Authors: Dan Garmen
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Alternate History, #Time Travel, #Alternative History, #Military, #Space Fleet
It was a waste of time.
I couldn't find anything about any neurological conditions involving someone who became “unstuck” in time, or even any causing them to believe it had happened. I began to search for cases of people in comas who imagined highly detailed worlds that turned out to be hallucinations. I didn’t find as much as I thought I would. In fact, there was nothing.
No answers here.
After a couple hours, I realized the final bell must have rung at school and I'd be expected somewhere at some point soon. Home? After my accident, I didn't work for my Dad very much. Even after recovering, he seemed reluctant to ask for my help, either at a building site or in the office. I know now it had been a huge case of guilt, because I had been working for his company when I fell.
Once again in Tom Cruise mode, I drove home.
When I arrived home, I realized I hadn’t needed to hurry. According to Thelma, the often smiling, but strict disciplinarian black woman who took care of our house and my sister, my mother was at the office. Mom worked part-time for the family business. Thelma was downstairs ironing clothes, helping my sister with her reading, Katie working through a thin, hard-backed second grade reader, only occasionally needing prompting from Thelma, who seemed to have the books memorized. When I reflect on these days, Thelma now seems to resemble a character from a TV show, much smarter than 1970s Indiana assumed a middle-aged African-American woman should be, but almost never recognized for it. She never seemed to have anything to prove to anyone and in all the years she worked for us, maintaining our household and taking care of my sister, she never displayed her ample supply of knowledge unless prompted to. Seeing her again, I was ashamed for not knowing what had become of her after I left home. A couple years later, she left my family’s employ.
'Hello, young Mr Ricardo,' Thelma said, greeting me with the name she alone used for me. It had been so long since I had heard those words, I couldn't help a small smile and the quick warmth and throat tightening remembering long-forgotten things brought. Then, I remembered at the time, I had hated her calling me Ricardo, as I had hated most things, thanks to my mental outlook in 1976.
“Hi Thelma, hi Katie,” I said as I bent to kiss my little sister on the top of her head. I looked up to see Thelma looking at me through narrowed eyes.
“How was school today?” Thelma asked, looking back down at her ironing. Katie had returned to her book.
“A strange day, Thelma,” I replied, and left.
Later, lying on my bed unconsciously rubbing my thigh, hurting again and I heard my mother come into the house, the front door closing, keys being deposited on the table in the entryway and the sound of her footsteps echoing down the stairs. A few minutes later, Thelma's heavier footsteps came back the same way, a she approached my room and knocked.
“Richard, you in here?” She asked.
“Yea, Thelma, come in,” I said as I sat up, swinging my feet to the floor.
Door opened. “How you doin’, young man?” Thelma asked, her voice hushed. The question wasn’t rhetorical. She was looking for an answer.
“I’m fine,” I said, smiling.
“I may have born at night, boy, but it wasn't
Why could I almost always bullshit my parents, but never Thelma?
My smile faded. For some reason I don't understand, only that it seemed like the right thing to do, I paused a heartbeat and said, “I’m 47 years old, Thelma. At least I was when I woke up this morning. I had a car accident, and woke up again here this morning. For me, this is all 30 years in the past.”
A smile I doubt touched my eyes accompanied my words.
Thelma looked at me with the same narrowed gaze she used earlier. “30 years, huh? You got any kids?”
The question startled me. “One, a little girl,” I replied.
“Where do you live?”
She laughed a short bark-like laugh. “I thought so. Well, at least you got out of this town,” Thelma said, nodding her approval, “Good for you.”
I lightened up at this point. “You making fun of me” I asked.
“Me?” Thelma replied, her eyebrows raised in mock innocence. “When did I ever make fun of you, boy?” He smiled widened as she added, “Never!”
“Always,” I insisted, laughing. “You constantly made fun of me.”
“MADE fun of you? You mean MAKE fun of you, don't you?” She asked.
Not sure where this was going, I kept my mouth shut.
“Why do you think you're back here?” Thelma broke the silence after a few seconds. I couldn't believe she was treating this as not only real, but common...Ordinary.
“Haven't the foggiest idea,” I said.
“Maybe you got something to do you didn't do the first time. Something left undone. What would that be, Rich?”
Thelma called me “Ricardo,” or “Richard,” or “child” but never “Rich.” I shrugged. “I guess. Probably more things I wouldn’t do, given a second chance, but…”
“And you’re thinking you're dead, too. Right? You said you had a crash?”
I nodded. “Yup, I think that is the best bet, especially with you and I having this conversation.”
Thelma frowned, shaking her head. “No, you're not dead, child, you're alive. You're just living in the past right now. It happens sometimes.”
I nodded, silent. Just when I thought this couldn’t get any weirder.
“And by the way,” she continued. “You better come up with a good reason why you left school today. You were supposed to talk to your coach, but you weren't around when he went looking for you. He called for your Mom.” A small smile had slipped onto her face.
“Yea, right,” I answered. “Thanks.”
Thelma shrugged. “I’m guessing your ass is grass, boy. Let me ask you something. Is Amanda the mama of your baby girl in the future?”
“No, she's not.”
'MMMM HMMM,' Thelma half-said-half-sang. “Well, then, maybe THAT’S why you're back here, Richie.”
I didn't answer.
“She called, too,” Thelma continued, with a little laugh. My stomach again sank as I realized I didn't leave school today to get away and think, I left so I wouldn't run into Amanda. Shit.
“Well, future-man, I gotta go catch my bus. They got them flying cars 30 years from now?” Thelma asked.
“No, not yet.”
“Too bad,” Thelma answered, shaking her head, “What about the stock market? Got any tips to make me rich…Rich?” She asked with a bigger smile.
I thought for a minute. “Yea, a new company starting up in a couple years called
. Go buy real estate in Las Vegas and Phoenix. You'll do fine,” I replied.
“Okay, then, see you later.” Thelma called, as she left, leaving my bedroom door open.
What the hell? Thelma sure seemed to know something about this, but she always loved to yank my chain, which pissed me off at the time. It wasn’t until years later that I realized how important she had been in my life, how she had helped keep my ego in check at a time when it could have gotten me into a lot of trouble. Thelma believing when I said I had traveled 30 years back in time would be completely bizarre, but then, I reasoned, would it be any more strange than if I had?
My leg had stopped hurting, and as the sounds of my mother making dinner reached my bedroom, my 17 year old body again made itself known. I was hungry, so I got up from the bed and went to help. Thelma would have loved THAT.
Thelma had been telling me the truth when she said Coach MacLaren called to tell my Mother I had skipped coming by his office, and both my Mom and Dad let me know how mad they were about it. You have to understand in Indiana in the 70s, and I supposed to this day, basketball is all-important. Like high school football in Texas, during the season, basketball dominated life for those involved. Coach MacLaren was respected like no other coach or teacher at Ben Davis, by teachers, administrators, students and parents. When it came to his players, he carried authority most parents held above their own. Not being as anchored here as the last time I worked my way through April of 1976, the whole thing didn't bother me much. I took the chewing out, appearing appropriately chagrined, and promised them I'd go talk to Coach first thing in the morning. I also got quizzed by my mother about doing my physical therapy, after Dad found a reason to excuse himself from the discussion. The physical therapy always seemed too uncomfortable for him to talk about, since he felt responsible for the accident. I didn't understand the first time through this time in my life, but I get it now. I watched him leave the kitchen when my Mom switched to the topic, and I felt sorry for him. The accident hadn’t been his fault.
More than anything though, through the day and into that first night, I experienced a constant running current of amazement. Everything was familiar, yet
as I remembered. Not much of what happened the first day back occurred the first time I lived this day. Passing out in the hallway, “Opting-out” of my afternoon classes, and the conversation with Thelma all were new. They'd never happened before. So, if this was real, I thought as I sat at my desk in my bedroom, things would continue to branch off and my life would get stranger and stranger to me. Familiar in setting, but new in what I did and how the world reacted to me. How soon before things spiraled out of any kind of familiarity?
After dinner, my folks put Katie to bed and a short time later, turned in themselves, the house going quiet around me (though our house never really got loud). My thoughts turned to my experience in Belton, what? Two days ago? Two days ago and thirty years from now? How did meeting an old woman who told me I’d travel back to 1933 fit into all of this? Did my coming across a letter written several decades ago cause my current situation? Did some strange metaphysical interaction spawn this death or coma dream I seemed to be in, after getting smacked broadside by a big black Hummer in 2007 Cincinnati?
And what the hell was I going to do about Amanda Tully if I woke up here again in the morning? I wouldn't be able to avoid her forever and somehow, I knew what she called me about today. Her boyfriend, a buddy of mine since childhood, had a birthday coming up and I had agreed to help plan his surprise party. Amanda had asked me for my help because Steve Collins and I had been friends since elementary school, even though he was a year older than us. Steve, both friend and hero to me, provided the role model I'd always judged myself against. Smart, quiet, with long, black hair he, despite team rules, wore below his collar, Collins was a good basketball player. Unfortunately, in the past two years before 1976, his attitude toward me had turned dark, because I had become the better basketball player, bigger, stronger and even faster than him. I thought at the time (my first tour through 1976) the party was Amanda's way of trying to patch things up between us, but learned several years later it was more than that, much more. And this is where this whole thing gets complicated. I didn't understand Amanda's true intentions about me in 1976, but learned of them in 1990, and by 2007, I’d had 17 years to think about, digest and get bitter about them. The difference here, is I knew the whole thing NOW, had even come to a kind of peace about it, but now found myself right here in the middle of the situation all over again. I would handle things differently this time, but the prospect of doing so scared the hell out of me. Was I wise to act on the knowledge I have now, instead of doing exactly what I'd done the last time I went through these days? With one big exception, things had worked out pretty well the first time, after all. Was I prepared to mess with the past? Would the past even allow me to change it?
I stripped down to underwear, climbed into bed, still thinking through all the things I’d experienced today. My 17 year old body exhausted, I fell asleep almost instantly. Insomnia was a problem for the future. In 1976, for me at least, it didn’t exist.
When I arrived home from school the next day, I learned what I would later refer to this as “The Time Traveler’s Prime Directive,” never talk about the future unless you are willing to reveal you have traveled in time.
Dean and Betsy hadn’t gone to school that day, which I initially considered odd, but they were twins, so if one got sick, the other would, too. So, when they weren’t waiting for me by the El Camino the next morning, and their mother told me, from behind the screen door, they would not be going to school with me, I didn’t worry.
I pulled into the driveway just after 4pm to see both my parents were home, their cars parked in the usual places, not that unusual, since they were self-employed, but I felt a small twinge of unease, wondering if something was up.
I walked into the house through the front door, dropping the El Camino keys on the entryway table, and saw the formal living room was occupied. I cautiously walked toward the arched doorway leading to the room, and saw my parents sitting in the two chairs, separated by a lamp table, at a right angle to the sofa, which was occupied by a grim looking Mr. Sawyer, Dean and Betsy’s father, and another man sitting next to him, wearing a coat and tie, a leather briefcase at his feet.
Oh boy, I thought, I’m in deep shit over our conversation yesterday morning in the car. Betsy went home and told her mother about me talking about “hummers.” The old response systems kicked in, causing my stomach to go hollow, anticipating trouble, but then my mind reasserted itself and I reminded myself when it came to trouble over something I’d said, this wasn’t my first rodeo, or even my first time through this day.
“Rich, come in and sit down,” my father said, not unkindly. My mother was quiet. On closer examination, Mr. Sawyer did look grim, but now I saw the expression on his face wasn’t anger, but worry. What was this all about?
I sat down, taking the only seat available, a dining room chair clearly brought in for this purpose. I looked around. Hmm, I thought, no blindfold.
“Rich,” my father began, as soon as I was seated, “the gentleman sitting next to Mr. Sawyer is Mr. Powell, from AM General, the car company. He’s in Security.” I knew AM General, they owned American Motors, who made the Gremlin, the Pacer, fairly cheap cars. They were based north of Indianapolis, in Mishawaka, Indiana.