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Rated: E · Serial · Steampunk · #1992781
That is my signature. 5 years before I was born. What gives?
Okay. Now my mind was officially blown. My signature was on a rental agreement, and appears to have been signed, by me, 5 years before my birth. To say it took the wind out of me would be an understatement. But as I sat looking at the signatures on the lines, I recognized not only my own, but those of my grandfather and my dad's. Oddly, The signature of E.F. Gloriosky had a strange familiarity to me as well. My mind folded in on itself for a minute, and I could hear my dad's voice telling me to be calm, and that no matter what I thought, he and grandad would never lead me astray.

I had come to a red divider in the box. On the divider was a group of four symbols. One was a circle with a cross on the bottom and an inverted arc on the top, kind of like the symbol for "female" with horns. The next was two arcs meeting each other at the center, with a ball on the four ends. It reminded me of an old chair that we'd had in the house growing up, like a circle had been cut in half, and one side stacked on top of the other to create a cup with legs. The third was a large "X", with a black line horizontally through the center and diamonds on the ends, and two longer horizontal lines, each halfway between the center line and the top and bottom of the "X". The last was a small triangle with three arrows extending upward from it. That's the one that caught my eye. I picked up the ring of keys and found a large brass key with a large oval head. The three rising arrows were stamped on one side of the key's head, with "Ag" stamped on the other. On either side of the key was a brass tag. One was marked 29D45MN on both sides. The other was marked 95D21MW on both sides.

This, I realized, was one of the keys to the storage space mentioned in the rental agreement I'd just read. I called my landlady, Mrs. Hudson, to let her know I'd be out of town for a few days. She thanked me for calling, and said she'd collect my mail while I was gone. I locked the box, and slid it into the bottom of my bedroom closet, covering it with an old blanket. I put my shoes on top, in pairs, but just dropped them kind of casually, so they'd look like they'd been there for months. I locked up and made my way to the airport.

When I arrived at the airport and was heading to the gates, I stepped up to the security checkpoint, and had to empty my pockets into the plastic tub there on the conveyor. I absolutely thought I was going to pass out, and actually stopped breathing for a moment when I had to deposit that big clunky key ring into the tub. It sounded to me like I'd dropped an anchor made of jingle bells when it landed. I passed through the metal detector and snuck a glance at the screen in front of the TSA agent manning the machine. I was dumbstruck to see the zippers in my wallet, the metal shanks in my shoes, my watch battery, and my change...but no keyring. I looked back, trying to see who had been nimble enough to grab the keys. No luck...just the same mindlessly bored travellers rumbling through life like automatons. I grabbed the tub, and there they were. The weird keys, just as I'd dropped them in the tub. I looked at the TSA agent. As he looked back at me, he winked and turned back to the screen. Now it was getting undeniably real, and the world seemed to stretch out from me for a moment.

I almost ran to the gate, ready to pull a Davey Crockett...I was headed to Texas!

As I landed at Houston Intercontinental, I realized I'd need to get more prepared for what I was doing. I had the taxi driver take me to a sports and outdoors center, where I bought a GPS locator, a flashlight, and one of those leatherman tools. Then I had him drop me at a car rental place, and I rented a small 4-door sedan. As I was signing the papers and paying for a day's rental, the girl behind the counter asked if I possibly had the exact change. Thinking about the contents of my pocket, I thought I might have it. So, as I dug around for change, I laid the oddball keyring up on the counter. I certainly did not expect what happened as it landed.

You could have heard a pin drop. The girl's eybrows went up so high I thought they'd launch off the top of her head. Everyone in the room seemed frozen but her and me. All she could say was "Oh my, Oh my" as she plucked the keys to the car out of my hand and snatched the rental papers off the counter. "Wait here" she whispered, and walked down to the other end of the counter. She reached way back up under the counter and came out with a small silver key on a long chain. She came back down to me and deftly attached the end of the chain to my jacket. "I hope you can still drive a stick. Your car is out back, under the carport, under the cloth. Welcome back, sir."

She then shooed me out the back door like I was an errant six year old, where I found a carport with some very expensive looking cars, and one large gray lump of cloth that looked like it concealed something ocean-going rather than something built for the interstate.

I pulled the cover off, and beheld a behemoth of a car. The engine rose from the back to a height of about 5 feet, nearly 5 feet long, and about 4 feet wide. On either side were two large copper tanks that ran the length of the engine, with an ominous pressure gauge right in the middle of each one. The car was red and gray, with a devilishly intriguing amount of ornate brasswork all over it. I climbed into the open cockpit seat just like I knew what I was doing. The wide dashboard was nearly smooth, with simple gauges and none of the electronics I'd grown used to. The short windshield looking forward over the 8 feet of hood seemed more like a suggestion of protection but somehow, it felt right to me. Right in the middle of the steering wheel was a slot obviously made for the silver key. "What the hell" I said as I put the key in place and gave it a turn. The car began a slow rumble that seemed to start at the ground and reach up into my throat. The vibration was on the verge of making me ill when it all smoothed out, and made me think of what a lion's purr might sound like.

My mind was spinning with possibilities as I drove the car into Houston, following the GPS tracker, all the while thinking of the leap of faith I was taking on the words of my grandfather: "You can't always believe what you believe." I felt like I was on autopilot as I drove all the way into downtown Houston, and pulled up at the GPS location. As I parked, a brass post rose up out of the curb, and suddenly folded itself over 90 degrees, sliding down a sign reading "Reserved Parking, V. Coffin." I mused over that for a second, with the thought crossing my mind that I was probably laying on the floor at home in a puddle of my own drool.

With the thought in my head about being in a dream, or unconscious in my floor, I decided the best course would be to just roll with it rather than try to wake up. "Why not?" I said out loud to myself, "I'll sober up sooner or later, and this dream will have run its course." I went into the building at 215 Main, and went downstairs. As I pulled the keyring out of my pocket, I walked down the hall to a space just about where the car was parked above. I looked around and saw what I can only describe as a bright red spot on the wall, about the height of my waist. As I got closer, it seemed to shimmer, and four locks appeared. The top lock was very shiny, and silver in color. The next was kind of odd looking, like it was not quite solid. The third shone like chrome on a brand new trailer hitch, and the last was the color of a new penny. I took the key on my ring, and slid it gingerly into the top lock. It turned easily, and the wall opened away from me into the space. As I stepped inside, dim lights began to glow all around the perimeter of both the ceiling and the floor. As the door closed quietly behind me, the light became brighter, and I was able to make out three distinct images in the room. On the left side of the room, close to me and the door, was a pedestal with a black box about the size of a pack of cigarettes. In the center of the room was an odd looking device I can only describe as a large brass box the size of a foot locker attached to the floor from behind by a large leather bellows. On the right side of the room, near the back, was another pedestal. As I approached it, I know my jaw dropped open, and I began to feel like sitting down. On that pedestal was a rather large, shiny, metal-looking black cat, and he was looking back at me with the brightest golden eyes I had ever seen. The brass box began to whine as the room went dark.

I was staring at the ceiling as the lights came back up in the room. I was laying on my back, with my head resting right next to the big brass box...and the cat was sitting on the box, gazing downwards at me. A gentle ticking came from him, like a brass heartbeat, and his head cocked a little to his right as he stared at me.

"You can sit up, if you'd like, old boy. I'll have us a cup of tea done in just a moment." The refined voice had a distinctive British accent, and his tone bespoke his belief that the Empire would last forever. I sat up and slowly turned around facing towards the door once again. The footlocker was open on the front, and a large plaid blanket lay spread out on the floor, with a sterling silver tea service set directly in the middle. On the opposite side of the blanket sat an obvious gentleman of the empire. His brass-framed monocle was tinted an irridescent blue-green, and sat in his left eye over a very well groomed white handlebar mustache. He had the tails of his waistcoat pulled up over his thighs as he sat cross-legged, his red vest unbuttoned casually, his long black tie pulled loose to hang down the front of his light blue ruffled shirt. His black bell crown hat was cocked slightly back on his head, not quite exposing enough scalp to judge whether or not he was bald. White spats covered the top of very highly polished square toed shoes with a riding heel. "Good to see you again, my good man!" His smile was contagious, but started to slip as he stared at my dumbfounded expression. "Ah...that's right. This is the first time you met me. Sorry to have forgotten that point. Allow me to introduce myself, I am Colonel Sanborn Spaulding, recently retired from Her Majesty's service as commander of the 23rd Time Brigade. I'm here to fetch you to see Dr. Gloriosky. Since Constantine here took such a liking to your grandfather's brood, I'm afraid we'll need your help on a matter of grave importance." I glanced at the cat, who had taken that pose peculiar to cats that always reminds me of a pillow. His front legs tucked under his chest, his head held erect, with those inscrutable golden eyes peering at me like a searchlight into my mind. I was lost for a moment, and missed what Spaulding was saying until something landed in my lap. It was the black box from the pedestal. "I'm sorry, I didn't catch that," I said. Spaulding laughed and said "That's yours," he said, gesturing to the box, "Keep it in your pocket unless your using it." He nodded towards the cat, "He'll be frisky now, so don't leave it behind anywhere. He becomes problematic when that happens."

I opened the black box to reveal a very ornate brass winding key with "Custodi me, Close" stamped on its head. As I placed the key in my pocket, Constantine rose and stretched just as naturally as a real live cat would, then sat and became quite still. His eyes dimmed and closed, but the brass heart ticking remained. "He's ready for us to go now, Vincent. But Dr. Gloriosky will have to wait for a few minutes more. We simply cannot leave without finishing at least one cup of tea."
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