PART 2: TIME OUT
Both of them fell to the ground in a tangle of arms and legs.
Ending up on top, Carrie took advantage of the situation, pinning her opponent’s arms down to the ground. She idly wondered if she had actually learned something through flirting with that wrestler a few months back. Then again, this guy wasn’t putting up much of a fight.
“I said, who the hell are you?” Carrie reiterated. “And what are you doing out here?”
“Euh… I’m j-just… s-studying tree frogs,” came the stammered response to Carrie’s second question.
But that voice, and her now close-up view of what had only been a shadowy outline before… it answered Carrie’s first question as well. There was only one person who sounded like that, and who had this particular shade of brown hair and glasses. Not to mention the fashion challenged button up shirt and pants.
“Frank Dijora,” Carrie said in irritation. “Don’t you ever give up on that pathetic excuse?”
“Excuse?” He seemed unwilling to meet her gaze.
“Yes, you’ve used tree frogs as an excuse for snooping in the ravine the last three times I saw…”
Carrie’s voice trailed off as she realized that not only was she was pinning a school geek to the ground face-up in the ravine out back of her house, but that she was doing so in a cropped top and moderately short skirt. There was a reason Frank’s attention wasn’t on her face.
Carrie quickly jumped up and backed away, but not before slapping Frank soundly across the face. Oh, how utterly, utterly humiliating!
“Ow,” came Frank’s anticipated response as he reached up to rub his cheek. “Hey, what was that for? You identified me, you know I’m no prowler.”
“Don’t play innocent. I saw where you were looking!”
“Well, you’re the one who jumped on top of me.”
“I did NOT,” Carrie said angrily. “That is, you shouldn’t have run away like that!” She could feel her cheeks burning. “And if you breathe a WORD of this at school, so help me I’ll skin you alive.”
“As if anyone would believe me anyway,” Frank mumbled. He pushed himself up and adjusted his glasses. “Though really, Carrie, I’m only in the ravine to study tree frogs. I read that they croak at night. I never thought I’d be bothering anyone, and I never used this research as any ‘excuse’ prior to now, so I don’t know what you’re going on about.”
Carrie narrowed her eyes. “All right then, explain your little device over there,” she stated, gesturing back towards where she figured the black box was. “I suppose you use it to shock the frogs, which you then take back to your laboratory to perform further experiments on?”
Frank brushed off his pants. “No. In fact I stumbled across that device about a minute before you pounced on me. It’s not mine.”
Carrie sniffed haughtily. “Yeah, right. I’m supposed to take your word?”
“I don’t care whether you do or not. But I hardly have a motive to lie, do I?”
“People have been lying to me and playing with my mind for the last hour or so. I don’t see why it should be ANY different with you,” Carrie snapped. But her anger was quickly running its course, with her more recent troubles and confusions reasserting themselves in her mind.
Her former adversary simply shrugged back. “Look, I came here looking for frogs, not some bizarre looking clock and not you, Carrie. So if we’re through here, I’ll be going.”
“Fi– wait, clock? What clock? You mean that device?”
“Yeah. It had a readout with eight digits displaying today’s date, I assumed it was a timepiece of some sort.”
A clock. Of course, Carrie realized, that’s what the numbers meant. Which still didn’t explain the electric shock, or her having a clone, or the cancellation of Julie’s party.
“A clock,” Carrie repeated aloud. She looked back towards the device. “You spot anything else about it?”
“I hardly had the time,” Frank responded dryly. “Why?”
“I…” Carrie paused. “Nothing.” She didn’t need his help. She moved back through the brush, trying to pick out the outline of that box thing again in the dark, finding it over by the clumping of dirt she’d fallen into not so long ago.
“I’m guessing that the device isn’t yours either?” Frank asked, following after her.
Carrie didn’t answer. She was too busy looking over the CD player/cash register/slot machine, noticing that the digital readout had changed. Worse than that, if one assumed that it read Month/Day/Year, things were very, very wrong… it indicated that today’s date was, in fact, two years in the past.
“Frank, did you mess with this box?” Carrie inquired, feeling a knot growing in her stomach.
Frank crouched down next to Carrie. “No, why?”
“You didn’t change these numbers?”
Frank peered at the readout, adjusting his glasses again. “No, same as before. Today’s date.”
“That’s not the date,” Carrie stated, the knot in her stomach tightening. “It’s not showing the correct year. Or day, for that matter. Only the month is right, September.”
“What are you talking about, Carrie? What year do you think it is?” he asked, his tone mildly amused.
Before she even knew what she was doing, Carrie had turned and grabbed hold of two fistfuls of Frank’s shirt. She glared at him, eye to eye. “Don’t you screw with me, Frank Dijora,” the blonde snapped. “If you’re screwing with me, by heaven you’ll wish you’d never been born!”
“C-Carrie…” Frank gurgled out in reply. “No joke! That’s honestly the date.” He repeated it aloud, dispelling any notion that she was misinterpreting things.
The worst thing was that it made sense. Because the date he gave her was the very day that her crystal swan had been broken. The last present her mother had ever given her. You didn’t merely forget the day you lost something precious like that.
She’d been trying not to think about it. After all, she’d sworn revenge on whoever had done it, yet had never been able to find the one responsible. Could it be… she’d sworn revenge on herself?
No, no, the repercussions of being lost two years in the past were bad enough, without adding that into the mix. This was NOT the sort of time travel she’d envisioned doing earlier that evening!
Carrie released Frank’s shirt and started shaking. She hadn’t cried about her mother in over two years – or, what, half an hour ago depending on your point of view? – but now, for some reason, she couldn’t stop a tear from trickling down her face. Which just upset her even more, what with Frank being here… and that made her cry more.
God, this had to be a dream. This wasn’t really happening. She refused to believe that this was happening!
Frank found he could only stare as the blonde started sniffling. He didn’t know Carrie Waterson that well. Oh sure, they had been in some of the same junior high classes, but given his predisposition for the library and Carrie’s for the gym they had never really interacted.
Of course, she did have something of a reputation coming into high school… there had been rumours from guys who’d been past first base with her. Still, Frank generally chalked that up to locker room bragging, as the few times he’d seen Carrie with anyone it had been obvious who was in control. Things wouldn’t go any further than she allowed.
Yet here was Carrie, practically sobbing in his lap. He’d never heard of her breaking down like this before. Certainly not over some simple confusion regarding the date.
Yet… now that he looked more closely at her, wasn’t her hair longer than he remembered? And wasn’t she a bit more… well, okay, Carrie had always been one of the early bloomers, but when she’d been on top of him, she’d seemed more…
Oh, what on earth was he doing, sizing up her attributes when she obviously needed help of some sort. Or did she? “Carrie, how old are you right now?” Frank ventured.
“Sixteen,” Carrie choked out. Speaking aloud seemed to strengthen her resolve. She wiped at her eyes, and looked to be reigning in her emotions.
Frank frowned. He couldn’t remember exactly how old Carrie was, but he knew there wasn’t that much of a difference in their ages. “You really have traveled in time then,” he concluded.
Unless this was some bizarre ruse to ridicule him within his first month of high school? No, given Carrie’s reactions, and the fact that he hadn’t told anyone of his plans for being in the ravine, that would be pretty far fetched.
“Was it this device that did that to you?”
“Brilliant, Frank,” Carrie retorted, haughtiness creeping back into her tone as she fumbled through her shoulder purse, pulling out a tissue. “I see now why you won the academic achievement medal last year.”
“Yes, well, that won’t actually be for another year then,” Frank responded automatically, turning his gaze over to the apparent ‘time machine’. It looked very unassuming. “What exactly happened?”
Carrie blew her nose. “Why do you care? I hope you realize who would win in a battle of my word against yours over what you’ve seen from me tonight.”
“Carrie, I’m trying to help you here,” Frank answered patiently. “My dad’s an engineer. I’ve played around with the inner workings of clocks and other electronic devices before. Maybe I can do something to this machine and get it to return you home.” At least, it would be an interesting new challenge.
“Oh.” There was a pause as Carrie apparently weighed the pros and cons of that idea. “It worked like a slot machine,” she finally admitted. “I put in a quarter, pulled the lever, got some electrical shock, and the next thing I knew the world had turned upside down. There’s some round panel in the top of the device, but I couldn’t get it open. Do you really think you can help?”
She started twirling a strand of hair in her fingers while batting her eyelids. The overall effect somewhat diminished by the fact that her eyes looked to be a bit red from crying. It was hard to tell in the dark.
“Maybe,” Frank said. He examined the device more closely and could now see the circular outline of that panel on the top. He pushed on it but nothing happened.
“Yeah, like THAT will work,” Carrie remarked behind him. “What are you going to try next, pulling the lever?”
Frank resisted the urge to say something in reply, instead hefting the machine to turn it around in his hands. He couldn’t feel any obvious places where the sides of the box had been screwed or welded in place, which was odd in and of itself.
So how to look inside? He gathered from Carrie’s attitude that pulling the lever wasn’t going to help. Yet that seemed to be the only potential connection to the inner workings of the device. Maybe if he looked at it a bit counter-intuitively? After all, there were two ways to handle a lever.
Setting the device back down, Frank grasped the arm on the device (he heard Carrie snicker) but instead of pulling, he gently pushed it away, towards the back. There was some resistance, so he pushed it a little harder… and a bit harder… belatedly wondering if too much force would cause the thing to snap off in his han–
The lever fell back, with the result that the circular section on the top popped up. Frank grinned. “Oh ye of little faith,” he remarked aloud, leaning over to peer into the box. He couldn’t see anything. “But I need more light,” he continued. “Can I take this back to my lab?”
“What, can’t fix it here with one hand tied behind your back?” Carrie grumbled.
Frank simply turned and looked at her until Carrie heaved a sigh of resignation. “Yes, fine, but can we hurry up about it? It IS getting late, and I’d like to get back to the proper year before breakfast.”
“What the hell are you doing?”
Frank jumped at the unexpected voice and banged his head on his desk lamp. “Ow!” He turned to see Carrie standing behind him and glaring. “I’m trying to figure out how this time machine works,” Frank reminded her. “How long have you been awake?”
Carrie had fallen asleep on the couch in the corner of his basement lab soon after they’d arrived. Well, he called it a basement lab, it was more an unfinished section of the basement that his parents let him use for performing scientific experiments.
He supposed he couldn’t really blame her for nodding off, given that it had been one o’clock in the morning, and she had been dealing with some measure of emotional stress. Which was fine, it had left him the time he needed to investigate – so far with limited success.
Rubbing his head, Frank pushed aside his notes and glanced over at his wall clock. Geez, it was almost eight in the morning.
“Just long enough to realize that it’s now ten past seven and I’m still apparently trapped in this nightmare of the past,” Carrie replied huffily. “What have you been doing for the last several hours, ogling me while I slept?”
Frank threw the screwdriver he’d been using to probe the thing down onto the floor.
“Carrie, I have been fiddling with technology I barely understand, attempting to discover how this damn machine works without completely wrecking it in the process, all for your benefit! I’m not exactly doing this for my health either, in fact I’ve been awake for almost twenty-four hours straight now. It’s not even ten past seven, it’s almost eight, but your watch is wrong because it’s still on your time, as anyone with half a brain could have figured out by now!”
There was a moment of stunned silence.
Then Frank spoke up again, reaching down for the screwdriver. “Look, I’m sorry, I’m feeling a bit frazzled, I didn’t mean to–”
“No,” Carrie interjected. Her voice softened. “I’m the one who should apologize. I do appreciate what you’re doing. Don’t think I’m not grateful. It’s only…”
She turned away. “Frank, I’m a lot more used to being in control of whatever’s happening around me. The fact that I have no control here any more is scaring me, it’s scaring the hell out of me. I don’t like feeling this way, and I sure don’t like relying on other people for help.” She looked back over her shoulder. “So maybe if you tell me what you’ve figured out, I can do something here? I’m not as dumb as I act sometimes. Really.”
Frank blinked in surprise at the obvious sincerity in her tone. He was reminded of how she’d been sobbing hours before. Difficult as it was to see Carrie as a damsel in distress, it’s true that the situation wasn’t in her favour.
“All right,” Frank said. “First, I need a quick break. You can clean up your knee and we can grab a quick bite of breakfast. The machine isn’t going anywhere, and my parents aren’t likely to bother us, dad’s out of town and mom wanted to sleep late this Saturday.”
“Saturday? But it’s only Fri–” Carrie stopped. “Right. Saturday for you. Spoke without thinking.”
Frank smiled back wryly. “There’s hope for you yet.”
Carrie stuck a bandage on her knee and cleaned up with a facecloth while Frank prepared some cereal and eggs. She also grabbed one of his larger T-shirts to wear. After eating, the two teenagers returned downstairs.
“Oddly enough, I think the device is based on some sort of time travel roulette,” Frank explained to her. “So your slot machine analogy isn’t too far off.”
“Then the destination is generated randomly? You can’t specify an arrival date?” Carrie inquired. This did not bode well.
“Well, yes and no,” Frank answered. “First of all, the thing gave no power readings until I dropped a coin in. That must have completed a circuit, as things lit up like a Christmas tree. Now, the paths which appear to control the readout for month and day, those are random. Or I can’t see any way to specify the date directly short of, I don’t know, manipulating subatomic particles on the fly. However, I think there’s a way of “rigging the game” on those, so to speak. Meaning that, at least 8 times out of 10, you’ll end up when you want to be.”
“You’re not instilling me with a lot of confidence here,” Carrie remarked, a hint of annoyance creeping back into her tone.
“The real problem,” Frank continued undaunted, “is the four digits indicating year. At first, some of those seemed to be fixed, here in the 21st century. But when I dropped in a second quarter, a different circuit was tripped somewhere, freeing up all four of them. Implying travel that would jump the century mark, and moreover, leading to a hypothesis that the more money you put in, the farther through time you can travel… but possibly, only into the past. I’m not sure how to change that, and I don’t want to drop in more coins for fear of compounding the problem.”
“Well there must be SOME way,” Carrie stated, peering down into the device. She knew enough to recognize the circuit boards, but that was it. Crud, she really might be of limited help. “If you’ve dropped a couple coins in here, where did they go?”
“Into that silver box towards the front. I don’t know what goes on in there and didn’t want to completely dismantle anything for fear of destroying the device completely.”
He sighed, stretching his neck to work some kinks out of it. “What might help is seeing what goes on when the machine activates, and how it resets. But even setting aside that risk, activating it requires resetting the lever, which closes the top back up. So we wouldn’t see what happens.”
Carrie glanced absently around Frank’s makeshift ‘lab’. “Well, you’ve got lots of junk sitting around here,” she said. “Can’t you whip up some sort of miniature video recorder device, then hook it into the system to monitor everything?”
Frank shook his head. “Who do you take me for, James Bond’s Q?” He paused. “Though… wait, I do have a mini camera, and I could tape it in place, then set it to continually record…” He started searching through a drawer. “But as I said, activating this device IS risky. It’s very possible that we’ll become stranded in another time period.”
He didn’t say it out loud, but Carrie realized that Frank seemed intrigued by the idea of time travel. Plus, he was apparently running out of ways to learn more by simply continuing his poking and prodding.
“Well, I have nothing to lose, so I might as well try it,” Carrie remarked. “You don’t have to come with me.”
Frank paused in his searching to give her a rather pointed look. “Oh… I guess you’d need to come in order to keep fiddling with the mechanism,” Carrie clued in. After all, it could get tedious if she had to recruit new help in every time period she went to.
Frank nodded back at her. “Honestly, at this point the only alternative I can think of is giving it to my dad, or to the Canadian government for study. But he’d probably take it apart while the government would take you away for testing, both things which I think we’ll want to avoid.” He surfaced from the drawer with a small gadget in his palm. “Give me a minute and I’ll set everything up.”
It took closer to twenty minutes. But soon everything was in order.
“Okay, when I say pull, we’ll both pull on the handle,” Frank said. “If nothing happens, I’ve got data. If we jump back in time, I’ve got data, a few tools on my person, and a roll of quarters in my pocket, which will hopefully allow me to reset it for a return. If I can’t reset it, or if it really is only one way travel… well, in theory, it can’t be, because you know I’m going to be going to high school here in town for the next two years.”
“Unless my being here is changing your past,” Carrie pointed out. She wasn’t exactly a fan of science fiction, but had seen some time travel movies.
“Yeah… I was trying not to think about that part,” Frank said, frowning. He exhaled. “Oh well. Either way, this is sure to be a lot more exciting than a couple years in high school could ever hope to be.”
He caught Carrie’s eye. “So, we go after three. 1… 2… 3… PULL.”
They both yanked. There was a flash of light, Frank felt like he was somehow being sucked into a void, and then he lost consciousness – but it soon came back to him due to the terrible roaring noise in his ears. It sounded like a jet engine!
Blinking, Frank finally managed to take in his surroundings. It was a jet engine. He and Carrie were sitting out on the tarmac at what looked like an airline terminal. What in the world?
“Hey, what are you kids doing out here?” came a shout from a man driving a baggage handler cart.
“Went out the wrong door,” Frank shouted back. He tucked the time machine device under one arm and then grabbed the arm of Carrie, who seemed to have frozen up, before taking a couple steps towards the terminal building, pulling her along.
“You might have mentioned that this thing travels through space too,” he accused his companion.
It sounded like Carrie said something in reply, but Frank couldn’t hear her over all the ambient noise. “What?” he called out.
Carrie stopped allowing herself to be dragged along, bringing Frank up short. “I said, what’s the date on the device?” Carrie repeated, grabbing Frank’s arm back, her nails digging into his skin.
“Ow! What–” Frank cut himself off, staring nervously at Carrie. If she had seemed a bit out of sorts over the last several hours they’d been together, right now she looked downright spooked. So Frank pulled the time machine up to show her the readout.
Carrie started to shake. “Oh God. Oh God no…”
She tore herself away from Frank and began sprinting towards the terminal. “Mom!” Carrie screamed. “Oh God, Mom, don’t get on the plane…”