Tag Archives: Time Travel

Thank you for not inviting me onto your parade float

Today my fiance did not invite me to sit on her float at the pride parade. Then I asked her to marry me. Well, I would have if I hadn’t already a couple months ago. Sitting on a float in a parade feels to me a bit like sitting in traffic if people came to clogged highways with folding chairs to sit on the side and stare at the drivers. Oh, and if cars were open so you couldn’t have air conditioning. And a marching band was there in the middle of everything and you’re just wondering where exactly you were going and why you ever got on this nightmare road to begin with. No, I wouldn’t prefer to be one of the people in the folding chairs.

Instead of a driver on a nightmare highway to nowhere, I was a free agent. If you think of a parade as time, where everyone has to go at the same pace no matter how much they really would like it to just be over right away, you can think of me as Dr. Who. I traveled far, far into the past, all the way to the first car in the parade, the black feminist bookmobile. Then I turned a block and slipped through the timestream, bought a dirty chai at a Whole Foods, slipped through the timestream again (always at designated appropriate places for crossing perpendicular to the flow of time of course) and popped up again seconds from where I had left to deliver the drink to my delightful fiance. Her friends wondered at the mysterious, handsome time traveler offering her hot beverages, and I got to go make a few more circuits around the parade route.

A short list of other adventures I had when I was not sitting in a folding chair or on a float:

  1. I received a free package of ramen noodles from a man on a bicycle cart. Actually, I received eight because I was carrying an empty bag. I may want to find a college student to whom to give my growing box of cheap, glutinous carbohydrates.
  2. I stopped an out-of-control bouncy ball with my foot, and when no one claimed it, I handed it to the nearest five-year-old, who was thrilled.
  3. I answered a survey on areas of interest for progressives. “Fair elections” was not an option on the list, nor was “money out of politics,” I wrote the latter in and warned the surveyor that he would not get a representative sample if he restricted his survey to gay pride rallies. He told me he’s visited all sorts of places including rural areas, where he says there is much more interest in progressive causes than infrastructure to properly channel it.
  4. I picked up a thrown box of “nerds” candy, shook it to enjoy the sound, and put it down again on a fire hydrant for someone younger to enjoy.

The End of Infinity Part 4

“Boys,” Sarah-Maybeline said with a knowing look on her delicate features. She sat on Vanessa’s bed, her long dress bunched up beneath her. Vanessa sat at her desk and kept her head down on her math homework.

“You know,” Sarah-Maybeline said, “you should really go for this football thing.”

“Why on Earth would I do that?” Vanessa snapped, “I have more than enough on my plate between my classes, Toastmasters, and my job.”

“Your job at McDonalds.” Sarah-Maybeline lifted an immaculate auburn eyebrow.

“Yes, Sarah-Maybeline. McDonalds.” Vanessa straightened and turned around to look at her. “it’s teaching me valuable life skills and the money will help pay for college.”

Sarah-Maybeline fell forward and lifted her feet behind her. Vanessa wondered if Sarah-Maybeline’s mother would be scandalized to know that Vanessa was seeing her bare feet and shins. “You know what teaches valuable life skills?” Sarah-Maybeline said, “Football. You know what pays for college? A football scholarship.”

“I’m not going to get a football scholarship. That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.” Vanessa turned back to her homework.

“Maybe not, but you will get attention.” Sarah-Maybeline paused for effect, propping her head up with her forearms and swaying her legs at the knees, “from bee-oh-wai-ess.”

Vanessa’s pencil stopped moving, all the math going out of her head. She was done with bee-oh-wai-ess. She was a strong and independent woman. There was no need and there would be no need for them in her life. She refused to let such a frivolous matter have any effect on her future.

Vanessa stood with Sarah-Maybeline in a wide green field overlooked by the ever-present Adirondack mountains. Sarah-Maybeline showed her how to grip the football with her fingers on the laces.

“How do you know how to do this?” Vanessa asked, incredulous.

“Five brothers, eighteen male cousins. I’m the only girl in my family, remember?” She took Vanessa’s shoulders and whispered in her ear, “So you can count on me to know boys.”

Vanessa lifted her arm above her head. She flicked her wrist and the football twirled and landed a few feet away.

“No no no, put your whole arm into it. Your core, too. Twist away from the direction you’re throwing, then send it all forward at once. Here, let me show you.”

Vanessa and Sarah-Maybeline looked like they were from another time in their long muted dresses. Vanessa figured a football looked out of place in her hands, but to see Sarah-Maybeline twist back and send the ball sailing far overhead to land out of sight behind a rolling hill was something else. She looked so at home in both a long dress and with a football that for a moment it was easy to believe the two were not in conflict with one another.

Now Vanessa was eager. She and Sarah-Maybeline ran over the hill to the ball, and she picked it up again, trying to mimic Sarah-Maybeline. “Correct my position,” Vanessa ordered. Sarah-Maybeline pulled her shoulder back, rearranged her fingers, and lifted her arm.

Vanessa’s arm lurched forward and the ball landed on its tip in the dirt a couple yards away. “That’s improvement!” Sarah-Maybeline assured her, “Now think about keeping the ball going in a straight path throughout your throw. The most perfect starting position won’t matter if you let it all loose the moment you start moving.”

Vanessa stepped forward and picked up the ball. She assumed the position and let Sarah-Maybeline correct her. “Now, Vanessa, remember to keep it straight. Focus. Throw like you mean it this time.”

Vanessa put her mind on the ball and imagined it going in a straight line as the rest of her body moved in a fluid motion around it. She took a deep breath and unwound her tensed posture into what felt like the perfect throw. She watched with dismay as the ball began once more to flip side over side. It didn’t fall, though. It just kept going higher and higher like gravity had no interest in it.

“Wwwwwwwwwoooooooooooaaaaaaahhhhhhh!!!” Sarah-Maybeline cried, her wavy brown hair lagging behind her as she bent her knees to jump up again in triumph.

Sarah-Maybeline returned to normal and they watched the tiny dot in the sky as it finally began to descend, disappearing in the trees high on one of the mountains in the distance well to the left of the direction Vanessa had been hoping to throw.

Sarah-Maybeline tackled Vanessa to the grass. “Oh my goodness gracious. You are the coolest person I know! You are going to get so much money and everyone is going to want to be your boyfriend.”

Vanessa was stunned.

“First off,” Sarah-Maybeline considered, straightening up, still pinning Vanessa to the ground, covering most of her body in her long dress, “we need to buy my brother a new ball.”

The End of Infinity Part 3

Vanessa’s panic attack, as Dr. Saunder explained it, turned out to be an isolated occurrence. In five years, she had not had another case of feeling like time had stopped and the air was no longer responding to attempts to breathe or move it, and this was so much for the better.

Boys didn’t tend to look Vanessa’s way at Saint Francis and Mary High School. Despite the progressive dress code, many of her classmates were still wearing long skirts and dresses, and many of them seemed to have no trouble attracting attention. Sometimes her friend Sarah-Maybeline would confide in her that she received too much attention. This was despite the fact that Sarah-Maybeline’s mother made sure her dress consistently covered her ankles. Vanessa restrained herself from telling her friend what a wonderful problem that was to have.

With eighteen years under her belt, Vanessa was much wiser than she had been. She now understood that it was not her mother’s dubious fashion dogma that kept the boys at bay, it was something fundamentally and deeply wrong at the core of her being that would guarantee a life without affection no matter what remedy she might seek to take. “Comforting” was not the word she would use to describe this new understanding, but it did free her to spend more time on her studies.

Vanessa’s academic performance had skyrocketed over the past five years. Her parents marveled at the way she could read a whole book  for English in under two hours and then complete her math homework in fifteen minutes. To her it didn’t feel like two hours or fifteen minutes. She could have sworn she’d been struggling over her math for half an hour and she would look at her grandfather clock in the corner of her room and see only five minutes had passed. Dr. Saunder called this stretching of time the gift of concentration, and when Vanessa suggested that people often thought less time had passed when in deep concentration, not more time, he was not moved. Vanessa didn’t wear her Schaffhausen watch anymore, as despite her local watchmaker’s assurance that it was top of the line and in excellent condition, it ran alarmingly fast, sometimes as many as twelve times faster than the other clocks around her.

Vanessa awoke at six in the morning. No matter when she went to bed, when she awoke it was always six in the morning and she always felt well-rested. She did not tend to be inclined to abuse this phenomenon, as by the time ten at night rolled around, she tended to be thoroughly exhausted from a day that felt twice or three times as long as it should have been. She got out of bed and brushed her teeth, then washed and changed into her school dress.

Vanessa enjoyed the wooded part of  her walk to school. A blue jay flew past, reaching out its wings and pushing them down to propel itself forward. “one…. two…” Vanessa counted the beats of the wings as it floated by. She approached a little brown rabbit that didn’t seem to notice her until she was upon it. She wondered sometimes about the slow reactions of animals in this forest. She bent down and touched its soft fur as it tensed its  legs to bound away.

At lunch, Vanessa studied with Sarah-Maybeline at the outdoor lunch tables. She was beginning to reconsider this tradition, as more and more it had become Vanessa trying to study while Sarah-Maybeline pretended not to revel in the parade of boys desperately trying to get her attention. Today John “don’t call me Jack” Sprat, the captain of the football team sidled up to them while Vanessa tried to wrap her head around her calculus homework.

“One divided by zero is undefined,” Vanessa told Sarah-Maybeline, following the text slowly with her finger as to move too quickly carried the risk of starting a fire. “But the limit of one divided by x as x approaches zero is infinity.”

“Ha ha ha,” Sarah-Maybeline giggled tossing her auburn curls, “get rid of that stupid ball, dork.”

“The question is what is the limit of one divided by x as x approaches zero from the other direction?”

John flipped the ball in the air. “This ball is most of this school’s funding. A lot of rich Christians want to send their kids to a school that dominates on the field without compromising its traditional values. That money rests on these two shoulders.”

“Mm, broad shoulders. But I don’t care. I don’t need a star football team.”

Vanessa looked up, “Get out of here, John. We’re studying, you know, to get real jobs?”

Sarah-Maybeline fluttered her eyelashes, “Yeah, John, go make out with your stupid ten million dollar ball while you stretch your school-carrying shoulders. They must be so sore.”

John grinned and leaned in closer. Now his football was in the way, so he turned around and pitched it to one of the bigger guys a few tables away. “Heads up!” The burly guy turned his head surprisingly far for his absence of a visible neck and in one fluid motion reached up and snatched the ball from the air. John turned back and put his face right to Sarah-Maybeline’s “They are so sore. I think I need somebody to give them a massage. It would do wonders for the school’s bottom line.

Vanessa spoke up, “That’s a great idea to take to the principle, John,” she suggested, then she adopted a faux masculine voice, “Principle Carpenter, with a small investment of $100 a week for me to have a personal masseuse, I can increase donations to this school by upwards of 10%!”

Sarah-Maybeline giggled devilishly and pushed John away. He stumbled back and was still blinking and trying to understand what had just happened to him when Vanessa looked back down to her textbook. “So if we have a very small denominator, then we get a large number. If we have a very small negative denominator…” there was another shout, “Heads-up!”

Vanessa heard a grunt, and then a sharp intake of breath followed by Sarah-Maybeline’s voice. “Vvvvvvvaaaaaannneeesssssaaaaaa…”

Vanessa shook her head. The hubbub around her had stopped. With a sudden pit in her stomach, she thought she couldn’t breathe, but it wasn’t the case. She could breathe and she could move. John was floating in the air, his arms outstretched towards nothing. Sarah-Maybeline’s eyes were wide and her mouth gaped open in a shout.

Vanessa looked up and saw a football inches from her forehead. She reached up and plucked it out of the air. Everything returned.

“a!” Sarah-Maybeline finished. Then she did a double-take. “Good catch!”

John turned around and for the first time looked directly at Vanessa, all thought of Sarah-Maybeline out of his mind. “Vanessa, right?”

Vanessa furrowed her brow. “Yes… and you’re Jack Sprat.”

John gritted his teeth, but let it pass. “Did you just catch that ball? Did you even know it was coming?”

“I – yes, I clearly caught it, Jack. It was in the air, now it’s in my hand.” She brandished the ball as evidence.

John nodded quickly, “Have you ever played football?”

“What’s a football?” Vanessa sneered.

John nodded and pursed his lips, then he raised a finger, “I’m going to go have a chat with the coach.” He spun around and started away. After a moment, he broke into a sprint.

“You forgot whatever this thing is,” Vanessa shouted after him, throwing it overhand. It slipped out of her hand and bounced on the table and into Sarah-Maybeline’s side.

“Vanessa, ouch!” Sarah-Maybeline whined, putting her hand to her ribs.

“Sorry,” Vanessa shrunk and returned to her calculus. Negative infinity. Once you got it it made perfect sense. There was something satisfying about the order of math.

The End of Infinity Part 2

Vanessa Koltrane lived a routine life with her family in a little town near the Adirondack mountains. When her school changed its dress code to allow girls to wear pants, she asked her mother to buy her a pair of blue jeans, but was sternly rebuked and sent to her room. She stared out of her window at the towering mountains and pouted.

The next day, passing by her local corner store on the way to school, she saw a pair of bell-bottoms that looked just like she had seen on TV. She turned her eyes away, but the they lingered in her mind. She could barely pay attention in school. She wasn’t the only girl in a skirt, but she was sure hers was the ugliest and brownest.

On the way back, Vanessa stared longingly at the jeans. She knew she could never afford them, but maybe if she could just try them on it would be enough.

Moe took off his sunglasses to give her the side eye when she carried the pants in. He put out his cigarette and asked, “Did your mudda say ye could buy those, V? I don’t think I could sell them to yeh without permission, y’know. It’s not like she’d hafta guess which stoah they came from.” he screwed his face up into the odd, leering expression he made when he was practicing his comedy routine.

Vanessa knew Moe was from the Big City and didn’t share her mother’s old-fashioned values. “I’m just gonna try it on, Moe.”

Moe chuckled deep in his throat. “I won’t tell if you won’t.” He returned his sunglasses to his face in a symbolic show of turning a blind eye.

The pants were the most wonderful thing Vanessa had ever experienced. Just the feeling of them hugging her body was ecstasy. In the mirror she looked like she was a TV star. She stepped out of the dressing room and Moe grinned at her. “You like ’em?”

“Yes.” Vanessa twirled and leapt, exulting in the freedom of having no loose fitting cloth weighing her down. Moe laughed. “Gosh, V, I’d just give ’em to ya if ya mudda wouldn’t flay me alive. Ain’t she gonna be expectin’ you home about now?”

Vanessa froze. Why did she have to take these off? Moe was even going to give them to her for free. The only thing in the way was her mother. She wrote it off and resumed dancing.

“Hey,” Moe said after a moment, “honey, I think it’s time for you to change back and head home.

Vanessa strutted in front of the mirror in the open dressing room door. “Do you think I look like a movie star?”

“You look like a princess, sweetheart, now I know yer mom is a piece a work and it ain’t fair, but I’d really appreciate if ya could maybe get moving.”

Vanessa did not want to go home. She was happy here. She just wanted to stay here in these pants. Not forever, necessarily, just a little longer. She spun around to beg Moe for more time, but he looked different. Moe’s sunglasses were back in his hand. She watched his face contort again for his comedy routine, but it did so much too slowly to maintain any joke.

She stood silent and stared. mouth stretch out to one side and his eyes bug out as usual, but achingly slowly. They seemed to just keep stretching further and further, buggier and buggier. As this happened, Vanessa felt like the air around her had grown heavier. When she breathed in it felt like she was breathing molasses.

Soon she had stopped paying any attention to Moe and focused all her energy on forcing air in and out of her lungs. One two-ton breath in haaaaaaaaaaaaa, one two-and-a-half-ton breath out aaaaaaaaaaah. “Moe” she squeaked, “help.” For a long second, she couldn’t breathe at all. She tried to pull her arms to her neck, but the air resisted her. She was trapped. She was going to die here. Just like Mom tried to warn her, God was punishing her for wearing blue jeans.

Then Moe finished his rictus and donned a look of concern. He rushed forward and kneeled in front of Vanessa as she gulped in breath after breath of the hot, tobacco-scented air. “What the hell just happened to you? Pardon my French.”

“I’m going home, Moe,” Vanessa croaked, “I’ll take the pants off. Thanks for letting me try them.”

“Uh, yeah, no prob. You sure yer ok? Do you need a ride? I can close this place up fer five minutes, nobody comes by anyway.”

“No,” Vanessa whispered.

“What were you doin’ all of a sudden tryin’ to breathe so fast? I never seen nobody pump their lungs like that.”

Vanessa nodded and stood up. She returned to the dressing room, changed, took her pants back to the rack, and walked back home.

Little Vanessa sobbed and shook and blubbered unintelligibly in Dorothy Koltrane’s arms. “There there,” she soothed, doing her best to follow what her daughter was saying, “God still loves you. There there.”

The Sympathetic Universe: The End of Infinity Part 1

I’m going to start labeling my short stories set in “The Sympathetic Universe” separately. For installations after the first, I’ll include only the story title, and leave “The Sympathetic Universe” as a category.

A yellow Prius screeched to a halt as Franklin Jones Watson crossed the street back to his apartment from Avengers: Endgame. Frank waved off the driver’s shouted curses. The movie’s approach to time intrigued him. He watched Back to the Future to see if it really was all bullshit, and indeed was appalled by the basic failure to understand even simple principles of cause and effect. Standing behind the desk at his neighborhood’s Best Buy, he fretted. “If Marty McFly disappears because his father never met his mother, how can he do it slowly? Doesn’t a slow change require time? Is there one time that we experience and then another time that governs changes to that timeline? If that’s the case, how can Marty see his history being erased? Wouldn’t his memory be erased along with it?”

Frank watched Terminator, Hot Tub Time Machine, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, and Looper, and came no closer to a satisfactory understanding. He wondered over a tepid hot pocket in his company break room, “If they cut off his limbs in the past, why is it only at that moment that we’re watching that they vanish? Why would he suddenly be unable to use the brakes in the car because he’s lost his leg? Why wouldn’t he not have been able to start driving the car in the first place, since he by necessity would have always not had the leg?”

Franklin lay in his folding reclining chair and watched through all of the old and new episodes of Dr. Who. “U R all being played,” he wrote on a Dr. Who fan site. “I thought at first Big Media just struggled with time travel, but now I know the truth.  In the modern Season 9, Episode 4 : ‘Before the Flood,’ the writers unambiguously brag about how the show has neither the desire nor the intention to take time travel seriously. This is really far from the first of a long series of offenses, but this one I found especially galling. The Doctor himself takes the time to carefully explain to the audience how what he is doing is a paradox. He points out that when he followed the instructions of a version of himself visiting from the future, he then gave those instructions to himself in the past simply because he remembered having been told them. Where did the instructions come from? Then instead of a satisfactory explanation of how in fact it is possible what the doctor has done, the show doubles down and suggests that the audience should be impressed that the writers have no respect for time travel. I’m starting a petition to boycott this show and all other attempts by Big Media to confuse the public and suppress knowledge of time travel. -FJW”

When a woman said in her OKCupid profile said that she liked to wonder about time travel paradoxes, Franklin meticulously explained to her how time travel has not once been properly represented in films and TV. He had recently rewatched Avengers: Endgame, for example, and realized that despite an initial promising confession that Hollywood and New York TV Establishment had been brainwashing us with lies like Back to The Future, it in fact was no less guilty. “If you believe the horseshit that Steve Rogers did not alter history appreciably when he decided to stick around in the past, what about chaos theory? Watch Jurassic Park. Every individual action we take is affected even if it’s in individually undetectable ways. If Steve Rogers appears and pushes air out of the way to make room for his volume and it moves a particle of dust an inch to the left such that it gets caught in a different air current and ends up in the nose of a passerby, it can cause him to sneeze when he otherwise would not, slowing him down by a full second. Not to draw the whole explanation out, but his interactions in the office will change when he meets everyone a second later, then their lives will be changed so on and so forth. If you say the big events won’t be affected, consider that Gavrilo Princep had given up trying to make the assassination that would begin World War I, and just by coincidence happened to be eating a consolation lunch on the street that Franz Ferdinand’s car was turning onto. Chance events make history.”

Curiously, this woman who supposedly enjoyed intellectual inquiry did not find Frank’s points intriguing and never responded. Frank brooded on humanity’s refusal to think seriously about time travel while waiting at the bus stop. What could we accomplish if this knowledge were not kept from us as a species? If only, Frank thought as he got off the bus, if only I could explore time manipulation myself. As he crossed the street, Frank was hit by a purple Jeep and killed.

In a great black expanse, Frank heard a voice. “THIS IS AN AUTOMATED PROCESS TO RESTORE YOUR MEMORIES.”

Then Frank remembered that his real name was BABBBABBABABAABBBABABBBBABABABBBBBBBABABAABBBABABABABABABABBBAA, and he could experiment with time as much as he damn well pleased.