the counter offers. Wearing a blazing white uniform, he’s a smallish man with wire-rimmed glasses who is going prematurely bald.

“Black,” I say.

“You must be new around here,” the man says.

“You could say that,” I reply.

Lifting his eyes from his coffee cup, the man across the counter stares at me. He tips his hat revealing bright blonde hair. Combined with his deep blue-grey eyes, he’s a dead ringer for Peter O’Toole in his signature role as Lawrence of Arabia.

“My name’s Kendall,” he says in a friendly tone.” I wonder if it’s his first or last name. I happen to hate my first name. Who names their kid Saul forty years after the war? It would be a good name for my grandfather. Not for me.

“And I’m Allison,” the woman next to him says.

I’m surprised by the couple’s friendliness. Maybe it’s the late hour and the intimate setting. Maybe people here are friendlier to strangers than they usually are in the other the small towns I’ve visited. Maybe–just maybe–this will be easier than I thought it would be.

Illustration of time travel from the story "A Lesson In Time" by David Gittlin

“My name’s Saul,” I say to the couple. “Nice to meet you.” I turn to the man next to me, half-expecting him to introduce himself. It suddenly occurs to me that the guy hasn’t moved a muscle since I came through the door.

“Ignore him,” Kendall says. “He’s just part of the scenery.”

“I’m sorry for that unkind remark,” I say to the motionless man. He’s heavy-set, dressed in a brownish green striped suit, and looks every bit like a non-descript traveling salesman.

I turn back to the man named Kendall. “If that was a joke, I don’t think it’s funny. People have feelings. Didn’t your mother teach you that?”

The last thing I want to do is get into an argument with these people, but I can’t help saying something.

“You don’t have to worry about his feelings,” Kendall says.

“And what do you think?” I ask Allison. On closer examination, she looks uncannily like Julianne Moore in her role as Clarice Starling in the sequel to “The Silence of the Lambs.”

“Allison is new,” Kendall replies. “She’s still in training. She’s not supposed to talk much.”

“Wait a minute,” I say. “Who are you people?”

Kendall leans down and pulls a strapped leather briefcase from below the counter. He extracts a file, opens it, and begins reading.

“Let’s see. Saul Grossman, age thirty-two, engineer/designer employed by Raytheon Technologies, assigned to jet engine development, invented and now operates a time machine in his spare time. Does that about cover it, Saul?”

I am beyond shocked. Fear and anger compete to control me. Somehow, I manage not to panic. I don’t want to hear the answer to my next question, but I have to ask.

“How do you know so much about me?”

“You’ve been on our radar,” Kendall says. “Now that you’ve decided to interact with the past, it’s time for us to step in.”

I’m still in shock, but a ray of hope may be peaking through the gathering storm clouds. “Are you time lords, or some sort of benevolent time control agency from the future?”

“Sorry to disappoint, Saul. We’re your local branch office of the NSA. We made some adjustments to your time machine after reading your time journal in which you wrote, ‘I’m now confident that I can interact with the past to make the present better.'”

“So, you broke into my house without my knowledge or consent.”

“That’s about the size of it,” Kendal confirms.

I feel my intestines start to melt. “What sort of ‘adjustments’ are we talking about?”

“For starters, we’re not in the past. We’re in a computer simulation where the only thing that’s real is you.”

I try to imagine how this can be happening. Am I talking to naked human bodies floating in an electrochemical solution inside giant Pyrex glass tubs? Are they fitted with electrodes attached to their heads to facilitate thought-transference-voice-activation to their virtual avatars? Or is it a cutting-edge holographic computer program capable of interacting with a real-live me?

I reach into my pocket to push the button on my remote control extractor. I’m not going to stand still for this. Literally. I’ll be out of here and back in good old 2021 in no time–or a few seconds.

Nothing happens.

I try again. Still nothing.

“I forgot to mention we disabled your extractor,” Kendall says with a cheeky wink of an eye.

“So now what?”

“Now you stay here for the rest of your natural born existence, my friend.”

“You’re kidding. Right?

“Afraid not, Saul.”

“You can’t do this.”

“Would you rather be thrown in jail?”

“On what grounds?”

Kendall takes the last sip of his coffee. “We’ll think of something. It won’t be pretty.”

“I can’t believe this.”

“It’s an unfortunate situation, Saul. You’ve become a danger to yourself and the rest of us. You played with fire, and now you’re burned. The good news is we know how to use your technology in the best ways possible.”

Kendall grabs the briefcase and guides Allison to the front door. Before they leave, Kendall and Allison wave goodby. “Have some fun,” Kendall says.”You’re an inventive guy.”

“Don’t leave. Please. There’s so much more to talk about.”

“We’ll check back with you in another thirty years, if you’re still around,” Allison says with a cheerful smile.

Outside the door, I watch Kendall and Allison dissolve into ghostly vapors, then disperse into thin air.

The Time Travel Spiral
Categories
fiction Science Fiction short stories

The Silver Sphere Part 4


If you haven’t been following “The Silver Sphere” or need a refresher, click here for part one and here for part two and here for part three.

A Pulsar From A Distant Star Destroys The Earth

I carried an expensive mahogany bar chair from Jeffrey’s den into the garage. My friend, Jeffrey, has a trust fund that allows him to pursue a career as a freelance photojournalist and writer. I have to admit the man has talent and good taste. And, despite all of our trash talk, Jeffrey has proven he’s a loyal friend with a generous heart. He shares his good fortune with close friends. That’s how this whole thing got started. Jeffrey lent me his posh beach house while he was away in Paris on assignment. One night, while walking on the beach among fingers of salt water waves, and lost in thoughts about endings for my latest mystery novel, I literally stumbled over Arcon.

As I walked back to the house to retrieve Arcon, I came to the conclusion that fate had placed me in this situation. Jeffrey might be writing this story as easily as me. It actually makes more sense for Jeffrey to be writing the story since he writes non-fiction articles instead of fiction novels like me. And, he lives year-round in his stunning, ultra-modern house fronting a lone stretch of Daytona Beach. (Except when he’s not off somewhere on an adventurous assignment).

Luxurious Beach House Den Overlooking The Ocean

I planned to take advantage of my good fortune, if I can call it that. I’d write a screenplay and a novel along with a factual account of my experiences with Arcon. With any luck, I’d be able to crawl back into the good graces of my agent and my publisher. Assuming, of course, Arcon and me and the rest of the world survived the next sixty hours.

I noticed Arcon had remained unusually quiet since the conclusion of our latest mind-boggling discussion in the kitchen. I sensed that my friend from the other side of the Milky Way was gathering his energy to restore my old car for our impending trip to One World Trade Center in New York City. I had read it was the tallest building in the United States, and we were headed to the very top of it. I figured if my interstellar friend had it in him to pull this off, it would be nothing short of a miracle, even for a super-intelligent fellow like Arcon.

One World Trade Center Building Standing In The Manhattan Skyline

After carefully carrying Arcon from the house to the garage, I placed him comfortably on the bar chair. A few feet away, my decrepit red Mazda Miata waited for whatever might happen next.

From what I casually refer to as an eye in the center of his sleek silver body, Arcon began scanning the car with a beam of pale blue light. Suddenly, the blue light bloomed into a cloud. It engulfed the entire car. Then, frenetic energy forms emerged from the cloud. For a few seconds, I was looking at an abstract light sculpture suspended above the car, until the forms shot off to do their jobs. Each glob of energy serviced a different part inside and outside of the car. Then, the blue energy globs congealed to create a throbbing blue blob surrounding the car.

Three Dimensional Abstract Moving Light Sculpture.

I expected to see my ancient sports car begin to morph into a new version of itself like a movie I had once seen. That’s not what happened. Arcon’s only predictable feature is that he’s always unpredictable. I kept my mouth shut. I knew instinctively that I’d be excoriated if I interrupted.

I heard grinding noises coming from underneath the sheath of blue energy. Then came screeching sounds of metal moving against metal, almost like the car was screaming in agony because Arcon had forgotten to administer an anesthetic before the operation. After several minutes of nerve-jangling scaping and crunching, the sounds became more subtle and less excruciating. I heard faint crackling noises. It sounded like Arcon was whipping up a huge batch of popcorn in an oven. Finally, I began to detect the pungent odor of paint thinner.

“I think you should leave now,” Arcon said to me telepathically in my native language of Serbian. “The fumes might make you sick.”

I wasn’t used to this kind of concern from Arcon. Maybe he’s starting to warm up to me, I thought.

Silver Sphere with Streamlined Sides and a Hole in the Middle.

“Don’t flatter yourself,” Arcon shot back. “We don’t have time for you to recover from a poisoning episode.”

“Right. I almost forgot. I’m just a means to an end.”

“Not quite. Now, what color would you like the car to be? Keep it conservative. We don’t want to attract attention.”

I settled on something called atomic silver, a glossy dark gray.

“Done. Now, be a good boy and wait in the kitchen. I’ll call you when it’s safe to come back.”

Following Arcon’s instructions, I returned to the kitchen and cracked another beer. I closed my eyes and thought about the ending of my novel again. The elusive ending finally dawned on me. The detective and the beautiful FBI agent realize they are both too strong-willed to commit to a long-term romantic relationship. To make matters worse, their next cases required them to work undercover in distant locations. ultimately, they come to a decision: to stay friends and perhaps occasional lovers if their paths cross again.

The thought of unhappy endings generated images of something much worse. I saw the deadly pulsar emerge from a wormhole and slam into Mother Earth. A few hours after the Earth exploded into a blinding fireball, there was nothing left but stardust. All the hopes, all the dreams, all the achievements, all the moments of joy and sorrow, all the beauty and all the ugliness—all gone in a heart-beat. It was not science fiction. It was a reality hurtling towards us–getting closer every second.

A Pulsar From A Distant Star Destroys The Earth

“Come, Joseph,” I heard Arcon say inside my head.

A few minutes later, I stood before a glossy new 2012 MX-5 Mazda Miata. I noticed Arcon had made it a convertible.

“Looks even sportier with the hood added.”

“I thought you might like it,” Arcon replied proudly.

“Is there any chance we can take turns driving to New York?”

“Get real, Joseph. Hurry and pack your things. We’ll only have time for a few cat naps and bathroom breaks on the way. Our window of opportunity is shrinking as we speak.”

Apparently, Arcon was picking up our vernacular with each conversation we had. I did not relish the thought of the journey to New York. I’m sure Arcon didn’t have to read my mind to know this. My expression had to be a dead give-away.

I thought I heard Arcon heave a sigh.

“Don’t just stand there, my boy. It’s time to rock and roll !!!”

To Be Continued…

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fiction poetry short stories Uncategorized

The Time Traveler


Time Portal

In troubling times, it helps to get out of our heads. Try this flight into fantasy on for size.

Rush hour traffic

Reading bumper stickers

Bumper to bumper

What if

Suddenly

Time jogs out of joint

No traffic

Traffic-less

No highway

A tunnel

Swings into view

Sea shell music

A pulsing oval

Misty edges

The silver sedan rolls and rocks

Sideways

Front ways

Like a Disney ride

Nothing solid

Out of body

The sedan morphs

Into something else

Sleek

A magnificent steed

The tunnel pulsing faster

Strobe lighting

Compressed

Into atoms

Super nova

Lost in a sea of light

Memories stir like fall leaves in the wind

The broken bridges from here to there

Streaming through the eye of a needle

In multi-colored rainbows

Standing on an orange crate

Selling apples, pears, almonds and honey

To strangers who do not even know they are hungry

Bright sunlight becomes

The dead of night a millisecond later

The traveler astride the platinum saddle of the time machine

Racing through the vortex of centuries

Time Travel Vortex