PART 5: BREAKDOWN
Two intruders! The squirrel scurried up onto a higher branch to get a better view. These two resembled the others who came by every so often, carrying their funny hollowed out tree trunks which they used to float on the water. Instead, these ones had apparently tried to use a small black thing instead, with less success, and were now getting very vocal about it. Or about something. The squirrel twitched it’s nose. Time to escape someplace quieter? One of the intruders then slapped at the other and stalked away from the lake, into the woods. The one left behind called out, but didn’t follow. The squirrel tilted his head before deciding it was safe to resume hunting nuts – of the more edible variety.
Carrie Waterson shoved her way through the light underbrush, plucking at the wet T-shirt she was wearing in renewed anger and embarrassment. All males were alike. See a pretty girl soaking wet and their minds leap into the gutter. Frank being no exception. It wasn’t even the staring, not really – that was typical – it was more that she only wanted to put herself on display like this if it somehow benefited her in the end!
Besides, it wasn’t her fault that she was soaking wet. It was FRANK’s miscalculation with the time travel device that had dropped them into the lake. The only positive thing she could say about this current situation was that, according to the device’s readout, this WAS the correct year for him. Meaning two years in her past.
Albeit in the middle of June. In a forest. Without any coins to power up the machine again. Carrie paused in her charge through the underbrush to throttle a tree branch. Ever since she had found the damned device, things had been spiralling completely out of her control. It was incredibly frustrating.
Carrie released the tree and took a few deep breaths. Realizing that her leg hurt, she looked down at it. There were a couple of scratches there, one deep enough to draw a trace of blood. Maybe running off into the woods hadn’t been so smart. Being under the canopy of trees as she was now, it would also be trickier for her clothes to dry off. It had been sunnier next to the lake.
Carrie made a face. Should she go back? After all, she supposed that she was slightly to blame for Frank’s reaction, having leaned right in next to him without thinking. Still, the way his gaze had fallen down from her face… going back now would only be added humiliation, wouldn’t it?
“What the hell did I do to deserve this?” Carrie screamed to the treetops. The only response was the chattering of a squirrel.
‘What exactly did I do to deserve this?’ Frank wondered as he stared out across the lake. He’d started the week researching frogs. Now he was stuck three months in the past with somebody who would apparently become the testiest girl in his entire high school.
It’s not like he’d dropped the quarters into the lake on purpose! Or ogled her… proportions on purpose! She’d leaned into him! Okay, so she had been trying to look at the device but… damn, how had this whole mess happened?
Frank forced himself to acknowledge the answer to that. He wasn’t here merely for the thrill of time travel. He’d wanted to help Carrie out. Because he didn’t get to help people out that often.
Whenever he tried academically, people thought he was showing off. And sure, he joined clubs, but he wasn’t the sort of guy who got invited to parties. He had trouble socializing. He preferred to spend his time working alone, down in the basement, where things were safe and familiar.
He had wondered if starting high school would change things up, but if the first couple weeks were anything to go by, it wouldn’t. Come to think, Carrie herself was an argument against becoming more sociable! Girls like her had no notion of gratitude.
Frank again challenged his thinking. No, that wasn’t right… Carrie had expressed thanks to him for fiddling with the time machine, and for helping with her mother. It had even felt sincere, as opposed to something she’d said to urge him to keep on helping. But then why was Carrie so… so infuriating as well??
Maybe it was a female thing. One he would understand when he was sixteen too. Frank sighed. Oh well, with Carrie in the woods, he might as well check over the time machine for any potential water damage.
After wringing out a section of his shirt, Frank knelt over the device. He pushed back on the lever sticking out of it, and the top flipped open, allowing him to peer inside. Fortunately, the machine seemed to have a tight seal, so no water had made its way into the mechanism. He noted absently that his miniature camera was still there, but any information it might give would be of limited use to them at this point. They had no power source.
Still, maybe he could improvise some sort of coin? And force a September arrival? Sure, and create a virus to take down an alien warship while he was at it? Yeah, he should probably nix his thoughts of improv and stick with the business club – he worked better within a framework. Trouble was, he now needed to subvert the very rules he’d mapped out for this device. That was a problem.
Though really, what else was there for him to do now – chase after Carrie? Messing with the time machine would at least be productive. He still had his screwdriver and the swiss army knife he’d received for his last birthday. With those, and some whittled twigs or pine needles, surely he could do… uh, something.
Frank glanced over his swiss army knife to see exactly what the attachments were, yawning as he did so.
That gave him pause. He’d been running mostly on adrenaline for the last little while, not having slept since… well, what with the time traveling it was hard to tell, but it might be verging on a day and a half now. Perhaps he’d should lie down for a minute to clear his mind. It was nice and tranquil, and a break would be good.
Frank closed up the time machine again, set his glasses by it and lay back down on the ground. He’d just close his eyes for a minute.
Frank jolted himself awake some time later. There had been a peculiar sound. He sat up in time to see a figure (Carrie?) throw a stone into the lake with a splash. Frank fumbled for his glasses. Slipping them on, he realized it was indeed Carrie, and that she had turned at the noise he was making.
“Finally awake?” the blonde remarked. She sneezed a couple of times as she tossed some other stones aside.
“Yeah… bless you. How long have I been asleep?”
“How the hell should I know? You were asleep when I came back, so at least three or four hours. Of course, that’s by my watch, which also indicates it’s almost sunset, whereas we probably have a couple hours until that actually happens. I officially hate time travel.” Carrie sneezed again.
Frank blinked. “Oh. Well… thank you for letting me sleep,” he said uncertainly. It occurred to him that the machine’s readout could use a display for time of day.
“I shouted your name three or four times on my way back, and you didn’t answer. Once I found you, I figured you were really tired, so I stopped short of kicking you,” Carrie said. It was hard to tell if she was kidding. He did notice that the time had given her clothes the chance to dry out. “Anyway,” she continued, “hoping you have some new plan at this point?”
“Well… I was hoping there’d be some new way of triggering the device,” Frank said, running a hand back through his hair. “Though, as my thinking went, I’ll need to, uh, improvise something.”
“Okay, so how long are you figuring for the whole process?”
“Hard to say. The machine isn’t lit up without money in it. I may have to find a way into the silver coin receptacle. All with rudimentary tools.” He glanced up to where the sun was. “Might not get it done while we still have daylight. Did you see any structures arou–”
“What?!” Carrie interjected, visibly upset. “So I should have kicked you three hours ago?” She advanced, only to sneeze violently twice more in quick succession.
Frank paused, noticing Carrie was somewhat unsteady on her feet. There seemed to be evidence of a cut on her leg too, in addition to the bandaid she’d placed on her knee after her first time trip. “Carrie, are you all right?”
Carrie balled her hands into fists. “NO! I am not all right! I don’t know where we are, I don’t understand how we got here, you’re now saying you can’t get us out of here, I’ve scraped my leg and think I’m getting a cold! Nothing is working right anymore!” She followed her rant up by stamping her foot and sneezing once more. “The only good thing to have come from this temporal insanity so far was the encounter with my mama!”
Frank scrambled to his feet also, realizing that he wasn’t exactly feeling 100 percent either. “Well… surely we can figure out something,” he said reassuringly. “Don’t get unduly distressed…”
“Distressed? You think I’m distressed? I’m not distressed! If we’re still here in a few days, then you’ll see me distressed!!” Carrie reached out to grab his arm, stumbled, and nearly fell. “I’m…. I’m not distressed,” Carrie reiterated, a shiver running through her body.
“Um, Carrie, maybe you should sit down. You’re looking unsteady.”
“Shut up!” Carrie snapped back so harshly that Frank took a step back. There was a moment of silence before Carrie swallowed hard. “I didn’t mean that. I’m sorry. Here’s the thing though, I’ve been feeling progressively worse over the last few hours, both physically and mentally,” she admitted.
She shook her head. “And we’re the only ones out here, Frank. I was running around in the woods out there for some time, and I never found anything. No house, no road, not even a trail.” Her fists clenched and unclenched a couple of times. “You’ve got to activate that machine,” she concluded. “It’s the only sure way we can get out of here in one piece.”
Frank struggled to find the right words. “I… I’m not going to lie to you, Carrie. We’re dealing with technology I don’t understand. If I try to force the issue – I might break the machine completely.” Frank grimaced. “Then even if I do activate it, there’s still no telling where we’ll end up. The spatial aspect is still unclear. We could find ourselves at the North Pole or in the Sahara Desert or–”
“NOT helping!” Carrie cut in angrily, raising an arm as if to make a physical strike. Instead, it put her off balance, and she dropped down to her knees. She remained that way for a moment, shaking in what Frank figured was either anger or pain, even as she let out another sneeze.
“I’m sorry,” Frank apologized anew. He took an uncertain step forwards. “Would you like me to lie instead?”
Carrie continued to stare down at the ground. “No. I don’t even know why I’m getting angry at you. It’s not your fault,” she admitted. She shifted her position, to sit. “It’s the fault of whoever invented this stupid device, yeah? I mean, how DID we end up out here? I hardly moved at all the first time I time traveled!”
Frank rubbed his head as he sat next to her. “What did happen that first time anyway? Before you met up with me that is. I remember you said it involved a link to your mother. Maybe something was pre-programmed, and if you describe in detail, we can distinguish a pattern?”
‘What the hell,’ Carrie thought from where she sat. She knew she wasn’t feeling great, or thinking clearly, but Frank knew so much about her by this point that it really didn’t seem to matter any more. Besides, keeping secrets was kind of pointless if it ultimately killed them, right?
“There isn’t much more to tell,” she conceded. “I traveled from one side of the town’s ravine to the other – from the park, to behind my house. It knocked me out. When I tried to get back in my room, I very nearly met younger myself, and shattered a crystal swan which mama had bought for my fourth birthday.” Her fingers flexed as she added, “It was her last gift to me, she’d given it to Dad months in advance, to keep until March. I will grant that when it broke, it shocked me, because I never knew who had done that to me the first time it happened. Anyway, then I ran to Julie’s–”
“Wait,” Frank cut in. “This swan, you knew it had been broken before you even took a time trip?”
“Sure,” Carrie commented. Frank was frowning. “What?”
“That’s… weird. Leads back into what I was saying about the past being unchangeable. How is it that you can remember that change to your past, and yet my future at our high school has remained the same for you?”
Carrie stared. “I don’t follow.”
Frank sighed. “Relative to you, you’re potentially changing my past right now. Yet you still remember future events about me, like the business club. They haven’t updated in your head the same way breaking your swan updated, implying that the broken swan wasn’t an update either. Ergo, the past is unchangeable, your trip here was always fated, and I have no choice but to survive and spend another two years at high school.”
Carrie let that sink in. “So, what you’re saying is that if anyone is going to die out here it will be ME?!” She would have slapped him if they weren’t both in such a bad condition already.
“No!” Frank replied quickly. “I- I didn’t mean it that way, only…” He shook his head and waved a hand. “Look, never mind, I don’t think it’s relevant to the spatial problem. Continue with the story.”
Carrie glared for a long moment before shrugging. “Right, so, I panicked and went over to Julie’s, where there was supposed to be a party, though obviously there wasn’t. Since we only hooked up after my swan broke, her butler didn’t even know me. That’s when I went back to the ravine and, well, you know the re– ah-ah-ahCHOO!”
Frank pursed his lips. “So, across a ravine, to the town’s nearest airport, and then to a mystery lake near some woods. What’s the pattern?”
“The fact that they lack any common element,” Carrie stated bitterly.
“Hunh,” Frank verbalized in response. “Well, maybe nature area-metropolitan area-nature area. Meaning we’ll end up somewhere populated next time.”
“You’re grasping at straws,” Carrie accused. “Look, this talk isn’t helping. We might as well work together at activating the machine, and hope for the best. I’m taking geography, maybe that’ll be useful in spotting some circuit.”
Frank sighed, pulling out his swiss army knife again. “Well, here’s the main tool we have to work with. I was thinking of whittling down a twig too. For that matter, we might want firewood for tonight.” He stood. “I’ll be right back.” He turned and headed away from the bank of the lake.
“The underbrush is fairly thick that direction, might have better luck spotting stuff closer to the water,” Carrie volunteered as he moved off. Frank nodded, altering his trajectory as he left their small clearing.
‘We’re a lot worse off than I thought we were,’ Carrie thought as he left. This situation was not only beyond her control, it was starting to look like it was beyond the both of them – beyond anyone’s!
Was it time to go into survival mode? Where would they get food and shelter? What about predators, were there any out here? Carrie was unable to hold back another sneeze. They didn’t even have tissues. This was bad. “Oh well, can’t get worse at this point, can it?” she muttered to herself.
Which was when she heard Frank cry out. “Guess I asked for that,” Carrie groused, standing up and finding the energy to sprint back through the light underbrush in the fading light of late afternoon. “Frank? You okay?” she called out uncertainly.
“Carrie! Watch out, there’s a hole!” came a pained reply.
The blonde zeroed in on his voice, paying more attention to the ground. She brought herself up short on the other side of a bunch of bushes. There was indeed a hole of sorts, a drop-off of several feet. With Frank at the bottom. “Are you all right?” she called down.
“I think I’m bleeding,” Frank mumbled groggily.
Perfect. Carrie looked around, spotting a more gentle slope on the right. Calling again upon her gymnastic abilities, she slid down and was soon hurrying up to Frank’s position. “Why weren’t you watching where you were going?” she accused. “The terrain out here isn’t totally level.”
“How was I to know? Anyway, I got a bit lost in thought,” Frank admitted ruefully. “Though speaking of watching, my glasses got knocked off, can you see–”
Carrie froze two steps away from Frank and looked back down. She lifted her foot. “Well, this could be funny under other circumstances,” Frank finally said dryly.
“Why don’t you wear contact lenses like normal people?” Carrie accused as she reached down to pick up the broken spectacles.
“I don’t find them particularly convenient,” Frank replied, attempting to stand. He couldn’t, and fell back down, wincing. “Besides, I could hardly dip them in saline solution or whatever out here, could I.”
Carrie was about to snark back, when she took a good look at her companion for the first time. He was holding his head and his arm had blood visible on the material of his shirt. “Frank, what did you do to yourself?!”
“I bounced twice on the way down?” Frank replied, now looking at his arm too. “Possibly hit a particularly sharp root or part of a rock or something. Feels like I twisted my ankle too.”
“You really have no sense of timing for these things, do you?” Carrie complained. Shoving Frank’s glasses at him and pursing her lips, she bent down a bit to have a look at his wound, opening the tear on his shirt. “Okay. Looks painful but you haven’t cut any major blood vessels… I can clean it up a little, and use some torn material as a bandage to apply pressure.”
As Carrie reached out to tear off the end of Frank’s shirt, he flinched back, looking at her with a raised eyebrow. “Yeah, surprisingly enough they teach us health and stuff in Phys Ed!” she explained. “And I listen in class, and you learn bits and pieces while cheering on the sidelines at football games too. So, may I?”
Frank nodded. Carrie started to rudimentarily dress the wound, turning away twice to sneeze. “I don’t know what to do about the possibility of infection though,” she admitted. “Let’s hope you can fix that time machine fairly qui… oh, hell.”
Carrie tied off the fabric and sat back to look at Frank. He glanced down at his broken glasses, which were bent with only one lens intact. He then reached up to rub the bump on his head with his good arm. “Yeah, I think we have some additional issues now,” Frank sighed, verbalizing her thoughts.