nowhere fast...

Wendy was bummed, it was like she'd given up. Happy Summerfield strolled beside her not knowing what to do with a woman who was bummed. Wendy looked over at his expressionless face and thought about her nephew Steven.

Steven finally started showing human compassion when he was about six years old. Compassion lurks somewhere in everyone, even mass murderers, Wendy thought. Everyone except her boyfriend of six years; a guy named Happy Summerfield. He was blank, thinking about something out there in outer space. Wendy was doomed to handle her sadness alone, because Happy Summerfield couldn't care less.

"It depends on what unit of measurement you're using," he said.

"What does?" Wendy asked between sighs.

"How long... For how long a clock is correct."
"
What are you talking about?"

"A stopped clock."
"
A stopped clock."

"Yeah, a stopped clock."

"What about it?"

"They say a stopped clock is correct twice a day. I believe the correct phrase is, 'Even a stopped clock is correct twice a day,' or something like that. I believe it refers to the fact that there's a molecule of truth in everything somewhere."

"What is your point?"

"Well, I remember using this phrase as somewhat of an icebreaker with a professor during a conversation about science and philosophy."

"A professor?"

"Yes, a Professor Hawthorne I believe."

"Happy, you never went to college."

He closed his eyes, inhaled several gallons of oxygen and continued, "Professor Hawthorne retorted with a question. He asked me how long I thought the clock was correct each time. For how long was the clock correct? Now, this is a strange question, indeed. It depends upon what unit of measurement you choose to use. If you are concerned with minutes, you could say that the clock is correct for one minute and you'd be right. However, if you were measuring in tenths of a second, you would also be correct if you said that it was correct for only one tenth of a second, and incorrect for the other nine tenths."

"I still don't see the point, Hap."

"Oh, I don't know. The whole world perhaps. Maybe the whole world runs on that theory. Maybe everything can be measured with whatever measuring device you choose at the time. Take sadness for example. Right now, you are very sad because you just saw a sad movie. You are driven to tears, so to speak, by what amounts to nothing more than moving shadows cast by a machine. Light shining through a long strip of celluloid.

You are experiencing an emotional response to a repeatable event, and if the event were to be repeated tomorrow, or the next day, you may have an entirely different response to it. In a few days you may be less emotionally vulnerable, therefore your measurement of the sadness of that movie today, would be different that your measurement of it tomorrow."

"I still don't see the point."

"Well..."

"Well, what?"

"I think I have stumbled on the ultimate answer."

"To what?"

"Everything."

"Oh, I see..."

"I have eliminated all measurement problems. I have thrown away all forms of measurement, because they are all ultimately inaccurate!"

"Whatever."

"If you move toward that car over there..."

"Which one?"

"The red Toyota. If you go from here to a point halfway between here and that car, you would be halfway there right?"

"Um, yes, I guess so."

"Now, move half of the distance between that point and the car."

"Okay," Wendy said, taking a few steps toward the car.

"Now, if you keep repeating that process, splitting the distance in half, when would you ever touch the car?"

"Well, I'd touch it when I got right up to it."

"No! If you kept splitting the difference in half, you'd never reach the car! Never!"

Wendy walked to the red Toyota and defiantly touched the hood. She had proven to Happy that it was possible to touch the car.

Happy hung his head in despair as Wendy walked ahead of him toward the parking structure. She was making a solemn vow to herself not to say another word to Happy until they were home, and then it would only be the word, "Goodnight."

"Shall we dance?" Wendy sarcastically asked the old man as she tried to pass him on the sidewalk. He awkwardly stepped back and forth, trying to keep his distance from her. Exasperated, she pushed him aside, "Excuse me," she snapped.

Happy saw the man walking toward him, wondering what Wendy had said to him. Happy looked close and saw that the man was blind. He was walking with his hands outstretched almost like a zombie. His eyes were wide open, but it was obvious that he couldn't see a thing. "Are you okay?" Happy asked.

"Me?"

"Yeah, you all right?"

"Sure. That your wife up there?" He pointed toward Wendy bounding up the metal stairway to the upper lever of the parking structure.

"Well, not quite my wife."

"She's not so happy."

"Nope. She's not so happy. You are exactly correct about that."

"Take it easy," the blind man said as he walked away. He moved in a perfectly straight line to the end of the block, turned right and within seven minutes was on the bus to his apartment on fifteenth street. He arrived home at precisely seven thirty-seven. o
 

anomalous tormenta

© 1996 Burk Sauls

"Alles was man vergessen hat, schreit im Traum um Hilfe."
(All the things one has forgotten scream for help in dreams.)
-Elias Canetti
 

"Go without me! I feel it in my throat!" Danny said, stumbling down the concrete stairs.

"I appreciate all your help, you're a real... nice... family..."

The others didn't know Danny well enough to argue; they pushed on, headed to the car. Heather, a curious six-year old looked back as Danny slipped and fell. By the time he hit the landing, his flesh had become like paint peeling back from swelling meat. Heather thought his head looked like a balloon made out of raw steak.

Heather's mother, Ali, pulled her and little Nate into the Volvo while her father, Nathan ran around to the passenger side. "Go!" he insisted as soon as his butt hit the seat. The engine made an unexpected whizzing sound. "Fuck! It's fucking with the engine!" Nathan spat. The low abrasive rumble was growing louder, and the Folger family looked at one another with paranoid suspicion. "You feel okay, Ali?" he asked tentatively.

"I'm fine. We've got to get the hell out of here with the children! The storm is coming, Nathan!" In the back seat, little Nate made a shocked wheezing sound in his throat. Nathan and Ali's heads whipped around, terrified at what they might see. "You okay, Nate?" Ali asked.

At four-and-a-half, Nate was reasonably articulate, "Throat hurt," he rasped.

Spontaneous tears welled up in Nathan's eyes as he watched his son's face swell and the skin become slick and tight.

Heather began to cry, "His face!" she squealed.

The rumble of the storm churned in the air around them and they knew they weren't getting away from it. The newscasters had no clue what it was, but it was killing everyone relentlessly, mysteriously and horribly. Nathan pulled Ali and Heather from the dead car. "Let's run!" he shouted over the drone.

"Nate! Little Nate!" Ali called back to him, but it was too late. Her little boy was pressed against the window of the back seat, locked into the car, his muscles and tissue swelling; becoming expanding foam. The three remaining members of the Folger family ran into an alley which was littered with moist blobs that had once been homeless people or pedestrians. They ran, blindly hoping that they were running away from the storm, and hoping that maybe it would go away before they were hit by its fury.

Clutching at her throat, the newscaster maintained her professional posture as long as possible. She pulled at the collar of her blouse as if it were burning her skin, and viewers at home saw her begin to change. "The storm seems to be an anomalous warp of some kind... It's spinning counter-clockwise and moving at close to fifty miles per hour across the continental United States. Authorities know nothing of its origin, and there are no reports from anywhere near the storm, which causes instantaneous mutations on an atomic level... Vincent Clark of the University of..." she caught her breath, "Southern Calif..."

Her eyes registered fear, then pain again. The viewers at home then saw their first publicly televised example of what would eventually befall a vast number of them. The newscaster's face swelled and the skin became taut and shiny. She tried desperately to regain her composure, but the skin started to tear. It was like a thin coat of enamel paint, and seemed to flake off of her swelling muscle tissue.

The engorged red meat beneath expanded until it pushed aside all of the skin. The effect was like seeing someone ravaged by an invisible weed-eater. Shocked TV viewers knew at that moment it was no War of the Worlds hoax. What now resembled a large blood-filled slug slumped forward on the news desk, as the sounds of other unseen crew members indicated a similar demise. The camera in the studio panned suddenly up to the ceiling, and the News Channel's final broadcast consisted of sixteen hours of lights and scaffolding before it finally left the air permanently.

The anomaly was one-hundred miles in diameter, dimly lit from within by a rich violet light and throwing debris and dust almost a mile into the black sky, the storm bellowed, cutting a precisely straight line of ruin. It twisted not only the air and land, but the atoms themselves. The storm was a violent chain-reaction out of control, causing even the fragile structure of reality to surrender.

People fled in terror before it, and fields of barren, inexplicable wrongness writhed behind it. It gathered its speed from atrophy and milked its fuel from self-generated chaos. It sucked strength from entropy and two plus two no longer equaled four once the storm passed over.

Nathan and Ali huddled in the corner of the still cold freezer room in the back of the grocery store. Heather was asleep and twitching beside them. Nathan watched the outside from behind the racks of yogurt and cream cheese. He had knocked away the sweating liters of milk to get a clearer view of the grocery store through the glass doors. Ali was clutching a cardboard roll of cookie dough.

"I don't hear anything," Nathan offered optimistically.

"Little Nate is dead..." Ali whispered.

"Little Nate might not be dead, Ali. Maybe he's just not right here right now."

"I still don't understand. He's not with us. I saw him... explode in that car, Nathan. Dead is dead."

"Maybe not anymore."

Ali twisted open the cookie dough container and started pinching off small pieces and absently nibbling on them.
Nathan pulled her closer. "You know the big red spot on Jupiter?"

"Yeah."

"That's what it is. It's a storm like this one, only bigger, and it hasn't pushed its way into the past yet. This storm is like that. Its always here, but it just pops in and out of existence and memory. It spirals around the earth all the time. In front of it, we're in this crazy turmoil, terrified and running away from it, but behind it, everything is normal and we have no memory of it. It only exists in the past, Ali. It doesn't exist in the future."

"I think I understand," Ali said, exhausted, but maybe a little relieved at the hint of hope.

"Ali, I think we should go out and find it. We need to surrender and just let it take us. It's the only way to get Little Nate back and get on with our lives."

"I think I..." Ali had closed her eyes. She was sleeping out of pure desperation. Nathan held her, considering what he had just said. The storm was a natural part of nature. It was always there, but we were never aware of it because we can't remember it once its gone.

Maybe humans had endured this same terror from the very beginning of time, and the memory of it was pulled back with each passing of the storm. Once it passed over, it just didn't exist and never did, until the next time it came along.

Ali, heather and Nathan stood at the edge of the known universe. They watched as the dim blue monster moved across the open tobacco fields tearing trees and dirt from the ground. It almost seemed to have a voice as it roared closer. there was something deeply familiar about it. Nathan felt a strong closeness to the storm, and almost respected its fierce relentlessness.

He held Ali, who held Heather, and as the tingling pain engulfed him, he knew it was true. It had happened to him a hundred times or more. It was a natural part of living in this universe, a purifying process that tore reality into little pieces and then allowed it to return. Never-ending, and awesome, the storm was creator and destroyer, an angry, loving god.
 

the wrong time

Thursday Night. June 17, 2032:

recording
 

I'm driving home from work through Burbank and it has finally occurred to me. I am suddenly able to visualize the final piece of the puzzle, and I think I have solved my biggest problem. I had the revelation a few minutes ago on the curve where Barham becomes Olive. I casually looked over at the Warner Brothers Studios adscreens, the kind of crap I usually try to ignore, when suddenly it hit me.

Those 3D images up there that look about six or seven meters deep, are part of the answer. Stupid scenes from stupid mainstream movies, but some weird abstract theory was tugging at me as I rounded the corner onto Olive. On my left, the descent tube to a late nineteen-hundreds nostalgia restaurant I'd never been in called The Copper Penny completed the picture that was half-formed in my mind. The resonant frequency of an old copper penny and those ridiculous preview trailers... The idea of a 3D image that isn't just an image. Frequencies matching the exact resonance of certain sub-atomic structures.

Roundness, copper, its guts could function as virtual particles though the result would be a solid wave. The atomic components of consciousness, time and the infinitely small distance between... Well, needless to say, as I speak into this rusty voice-recognition note pad, I am risking violent death and criminal prosecution, because I have perhaps stupidly pulled up into the commerce lanes and am currently dodging huge, screaming transport carriers in a frantic effort to get home before I forget this whole thing. I must drive defensively, because I have three citations already. One more and it's public transportation until hell freezes over.
 

By the way, just for posterity's sake, my name is Rodney Bright, and I'm twenty-seven years old. I live in Burbank, California, and in my spare time, I dabble in quantum electronics, even though I hate the word "dabble." I work at Doptek, a quantum electronics company, and I think I may have solved the time-travel problem. Uh-oh, cop nine o'clock, gotta concentrate.
off----

recording

Later (I survived and managed to avoid the law, by the way), here at home, I tried my theory out. I breadboarded together a virtual simulation on the comp, and it worked perfectly mathwise. I have my own virtual environment on a huge Sysk System, which I continually upgrade and update. I can try anything in there and see the results immediately.

All the psychodata of most of my friends and accomplices are updated along with the environmental and ephemeral stuff. I predict that the thirties are going to be the decade of the Second Chance; once everyone has a Sysk on the floor of their apartment and some free time, there won't be as many mistakes made. You can just try everything out on the Sysk before you screw up your real life.
 

I have constructed a physical version of the modulator in the shop downstairs. Finished except for some pieces I need to have made at work. I can't afford a MitchEx 3D extruder set-up of my own, and there's no room for one in my dinky apartment anyway, so I sneak time on the one at the office. I have drawn the parts I need in a 3D modeling program on my comp at home and modemed the info to my work comp. I'll have some time tomorrow during lunch to spit out everything I need. Two of each, in case I break one, of course.
 

Friday Night. June 18, 2032:

recording

Friday night. I'll have all weekend to work this thing out. My book bag is full of pilfered components and the great-looking MitchEx stuff I made during lunch. They came out great because I used this new kind of plastic. The parts have a more finished look, and the surfaces feel better. I based the look of my project's casing on an average lap-top comp. It looks good (and inconspicuous). Plus, so far it feels pretty sturdy.

Everything fits together perfectly and it all seems to be in order for the first trial run. Tomorrow, after some sleep, the timing software should be assimilated into the system, and it will be ready to go. I can't help but remember that scene in George Pal's The Time Machine where Rod Taylor sends the tiny model of his time machine off into oblivion. As a sort of tribute, I made a smaller non-working version of mine to send off like that. I'm able to envelope specific chunks of matter in the field, so I can actually "select" an object and keep it in a selection field indefinitely in the present past and future.

My little model will still be under my influence when it appears in this space at an earlier time. If anyone sees it, it'll be like a little communication from the future. There might even be a mention of the incident in a newspaper. I'll have to check the news files after I do it. I should write something on the screen like, "Hello from the year 2032! Send help!" Almost like a message in a bottle I guess.
 

Saturday. June 19, 2032:

recording

I always figured that If anyone in the future was ever going to construct a time machine, we'd have known about it all along because a time traveler would have visited us by now. Time travel, if possible would have naturally been commonplace from the very beginning. The more I think about this, however, the more I realize that this isn't necessarily one of the fundamental paradoxes.

Just like the pocket watch in the movie Somewhere in Time which never had a real origin because Jane Seymour gives it to Christopher Reeve as a gift in the present day, after Reeve had given it to her in the past. No beginning for the watch. It was destined to be handed back and forth through time for eternity. Each person received the watch from the other, and it was never actually purchased in a watch shop. It really makes you think. Then it starts to make your brain hurt.

Anyway, my point is that the reason we've never been visited by a time traveler is because there hasn't been one until now. Maybe the very act of time traveling will cause a ripple in the past that will change the history books in a subtle way. Hopefully for the better.

One thing is certain: my primary goal and purpose in going back in time is to track down and retrieve a few historical films which have been lost. I know this sounds stupid when I could do great things like stop the assassination of Theresa M. Neil, Martin Luther King or Kennedy. I know that to the average person, old 2D films are probably the most boring thing they can think of, but something is compelling me, and I have always been successful when I follow my hunches. I suppose the old 2D movies are my main obsession.

They are the reason I've been so burned up to figure out the puzzle of time travel. 2D movies are the only philosophy I have. Nothing saddened me more that going to the 2D Film Society screening of the last 2D ever made by a major film studio. That the period at the end of such a spectacular body of work could be so unspectacular makes it all seem so petty and undignified. It was an attempt to be nostalgic I suppose, like when Woody Allen shot Manhattan on monochrome film stock years after the introduction of color. Manhattan was a great film that really captured the beauty of black and white 2D film technique. When Woody, at age 92 was struggling to scrape together funds to make another 2D movie, lost out to that hack Herbert DeRoos... I was devastated. DeRoos made You Stupid Fuck, and of course it flopped. He figured that the sheer novelty of 2D would sell it, but DeRoos didn't, and still doesn't understand that you need strong characters and a good story to make a good piece of entertainment. Woody understood, and even his 3D stuff was better than any of the crap that's out now.
 

I'm going off on a tirade here when I should be excited about the machine. I tapped out the self-test code and sure enough it's ready for a trial. I have positioned the small mock-up and set up my holocam with a fresh disc. The machine has tuned itself to the frequency of the mock-up, but before I do anything else, I'm going to transfer this diary file into the machine's database so I won't have to keep going back and forth between it and my comp.

<FILetransOK>

Done. All self-contained now. A combination televid, comp, notepad and time machine! The perfect companion!
> RE-check Freq. Setting.

<OK.>
Here goes.

EX-ecute
<OK. SEQUENCE INITIATED. [ready/count]

It's counting down. The anticipation is killing me. Where will the little time machine appear? Will anyone see it while its there? Will there be any probl em

<FREQUENCY ACTIVE. SYS-CHEK: OK. SECONDARY SYS-CHEK: OKAY. VARIANT -7.55.
<AUTO RESET ACTIVE. [GO]

It's gone! The goddamned mock-up is gone! It worked! I have it set on automatic so it should be able to bring it back in a few seconds.
There it is! Over in the corner, sort of bashed-up looking. Back from the year 1997! Probably materialized in front of some terrified kid on a swing set (in '97 this apartment complex was a park. I think it was called Stough Park, but I'm not positive).

I need to figure out why it got bashed up like that. Maybe it got hit by a gasoline car or an eighteen-wheeler. Checked the dents and there are no clues. Now I'm frightened to go back myself for fear of appearing in front of an antique two-ton surface vehicle with no sensors to stop it before it kills me. I need to figure out some way of predicting where I'll show up; a reliable method to ensure my safety.

> AC-cess NEWS-files June 19, 1997:

<OK.
<THURS., JUNE 19, 1997 NEWSMENU: [POlitics - WEather - BUsiness - ENtertainment - GEneral]
> WE
<OK. WEATHER: SUNNY, WARM. HIGHS IN THE M
>stop

That figures. The good old days in Los Angeles when every day was sunny and warm.

What I need to do is find a place that still exists exactly as it was at the time I want to travel back to. A place into which I can accurately place myself without fear of interference. Does this mean that I can never travel into the future?

> FI-nd all news references to Stough Park between 1995-1999.
<OK. [none]

Crap.

> CH-eck all architectural, city, building construction and accessible private records and COMPILE an internal LIST of Los Angeles area structures that exist in 2032 that have existed since 1930.

<OK. DONE. LIST: 247K. FILE NAME: ListA

> CR-eate MAP of locations not including private residences or private buildings.

<OK. DONE. LIST: 98K. FILE NAME: ListB

> FI-nd all news references to structures on this list.

<OK. DONE. FILE: 7,946K. FILE NAME: ListC

Now the comp can do all the work of figuring out the best locations for me to go time-hopping. According to several film books I have, the great film director Arthur Pellero screened many of his movies in the Charles Clifford screening room on the old Burbank Ranch backlot. As close as I can figure it, he screened his legendary lost classic The Monster and the Lady there on August 12, 1935.

This screening room is occasionally opened to members of the 2D Film Society for archival screenings of 2D films. Of course I am a member, and tomorrow morning at 10:00, there is a screening of Jaws. I plan to take the machine with me and make my first jump, after the movie of course. I've never seen Jaws on the screen before, and apparently this copy has been restored beautifully.
Sunday. June 20, 2032:

recording

I love this film. It's unfortunate that Steven Spielberg never matched the intensity of Jaws with any of his other films. Not even his Holocaust epic or that dinosaur movie. Of course this is just my opinion. Some folks think The Catcher in the Rye was Spielberg's best film. I feel like the critics loved the film because Speilberg went through such a hellish legal battle to get it to the screen. I don't know...

Everything is set as I write this entry. All coordinates and frequencies are ready for the execute command.

The end credits are rolling now. What a great piece of work this film is. Who would think that a 2D film about something so visual would have the power it has. Proof that you don't really need 3D to create scares and tension.

> IN-itiate time sequence.

<OK. Sequence initiated. [ready/count]

I am trembling, and I think the woman sitting behind me heard the little beep sound the machine made when it initiated the time travel sequence. The numbers on the screen are counting down, I hope nothing screws up. Getting near zero and I am scared to dea....

<FREQUENCY ACTIVE. SYS-CHEK: OK. SECONDARY SYS-CHEK: OKAY. VARIANT -3.42.

<AUTO RESET ACTIVE. [GO]
 

Let me start by saying that the machine works. It works perfectly, but something terrible has happened. I forgot something very important. Didn't have time to write anything while I was there (here actually) in the past. All that stupid talk about paradoxes and the stupid watch Christopher Reeve gives to Jane Seymour, well, it's not like that at all. It's almost funny that the end credits to Jaws are still running up there on the screen and yet I have been through something unbelievable. I could have died, and I might have caused damage that cannot be repaired, not just to myself, but (and I know this sounds ridiculous) to the entire world.

I need to go home, check a few things and collect my thoughts. The woman behind me is looking at me funny. I guess she's never seen someone's hair suddenly get an inch longer before.

off
 

recording
 
 

The first four things I did when I got home:

1) Sat down with the computer/time machine and interfaced it with my bigger home comp. It uploaded several pages of info that I needed.

2) I reset the time machine, isolated and transported (via cellular modem) the info into a previous version of itself. It was successful on the first try (I'll explain later, if I can).

3) I sat the small computer on my dining room table and waited. It vanished just as I'd expected. I'd given myself just enough time to download this info into the big comp.

4) I checked the vid-access tap with my fingers crossed. Flipped through the main 3D entertainment listings, then switched over to the 2D mode. The films listed were...
 

Again, I'm going off on a tangent. I need to just sit here and type out the story. If I'm going to sort it all out in my head, I need to sort the facts out on the comp first. In order of appearance.

I already documented the innocent beginnings of my time machine. The first excited moments when I realized that it just might work. Probably similar to the excitement felt by the guys who first tested the atomic bomb or the neurotap.

I was so excited and determined to go back and grab that stupid film before Arthur incinerated it. So excited that I forgot all about the crazy time-paradoxes I've seen in countless films like Back to the Future, Timechill, Time and Time Again and Time after Time. These are movies that I have almost memorized, and yet there I was initiating the sequence right there during the end credits of Jaws. Anyway, back to the important stuff.
 

There's an old photo in a book I have of Arthur Pellero standing over a fifty-gallon oil drum, apparently burning the only print ever made of The Monster and the Lady. I say apparently because obviously he never burned it at all. That was simply a publicity shot, staged so that there would be no question that the film had been destroyed. Everyone involved was satisfied that it was completely gone, never to be seen by human eyes. The film had been, in the alleged words of the film's star Louise LeMoyne, "...sent to heaven where it belongs! No mortal should behold such a wonder! No mere man should ever lay eyes upon such perfection!" Whatever.

As I was saying, there I was watching the end credits of the old 2D version of Jaws, watching my comp count down the seconds before it activated the frequency that would send me back to August 12, 1935. Completely oblivious to what was ahead of me in the Burbank of the Past.

With a wobbly little beep, somehow distorted by the process itself, the comp informed me that the jump had been successful. I looked up and there on the screen were 2D movie credits. At first I thought that it hadn't worked, and I was still in 2032 watching the end credits of Jaws. Another look revealed that the decor in the room, barely visible in the darkness was slightly different. I must have gasped in shock.

I inhaled smoke, but managed to hold back the coughs. Something was burning and there were people sitting in the row ahead of me who hadn't been there a moment ago. The smoke was rising from the two silhouettes and it took me a second to realize that these men were smoking cigarettes. That was the peculiar smell I'd noticed. They were smoking; the time machine worked.
 

The lights came up and there I was. A guy from 2032 sitting in a screening room in 1935.
 

I recognized the man on the left immediately. He was the great film director I'd admired and studied all my life, Arthur Pellero. The man sitting next to him was Billy Breakfast, Arthur's assistant. My heart was beating so loudly that I was certain the men could hear its relentless pounding. Arthur turned around to face me, "Louise? Hey you're not Louise! Who the hell are you? Get the hell out of here! This is private screening!"
 

Billy, his lumpy little assistant, looked me over and responded, "Louise walked out about five minutes before the end, Boss."

Suddenly I was being pulled by my shirt. A big man was behind me and I was literally being thrown out of the room. "Wait! I have something important to tell you Mr. Pellero! I'm a messenger!" I was desperately trying to think of something important to tell him when he waved his hand, signaling to the big guy to let me go.

"Okay, so what is it you have to tell me?!" he barked.

"I, um..." without much time to think, I held up the time machine. "This thing... This is a new device for making movies Mr. Pellero!"

"What is it?"

"It records pictures digitally onto a disc..." was the best I could do on short notice.
 

He reached out for it. He wanted to hold it and take a closer look, but I knew I couldn't let him actually touch the time machine because he might accidentally hit a button or something.
 

I closed the machine up and stepped closer, looking right at him. Looking at that face that I'd only seen in old 2D black and white still photographs. It was startling to see him moving in color and 3D. "Mr. Pellero, could we speak for a few moments alone?"
 

I guess he sensed that I was sincere. He nodded, "Sure, son. I need to go up to the projection booth and talk to Mickey for a minute anyway. Come with me, we'll talk on the way."
 

When we were alone, I told him the truth. I told him that the device was a time machine, and I'd come back from 2032 to try and rescue the print of the film they'd just watched.

He stopped walking. "A time machine? Like in the H. G. Wells story?"

"Yes! Almost exactly like that!"

He looked me over, noting my clothing and hairstyle. "Prove it," he said bluntly.
 

"Well," I thought for a moment "nineteen-thirty five, let me see... You are about to begin work on a film called Maria's Daughter, or wait a minute that's a few years later. You are currently doing pre-production on Dangerous Paradise. Am I correct?"

He looked shocked. "How could you have know about Maria's Daughter? That is something I began writing this very morning. It's based on something which happened in my own life. Something I've had knocking around in my head forever. It's about my own family..."

"Right. Your mother? Maria is your grandmother or something? She worked in a... Well, in a..."
 

"Yes. A house of ill repute. My word, you are from the future! Or else you can see into my mind like a clairvoyant. You're not a gypsy are you? You're dressed sort of like a gypsy."
 

Arthur was an artistic intellectual with an extremely open mind, so it didn't take much more than a brief demo of the portable comp's calculator and word-processing software to convince him. I was lucky that he wasn't the hard-headed stubborn bull Clark Gable eventually portrayed him as in Maria's Daughter.

We stood for a few moments in the shadows of the darkened hallway between the screening room and the stairway leading to the projection room. He was completely fascinated with the comp/time machine, and rightly so. Imagine the films he could have made with it! "What is this Dangerous Paradise picture you mentioned?" he finally asked sheepishly.

"Oh, that's a great one! Myrna Loy's only genre picture. I mean, fantasy or whatever you call it. She's washed ashore on an island populated by..."

"Dinosaurs?!" he interrupted. "Dinosaurs! That sounds like another idea I just started working on, but we haven't given it a name yet! Myrna's agent called last week... says she'd love to work with me. Wants to do something unusual. Boy oh boy..." He rubbed his chin and a small smile appeared beneath the famous mustache. "Dangerous Paradise... I like it."
 

According to another book I have called Celluloid Wartime, the popular patriotic director Mickey Glass worked for a while during the thirties as Arthur Pellero's projectionist. As Arthur and I walked up the narrow stairway leading to the tiny room, I couldn't help but be in awe of my situation. I was in the same building with two of the biggest legends in the history of Hollywood. I was prepared to greet Mr. Glass with a cryptic comment like, "Mr. Glass, I really admire your films, particularly the ones from your post-war noire era." and let him figure it out, but when Arthur opened the door...

This is where the story gets a little confusing. When Arthur opened the projection room door, the film was still spinning, making a creepy flapping sound, and I smelled more of that cigarette-smoke smell, like someone had just been there. At first, the room appeared empty, but over behind a pile of metal film cans, Arthur noticed something.

Behind the cans, was the body of Mickey Glass. There was a knife, pinning a blood-drenched sheet of paper to his back. Arthur instinctively pulled out the knife, and rolled Mickey over onto his back. He was dead, and probably had been since the beginning of the last reel.

The bloody sheet of paper was still impaled on the knife that Arthur had thrown aside, and I checked it out to see if it was a clue. I could barely read it because the blood had soaked in, but I could see enough. It was a page torn from a magazine, and there on one side of the coated stock was an ad for a laser-disc player. I was pretty sure they didn't have laser-discs in 1935, so of course I was shocked. A closer inspection revealed an ad for a collection of classic 2D films on disc, one of them was The Monster and the Lady, Arthur Pellero's Lost Classic. The ad was circled in black ink.
 

By now, Arthur Pellero was thoroughly convinced that I was telling the truth about the whole time-travel thing. I explained to him that Mickey Glass lying there dead, meant that somehow history had been changed. It was likely that somehow, I had done it, simply by my presence here.

I searched my brain trying to figure out how something like the murder of an important filmmaker could have happened so soon after I appeared. Maybe someone else had traveled back in time. Someone who wanted Mickey dead, but why? Impossible. Like I said before, it couldn't happen, because it hasn't yet! But then again...
 

First, we loaded the heavy cans of film into the rear storage area of Arthur's gasoline surface-car, then Arthur called the cops. Luckily the policemen were admirers of his films and didn't even question us. They showed up in these great-looking black and white gasoline surface-cars with sirens screaming. Outside the studio, it was bright and sunny, and believe it or not, I sort of recognized the area. Certain things still looked the same. The mountains in the distance, though clearly visible and completely naked without the houses and transport stations, were still the same basic shape.

We rolled along the bumpy surface roads toward the old Mulholland Drive area. Arthur's assistant Billy, was driving the car, and it seemed like a death-defying feat of pure abandon every time he turned a corner in the hulking thing. It amazed me that there weren't horrible accidents at every intersection, because none of the cars had sensors or gyros.

They simply drove from point A to point B, trying to avoid all the other gasoline cars and trucks. I was terrified, and I never would have guessed that rolling over the seemingly smooth surface-roads on air-filled rubber tires would be so physically jarring. I had never driven on a surface-road before, even though I was ten years old before they were officially illegal. It seemed primitive, but there was something almost exhilarating about it, and I suppose I could get used to it if I had to.

Arthur's house was absolutely spectacular. Spotless inside and out, the only things out of place were the seed shells scattered around the floor beneath the cage of a large parrot named Chi-Chi. Billy sneered at the parrot as he disappeared into the kitchen. The house was surrounded by extremely realistic plant life, that in retrospect I figured was all completely real and alive. There was a beautiful swimming pool in the back yard filled with crystal-clear water, and Arthur's wife Arlene was sunbathing nearby. "How was it?" she asked without sitting up.

"It was... Well, I thought it was pretty good," Arthur said.

"Yeah?" she prodded.

"Louise wants it destroyed."

"She what?!" Arlene finally sat up and lowered her white sunglasses.

"I'll tell you the whole thing, but first, let me introduce Rodney Bright. He's a... Well, he's not from around here."

She looked me over, "I can see that. Tell me, Rodney, Where do you shop?"
 

"I get most of my clothing from a consumer network. I order with credit from a vid-access channel. Do you have television? I'm not sure, I can't remember if you would have that yet or not."

"Tell a vision? Is that a board game?" she asked.

"No, apparently you don't have one."

"Tell a vision. Hmmmm." Arthur was trying to extrapolate. "Is it a religious thing?"

"No," I said, considering his guess. "Actually, maybe it sort of is. Yes, Arthur, it certainly is a religious thing. Also known as TV."
 

Arthur eventually explained me to Arlene, and she became a lot more personable once she was convinced. According to my comp, Arlene was the second of Arthur's five wives. After she left him in 1943, she married a singer named Herbert Gray and had two kids. One became somewhat famous in a rock and roll band in the sixties. Died of a drug overdose, etc....

I managed to keep them from peeking at the screen of the comp when it would have been too weird for them.
 

I felt pretty clever devising a method of communicating with my home comp from the portable. Considering that we were in 1935, years before the first modem was in use, I figured out a way to patch in to my home comp without using any signal at all. I simply started a new file called: Future Fax (pretty corny), and typed in requests for whatever information I needed.

Just below the info requests, the answer would appear instantly, even quicker than it would have if I'd had access to my files in real-time. I just needed to remember to send the correct information back in time to myself once I returned from my trip. My software found the correct answer file based on key words in my question. It was reassuring, because not only was I receiving the answers to important questions, but the fact that I was alive, and back in my own time told me that I would survive the trip to eventually do it.
 

I still haven't figured out all the paradox stuff, and apparently there's some fundamental problem with the whole process. I sat there for hours trying to reprogram the software so that I could go back to my own time and start the whole thing over with no screw-ups. I knew that if something like Mickey's murder could be caused by my (or some other time traveler's) presence here, other things may have changed as well. Possibly even bigger things could have been altered, and the idea of reappearing inside some new structure on the site of the screening room made it extremely important that I figure out a way to put everything back the way it should be.
 

Luckily Arthur and Arlene left me alone for a while so I could concentrate on the problem. I actually began to communicate with my future-self using the method I described earlier. After overcoming the disturbing and illogical novelty of it, we were exchanging ideas on how to safely return to my own time. My future-self and I decided that nothing fundamental had changed, but a few of the more subtle shifts might interfere and cause a problem. It was a strange feeling to actually speak to myself in an alternate future. We discussed the... Well, here's an excerpt of our conversation:

> Q: What is diffe

<Stop, I know the question. Since this version of the present is my reality, I perceive no difference. You, however, entered the past from a completely different present (yours). It seems like it would be impossible to pinpoint the exact future you need to return to.

> Q: What if there is anoth

<Stop, I know the question again (at least a hint that our alternate presents are similar). Actually, there COULD be another 'you' when you get back. If you were to appear HERE for instance, you would find ME. I have no idea what kinds of disasters this would cause. Is it even possible for two identical beings to exist simultaneously in the same version of the present?
 

So that's the basic idea. We "chatted" for hours and nothing was resolved. I obviously remembered asking my future self those questions, but things change so drastically with even the slightest nudge. I'm remembering some old chaos-cult philosophy about a butterfly in China changing the weather in New York. If I spend an extra quarter of a second brushing my teeth this morning, I just might avoid a surface car crash or something.
 

Finally, I was so exhausted that I fell asleep right there in Arthur's dining room, slumped over the machine. Billy woke me up and showed me to the guest room which contained the most comfortable bed I'd ever slept in. These people really knew how to live, with their huge rooms and amazingly soft beds. I had some wild dreams that night; the kind of dreams I usually have after I drink a lot of coffee. Dreams can attack like a swarm of hornets, and even though you're sleeping, you're not really resting, so you wake up exhausted. Suddenly..
.
My eyes snapped open, revealing the face of an old analog clock with hands. A strange, violent sound hung in my head like the tail-end of a noisy nightmare, and I couldn't figure out if it had been a real sound or an imagined one. The more I thought about it, the further out of my memory it went. I sat up, and gradually it came back to me where I was and what had happened. Suddenly, three things hit me like a hydrogen bomb;

a) I had successfully traveled into the past.
 

b) The time machine was downstairs unsupervised on the dining room table, and
 

c) That sound again! A huge bellowing sound, like a gigantic raven's call, slowed down and amplified. It was so deep and resonant that the entire house shook. I ran to the window and looked out. I couldn't see anything but trees and other houses.
 

I grabbed my clothes and stumbled downstairs, but nobody was there. I looked all through the lower floor, but found no one. Then I saw it... and it saw me! A nightmarish face just beyond the picture window that looked out on the swimming pool. A dinosaur! Huge and definitely alive, he licked leisurely at the water in the pool until he and I made eye contact. He moved closer, and this time the resonant bellowing sound was loud and close enough to completely shatter the window, leaving me there unprotected from the monster.

I ran back upstairs, and behind me I heard the dinosaur tearing his way into Arthur's living room. When I reached the top of the stairs I heard a horrendous explosion of noise, and looked downstairs just in time to see the monster's giant scaled claw clutching at the grand piano. He was trying to step into the house, and his muscular rear legs were grabbing wildly at anything inside the house, as he tried to shove himself into the house.

The piano shot out from under the monster's claw, shattering against the opposite wall, and the monster paused for a moment before shoving even harder. I am certain now that the dinosaur was a Tyrannosaurus Rex, one of the meanest and most terrifying-looking creatures that ever walked the earth. It seemed specifically designed by nature to send its prey into a frenzy of terror. I was in a frenzy of terror, so without thinking, I ran upstairs. In retrospect, not exactly the smartest thing to do.

In the upstairs hall, they appeared, shaking like leaves. Arlene and Billy were huddled behind Arthur who held an antique shotgun in both white-knuckled hands. Billy was hysterically stuttering to someone on the telephone. Arthur ran to me and pulled me into the master bedroom where he had a large collection of guns lined up on the bed. "I'm sorry, Rodney," he mumbled, and it took me about two seconds to realize what had happened. The machine had been set on Automatic, so I could receive messages from the future, and somehow Arthur had changed the date on it. Instead of pulling data from the future, he had pulled a dinosaur and who knows what else back from two-hundred million years ago!
 

He shoved a gun into my arms and slung an ammunition belt over my shoulder. "We have to kill that thing before it gets away!"
 

I was too confused and shocked to be angry with him, so I followed him back downstairs where the creature was still struggling to push itself deeper into the house. It looked like it may have been stuck halfway in and halfway out. Arthur aimed and fired, hitting the dinosaur in the left shoulder. It let loose with another of its deafening screams and all the windows in the house exploded. It thrashed around so violently that I thought the entire house would fall from its foundations and roll down the hill.

"Did you reach George yet?!" Arthur barked at Billy.

"Yeah, Boss. He's on his way to the telephone right now."

"Who are you calling?" I asked.

"I know this fellow. A guy by the name of Six-Gun Garrity. Actually his real name's..."

"George Billiweed! I know his films!" I finished.

"He's got horses. He can chase that thing out of these neighborhoods and up into the wilderness."

Billy handed Arthur the phone. "Here he is, Boss!"
 

Arthur sweet-talked Six-Gun Garrity into running out in the middle of a scene they were shooting down in Hollywood. Six-Gun enlisted his friend Murray Finkle of the comedy duo Finkle and Wilkes to ride with him. They loaded up with pistols and those ropes you swing over your head in a circle. I can never remember what those things are called.
 

While Arthur thanked Six-Gun, I looked over at Billy. There was something different about him. he was looking at me funny, sort of haunted. I felt terrible; I was responsible for this whole mess.
 

It was the most spectacular sight I'd ever seen. Six-Gun Garrity on his horse Mandy, and Murray Finkle still in the characteristic oversized tuxedo and makeup, chasing a confused Tyrannosaurus up into the hills. They were shooting their pistols and shouting things like "ye-haw!" just like cowboys herding cattle in the Old West, or cowboys herding dinosaurs in the movie Valley of Gwangi.
 

As we watched, dark clouds gathered in the northern sky behind the green hills casting a dreamy glow onto the huge letters of the Hollywoodland sign. The men and the creature disappeared behind a small rocky hill, and Arthur, Arlene, Billy and I ran out onto the edge of the property to get a better view of the action. Arlene and I climbed up to the top of the stone wall, while Billy held up a large black thing he called a Kodak. Arthur scolded him about wasting flash bulbs in the daylight, but in his haste to remove the flash-bulb attachment, Billy dropped it, and an entire box of bulbs fell down into the sunken rock garden where they popped, shattering into millions of pieces. Arlene leapt to her feet on the wall and pointed when she finally spotted the dust raised by the chase.

Suddenly, the dinosaur was both visible and audible again. The monster was followed close behind by the two movie stars on their horses. Considering the dinosaur's immense size, it was unbelievable how quick and agile it was. Several times, when it would suddenly spin around on its huge legs and race headlong into the horses, I felt that those brave men riding their twentieth-century mammals were no match for the monster. Somehow, though, they managed to outmaneuver it each time, emerging unharmed from a cloud of dust with more of their "ye-haws!"
 

I would have never even imagined it, but Murray Finkle, the clumsy, scatter-brained butt of his partner's ruthless jokes, was actually quite good with a horse and a rope. He stood up in the stirrups, spun one of those rope-circles over his head, and with a "ya-hoo!" or something like that, put the loop right around the dinosaur's neck. Six-Gun and Mandy galloped around the other side and caught the monster's arm in another loop.

The two men ran their horses in opposing circles around the dinosaur until it finally fell over, wrapped tight like a mummy. It fell close enough to the sign for me to make an educated guess at its size. The creature's head was near the 'W' while its tail, thrashing wildly, left gigantic dusty scratches up and down the letter 'L.'
 

Finkle leaped from his horse and in one dramatic and fluid motion, tied the huge snapping jaws closed with a deft demonstration of expert roping technique. If only I'd brought my holo-cam with me, I could have brought back incredible images of Six-Gun and Finkle securing the thrashing dinosaur to the giant 'A' from the sign and dragging him down the hill into the streets of old Hollywood.

Later that afternoon, when the carpenters were repairing the damage to Arthur's house, we relaxed by the pool. "I can't think of two better men I'd entrust a dinosaur to than those fine fellows." Arthur said.

Arlene, cool and emotionless behind her white sunglasses said, "True. They'll certainly waste no time finding a way to exploit the poor creature."

Arthur and I ended the day discussing his movies. He and I found it a strangely confusing conversation due to the fact that I had information about films he hadn't yet made. I would occasionally ask him about a particular movie, and he would respond with great interest, "Gee, that's a swell idea for a picture! I wish I'd thought of that one!"

"You did, Arthur," I would say.

Okay, back to the mystery of Mickey Glass' murder. The more I thought about it, the more I suspected that he was killed for political reasons. His films have been credited with the surge of patriotism that helped America win World War II. If Mickey Glass never lived to direct Gung Ho! or Without Fear, we might not have won! I was knee-deep in my thoughts when Arthur appeared. It took me a few seconds before I was fully aware of the fact that Arthur was switching on a beautiful art-deco television set. "You've got to see this Rodney!" He said.

"Wait a minute! I thought you didn't have television in the thirties!" I said, sitting up suddenly.

"Television? Of course we have a television! I'm a film director. What serious film director would be caught dead without a TV?"

"But they haven't been invented yet!"

"Rodney, TV has been around since Karl Fruen invented it a few years back."

"So, he invented high-definition color TV?"

"Sure, probably seems pretty old fashioned to you..."

"That's not the point," I said. "Did you ever have a black and white TV?"

"No, I like the wood-grain finish on this one..."

"I mean black and white picture."

"Why would...?"

"Never mind. It's like someone suddenly invented the finished product without the formative process most inventions go through."

"Sure, Rodney."
 

Now I was completely confused. A beautiful, full-color image appeared on the screen which I instantly identified as the famous Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard. Out in front, there was a huge banner that proclaimed, "SEE A LIVE DINOSAUR! ON STAGE!"
 

Okay, the TV problem. Somehow I altered the time-line enough to cause television to be invented years earlier than it was (in my time). When I mentioned TV to Arthur earlier, he hadn't heard of it, but now he owns one, and it's a high-def color set to boot! Seeing a TV set where there hadn't been one mere moments before was strange, but as I looked at the high-resolution image of the Chinese Theater on the screen, something even stranger happened. The familiar architecture went through a bizarre metamorphosis.

Slowly at first, and so subtly, that I barely noticed the changes. Perfectly and smoothly, the building changed shape and color. The effect was something like the movement of the minute hand on an analog clock. It changed, but you couldn't actually perceive the specifics. Anyway, as I watched the newscast about the live dinosaur, the Chinese Theater became Rosen's Log Cabin. The building now resembled a huge log cabin!

"What the hell is that place?!" I blurted.
 

Arthur looked confused. "You're such a movie buff, Rodney, haven't you heard of Rosen's Log Cabin for Christ's sake? It's the most famous movie theater in the world! The place where all the celebrities carve their names in the logs!"

"Two seconds ago that was the Chinese Theater! Arthur, something really odd is happening! History is changing!"

"What do you mean? Chinese Theater?!"

"Things are changing! Everything is changing because of some terrible mistake I must have made... Or will make! We've got to do something!"

"What do you mean changing? I don't see anything changing, Rodney!"

"You can't see it because you're of this time! I'm a... I'm an observer. It's like I'm looking at you through the window of a submarine." That was the best analogy I could come up with at the time.
 

I stabbed away at the keyboard, digging deeper and deeper into the software, desperate to reprogram the time machine. I had a theory about what I call the rubber-band effect. The further out you pull it, the harder it snaps back. Being in 1935 was like being at the end of a rubber band that had been stretched out relatively (no pun) far. My connection to the future kept me somewhat anchored. Somehow I had to figure out a way to cut the "rubber band" at the source, and snap fully into the real 1935. The one that happened in the time-sequence I'm familiar with.

Then it would be simple to get back to the correct future; my future. Then it hit me. If this theory were correct, my alter ego in the future would have done just that, and I'd no longer have this problem. I looked up, the TV was still on, and Arthur was listening to it with a pair of wireless headphones. As he watched the TV, he was fiddling nervously with a rectangular area shaved into the back of his head. A light green pad was imbedded into the skin. The surface of the pad retained Arthur's finger print for a few seconds after he touched it. I figured that it was some kind of touch-sensitive switch or sensor. At this point, 1935 was changing so rapidly that I began to feel dizzy. "What's the pad on the back of your head for, Arthur?" I asked.

"You... I... Rodney, are you okay?"

"Yes, I just want to know what the pad is for."

"You don't have a lock?" he asked.

"A lock? No, I don't have one Arthur, and neither did you a few seconds ago."

"Wow," Arthur said dreamily. "That's so freaky, Rodney. I think I'm beginning to understand what this must be like for you," a perfectly sculptured beard appeared on his face as he spoke.
 

"Arthur, I'm glad you're trying to understand. Otherwise I'd be going insane right now," just as the word "insane" passed my lips, Arthur strobed. He vibrated like a badly aligned 3D holocast, and the whole house flexed as if it were made of rubber during an earthquake. Arthur began to respond, but his voice harmonized with itself, becoming a wash of noise before dissolving completely along with Arthur and his house.

I was left standing there on a dirt path in the Hollywood Hills. Just below me in the brush, were the remains of a gasoline surface car. In retrospect, I wonder if that wasn't Arthur's car I saw overgrown with weeds and rust. I stood there for a few moments collecting my thoughts and thanking my luck that the time machine was with me. It was a few feet away, resting calmly on a small mound of gravel.

I grabbed it, and as silly as it sounds, I hugged it. Gathering my nerves, I finally turned south and looked down into Hollywood. I sighed, relieved to see it down there, the metropolis of Los Angeles beyond it, and snow-capped mountains beyond that. No smog, was I back in a weird version of my own time? It didn't take long to realize that I wasn't. I wandered down through the trails, climbing over the rough terrain and scratching myself to bits on the thick banks of plant life.

Finally I emerged in an overgrown vegetable garden. Tomatoes and Squash grew out of control in the back yard of an abandoned home. Walking a few more blocks, I came to the terrifying realization that there were absolutely no people anywhere.

Everyone was gone. Hollywood was deserted. I walked the "Walk of Fame," and peeked into the windows of souvenir shops and boutiques, but there was no sign of life anywhere, not even skeletons, I thought morbidly. That was when I first heard the ominous droning sound.

off----on

I've seen high-res 3D movies where the images leap out at you, and I've seen hyper-real computer generated virtual realities, but nothing could have prepared me for the shock of seeing... Wait, now I'm getting ahead of myself. I have to keep the events in order.
 

Further down Hollywood Boulevard, the Chinese Theater was back to being the Chinese Theater. The footprints were there just like always, but still I was plagued by the fact that there weren't any people. I stepped out into the street and looked up into the hills. The Hollywood sign was not where it should have been, but Yamashiro's restaurant was right there in it's correct place. Okay, I thought, maybe the Hollywood sign hadn't been built yet. No, I saw Six-Gun Garrity and Murray Finkle haul a kicking tyrannosaurus down Mount Lee tied to the "A."

Then the Capitol Records building caught my eye, but if my Hollywood history was correct, it wasn't built until 1955, and I hadn't touched the controls of the time machine. I heard the droning sound again, this time a little louder, like a huge aircraft getting closer and closer. I grabbed a piece of wood from a police barricade and smashed a window. I needed a place to sit down and figure out how to get back home.

On the fifth floor, I found a nice unlocked office with a comfortable chair and a huge oak desk. I sat down at the desk with my feet up for a few moments, trying to imagine who's office it had been. Martin Scorsese? No, he worked in New York. Billy Wilder? Orson Welles? The office was dark, but I saw framed photos on the walls. I knew that if I stopped to browse, I'd lose valuable time, so I twirled open the venetian blinds and got to work.

It took me a couple of hours to find my place in the resource code I'd abandoned back at Arthur's house, but as soon as I figured out where everything was in the software, I actually began to make some real progress. The reason that my alternate-self didn't cut off my anchor from the future, was because he/I knew that if he/I did that, I'd be trapped here in deserted Hollywood. The reason being; you need a fairly accurate time piece to sync to, otherwise you have no real idea when you are. Does this make sense? It barely does to me, but that's why I think he/I didn't snap me back to the future like Michael J. Fox.
 

Suddenly the room darkened for a moment, as if something huge had passed by the window. I ran to look, but whatever it was, was gone, leaving only the fading drone. "What the hell?" I asked aloud, and the sound of my voice echoing through the empty building gave me goose-bumps. The huge flying thing could be absolutely anything... after all, I'd seen an angry dinosaur trying to crawl into a Hollywood mansion just hours before.
 

I reached over to touch a framed photograph on the wall, and I believe it was that moment that the earthquake hit. Actually, at the time I guessed that it was an earthquake, but I soon discovered that it definitely was not one. The photograph fell to the floor sending bits of glass across the floor as the whole room swayed back and forth. Something smelled awful and I assumed that a sewage pipe had been broken by the quake. Then I felt a peculiar pressure change in the building. My ears popped and involuntary tears formed in my eyes. This odd feeling together with the smell, made me feel sick, but my sick feeling instantly took a back seat to fear when I saw the probe inching its way through the door.

A black, shiny hose was sliding purposefully toward me. It was approximately thirty centimeters in diameter and a cluster of pink scilla protruded from the end of it, propelling it across the floor. On top of it, a bluish knob pulsated as if it were smelling me. It seemed to see me cowering in the corner of the office, and moved closer. I had the distinct impression that this hideous sensory organ was connected to a much larger creature. It was more than likely that it was connected to the huge flying thing who's shadow I'd seen.

I grabbed a small replica of a Turkish dagger from the desk and stabbed the probe right in the top of it's "head." It retracted instantly and the earthquake started again, this time though, it was more powerful. So powerful that I actually heard the building cracking. When the shaking finally stopped, the office was tilted several degrees, signifying that the building had undergone some serious structural damage, and that I must find another place to work, very quickly. The droning started again, but the flying thing was retreating on the opposite side of the building, east, toward downtown Los Angeles. I ran across the hall to try and get a look at the thing, but the office I found had a view of a brick wall, and by the time I climbed a few flights of stairs, the creature was long gone.

Downstairs, I found the entire lobby completely destroyed. The huge thing, which I named "Hindenberg" had forced its way through the glass and steel doors as far as it could go, sending debris and furniture flying. Everything was skewed because apparently it had knocked out several important support beams. The ceiling was uneven, and walls loomed at crazy angles.

I heard a creak and a loud pop, which sent me running out into the street hoping that the entire structure wouldn't fall on me before I was a safe distance away from it. There I was, standing in the middle of Hollywood Boulevard waiting for a seventeen story brick building to collapse, when, guess what? I realized that I left the damned time machine up there in the office on the fifth floor!
 
 

With every step I took, I was certain that the building would finally drop out from under me. I had a very real sense of the floors above me, and the weight of the building. I felt it move, almost sway as I walked down the hallway toward the office. Suddenly, just as I stepped in, the building let out a squeal that echoed up into the Hollywood hills. The squeal was accompanied by a massive shift, and suddenly I found myself in one of those old dizzy houses like they had at the circuses in the old days. The desk where I left the time machine was sliding across the floor like Linda Blair's dresser in The Exorcist. I had to jump out of the way, but I ended up on top of a filing cabinet.

Once everything stopped sliding, I climbed down, searched the debris and in addition to my time machine, I found something that added even more mystery to my situation. I found a pocket comp. Just like the one my father has. A regular Veram voice-activated Pocomp. I was beginning to pin-point the time. Pocket comps like the VVAP weren't in use until the early 00s. I got out of the building as quickly as I could, which meant sliding down hallways on my butt most of the way.
 

Luckily the batteries in the pocket comp still had a little juice left in them. I accessed multi-megabytes of useless information, scanned through the personal journal of a woman named Marcia Ferris and finally determined the date. It was approximately October in the year 1996. Somehow, probably due to Arthur's dinosaur fiasco, I had been zapped ahead sixty years, unless the pocket comp's internal clock only stopped in 1996. I was still quite a few years before my own time, and things had obviously gone very, very wrong.

I started east on Hollywood boulevard, toward downtown. I thought maybe I'd find some clues there. Don't ask me why, but I was also a little interested in finding out what that huge flying monster was all about. I found a working bicycle and almost gave myself a heart attack riding it up into Griffith Park. Finally I arrived at the planetarium which gave me a spectacular view of everything. The most unnerving thing about it was the fact that for the first time, Los Angeles was completely silent. There wasn't a single sound, and I swear I could have heard a pin drop eight miles away in Little Tokyo. Another thing that was not only unnerving but deeply disturbing was the strange shifting lights in the city.

Down near the cluster of buildings in Downtown I saw shadows and a sort of movement within them, almost as if the Hindenberg had hollowed them out somehow. I found an unlocked door around near a loading dock, found my way into the planetarium and slept close to where Sal Mineo had his little nervous breakdown in Rebel Without a Cause.

The bicycle ride down Sunset Boulevard toward Downtown was fairly tough for someone as out of shape as I am. Tough, but fascinating from a historical point of view. The area was in its original state before the big exodus and renovation after the Millennium. I passed video stores that only stocked tape and laser discs. I passed theaters still showing exclusively 2D films. 3D was still quite a few years off. I entered an interesting industrial area just outside the mass of highway that chokes (even in my time) the downtown area. I biked over to Broadway and Chinatown to see how different it was, and I must admit that some big overhaul made it at least appear more inviting.

All the surface car accommodations made the whole area seem filthy and hot. The roads were extremely confusing, and the surface cars themselves so frightening-looking, that I'm amazed that human beings didn't become extinct during the big surface car era.
 

I found a nice, central area with a good view of the city and the hills and decided to use it as my headquarters while I tried to figure out how to get back, intact to my own private present. I climbed up on the roof of an industrial building which had been renovated into living spaces, lofts I think they were called. The roof was tar-papered and had a large wooden picnic table which made me feel somewhat safe due to the excellent visibility.

As I worked, I heard an occasional thump or clang sound emanating from the Downtown area. The Hindenberg was foraging I assumed. I worked, rewriting resource code, feeling completely in control, until twilight. I looked up from the screen and my breath caught in my lungs at the sight of the bright red sky. The sunset colors behind the silhouetted buildings made them look even more ominous and huge.

As I stared, something stirred in the beautiful postcard image. A huge blot loomed at the base of one of the tallest skyscrapers, gradually becoming larger and larger. I realized a little too late that the Hindenberg was headed my way. Before I could dash back into the safety of the concrete structure I had my first eye-to-eye contact with the most horrifying thing I'd ever seen and probably ever will see (I can only hope).
 

The Hindenberg was, as well as I could make it out, a gigantic housefly many times larger than the actual Hindenberg. The sheer mass of the thing was enough to create a weird pressure drop in the area when it came nearer. The wind from it's massive wings was powerful enough to blow steel warehouses over. I say that it was a giant housefly because that's the only thing I could think of to compare it to at the time. Actually, it was more of a... Well, let me get back to the real scary part.
 

I stood and started for the ladder back into the building, but the wind was so powerful that I had to hit the deck and hold on to an air vent. The Hindenberg landed on a train, and like a fly, began to clean the cluster of probes that hung from its multi-eyed head. If you took four houseflies, two large beetles and a bat, chopped them up, reassembled them and made them as big as a football stadium, you'd have something like the Hindenberg. It was many times more horrifying than anything I'd ever seen in any horror movie.
 

I watched as it cleaned the flailing probes, and careful not to make any sudden moves, I started for the ladder again. I kept my eyes on the creature as I moved, but when I grabbed the ladder's hand-rail, it made a quiet little "clank" sound.

The creature froze.

I froze.

We made eye-contact across probably two miles of train-yard. It was a moment of undiluted dread.

I waited.

It waited.
 

Finally I gathered my nerve and jumped to a part of the building which jutted out near a window, smashed the window and jogged down five flights of concrete stairs. I heard the Hindenberg's gigantic wings and felt the pressure drop as it moved in on me. I scrambled madly through a set of large steel gates and into one of the apartments which seemed secure.

I listened as the creature sniffed up and down hallways, probing into windows and pushing its way into some of the accessible spaces in the structure. Apparently this building was built to last, because I didn't hear any cracking or structural damage as the thing searched for me. When I heard the familiar, wet slithering sound, I decided to retreat further into the loft.

I found a small room which had apparently been a 2D photographer's dark room. I found bottles of chemicals. One was labeled Sulfuric Acid. This would be a good thing to pour on the creature's snout if I had the misfortune of coming in close enough contact with it. No sooner had I read the label, than the snout shoved the darkroom door open and reared up like a cobra ready to strike. I opened the bottle, poured it on the snout, and had to grab my head to keep my ear-drums from shattering from the shrill, deafening screams of the Hindenberg.
 

As the smoldering probe slapped around the room like an out-of-control firehose, I slammed the steel gates closed on it and locked them with two large, chrome-plated padlocks, effectively trapping the monster by it's snout! I only hoped that the snout wasn't regenerative if the monster decided to rip it's way out of the trap.
 

So anyway, at that point I smashed a large reinforced window with a filing cabinet, crawled out onto a ledge and made my way back up to the roof and down a rusty fire-escape ladder. I crept carefully around the building in the direction of the bellowing monster which was still thrashing and twisting like it was going out of its mind. It had impaled itself on part of an ornate steel fence. A configuration of ten or fifteen mailboxes mounted on an aluminum base tore at the creature's rear legs until finally it was pulled free of its concrete base.

The cylindrical post which protruded from the top of the mailbox stand punctured the monster's mid-section and a deafeningly resonant scream shattered the remaining unbroken windows in the building. Thinking that the creature might break free at any moment, I took off toward downtown where I assumed there would be tunnels or basements that I could hide in while I worked on reprogramming the machine.
 

I was wandering through the remains of Little Tokyo when I smelled it. It was an ancient, rotten smell that triggered something in my genetic memory. I stopped cold, literally cold, and something clicked in my head. I knew beyond a doubt that I was smelling death. Old death, and lots of it. I could barely persuade my feet to move toward the center of the downtown area, because that is where I knew the smell was coming from. I pushed through a torn chain link fence and crossed a vacant lot, still hoping to find a safe place to work and think.
 

It was extremely odd to be this far into downtown and be surrounded by complete silence. A light breeze would blow an aluminum can down an alley six blocks away and my heart would leap into my throat. Even the garbage in the streets had an unusual presence, and it took me a little while to realize that it was because it was all old garbage. There was nothing fresh blowing around the streets, only faded bits of paper, plastic and aluminum worn smooth by the constant wind between the buildings. I found soggy newspapers pasted against the buildings, but still no clue as to what had happened. All the news was fairly normal.

The only bad news was when I discovered that I was more than likely back in my own time. The machine had a fail-safe programmed into the software that shot me back to my origin point if there were any jolts to the time-line. Certainly a dinosaur running rampant in an altered thirties Hollywood would qualify as a jolt I told myself. Realization washed over me as I opened up the machine and asked my future self another question. I asked if it was possible that I could have irreversibly screwed up the entire world somehow.

The answer was a stark "Yes" before I had finished typing the question. My future self went on to explain that he had made it back, but from a completely different situation. The fact that a version of myself was safe and sound back in his own time somehow didn't make me feel much better, but it did suggest that I had a chance.

I was getting used to the smell by this time, and almost able to ignore it, and more importantly, the implications of it. I guessed that all the bodies that I hadn't seen anywhere, were all here. Maybe during whatever disaster befell these people, they rushed downtown in herds trying to escape whatever it was that eventually killed them all. The smell was thick, almost a solid substance as I turned a corner onto Broadway. I held a hand to my mouth to keep from losing the dinner I'd had at Arthur's house.

Piled up and flattened out into a hideous nest, was, I assume, the entire human population of Los Angeles. Mummified into a gray mass of limbs and twisted torsos, they were all there. The Hindenberg hadn't missed one. I moved closer, still several blocks away, but able to make out the scale of the thing. Five or six building were pushed over, forming an indentation which had been filled with the bodies. The center of the nest was pushed in smooth, and I assumed that this was where The Hindenberg slept. Judging from the stage of decomposition, I figured that the bodies had been there for a year or more, and the climate had mummified them into a solid mass.

There was a disconcerting photograph of a wax-museum Elvis Presley on the back of a bench. I stared at it to keep my eyes off The Hindenberg's nest. Eventually I stumbled over to the bench and sat down.

That was when the depression caught up with me. I have a small medical encyclopedia in the computer's memory, so I entered my symptoms and the diagnosis was Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It recommended that I see a licensed therapist. I wondered how many licensed therapists were buried in that twelve-story pile of bodies. I think that's when I blacked out.

It was a man's voice, and it was distorted and definitely wrong. On the edge of sleep, I rolled over against a pile of rags and garbage. Where was my computer?! It was completely dark, and it took me a little while to remember where I was. I frantically scrabbled around, feeling under the bench and sifting through trash until I found it. Intact and still functional.

I actually shuddered when I thought about my fate if that damn thing had been smashed. Then I heard it again. A man's voice, muffled and barely audible. It repeated, and rather than trying to locate the source in the darkness, I called up one of several audio analysis programs and recorded a sample of the voice. After enhancing and amplifying it, I was able to translate.

It was some kind of warning beacon that I hadn't been aware of earlier when the sun was out. It was a statement from the Emergency Broadcast System calling for evacuation of the city. Somewhere nearby there must be a solar powered radio that's picking up the recorded broadcast. I sat there on the sidewalk all night, wide awake. unable to even relax with the nest of corpses so close, and the disembodied voice of some long-dead civil defense worker offering his chilling warning to no one in particular, but me.

The source of the voice was a toppled aluminum tower that had once held a bright yellow loudspeaker up at approximately the ten-story level. It was partially buried under an avalanche of radios and TV sets that had fallen from the windows and doorways of one of the damaged buildings. Only it's cracked solar panel remained uncovered by the debris. I recorded the announcement on my comp and had the voice recognition software type it out for me.
>conform audio to text:

"This is an emergency announcement from the United States emergency broadcast system. This is not a test. You are being alerted to an extreme national emergency. If you are within range of this announcement, please evacuate the city. Los Angeles, California has been declared a class T disaster area. Please evacuate immediately. The continent of North America has been contaminated, please use extreme caution when traveling East or North. At the time of this recording, the continent of South America remains uncontaminated."

The message repeats over and over. After recording it, I disconnected the solar panel.
 

Contamination. I hoped it wasn't radioactive, but figured it probably was, hence the giant housefly I'd just killed. What the hell had happened? There was nothing in any of the faded newspapers I found. No clue anywhere. I wandered deeper into the city, thinking everything through, until I found a place that was just as I remembered from my own time. It was a quaint little diner called The Pantry, and printed on a sign in the window was the word Breakfast. It got me to thinking about Billy Breakfast, Arthur Pellero's assistant.
 

That's when the whole thing hit me. My face flushed and I felt like I'd been hit by one of those high speed surface-trucks head-on. Billy had been alone for an entire evening with my computer/time machine. Had he done something? I staggered up Figueroa, almost tripping over the road construction barriers. Finally I had it. I sat down in a dried up little park, and called up the computer's log.

I hadn't thought to do this before, because I assumed that Arthur had been the only non-authorized user. Why didn't I install a password? I'm too trusting. I scanned through all the activity the software had logged, finally coming across the more recent entries.

1) I left the Charles Clifford screening room on the old Burbank Ranch backlot, my time (2032).

2) I arrive, August 12, 1935

2) Arthur (an amazingly bright man) used ScanLok, my own software to locate something alive in the Jurassic Period with enough mass for him to safely assume it was a dinosaur. He then transported it into 1935.

3) Another user, probably Billy, called up the default setting on the time jump software and inadvertently sent himself into 2032.

4) He then returned, but not to 1935. He returned to 1931. Four years before he left! Plus the log showed that he returned with not only his own mass, but several tons of additional material. Tons!
 

Would returning to an earlier time have resulted in two Billy Breakfasts? Maybe so, at least until the first one sent himself away with the time machine. I'm getting off the point, this had to be the source of all the trouble. I dug deeper into the file and found that Billy had stayed in 2032 for three weeks, and at that moment, coincidentally, my battery indicator informed me that I only had ten minutes of battery life left! Not realizing that Billy had used up three weeks of battery time, I expected there to be plenty of juice left! Ten minutes! I felt like it was all over for me. I immediately switched off the comp to preserve what was left of the battery.

What the hell had Billy done in my time for three weeks? And what had he returned with?
 

I watched the sun set behind the mountain of corpses, and decided what I had to do with the remaining ten minutes of battery time. I set the comp to send me to 1931. I had to catch Billy in the act and stop him from doing whatever he was doing. He obviously had some brainstorm, thinking that if he went into the future and brought back something, information, or maybe gadgets and machines, he'd get rich.

What he didn't take into account was the culture shock. He probably brought back a computer, or a car, which might have been filled with stuff they couldn't even dream up in the movies of 1931.

Technology was given a bizarre boost at a bad time in history. The world was less than ten years away from a World War, and some of the stuff Billy brought back, no doubt ended up causing military bidding wars. He might have even brought back books, and information which would be even worse. Instructions on how to build unbelievable things. One hundred years of technological advancement happening all at once like that is bound to cause some kind of disaster. Bound to, hell, it obviously had.
 

I hit the key and in moments, there I was in 1931. I hadn't even stopped to think about where I was, or where I might have landed. Luckily the little park I was in had changed very little in the last hundred or so years. I checked the real-time chronometer on the comp and realized that I had two hours to get to Arthur's house before Billy arrived with his tons of future loot. Having seen countless films from the era, I easily hailed a cab. One of my dreams has always been to step out into a busy surface-car road shouting "Taxi!"
 

Using the coordinates in the computer's log, a map I found on the floor of the cab and a large amount of guess work, I deduced that Billy had planned to materialize with his loot in a hidden area of the woods near Arthur's house. It was fairly easy to find the clearing, and luckily the cab driver accepted my holographic ID card as payment. There's probably no way anyone could figure out how to make lasers by looking at a hologram. It would simply be a novelty, until maybe he gives it to one of his kids and it ends up lost in the heater vent or something.
 

I waited, sitting on a tree stump, checking the time, until the computer finally warned me to save any work in progress and clicked off. A moment later, I noticed a strange shadowy effect. Shimmering just on the edge of my perception, there was a form taking shape. Suddenly, I heard the weird wobbly beep, and there was Billy standing beside a large anti-grav transport truck. The truck's driver leaped from the control area and terrified, ran back and forth like a trapped mouse. I kept my presence a secret, until Billy did something I'll never be able to erase from my memory.

All in one smooth movement, as if he'd done it a million times, Billy produced a police punk-gun and shot a nine-inch diameter hole right through the truck driver's chest. I started to make a move, but decided to wait. He'd only swing around and shoot me too, I figured. Billy walked back of the truck to the cargo door and I heard him blast through the lock mechanism. Cautiously, and still clutching the dead computer, I moved around to the other side of the truck and waited until he'd crawled all the way inside. The punk-gun was lying on one of the exterior cooling units.

I grabbed it without a sound, and once he was in the cargo area inspecting his merchandise, I slammed the doors and sealed them shut with the restraining strut normally used to dock it to an air station.

"Who's out there?!" he yelled in a panic.

I pulled off a small vent cover and he peered out. "It's me," I smiled.

"How the hell did you get here?" he was trembling with terror now.

"I used this," I said holding the computer up.

"How did you use that? I have that thing!"

"Well, I have another one, and I want you to give me the one you have. Just slip it through the vent."

"Listen, I have an offer," he muttered.

I leaned closer.

"There's this group of people in 2032 called the Nonhuman..."

"Yeah," I answered. "They're Nazis."

"Right!" he smiled, thinking that we might be on the same wavelength.

"They need our help. They have this plan and everything. I talked to them for a week about it."

"All the Nonhuman Party wants is for everyone to think the same. They advocate extermination of everyone who's got what they call defective DNA. They're neo-Nazis, and I'm not interested in anything you have to say, so just hand over the computer."

"No, listen. They told me all about World War II, and how America attacked Berlin. How we were trying to kill Adolf Hitler when all he wants is a New World Order, with peace for the whole world! They have this thing, they shoot you with a tiny dart..."

"Its called a trace-trigger."

"Yeah, that's it. It tells if you have defects in your molecules. If you do, it kills you right there on the spot. No pain, just one less burden on society."

"Did they trace-trigger you, Billy?"

"Yeah."

"Lucky, huh?"

"Yeah."

"Hand over the computer."

"These guys made a lot of sense, Rodney."

"Look Billy, I just saw you kill that truck driver. Give me the computer... And besides, America didn't attack Berlin."

"They promised that If I give all this stuff to the Nazi Party over in Germany, I'd be in the history books and a millionaire when I went back to 2032. It's a plan, and if you help me, I'll share the wealth!"

"I've been back to 2032. You ruined everything."

"What?"

"You killed everyone. The shock of new technology was too much. Something terrible happened because of what you did. Everyone's dead back in 2032; they're piled up in the streets."

"Jeez..."

"Give me the computer, Billy."

All he could say was, "Jeez..."

I put my hand up to the open vent to take the computer from him, but he still wouldn't give it to me.

"They said it would bring peace," he said

"You believe guys who think they're qualified to decide who lives or dies?"

"I, um... They promised that I'd get rich. The New World Order..."

I heard him punching something up on the computer. "What are you doing in there?"

"I'm going back!"

This event hadn't occurred in the computer's log. Mine anyway. This was the point at which our time lines separated. Billy, and his truck full of loot shimmered, turned a little and disappeared. I was left standing in the woods holding a dead computer which ran on a type of battery that wouldn't be invented for seventy years. I felt extremely alone, and like I hadn't slept in hundreds of years. The weather was so nice and warm, I decided to sleep right there in the woods.
 

Arthur's house was just as I remembered it. As yet undamaged by the dinosaur that was (maybe) destined to arrive in his garden. I had to come up with some ingenious way to weasel my way into Arthur's life, and without the benefit of my computer, convince him that I was who I said I was. Something had to be done about...

The huge driveway gate swung open with a tired groan, and there he was, Billy Breakfast. "Can I help you find someone sir?" he asked.

I fumbled, "Uh, is this where Arthur Pellero lives?"

He heaved a sigh, like he'd realized I was just some movie fan. "Yes, and I'd like to ask you not to disturb Mr. Pellero. He's a very busy man. If you'd like to write him a note, you can send it to him through the studio. They'll make sure he gets it." Billy removed a stack of paper envelopes from the mail box and disappeared back through the gate. "Take care now." He called back from inside.

"Thank you," I said, too quietly for him to hear.

I continued walking beyond Arthur's house, further into the lush neighborhoods, thinking like I'd never thought before. I had to wait four years until my other self showed up in that screening room with a charged-up time machine, but if I wait for myself, there'd be two of me! What kind of problems would that cause? Then there was the problem with Billy. Would he return with another truckload of stuff for the Nazis?
 

There was a cardboard sign nailed to a tree. "Gardener Wanted: Light yard work for room and board."

I won't go into too much detail about the next month or so. I worked for a woman named Elle Dandridge. She called herself a has-been and a casualty of the talkies. She'd been a huge star in the silent days, but her thick Brooklyn accent kept her out of what she called "The Noiseys."

I lived in her guest house, and learned quickly how to operate a few simple machines like a lawn mower, hedge clippers and an edger. Luckily she was patient with me, and it seemed that more than a gardener, she simply needed someone to listen to her stories about The Old Days. I couldn't think of anything I'd rather do than listen to Elle's detailed descriptions of her work in the great Silents.
 

I saved some money, spending only a small amount of it down in Hollywood at the theaters. I lived in a dream I'd had countless times. I bought clothes that matched the times, and almost felt like I was beginning to fit in. I could really feel the essence of the thirties in Hollywood, and thought that it wouldn't have been so bad to be trapped there. Probably the high point of my visit was a celebrity sighting.

I was standing in line at Graumann's Chinese Theater when Clark Gable walked by. I unconsciously uttered his name, and he stopped dead, swung around and looked at me, stunned.

"You're Clark Gable," I stuttered.

"Do I know you?" he smiled.

"Nope," I said, "but I admire your work."

"You've seen The Painted Desert?" he asked enthusiastically but slightly confused.

I thought it over, "No, haven't seen that one. You were great in Gone With The Wind, though."

His famous eyebrows went up, and he sort of glazed over for a second. "Gone With The Wind." He repeated flatly. "You must have me confused with someone else. The Painted Desert is the only picture I've ever done, except as a background extra."

I had to cover, "Oh, I mean you'd be perfect for the part of Rhett Butler in Gone With The Wind."

His smile broadened, "You in the picture business?"

"In a way, yes. I'm a film historian sort of."

"A film historian, huh?" he started to move away, apparently on his way to a meeting somewhere west on Hollywood Boulevard.

"Sort of," I repeated, feeling sort of stupid.

"Well, you take it easy pal, and thanks for the kind words."

I asked him for his autograph, and he claimed that I was the first fan to ever ask him for one. I told him to get used to it, and he left me with one of his trademark smiles. I resisted the temptation to suggest that he not do his own stunts if he ever had the opportunity.

No more interference; no more time foul ups.

The clearing where I'd met with Billy was fairly close to Elle's house, and I could get to it easily by cutting through the backyards of a few houses. I thought that if Billy was smart, he'd use that area as his base, knowing that nothing was built there, even in 2032. I checked every few days, leaving twigs propped up on small rocks so I could tell if there had been any disturbance while I was away. My visits to the clearing grew less and less frequent; I felt like I was beginning to accept my fate. Not such a bad deal actually. I always felt like I'd been born into the wrong time anyway.

I felt more at home here in the thirties. I started thinking about things like obtaining a driver's license and an identification card, or whatever they use here for ID. I even began to look around in town for a better job. I was lying awake in my bed in Elle's guest house thinking about all these practical, realistic things when there was a knock at the door. A harried voice, just above a whisper, but filled with panic called my name.

"Rodney! Open the door, Rodney!"
 

It was Billy Breakfast, and he looked years older, and like he'd been through some kind of unimaginable hell. "What happened, Billy?"
 

"I went back there..."

"Where?" I pulled him into the small front room and sat him on the couch.

"Back there! To 2032. I saw the people. No one was alive! You're the first living person I've talked to in twelve years!" His eyes were red and haunted, and he smelled terrible.

"Twelve years? What the hell happened?"
 

"You computer ran out of fuel! I was trying to figure out a way to fix everything, and it just choked up on me! I was stuck there in that nightmare city, with all those dead faces looking at me, like they knew it was my fault!"

"How could it have happened? Didn't you listen to me? You didn't give that stuff to the Nazis did you?"

He was silent for a second, not even breathing, until his head landed in his hands with a slap. "Yes I did! I went up a couple of years to '33 and sold all of it. They conned me. They got it all cheap, and they tried to steal the machine, too! I didn't let 'em get it, though!"

He held up the dead computer. It was badly scratched and looked like it was spattered with dried blood. "I held on to it. Went forward to 2032 to see if you were lying. I was gonna go back and fix everything if I found out you were right, but I never got the chance! The fuel ran out, and I couldn't figure out what it runs on."

"So how'd you get back here?"

He looked up, "You don't remember do you?"

"What are you talking about?"

"You showed up."

"Me?" I asked, stunned.
 

"Yeah, you showed up, like a ghost. I could see right through you. You pushed your hand through this black ring. Handed me a little box, and told me how to plug it into the machine. You told me to come to this time, and that I'd find you here in Elle Dandridge's guest house. You said that you'd tell me what to do to fix everything."

"I did?"

"Here," he handed me the computer. It wasn't dead after all. It had a fresh battery and a file on the screen written in my code. I keyed in the password sequence and the code translated.

Billy took a nap on my couch while I wrote a three page letter to Elle. I appreciated everything she'd done for me, and I almost thought of her as my savior or something. I didn't want her to think that I just disappeared. I had to make up a story explaining why I left during the night. Soon none of this would matter, but I had to make sure her feelings weren't hurt, even if only in this time line that never would be.
 

I convinced Billy that Arthur was an important element in the solution to the time problem, so he smuggled me inside the house to wait for him. Arthur, his wife and the current-time Billy were all away at the beach for the day so Billy and I wandered the house discussing time paradoxes. I asked him if he ever feared losing his job.
"I'm secure, Rodney. Arthur treats me good enough."

"Good enough?" I probed.

"Sure."

"You think he'd ever fire you?"
 

"Naw! Unless..."

"Unless what? Unless his wife cheated on him with you?"

"Sheesh!" he said. "That would never happen in a million years! No, if something happened to Chi-Chi, he'd blame me, cause he knows I hate that goddamned bird."

"The bird?"

"Yeah, Arthur's rare South American Parrot. I hate the damn thing, and it hates me. If something ever happened to that bird..."
 

I had what I needed. I squeezed him for a little more information, like why he left the page from the video magazine knifed to Mickey Glass in the projection booth. "The Nazis wanted everyone to think it was you, Rodney. They told me to get something from the future and leave it there as evidence."

"Pretty stupid, Billy," I said as I wandered over to Chi-Chi's cage.

"What are you doing there?" he stammered.

"Clearing up a huge mess, Billy. If I get that other you fired, the one who's out at the beach, he won't be here when I show up in 1935 in the screening room."

"Wha...what about me? What about this me?" Billy asked tapping his chest.

"I don't know. If that other you never uses the machine, you'll just cease to be."

Billy calmed, "Will it hurt?" He whispered.
 

"Probably not," I said, opening the cage. Without hesitation, the big, brightly colored bird leaped from the cage and flew straight out the open dining room window. It flew a lazy circle over the swimming pool depositing a spiteful crap right in the dead center of the crystal water.
 

"Hoo boy," Billy said, looking at his hands. They were starting to fade, almost becoming shadows. "Hoo boy..." he said again, then he was gone.
 

It was finally done! Had I overlooked anything? The problem was solved! Now when I return to 2032, everything will be okay. I thought about it. I sat there on Arthur's big comfy sofa backtracking all the details, hoping that nothing got past me.

I ran back outside and started up the car Billy had borrowed from someone and zoomed back to the screening room in Burbank. I did some smooth talking to the guard who finally let me in. I told him that I had lost my wallet and would like to see if it was on the screening room's floor. I rushed in, sat in the correct seat, and keyed in the sequence. It worked. There were the end credits to Jaws. Everything was back to what I accepted as "normal." I rushed home, and checked the catalog to see if The Monster and the Lady had indeed been restored. It had. Everything was exactly okay.
 

The only thing left for me to do is go back one last time, and stop myself from having the idea for the time machine. I had the brainstorm on the way home from work, passing the adscreens and that restaurant. If I could figure out a way to make myself take an alternate route home, I'd kill the idea before it's born. I've got to try, and I have to hurry, but...
 

I just noticed my apartment. It's filthy, like I haven't lived here in years. I think I saw something move in the other room... A giant ant? It's changing; mutating right in front of me. It's a monster! Something has screwed up bad. My computer is beginning to ripple. I have to work fast, no time to check if this is a safe location. I have to go. I hope I'm doing the right thing.

> IN-itiate time sequence.

<OK. Sequence initiated. [ready/count]

Again, I'm trembling. What if I can't find power for this big computer? I wish I had the portable. Maybe I can go to 1935 and grab it from myself. Getting near zero and I am scared to dea....

<FREQUENCY ACTIVE. SYS-CHEK: OK. SECONDARY SYS-CHEK: OKAY. VARIANT -3.42.

<AUTO RESET ACTIVE. [GO]
- - - - - - - - -
 
 
 

hopeless
 
 
 

1.

"It's not that big a deal, actually," she whispered.

"What?" he responded, genuinely uninterested.

"All this," she gestured like shooing flies.

"All what?" getting a little pissed.

"This. Life. Everything."

"Not that big a deal is it?"
 

"No. Not in my opinion. It most certainly is not," she stood up and walked to the window. The filthy curtains clinging feebly to their out-dated designs almost burst into dust at her touch. "It all seems so damn worthless when you really stop and look real hard at it."

Benny put the label-maker down and looked at her. "Why the hell are you wearing that thing?"

"I wear this robe every morning. Every damn morning. Why now, all of a sudden is it a crime to wear his damn robe?"

"Excuse me for asking Miss Princess. I just don't recall it looking so wore out before. You ought to get you a new one."

"Why don't you buy me a new robe if you hate this one so damn much."

"Why should I buy you a new one if you think life is all worthless and everything? What good is a new robe if you don't want to live no more?"

"You're the one who's so damn bothered by my robe. Not me."

"Well, if you don't want to live no more... I don't know what to tell you."

"I didn't say I didn't want to live no more. I was just pondering the deeper implications of everything. Thinking deep thoughts and coming up short changed so to speak."
"Pretty cynical for a woman named Hope."

2.
 

Hope's son from an earlier marriage was asleep. He was alone in a motel room just outside of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Sharing the double bed with him was a vintage 1959 Fender Telecaster in a beat-to-hell tweed guitar case.

The other three members of his band called him Stick for some forgotten reason, but his real name was Charles Clark. Face down in the pillow, dead asleep, he dreamed that he was trapped in a nightclub he'd seen once in a movie. Some kind of deadly tattoo bar in Hollywood where people get their tongues pierced right there on the dance floor. Stick was trapped. Unable to find the exit, and unable to locate anyone he knew who might be able to help him.

Some used-up biker chick was grabbing for him, trying to pull his face closer to a big bloody needle. She wanted to pierce his lip or his nose or something.

Mumbling, Stick rolled over onto his back just as the other members of his band returned from breakfast.

"Wake up, Stick. We just heard something funny on the news!"

"What?" he managed.

Walter "Mouse" Connelly and Alan Davis settled down on the other double bed in the room. Vern Coe moved closer to Stick. "They proved that there was once life on the planet Mars, Stick."

"They proved it," Alan added.
 

Stick sat up, trying to make a connection between life on Mars and his piercing dream. "Life on Mars? What the hell are you talking about?"

"They said it on the news, buddy. Some spaceship flew by and took pictures. Real close-up pictures and they see these old buildings and shit. There's a whole city of ruined buildings."

Mouse continued, "They said the city on Mars is like twelve times bigger than Manhattan."

"Pretty damn big," Stick mumbled.

Alan nodded, "Pretty god damn big."

3.
 

Michael Redwing, newscaster for KMEY, Thomasville, Georgia, stared at the photos from Mars. He scored high-resolution copies from the guys in the control room. "Too much to think about today," he mumbled to himself as the stage director started a countdown from five.

The camera light came on, and Michael was ready and professional. "Tonight's top story is of course the news from Mars. A city covering almost fifteen times the area of Manhattan was discovered in ruins when photos beamed to earth from the spacecraft Atlantis were received on Thursday," Michael read the TelePrompTer flawlessly, but churning maggoty in his mind were pictures from the previous day. Pictures of his girlfriend Vera. She'd never had an abortion before and the terror in her eyes sent an electrical charge of guilt up Michael's spine and out the top of his head like a cannon ball. He felt responsible (he was), and figured he'd never get over it. It was rough for her, and she was at home right now recovering, probably watching him live on her sixteen-inch Sony.

"Scientists, astronomers and even science-fiction writers are currently meeting with political leaders in an effort to explain the huge Martian city. The Pope has arrived in Houston, Texas and is expected to address the public in a rare televised press conference from the Space Center after viewing the images from the Atlantis probe. Sources claim that the Pope will reveal the contents of a secret document which allegedly pertains to the mysterious discovery on Mars."

The baby visited him that night. It floated down from the ceiling wearing tiny, felt wings. It smiled a big, cheerful smile and asked Michael if he'd like to visit the ruined city of Mars. "Yeah," Michael mumbled in his sleep.

Mars was like one of those blasted-out clay pits in south Georgia but without the kids riding dirt bikes, decked out in crash gear. The baby floated ahead of him, and the gravity made it easy for Michael to keep up with it. Michael woke up with a burning desire to sell his car and move to New York. Thomasville, Georgia had suddenly become like a trash compactor pushing in on him. He sat up and looked at his hands in the green light from the digital alarm clock. He felt old and worthless. Something big had to happen in his life, and soon.
 

4.

A starless night, not because of clouds or the city lights, but because of the debris in the upper atmosphere. Eileen looked up at it after hearing about it on the news. She didn't have the faintest idea what any of it meant, she just wanted to have a look anyway. "My goodness," she said aloud to no one. Her neighbor in the apartment building, Mrs. Brinks was out on her rickety wooden porch looking up too. Eileen made small talk. "Pretty strange ain't it?
 

"I just hope it ain't dangerous!" Mrs. Brinks spat, gripping her cat Steecie tighter to her breast. "They do so much crap up there in outer space we have no way of knowing what they're up to!"

"You hear the news?"
 

"Yes ma'am! Debris! That's what they call garbage! Debris!" Mrs. Brinks made a grand gesture with her left hand, indicating the infinite vastness of the cosmos. "They said something from outer space shot this debris at us!"

"That sounds awful dangerous! Does it have anything to do with them finding that city on Mars?"

Mr. Brinks sat up straight and let Steecie slide onto the floor of the porch, "You know what?"

"What?" Eileen moved closer.

"You can bet your bottom dollar it damn sure does!"

5.

At a preschool in Downtown Manhattan, a child was found dead on the playground with a fragment of aluminum the size of video cassette lodged in her skull.

6.

A brief power failure in a movie theater in Los Angeles caused the screen to go black for several seconds before resuming. After the film was over, it was discovered that four of the twenty-nine patrons had died.

Forensic investigation determined that the cause of death in every case was the same. In a statement at a press conference, the coroner who oversaw the investigation reported, "Each of these individuals was killed instantly by a small explosive discharge centered in the brain. No further information can be offered at this time."

7.
 

Stick was supposed to call his mother from the road every day or so, but when he lifted the receiver of the pay phone near the pool, he realized that he hadn't called her in almost two weeks. "Shit." He whispered as it rang.

"Hello?" Hope asked, as if she were checking for life in an abandoned mine.

"Momma?" Stick said.

"Charles?!" like a terrified shriek.

"Calm down it's just me. Did you hear on the news..."

"That Mars thing? I sure did! Isn't that something? That certainly proves that there's a God now doesn't it?

Stick thought it over for a moment. "No, not really."

"What do you mean, Charles? It certainly does! They're always saying that we're some kind of chemical accident, you know. We'll, now we know it ain't no accident that we're here! Because they're here too!"

"I don't follow you. I don't see why there can't be two accidents."

"And that debris floating around? You hear about that?" she said, pronouncing debris like it's spelled.

"Yeah. I heard, and it's pronounced de-bree, not dee-bris."

"Well debris by any other name... Whatever. You think it's got anything to do with that Mars thing? You think aliens are trying to kill us, or invade the earth and take over?"

"Hell if I know."

"Seems pretty fishy to me."

"Well, if you think they're God's children too, wouldn't they be good guys? Maybe they're helping us or something. You think about that?"

"The Russians are God's children, and look at them!"

"The Russians are our friends now."

"They're not my friends, I'll tell you that! Not after they did what they did to President Kennedy and his Bay of Pigs!"

"You don't know anything about it Momma."

"All I know is, that big cloud of dee-bris is up there one day after we discovered their secret city on Mars!"

"Look, I gotta go. They rest of the guys are eating lunch."

"Well, you play good, now."

"Okay."

"Charles?"

"Yeah?"

"You still sing that pretty song about Heidi?"

"Momma, I broke up with Heidi three years ago."

"That was such a pretty song, Charles."

"I just don't want to play it any more. We broke up."

"You could change the name. Maybe you have a new girlfriend?"

"Nope. Besides, Heidi rhymes with High and Mighty. Important part of the chorus. I'd have to change it to a girl's name that rhymes with Heidi."
"I'll try to think of one for you."

"Okay, you do that."

"If I think of a good one, will you put, Special Thanks To My Momma on you first album?"

"Of course, I'd do that anyway, Momma."

"You play good, now, and be careful."

"Bye."

"Bye."

8.
 

Two days passed and still no new news about the mysterious debris cloud. CNN had of course, given the anomaly a name and a logo, complete with theme music and an animated, computer-generated title sequence. They called it The Veil.
 

The Veil hung, loomed, watched, waited, and according to one particularly wordy reporter, lurked overhead like a sinister blanket of mystery.
 

Probes had been sent to try and determine the chemical components of the cloud, but NASA lost contact with all but one of them. The surviving probe sent back scrambled garbage which some researchers claimed was alien communication. Transcripts of the garbled telemetry were circulated to several major university cryptography departments without much luck.

Parts of the transcript finally made their way onto the internet and every electronic bulletin board service in the world, breaking all the download records and insuring that every kid with a modem had a copy. The cryptography experts concluded that it was all just static, and it became fairly obvious after just a few days of trying to decode the seven-hundred and ninety-two pages of threes, nines and sevens that no intelligence, alien or otherwise was responsible.

Then, Tuesday at around breakfast time, CNN reported another strange thing. Two boys in Birmingham, Alabama had found the Mars probe. Hastily shot video footage came by early afternoon of the two sullen children, recounting their story for the twentieth time to the press.

"Ben and me was walking... We was walking to our meeting. We went through that strip of field up over that way. Ben seen it first. Setting there. We thought it was a spaceship at first, but then we saw it was too small for astronauts to get in it. I went home and got my daddy. Then all them men was here looking at it and everything. My daddy took a video of it before them men took it off in that truck they had," Ben looked on, nodding in agreement.

CNN could offer no explanation. There was no clue as to how the probe had landed in a field without burning up in the atmosphere. No clue as to how it could have zipped back from Mars in a fraction of the time it took to get it there. They just reported the news, and by dinner time, they had what they called a "debate" featuring several "prominent" scientists. A two hour special report and still no answers, just speculation and expensive commercial time all the way.

9.

Hope watched the news, almost terrified and wishing like hell that her son was home. "Benny?" she called from the bedroom.

"What is it?" he shouted back from the kitchen.

"This stuff is scaring me! What if this all means the end of the world or something? What if this is the beginning of the Apocalypse?"
 

Benny stepped into the bedroom shaking Pringles potato chips from the can. "Every two weeks there's some crazy nonsense on the TV you think means the world is coming to an end."

"Well, this is different! This is scary!"

"What makes this all that scarier than that war in the Gulf?"

"Wars happen all the time! This is... This is weird. It's space aliens! They put that satellite in a field in Alabama. They're playing tricks on us!"

"Well, I wouldn't be too afraid of space aliens who play tricks. Sounds like they have a good sense of humor to me."

"Benny, how can you say that? Aren't you the least bit scared by this stuff?"

"Not the least bit. Until I see some death rays, or robots tearing down the capitol building, I'll be fine."

"Jesus, Benny! I swear!"
 

Benny sat on the edge of the bed with his can of potato chips. Hope watched him watching the report on the news, shaking chips from the can, getting crumbs in the bed. She looked closer, and thought she could see some fear in there.

Fear in his eyes, or maybe at least apprehension. Benny never let any feelings out one way or another. He remained unaffected by the events of the world, concerned primarily with the events of the moment, and Hope sighed, figuring that the concern in his eyes probably related to getting the last chip crumbs out of that damned can.

10.
 

Stick played the songs, squinting into the harsh pink light that blinked on whenever he stepped to the mike. He estimated maybe fifty people milling around the bar, mostly ignoring the band. Between songs, Stick tuned up while Vern joked with the three or four patrons who were interested. He made a comment about the cloud of debris being landfill from Mars because the Martians thought the Earth was a space-dumpster.

Nobody laughed. Stick whispered something to Vern, and they played a song they hadn't rehearsed in years. Stick sang, while Vern jumped off the stage to get a beer. Stick focused his attention on a silver bracelet that flickered at one of the tables. The girl wearing it was just a dark shape, but he pretended that she was Heidi.

11.
 

The man on TV had what looked like a piece of green carpet hanging behind him, and other than that, it was just him. A guy in a suit standing in front of a green carpet wall. He was on every channel, radio and television. He was very serious and the things he said took a few minutes to sink in. Hope had some trouble putting it all together in her mind, because it was all so far from anything she knew about.

The man said he was an instrument of the Technocracy. Hope had never even heard of it.
 

"My name is Hawthorne, and I am an instrument of the Technocracy. What I am about to tell you may sound unreal or purposely fictitious. I am authorized by the United States Government to reveal to you a secret which has been kept from the general public for many years. Only a few of us have been privy to this information since the Great Event of 1947," he said.

What he revealed, and what Hope had so much trouble understanding, was that the United States of America had been visited by aliens. Certainly she'd read about things like that happening. There were even pictures and videos of UFOs and creatures from other planets. It was almost common knowledge, accepted by millions of people. There was some element of mystery to the whole idea, though, and Hope felt like it was all different now, suddenly it was definitely true. A man from the Government was telling her that the aliens had landed, and that there truly was a conspiracy to keep secrets about it from the citizens.
 

The aliens were living in a special place under Nevada. They were very powerful, and had plans to move in on our planet, but the conditions were all wrong. They were in the process of changing the environment. They needed everything here on Earth to be like it had been on their planet, before the Great Event occurred. Hope couldn't understand why the whole planet had to be changed just for a handful of aliens. She thought it was a little drastic.
 

The man on the TV claimed that we have no power over the aliens, and that they have decided to make these changes on the Earth whether we like it or not. He said that they were in no position to negotiate, and that the aliens were extremely different from us. He emphasized the word 'extremely,' and Hope thought that the man looked 'extremely' scared about the whole thing.
 

"The crash at Roswell, as we all know it, was nothing more than a weather balloon. The media somehow got their wires crossed an confused the incident at Roswell with a more important occurrence which took place in Washington D. C. Our President was taken into what is known as an alternate phase. He was given an ultimatum by these beings. Now the repercussions of this meeting are coming to a dangerous and historical peak. We, as human beings, must form a more.."

Suddenly there was static, and a blast of noise from the TV set.

12.
 

Stick sat up suddenly, feeling a thickness in his lungs. It was like asthma, but there was a strong metallic taste. He remembered where he was, on a threadbare couch in the dressing room of The Madhouse, a club somewhere in Nashville. He heard coughing from the next room, and suddenly Mouse was sitting up in the corner of the room. He was on the floor due to bad luck in a coin-toss.

"What the fuck is that?" Mouse asked.

Stick cleared his throat and croaked, "I don't know. Maybe a truck tipped over and spilled some chemical or something."
 

The other band members came through the door and turned on the light. The harsh smell was thickening, and in the fluorescent light, it was actually visible as a yellowish haze. "The place is on fire. We have to get the fuck out of here!" Alan coughed.
 

They all ran out into the street to find that the thick yellow haze was everywhere. They hear car alarms and sirens in the distance and as the fog closed in tighter, Stick looked up. There were lights in the sky. Blue lights, getting closer. This was it, he thought. It's either Jesus or aliens. Something big was happening, and Stick thought of his mother. She was probably gong nuts right now. She would probably die thinking that it was Christ returning. the lights moved closer and the air got thicker. Stick sat on the grass, no longer aware of his bandmates.

The grass was soft enough to sleep on. The lights seemed to transmit a vibration, almost like a weak electrical shock. Stick didn't mind it too much, and he was starting to almost like the smell of the yellow air. He held up his hand, and the veins were standing out on his skin. He could see and feel the throbbing of blood. Something inside was stirring, maybe his insides were moving. Maybe he was changing into something else. Maybe this wasn't the end of everything after all. Stick smiled calmly, he was ready for a change.

©Burk Sauls