Bootstrap

Sally SparrowThis week, The Parker Institute of Time Travel Studies (The PITTS) — in conjunction with State and Local Officials — has devised this warning for all time travelers and others involved in temporal excursions: Do not employ bootstrap time travel.

  • Bootstrap Time Travel (Encyclopedia Galactica*) — The bootstrap paradox is a paradox of time travel in which information or objects can exist without having been created. After information or an object is sent back in time, it is recovered in the present and becomes the very object/information that was initially brought back in time in the first place.

A recent examination by investigators — hired by the autonomous Fish and #TARDIS Sauce Group — indicate that there is an alarming rise of bootstrapped articles appearing throughout the timeline. The genesis of this “fad” seems to have been the airing of the Doctor Who episode, “Blink.” The PITTS, therefore, has been forced to implement emergency and draconian measures to staunch the flow of now-uncreated objects and information. Recent examples of bootstrap incursions include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • A man from Nantucket took a freeze-dried lizard back to his childhood, gave the lizard to himself, which he (the younger) then kept until he was a grown man with a chance to travel back in time … the situation was frustrated by teaching his younger self a limirick.
  • A husky Russian émigré, intent on playing football for Vince Lombardi, recently overshot his mark and took his time vehicle to 1947 New Mexico instead of 1967 Wisconsin, ruining our research and playoff hopes in one selfish move.
  • An English woman, home from the laundry mat and feeling adventuresome, took the family Wellsian for a spin to Victorian England with a basket full of extra footwear, creating an impossible temporal vortex of missing socks that will confound 20th– and 21st-century men for eternity.
  • An Alabama man took an egg (cage-free, organic, with Omega-3s) to China, circa 6000 BC, to the very day that the first chicken became domesticated and, as a result of self-indulgent selfish motives, removed the chicken-egg paradox from modern thought.
  • A Jaffa woman recently returned The Holy Grail to its shelf at The Cenacle, thereby eliminating any possibility we could determine the origin of said graal.
  • And in 2007/1969 Doctor Who told Sally Sparrow, “Blink and you’re dead. They are fast. Faster than you can believe. Don’t turn your back. Don’t look away. And don’t blink. Good luck.” The Doctor has been unavailable for comment.

These are but a few examples of what has become a worldwide epidemic. At this rate, all material objects, articles, matter, data, information, and salmon will not have a place of origin. The effects of this activity on the eco-military-industrial-climatic-god complex cannot not be overstated without embellishment. Please stay tuned to this channel for further updates.

The past is prologue; so is the future.

Years truly,

Keith

* All entries from Encyclopedia Galactica are, in fact, plagiarized liberated from Wikipedia.org (English version).

Copyright © 2013 Keith Parker

What’s in the Trash Can? (A Short Story)

trash canA voice said, “What is in the trash?”

I overheard this question as I rounded the corner at the office, on my way to get my morning coffee.  You know it’s bad when people don’t use contractions.

“You smell that?”

Ewww.”

“What is it?”

“Oh, God.”

Luckily the halls in the building are infinitely long, so whatever was antagonizing my coworkers was out near the vanishing point.  I was far enough away to ignore them safely; I’m a very prudent person, after all.  But they stood near the side door and the water fountain, and that gave me pause.  Was there a plumbing problem?  If so, then that would affect the quality — not to mention sanitary condition — of my morning java.  So instead of turning into the break room I approached my circle of coworkers.  Four of them, gawking and muttering, were standing over a waste basket sitting in the middle of the hallway.  Three more people stood back away from it, like folks at a car wreck.  One woman had a hand at her throat.  One man was chewing on his knuckle.  The chatter continued.

“What is that smell, anyway?”

“Sulfer?”

“I think it’s rotten egg.”

“That is sulfer!”

“It’s bad fish.”

“It’s bad seafood, not fish.  God!” (Are human resources departments required to hire one know-it-all smartass?)

“Is it dead?”

“Better question: Is it alive?”

A woman stuck her palm out, in a stop gesture.  She scampered away, headed toward the restroom.

More remarks followed, and a second circle formed where I stood, making us all a human Stonehenge.  That’s fitting in a way: Many employees had rock-like personalities.  I looked to my left and right.  The questions were now decaying into an argument, not just about what the smell was, or who was more accurate about its revolting odor, but who was responsible for it, and who was going to do something about it.  One boss snapped at another boss.  One old guy started telling a story about what he’d seen in a war.  One young woman started asking if she could go home.

I snorted.

Slamming my coffee mug down on the water fountain, I pushed myself through the throng, and grabbed the trash can on a quick trot.  I was halfway out the sidedoor before people started talking again.

“Who was that?” the young woman said.

“I think it was Eric.”

“Eric?  It was Eric.” The young woman’s voice had a hint of revelation to it, as if she’d just discovered the true identity of the masked man.

Was I wearing a cape?  Nope.  I’m just a guy, named Eric, who’d rather do something than stand around talking about it.

I heaved the entire waste basket — not just its contents — into the parking-lot dumpster and walked around to the main entrance brushing off my hands.  I didn’t talk to any of my coworkers that day, content to spend my time scrolling through hundreds of emails.  Before I left, though, I picked up the phone, put it back, then picked it up again and called the young woman’s extension.  I was a bit nervous, but finally managed to ask if she wanted to go get a cocktail.

It turns out there was nothing for me to be nervous about.

The End

Copyright © 2013 Alan Keith Parker.  This is a work of fiction.  Any resemblance to actual persons, settings or circumstances is purely coincidental.

Jackie is Moving Quickly Now (A Short Story)

Jackie is jogging now, her size 5 tennis shoes squeaking on the tile floor of the mall, her breath quickening as her heart pounds away in her throat. His footsteps, the ones from the black, sound like metal on the tiles, like sadistic tap shoes following her down the aisle. She breaks into a full sprint and whacks her thigh on the corner of some serving counter — a Starbucks? McDonalds? Sbarro Pizza? Doesn’t matter. It hurts, and it’s in her way, and it slows her down, bruises her pace even though Jackie is moving quickly now. Ahead of her is a row of chairs. They sit near the escalators, but Jackie wrinkles her brow at that escape route because escalators tripped her up when she was little, when she got her skirt caught in its

teeth

treads. That saved Jackie’s life, but it didn’t matter because back then the man was after her mother, not her, unlike the man in the steel-toed boots who’s chasing her now.

boots

Everything is surreal, nightmarish. Is she moving or is the row of the chairs? They rush forward, like oncoming runway lights. Old people sit here, talk about young people these days. But they are empty of any people right now. The black is behind her. He turned the corner and he missed the coffee counter. The villain always has the best luck. Click, click, click go his shoes. Jackie turns her head quickly left, then right, her eyes begging for help from people who are not in the shoe stores and the jewelry stores and the You’re-Not-Wearing-the-Latest stores. Only the mannequins watch her. They seem more alive than

Jackie will be

any of the salesmen who put up the 1/2-Price ONE DAY ONLY signs earlier.

Dizzy from the glittery goodness of kiosks Jackie’s shoes squeal to a halt beside an overstuffed mall chair. Whoever said tennis shoes were silent was just a damn-fool-liar in Jackie’s book, yes sir-ee, Bob. She leans on the chair, out of breath, her throat burning. When she blinks she sees the cane, propped neatly beside a chair, and a half-open James Michener resting over the arm of another, and an empty Starbucks cup on a side table. But it’s not empty, is it? No. Steam rises from it, as if the owner forgot about it because he

got killed?

got up and left to go home.

Cold, bony fingers wrap around her shoulder. Bony. Bone. And that’s when bile catches in her throat. The man takes — took — his victims and did something to their bones, with a hammer. She sees his pink-skinned hand with its thin, blue veins sticking out of his Member’s Only black jacket. She doesn’t turn around. She doesn’t need do that. Instead, Jackie grabs the steaming coffee, and wheels about on one heel.

She flings the scalding coffee in the man’s face. He screams. It’s a dark, angel-of-death scream.

Later the detectives ask her how she knew, because the crime against her mother had happened 30 years ago, in 1984. The man in the black coat was in his 50s then. He’s in his 80s, now. The people at the mall thought she was sadistic, attacking an old man like that. Little did they know. So the detective asks her — has to ask her — what clued her in, probably wondering how he’ll deal with the vigilante justice angle even though she’s caught the man who’s been wanted for decades.

“The shoes,” Jackie says. “Those awful steel-toed boots. When I fell on the escalator he kicked me. I was just a little girl. He kicked me when I was down.”

The detective brings her some tissue. Jackie nods, begins to sob. Tomorrow, she thinks, she’ll sign up her daughter for tap lessons. Jackie will finally be able to tolerate the sound of metal clicking on a floor.

The End

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events, is purely coincidental. Copyright © 2012 Alan Keith Parker, All Rights Reserved.

Meat

There were more mashed potatoes and more meat on the plate than there’d been a just few minutes ago. Johnny blinked.  His head was sizzling, ice-pick pain crushing his eyeballs.  His leg, too, throbbed as if it’d taken hammer blow to the shin bone. It reminded him of how his mama told him the Romans broke Jesus’ legs on the cross.  But this wasn’t ancient Jerusalem.  He was simply sitting on a bed, in the present day.

He blinked.

There was more roast beef on the plate, now.  Had there been that much before?  He couldn’t tell because he couldn’t taste, his tastebuds had been cauterized, and his tongue was as dead as the meat that laid there, so he surely hadn’t been eating anything, and yet … and yet, he daintily wiped the corner of his mouth (did manners even matter here?) … and his hand came away with brown gravy on it.

He blinked.

Blackened gargoyles flashed before his closed eyelids.  He was still sitting there on the bed, but it felt different now, and the food was gone so he figured it was over, that it was past dinnertime and now he’d moved on to … on to what?  Somebody was yelling from next door, something about fire, something about a fizzle?  Sizzle?  Was that what they said?  And lightning?  Something about him and lightning.  Were they talking about his woodworking? His woodcarvings?  He always talked about how he liked the smell of a power carver burning into a fresh wood.  He brushed the top of his head, found stubble from his … what? … his crew cut?  Why did he have a buzz cut?

He blinked hard.

White feverish splotches flashed before his eyelids, and now he smelled barbecue pork, the kind Johnny’s dad pulled off pigs over barrel fires when he was a kid, better barbecue than any joint in Alabama ever dreamed of cooking.

He blinked.

His lungs were crushed, smashed, a seat-belt … was that it? … yanking his rib bones into his flesh and puncturing his lungs, making him scream … but he couldn’t scream.  He opened his mouth … did a little gravy dribble out? … but he couldn’t scream.

He blinked.

He sat at a large table, but kept his elbows off.  Old habits died hard, especially here in the South.  It was a  library table like he’d sat at in school on Saturdays.  But this table was rough-hewn, and his fingernails dug into a splintered crevasses that’d been gouged deep into its surface over the years.

He blinked three times.

The images were splashes of acid hitting his wide-open eyeballs.

A man in a suit stood on the other side of the table, his necktie loose, his shirt sweaty … can anybody sing that ring-around-the-collar jingle? The man’s face was wrinkled and tired, but his eyes were alive from too much coffee and sugar.  His milquetoast face had darkened from beard stubble … kinda like the stubble on your head, eh, Johnny boy?  The man glared.   The suit was expensive.  Armani, or a damn good knockoff.  And it’d been pressed … but not for a long while.  And he had a sported a watch … an expensive one, complicated … a Bulova, full of hands and dialsspinning, turning, ticking, tocking.

Johnny’s head still ached, a post-trauma pounding.  It felt like he’d been sunburned, and then sunburned again, and then sunburned yet again after the first two had healed.  His leg still crackled from the hammer blow,  or whatever it was, and he now wondered if the bastard had used the claw of the hammer to break his leg bone slowly, sadistically.

Johnny blinked.

The man in the suit looked … better.  His tie was tied.  His suit didn’t have wrinkles.  And his face was fresher, no three-day shadow, and no perspiration.

“You have to,” the man was saying.  “You have to.”

Johnny shook his head.  “I didn’t do nothing.  Nu-thing.”

The man’s nostrils flared.  He slammed his hands on the table, rattling Johnny.  “What’s your favorite meal, John?  Hmm?  What is your favorite meal?”

“Wha –.”

“Food, man!  What’d you choose if it was your last?”

Johnny blinked.

This time nothing changed.

“Mashed potatoes with roast beef and grav–.”  Johnny stopped, the word a bone caught in his throat.

That’s when he focused on the man’s elegant wristwatch, at all the hands and dials.  And the main one, the military dial, told him it was little after 1400 hours.  He zoomed in, bringing the watch’s second hand into view, and it was running backward.  He ran his hand through his hair, and he had hair now.  He … had … hair … now.

Johnny blinked.

Nothing changed, but he now knew that mashed potatoes had reappeared on his plate because he’d eaten them, in the future.

They shaved your leg.  They shaved your head.

“What year is it?” he said

The man in the suit blinked.  “What does that have to do with –.”

Johnny’s turn to slam his fist.  “What year is it?” he yelled.

The lawyer told him.

“And when would I get out?” Johnny said. “If I take the deal?”

The lawyer’s face — which had been sharp angles and tension — suddenly sagged, his brown eyes hound-dog sad.

Johnny felt a tear well up in one eye, the way it’d always been.  He always cried from one eye.  It’d been that way when the cops had kicked down the door and found Johnny standing over one of the bodies, holding the serrated knife that’d been used to slice open throats all over the apartment building, and he’d cried because he knew they’d never believe that he’d removed the knife from of one of the victims to save the woman’s life because he was a nurse and that’s what nurses did.  But the evidence was a D.A.’s wet dream, fingerprints on every floor.  Johnny had helped those old men and women for years, and they thanked him — oh, yes — but they’d also insulted him when they thought he was getting uppity.  It was annoying, stupid.  He’d even got a scalding cup of coffee in the face once.  That was more than “annoying.”  But he still loved them.

But that coffee wasn’t nearly as hot as the skull cap, was it?  They said the electric chair was painless.  They said the initial jolt of voltage knocked you out.  They were wrong.  Dead wrong.

Johnny looked up slowly, through moist eyes.  “How’d you do it?” he asked the man with the backward clock.  “My mama would’ve called it devil’s work.”

The man shook his head.  “Not witchcraft.  Just … a gadget.”

“You let me see my future.”

“I let you live your future, John.  Or one possible future.  You’ve traveled forward, and now you’re coming back.  And you still remember everything, for now.  But soon enough those memories of the future will be gone.  There’s nothing I can do about that.”

“And I died.”

“We all die in the future, John.  You will be killed in the future if you don’t take the plea.  But if you do take it, you’ll live in the future.  You’ll make woodcarvings.  And one of those woodcarvings will be a spaceship.  You’ll make it on a whim.  And thirty years from now you’ll give it to a schoolgirl who’ll become the first human to set foot on another planet.”

“You’re making that up.”

“You don’t know that.  But you do know what the electric chair does to you.”

Johnny nodded.  “But I didn’t kill those people.  I tried to help them.  I tried to help them!”

His lawyer gestured toward the room outside.  “I know that.  But they don’t.  They don’t know and they don’t care.”

“Then is there one thing I can ask?  Just one thing?”

“We have very little wiggle room.”

“Can you at least tell them I’m a vegetarian? I don’t want to eat meat.”

The lawyer puckered his lips.  “I might be able to swing that one, Johnny.  If you apologize.  Show remorse.”

“For something I didn’t do.”

The lawyer nodded.  “For something you didn’t do.  I bet I can get you a vegetarian diet.  I might be able to swing that one.”

Johnny slumped in the chair, his eye teary, his body hiccoughing with sobs.

He blinked.

The lawyer turned to go see the prosecution, winding his watch as he left the room.

The End

.
Copyright © 2012 Alan Keith Parker.  All Rights Reserved.  This is a work of fiction.  Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

What’s This Doing Here? (A Short Story)

“And I thought, ‘What’s this doing here?’”

I stepped into my backyard workshop, felt the tension of the week slip away as I surrounded myself by my favorite gadgets: a flux capacitor, neutralizer, light sabre, helicopter hat, cigarette gun, Maxwell Smart’s shoe, and an invisibility cloak.  These were tucked away among Dad’s hammers, mallets, Allen wrenches, saws, screwdrivers, soldering irons, and a highly illegal coil of asbestos.  But something odd glinted in the late afternoon sun.  Eyes wide, I suddenly realized what I’d left out there, and what a buffoon I’d been.  I leapt toward it, my arm stretched out, … and stubbed my toe.

“Oh, my God!”

I bent, grabbed my foot, and struck my forehead on the workbench.  The searing pain overwhelmed the throbbing toe.

Tumbling backward against the open workshop door, blood snaked down from my eyebrows.

“Jesus H. Christ,” I said.

I shook my head and began to feel a sneeze coming on, autumn ragweed jolting my sinuses in a sneak attack.  Turning my head (because I didn’t want to spread germs to the spiders in the shed?) I ripped my shirt on a rusty nail sticking out of the door.  I stumbled back out into the yard, my toe on fire, my head throbbing, my nose aflame, my tongue itching.

My foot came down on the teeth of rake, its handle smacking me in the lips, just like Dad said it’d do one day.

“Mother Mary!”

I looked up.  A bird cooed, chastising me.  Not just any bird.  A pigeon.  A rat of the sky.

Snorting, bleeding, aching, I turned and looked back at the workshop.

Why’d I done it? There was always hell to pay.  I knew there would be.  Still, I had to try.  Money was tight, and all I needed was one good set of lottery numbers, and then … and then the time machines quit, one by one: the capacitor, the Wellsian, the phone booth, and even old reliable himself, the Connecticut dream machine.

My cell phone buzzed in my pocket.  I pulled it out, looked at the text on the screen: Funding was cut. We’re already at the bar.

“Father God and Sonny Jesus!”

I stared at the glow of the phone’s screen, watching a drop of blood splatter across it, forming a gory starburst.  My hand was shaking as I dropped the cell back in my pocket, or so I thought.  I actually missed my pocket.  The phone fell to the grass.  Well, not the grass, but rather a small patch of mud.  I bent over, gritting my teeth.

It was not mud.

“Ewww.”  I held my cell phone with two fingers at arm’s length as I staggered back toward the house, my tongue itching, my forehead freely bleeding, my toe on fire.

Inside the den Sarah was sitting in the recliner.  Her brown eyes widened as she saw me, bloody-faced, ragged, limping, smelling like yesterday’s dog shit.

“What?  What happened?” she said.

“I pissed God off.”

Again?”

I nodded, and then turned and pointed.  The pain didn’t matter.  She did.

“There’s something in the workshop.  Between the tricorder and the Q-37.  Could you get it?  There’s still plenty of light.”

“Sure.  No problem,” she said. Her wrinkled brow betrayed the confidence in her voice.  Sarah hated spiders and cave crickets and every other critter that infested that shack.  “But only if you’ll clean that thing.”

I told her I’d take the phone out to the mudroom.

When Sarah returned she herself was in tears.  The diamond sparkled in the lamplight.  I sat on the edge of the sofa and held my hands out, palms up.

“Does it fit?”

She shook her head. “Doesn’t need to.”

When she threw herself at me I could see where she’d tried to force the ring on over her knuckle, cutting her finger.  We fell backward in a tumble of romance and blood, giggling.

Turning serious, I said, “We can’t go out.  We lost funding.  Money’s going to be tight.”

Sarah shook her head.  “Shush,” she said.  “It’s going to be okay.”

“You don’t know that.”

“Yes, I do.”

I looked at her sideways. “How?”

She grinned.  “You left the crystal ball on the coffee table again.”

I felt every ounce of tension in my body drain away as I sank back into the cushions.  Everything was going to be okay, I just didn’t know it yet.  The next day I put the time machines out on the curb for the junk man to collect, and then I went to mass, for confession.

It seemed like the thing to do at the time.

The End

This piece of flash fiction was inspired by a challenge from WordPress.com’s @freshly_pressed tweet.  I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it.  Peace, from Keith

Copyright © 2012 Alan Keith Parker.