It was approximately 6:35 PM when I rapped my knuckles against the warped and weatherbeaten door of Hendrick’s Antiques and Watch Repair on the corner of 39th Street and Farrington Avenue.
The luminous reflection of the yellowish-orange sunset splashed across the sky behind me like spilt cans of paint prevented me from glancing into the main display window to see if anyone was inside. I would have been required to cup my hands around my eyes and press my face to the glass in order to do so, and that wasn’t my style. I was a respected journalist, not some two-bit private dick operating out of a storefront detective agency on the South Side.
Truth be told, though, I might’ve resorted to such a tactic had the need for it not been rendered utterly unnecessary by Clyde Hendrick’s prompt presence at the door.
I needed a big scoop, and I needed it bad. I wasn’t doing so hot, and when the distraught son of a man who’d approached me about finding his missing father after having had no luck with the police, I jumped at the opportunity to investigate.
“I’m closed for the day, sir,” said Hendrick, cramming as much as he could fit of his bespectacled, mustachioed face into the gap between the outer edge of the door and the doorframe as the deadbolt would allow. “I re-open tomorrow morning at ten.”
He started to close the door, but I stuck my hand inside. “Wait. I’m not here to buy anything. I just want to talk to you about Otto Klein. Name’s Charles Stanley, I’m a reporter with the Daily Mission.”
I heard a resignated sigh come from the other side of the door.
When I felt reasonably sure he was going to unlatch the lock, I slid my fingers out and waited.
He shut the door; reopened it all the way. He was a short, dumpy little man wearing too-big corduroy pants supported by frayed suspenders that shared shoulder space with the tattered cardigan that hung off his awkward frame. He was bald on top, with wild tufts of thin red hair growing unchecked out of either side of his skull like wispy clusters of roots.
He was young, though. Couldn’t have been a day over twenty-seven. Just ugly as sin, was all. Made him look older than he was. I assumed he’d taken over the family business, because the shop was most definitely older than he was.
“I’m glad you’re here, in a way,” he said. “There have been a lot of lies spread about me and the services I offer, and I’d like to set the record straight once and for all.”
“Then it would seem that we’re on the same page, Mr. Hendrick,” I said. “All I want is the truth. I crave it. You might call it an addiction, even. Some fellas like whiskey, some like cigars. I like facts.”
“Well, come on in then,” said Hendrick.
I’d never been in his shop before, even though I was familiar with the area, having grown up just a few blocks away. It’d been there as long as I could remember, though.
I’d never been very fond of antiques. To me, the tarnished brass and dusty glass of the assorted knickknacks cluttering the shop represented junk. I preferred things be shiny and new. The future was where my head was at. Sportscars, television sets, space satellites–those were the sorts of things that held my interest captive.
“Otto’s son came to me several days ago,” I said, plucking a Pall Mall from the pack stuffed in my breast pocket. I paused before lighting up. “Mind if I smoke in here?”
“I’d really prefer it if you didn’t. The equipment is very delicate. Very sensitive.”
I returned the cigarette to its pack and dropped my matchbook back into my pocket.
“This is uh, this is the time travelequipment that you’re speaking of, I assume?”
“Well, yes,” said Hendrick. “I can tell by your tone that you’re skeptical, and I can’t blame you. But I offer a money back guarantee, should the customer be unsatisfied. So far, I’ve not refunded a single dime.”
“Because they disappear, is that it? They can’t complain because they aren’t around. Where are they, Mr. Hendrick? Where do you send them? Is this some kind of racket to help people change their names and identities in order to escape justice or evade creditors? What’s going on here, exactly?”
“All in due time, Mr. Stanley. Come.”
I followed him to the back, to a storage room even more cluttered than the sales floor itself.
In the center of the room stood a large, upright, and rectangular-shaped object, shrouded by a white sheet. Dozens of wires ran from beneath it to the various electrical outlets scattered throughout the room.
He whisked the sheet off to reveal a glass enclosure surrounding an old wooden kitchen chair. Attached to the back of the chamber was what appeared to be a boat motor, some glass tubing filled with a cloudy amber fluid, a mishmash of wires and transistors, and a hand crank. It looked like a bunch of junk.
“This is it? This your time machine?”
Hendrick’s face showed signs of annoyance. “What does a man like you know about science? Of what use is cosmetic value, save for commercial purposes?”
“Forgive me,” I said, “But aren’t you engaged in a commercial endeavor? From what I hear, you charge upwards of a thousand bucks a trip for the poor suckers you get to sit in that chair, there.”
Hendrick smiled. “You don’t believe me. You don’t believe it works.” He sighed. “I suppose I have no choice but to offer you a free demonstration.”
“Now that’d be swell,” I said. “I like a man who cuts right to the chase.”
“I simply tire of the slander being perpetually shoveled upon me from all sides,” said Hendrick. “When you see for yourself that my machine works as I claim it does, you’ll tell everyone, and people won’t think I’m such a crank anymore.”
“Where am I going to go?” I asked, playing along. I didn’t know what was going to happen, but for the sake of a scoop, I fully intended to risk sitting in that chair to find out.
“Five minutes into the future. You’ll look at your watch before and after your departure, and you’ll find that five minute has elapsed in mere moments. The calibrations will have to be extremely precise for such a short jump, so I’ll need a few minutes to prepare.”
“Sure. I got all the time in the world.”
He looked at me. “No, Mr. Stanley. “I do.”
A grin spread across my face as he went about the business of tinkering with his souped-up diving tank.
I watched, restraining myself from making any snarky comments.
After about twenty minutes of fiddling with the thing, the strange little man announced that it was ready. “Now, if you’ll take a seat, please,” he said after opening up the chamber.
I obliged him, first removing my suit jacket as it had gotten quite warm in the room since my arrival.
He shut me in, and walked over to some sort of control panel on the other side of the room, his back turned to me.
“Get ready,” he called. “Note the time!”
I glanced down at my watch. 7:20.
He walked back over to the machine and turned the crank a few times. The machine sputtered to life, gurgling, rattling and humming like an old refrigerator motor.
He went back to the control panel, pressed some buttons and turned some dials. I wondered if they were even connected to anything.
The lone, bare light bulb on the ceiling flickered, and for a few moments, I felt as if I were sitting smack dab in the eye of a tornado, though I myself remained motionless.
Through the swirling blur and dirty glass, I noticed a figure entering the room, and I heard shouting. Then all went quiet and dark. I fell to the ground, the chair I’d been sitting on nowhere to be seen. In fact, I was sure that I wasn’t even in the same room. I was in a cramped space, surrounded by metal shelving packed to capacity with boxes of assorted shapes and sizes. It was too dark to make out the print on any of them.
I scrambled to my feet, dusted myself off and headed for the door from under which emanated my sole source of light.
When I opened it, I found myself standing in some sort of store, bustling with strange people. I call them strange because they were all wearing clothes of a kind I’d never seen. Many of them were also fat, and had odd haircuts. There were several women so scantily clad that their outfits bordered on obscenity. The place was brightly lit with long florescent bulbs and many people were gazing into and tapping on the flat surfaces of small, flat, glowing boxes.
A fat, completely bald man behind the counter noticed me first. He had the patchiest, most perplexing facial hair I’d ever seen. It was almost as if mother nature had never intended him to grow a beard, yet he’d defiantly attempted to do so anyway, with mixed results.
“Hey! Get out of there! Employees only! Can’t you read?”
I turned around and looked at the door. There it was, clear as day–a sign reading “Employees only.”
“Sorry,” I managed to say, despite an overwhelming sense of disorientation. I perused the store’s aisles for a few minutes, recognizing quite a few snack food brand names, but the logos were all strange and unfamiliar.
The prices on the tags beneath them couldn’t have been accurate. $1.08 for a Snickers bar? $1.58 for a Coca-Cola? Just what kind of scam were they running, here?
The same man who’d yelled at me soon appeared in front of me, hands on hips. “You going to buy anything, or just stare at my inventory?”
I wasn’t sure how to respond.
“You’re dressed too nice for bum,” he said. “You on drugs?”
I shook my head. “No, sorry, I’m… I’m just browsing. I’m going to buy something, I promise.”
He stared at me for a long moment before turning and heading back to the counter to assist a young man whose oversized shorts hung so low that nearly half of his buttocks were exposed.
I had about ten dollars in cash on me, between the bills in my wallet and the change in my pocket. I opened one of the cooler doors and grabbed a 7-Up, which, to my surprise, was in a plastic bottle. Nothing here made any sort of sense.
And then it dawned on me.
The time machine! This is the future. But how far into the future have I traveled?
I spotted a rack containing magazines and newspapers, including the Daily Mission, and checked the dates. TIME had some guy named Donald Trump on the cover, and was dated June 2019.
It wasn’t a misprint, the dates on all of the publications coincided with one another.
I was going to need that 7-Up now. I took it to the counter and pulled my wallet out of my pants.
The fat man waved the bottle over some sort of red ray-beam that looked like something out of one of those flying saucer pictures. It beeped.
“Dollar thirty-two,” said the man, watching intently as I dug down into my pocket for my wallet.
He frowned when I handed him the bill. He held it up to the light and inspected it, glancing back and forth between it and I.
“How old is this money?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. Is it still good?”
He nodded. “It is good, yes, money is money. But why you are you spending it like it’s regular money? It’s worth… it’s worth more than one dollar, I can tell ya that.” He narrowed his eyes. “You steal this? You rob someone to pay for your heroin habit?”
I shook my head. I was starting to find my bearings. People seemed rude and aggressive here, and I decided I’d better acclimate myself. “Not me, Tubby,” I said.
A stream of expletives poured out of his mouth, the likes of which I’d never before heard used in public, and I looked around to see if anyone else had heard it.
An attractive young woman standing behind me, fully immersed in her electronic box, didn’t seem to notice anything was amiss.
I leaned over the counter. “There are ladies present,” I whispered.
The man snorted. “Yeah. Ladies,” he said, holding his chubby, calloused fingers up like quotation marks.
“Got a bottle opener around here?”
He stared at me. “What?”
“A bottle opener. To open my soda.”
The frustrated confusion on his face made him even uglier. “It’s a twist-off, dude.”
“Yes,” I said. “Of course it is.”
“Would you get out of here already, you weirdo?”
He handed me my change and I left the store through doors that opened themselves.
I wasn’t prepared for what greeted me on the street outside. Buildings that had only recently, from my perspective, been constructed, were now dilapidated relics. Cars looked like spaceships on wheels and played strange, loud music as they glided past. The little hand-boxes were everywhere, and people seemed quite enamored of them.
I approached a clean-cut, friendly-looking young man dressed in blue jeans and a Rolling Stones “2012 World Tour” T-shirt and asked him how I might go about locating someone. I had many questions about the shirt, but held back. I had a feeling that I was already making too many common knowledge inquiries, and if they still had looney bins in 2019, I didn’t want to wind up in one.
He whipped his box out of his back pocket and showed me, on its tiny television screen, how to use what he referred to as “the internet” to find Clyde Hendrick. He called the box a “phone.” It didn’t look like any telephone I’d ever seen, but I didn’t tell him that.
3547 Canterbury Way, the screen read. Clyde Hendrick, aged 80.
“Yeah, that would be about right,” I said.
“Never mind. Thank you so much for your assistance.”
I doubted I had enough money to pay for a taxi, if taxis even existed anymore. Hendrick’s house was nearly six miles away, but since I knew how to get there and I didn’t have anything else to do, I decided to walk.
The city was both familiar and foreign, and I drank in everything I saw and heard as I trekked through its streets towards my destination, my clothes soaked with sweat.
I saw several mixed-race couples walking together, holding hands and carrying babies, and I even saw a few pairs of what appeared to homosexuals openly expressing affection for one another. No one seemed afraid; it was as if such things had become so commonplace that they were no longer of any significance.
I felt like a fool after spending nearly five minutes trying to open my bottle of soda, only to discover that the term “twist-off” was self-explanatory.
It didn’t taste very good, but it was cool and wet on my parched throat.
Everyone had the TV boxes, or “phones.” At first I marveled at how much of peoples’ time they seemed to occupy, but after some thought I decided that they probably served as a tool to make life more efficient, and I found myself wanting one. Some people even spoke into Dick Tracy-style video watches.
The neighborhood Hendrick lived in was considered upscale in 1969, but now it looked like a war zone.
There were naked children on lawns in front of houses with boarded-up windows, vagrants begging for change, and people carrying pistols in holsters on their waists in plain view. They didn’t look like police officers, but as slovenly and informally as most people in the future seemed to dress, it wouldn’t have surprised me if they were, and the police force had simply dispensed with the idea of uniforms.
This theory was dashed to pieces when I spotted two officers questioning a skinny, shirtless black man on his porch. They were wearing uniforms, and they weren’t all that dissimilar to the ones in use fifty years prior. They were crisp, neat and clean, in stark contrast to the squalor all around them.
The sun was preparing to call it a day when I arrived at Hendrick’s place and knocked on the door. I had no idea what time it was, as I’d arrived in 2019 during what appeared to be mid-afternoon.
I knew someone was home, because I heard shuffling and muttering coming from inside the house.
The door opened, and it was indeed my Hendricks, albeit a little worse for wear. The wispy orange tufts of hair sprouting from the sides of his head had gone white, and his craggy face looked like a catcher’s mitt that someone had neglected to oil. No, I decided, it looked a lot more like a wax figure that hadn’t been kept cool.
He squinted through grimy glasses at me, and to my surprise, smiled.
“Right on time,” he said. “Come on in.”
I sat down on a chair in his living room while he made pork chops out in the kitchen. His television set, which was flat and rectangular-shaped like a projection screen at a movie theater, was showing a news broadcast, and it didn’t take me long to realize that the world was in as much of a state of disarray as it had ever been. For all the superficial changes, humanity itself had largely remained the same.
Oh sure, the cars, clothes and technology were flashier and more sophisticated, but mankind was still plagued by fear, hatred and paranoia. Power-hungry dictators were still threatening war. The FBI was still riddled with corruption and shrouded in secrecy. The Soviet Union seemed to have fallen at some point, but Russia remained very much a focal point of America’s consciousness. The “phones” people used did indeed function as telephones, I learned from an AT&T commercial, but they were also so much more. The internet was a system used to link computers together, and these phones were tiny supercomputers that made NASA’s most advanced computers from 1969 seem like children’s toys in comparison.
We sat at the kitchen table to eat, even though I could’ve stared at the television set for a full week without tiring of it.
“It’s a lot to take in, isn’t it?” Asked Hendricks.
I finished chewing a mouthful of food and swallowed it. I was much hungrier than I’d realized.
“Why did you send me fifty years into the future?”
He sighed and looked away. “I apologize for that. The machine was delicate, temperamental. It required constant monitoring and precise calculations when in use, and I was… interrupted.”
“By the hotheaded husband of a man whose wife came to me to escape his nightly beatings and unwanted sexual advances. He barged in waving a gun and demanded to know where she was. When I informed him that such information was confidential, he went wild, smashing my equipment, mashing buttons and firing into the ceiling. He thought we were having an affair. Can you imagine? Anyway, long story short, because of his interference, you wound up materializing five decades later, instead of five minutes. Took me several days in the hospital to recover from the thrashing he inflicted upon me that night. He actually broke my arm.”
The old man had tears in his eyes now. “They looked for you for a long time, you know. Of course, the authorities never came up with any answers that satisfied them. They didn’t believe the truth. Tried to find evidence that I’d murdered you, along with all the others. You were a big story, for awhile.”
This information titillated my ego. “Me? A big story?”
I’ve stolen your life from you,” he said, and for that, I deeply apologize.”
I couldn’t resist laughing.
“Why, my dear old friend, you’ve done nothing of the kind. Tomorrow morning you and I are going downtown to Daily Missionheadquarters. Ive just stumbled upon the scoop of a lifetime.”