This is a work of fiction.
He ignored me and dashed through a gap in the fence we were passing.
“Freckles!” I yelled. “Come back here right now! We’re not allowed in there.”
Beside me, Lydia stopped pulling the wagon and looked at the hole in the fence.
It was definitely time for us to head home. She’d been pulling the wagon for hours, and it was approaching 4:00, fast.
“I’ll go get him,” Curly said.
“I’ll help you,” Sammy said.
Before I could speak, they were through the fence and running after Freckles.
For a couple of minutes, Lydia and I waited, but the boys didn’t come back.
“Well, I’m afraid we’re going to have to go after them. I’ll manage the wagon and Tilly . . .”
She wasn’t there. One of the boys had taken her with him.
“Do you remember who was walking Tilly?”
Curly had taken her with him, and I hadn’t even noticed. Now all three boys were running around on somebody else’s property.
The wagon just fit through the gap in the fence.
I listened, but couldn’t hear the boys.
“Can you hear anything?”
Lydia nodded, and pointed to our right.
“Who do you hear?”
“All of them.”
Thank goodness for young ears!
We walked as fast as we could, and soon, I could also hear the boys and Tilly.
We emerged from some bushes and there they were.
There was what looked like an emplty parking lot, and the boys were going into a building.
They ignored me.
What had gotten into them?
I gritted my teeth and pulled the wagon closer, with Lydia following behind me.
By the time we reached the door, I could hear the boys opening another door somewhere inside.
I looked through the door and saw an empty reception area with a desk and some metal chairs. At the far side of the room, there was another door.
Lydia and I followed the sounds of the boys and Tilly down several hallways, and by the time we caught up with them, I was both angry and unsure of where I was.
The three of them were standing in front of a wooden door (the others had been metal with glass panels), with Tilly sitting quietly beside Freckles.
“What in the name of—”
Curly put his finger to his lips, and then he knocked on the door.
“Come in,” a woman’s voice called.
“Mom!” Lydia said.
“Hello, Lydia. Is your grandma with you?”
“All of you, please do come in. It’s not locked.”
Curly pull the door open, and I saw a large room. The space to the left was empty and uninteresting, but on the right-hand wall of the room, there appeared to be the dashboard and steering wheel of a car. There was also a large clock.
I could see only one person, and she was sitting on a metal chair in front of the steering wheel, with her head turned to look at us as we stood there staring at the strange room.
“Welcome,” she said. “My name is Louisa. I’m Lydia’s mom, I’m a physicist, and this is my time machine.”
“Is it a real time machine?” Freckles asked.
“Of course not, you idiot,” Sammy said. “She’s crazy, just like her kid.”
“Sammy, don’t be mean.”
Louisa said, “Can you introduce yourselves? I didn’t know you had a dog.”
“We just got Tilly yesterday,” Curly said. “I’m Benjamin, but you can call me Curly. This is Sammy, and this is David, but we call him Freckles.” He smiled at me. “This is Grandma.” He picked up TJ’s carrier and said, “This is our other dog, TJ. These are our kittens and their mom, whose name is Lydia. The guy who gave her to us named her that. I don’t know if you know, but Grandma’s name is Lydia. We haven’t named the kittens yet.”
While Curly spoke, I looked at Louisa. She appeared to be about thirty, had a slightly sad expression, and wore a black dress, as if she were in mourning. Like her daughter, she was slight of build, with long, delicate fingers and long hair.
“Thank you,” she said before I could. “I did know your grandma’s name. It’s very nice to meet you. I just wish it was under better circumstances.”
“What?” Sammy said.
“A year ago, I started working on building a time machine. At first, I didn’t think it would really work, but after a few months, my idea was realized.”
She reached under her chair, picked up a black purse, opened it, rummaged, and came out with a pack of cigarettes.
Louisa looked at her daughter with an expression that blended shame and resignation.
“I think I’m going to need to smoke one of these. It’s strange. I quit just before Chuck and I got divorced, and I hardly ever felt like I needed one, but I’m not sure if I can get through this without starting again.” She opened the package, started to remove a cigarette, shoved it back in, and put the package back into her purse. “I’ve been doing that for the last few days. Every time I start to take one out, I think of you and . . .”
“Jenny,” Lydia whispered.
“May I ask who Jenny is?” I said.
“Was,” Louisa said. “Lydia, do you want to tell your grandma, or would you like me to?”
“I’ll tell. Jenny was my best friend.”
She paused, and I watched her face fight tears and win, and then she looked me in the eye.
“She had asthma, and one time, her mom was smoking inside because it was cold, and Jenny stopped breathing and . . .”
Lousia said, “When that happened, I swore to Lydia that I’d quit, and so far, I have, but I bought this pack, and now I feel like I’ve already broken my promise.”
“Would you like me to keep them for you? I don’t smoke, so they’ll just sit in my purse and not torment you.”
Once the cigarettes were in my purse, I said, “Why did you say you wished we were meeting under better circumstances?”
“The time machine. Four weeks ago, I was sure it worked properly. At first, I went into the past, to the day I was born, but nothing was really that exciting, and I didn’t want to risk leaving, so I couldn’t go to my hometown and see myself as a baby. I also couldn’t go to Africa and meet my relatives or ancestors there, not that we know exactly where they lived, but anyway . . . the past was a carrot I couldn’t reach.”
“Did you go to the future?” Freckles asked.
“Yes, I did. Would you like me to get you some chairs?”
I didn’t want Freckles or Sammy left alone with only one adult, not if this really was a time machine, so I said, “No thank you.” I sat down on the floor and looked up at Louisa. “Please, go on.”
She waited while the others sat down, and then she said, “I went into the future. At first, only about a week, then a year, and then . . . a decade.”
“What happened?” I asked.
“In a week, nothing much, except she was all over the news and they’d already arrested him and pretty much convicted him, at least in the court of public opinion, which in a way is what matters most these days.”
“What?” Freckles said.
“It happened in Los Angeles. She was a movie star. I mean, I guess she still is. This will happen tonight. She’s probably the most beautiful woman who ever lived.”
She looked longingly at my purse, where the package of cigarettes was. “Can I have one of those?”
“No, please continue.”
“All right. Where was I?”
“The movie star in LA.”
“Oh, right. She’s having a huge party tonight. Somebody murders her. There’s only one black person at the party. He’ll be blamed, arrested, thrown into prison, and if it ended there . . . well, I don’t know, maybe he does do it, maybe he doesn’t, but . . . it won’t end there.”
She took a deep breath.
“I have no idea who kills her. I don’t like it, but if I used the time machine to stop every death, it would become hopeless. But what happens after is what . . . is why I want to start smoking again. You see, he dies in prison.”
“So?” Sammy said. “He got what he deserved.”
“Maybe, but maybe not. It all happens too fast. I doubt there was . . . will be a real investigation. People say he didn’t suffer enough, and . . . some people get drunk, and there’s street fighting. Some people try to stop it, but others try to keep it going. Somebody makes bombs and somebody else . . . has a private plane. The media functions for a while, the Internet works for a little longer, which is how I know all this, but the infrastructure gets damaged, and nobody fixes it.”
“What’s that?” Freckles asked.
“The equipment and stuff for Internet,” I said.
“Ten years from now, there’s nothing. My phone gets no signal. I made myself go to different times and find out what happens. The whole country goes to war.”
“War?” Curly whispered.
“I read the papers on my phone, and it just keeps getting worse. I won’t go into details but I even saw videos of a lot of it. I didn’t want to watch people kill each other, so I came back here and called you.”
“On Curly’s phone?”
“No. I called you with the time machine.”
“I don’t know, but I can call people I know or people I know about from people I know. Chuck told me a lot about you all.”
“He doesn’t know anything about me!” Sammy said.
“Stacey tells him, and he’s seen your photo albums.”
“Those are private! Is Hawaii close to LA? Maybe he killed the movie star.”