A Nightmare (Really!)

As labs go, this one is pretty unimpressive. It looks almost like someone’s garage or basement workshop, save for the fact that there are test tubes and beakers filled with curious colored substances everywhere. Some of them are boiling or bubbling, I’m not sure which. I wonder vaguely what any of that has to do with the matter at hand. It’s not exactly filling me with confidence in the abilities of the lab’s owner to do what he’s promised. After all, this mess seems a little too ‘movie set’, rather than an actual workspace. It’s almost like someone has watched a bunch of films about mad scientists and thrown this place together as a result. I don’t have long to ponder the usability of the lab, however, as three horrible prepubescent girls are busy driving me insane.
They’re triplets, I suppose. Or sisters at the very least. They all have the same dark hair and the same deep brown, almond shaped eyes. One of them is wearing a pink terrycloth track suit. Her hair is cut long in the front, shorter in the back. She’s sitting on a stool similar to the one I’m on, only she’s spinning around and around in hers, stopping only to shout “Weeee!” and giggle, before doing it again. And again. Ad nauseam. Another of the three is wearing what looks like a school uniform of some sort, knee length plaid skirt, starched white shirt with a Peter Pan collar, and a weird little bow tie. Her hair is split into two braids and a pair of rimless glasses sits on her small nose. She’s making an effort to shush her relation, but the effort is completely useless and only adds to the clamor. The last of the trio is by far the most annoying. She’s wearing a matching short set with light and dark blue flowers all over it, and rolled cuffs and sleeves. She has a similar patterned headband capping of her long, flowing hair and a big, bulky digital watch on her wrist. She’s ignoring what I assume are her sisters and is instead poking me in the side.
“So, who are you?” she asks, in a high, whiny, demanding voice.
“I’m no one,” I reply, not wanting to get into details with her.
“Oh, please. No one wouldn’t be here. No, you’re someone alright. So who?”
“Like I said, no one. Besides, I’m not here for me.”
“They never are,” she says mysteriously, letting it hang in the air like a fog. I want to ask her what she means by that, how many more there have been before me, but just then, Doctor Nguyen enters the room. All three girls snap instantly to attention, the pink clad one so dizzy she nearly falls off her stool.
“Hello,” the doctor smiles, “I’m glad you were able to come.”
“Right,” I think, “I’m sure it had nothing to do with the cool million I paid you for the privilege.”
He picks up a clipboard and I see him flipping through the forms I’d emailed him, my picture stuck to the first one with scotch tape.
“Well, I have everything I need. Let’s get going.”
The lump rises in my throat at last. I’d been expecting it for quite some time, but it hadn’t appeared; not when I’d met with the good doctor, not when I’d sent in my forms, and not when I’d arrived in this cluttered basement made up to look like a child’s idea of a laboratory in a mad scientist’s castle. But now, now that he’s here and we’re going, the lump has made its appearance. I choke, trying too hard to swallow it back down and pretend I’m not afraid. But I am, oh how I am. Only, I’m not sure what frightens me more… whether this works, or whether it doesn’t.
The doctor leads me through an unassuming looking doorway and into what appears to be a garage, only instead of a car it holds something that looks like Jacques Cousteau’s submersible, if it had been built with about a thousand erector sets. My confidence in this endeavor is at an all time low.
I expected the girls to follow us in, but they don’t. That lifts my spirits a little. Whatever happens, I won’t have to endure any more of their laughter or their shushing or their inane personal questions.
“That’s… that’s really it?” I ask, trying to hide my disappointment and my doubt.
“Oh, yes,” Doctor Nguyen chuckles, “What was it Han Solo said? Something about a bucket of bolts, but she’ll get you where you’re going?”
“Star Wars references?”
At this, Doctor Nguyen breaks into fits of laughter, as if my concern were the funniest thing in the world to him. He nods, breathless, and points at the spray paint emblazoned side of the vessel he expects me to climb into. It says “FALCON” in blue and silver. I suspect he’s shortened it because the full name of Han’s ship wouldn’t fit.
“Now, I know you signed off on the rules, but I want to be sure you understand. You have 10 minutes, and only ten minutes, in which to change anything that needs changing, so I hope you’ve thought this through.” I nod that I have, though it’s an understatement. The hours upon hours upon hours I’ve spent thinking about exactly what I’d change and when and how, down to the second. Even before I knew about the existence of Doctor Nguyen or his wondrous invention. I’ve tortured myself, wishing I could fix things, that I could somehow undo what had been done, and save my brother’s life. Now, it seems, I’ll have that chance, and it has all been worth it. Selling off everything I own, borrowing money from anyone who’d lend it to me, even stealing.
“After that, you’ll be able to observe things for a while, but nothing you do will have any impact on future events. Do you understand?”
Again, I nod my acceptance.
“The machine is calibrated to bring you back automatically when it’s ready, probably around the thirty minute mark. I’d make sure you’re inside it by, oh, say, 25 minutes. Just to be safe.” I nod a third time.
“Can I bring this?” I ask, holding up my cellphone, the latest model Samsung Galaxy.
“Sure,” Nguyen chuckles, “You’re not going back to the 1500s, after all. Just try not to leave it back there.”
His cavalier attitude has only made me more nervous, the feeling growing in the pit of my stomach like one of those little sponge capsules my brother and I played with as kids. So what if it doesn’t work? I’ve only given him everything I have, and then some. Yes, only that.
Doctor Nguyen walks around to the side of the quirky little vessel and pulls up on a handle, lifting a door just large enough for me to enter through. I bite my lip hard enough to taste blood and nod again, dumbly. Then I climb inside.
The Doctor leans down and smiles reassuringly as he adjusts and clips my seat belt. “Don’t worry,” he soothes, “there’s nothing to worry about. It’s all automatic.” He leans away, shuts the door, and clicks home some kind of mechanism on the outside. The silence leaps out at me like a physical thing.
I’m shocked by how sparse the cabin is. I expected it to be like something out of Back to the Future, all bright gizmos and digital display boards, something like his ‘lab’ would’ve suggested, but no. The dashboard is smooth and black, with only a single blinking LED to indicate that it’s receiving any sort of power.
I’m just about to call out to Doctor Nguyen, to ask if something is wrong, when I’m thrown back in my seat with a jolt and my my eyes are burned by searing brightness. Jeez, he could’ve warned me about that! And then, more silence.
I open my eyes and my heart drops instantly. This isn’t right. This can’t be right!
I’m staring at some sort of Colosseum, with steps and columns and bright Grecian sunshine. I should be looking at a grimy little trailer in southern Florida in the middle of the night less than five years back.
My heart flaps in my chest like a frightened bird, full of panic and fury. “No,” I think, “No! this is all wrong!” and then, my heart seizes with a sharp jerk as I think, “What happens when someone comes and sees me here, like this?”
But it turns out, I needn’t have worried. Two women dressed in long, draped garments appear at the top of the stairs, conversing with one another. My breath catches in my throat like a butterfly trapped in a spider’s web, anticipating the looks on their faces when they see me in my futuristic scrapheap sitting there. Then they turn and continue along their way as if nothing were amiss in their ancient (to me) world. Well, what do you know? The time machine must be equipped with some sort of cloaking device. Makes sense, I guess, I just hadn’t considered it myself.
“Alright,” I decided, “I’m not in any immediate danger. That’s good. I’ll just sit here until the machine recalls me and I’ll explain to the doctor that he left off a digit or something and he sent me to the wrong place. He’ll have to send me back to the right one!” Then I decide to get some proof. After all, I have my cell phone, equipped with video and photo capabilities. So I lean back in my seat to get a good angle, and take several dozen still photos and capture nearly a minute of video to prove my point and, secondarily, as a nifty souvenir of my journey.
I’ve settled in to await my return to what is to me the present day, when there’s a thud from behind me and my seat is jarred. I turn sharply and look behind my seat.
One of the triplet is there, curled up and tucked in behind me. She stares up at me with a mischievous grin on her face. Shit.
“Did you sneak in before I left?” I ask her, incredulous.
Her smile widens as she nods.
“That’s… that’s not good,” I tell her. She shrugs.
“Well, whatever. Here we are. Just stay back there until the ship brings us back.” At this, she sits upright and kicks open the tiny door, squeezing through and bolting outside before I can stop her. Her white sneakers are all I can see as she dashes up the stairs away from me. Double shit.
I can’t leave her here, wherever or whenever here is. Maybe the doctor has some way of getting her back, but it hasn’t been 10 minutes yet and she could screw up something major in that time. Plus, I’m sure the people of this time period won’t take kindly to an annoying, strange looking child running around. What if they decide to kill her for being a witch or something?
My decision made, I climb out of the ship and follow her up the stairs, vowing to make sure her father grounds her until college.
We end up in some kind of marketplace, with stalls and screaming vendors. No one seems to notice the girl as she runs around from stall to stall, giggling and snatching things, knocking things over, and generally making a nuisance of herself. They do not grant me the same lack of attention. Everyone turns and stares, including my young quarry. She’s laughing so hard I think she might collapse, and I’m reminded of her father and his Millennium Falcon ‘joke’.
Ignoring the gasps, the stairs, the fingers all pointed at me, I race up to the girl and grab her by the wrist, holding her in place. Her clunky watch beeps at me. I look down at it as the realization hits me. It’s a cloaking device like the one on the time machine. That’s why no one notices her presence.
“What are you doing?” I hiss at her, “You’re going to get us killed!”
“Us?” she chortles, “Us? No. You, maybe.” She points behind me at a pair of guards, armed with cruel looking spears. They’re heading our way – my way – with determined looks on their brutish faces.
“Time to let you in on the secret, I guess. Those other girls aren’t my sisters, they’re me from different timelines. And my father didn’t invent that machine, I did.”
My jaw drops, confusion clouding my brain and preventing me from dashing away, back to the imagined safety of the cloaked machine.
“W…why?” I ask her.
“Well, it’s a scheme, of course. Daddy gets your money to finance… whatever.” she shrugs.
“But.. you obviously have the technology, why didn’t you just send me back so I could save my brother?”
She shrugs again, “It’s more fun this way!”
She does an obnoxious little finger wave as the guards grab my shoulders. I struggle and manage to get free for just a moment. The annoying girl’s laughter is the last thing I hear as the spear plunges through my chest.

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