| “What the heck just happened?”
“I told ya you wouldn’t believe it,” Alli laughed as Jace leaped out of the strange looking chair as if it just sent an electric shock through him. His brown hair looked more tousled than usual, and his brown eyes were as big as saucers.
Jace didn’t see the humor in the situation. Alli, his best friend since second grade, had texted him to come see her mishap of a science experiment. Expecting a volcano that didn’t shoot or 2 liter bottle with a swirling tornado, he was intrigued when she presented a folding chair with various gadgets attached to it; an intercom, an alarm clock, PS3 controller, an old cellphone, and a couple of items he couldn’t identify. Without any fanfare, she sat him in it. With a slight grin on her face, she instructed him to push the “X” button on the controller. Not expected much since Alli had said it was a mishap, he unquestioningly pressed the button.
Before he had time to think, he was in a different world. Or rather – a different time. “Is that a gunslinger across the street?” he thought. The man looked remarkable like a character in his favorite game Red Dead Redemption. “What the heck is a Two Shot Saloon? Why am I on a horse?” All these thoughts raced through his head in a matter of seconds, and before he could process anything else, Jace was back in Alli’s garage.
Grabbing Alli by the shoulders, Jace demanded an answer. “I’m not kidding! What just happened? What did you do to me!”
Holding her sides with laughter at his reaction and pale complexion, Alli at first couldn’t respond. She understood completely, however, because her initial reaction had been similar to his. Her effort to create an intercom system that would announce what she texted apparently had turned into something quite different.
After catching her breath, she was finally able to respond. “I didn’t do anything to you, Jace. What did you see?”
“I’m not sure. Some old western scene. And I didn’t just see it; I was there!”
“No, you weren’t. You were here the whole time. I could see you in the chair.”
Jace shook his head. “No! Alli, I tell you I was there. On a horse!”
Alli pushed her straight blonde hair behind her ears. “That’s what I thought my first time, too. Except mine wasn’t a western, it was a kinda futuristic mall with mannequins that talked and their outfits changed at a blink of the eye.”
Eyeing her carefully, calming a bit, Jace sat on the workbench in the garage. He looked at the chair that had seemed to transport him and fiddled with one of the Matchbox cars on the shelf. Alli’s father was a collector. He had every car since 1976 except for a 1984 black corvette. Somehow touching something tangible reassured him he was still in Perry, Pennsylvania in 2011.
Sitting beside him, Alli began to explain. “The best I can figure out is that it just transports your thoughts. Pretty much, like, what you’ve been thinking about the most lately. Have you read a western book or something?” As she said it, she realized it was a stupid question. Jace had paid her $15.00 last semester to do his book report because he hated reading so much.
“I have a western video game,” he responded, still a little shaky.
“There ya go. I have no idea how it works. It isn’t what I wanted at all.”
“Where else have you been on it? Well, I guess not been, but seen?”
“Paris in about 1940, I think. The only reason I can figure I was there is I watched a thing on the Biography Channel about that writer Hemingway killing himself. And he lived in Paris for awhile. It was amazing! There was the Eiffel Tower and it was raining. And I couldn’t understand anyone. But, of course, I was only there a few seconds.”
“Why such a short time?” Jace was intrigued.
“Ten seconds. That’s all the trips are. I have no idea why. I told you I don’t know how it works.”
Jace’s eyes began to sparkle. “Who else knows about this?”
“Are you kidding? No one! Who else would I tell but you? It’s not what I tried to invent; I don’t know how it works. I’m a failure. Like I would trust anyone but you with that info?”
“Alli, you’re nuts! You create a mind time transforming image controlling time machine, and you consider yourself a failure? You could make millions with this! You could have the dream. A mansion, cars, video games, a pool, a white picket fence, your own mall!”
“Do you even know what a picket fence is?”
Jace paused. “No, but it sounded good. Well, in the moment it did. So lose the picket fence. Think of everything else.”
Alli wasn’t sure how to explain the next part to Jace. They were so close usually they understood everything, but this all was so bizarre. “Quit messing with Dad’s cars and listen to me, Jace. I have thought about all that, trust me. At first that’s all I could think about. So I sat in the chair to try it out again. What I saw scared me. I was older, maybe in my twenties, but I knew it was me. And I had all those things you were talking about, except the picket fence. I even had horses. You know how much I’ve always wanted one. But I was sitting on the edge of the pool, and Jace, I was crying. And it was more than that. I not only saw myself. I could feel what was inside of me. Jace, I was empty, sad, lonely.”
Jace stared into Alli’s sky-blue eyes. He could see the pain she had experienced and how it had affected her. Not knowing what to say, he sat in silence. He understood. Part of him wanted to argue with her; tell her it didn’t have to be that way. Another side of him wanted to protect her from the future.
“Jace, promise me this thing I’ve created stays between us. At least for now.”
“On one condition,” he smiled wickedly.
Alli’s stare begged and dared him at the same time. She knew their friendship was invaluable to them both, but at the same time the temptation of this creation would be insurmountable.
“When we're in college living in a cramped apartment eating Ramen noodles, because we're broke; I get to say I told you so.”
Hugging Jace, Ali knew not only was her secret safe, but she had a friend for life to share it with.
Author's Note: I assigned various prompts to my students. I allowed each class to challenge me with one. This prompt was: Suppose you invented a time machine. Write a story about what you did with it. Incorporate the following words in it: Hemingway, intercom, matchbox, pale, and picket.