I didn’t panic right away when Violeta said she had succeeded in building a working time machine.
All of her inventions worked. All of them. But all her other inventions were a lot less…ambitious.
I mean, a time machine. That’s the ultimate invention, isn’t it?
That’s a far leap, even from that time she built a full-size umbrella that collapsed down into the size of my thumb. Or that spray that actually made one of my bandanas appear to be invisible, at least for thirty seconds.
And aside from all that, the actual machine she had built was not anything I would have expected.
When I first walked into her garage workshop and saw her leaning against a jukebox, I thought she was starting a new musical project. I walked up to it, grinning and gaping at the bright colors, the physical buttons, the stack of records that I could see through the clear bubble window at the top.
It looked so new. I was only mildly surprised when she said she built it herself, a recreation of a few historical models she’d looked up.
I asked her what kind of music she would be able to play on it.
“I guess I could use it to just play music,” she remarked.
I frowned in confusion. “What are you using it for then?”
That was the magic question. It was different every time, but I always managed to ask a question that set her up perfectly to launch into…the explanation.
“Time travel, of course,” she replied, winking at my further confusion.
Violeta gently and fondly patted the top of the jukebox. “It’s not easy, of course,” she said. “Nothing worthwhile is. But time travel is doable. It’s a matter of connecting the right dots. It was just a thought experiment at first. What if the key to time travel was using music? Vibrations, to tune space-time to a specific trajectory. Music already serves as a mental time machine. It can cast people’s minds back into their pasts. And it can propel their minds into the future—or imagined futures anyway. And if music can do that for our minds, could it do that for our bodies? Could it do that for our reality?”
After two decades of best-friendship, she no longer bothered trying to show me blueprints and calculations, or flipping through the bookmarked, dog-eared, sticky-noted composition books she kept for each of her projects. This isn’t to say she dumbed anything down for me. She just…summarized.
The jukebox was a relic of old times, the past, which served as a heavy anchor. Playing a song from the present provided the reference point. And then, while remaining in harmony with the song, appropriate chords would play that would align space-time to a particular trajectory, creating a bridge, a musical bridge, to another time.
As she explained to me how the jukebox worked, she started pressing buttons and turning dials. A thin mechanical arm slipped one of the records out of the stack and placed it on the internal player. A needle dropped on the record and it began to play a dreamy echoing melody. And then more chords began to play, beneath the melody and above the melody.
“You know the best thing about this machine?” she said. “We can’t go backwards, only forwards.”
Violeta pointed to the bottom of the jukebox. Two more thin mechanical arms telescoped out from the bottom.
“Watch,” she said. “I call them ‘sonic spinnerets,’ and you might want to step a few feet to the left.”
I stepped aside just before Violeta’s sonic spinnerets began to shoot out threads of translucent iridescent color. The arms moved slowly from side to side and the motion created a woven pattern of light.
“You can see it, right?” Violeta asked. “You can see the bridge?”
I could see the bridge, all right. My eyes were wide enough to see the whole thing. It only extended maybe fifteen feet ahead of us, and beyond that the threads dispersed, fluttered, and swirled around freely. I couldn’t see past them.
“Now, you can walk along that bridge and end up in the future,” Violeta said. “But only if you’re vibrating at the right frequency. And if you want to come back to your native time—this time—you’d have to be tethered to it somehow.” She produced something that looked like a miniature speaker or receiver. “Permission to take your readings?”
She pointed the vibration-tether-box thing at me, and then fiddled with her belt. She’d made her belt herself too, with hidden little controls and remotes in it. I expected to see, I don’t know, a flash or something. But she just told me to hum for five seconds and said she was done. She clipped the tether-box to my own (ordinary) belt and told me not to lose it.
“All right, let’s go,” she said, grabbing my hand and pulling me toward the musical bridge.
“We’re only going fifty-one years into the future. We’ll be back in half an hour.”
“I’ve already done this very trip a dozen times. I wouldn’t take you if I didn’t think it was safe.”
I turned to look at the jukebox. “I’m actually curious to see the blueprints. How did you—it’s impressive—how long did it take?”
“Oh, you want to see the blueprints? That’s perfect. I left them in the future,” Violeta said.
I sighed, and stepped onto the musical bridge, startled at its springiness. I stumbled a bit and Violeta caught me. She caught me and she swept me forward. And we walked into the tangle of threads…
…right back out onto the street.
I blinked and glanced around.
Some kind of hovering capsule was bearing down at us. I jumped out of the way just in time. I glanced at Violeta.
“It’s fine,” she said, with a wave of her hand. “They’re automatic. Wouldn’t have hit you.”
I felt a little dizzy. I bent over and breathed in an out a few times as Violeta patted my back and insisted the feeling would pass.
“Our present is now our past,” she said. “We are now in our future.”
Aside from the hover car that almost mowed me down, I didn’t see any difference. We had arrived on a street in Violeta’s neighborhood, but when I turned around I didn’t see her garage. And I didn’t see the jukebox.
Violeta explained that she had to make sure she arrived in a wide open space without any obstructions so that she didn’t end up inside a wall or in someone else’s living room. But it was tricky because that meant she had to guess what was likely to remain an open road or an open field. We were right next to one of the little parks in her neighborhood. It wasn’t little anymore though. The park seemed to have expanded over some of the houses.
There were these podiums at the end of each street. A clear plastic slab tilted and mounted on a pole. Violeta said they were library kiosks. The pole height could be adjusted for the user, and there was a button to activate an awning for rainy days. A person could look up directions or call for help from a kiosk. They were meant to be for emergency use mostly. But a person could also look up information, make calls and send message, fill out forms, and more.
I noticed that the street signs looked somewhat different. They were all digital displays. The street names remained static, but there were some signs that rotated through a carousel of different messages. One was an announcement for something called a nano-vaccine. Another one called on the viewer to register for citizen service—a voluntary rotation where a person could perform civic duties like monitoring the trash pick-up bots or teaching a class in an area of knowledge or expertise. And then there was an ad for the town’s most famous bakery, the Cup of Cakes.
Violeta bragged that she’d been to the bakery twice now. The town had switched to some currency called “labor credits” that allowed people to securely and anonymously earn credits for performing any kind of work, be it picking up litter, writing an article for a news outlet, assembling a chair in one’s own home. It didn’t take Violeta long to master that currency and head straight to the bakery.
She described eating a sublime cupcake made from some new variety of chocolate she’d never tasted before. She used words like “depth” and “richness.” I just wanted to know if they had red velvet.
We walked into the town center, and I saw more of what had remained the same, like kids playing basketball in their backyards and dog walkers. And I saw more of what had changed, like the periodic appearance of a huge hovering train arcing over our heads. Violeta said people called them “sky-worms,” which seemed disrespectful considering that she said they also ran on time and were faster than airplanes, which were now a quaint and old-fashioned means of air travel. The sky-rail tracks were invisible to the naked human eye, but they’d been built to be visible to all birds.
We also got quite a few compliments on our “vintage” attire. I was wearing an ordinary pair of slacks and a button-down shirt, which looked to me no different from what other people were wearing. But Violeta informed me that I couldn’t tell because I’d never had much of an eye for fashion.
We were almost to the bakery—I could see the cute sign with a cup full of many cakes—when Violeta grabbed my arm and pulled me closer.
“We have a problem,” she said. “I think someone’s following us. Don’t look!”
I had tried to glance around, in a non-obvious way. Violeta looked instead. She turned back around and leaned toward me as we began to walk faster.
In her excitement to try out her invention, she’d been a bit careless during her first few excursions to the future. She’d come to the same place on the same day fifty-one years into the future, to test the stability of the machine, and to test that she could control and replicate the parameters of her trips. But that meant she’d gotten noticed. Her attire, made from obsolete textiles, had gotten noticed. Her museum-quality relic of a wristwatch had gotten noticed. Most people just assumed she was a thrift store shopper. But one man had observed her and followed her and noticed that her clothes and accessories weren’t the only “vintage” things about Violeta.
He noticed that she used words and phrases that were old-fashioned, but familiar. He hadn’t heard them in a long time. He looked to be about seventy. Violeta didn’t feel any danger from him other than the danger of being outed as a time traveler if anyone believed the old man. But he wasn’t interested in exposing her.
He was interested in a bargain.
He caught her outside a coffee shop on of her excursions, and told her that he had seen her walk through a wall of glittering light and just vanish. Just by watching her, he had figured out that she must be from forty or fifty years past. He told her that he was miserable in the future, and he wanted to return with her to that simpler time from his youth.
She refused, and after that she was always on the lookout for him. Sometimes she saw him. Sometimes she didn’t. She always made sure he wasn’t around when she activated the tether-box to pull her back to the present.
“Sorry about this, but we’re going to have to try that red velvet some other time.” Violeta diverted us down another street and we began to speed-walk.
“Works for me,” I said. I suddenly wondered if my eating a cupcake from the future would somehow have affected space-time.
“Hey! Stop!” a voice called from behind.
“Keep walking!” Violeta said.
And I did, but I turned to look, and I saw an elderly man, standing several yards behind us, with both arms stretched out toward us, holding what appeared to be a gun.
I gasped and stopped, yanking at Violeta’s arm.
“I won’t hurt you,” the man said, stepping toward us.
“Keep walking!” Violeta said.
“But he’s a got a—“
“I just want that device on your belt!”
I trusted Violeta and kept walking. I saw threads of lights appear before us. Violeta started pushing me toward them.
“I’ll shoot!” the man said.
I turned and I didn’t know where he was or if he was shooting or what was happening. I used my whole body to shove Violeta as hard as I could.
A sudden paralysis struck me. I went stiff and collapsed to the ground. I heard Violeta cry out, but her cry was cut off. I heard the shuffling of footsteps. I heard a song, faint but clear, the song that Violeta had been playing on the jukebox. I heard more shuffling of footsteps, and then the footsteps stopped.
And the music stopped.
I lay there with my eyes open, unable to move, staring up at the sky. One of those sky-worms arced up into the air, and then it vanished.
The air changed. I smelled the faint odor of freshly poured asphalt or a tire burning. Something like that.
I couldn’t see Violeta. I couldn’t see if she was next to me, paralyzed like I was. Or if she was hurt. I couldn’t tell if I was hurt.
Suddenly, my limbs unlocked. I gasped, and started breathing shallow breaths.
I rolled over and saw Violeta lying next to me, stiff and still. But a few seconds later, her limbs unlocked too. She grunted.
And I noticed the first of many details I was soon to notice.
Violeta’s tether-box was missing.
I glanced down at my belt and saw that mine was still there. I helped her to her feet. She looked woozy and disoriented.
I sat her down on a nearby bench. The old man was nowhere to be seen.
But I had a strong hunch I knew where he’d gone.
Or rather…when he’d gone.
I gave Violeta a chance to gather herself. Then I would ask her what our back-up plan was. I had a feeling I’d have to stick around in the future a bit longer. It made the most sense for Violeta to re-configure or re-calibrate or make whatever adjustments she needed to make to my tether-box so that she could use it to return to the past, find the old man, maybe get a spare tether-box or build a new one, and then return to the future to drop off the old man and fetch me.
But we’d have to make sure that she had some way to disarm him or counteract that paralysis ray or whatever it was he used on us.
Violeta grasped her head and moaned.
“Headache?” I asked. And I felt a lurch in my stomach. I hoped she didn’t have a concussion or something.
“Time…” she moaned. “What time…?”
I glanced at her wristwatch. “I don’t know if this is right. Or, are you asking how long it’s been since that guy stole your tether?”
Violeta shook her head as if she were shaking off dizziness. I put a hand on her shoulder.
She put her hand on my waist and moved it find the tether-box still attached to my belt.
I sighed in relief. “Yeah, can you use that to—“
“Don’t take it off,” she said. She squeezed her eyes shut. “Or else…confusion.”
I knelt down and looked up at her face. She looked completely out of it. I felt my stomach lurch again. I placed a hand on each of her shoulders as if that would help steady her somehow.
“Confusion,” she said. “Temporal. Time. Dis—“
“What are you trying to say, Vi?”
She moaned again.
I didn’t know what she was trying to say, but I understood enough. Something was wrong with her, and it had to do with the tether being gone. She was confused. She was confused about time.
So I tried to tell her, to orient her to where and when we were. I told her about the trip we just took. I told her what our native year was. I told her about the time machine. I told it all in sequence.
And through the whole thing, she just squeezed her eyes shut and breathed in and out. But when I finished with the man stealing her tether, she looked up at me.
“Dysphoria,” she said. “Temporal. Need tether—I need, I need a tether.”
I nodded. “Take mine.”
“No, won’t work. Set to your readings.”
“You have your belt. You can reset it, can’t you?”
She moaned again and doubled over as if she were about to vomit.
“Vi?” I stroked her back, but she didn’t vomit, and she didn’t raise her head again.
She’d come out of it, out of her confusion or dysphoria or whatever it was, for just a moment. Maybe she did it on her own. Or maybe my description of events provided something, a reference point for her mind to hold on to. But it slipped away.
I looked at her belt. There was no way I’d be able to figure out how to work it.
I didn’t know what to do, other than to try and get Violeta back home. She mentioned that she’d found out she still lived in town. If the jukebox was still there in her house, then maybe it would stabilize her or something.
Violeta would get us out of the trouble we were in. But first, I had to get Violeta out of the trouble she was in.
I helped her get up. She had no trouble getting up and walking. She actually seemed to be more coherent as she started to observe and comment on our surroundings.
“Not very lively,” she said, her voice deadpan, no sign of any sarcasm.
But she was right. The street we walked down had just been bustling with people, kids screaming, bicyclists ringing their bells, a street musician playing a violin. But now, we just saw a few souls shuffling along quietly. The formerly clean streets were now littered with fallen leaves and branches from drying trees.
“What do you think happened here?” I asked.
“The people left,” Violeta said. “It’s a ghost town.”
She pointed down the street where only moments ago, there had been a bakery that she wanted to take me to. A row of closed stores, windows boarded, some shattered, greeted us.
“The old man,” I said. “He went back and changed something. Could he have done this? Just one guy?”
“I’m tired,” Violeta said with a sigh. “I’m going home.”
But there was no home to go to. Violeta’s home was empty and foreclosed, along with most of the homes on her street. I glanced around to see if any neighbors were watching before climbing into the back yard and trying the side door that led into the house and then into the garage. Violeta followed me.
“I don’t understand,” she said. She glanced around, and she was confused, but she was also curious. I saw that twinkle in her eye that she got when she was trying to puzzle something out.
The house had been empty for years. And aside from a few pieces of old furniture, there were no relics left to indicate who had lived there.
There was no jukebox anywhere.
I kept Violeta with me. She examined the house while I searched.
“I don’t belong here?” she said.
“Not right now, but in the past you do.”
“In the past? No, in the present.”
“Our native time, yes. But we’re not in our native time. We’re in the future—our future.”
Violeta’s brow creased, then relaxed. “Fifty-one years.”
My own eyes widened. I went to her. “Yes, we went forward fifty-one years. Do you remember?”
She blinked. “No, not really. Events are spinning.”
“What can I do to help you, Vi?”
“Try the tether.” She pointed to my belt.
I shook my head. “I’ve pressed the trigger half a dozen times already. Nothing happens.”
Violeta shut her eyes. “Where is the old man?”
“He took your tether. He’s in the past.”
Violeta opened her eyes. “Where is he now?”
We stood at the end of the street, in front of a library kiosk. A web of cracks spread along the left edge of the slab, but it still worked. It hadn’t occurred to me to track down the old man in the current time. I didn’t know who he was, but Violeta did. He had introduced himself to her. She knew that she knew his name, but couldn’t quite remember. I told her again the story of how she’d first met him. I didn’t have any details, but the little she’d told me before he knocked us out and stole his way to the past was enough. She remembered his name. I looked it up.
I read aloud a summary of the old man’s entire life.
He was a native of the town, who went off to go to school, and returned home after marrying his college sweetheart. He started to work his way up in civic leadership. But he mismanaged several major projects, leaving the town in a state of disrepair. Residents and businesses moved on, save for those who either liked living in an empty town, or thought they might revive it. But no one ever did. The man didn’t seem to suffer any consequences for ruining a whole town. Not much blame fell on him. Most analyses of what happened to the town just seemed to conclude that it was inevitable decay. The man retired and moved away like so many others. He lived happily with his family on a small estate.
“No one knows that this guy drove the town into the ground because no one ever saw what it looked like before,” I said, shaking my head.
“If he had never returned.” Violeta leaned over my shoulder to look at the kiosk. “He told me that he came back to town to retire. That college sweetheart he married…that never happened. Or, it didn’t happen before.”
I turned and peered at Violeta. She looked…unburdened. She seemed like herself again.
I pointed to her face. “Is this going to last?”
“What? Temporal lucidity? I don’t know. Maybe if you keep reading out loud to me, give me reference points for this timeline.”
“His current address isn’t listed, but it does say what city and neighborhood he moved to. It’s only the next town over. Do you think he would still have your tether after all these years? Are we planning on stealing it back? I doubt his house will be as easy to break into as yours.”
Our man lived in a relatively modest estate, but it was an estate. And there were guards. And probably dogs, and detection systems.
Violeta and I strolled by from the nearest street from which the estate was visible, trying to think of some plan for entering and searching the estate for her tether.
“Do you remember that time in elementary school when that girl stole my jelly beans?” I asked.
“No, but tell me about it.”
I didn’t have enough knowledge of historical events to help keep Violeta’s mind anchored in our current present. But I did have our own history. And it seemed to work, but only if I kept talking. Otherwise, she slipped into her temporal confusion state.
“My mom had packed them as a treat for me,” I said. “It was my favorite candy back then—well, I guess now too, whenever I eat candy. So this girl that used to pick on me sometimes, Drusilla, remember? She reached into my lunch bag and pulled out the jelly beans, and then she ate them all in front of me. I almost cried. I didn’t. But almost. And you saw. The next day, you gave me a bag of jelly beans. Not just any jelly beans, but my favorite brand. I decided then that we were friends for life.” I turned back and saw Violeta smile.
“But then you had me hide,” I said, “while you went and told Drusilla that I was hiding in the janitor’s closet eating jelly beans. She opened the closet to surprise me, and that’s when you shoved her in and closed the door. You propped it close. A teacher heard the commotion she was making and you were both sent to the principal’s office.”
“But you went to the principal’s office after we were dismissed,” Violeta said.
I turned back and nodded to her.
“And you told the principal that you were the one who locked Drusilla in the closet. And you felt bad that I got in trouble for it. The principal gave my detention to you. You took the fall for me.”
I grinned. “I wonder if they still make those jelly beans.”
I heard Violeta stop walking. “The homing beacon.”
I turned around and saw her eyes widen. She looked at my tether. “I programmed a sort of homing beacon in the tethers, so I could find them if I misplaced them. All I would need is the jukebox or one of the other tethers.”
I glanced down at my belt. “So you can use this one to find yours?”
“If we’re within range, yes.”
“What’s the range?”
“Smaller than the size of that mansion. But it would still help us, assuming the tether is in there.”
Violeta wasn’t sure. But she believed that her temporal nemesis as she called the old man, would have kept the tether, even if he broke it, just in case his new life didn’t turn out the way he hoped. If so, he knew where and when Violeta would show up. He could find her and make her help him again.
She hadn’t remember the homing beacon before.
“I just hope he doesn’t have it in a safe deposit box somewhere overseas or something,” I said.
“If we don’t find the tether, then we’ll find the man who took it. But one way or another, I’m getting you home,” Violeta said.
“You’ll get us both home.”
“I got you into this. I’ll find a way to get you out of it.”
“You’ll find a way to get us out of it. And after you do…I’ll get you a bag of jelly beans.”
Violeta frowned. “That’s your favorite treat.”
“Then I’ll get you a chocolate cupcake.”
“That’s more like it.”
During the day, I told my friend stories about our lives. And when night fell, Violeta was ready with a bag of tricks that would help us get into that mansion—or rather, a belt of tricks.
She showed me how to use some of the simpler devices and doodads she had in her belt, just in case she slipped into temporal confusion again. We expected it to happen after we entered the mansion. We’d have to be quiet. No more stories. And Violeta had to hear the stories. She was still having trouble reading. I couldn’t just hand her a mobile slab and have her read up on the history of our town to keep her mind anchored.
She was able to get the blueprints for the mansion and the surrounding grounds. And she found a secret tunnel system leading to the mansion from the street outside the estate grounds, a tunnel system that had conveniently collapsed decades prior. So that was a no-go. Then she found the security plans for the estate, including guard patrols and the blind spots for cameras and detectors.
And that’s how we ended up breaking in the same way we had broken into Violeta’s house, by climbing over a fence and finding a side entrance. Violeta had a device in her belt that unlocked the entrance, and we got into the house.
We headed straight for the servants’ lockers where we picked up some jackets, and thus weakly disguised, we started searching. We didn’t split up. Violeta activated the beacon on my tether.
I hadn’t really thought that she was right about the old man keeping the tether-box that he’d stolen from her. I expected that we would have to confront the old man himself, and cajole or goad or threaten him into telling us where he kept the tether. And even then I expected him to say that he’d destroyed it.
But ten minutes into our search, the beacon activated. I felt the vibration against my belly and looked down at the dimly blinking light on the tether. There were several little lights on the tether-box. Depending on which one blinked, I had a direction. And depending on how frequently it blinked, I had proximity.
I glanced at Violeta to show her the tether, but she had her eyes shut, and she was holding a balled up fist against her forehead.
Hold on, I thought.
We snuck through what seemed to be an empty manor. I had a close call when I turned the corner on a hallway only to see a butler at the end of the corridor. He was turned away from me. I backed up and pushed Violeta back as quickly as I could. We crept into a dark corner and hid there until the butler walked away in the opposite direction.
The beacon had us go down to the basement level, and lower still down a flight of stairs. By then, Violeta had come unanchored from our current present. She followed me, but she didn’t look around, and she didn’t look at me.
There didn’t seem to be any cameras, guards, or staff in the corridor where we ended up when the beacon light went from blinking to steady. I wondered if that meant we were almost on top of our target. Violeta’s tether was somewhere nearby. And if I could get it to her, maybe it would anchor her, give her clarity, relieve her unease.
At the end of the corridor was a locked windowless door. I used one of Violeta’s lock-picking devices to unlock the door. I took a breath. I winced as I opened the door, expecting alarms to go off. But there were no alarms that I could hear.
The room was dark, but as my eyes adjusted, I could see that the room was some kind of storage area. I found a light switch and turned on the light. Nearly everything in the room was draped in sheets that had once been white and were now dingy and cobwebbed.
The tether was in the room somewhere. We may not have long to search. This was no time for me to try and leave no trace. I started pulling off sheets left and right, while Violeta leaned against a wall and massaged her temples as if she had a headache.
Hurry, I told myself.
There were a lot of drawers and cabinets and shelves to search. I had to be quick, but I couldn’t be reckless. I had to be systematic to make sure I didn’t miss anything. I pulled off a sheet from what I thought was a dresser with a rounded top against the far wall, and at the same time that my tether began to vibrate, I gasped.
I stepped back.
It wasn’t a dresser under that sheet.
“My jukebox,” Violeta said from behind me.
I glanced back at her. Her eyelids drooped. Her head lolled to one side, but she was looking at what I had just uncovered.
And it did look like her jukebox.
I had planned not to be reckless, but I threw that plan out the window and made a new plan.
I pulled the jukebox away from the wall. I found the cord and an outlet. I plugged the jukebox in.
“I don’t know, Vi,” I said. “Will this work? Doesn’t the bridge have to be created in the past?”
From the corner of my eyes, I saw Violeta stepping toward me. I glanced over and saw that she looked curious again, just like she had when we had broken into her home. The jukebox was familiar. But the time it was in was not.
“Which song was it? What else did you do? What buttons did you press?” I turned to her. “Will it work?”
“The bridge,” she said, pointing to the jukebox.
“Yes, the musical bridge. Do you remember how to create it?”
She shook her head. And I started telling her again the story that started a few days ago, but that seemed like it had started years ago. Me walking into her garage and seeing the jukebox that she was leaning against. Her telling me that I was looking at a time machine. Her explaining to me how she would build a musical bridge into the future.
“Doesn’t make much sense to me,” I said. “But you understood it clearly.”
“The bridge…is in…our present.”
I remembered what record she had played and what song. I pressed the button to select the song. Violeta watched the mechanical arm pull out the record. She watched the needle drop on the record. The song began to play, that dreamy echoing melody. She stepped toward the jukebox and pressed buttons and twisted dials. It looked as if she were operating on muscle memory. But she did something different too. She frowned, opened a panel on the left side of the jukebox, and pulled out something that looked like a bulb. It looked charred. She pulled out something that looked like a circuit, also charred. She cocked her head, then opened a little drawer near the bottom of the machine, and pulled an identical bulb from the drawer.
Spare parts? I wondered.
That must have been it. She replaced some damaged parts, then closed the panel.
That’s when I heard the chords begin to play, above the melody and beneath the melody.
I pressed the trigger on my tether-box.
I felt an extra click I hadn’t felt before all those other times I pressed the trigger.
I pulled Violeta away from the jukebox as the sonic spinnerets emerged from the bottom of the machine. They projected threads of light and started building the bridge.
“Is this a new bridge, Vi? Will this take us fifty-one more years into the future?”
“It’ll take you home,” Violeta said.
I glanced at her, and she looked at me.
“You’re you again, aren’t you?” I asked.
Violeta smirked at me. “I was never not me.”
I grasped my tether-box. “I mean your mind is centered again. You can reset this so that you can use it to go back. And then you can come get me. It’ll be easy to find me. I’ll be right here in this room, not knowing where or when I am.”
“I’ve never tried resetting a tether with an active bridge,” Violeta said. “It’s too reckless. The machine burned out. That’s why your tether didn’t work. But with the machine fixed in this time, the tether works again. I know this bridge leads to our native time only because I don’t have temporal confusion right now.” She pointed to the bridge. “That’s because I’m connected to my native time. But only my mind is. If I try to step on that bridge without a tether-box, it’ll just collapse beneath my feet.”
I winced. “But if I cross that bridge, it’ll vanish, and you’ll be in temporal confusion again. And you’re in your enemy’s house. I can’t leave you here. Let’s turn off the tether, and we can go back to your house and trigger it from there.”
Violeta shook her head. “I don’t exactly know why the machine didn’t create a new bridge but instead defaulted to the bridge we made a few days ago. I have some thoughts, but that can wait. Right now, you need to go back, then immediately destroy the jukebox.”
“What! No, I—“
“If you do that, then the old man won’t get to use my tether to go back. The original timeline should be restored. I’ll either reappear next to you, or maybe I’ll stay here because I was always here in the original timeline. I don’t know. But I do know that our town will go back to what it was when we first got to this time. I know Cup of Cakes will be back.”
“This doesn’t feel right, Vi.”
“This time, let me be the one who jumps in front of danger for my friend.” Violeta pushed up her sleeves. “You can just go save a whole town.”
I decided what I’d do then. It would mean a long, long wait for me. But not for Vi. I’d come get her. And if I didn’t live to come get her, I’d make sure someone else would.
I stepped onto the bridge, feeling the springiness under my feet, just as I heard a dog barking. I thought I heard footsteps in the hallway.
I walked along the bridge toward the loose ends of the musical threads…
…and I walked back into Violeta’s garage.
I was alone.
The jukebox was there.
But Vi wasn’t there.
I had to destroy the jukebox. I had to keep that old man from coming back and meddling with everyone’s past.
I unplugged the jukebox. I thought for a moment and decided just to take out the one record that Violeta had played. I didn’t like the thought of smashing the jukebox with a hammer, so I opened the panel on the left side. I started pulling out parts, bulbs, circuits, wires. After I was done, I sat around in the garage, just in case. I waited for a couple of hours, until I got hungry.
Then I went home.
The next morning, I woke with a feeling of dread. I wondered what I would tell everyone about what happened to Violeta. People would believe me when I said my friend had invented something new and had disappeared trying to make her invention work.
I tried making breakfast. I scared myself with thoughts of being the police’s primary suspect in Violeta’s disappearance. After all, I was the last person to see Vi alive.
I thought that thought should make me cry, but I didn’t cry. I figured it hadn’t quite sunk in that I would never see my friend again. Or if I did live to see her again, it wouldn’t be for another fifty-one years. I’d help her then, to try and find a way to get back.
As I was thinking such thoughts, a vibration went through the apartment, and I heard a high-pitched whine. It seemed to be coming from the living room. I glanced around and saw the tether-box on a side table. That whine was coming from the tether. Before I could even begin to wonder how I could make the sound stop before my neighbors came knocking, the tether-box clicked.
The air shimmered and took on the shapes of intersecting lines forming diamonds, rhombuses, trapezoids, all interlinking, and then they collapsed and as they did, a figure stepped into my living room.
“Sorry to just drop in like this,” Violeta said.
I gaped, but then, I should have figured.
“Did you destroy it?” Vi asked.
“Nice. And what about the man? Did he make it to the past? Is he running for mayor yet?”
“I…I just got back last night.”
Violeta raised a hand and bowed her head. “Of course! Sorry, you just woke up, and you’ve probably been worried about what to say about how I disappeared. Well, that’s no longer necessary. I’m back.”
I stepped toward her and poked her shoulder. “How?”
“Music, baby. Music is the bridge.”
I smiled. “Music helped with your temporal confusion?”
Violeta touched her finger to the tip of her nose. “And then I built another time machine. But that’s not the end of it. I’ve gone even farther, my friend, farther than I went before.”
“Farther into the future?”
“Not…not the future.”
“Then…?” I looked up at the sky.
“Not space,” Violeta said, understanding my gesture. “But have you ever heard of alternate dimensions?”
For some reason that was the moment that I started to cry. That was the moment when I put my arms around my startled friend and pressed her as close to my heart as I could manage without suffocating her.
That was the moment when I thought—not for the first time and not for the last time…friends for life.
Copyright © 2020 Nila L. Patel