by Maurice X. Alvarez
Copyright © 2001 by Maurice X. Alvarez
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either products of the author's imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
“We'll remember this moment forever.” Her black hair was pulled back beneath the white veil; her honey-brown eyes glowed softly in the lights around her, her happiness evident in her eyes. The memory was fresh, only a year old.
“You were so right.” Stanley Gordon crouched and placed the dozen roses on the ground, at the base of the gravestone that had his wife's name on it.
He stood and wiped his tearful eyes. They'd had so little time together, only months. It wasn't fair. He'd been a religious man then, but since the accident, he just couldn't believe in any god that would let such a wonderful person die. Why? he had asked himself over and over for the past year. With all the criminals in the city… in the world, why did it have to happen to his wife, his beautiful little wife?
He pressed his hand against his eyes and sobbed, unable to hold back his grief. “Why?” he cried out loud. More softly, “Why?” After a moment, he collected himself, sniffed and turned his eyes up to the clear blue sky above. He wiped his eyes with the back of his hands, took a few steps back, then turned and walked back to his car.
Stan started the car, took one last look up the grassy hill, then started backing out of the spot.
He slammed the brakes. Heart pounding, he practically jumped out the door. Something had jumped out of nowhere behind the car, disappeared out of sight of his mirrors. If it was a child… He didn't even want to think about it. But when he looked, there was nobody there.
But there was something.
Stan bent over and picked up a crystal cube, clear except for one black face. He looked around, his heart settling down, but there was no one around who might have dropped it. Yet, he was sure he had seen something flash across his rear-view mirror when he was backing up. He certainly hadn't seen this crystal when he'd approached the car before, and it caught the sun in such a way that he was sure he wouldn't have missed it. Of course, his mind had been elsewhere at the time; he could very easily have passed a barking dog and not noticed it.
He admired the one-inch square cube, decided it was nice enough to be worth keeping and was about to stuff it in his pocket when it started glowing.
Stan tossed it away from him, and watched, startled, as it expanded into a misty, sky-blue rectangle, six-feet tall by four feet wide. It remained floating about ten inches off the ground.
Stan looked around for someone, anyone that could verify that he was not hallucinating. As before, there was no one about. Heart racing again, he gingerly stepped closer to his discovery. Before daring to touch it, Stan gave the… plane, for lack of a better word, a once-around. It was less than an inch thick all around, and unlike the front, the back was a dull grey with a few very slight grooves that looked like they were more than decorative…. But Stan didn't dare touch them just yet.
Trusting the back more than the glowing front, Stan touched a finger to the dull grey surface. It was cool to the touch, and smooth. He pressed harder, and the whole plane floated away like a baloon, turning slightly and coming to a rest inches away.
Well, it didn't bite, thought Stan. He reached for one of the grooves, and as he touched it, a panel sprang open and a book fell out. Stan's eyebrows went up; the book was thicker than the plane! He peered into the compartment concealed by the panel, and his mind reeled. What he was seeing made no sense. There were cogs and gears and pulleys and other things, disconnected, floating about in a blue haze. None of it appeared to do anything at all, but it was there, like peering into the mind of an insane watchmaker.
He blinked a few times, then picked up the book. It was a black book with gold letters on the cover that read: A Guide to Your Portal-Cube.
“What in the world?…” he mumbled, opening the book to the table of contents. He whistled incredulously at what he read.
Remembering where he was, he glanced around to make sure that there was still no one else around, then skipped several pages ahead and quickly read a few paragraphs. He closed the book, sealed the panel and walked around to the front of the device. Now that he knew what to look for, he noticed the six-button tab protruding from the top of the plane. Recalling what he had read, he grasped the tab and gave it a twist to the left. Almost instantly, the plane was gone and he was left holding the crystal cube in his hand.
His fascinated gaze shifted from the cube to the book. Carefully he slipped the former into his pocket and returned to his car. He had some reading to do.
Stan read the guide non-stop for the remainder of the weekend. He was fascinated by the complexity of the writing despite the fact that he wasn't entirely convinced it was real. Sure he'd seen it open, he'd peered into the panel and witnessed the impossible mechanism within the device. But according to the guide, the device allowed its operator to travel to distant locations using only mental commands. That was just too much for Stan to believe.
Stan cleared the coffee table from the center of his living room and stood with the cube in his palm. The way to activate the device was to press the black face of the cube. It defaulted to a three second delay before opening, unless one commanded it to open faster using, of course, a mental command. Stan opened it, and feeling a little foolish, he pictured the kitchen in his mind. He held his breath, closed his eyes and stepped through the blue surface of the plane. When he opened his eyes, he was in his kitchen! Good god, it worked! he thought. When he turned, he found the now-familiar blue surface of the device facing him. But how? He peered out into his living room and saw his original device still floating there. But when he twsited the tab of the one in the kitchen and the device reverted to a cube, the original vanished without leaving behind a second cube.
Continuing to read, Stan discovered that he could not only travel from place to place, but through time. When he read that, he stopped reading. Time travel. That meant… he could go back. He could stop it from happening. He was breathing fast, his heart pounding anxiously.
Without wasting a moment, he took the cube and opened the portal. He replaced the guide in the panel in the back. Then he faced the blue, glowing surface and pictured, in his mind, the street, the time… her face. He steeled himself, and stepped through.
It was just after noon. The sun was warm on his dark skin; he hadn't felt such warmth since that day. Stan glanced around to get his bearings, oblivious of the staring crowd he had attracted. He had placed himself on the opposite corner. Damn! He looked across the wide street. She was just starting to cross.
“Mary!” he yelled, breaking into a run.
Mary Gordon looked up, surprised. “Stan?”
The screech of tires split the air. Thump! Stanley Gordon howled with suffering. He hadn't been there when the accident occurred. He hadn't known the pain that had been spared him by his not being there.
He held her crumpled little body, crying her name over and over. After some time, someone helped him to his feet. “We'll take care of her, sir. Please, stand back.”
Stan was startled into consciousness by a siren. He sat up quickly and found himself on the living room floor of his home. It was dark through the windows, and an emergency vehicle had just passed by. The memories came back to him then, unbidden, one after the other. Stan cried again, the feel of her soft, dark skin against his still fresh in his mind, the screeching tires echoing through his head.
He cursed himself for his stupid blunder. He had returned too late to stop the accident. And too far away. But how had he gotten back home? And more importantly, where was the cube?
As he searched for it, he remembered being pulled away from his wife. He didn't remember what happened after that. Somehow he must have wandered back through the portal. Which meant it had to be around somewhere… His hand closed around it and pulled it out from under the sofa.
“This time…,” he said. He pushed the black face and stepped through the open portal with the correct corner in mind and just the right amount of time.
“Yeah!” He was on the right side of the street. He turned and twisted the tab, this time aware that he would attract too much attention if he left it open. The portal vanished, and someone who had been coming from behind it bumped into him.
Stan whirled at the sound of her voice. She had already taken a few steps toward the street. “Mar—”
“Mary!” a voice from across the street interrupted him.
Stan looked across at himself running.
Mary Gordon looked up, surprised. “Stan?”
“No!” He jumped for her, reached for her arm.
But she was snatched away from him at the last minute.
Torn by anguish, he watched as his other self fell at her side and cradle her broken body. It was too much for him to do again. Confident that most eyes would be on the accident, he activated the portal and returned home.
The minute he sealed the portal, all his memories of that day came flooding into his head. Twice he had been there, so close to stopping it… A third time— the first time?— he hadn't been there, but had shown up later after a phone call had pulled him away from his work. All three memories were so real that he had trouble separating them.
He pushed all three aside. He had to try again. He had to give himself more time, much more time. He had to be there before she even reached that part of the street.
Again he returned to that day, minutes earlier than the previous time. He sealed the portal, glancing behind it to make certain the same thing didn't happen again. He saw her then as she came walking along the sidewalk. He ran up to her.
Mary Gordon looked up, surprised. “Stan?”
He looped his arms around her and held her tightly. “Baby, I'm never gonna let you go.”
Mary laughed. “What're you doing here? You're supposed to be at work.”
He turned and watched that car pass, and he knew he'd done it this time. He looked back at her, back into those eyes that held his universe together. “I've been thinking that I spend too much time at work.”
“You silly,“ she chuckled. “Get back before someone realizes that you've taken one of your extended lunches.”
Reluctantly, he realized he had to go. She would go home later and the Stanley Gordon of this time would return from work. He couldn't spend the rest of the day with her. But hell, that was just fine. He had the rest of his life to spend with her now.
“Okay, baby. I'll see you tonight.” He kissed her. “Be careful crossing the streets.”
“You be careful that no one sees you sneaking back in.”
“I love you, Mary,” he said, backing away.
“Yeah, yeah, I know,” she joked, shooing him on. “I love you, too.”
Stan slipped around the corner, activated the cube with a mental command equivalent to 'home', and stepped through.
The memories came immediately; that night when she questioned him and he hadn't known anything about taking extra time during lunch, hadn't remembered their encounter. He laughed remembering how she had made him get a checkup after that. Then he had gone to the police station to answer some questions about his wife and to find out that the bastard driver had taken off after hitting her. No. That wasn't real. There was the celebration of their first Christmas and New Year's together, and their anniversary. And her funeral; it had rained that day. No. That wasn't right. She hadn't been hit by a car, she had been stabbed. So had he. He had used the cube again, but for what, he couldn't remember.
He looked around his home and found it was different from what he remembered. But of course, after the legal and hospital fees, he had had to sell the house. She had been in a coma for so long. All for a few dollars. Neither Stan nor she had even put up a struggle. It was right after their anniversary. They had gone to the movies that Friday night. That was when she got hit by the car. He was standing across the street and had just been inches from grabbing her arm when the kid appeared from the shadows and asked for their money. He'd only been a kid behind the wheel. But no one had gotten the license plate number, and he had gotten away…
The white-robed group moved quietly along the silent halls. They stopped in front of the door to room 21.
“This is a very special case,” said the doctor to her interns, peering through the reinforced plexiglass window in the door. “African-American male in his mid-twenties.” The interns looked in at the man seated by the barred window. He was mumbling to himself. “He's suffering from monothematic delusions brought about by acute adjustment disorder. He lost his wife in a fire a month ago. He hasn't been able to come to grips with it yet. Apparently the manner of death was too much of a shock for him. He invents memories of other circumstances causing her death. The most recurrent involves a car accident.”