It was a Thursday afternoon. I was celebrating my first legal drink ... alone.
I was used to being alone, but at that moment I couldn't suppress a feeling of loneliness. It hadn't been a very exciting birthday. I spent the day answering the phone and arranging meetings for this bank executive, and then went straight to the bar. I hadn't many friends to celebrate with and in her drunken stupor, my mother had forgotten she'd birthed me that day 21 years before. (She did send me a "thinking of you" card three weeks prior, so maybe that counted.)
So, I was most surprised, but also rather delighted, when a horse clopped in. The thing -- the horse, I mean -- came right up to me, its giant head inches from my left shoulder. I don't remember having much of a reaction, other than staring at the beast from the corner of my eye. The beer glass was in mid-flight to my lips.
And then the voice: the most fantastic, assuring voice I had ever heard. "Stop! Don, stop! Come back at once!" ordered the male voice. It rolled with a hint of what I'm sure good brandy sounds like, and lingered in my ears like the aftershock of fireworks.
"Well, I am just so very sorry," the man connected to the voice apologized. He pulled the horse back by its reins. He raised a hand at the horrified bartender and manager, "Yes, I know, I'm very sorry. I suppose this is considered a health hazard, yes?" He sighed and turned to me, "I do hope he hasn't caused you too much distress."
I put down my glass, shook my head.
The man (who I guessed to be no more than forty, if a day) wore a pair of tan khakis, Oxford button-down with a red vest overlay, and a rather tattered-looking gray fedora. Coupled with his voice, he looked like something out of a Conan Doyle novel.
"No, not at all," I said as he began to lead his horse away. I nodded to the equine, "Nice horse."
"Oh, the brute's all right when he likes to be."
The horse snorted.
"Sure," I tried, fighting for the words.
My visitor was rightly distracted. "Well, take care." He turned to the employees, "Very sorry. Caio."
He tipped his hat before leading the horse away. The manager erupted in an incoherent cacophony of commands and curses. I'm not entirely sure why, but suddenly I slapped down a twenty and hurried out the door.
It was chilly, but at least the sun was out. I glanced around. It's not as if a horse was inconspicuous. Then, I spotted the swish of a tail disappear around a corner.
I skidded into the alley, calling, "Hey! Hey, wait!"
The man tilted his head. "Eh?"
I shifted my weight. "Um, well, what's with the horse, anyway?"
He turned to face me and smiled. "Don? Oh, he's my travel companion. Handy for a sidekick, you know. No one really bothers you if you've a horse and all that."
"Travel companion?" I looked at the beast. "Don?"
"Don Quixote, actually."
The horse snorted and wagged its monstrous head. The man patted it gently and nodded.
I scratched my own, tiny head. "Where'd you come from?"
The man raised an eyebrow. "Rather curious for a stranger, aren't you?"
"Sorry. I'm James. James Paxton." I stuck out my hand and he eagerly shook the life out of it.
"Well, ol' Jim boy, it's great to meet you. I'm Gregory Larrabee."
"Uh, yeah. Hi." I examined my lifeless hand.
Mr. Larrabee remained for a moment then saluted again. "Well, it's been a pleasure. See you."
He spun on his heel and gave a low whistle. Don Quixote clopped after.
"Hey, wait!" I tried.
I'm not sure why I was so interested in the guy, but he was damn interesting. Maybe it was the horse I was really curious about. Whatever the reason, if not for my curiosity, I would have never been introduced to the extraordinary world of Mr. Gregory Larrabee.
Gregory looked over his shoulder. "Ah? What is it then?"
I glanced at the dirty papers on the ground. "Uh, well, want to get a drink?" His facial expression quickly caused me to follow with, "I mean, I'm just wondering about your horse. I've bet on races before and all."
He looked at the overcast sky and then shook his arm so an oversized wristwatch slid into view. He frowned. "I'm afraid not. I'm in a bit of a hurry."
"Oh, yeah, never mind. Some other time, I guess."
"I'm sorry to say there won't be a next time," he mumbled, then smiled, "Pleasure meeting you. Take care."
I mulled over the words as he wandered farther down the alley. He rounded another corner. I wondered where he was even going by taking the alleyway. Maybe he was lost. I was about to turn away, but as soon as Don Quixote, too, dropped out of sight, I followed.
I peeked around the corner. Mr. Larrabee and his horse had stopped in front of a garbage dumpster. He was poking around the bin for something. I wondered if he was just a homeless guy ... a very articulate homeless guy ... who owned a horse.
He pulled what looked to be a wide, long belt from the rubbish. Various wires and electronic doo-dads dangled from the piece. He wrapped it around Don and fastened it. He did the same with an identical belt he then pulled from the garbage. I had no idea what it was all about. Perhaps it was a new sort of harness.
"Sort of rushing this time, old friend," Gregory muttered to his equine companion. The animal stomped its foot.
"It hasn't worked again," he said, pulling a brown vest from the trash bin. It, too, was covered in the same sorts of gadgets. He looked at the horse, "I keep failing, Don."
He stared at the straps and then cleared his throat. "Well, no matter. Let's be off."
He pulled at his sleeve and the large watch slid into view. He poked around at it and suddenly lights and wires on his vest and Don Quixote's belts began to glow. He replaced his fedora with a leather aviator's hat atop his head and tossed the prior.
The wind picked up and I jumped. Papers swirled in the alley. Mr. Larrabee hopped atop his mount and the wires across them both began changing colors.
"What's going on?" I demanded, emerging from my hiding place.
Both mammals -- seemingly with the same shocked, horrified expression -- turned their heads to me.
"What are you doing?" Gregory exclaimed.
"That's what I'd like to know." I approached for a better look at the electronics and leather.
"You must get out of here!"
I straightened. "Well, you're being rude. I mean, yeah, I'm the asshole for sneaking around, but still. You shouldn't order -- "
"You must get out of here at once!"
"Why? What are those things?" I reached to touch one of the straps, but Gregory slapped away my hand. He caught a glance of his watch.
"It's too late!" He gasped. He suddenly grabbed me by the collar and pulled me half on the horse. "Come here! Hold on tight to my vest -- here!"
"Wait, what -- "
In a rush, he slapped my hand onto Don's strap and the other on his vest. Wind rushed like a hurricane around us, screaming in my ears, and, quite alarmingly, my insides dropped and rose again.
Then, I heard birds singing and felt water -- no, soft rain -- on my face. I realized I had shut my eyes at some point and so slowly opened them. The alley, the city, was gone. We were in a well-manicured field. An orchard of some sort was to our left.
"Oh, get off, you twit!" My stranger-friend ordered, giving me a hard shove.
I fell onto soft grass and blinked.
"What ... I ... where ..." I stumbled over the thoughts.
"You fool," he snapped and then examined his horse. Don Quixote seemed uneasy on his hooves. Mr. Larrabee turned to me, "You've gone and made him ill."
"How'd I do that?" I glanced around at the expansive grounds. A large house sat in the distance. "Where am -- "
"Because you've strained the machine! It's not meant for more than 1500 pounds. We've been able to travel quite comfortably, but your added blockheaded weight has severely strained the calibrations. The temporal flux has pulled on Don much too severely." He jammed his finger in my face, "Thanks to your imbecilic meddling."
"Did you say travel? Temp what?" I stopped and suddenly wretched. I vomited onto the verdant, plush green and held my head. It throbbed.
"That very well serves you right," Gregory Larrabee chided.
I didn't notice the three men approach us. One led Don Quixote away.
"Do check his vitals. He's been knocked a bit this time," Gregory called after.
"Another successful trip, sir," another man remarked, accepting the vest, hat, and gloves from Larrabee.
"Does it look like a success?" The master of the house snapped. He looked indicatively around, then pointed at me. "Does he look like a success?" He snorted and then spun on his heel.
The subordinate hurried after him and I was pulled to my feet.
"Don't worry about Sir. He's most upset from traveling so often," the servant helping me walk said. "I'm sure you must be very interesting, for Sir to have taken you along."
"Huh? He didn't really take me along, I guess ..."
"Hmm. Well, no matter," he said. "Welcome to Briar Ridge."
I marveled at the white-painted mansion in front of me. Vines grew around columns; tall glass windows opened to the cool, rainy breeze; exotic flowers dotted window boxes. I gulped bile and spit, and tried not to look overtly nervous.
An odd-looking car sat in front, in the misting rain. I'd never seen such an automobile. Through the slightly tinted window, I noticed a large dashboard with a series of buttons and knobs scattered about. There was no steering wheel. I'm also fairly certain the machine had only three wheels; its front slightly larger than the back.
"I'll have to adjust the mass capacitor," Gregory Larrabee was saying when I stepped into the large hall. I could see my reflection in the hardwood floors.
Two manservants scurried away. I watched a maid (maybe?) click her way past me with a large, potted plant. It was full of similar exotic-looking flowers as the window boxes. Gregory had been whispering furiously with the remaining assistant. He suddenly smacked his heels together and stood up straight, arms at his sides.
"Oh, Jim," he called, "come with me, please."
He spun back around. His steps echoed. I cleared my throat and followed.
We passed through a heavy door and into a long stairwell. Once we descended into the large basement, my host pushed a button near a stack of firewood. A door swung open in the concrete wall. Gregory nodded and went through.
I weighed my options. I could try to escape, but I had no idea where I was. Whether I could get to the point of trying to figure out where I was proved debatable, in any case. Maybe Mr. Larrabee had bloodhounds to chase down escapees. Maybe his "assistants" were sharp-shooters.
Or, I could follow the strange man into a dungeon, possibly to never return.
I rolled my eyes to the ceiling.
"Do pick up your feet, ol' boy," Gregory Larrabee said, poking his head back into the light.
I twisted my mouth around but decided to tag after him into another, danker and darker stairwell.
"You must've figured things out by now," Gregory posed, skipping a few steps and then waiting for me to catch up.
He stopped. "My dear boy, that I am a time traveler."
I'd been postulating the possibility, but the logical part of my brain refused to accept the idea.
"There's no such thing," I tried, though all evidence pointed to the contrary.
He gave me a quick, incredulous look and then opened the door at the bottom of the stairs with a skeleton key.
"Welcome to my laboratory," he greeted, pushing the door open and waiting for me to pass through.
The room was vast. I could not comprehend how big, exactly, it was; it seemed to spread farther out than the house sitting atop it. A large, metal table sat to my left, covered with various models of computers and wires rushing with electricity. Various machines with blinking lights and spinning gears dotted the area, and several very large bookcases crammed with tomes sat to my right. Stairs led up and down rafters leading to other mysterious places.
In the center of the room sat a large, circular metal platform, surrounded by railings. Cords and wires ran from it to various machines. I spotted a table with what looked to be more of the odd belts I spotted on Don Quixote. These, however, were devoid of the same bright lights.
I slowly turned my head. "Where am I? And what the hell is going on? And who -- "
"Am I?' Gregory inserted with a tilt of his head. He shut the door and stepped down into the laboratory main floor. "I've told you. I'm a time traveler."
I took in my surroundings and stumbled down the metal stairs after him. My head throbbed.
"It's not very hard once you learn the knack of it," he said. He stopped and looked over his shoulder. "Time travel, that is."
I stopped short at a large table covered in beakers full of strange liquids. I picked up a notepad scribbled with diagrams and numbers. He quickly pulled it away with a smile.
I held up my hands. "All right. Where the hell am I?"
"You're at my home, specifically in my laboratory," he answered, donning a white lab coat. "Though, I suppose what you'd really like to know is when are you."
I didn't argue the phrasing. I waited for the follow-up.
"It's 2030," he answered.
I leaned forward. "Come again?"
"2030, Jim Boy." He picked up a small, square remote control-like device and hit a button. A newspaper page projected onto the table. "See? April 27, 2030."
I gawked at the device, then the date, then between the two, deciding which was most impressive. I settled on the date. "I don't believe this," I declared. I looked around. "I need to sit down."
Gregory pushed papers off a paint-splattered chair and pulled it toward me. I eagerly accepted. "Here, here. Pull yourself together. You're still feeling the after effects of your first jump."
I held my head in my hands. "If that's true, then just bring me back, okay?" I mumbled.
"I can't do that, Jim."
I shot him a look.
"Well," he started, shoving his hands in his pockets, "in theory, I can ..."
I tilted my head. "Huh?"
"Temporal paradox, you see," he offered, as if I knew exactly what that meant. He quickly added, "It's quite difficult to guarantee the time you return to is still on this plane."
When he didn't clarify, I demanded, "What are you talking about? Just strap me into one of those vest things and launch me back!"
Gergory Larrabee chuckled to himself. There was a sudden condescending air about him. It made me bristle.
"Jim Boy, it isn't that easy," he explained. He pulled a yellowed piece of paper close and began drawing. "You see, here we are right now," he said, drawing a line and placing a dot on it. "This is our time plane and I picked you up in the past -- here." He made another dot farther down the line. He then drew a series of parallel lines on either side of the first. "This is where it gets tricky. There are other time planes, other 'dimensions,' so to speak. Sometimes you can affect these other, parallel, time planes by altering your own."
I raised my eyes -- slowly -- from the paper to him. I let my expression do the talking. He seemed to understand my confusion and tried again.
"So, I've picked you up in the past, eh? Well, that may have triggered the future on this plane so much that a parallel plane has become your time line. That plane, in turn, may have been altered to compensate, and so on." He drew crisscrossing lines here and there, connected parallel ones. "The more you change the past, the more you change each plane and the whole space-time continuum is altered forever."
He dropped the pencil and frowned. "I've, unfortunately, learned that the hard way."
I let the last comment slide. I was, at that moment, more concerned with myself and the fat, lazy goldfish I left in 2016.
"You're saying the 'me' in this world might not even exist?"
Gregory grinned wildly. "Quite a thought, isn't it?"
I looked at the paper. Then the horrifying realization dug a pit in my stomach and sat uncomfortably inside. "You mean," I swallowed, "I might be stuck here?"
"Sorry, ol' boy." Was his response. He slapped me on the shoulder.
"Why'd you take me along?!"
"Well, it was either that or let you be ripped apart in a most gruesome death."
I felt sick and dizzy. Again.
* * *
I woke to the setting sun streaming through an open bay window. It flooded the large, excessively decorated room I was in. Trinkets and accoutrements littered every available spot in the place. They ranged from gadgets from lost centuries, to whirring devices I had not yet seen in my day. Seven clocks of varying size and design sat on the far wall, ticking in unison. The large, mahogany fireplace was dark. It was much too warm for a fire.
Small yard birds fluttered cautiously about the overflowing plant boxes on the balcony. The breeze made me question the reality of the situation, and so I slapped myself. I quickly regretted it.
I rubbed my cheek and slid off the four-post bed. My shoes were gone. I crossed to the open door and into the hall.
It was scattered with just about as much stuff as the room. Paintings also dotted the corridor walls. I tiptoed down the staircase and debated my next move.
As I was scratching my head (which felt infinitely better), a woman dressed in a conservative black dress came toward me. She carried one of those exotic plants with the magenta flowers.
"Oh, you're awake," she said. "You must be hungry."
"Head on into the dining room -- just that way. It's almost supper time," she explained, pointing to our right. "Master Larrabee will be along shortly."
She didn't give me time to ask about my shoes and scuffed away. I made off in the opposite direction, to the dining room.
"Uh, hello?" I called, pushing open one of the large doors.
A long, fourteen-seat able was the main attraction. Floor-to-ceiling windows were drawn and an opulent chandelier hung from the ceiling.
I spotted table settings at the far end. I might as well sit, I supposed.
The patting sound of my bare feet seemed to echo. I picked up a fork and raised an eyebrow at the many dining utensils at the place setting. I sat. And waited.
I jumped at the parade of people -- house hands, I guessed -- suddenly coming into the room. They carried serving dishes and when they placed the food in front of me, smiled and retreated.
"Um, wait," I tried, catching one by the sleeve.
"Something wrong?" she asked sweetly.
"Uh, no. Well, where is Gregory? And I don't know where my shoes -- "
"Oh, Master Larrabee will be along shortly. He's been in his lab all day," she said, whispering the last part.
She hurried away before I could reiterate the problem of my missing sneakers.
I gazed at the platters and my mouth watered. I must have waited a grand 45 seconds before my patience wore out. I reached for the spoon in the roasted potatoes.
A tremendous "BOOM" erupted through the place. I'm sure it even rattled the walls; the chandelier certainly appeared to move. I dropped the spoon (more like flung it, in fright) and froze.
"That damn contraption! Worthless!" Gregory Larrabee's voice echoed through the halls. "Do good to remind me to get an engine motor that isn't 30 years old, will you?"
He appeared in the doorway, a manservant nodding furiously. He looked just about as worried as me.
Larrabee wore his lab coat, which was caked in dust and grime. He pushed a pair of old, polarized goggles atop his head. His face was covered in dirt, except the places where his eyes had been protected.
He stomped his way to the chair by me, at the head of the table. He dropped into the seat, slapping his hands on the arm rests. He continued to grumble until he noticed me. He shot forward with a grin.
"Ah! You're awake finally! How do you feel? You've been sleeping for hours!"
"I'm okay, I guess."
"Well," he began immediately. "I guess that's not fair to say. I mean, I barely sleep anymore, so perhaps you really haven't slept that long at all," he mused aloud.
He stabbed a hunk of ham and wiggled it onto his plate.
"Uh," I started, "I seem to have lost my shoes."
He held up his wine to the light and mumbled, "Well this doesn't look particularly clean." He switched hands and gazed at his palm. He smiled. "Oh, wait. It seems I've just gone and made it filthy." He turned to me, "Has the reality -- literally speaking -- of your situation sunk in yet?"
I looked at my plate and shrugged. "I don't know if I believe you."
Gregory let out a long laugh. "What? After all you've been through? You're quite the skeptic, ol' boy."
"I know," I muttered, watching him grab a roll. "It's hard to believe, somehow, everything about my past -- even myself -- is completely different."
My dinner companion leaned back in his chair. "Yes, I'd imagine that would be difficult to understand."
I spun a spoon around on the tablecloth. "There's seriously no way I can go back?"
"Quite seriously. You could go back, but nothing would be the same, of course."
"Why not? Just plop me back on the same day and all that."
"I've told you, though: I cannot guarantee I would be able to 'plop you' onto your correct timeline." He tore the bread and munched a piece.
I stared at my plate. Finally, I offered, "Would that really be so bad?"
Gregory stopped, mid-chew, and eyed me. "If you're okay with the possibility of people and things being grossly different than you remember. Not to mention, perhaps running into the 'you' there." He sipped wine.
I didn't lift my eyes. I started to feel angry at him, but I tried to rationalize the situation by convincing myself he was right: I'd be dead if he hadn't taken me.
He noticed my look. "Oh, come off it," he said, patting me on the back. "It's not all bad. You'll stay here. I'm sure you'll like this age."
I tried to return his smile. He followed, "You can help me with these god-forsaken contraptions everyone's asking for."
"For instance, the piece of rubbish in the lab right now," he answered, pointing to the door with his knife. "The state museum asked me to build an automated framing device. It's useless without a powerful enough engine to power the bloody thing."
"You're an inventor?"
"Eh? Yes, I suppose you could say that." He looked at my plate and then dropped two heaping spoonsful of roasted potatoes onto it. "Would you eat something already? I haven't had visitors in ages. The least you could do is pretend to enjoy my company." He finished with a grin: an indication that he was just pulling my chain.
I grabbed a roll. "Okay, but would you tell me where the hell my shoes are?"
"What's the matter?"
"My shoes. Sneakers. They're gone," I explained.
He blinked. "I've no idea. But it doesn't matter; we'll get you new shoes."
I straightened but didn't protest. It didn't altogether surprise me.
* * *
Two months later, I was wearing my own pair of polarized goggles and welding an antenna onto the roof of City Hall. The thing was meant not only to relay radio signals, but also to provide solar electricity to the needy city officials inside.
"All right then, Jim Boy?" Gregory Larrabee called from the ladder.
He had told everyone I was his nephew who had just returned from stowing away with the French Foreign Legion, and now had been taken under his scientific wing. A fantastic yarn, really. Sometimes I'd get overzealous and Gregory would have to nudge my side or stomp on my foot when I'd romanticize about my secret life in exotic places, tracking down corrupt shahs and cruel warlords.
I had the most terrific time, once, at a charity banquet at the state museum. I wowed the eligible young ladies with my tale of sword-fighting a powerful sheik, even going so far as pulling a sabre from a display case and showing off my (non-existent) fencing abilities.
My professor was most amused, but put a stop to my antics once the mayor arrived.
"We have to go to Ms. Pedagroo's place after this," Gregory shouted over the welder.
I finished securely fastening the radio-electric rod in place and flipped my goggles atop my head. "Huh? Why've we got to go there?"
"Her menagerie needs oiling."
He offered no further explanation, picked up some tools, and descended the ladder.
Mrs. Pedagroo's home was a small cottage, covered in vines and with a homey smoke trail floating from a crumbling chimney.
Gregory whistled his way through the small wooden gate and up the pebbled walk. He glanced at me over his shoulder -- probably to make sure I hadn't forgotten or dropped any supplies. I frowned. The stuff was heavy. I readjusted the bag about my shoulder.
My companion lifted the small, iron door knocker and let it fall back. Almost immediately, we were greeted by a small old woman with silver hair and sea-glass eyes. She had the most warming smile on her face. I would not have protested if she hugged me and tried to rub dirt off my cheek with a spit hanky.
"Oh, Gregory," she said warmly, "what a nice surprise!" She held the door open farther. "Come in, please."
"And good afternoon, Lucinda," he responded.
We both followed her into a crowded, yet cozy living room. A large, worn-in armchair sat beneath a sunny window. An unfinished crocheted piece of something sat on an arm. A cup of tea steamed from a side table.
"Can I get you something? A cup of tea?" she asked, puttering into the yellow and blue kitchen, and then back again.
"No, we're fine," Gregory politely refused. "You mentioned you were having trouble with --"
"Oh!" She gave a little squeak. She stood up straight (as much as she could), and lifted her glasses from their comfortable spot, resting from a blue jeweled chain around her neck. She peered at me through the thick glass. "Gregory, you've brought a friend!"
The inventor smacked his forehead. "I'm terribly sorry! Forgive me. This is James Paxton," he said, holding a hand toward me. "He's my nephew. Been helping me out lately."
I pulled the strap up my aching shoulder. I took her outstretched hand. It was soft and wrinkly, and very small. "Ma'am," I said with a smile.
"Oh, what a charming dear," she said to Gregory. She turned back to me. "It must be my lucky day to have two handsome, young members of the Larrabee family in my home."
I spotted Gregory roll his eyes to the ceiling. He smirked.
"So, about your collection," he interjected.
She threw up her tiny hands and gasped. "Yes!" She led us through the kitchen, to the back door. "Something is terribly wrong with the peacock. I've done just as you've said, though." She unlatched the door and a tabby cat ran past us. "I've kept it nicely oiled. I don't know what's happened."
The little cottage's garden was almost as crowded as inside. Iron lawn chairs with rusted, chipped white paint sat on a tiny patio. Various garden accoutrements scattered the lawn. Colorful pinwheels and whirly-gigs danced in the breeze. A variety of birds sat perched around; two, large toucans sat on a branch just over my head.
I leaned in for a better look at an egret standing at my side. Something wasn't quite right. Its feathers were not feathers at all, but intricately layered pieces of white metal. Its eyes were marbles. I glanced around; all the birds appeared the same.
"These aren't real at all!" I exclaimed, poking the egret.
Mrs. Pedagroo had gotten onto all-fours and had her head in a bush. Gregory spun toward me.
"Well of course not. Do you suppose this is the appropriate climate for a peacock, scarlet ibis, or a quetzal?" He gestured to several colorful avian mimics.
One of the toucans squawked. I went to touch it.
"Don't touch them," Gregory scolded. I snapped my hand away.
"Did you make these?"
"Of course I did," he replied, matter-of-factly.
"I've found the poor thing," our host declared, trying desperately to right herself. I (thankfully) dropped the bag and we both rushed to her aid. "Bless you both," she said when she was standing. She pointed to the brush. "It's in there."
Gregory nodded at me. "Be a good lad and fetch it out."
"Fetch what out?"
But he was already leading Mrs. Pedagroo to a chair.
I grumbled something, but reluctantly dropped to my hands and knees. It took me a moment to get the twigs and leaves out of my vision, but I spotted it. A large, round ball covered in the same metallic "feathers" sat in the dirt. Long coiled wires extended out at least three feet. Jewels and metal completed these exquisitely crafted tail feathers.
"Um, hey ... bird ... you okay?" I tried.
I was answered with high-pitched twitter. The "peacock" lifted its copper head and the thin, metal eyelid slowly open and closed. It opened its mouth again, but then froze. Its head twitched and a dull ticking rolled from the slack beak. It returned to normal after a few seconds.
I sighed and grabbed at it. It luckily didn't peck at me or exhibit any sign of protest. It was, however, quite heavy.
After being jabbed in the side and eye by a twig, and scraped by thorns, I emerged with the bird contraption. Gregory was entertaining Mrs. Pedagroo with a story. I dropped my shoulders.
"Uh, hello?" I announced.
Gregory snapped his fingers. He lifted the tool bag and rushed toward me. The peacock's long, wiry tail feathers smacked me in the face.
"Here, put it down here," he ordered. I obeyed. The bird wobbled and looked around. It squawk-ticked and fell forward.
"Looks like a short. Easy to fix, not to worry."
Gregory dropped to his knees and hunted around the deep canvas. He pulled out a screwdriver of some sort.
"Easy to fix," he repeated, twisting off the star-imprinted screws on a panel atop the bird's head.
Gregory fiddled with the various wires inside the panel. Eventually he let out a "ta-da!" and snapped the cover back on. He screwed it back in place and wiped his hands on his pants.
"Good as new!"
The bird presently stood. It cocked its head to one side and then called. Mrs. Pedagroo clapped with delight. The peacock moseyed farther into the garden.
"Oh, you are a live doll, you are!" She complimented. "Thank you very much. Now, about that tea?"
"Really ..." Gregory began to protest.
Mrs. Pedagroo was already on her way inside. "I won't take no for an answer!"
We often traveled around the county, fixing other contraptions for people, much the same as Mrs. Pedagroo. I even accompanied Larrabee to an inventor's convention where he gave a talk on time travel. He was met with stark criticism. We left: Gregory a fuming, grumbling mess of a man, and me trailing after, arms full of various papers and gadgets Gregory had picked up.
In the beginning, I wondered if I really was stuck with him. I began to accept the fact, however, after several months. I didn't so much as mind him as I minded being stuck in his time. (In fact, we had developed quite a rapport and sometimes I really did wonder if I was his long, lost nephew.) I couldn't help but miss "my" home.
I was very much appreciative that he had taken me in and let me become a sort of assistant. (Though, he was partially to blame for me being there to begin with. So, I believe he also felt it was his responsibility to treat me as a guest. Just the same that I felt it was necessary I try to make myself useful.)
He'd attempted two "trips" (as he called them), while I was around. I had not been allowed into his laboratory while he did so. He gave explicit instructions to one of the house hands that I not enter. I most certainly was irritated. Up until that point, I had done nothing short of exactly what he told me to do, with hardly any complaining. Yet, he locked me out? I was insulted.
But then one day, he asked for my assistance. We sat on the veranda one warm evening, sipping shandies. The sun was setting behind the clouds. Don Quixote was plotting around the large yard. Every once in a while, he would come over to see what we were up to, and nibble at my hair.
"Jim, ol' pal," Gregory began, without turning from the orange-red sky. "I've run into a bit of a problem. I need your help."
I raised my eyebrows. "About?"
He finally turned to me. "I've made some adjustments to the machine ... but these adjustments also cause a problem."
"What adjustments?" I hated that he was never direct.
"Well, I've discovered a way to travel back in time and control when I want to return. Remember, I had set the machine to an automatic timer, yes?" He lifted a hand off the table linen. I nodded. "I've figured out that it's as simple as a lever." He snapped a silver box lighter open and lit a cigarette. He continued to play with the lid. "I've simply placed controls on the same electronic frequency."
I waited for him to say something else. When he didn't, I shrugged and adjusted my position in the chair.
"Okay, that sounds great," I offered.
He exhaled toward the sunset. "But the lever ..." he began. "That is the problem." I again waited for the follow-up. He looked at me deliberately. "The lever must be pulled from this end."
I quickly figured out where the conversation was headed. I must admit, I could barely hide my interest. "So," I started, licking my bottom lip, "you need someone in the lab?"
He nodded. "Right. Once the lever on the machine's end is pulled, it sends a signal to this end. When that happens, this button needs to be hit accordingly."
"I see." I desperately tried to hide my excitement. "How'd you figure this out?"
He stabbed the cigarette into the ceramic, turquoise ashtray. "Oh, I put the machine on the automatic setting, but because of my recalibrations, I can see when it sends the signal."
"I thought the point was to put it on manual?"
He tilted his head. "The last I checked, a melon did not have any thumbs. I suppose it'd be quite futile to set it to manual when an inanimate object is involved."
I looked at the table, embarrassed. I cleared my throat. "So, you want me to be on this end when you're actually the one going, not the melon?"
"Quite so. I'd be most appreciative."
"Why haven't you done this before?" I finished off my spiked lemonade.
"The thought did occur to me, yes. But I never had an assistant before!"
I chuckled. "You could just have one of the maids help you."
He sprang forward. "And risk them ruining the whole lot of it?" He sat back. "You jest. I wouldn't trust any of them to work an egg timer."
I was briefly touched that Gregory trusted me that much. But then again, the grandiose responsibility merely involved yanking on a lever.
"I've a trip planned for tomorrow. I'll call on you when it's time." He slapped his hands on the arms of the chair before leaving, rather hurriedly.
Gregory Larrabee's idea of "calling on me" the next morning was by flinging a pillow directly into my face.
I shot up in bed and surveyed the danger. I rubbed my nose.
"Oh splendid, you're up!" he declared innocently.
"Hey!" I glanced at the maroon pillow and pointed at it. "Did you just throw that at me?"
He waved a hand. "Hardly the point." He spun on his heel and called over his shoulder, "Well, come on, we haven't got all day."
I wanted to throw the pillow back at him. Instead, I grumbled as I ripped back the blankets. I planted my feet on the rug and grabbed for my house robe.
"Can I at least go to the bathroom? Brush my teeth?" I didn't let him answer. I was already crossing to the washroom connecting to my room.
Gregory frowned, but said nothing.
"What's so important, anyway? Where on earth do you go?" I mumbled.
"To the past," he responded. He passed through the door. "I'll be waiting in the lab."
He was adjusting the straps of the vest when I walked down the lab's stairs. I spotted a two-foot-long rectangular portable control box on the table by him.
"I was beginning to think you'd occupied yourself with something more deserving of your interest." He scowled. I didn't respond.
Gregory held out the control box to me. "Here it is," he said. "It's an extremely primitive version. It'll be much smaller and cordless one day." With my eyes, I followed the wires from the box to a tall machine close by. It looked like a computer from the 1960s.
"Is this all?" I flipped the box upside-down. Gregory nearly had a heart-attack.
"Careful!" he warned, lunging to catch the machine should I drop it. I held it steady and he tugged at his vest. "And, yes, as a matter of fact, this is all."
"Not much to it, huh?" I inquired, squinting at the knobs. The entire mechanism only had two knobs, a small lever, and a very long antenna.
"Mock all you'd like. It's an incredible advance in the realm of time travel." He turned to the larger, standing machine (covered in infinitely more levers, knobs, lights, and panels). "This, here," he said, pointing to a light bulb protruding from the metal, "will alight and a most excruciatingly annoying sound will erupt when the button -- here -- on my end is pushed, indicating I'm quite ready for you to pull that lever -- there." He pointed to the individual components, respectively.
It seemed simple enough. Then I made a realization. "Wait a minute," I started, as he fiddled with some buttons. The machine whirred and clanked to life. He made his way to the large, metal platform. I followed. "You mean I've got to sit here and just wait?"
He smacked his heels together and stood, arms to his sides. "Yes, obviously," he affirmed. He raised a hand toward the horse. "Right, Don, let's be off."
Don clomped his way over the small ledge, onto the platform. He didn't seem overly excited to go. I wondered if we could trade places. Gregory hopped aboard his mount. He looked down toward me.
"Right then, best stand back," he said, slapping his goggles over his eyes. "And watch for my return call, will you?"
I saluted and returned to my spot by the table.
"See you then," he said and pushed a button.
Electric blue jolts shot up from the platform. A wind picked up. It was the same reaction as my time travel experience. I did my best to shield my eyes. Suddenly, with a loud "zap"-like noise, they were gone.
Some loose papers floated back to the ground. I cautiously approached the platform. There wasn't a trace of them.
"Humph," I snorted. I turned on my heel and plopped onto a stool.
I was jealous that Gregory had never invited me along on any of his trips. He was very secretive about them. I wondered where he went all the time.
I moved around some papers. When I tired of that, I spun around on the swivel stool. I started to get nauseous, so I quickly stopped that. I was already bored.
It only got worse, too. I puttered around Gregory Larrabee's lab, nosing about the papers and gadgets, out of boredom and curiosity, and wandered up and down the platforms. I flipped through a couple of large, fat books on Quantum Physics, but almost immediately gave up that academia.
I was scowling and mumbling about my mentor by 8, remarking about his genius by 9, and by 9:30 I was asleep and snoring.
I was shaken from my slumber by the most obnoxious ringing sound. I fell off the stool and hit myself squarely in the back on a discarded wrench. I pulled at the paper stuck to my cheek (apparently, I'd been drooling), and scrambled to my feet. I held my hands over my ears. I spotted the light blinking.
"Oh shit!' I hunted around for the control box. "Where is it?" I demanded of no one.
I spotted it beneath some yellowed maps. I lunged for it and flicked the small lever. Nothing happened. I panicked, cursed, and grabbed at my hair.
Then I remembered the larger lever. I traced the wires to the large panel on the machine. After staring blankly for a moment, I yanked the large, silver handle. Things sparked and the rush of wind returned.
"By God, I thought you'd forgotten about me!" Larrabee's voice made me re-open my eyes.
He and Don left the platform. Gregory began removing Don's straps, then removed his own vest.
"The thought did cross my mind," I muttered.
"Eh? What's with you then?"
I changed the subject. "Did you have to make this thing have such an annoying sound?" I tapped the metal.
"Like I said, I wouldn't want you forgetting about me."
He hung his vest and Don Quixote's straps over the platform railing. Don clopped across the room to a large metal door. The horse lifted a hoof and stomped on a large, square button on the floor. He whinnied and awkwardly backed away as the door opened. When the path was clear, Don moseyed up an incline and out of sight. I could only assume the passage led outside.
"Well isn't that something?" I posed, looking after the horse.
"What's that?" Gregory asked, hunched over a computer. He punched a few keys.
I watched him for a moment. I twisted my mouth around. "Say," I started, moving a pair of pliers around on the table. "How about letting me come along next time?" I braced for the answer.
Gregory paused. He glanced at me. "You don't want to go where I go."
It was an odd thing to say.
"Why not?" I protested. "You don't ever take me along ..." I suddenly regretted raising the subject. I felt like a child being left with the sitter while his parents went out.
"I don't go to happy places," he answered quickly.
"Well, okay. But can't --"
"It is none of your concern!" he scolded, smacking his hand against the table.
I was more surprised that the topic made him so upset than about the fact he yelled. I stood in my own shock and then declared, "Fine!" I stormed away, up the stairs, out of the lab.
It was a very immature display, I can tell you that.
I sat in an iron lawn chair, scowling at the birds twittering happily in the grass. I slapped at one of the exotic magenta flowers in an opulent pot nearby. The petals sailed to the ground. I sighed.
I cared that I missed out on the Extraordinary Adventures of Gregory Larrabee and Don Quixote, sure; more, though, I cared that I was left behind. After all, I'd left my entire world behind (not that there was much in that world). As much as Gregory made me feel welcome, I felt like an outcast. I didn't think I belonged anywhere. I thought maybe tagging along with Gregory on his trips would help ease that feeling. Or make it disappear altogether.
I must've fallen asleep. I woke suddenly to someone calling my name.
To be continued...
Article © J.C.D. Kerwin. All rights reserved.
Published on 2017-06-12
Image(s) are public domain.