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As Is

science fiction by Sandra M. Odell

“What’s this?” Hank said from the back of the garage.

Gary glanced up from a cardboard box of knick-knacks. “That’s my MacGuffin.”

“Your what?”

Gary snorted and shook his head. “It’s a time machine.”

“Get out of here.”

“It is. Doesn’t work, though.” Gary closed the box and added it to the pile on his left. The warm Saturday afternoon was better suited to napping in the backyard hammock than organizing the garage, but Marge had threatened to do the job herself and his pride still hadn’t recovered from her crusade against his attic workshop. “Give me a hand with the skis.” All with broken bindings he would fix one day, honest, honey, I mean it.

“Seriously? A time machine?” Hank said as they hoisted the skis into the loft. “I mean, you’ve invented some cool stuff before, you know, but a time machine?”

“Yeah,” Gary said. “I could never get it to work, though.”

Hank returned to the back of the garage. He pulled away the dusty painter’s tarp from the abandoned project wedged between a vintage 1930 Singer 99 Portable Sewing Machine and a wheeled cart of plastic drawers overflowing with bits, bobs, and Barbie heads with LED lights streaming out of their necks. “It looks like an exercise bike humping a spinning wheel.”

Gary flipped through a folder of blueprints with singed edges, and notes scrawled in red pen. “Thanks. I think.”

“Does Marge know you still got it?”

“Are you kidding?”

There was a muffled snap as Hank bundled the tarp and jammed it into a box labeled “FRAGILE! CHINA AND CRYSTAL”. “Can I try it?”

“No.” Gary dropped the folder into the recycle bin at his feet. On second thought, he set it on top of the pile of things he would throw out if Marge insisted.

Hank settled onto the hard plastic triangular seat. He placed his hands on the handlebars, not quite squeezing the silver grips. “How’s it work?”

“It doesn’t, so leave it alone. Have you seen Marge’s hat boxes? The ones with the ugly flowers.” Gary bundled coils of cable he was fairly certain he would use someday and stuffed them into a plastic bin labeled “CRITICAL”.

“That would be cool, though, huh?” Hank scratched the salt-and-pepper stubble under his double chin. “See the future.”

“It doesn’t work that way,” Gary said as he surveyed the mid-sort clutter. “At least I don’t think it does. Where the hell –?”

“Okay, so how’s about going back in time, make the intercept against Hendley Heights this time? Or, yeah, hook up with Patti Munroe again.” Hank pulled in his former-halfback gut as he flicked switches on the front panel with a wistful, wolfish grin.

Gary tossed aside a mound of dusty cotton batting and sneezed into his elbow. “C’mon, man. Marge is going to have my ass if I can’t find those stupid boxes.”

Hank stretched and leaned back against the backrest. “She’s got you whipped, man, you –” Hank squeezed the grips as he leaned forward to lever himself out of the seat. A shriek reminiscent of a cat in a blender, a flash of white light, and the time machine disappeared, taking Hank and the rest of the sentence with it.

Gary stood and put his hands on his hips. “Great.” He went to the corner to survey the damage, a spotless section of concrete floor in the shape of an exercise bike humping a spinning wheel. He glanced at his wristwatch. “Just great.” He headed into the house.

Gary returned a few minutes later with two cold beers, and half a cocktail pepperoni stick between his lips. He made himself comfortable on a stack of tires, finished the pepperoni, set one of the beers on an air filter to his left, and rolled the other across his sweaty forehead. He popped the can, then took a drink as he checked his watch. Two more drinks, another seventy seconds, and he swapped his beer for the one at his side.

A moist, mewling burp as the blender spat out the cat, an inversion of black light, and the time machine returned no worse for wear. Hank and the sentence weren’t as fortunate. White-faced, clutching the handlebars, Hank – “AAAAAAAAAAAAHHH!!!!!”

Gary waited until the scream ran itself out of breath before opening the beer. Hank inhaled to start all over again, and Gary leaned forward and slapped his buddy across the face. He held the beer in front of Hank’s nose. “Here.”

Hank blinked once, stared at Gary, then accepted the can with a trembling right hand. He dribbled more than he swallowed of the first drink; the second wasn’t much better. “That was –” he managed between sloppy gulps. “That was — awful. I mean. Everything. Is it –? Is, is it always –?”

“Yeah.” Gary picked up his beer.

Hank said little for the rest of the afternoon save for the occasional whimpered “Mommy” with every shiver or furtive glance over one shoulder.

They found the hatboxes where Marge said they would, not that Gary would tell her. Still, it was enough proof of progress that he called it quits as the sun touched the treetops.

“I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy,” Hank said over his third beer as they sat on coolers at the front of the garage.

Gary shrugged and nodded. “I told you it didn’t work.”

Hank flicked drops of can sweat off his fingers in silence before: “You know, uh, Paula’s cousin Wendy is flying in Saturday. Plans on staying the whole week.”

“Mm-hmm.”

“Can I, uh, borrow the –?” Hank jerked his head behind him.

“Is she the bitch with the mole and the giant –?” Gary made a vague wiggling motion under his chin with one hand.

Hank nodded. “That’s her.”

“Huh.” Gary finished his beer and wiped his mouth on his sleeve. “Eh, just this once.”

copyright April 2011 by Sandra M. Odell

Sandra M. Odell lives in Bremerton, Washington.  Sandra is a 2010 graduate of the Clarion West writers’ workshop. Her short stories have appeared at such publications as Ideomancer, Jim Baen’s Universe and Bards & Sages Quarterly. She blogs about writing at Write or Wrong.

[return to the April 2011 main page]

2 Responses

  1. Dammit what did he see!? Nice piece of fiction. Very funny.

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