My apologies for the long delay in posting this.
Congratulations to Christopher J. Burke for winning the January Flash Fiction contest.
Honorable mention goes to Erin Penn for her story Countdown.
The Feast of Groggry the Cronaut
Christopher J. Burke
Walking to the beat of the music playing solely within his head, Gregory climbed the front stoop to his building and beelined to the first door on the left, at the base of the staircase, across from the lift. Waving his left palm over the jamb panel, he unlocked the door bolts on apartment 1B. He and Alex couldn’t afford the high-floor views and fresher air, consigned themselves to life stuck in this noisy corridor where tenants came and left at all hours. The added soundproofing on the door did little to alieve the problem.
Gregory barely broke his stride as his hand moved from the sensor to door, which opened at with the slightest of touches. He nearly stumbled in the doorway, though, when the music in his earpiece a missed beat as the connection switched to the apartment’s infostream from the free municipal roaming service. Data instantly started flowing into his head. He tapped behind his ear to shut the music, and concentrated on the incoming messages. He sorted through them quickly, storing some, deleting most.
Gregory blinked two times when he was done to clear his vision. That’s when he saw Alexandra standing in from him, smiling, twirling some of her tight brown curls about her finger.
“What are you smiling at?” he asked. “And how long have you been standing there?”
“A few minutes. Right after you came in.”
“Why didn’t you say anything?”
She laughed. “Because I could see your eyes darting back and forth as you went through your mail! You’re like the only person I know that still does that! Anyway, I didn’t want to interrupt. I knew you’d finish quick.”
Gregory shrugged his bag from his shoulder, dropped it on the counter and went to the fridge. “I’m not the only one with a tell. What’s up with you?”
“Moi? What ‘tell’ do I have?”
He grabbed a drink, and then pointed at her hand. “I’d be shocked if you can untangle your finger before I crack this open. What’s up?”
More smiling. This time her entire face lit up. “Okay, you got me. I was going to tell you at dinner. I’ve finished it, Greg! I’m actually finished!”
Greg smiled and tried his best to keep his eyesight fixed while he scanned both internal and external memory. He failed.
“For Net’s sake!” she yelled. “Stop before you pierce the Cloud!”
Alex made a pouty face, walked over and punched his arm. Then she grinned, leaned up and kissed him. “Idiot. You’re lucky I love you.”
Gregory welcomed the kiss, even as he held his arm. “Am I?”
That earned another punch.
“My big project. The time dial!” She pushed up her sleeve so to reveal a black band around her wrist like some 20th Century enthusiast might wear. In the middle of it was a black disc with a small arrow on a dial. She ran to the couch and grabbed her stuffed bear. “I already tried it out with Mr. Buttons. He traveled through time.”
“Traveled through time? He’s still here. How’d he get back?”
She sighed, and then held the bear up high. “He didn’t ‘get back.’ He just got here, right before you came in. I sent him a day into the future. Yesterday!”
“Yes. Yesterday. I sent him one day into the future!” Alex returned Greg’s blank stare. “Which is today.”
Time travel? One day into the future? Hard to believe.
“That’s … that’s amazing. Incredible, if it’s true … No, I mean …”
Alexandra was furious. “What? Do you think I’m making this up?”
“Alex, no! That’s not what I meant.”
“Never mind what you meant. It still needs one more test. I was going to wait, but now is as good a time as ever.”
By the time Gregory realized what she was saying, Alex had grabbed her left wrist with her right hand. Her thumb over the disc, she pressed the button.
It was a few moments before Gregory realized that his mouth was hanging open. He waved his hands in front of him, not sure if the brief ghost image he saw was actually there or just an afterimage burned into his lenses. Or maybe his brain just wasn’t comprehending what had happened. What else could possibly have happened?
Grasping for ideas, Gregory dropped to his knees. He crawled across the rug to where Alex had been standing, and ran his hand through the fibers. No debris. She hadn’t disintegrated. Alex had teleported somewhere else. Or somewhen else. Was that possible?
Over the next few hours, he frantically searched through Alex’s notebooks and tablets. Thankfully, she enjoyed working with such electronic and physical relics rather than keeping it all stored on internal devices. Unfortunately, he could find little information about her project, and couldn’t make sense out of what he did find.
By midnight, he’d resigned himself to a cold night alone in their bed, not feeling her warmth next to him. By two o’clock, he wondered how many nights it might be without her. Would he see her again? And what would she be like?
Mr. Buttons “returned” from wherever it is he had gone, but the bear was an inanimate object. It didn’t need to eat or breathe. It had no fear of what it saw. How much time was Mr. Buttons in that other place while he was “gone”? Was it just minutes or did an entire day pass for him? Was it like a quick walk through a door, or a slow shuttle ride through a tunnel?
He didn’t fall asleep until nearly four. He woke two hours late for work, but called in sick. Messages started downloading into his head as soon as his eyes fluttered open. The Sun had risen high enough to clear the buildings across the street and shine in the front window, cast a striped shadow pattern. He sat for a time on the edge of the bed and watched it creep along.
Late afternoon, he sat and stared at a blank wall, out of ideas.
“Did it work?” a voice called out. “It did work! You’ve moved to the couch.”
Gregory snapped his head about and blinked several times. Alex was standing there, in the same spot, as if nothing had happened.
“But wait – you’re wearing the same clothes! Isn’t it tomorrow? Why are you wearing the same clothes? Was I gone a full day?”
His sour mood evaporated. Gregory jumped up and hugged Alex, lifting her from the floor for a moment that seemed like a day, before settling her back down.
Alex looked around the room. “So, am I here? Or did I decide not to meet myself when I got back. Because I didn’t meet myself in the future?”
“Got back?” Gregory shook his head. “You didn’t ‘get back’? You’ve been gone for an entire day. You didn’t go back to yesterday.”
Alex was stunned. She took off the disc to take a closer look at it. Her eyes flickered as she accessed data. “But the reverse should work? Why wouldn’t it have worked? Why didn’t I make it back?”
She placed the wristband on the counter and walked toward the bedroom. “I need to check my notes.”
Gregory grabbed the disc to inspect it. He noted the number of marks on the dial. She’d only gone one day, but she could’ve gone a week or more. How would she feel had she been the one left behind? And why stop at one day? Her next test would naturally be longer!
He twisted the dial six more clicks and held it up for her to see. “Why don’t I give you a week to figure it out!”
She turned about, horrified. “What? No!” As he pressed the button, the last words he heard were, “That’s not a wee—“
Her image froze in time like another ghost, but she wasn’t there. Nothing was “there”. Darkness. Did he imagine colors and streaks of light? He stood there, frozen. Afraid to move, or unable to move? Long enough to hunger.
And then, light. Music. Silhouettes of people that took shape as an actual crowd. He appeared on a platform, in what seemed to be a large hall. A young white-haired woman shouted out, “He’s here!” All music and movement stopped as everyone turned toward him. Everyone dropped to their knees and bowed their heads.
“In the language of your day, ‘Haydood’!” she greeted him. “Welcome, Groggry! I am Astrania. Many did not believe that this Day would come. But we, the Faithful, believed! And waited. And this was the Day!”
“Uh… what day is this? What … year?”
Astrania was pleased to answer. “It is the 15th of Elvano in the Year of the Union Fifteen Hundred Thirty Seven.” She glanced at a prepared notecard. “By your reckoning, it is 5035.”
Music started playing again. It sounded oddly familiar. A mid-22nd century song transcribed onto 51st century instruments.
“Come! Let us feast! And you can explain the sacred text.” She pulled out another card and read it. “Thus are the words of Lexa: ‘Reverse works fine. Idiot.’”