The Past Tastes Better

The Past Tastes Better

Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, my job is nothing. Forty or fifty years, or in rare cases, seventy, but never much more. A quick nip in time, back to some church dinner or Bar Mitzvah to pick up gramma’s secret recipe—whatever it happened to be—and back to collect the check. Big checks, and bigger tips. Tipping assuages the guilt of asking someone to risk being atomized—and plenty of time to study.

MIT doesn’t let just anyone play with their toys, after all.

Not that they know.

If anybody asks, I’m a waiter.

I’d been a waiter for over a year before I got the other kind of request.

The woman looked at me for a long time before she said anything. Something not quite right about her clothes, as if she were trying to hid who she was, and where she came from. Her baggy t-shirt advertised a decade-old Golden Gophers victory, and her khakhi pants had a bargain-basement droop.

“I would like to buy two tacos,” she said. She enunciated each word, practiced, and vaguely reminiscent of the old Mid-Atlantic accent. I still didn’t know where she was from, but not Minnesota.

“Go away.” I turned another page in my nondescript magazine and smiled at a comic strip that wasn’t funny. “Can’t you see we’re closed?”

She stood firm. “Please? They’re for my pet parakeet. He’s dying.”

That was the code. I leaned over the counter to see if anyone was watching. “Oh. All right. Come around back.”

I waited until I heard a knock, and jerked the door open. “You know what I do?”

She nodded. “And?”

“I need you to go to twenty-seven forty-two.”

For just a second, I thought the numbers were coordinates. Then, I choked. “That’s in the future,” I said. “It’s–”

“Nearly six hundred years from now.” She watched my face, my arms, maybe even my legs. “You do … do that, don’t you?”

“Time travel.” I nodded.

“How much?”

“Every couple of weeks.” I really thought that was what she meant, and I really thought that was the stupidest thing I’d ever said in my life.

“How much money?” She asked.

“I can’t do it. The future–”

“The distant future,” she corrected me.

“It’s tricky. I can’t know where I’ll be in the future.”

“You’ll be dead.”

“Excuse me?”

“Six hundred years from now, you’ll be dead. It’s not like you’re going to run into your future self and ignite the atmosphere,” she said. “Just stay out of cemeteries, and you’ll be fine.”

I considered, as I always did, when that kind of an offer came up. A quick peek at the future news could pay off. “It’s complicated.”

“You believe it, don’t you?”

I sighed. Explaining the science to her wasn’t worth it, and she wouldn’t agree with me, regardless. Until you’ve seen it, you’ll never understand how vast and timeless a single grain of sand can be. “There isn’t enough money in the world to make me go to the future,” I said. “Too many variables.”

“The Grandfather Paradox?”

No, she didn’t understand what she was saying, but there it was. My out. I made my next nod an apology. “So, you understand,” I said.

She smiled back at me. “Of course, I do.” She shifted her weight, and got up. I was relieved. She wasn’t going to be a problem. “I’m sorry I wasted your time,” she said.

I shrugged it off. I didn’t need the job. I didn’t need any job. That made it easier to say no. “If you think of anything else you need,” I said. “If it’s within our parameters…”

“Oh, I’ll call you.” A wistful sigh, and I still felt guilty for saying no. She was out the door, and headed back to wherever she came from before I could say anything else.

I followed her into the rain, just to make sure she got back to her car alright. Nobody ever looks for a borrowed quantum distortion generator in a rough neighborhood, but I was uneasy about letting her walk alone. “Hey. Let me walk you to your car.”

She walked a little faster. “I don’t have a car.”

“You live near here? I’ll walk you home. It’s dark.”

She didn’t respond, and she didn’t look at me again. She got to the dead end of the road, and just stood there, with the wind and rain soaking her through.

“You mean, you’re homeless?” People did camp in that park. I hadn’t guessed. I hadn’t even offered her a sandwich. “What could you possibly want in twenty-seven forty-two? I mean–”

“Nothing.” She paced without looking at me. “I don’t want anything. I got what I came for.”

I debated how her mind was. Not good, if she was standing in that neighborhood, in the rain at night. But she got the pass code somewhere, and I tried again. “I’ll call some one. Want a sandwich? I’ll try not to burn the peanut butter.”

“It’s recursive,” she said.

Maybe she wasn’t talking to me. “I don’t understand,” I said. “Lets go somewhere warm.”

“It’s not a paradox. It’s recursive.” She was talking to me, and she wasn’t, and maybe she didn’t remember I was even there. She chewed her lower lip, and thought hard. “The whole thing. Time travel. The whole species. Maybe even the whole planet. It’s recursive.”

I gave her a stern smile. “You never told me what you wanted,” I said.

“It’s okay, Grandpa. I got what I came for.” She took something out of her pocket, and looked at it for just a second. “You get there, eventually.”

“I get where?”

She pressed a button, and disappeared into the blue crackle of distorted time.

Be sure you visit the other blogs on the hop for more short fiction.

You are Here—>The Past Tastes Better by Karen Lynn

Revealing Space by Barbara Lund

The Rose Tender by Raven O’Fiernan

The Last Sleeping Beauty by Tamara Ruth

Freeman byElizabeth McCleary

Hell’s Play by Juneta Key

The Token by Eli Winfield

Moshe by Chris Makowski

To The Moon And Beyond, by Fanni Sütő

Surprise, by Katharinia Gerlach

In A Picture by Erica Damon

StoryTime Blog Hop: Your Invitation

We’re a little less than a month out from the next StoryTime Blog Hop, and I’m actually getting the invitation out in time that everyone has an actual opportunity to write a short story. The deadline for links is July 20, this time around, and the Fabulous Juneta Key will be hosting (again. Because she’s amazing.)

StoryTime is a Speculative Fiction blog hop, so bring your Science Fiction, Fantasy, and anything else that has speculative elements, and join us.

The hop features speculative short stories, usually under 1000 words with a G or PG rating (No graphic sex or violence, and try to avoid the dirty filthy language you hear around here.) It is not specifically oriented toward children, although children’s stories are welcome and encouraged.

If you want examples of stories from previous hops, I have a (dismally out of date) list of links.

I hope you’ll join us as a writer, but if not, be sure to come back and read the stories on the 26th of July.

StoryTime Blog Hop: An Invitation

The StoryTime Blog Hop is a hop for Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Speculative fiction writers to show off their short stories. While it’s not specifically aimed at children, we do avoid adult content for this one. The amazing Juneta Key has been suckered into hosting graciously volunteered to host this month’s hop yet again, and she’s inviting anyone who has a short story that fits the bill to join in.

If you are interested in participating, the rules and deadlines are here: http://www.junetakey.com/posts/rules-guidelines-storytime-blog-hop/

If you’re still not sure what this is all about, I have links to some of the past stories, including my own StoryTime contributions here: StoryTime links so you’ll be able to read what people have done in the past. (It’s possible that needs updating. I’ll look into it.)

We’re also looking into a stand-alone StoryTime website, and some great ideas for promoting and growing the blog hop, so be sure you join in the conversation.

The Poisoner of Time

Story Time Blog Hop Logo

It was nearly midnight before the first fatal drops splattered from the rattling still.

The old woman checked the door, but she was alone. Her husband was long since in bed, the cat was locked safely in the cellar, and the most lethal poison in the world was gathering in the bottom of one of her grandmother’s rose tea cups. And her other self? The harried young woman she’d been all those years ago? She wouldn’t be there. That was certain. The old woman no longer remembered exactly where she had been that week, but somewhere else. A business trip, probably. There had been so many of those, and always, the promise was later… always, later…

The old woman scoffed, and adjusted the fire under the still.

Later. When? After she got pregnant, she’d worked even harder. A baby to support. A new house. A newer, safer car. They’d both worked harder, and they told each other they’d relax later. In time, when things would be better, and they’d all be secure. The baby was born, they hired a sitter, and kept working.

The baby grew, and changed, and said his first words. The sitter took video.

By then, she’d regretted all those days and nights she spent working.

The sitter went home. The baby got sick. The husband packed him into a warm car on a cold, winter night, and disappeared too fast down a too icy road.

And then, Time. Tick by tick, second by second, she moved further and further away from them. The love of her life—she’d always taken him for granted—and their child—more and more Time between them.

She learned to fight her way backward through time, like running the wrong way up an escalator. She could get close – now and then, she could see them on the other side of the years and decades.

And then, she slipped back. The currents carried her away again and again.

She was still young, when the first strange optimism entered her mind: Time separated them. Time, and only Time. And if Time could be destroyed… if she could end Time… or even just wound Him, there would be nothing left to keep them apart. She could be with her family again.

She plotted—how to reach Time, how to brew poison strong enough to kill Time, itself, how to sneak into the palaces of eternity unnoticed.

And after she made her plans, she’d waited longer. No one would suspect a gray old woman of carrying poison in her tea. No one would suspect a single thing.

She walked deliberately, so slowly, that at times, she believed she would die before she ever reached Time. Step by step, carefully… if she splashed—if she spilled a single drop–the poison that was brewed to kill an immortal could overcome a thousand, a million aging mortals like her.

She teetered down to the end of the corridor, pushed open the last door, and stepped inside the dimly lit room.

And then, there was Time.

He lay, half-exhausted on a feather bed. Slender, almost delicate, though the lithe muscles in his legs and back suggested a runner’s strength.

He looked—she thought, just for a moment—like her own baby might have looked at twenty or twenty-five, if he had lived long enough to grow so tall and strong.

She pushed the thought out of her mind. The poison trembled in her cup: another second longer, and her own strength might vanish; she could collapse and spill the poison on herself. She inhaled, lifted the cup, as if she were about to drink, and then flung the liquid, cup and all, across the empty space between them.

The poison splashed across Time’s back, and seared the flesh it touched; the cup bounced on the mattress, and then rolled over the edge. It fell fast, but, just before it should have hit the marble floor, it stopped falling. It stopped falling. Everything stopped.

In the motionless silence that followed, the old woman laughed; her enemy was dead. There wasn’t a second of Time between herself and… Her family, her husband, her baby… They were all in that one, single Now. Now was all… the teacup was floating in air. Not falling. There was no Time for anything to fall. Not anymore. Time was dead.

She laughed again.

Running footsteps on the floor behind her. A man or a god swept her out of the way. Before she could say anything, he rolled the corpse onto its back, and pounded on Time’s chest with his fists. He pressed his mouth to Time’s lips. A kiss, perhaps, or maybe resuscitation. She knew the effort wouldn’t work; the new god was already kneeling in her poison.

“Mortal, you fool!” He compressed Time’s chest again, and again, nothing. Nothing, and the teacup didn’t fall an inch. “You fool. Don’t you know what you’re made of? What they’re all made of?”

“Flimsy things, I know.” She took a step backward. “And yet, here you are. Take him, Death.”

“Death?” The god’s voice was thinner than before, and a cold sparkle In his eyes was already fading. He sank onto the pillows, and let his eyelids close. “No, woman. I wasn’t Death. I was Memory.”


The elegant room faded into white tile and florescent lights, and then, it slipped away all together.

She’d been somewhere else.

She knew she—

Somewhere… hadn’t she just been somewhere else?

She tried to get up. Tried to find someone she didn’t see. She couldn’t remember who.

And then, a bland young woman in a too-cheerful set of hospital scrubs was there beside her, coaxing her back into the chair she’d just left.

“That cup never broke,” the old woman said, and smiled. She knew that much, at least. That was the important part of the thing. “You know that old rose tea cup? The antique one? It–

“Your cup is perfectly safe,” the bland woman said, and patted her hand.

 

 

Be sure you visit the other writers in the StoryTime Blog Hop for more stories!

New Stork Inc. by Katharina Gerlach
The Thief & The Pocket Heart by Juneta Key
Hello Again! by J. Q. Rose
Reflected by Elizabeth McCleary
Veronica by Jessica Kruppa
Last Stop by Erica Damon
Jesse and Tyler by Bill Bush

The Waves At Midnight

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The screams died down faster than you would think; the icy water took most of our sacrifices before the drowsy demons woke to notice the men struggling against the tide. Here and there, a marked warrior swam back toward the ship, but none reached it, and the priests did not have to scrape their clawing hands off the timbers.

When the demons did come, the sea boiled gently, and the few survivors were brave. The demons dragged them fast and deep. Afterward, the Death Lamp caught just a trace of blood on the waves.

It was a good sacrifice, and by every known portent, it seemed to be accepted. The priest declared the blood valid quickly, and the sailors weighed anchor almost before the words were out of his mouth.

We had turned back.

We should have made it to port before the bars stopped serving, and we would have celebrated with abandon. A good sacrifice, and another year of calm waves and sleeping demons.

The cabin boy laughed, and no one noticed.

The cabin boy laughed. A simpleton, admiring the trail of bubbles in the ship’s wake.

A simpleton, who fell overboard, reaching for the moon’s reflection on the water.

By the demons’ breath, the fool kept laughing, until the water around him boiled. The demons were on him in a second, but half satiated from the sacrifice, the monsters toyed with him.

On board, the priests and augurs scurried to dream up answers. The portents had been so clear… so positive. The demons had taken the sacrifice. The transaction was complete.

Surely, what happened–what was happening–to the cabin boy was a misunderstanding. Perhaps, they thought, the sea-demons thought the simpleton was one final offering. He certainly thrashed enough.

Again, the ship sailed homeward. This time, there was no celebration, and the high Priest stood beside the Death Lamp, searching the water behind us for the demons, or their boiling breath.

Time stopped, or time sped faster, and the assembled priests and the silent crew barely breathed in the darkness. No one could see the ocean outside the light’s narrow beam, but we could all hear the waves whispering against our fragile ship. We could hear the splashes, and the ripples. We listened for what we could not see, and imagined what we already had seen.

Every man on board counted heartbeats. How long had it been? How far had we gone? How much further to land and the safety of home?

They counted.

And the wordless night held them. That was not a bubble. Just a splash. Not a bubble. No. Just the ship cutting through the waves. Just…

A slithering, leathery body, sliding, slithering along the hull.

A second, screeching, not loud, but indescribably shrill, and yet watery, like a razor blade being sharpened on an endless and grainy strop.

The Priest made his decision, and fast. “Throw them overboard.” He gestured to the cluster of sailors closest to the edge.

The captain raised his revolver… cocked it… aimed.

And the men did not move. Better a bullet than boiling in the waves.

But the Captain could not shoot; the demons demanded a healthy sacrifice. The sailors knew that.

“They’ll follow the ship. They’ll hound us all. And the blood won’t stop. Not without a clean sacrifice.” The Priest rallied and coaxed, but the men stood firm. “Don’t you have wives? Children? ”

“Cowards!” The Captain bellowed, but he didn’t move.

The demons would have taken any of us, or all of us, and maybe they would have been content, but no one moved. No one thought about moving.

The ocean all around the ship was boiling. No one could mistake the bubbles for anything else. And the demons’ scales raked across the ship’s sides. We only had one thought between us: how many? How many? There could be one, or thousands.

A moment of distraction. The Captain forgot the helm, and the ship split open on the forgotten rocks. The force threw men and priests off the deck and into the water; it threw me hard against the crags.

The demons had their sacrifice. I dropped my head, and uttered the true sigh of relief: It wasn’t me. Chance had me on solid ground.

I stayed there, until morning, relieved and exhausted, and ashamed to be alive.

And in the darkness, I heard a new sound. Quiet, next to the men’s screams, and even calm, against their thrashing, but getting closer I heard the splashing of demons at play. As gleeful as the dancing of water sprites, and as terrible as death. And something else, that could only be described as laughter.

The demons were laughing.

I trembled in terror and understanding. Whatever happened there, that night, the demons liked it.

With my compatriots dead, I watched the last of the demons frolic in the surf just off shore. Now, and then, their scales caught the beam from the light house above the rocks. And for a while, they seemed to move steadily along a course that would take them out to sea. Then, one of them turned back, rose up onto the land, and lumbered toward the lights of the village.

PARTICIPANTS:

You are Here–> Karen Lynn The Waves at Midnight

Sherri Conway Ants

Elizabeth McCleary Over James Henry Wilcox Dead Body

Canis Lupus The Picture

Peg Fisher All In the Fall, a Fractured Fairytale

Bill Bush Trapped

Benjamin Thomas Autumn Cascade

Crystal Collier Emily’s Ghost

Viola Fury 911

Juneta Key All Hallows’ Eve

C. Lee McKenzie Beautiful

Erica Damon Penance’

J. Q. Rose Sorry

Elise VanCise Lady In The Woods

Barbara Lund Spooky Space

Angela Wooldridge Quiet Neighbours

Katharina Gerlach Australian Dream

And Approaching That Last Minute

Today, I finally got a serious start on the short story I’m working on for the blog hop. I hate to say I’m pushing the last minute here, but it’s been one of those weeks/months/years. I’ll probably finish the story during my early-morning writing session tomorrow, and throw a little spit-polish on before I post it.

Actually, this is the second story I’ve gotten out of the current blog hop, so I’m not doing too badly. If you want to read a different Halloween story, Mrs. Willoughby’s Heart is up, right now.

Oh, yeah… and in case I haven’t mentioned it, lately. Story Time Blog Hop on the 27th of October with the amazing and ingenious Juneta Key hosting. We have a great lineup of writers, this time around, so be sure you drop by to read the stories for the Halloween edition. They’re free… for now, anyway.

I think you’ll find mine is particularly terrifying. I was working on it at a new coffee house, where the barista scammed me into drinking a cup of something with “Earthy undertones.”

As it turns out, “Earthy Undertones” is posh for “Tastes Like Dirt.”

My characters suffered for that one.