“What did you find?” Simon said.
“Si,” Alex said behind him.
“What?” Simon turned to Alex then back to his son. “What was it?”
The boy stiffened. “There’s a man coming to talk to you both,” Marlon said. “He’s not happy about it, either. He’s coming for the thing in the shed. Me and Paul and Jake were --- we found this metal thing ---“
“Like a torpedo?”
“Oh, Jesus,” Simon said. “Did you open it?”
“We didn’t mean to! It just sort of popped open and there was this light! And and, and ---“ Rivers of tears were gushing down his face. “I’m sorry, Dad! We didn’t mean to! I don’t wanna die!”
Simon hugged his son tight. “You’re not going to die, Marlon. You’re gonna be okay. You’re gonna be okay.” Simon started to cry as he stroked his son’s head.
Simon looked at Alex and nodded. Alex went out.
The yard was different than Alex remembered: the hedge trees had been thinned out and he could see through to the cornfield beyond. Directly behind the house, about fifty yards off was the shed. It was actually a twenty by twenty outbuilding that Simon’s father had installed just before they all graduated. Thirty years had taken a toll and left the aluminum chimney crooked and leaning backward. Its windows were thick with dust. Peering through the filth the shed seemed impossibly big to Alex and filled to the brim with crates and boxes. The door creaked on rusted hinges when he pushed it open.
In the far corner was a ten-foot tall, canvas-covered something that had a round shape on top of it, but it was the two foot-long cylinder on a workbench to the right that drew his attention. It lay there silently, closed now and whispering to him. Pick me up, it said, open me, I will share with you.
“Goddamn,” Simon said from behind him. Alex jumped.
“Jesus, Simon! Don’t do that!”
Simon smiled and stood next to his friend. “Sorry, man. Thought you heard me come in. Those hinges are deadly.”
“No,” Alex said. “I heard that --- that thing talking to me.” He caught his breath and shook his head. “How’s Marlon?”
“He’ll be all right,” Simon said. “He doesn’t want to come back out here. The Anderson boys ran home, so I’ve got to explain all this to them later on.” Simon took a step forward and put his hands on either side of the cylinder without touching it. “Damn, it’s powerful. It wants me to pick it up.”
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”
Alex and Simon whirled around to see a silhouetted shape of a man in the doorway behind them. “Please step back from the capsule. It’s really for your own safety, you know.” The shape stepped into the shed and they were able to see the white-haired man smiling at them and put out his right hand. “Stephen Fawning, gentlemen. I’m an agent of the Bureau of Time Management. From your future, I’m afraid.” His proper British accent emphasized the air of authority he exuded.
“Uh, huh,” Simon said. “Why should we believe you?”
“Do I really need to answer that?” Fawning was half-smiling, very proper in his stance. “Gentlemen, we both know that the capsule does not belong to you, never has. I’ve come to reclaim it, so it doesn’t really matter when I come from, does it? That I know what’s inside and what it can do ought to prove to you that I am sincere.”
“I don’t appreciate your attitude.”
Alex put a hand on Simon’s shoulder. “Calm down, Si. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.”
Simon didn’t take his eyes off the dapper functionary. “Regardless. I don’t want to give this up until I get a few questions answered. What do you say to that?”
Fawning nodded. “If you don’t mind, I’ll not let this out of my sight.” He stepped past them.
With Simon and Alex watching, Fawning put on a pair of large heavy gloves and carefully picked up the cylinder. “You can’t imagine the thousands of hours we’ve expended in searching for this little bugger.” He smiled and followed the two men back into the house.
Soon, the cylinder was a centerpiece on the dining room table and the three men were all sipping tea and looking at the smooth surface of ‘the capsule’.
“What’s inside it, exactly?” Simon said.
“A Time Capsule.”
“Not like one I’ve ever seen,” Alex said.
Fawning put down his teacup. “Yes, well.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s a Time Capsule in the sense that it has inside a very specific amount of Time that has been manufactured to exact specifications for a very particular client. This product was supposed to have been delivered several weeks ago (my subjective time) and went missing.”
“Time? There’s Time bottled up in there?” Simon said. “How is that possible? How can you ‘make’ Time?”
“I assure you it is indeed possible as that’s what has been in your family’s possession for the last thirty years or so, your subjective time.” Fawning sighed and leaned into the table. “I am from farther into your subjective future than you might think. Advancements have been made in a good many fields of study and fabrication, some you might even recognize.”
“Why would someone need a specific amount of Time manufactured for them? What are the effects of an operation like that?” Alex was nearly breathless, an excited boy in a darkened movie theater. “How far into the future are you from?”
Fawning told them.
“Wow,” Alex said. “So you coming here is like us going back to the day that something crawled from the ocean and said ‘Nice day, think I’ll stay awhile’?”
“Something like that, yes,” Fawning said. He laughed out loud. “Yes, quite like that. I don’t want to be rude, but I do have something of a schedule to keep. Might I ---?” He indicated the cylinder.
“I suppose so,” Simon said. The three men pushed their chairs back and stood. Fawning smoothed out his suit jacket and buttoned it. Alex looked in awe at Fawning and Simon was morose. “It’s just odd, isn’t it, Fawning? This whole situation, I mean.”
“You’ve done well with what you’ve had to deal with, my boy. No one could have asked anything more of you. My apologies for bursting into your lives like this. We wouldn’t have found the thing if your son hadn’t opened it again. Had to happen, really. Human nature to be curious.” He put on the heavy gloves and picked up the cylinder. They walked through the living room. “Is that what I think it is?”
“What?” Simon said. “The book?”
“Yes!” Fawning was visibly excited. “Russia Owens, indeed! I haven’t seen one of those since I was a boy!”
“You know about Russia Owens?”
“Storytelling is an important art form that is underappreciated,” Fawning said. “Owens was one of the best and overlooked for centuries. Truly ahead of his time.” The man from the future leaned toward them conspiratorially. “Some even think that he was perhaps a Chrononaut and escaped to your time here to evade capture for some terrible crime.”
Alex and Simon looked at each other and Alex picked up the book, put it under Fawning’s arm. “There you go.” They continued their trek to the deck outside. Fawning bowed to them and took a deep breath.
“Good to meet you, gentlemen, and thank you for the graphic novel. It’s very much appreciated.” He bowed slightly to them. “You’ll have no recollection of any events surrounding the capsule.”
“What about seeing into the future? What about my son and the boys who opened the cylinder today?” Simon said. “What happens to us?”
“That would be telling,” Fawning said. “However, I can assure you that any ill winds that may blow on you are not because of this little dickens. Everyone’s ability to see into the future will remain unaffected but you will not have an explanation for it. You will all experience déjà vu regularly and wonder about the nature of time as the rest of your world does. You should have normal lives, if a little longer than most.
“Now I must be off.”
There was no flash of light, no sound to mark the departure. Fawning was there and then he was gone. Simon closed his eyes and listened. He heard his heart slow down.
“Si? What are you thinking?”
The wind soughed through the hedge trees and the remains of one summer’s treehouse caught Simon’s eye. He and Alex had spent dozens of nights in that treehouse talking about the future. Simon smiled and looked at his friend. “I just want to remember this for as long as I can.”
©2009 By Jason Arnett.
Some Rights Reserved under a Creative Commons Attribution-
Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States
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