Become a Fan
Dance of the Strings
By C.R. Kwiat
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Rated "PG" by the Author.
A time travel mishap or two...or three.
Twenty-year-old Trey Perkins peeked his head into the living room as he watched his father, Ben, answer the door.
“Yes?” his father asked. “May I help you?”
Trey could barely make out the features of the man at the door: middle-aged, weathered face, black and gray beard and mustache, and deep blue eyes.
“Do you own the out-of-business Laudromat around the corner?”
“I was wondering if I could have one of your broken-down, super-sized, front-loading dryers in exchange for a month’s worth of yard services.”
“What would you want with a broken down dryer?” Trey’s father asked curiously. “Aren’t you that bum that lives in the park across town?”
The man on the other side of the door shifted uncomfortably. “Sir, two months of yard work for the dryer. How does that sound?”
Trey walked out to join his father at the door as the question was considered.
“Do you have a way to transport it?”
“No sir. But I don’t mind disassembling it piece by piece to get it where I need it.”
“What’s your name?”
“Professor Arthur Cambridge.”
Ben laughed. “Okay, Professor. You can have one of my broken dryers after you mow my lawn today. And the garden needs weeding. Trey here will help you in the Laundromat afterwards.”
“Dad, I still need to finish my physics homework before tomorrow’s class. Dr. Denning doesn’t accept late work.”
Ben turned toward Trey, appearing annoyed. “Then you should be happy that you don’t have to mow the lawn this week.” He nodded toward the back of the house. “Open the garage and get the mower for the professor here.”
Trey sighed and went into the garage. As soon as the door lifted, the bearded visitor stepped inside the garage to look at the mower.
“You’re in a physics class?” he asked as he looked over the lawn mower.
“Yeah,” Trey answered. “At the community college.” He shifted a bike over to give himself more room to maneuver the mower out of the garage.
“Home for the weekend to do laundry?”
Trey laughed. “And home for the weekdays as well. We’re a little strapped since the Laundromat closed down,” he explained as he pulled the mower out from the side of the garage.
“You know, I can help you with that homework if you like. I’m a bit of a whiz when it comes to physics.”
Trey looked at him dubiously. “Oh yeah? What’s the speed of light?”
“299,792,458 meters per second in a vacuum.”
Trey smirked at the exactness of his answer, not entirely sure if the man was correct. He needed an easier question so that he could be sure of the answer. “What’s matter made of?”
Trey looked at the man curiously. “Fermions?”
“Haven’t you studied string theory yet?”
“No,” he replied after a slight hesitation. “But I’ve heard of it.”
The man shook his head in disgust. “String theory is everything. You don’t know anything until you understand the strings.” He took hold of the lawn mower’s handle and pulled it the rest of the way from the garage.
“Was my dad right? Are you the park bum? ‘Cause you look familiar.”
“Yeah, I’m the park bum,” he mumbled as he leaned over and pulled the cord to start the mower. “I’m the smartest park bum you’ll ever meet.”
When the professor finished mowing the lawn and weeding the garden, Trey drove his beat-up pickup to their boarded-up Laundromat. The professor rode in the bed, staring the entire time inside a locket dangling around his neck. Deciding it would be ridiculous to make the bum break the dryer down piecemeal, Trey loaded it onto his truck and drove it to the other side of town to the park. When he entered the parking lot near the play gym, the man tapped on the back window to get Trey’s attention.
“Drive along the junkyard’s fence. I’ll show you where to stop.”
The junkyard was on the far side of the park, so Trey took to the grass and drove straight toward the junkyard, hoping there were no cops patrolling the area since driving on the park’s grass was probably ticket-worthy. He reached the yard’s chain-linked fence and drove alongside it until the professor tapped on the window a second time.
Trey stopped his truck and noticed a large hole had been cut in the fence. He sighed and stepped out of the cab.
“You’re not making any sense,” Trey complained as the professor lowered the back tailgate. “You’re going to mow our lawn for two months so that you can bring our broken down dryer to the junkyard?”
The man smiled. “The office is clear on the other side of the yard, and there are no cameras. No one will see if you help me get this where I want it.”
“No, I’m not trespassing.”
“I’ll show you what I’m up to,” the man said with raised eyebrows. “Aren’t you the least bit curious?”
Trey scanned the park for cops, but they were alone. “Fine. Quickly.”
They hoisted the dryer from the truck onto a small dolly Trey had brought, then Trey watched nervously as the professor cut several more links of the fence so that the dryer would fit through. They weaved through two short rows of demolished cars until they entered a clearing with the strangest contraption Trey had ever set his eyes on. On one end was a large metal cubical, and jutting out from this peculiar housing was a large cylinder constructed from two other super-sized dryer tubs welded together. There were wires running the length of the tube, originating from the metal cubical. Separated a short distance from the professor’s setup was another strange cylindrical object, only about a foot high with wires jutting out from its interior. An odd looking control panel was located on its flat surface.
“What is all this stuff?” Trey asked.
The professor smiled as he looked upon his equipment. “Matter is made up of strings…and I know how to make the strings dance.” He walked up to what once was a dryer tub and patted it affectionately. “Of course it’s been much harder to replicate my lost prototype without the proper equipment and with little money, but I believe I’m managing. Just a couple more months now….”
Trey shook his head. “You’re still not making any sense. What are you making? A replica of what prototype?”
The professor looked earnestly at Trey. “If you know how to manipulate the strings, you can puncture through space, time, and dimensions.” He turned his attention to the smaller cylinder with the control panel. “All that came with me was the control panel and computer. I’ve had to rebuild everything else from scratch.”
Trey was running out of patience with the man’s answers. “All that came with you was the control panel and computer…from where?”
Professor Cambridge returned his attention to Trey. “From your future. I’ve traveled thirty years backwards by puncturing a hole in space and traveling through it. I thought the hole wouldn’t seal, but the control panel slipped through behind me, causing the main generator that manipulates the strings to lose its instructions. The strings returned to do their own bidding and the hole sealed, trapping me thirty years in the past.” He placed his hand on his chest above his locket. “I want to get back.”
Trey looked at him in silence, then burst into an uncontrollable laughter. He held his stomach and nearly toppled to the dirt in his fit. “For a second…” he gasped, trying to regain control, “I thought you were for real.” He shook his head and started back toward his truck, his eyes tearing from the hilarious scene he had just witnessed. “I’ve got homework to get back to. Good luck with your time machine, crazy old man.”
Every week from that point on, when the professor would come to mow the lawn, Trey would ask him how his time machine was coming along.
“Why not come and see for yourself?” he would answer.
“Perhaps when I have time,” Trey would reply with a smirk.
Then one week he looked out the window and saw the professor on his hands and knees in the grass, searching. Trey joined him when his curiosity got the best of him.
“Yes, my locket,” he said, panicked. “I can’t lose my locket!” His hands combed through the thick grass. “Please, would you mind helping me find it?”
Only slightly bothered, he answered, “Sure,” then walked the pathway that the mower had taken, looking for something shiny. When he spotted the locket, he picked it up and opened it. A small, damaged picture of a beautiful brunette with dark green eyes was inside. “Found it!” Trey yelled, looking curiously upon the woman.
The professor ran up. “Thank God! I’d be completely lost without Sandra’s picture.”
Trey handed the locket back. “Who is she?”
“We were to be married…but then the accident happened.”
“The time machine,” he answered impatiently. “She was my colleague. Sharp as a pin and smarter than any of the other faculty members. We were only two months away from our wedding day.”
Trey felt sorry for the crazy bum. It seemed the picture was everything to a man who didn’t have much…including his sanity. He raised his eyebrows. “The picture’s quite small and damaged. I can enlarge it and fix it up for you if you want. I have some great software that’ll do the trick.”
The professor’s eyes lit up. “I’d love that. But are you able to do it now? I don’t want to leave my locket behind.”
“Sure,” Trey answered casually. “Finish mowing, and I’ll have it done by the time you’re done.”
“Please be careful with it. It’s all I have of her.”
Trey walked inside the house with the locket’s picture as he heard the mower start up behind him. Once inside his room, he scanned the photo, enlarged it on his monitor, fixed the imperfections…then just stared at the beautiful face before him. She was amazing. Perfect in every way. He looked intently back at the original photo, wondering if it was really a magazine cutout, but the photo was real.
He printed out three photos of Sandra’s face, jealous of the man who possessed her…which was certainly not the bum outside mowing the lawn. He saved the face onto his computer, wanting to stare at her more later.
The photos brought tears to the professor’s eyes. “Thank you,” he whispered. Clenching the locket in his hand, he turned to leave.
“Is she really yours?” Trey asked before he got too far away.
The professor turned to face Trey. “Oh, yes. Both her heart and soul belong to me, and next week, I’ll be finding my way back to her. My life will become complete again.”
“Next week?” Trey asked curiously. “Your time machine is nearly done?”
The professor smiled. “Nearly done. Come by and see it when you have a chance.” With a nod, he turned and headed across the street.
Trey stared at Sandra’s picture for the next four days, falling in love with every line on her face, every out-of-place strand of hair, every feature of her flawless skin. He lay in bed, daydreaming about her, pretending she was his, amazed at how a single picture could completely capture his heart. He printed his own picture and kept it under his pillow, wanting to know everything about her. Maybe the bum knew something about her. He would visit on the pretext of being interested in the time machine and would strike up friendly conversation about Sandra. He laughed at the notion that she was the bum’s fiancé. How absolutely absurd.
After classes the next day, Trey drove up to the park. Since there were two police patrol cars parked in the parking lot, he decided against driving across the grass to the junkyard. As he stepped out of his truck, a cop approached him with a picture in his hand.
“Excuse me, sir. We’re looking for someone. Have you seen this man?” He held out a mug shot of the professor.
“Nope. Haven’t seen him. Is he dangerous?”
“Probably not. He spent three years in prison for identity theft, and now it seems he’s playing his old tricks again. Not too bright, though. He stole the same identity as before – the identity of a four year old boy, no less.”
“What’s his real name?” Trey asked curiously.
“Don’t know. He has no records. If you see him, contact the police.”
The policeman walked off to approach a family just arriving, so Trey casually walked off in the direction of the junkyard fence. When he arrived at the time machine, a man in a suit was hunched over the control panel with a screwdriver.
When the man stood up and turned toward Trey, Trey realized it was the professor. He now had short, black hair; clean, shaven face; and looked extremely respectable, not to mention much younger. He smiled at Trey. “How do I look?”
Trey stood speechless for a moment. “Not like a park bum. Is this your disguise? The police are looking for you.”
“Oh, yeah, I know,” he said, waving his hand nonchalantly. “I had to use an old credit card to get fixed up before Sandra saw me again. This is the real me. I just can’t afford to be the real me everyday.”
Trey walked up to the time machine and leaned against it, arms crossed. “They want you for identity theft of a four year old boy.”
“Yeah…me,” he said as he returned to work inside the control panel. “I’m four years old right now, in another place. When I got knocked thirty years in the past and had my own driver’s license and social security card, they believed them to be stolen and counterfeit. Arthur Cambridge was only a one-year old at the time. Everything I had was taken away. I’m not guilty of identity theft, the police are. They took it all, including three years of my life when I could have been working on this.” He looked up and smiled at his time machine. “Just about there. Everything is adjusted. All I have to do is press a little red button and I’ll be back with my sweetheart.”
Trey looked at the professor curiously. It was now believable that someone so beautiful would be attracted to him; but he quickly shook his head, hoping the idea would fall out of his ears because he didn’t like the feeling of resentment and jealousy building up inside of him. “How old is Sandra?”
“She looks younger in the picture.”
“She’s only twenty eight in the picture, but she’s still just as beautiful at thirty five.”
Trey scratched his head, wondering why he was starting to believe the professor. Do a suit and a haircut make someone crazy suddenly sound sane? “Do you remember when you were four having someone steal your identity?”
“Oh, yes. My parents stressed over it for many years.” He tapped the cubical portion of the time machine. “The magnet and the electronic equipment I bought to manipulate the strings were extremely expensive. It took quite a while for them to fix my credit.” He sighed and ran his hand over the machine. “Third time I’ve had to buy such expensive equipment. Burns a hole in the pocket, that’s for certain.”
“Third time? Wouldn’t this only be the second time?”
The professor shook his head. “No. Some crazy old man broke into my lab once and demolished my first time machine, but security caught him and he was thrown in jail.” He looked thoughtful. “He was up for parole just before I left. I sure hope he doesn’t head for the lab again. I don’t want anything to happen to Sandra.”
Trey nodded understandingly, because for some odd reason, he was worried, too. “Did he tell you why he did it?”
“I never saw the man. All I ever had to do was sign a few papers.” He sighed. “Some people just don’t want others messing with the proper order of things, I suppose. I’m guessing he heard about my experiments and simply wanted to rid the world of them.”
“But now he’s being released.”
The professor looked stressed as he looked at Trey. “I’ve set the machine as exactly as I could to return close to the time I departed. Sandra won’t have to deal with him alone if he comes calling again.” He turned to his control panel and replaced a panel. As he tightened a screw, he commented, “It’s ready. Tomorrow morning I’ll be home again.”
“Why are you waiting?”
The professor looked impatient. “Because you don’t rush into these things without reviewing the details. A single wrong fluctuation in the magnetic resonance coil could be disastrous. I could end up sixty years in the future instead of thirty. Then where would I be?”
“Here? Sixty years in the future?”
Comment not appreciated, the professor shook his head. “You’re too young to respect the seriousness of my situation.” He rubbed his stressed face up and down. “Go home and study the definition of a proton. I don’t need you here.”
Trey frowned at the professor, feeling quite offended. “Fine.” He walked out of the junkyard back into the park. I’m too young. Arrogant ass. As he approached his truck, he noticed the cop cars still parked nearby. “Hey!” he called. “I saw your man. He’s cut a hole in the junkyard fence.”
They thanked him, then he watched with a certain amount of vindictive pleasure as they rode across the grass toward the junkyard. He returned to his room and stared at Sandra’s picture. She was in danger from a crazy old man who was about to be released from prison. He could spy on her, make sure she was safe, and if someone looking crazy came after her, he’d spring out of nowhere and save the day. With the professor gone, she’d surely fall in love with him instead. The plan was perfect. As for leaving his family…they wouldn’t miss him. They’d rejoice.
When the clock struck nine o’clock, Trey stuffed his wallet and all his money into his pockets, grabbed a flashlight, and headed for the park. He stared at the time machine for a long while, trying to figure out how it might work. He found an extension cord coming in from under a demolished car and followed it to a plug and switch on the side of the cubical portion of the machine. He crawled into the cylinder made of three washer tubs welded together, lifted the control panel into the cylinder above his head so that it was flush with all sides, and pushed the red button. A strange white light at his feet danced like lightning and the control panel began to push him into it much like a piston in a car’s cylinder. He screamed a terrified scream as he jutted into the lightning filled cubicle, hands held above him so that the control panel didn’t smash into his head…and then he fell onto asphalt. The cylinder control panel fell in front of him and twirled like a spinning top, but everything else from the machine had disappeared. Trey took several deep breaths and felt his chest to see if he was still in one piece, then looked around. The junkyard was gone and the park had expanded. He was now on a basketball court.
Trey jumped to his feet, threw the control panel under a large bush, then ran to the community college’s library to look up where Dr. Arthur Cambridge worked. But the community college had grown into a major university, and he soon found himself walking the hallway in the Physics building, searching for Dr. Sandra Coltran’s office.
Two large security guards ran ahead of him in a hallway, and an office door open. Trey listened as a woman explained to the guards that a crazy man – a man just released from prison – had been outside her window moments ago, calling her name. She wanted an escort to her car. She stepped into the hallway with her briefcase to lock her door, and Trey’s heart melted. She was gorgeous. Absolutely gorgeous, just like in her picture.
He followed Sandra and the security guards to the entrance of the Physics building. As she made her way across the grassy lawn, Trey stopped on the stairs to watch. She was probably safe for the evening, and he should work on setting up his first meeting with her in the morning.
Suddenly the bushes beside him moved. He turned to see a sixty-year-old man with a gray beard and head of hair jump up the steps and swing a large stick at his head. He cried out and tried to dodge the club, but it struck him hard in the ear. He clenched his ear in disbelief and looked at the man, recognizing him.
“You took everything away from me,” the professor growled.
He swung the club again. Trey ducked it, then flung his body into the professor’s so that they both toppled down the steps. The old man struck his head on the edge of the bottom step, then lay motionless. Trey quickly picked himself up as the security guards escorting Sandra ran up and pulled the professor’s body flat onto the pavement to check his vitals.
“He attacked me!” Trey cried, panicked. “He came out of the bushes and attacked me!”
Trey looked up and saw Sandra approaching. Now wanting her to recognize the old man, he quickly rushed up to her and blocked her view. “Don’t look. He’s dead.”
“Are you all right?” she asked as she looked at Trey’s bloody ear.
Trey reached up to his ear and felt the blood. His heart soared. He had found a way into Sandra’s heart.
“I don’t know. I need to get this cleaned up, I suppose, to see how much damage there is.”
“Come with me to my office. I have a sink where you can wash.”
She glanced at the body as she told the guards where she would be for the police, then Trey and Sandra walked up the stairs together.
But the strings dance for no one….
A basketball player from the park found the control panel and returned it to the Physics building. Arthur Cambridge, who had been missing for only two days, was followed by Sandra shortly thereafter. It was thirty years later, when Trey was fifty years old, worn from years of prison for theft identity and stealing, that he caught a glimpse of thirty-five year old Sandra, emerging from the physics building, searching for her love, Arthur Cambridge.
Site: The Link Trilogy
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|Reviewed by Sheila Roy
|This story is unique and gripping. The twist at the end is a shocker. Way to tell a tale! Hugs~