Leonard stepped back from the device and admired his creation. It had taken years of research and more than two years to build in his spare time on nights and weekends, but it was done. Finally done. It wasn’t going to win any awards for aesthetics, but if it worked it would win him accolades and fame, along with a fair amount of monetary compensation, no doubt, from the scientific community and governments around the world.
He cared nothing about that. He didn’t want the fame. He didn’t want the money. He wanted only one thing from his time machine. It was a desire he had burning within him, shaping his life, for as long as he could remember. And now, the realization of that dream and goal was only a switch and lever pull away.
First, though, he needed to test it. He made have failed at his true love, the wrong he was going to right in a few moments, but he had never failed at science. A proper test was necessary to insure that the experiment was truly successfully, to insure the time machine worked properly.
Leonard placed his prized possession within the machine, calibrated for the time and place he wished to send it, held his breath, and threw the lever. A low hum reverberated through the lab. Lights flashed across the display panel indicating that everything was operating as expected, and then with an anticlimactic pop, like a cork being pulled from a bottle of wine, the item vanished.
He rushed from the lab to the room next door and found his possession resting peacefully on the exact spot he had calculated to send it. He quickly picked it up, examined it for damage, and then just as carefully, lovingly, placed back in the same place as he had found it. And then, without a second glance, he returned to his lab.
The true genius of his device wasn’t that he could send objects through time and space, it was the recall feature. An hour after an item had been transported out, it would be recalled into the chamber. As he had been constructing the machine it had occurred to him that it wouldn’t do him any good to travel back into time and gain the knowledge, the skill, he so desperately craved, if he couldn’t return to the here and now to make the most of it. That additional step had been the most problematic for factoring into his calculations and inputting into the machine. But, in 58 minutes he would know if he had done everything correctly.
Unable to calm his mind or the edginess in his nerves, Leonard paced his lab until, right on time, the device reactivated itself. The reverberating hum resumed, causing his teeth to chatter with the vibrations, the lights flashed appropriating, and then, with another, popping cork sound, his beloved item was back in the chamber.
He promptly removed it, studied it for wear and tear, and was jubilant to see that it was in perfect condition still. The trip through the space-time portal hadn’t damaged it all. The test was a success. His machine worked. It was time to use it on himself.
Leonard re-calibrated the machine for the correct time and place, and then double checked the changes to make sure he hadn’t made a mistake. His excitement was causing him to fidget and second guess his normally certain, steadfast, actions. When he was satisfied that everything was correct, he grabbed his beloved item to take it with him. He wasn’t sure if he would need it or not, but he figured it was better to have it and not need it, then need it and not have it.
The item in his left hand, he threw the lever with his right hand and stepped into the chamber. He could hear the low hum begin, but inside the machine everything was calm, everything was peace. A feeling of joy encompassed him as he realized how very close he was to fulfilling his lifelong dream.
When the slight tingling began at the tip of his ears and then spread quickly to the rest of his body he was tempted to close his eyes. He wasn’t sure he wanted to see what the portal looked like. He wasn’t sure that humans were capable of seeing, understanding, the holes that lead between the various points of the timestream. But, though he had never considered himself a scientist, the years he had spent in pursuit of the machine had turned him into one, and he forced his eyes to remain open.
Leonard felt the pop, more than heard it, the inside of the machine disappeared, the lab disappeared, the world slipped from his feet, and then suddenly a dirt road was there in its place. He had either travelled too quickly to catch sight of the wormholes, or his mind wasn’t capable of comprehending the view because he had seen nothing but an instantaneous change from his lab to where he now stood, at the crossroad near Dockery Plantation.
The devil had just finished playing a song and was handing a guitar back to Robert Johnson as Leonard approached. The blues man looked askance at the newcomer, and then with a nod from the devil, he hurried away into the darkness to begin his wanderings. Leonard thought to caution the man about drinking gifted whiskey, but Johnson was gone before he get the words out, and the devil was gazing at him expectantly, impatiently.
A voice boomed in Leonard’s head, asking him if he desired the same bargain. The power, the fury, of that voice was nearly more than Leonard could handle, and his legs shook as he fought to remain standing. When he had regained some semblance of his composure, he nodded his head once, down and then up again, and handed over his prized possession, his 1939 Kalamazoo model KG-14 guitar.
The devil smiled as he received the instrument, tuned it, and played the most heart wrenching blues melody that Leonard had ever heard. The notes were so depressingly powerful that tears came unbidden to spill down the man’s cheeks. The devil’s smile remained constant through the whole song. Unwavering. Malicious. Joyous.
The pain in Leonard’s heart crescendoed to a nearly unbearable level, and then the music stopped, and the ache faded away. When the devil handed back the guitar, and pointed down the road to where Leonard had a recall time machine ride to catch, his heart had already begun to swell again with the joy of knowing that when he returned to his where and his when he would be one of the best guitar players to ever walk the world.
His dream would be a reality. He could give up the sciences he had never loved, and devote the rest of his life to playing the instrument that had always eluded him no matter how much he studied and practiced. He would finally be good at the one passion he had never been able to concur. The smile that spread across his lips, as he returned to the transportation spot and ensured he was exactly where he needed to be, was genuine.
He was happier than he had ever been. And all it had taken was a time machine and a small infernal bargain. A bargain he had no reserves about making. A deal he would gladly make again if needed. As he felt a tingle in the tips of his ears, he had time for one last thought before he was transported back to his lab to begin his new life as a guitarist, he needed to be weary of gifts, and to never drink from a glass or bottle he hadn’t poured himself.
Word Count: 1,300
“And I’m standing at the crossroads, believe I’m sinking down.”
This bit of fantasy and silliness was brought to you in response to this week’s Flash Fiction Challenge:
“This week’s pretty straight forward.
I’ve got two lists at the bottom. Pick (or randomly choose with dice or a random number generator) one from each list, then make sure your flash fiction contains each of those things.
That’s it. Easy-peasy, Ramona-and-Beezy.
You’ve got an upgraded 1500 words. Due in one week (March 14th). Post it at your online space of choice. Drop a link to your completed story in the comments below. Any genre.
Now, the lists…
Must Contain #1
- A lover’s betrayal.
- A dead body without a face.
- A mysterious — perhaps even magical — photograph.
- An antique gun.
- A terminal illness.
- An ancient tree.
- A time machine.
- A monster.
- A faithful hound.
- A talking cat.
Must Contain #2
- A distant outpost.
- An infernal bargain.
- A pair of detectives.
- A stolen treasure.
- A forgotten manuscript.
- An escaped prisoner.
- A hard drive filled with secrets.
- A plane or train ride.
- A piece of lost technology.
- A comatose patient.”
Obviously, using the =randbetween function in excel, I drew #7 from the first list and #2 from the second list. And you, dear kingdomite, what does your random number generator or d-10 get you from the two lists? You want to play along, don’t you? Write it, link it, post it so we can all enjoy your creativity too!
And, do you have an opinion on which version of the song is better? The Robert Johnson version or the Eric Clapton version? I’d love to hear your arguments either way.