THE Main Street Flea Market was an odd confluence of people and trinkets that Terry found comforting. He appreciated the idealism. Seemingly worthless items gathered and placed on display for others to sift through and find hidden treasure. Despite his reluctance to mingle with other people, especially in crowds, Terry was here every Saturday searching—for what he didn’t know. But he’d found wonderful things in the meantime: rare Pez dispensers, original vinyl albums (the Beatles, mostly), and various kitschy baubles from bygone eras.
Terry was something of an anachronism himself, with his auburn mop top framing his thin, pale face, and his mod-cut blazer, skinny black pants, and Beatle boots. He wore dark, Roy Orbison sunglasses and a checked button-down shirt, with a vintage messenger bag slung across his shoulder. Buttons adorned the bag with band logos and slogans, everything from The Cure to They Might Be Giants, as well as a patch with a skull and crossbones on a rainbow flag. Inside the bag was an equally eclectic assortment of comics: Batman, Ghost World, Tank Girl, and Maus, whatever he might be in the mood for at any given time. He kept a sketchbook and a few art supplies as well.
Terry lived most of his life in the past. Not the recent past, where the pain was, but just a bit further, where things were safe. He’d only just given in and purchased a smartphone, reluctant as he was not only to move into the present but to accept a future. His mind drifted to Dante for a moment, his mouth, the way he tilted his head and smiled. Terry gritted his teeth, forcing himself to focus on other things, like an original set of Masters of the Universe action figures on the table before him. He chuckled at their silly names: Fistor, Lobstor, Stinkor. He wondered what his He-Man name would be—Lamentor? Depressor? Terry shook his head, a smirk on his thin lips. It would have to be Cliché-or, Terry thought, considering his feelings and reactions to recent events. Terry hated being that guy.
His reverie was interrupted by some sort of disturbance across the market, near the fountain at the center of the park. He turned, his eyes wide, toward the commotion. People were dashing around frantically. Terry stood on the tips of his pointed boots, trying to see what was going on. He saw someone dashing through the crowd, elbowing people, forcing his way, knocking into tables. Terry frowned. The man bounding through the crowd was obviously some eccentric cosplayer. He wore strange brass-detailed goggles below messy red-gold locks. The man was lean, lanky, with worn leather clothes that enhanced his frame, and pointy hobnail boots. The man’s waistcoat bore strange brass instruments, his tailcoat looked antiquated, and there was an odd mechanism, a weapon or tool, swinging from his belt. The man’s expression was wild, ecstatic.
“Terry!” the man sang. “I’ve found you!” A great joyous smile split the stranger’s face.
“Pardon?” Terry mumbled. How did this man know his name?
“You must come with me,” the man stated as he embraced Terry, whose hazel eyes grew wide at the bizarre familiarity.
“Must I?” Terry asked, shocked as the man grabbed Terry by the biceps.
“It’s imperative.” The strange man locked his gaze on Terry, who noticed the other man’s eyes held a shifting sea of gold, orange, and red surrounding his pupils, which dilated sporadically, as if he were focusing on many things at one time. The stranger grabbed Terry’s hand and hauled him along through the crowd.
“Do I know you?” Terry asked.
“Not yet.” The man continued to drag Terry toward the center of the park. The people in the flea market parted as the pair hurried through. The polished silver skin of an Airstream trailer loomed before them. “Welcome to my vessel.”
“Not exactly.” The man reached the door and threw it inward. Terry couldn’t believe his eyes. The Airstream was nothing like any trailer he’d ever seen on the inside. The center of the room was dominated by an odd tank filled with liquid, fading from blue to purple. Inside the liquid rested a very disturbing bit of something that resembled a very large beating heart. Cables fed into the tank from above while copper pipes fed in at the base. The outside of the trailer was shining silver, but the interior was polished brass, rivets, panels, and odd technology. Some bits looked decidedly and disconcertingly organic. Terry observed gears grinding away among advanced circuitry. The stranger manipulated dials, levers, and various mundane controls. Clockwork parts clicked consistently.
“What is this?” Terry asked.
“Long story short?” the stranger answered. “Time machine.”
“Serious? A Timestream trailer?” Terry regarded the stranger, who nodded. “Wow. Who are you?”
“I’m the Professor.”
“Professor of what?” Terry asked, trying desperately to comprehend his predicament.
“Exactly,” the stranger answered, oblivious or deliberately cryptic. Terry wasn’t sure.
Terry walked around the small cabin, running his hand over highly polished wood panels, brass railings, and glass diodes as the man calling himself the Professor continued to tinker. The chamber hummed with power.
“You might want to sit down. Hold on to something.” The stranger pointed to a construct that looked like a cross between a dentist’s chair and a bar stool.
Terry remained immobile for a moment until the entire trailer lurched to one side, almost causing him to fall. He jumped into the seat. His gaze darted to a small table flanked by two benches in what Terry assumed was the sleeping/living area, above which hung what looked like a hammock. The wall beside it was plastered with photos, newspaper clippings, and other oddities. Some of the items looked like they’d come from Earth, while others—well, others didn’t.
A sound like the ringing of a thousand clocks pummeled Terry’s ears. He heard a light tinkling of chimes that slowly grew with the pulsing clock sound, and the light from the tank at the center of the cabin glowed steadily brighter, shifting color in the same rhythm as the sound of the machine.
“Here we go,” the Professor exclaimed, giggling.
“Where?” Terry yelled over the din. The trailer shifted, and Terry felt a sudden rush in his stomach and then weightlessness.
“You mean ‘when?’,” the Professor answered. Terry felt nauseous, as it seemed to him reality took a quick jump to the left.
“It’s only rough at the beginning,” a little voice said near Terry’s ear. “And only the first few times,” that tiny voice with the proper English accent added, and Terry realized the Professor spoke with the same accent.
England has developed time-travel technology? Terry sought the owner of the voice and was shocked to see a small hedgehog perched on a pipe attached to the ceiling. The tiny beast smiled, and Terry realized he’d lost his mind. Dante’s death had finally sent him over the edge. He’d expected it every day since he’d received the phone call about the incident. Now that it had happened, it seemed natural, almost comfortable. His family had spoken about it in hushed tones at the holidays, when Terry refused to join in the festivities or be cheered up. They’d been right. He wondered where his body was.
“So, you’re a talking hedgehog,” Terry shouted. “How’s that working out?” And as gradually as the noise had grown, it suddenly stopped, replaced by a pleasant hum.
“He’s a Borelian bushpig,” the Professor explained. “A cousin of the animal you’re familiar with. They’re the one constant in the universe. Hedgehogs are everywhen.”
“So he’s not just a talking hedgehog but a talking hedgehog from another planet?”
“Something like that,” the Professor agreed.
“Thigden,” the bushpig stated.
“Pardon?” Terry asked.
“My name is Thigden,” Thigden clarified. “Pleased to meet you again.”
“Time,” Thigden said. He shrugged and scampered up the pipe, then to another and across the ceiling. For a psychotic hallucination, the situation remained strangely civil.
“Are you all right, Terry?” The Professor leaned down and pried Terry’s left eye a little wider with his thumb and forefinger. “The first time you joined me, the initial jump into the Stream wreaked havoc with your intestines.”
“I felt like I was going to vomit, but I think I’m okay now.” Except for being insane.
“First class,” the Professor exclaimed proudly. “Oh, and you’re not insane, either. Last time you also insisted you had gone round the bend.”
“I—” Terry began but closed his mouth. This whole situation was impossible. “So you’re not British, are you?”
“Not at all. Not even human,” the Professor said, as though it should be obvious to Terry. “But you don’t know that yet. You must forgive me. I’m forgetting you don’t know all this already. We’ve known each other for quite some time. It happened by chance. I was just investigating a temporal anomaly and there you were. We ‘hit it off’ as your people say.” The Professor gestured wildly with his hands as he spoke. “Are you hungry? Would you like something to eat? I’ve some tea and jam sandwiches.” The Professor stared expectantly at Terry, who nodded slowly. “First class!” he exclaimed and began sifting through drawers and cupboards.
“I’m really confused,” Terry stated, rubbing his temples.
“Time will do that,” the Professor answered without abandoning his search. “Aha!” He spun, holding two soda bottles and a bag of cookies. “Pop and ginger snaps!”
“You never answered my question,” Terry said, accepting the pop. The Professor pointed an odd, little tool that emitted a beam of light that coalesced into a can opener and flipped the top. Terry regarded the small tool suspiciously. Distracted from his original investigation, Terry asked, “What’s that? Sonic—?”
“No!” the Professor barked.
“What?” Terry winced under the Professor’s murderous expression.
“We’ve discussed this.”
“We have?” Terry asked.
Terry’s host smacked himself in the forehead. “No. You’re right. We haven’t yet. Sorry. It’s my Wand,” the Professor answered matter-of-factly, using the tool on his own soda.
“You’re a wizard?”
The Professor huffed a laugh. “No. It’s not a magic wand. It’s—well, I don’t know there’s a word for it in your language. It’s a sort of omni-tool. Assesses a problem, finds a solution. Dead handy.”
“That sounds like magic.”
“Science. Definitely science, I assure you. Though it’s nothing to do with sound waves. Much more complex. Sound waves. Absurd.” The Professor chomped a few ginger snaps and took a large swig of soda. “Which question didn’t I answer?” The Professor jumped back to a previous conversation like his ship must jump through time. Terry marveled at his host’s nonlinear thinking.
“Where—” Terry started. “When,” he corrected, “are we going?”
“A very significant time in your life. Actually, a few very significant times in your life.” The Professor abandoned his soda and cookies, jumping up and dashing around the cabin, checking, double-checking.
“My life?” Terry flashed on the significant things that had occurred in his life—birthdays, first kisses, graduation, Dante. He suddenly lost his appetite and placed the cookie he’d been about to eat on the nearby counter.
“Don’t look like that,” the Professor instructed without turning. “It’s got nothing to do with Dante. I know that pain is still very sharp, but hopefully we can do something about that.” The Professor twisted a few knobs and pulled a lever while Terry considered the man’s words. We can do something about that. They were in the belly of a time machine. They could stop Dante’s death before it happened. The Professor turned, a very stern look on his face. “No.”
“I know what you’re thinking, Terry. But we cannot bring Dante back. I’m sorry. I’ve run the simulations a hundred times over, and they all must end or begin with Dante’s death.”
“How did you know what I was thinking?”
“We’ve already had this particular discussion. Brace yourself. We’re almost then.” The chimes had returned as well as the swelling bellsound, and the cabin rocked unsteadily. Terry grabbed the sodas so they wouldn’t spill. The Professor rabbited about again.
“How do you know when we are?”
“It’s a sense my people have. Your people can smell and taste. We can read time. It’s our chronosomes.”
“You mean chromosomes,” Terry corrected.
“No. I don’t. Hang on!” The tank, the noise, and the cabin all pulsed like mad until Terry felt reality take a sudden step to the right. This time he did vomit. Just soda, but still unpleasant. The Professor pointed his Wand at the liquid, and it hovered just above the floor of the cabin, which Terry noticed was marble, black and white checked. The Professor guided the liquid to something Terry assumed was a sink and released it. “Come along,” the Professor stated. Then he grabbed the door and flung it open. “You’re just about to get here!” And then he dashed outside.
Terry wiped his hand across his mouth, set the sodas back on the counter, and muttered, “I’m already here.” Then he exited the cabin.