He walked down the busy street and conversations seemed bubbles, some kind of atmosphere, nothing more. He passed a couple and they may as well have been gas from sewers. He went into a restaurant to use the bathroom and walked down a hall with mirrors on both sides and they seemed with his dizziness from hunger to be eating each other. Timothy waited patiently for what seemed a small forever as some man apparently fell asleep for a time before being jerked awake by the thunder of one meek bit of dry lightning outside. Timothy was on his was to that spot in that alley behind the old mall, the gash, the spot where people said time had somehow simply just torn open.
Timothy had read in many comic books in old databases he found left dormant and a few of the newer interactive virtual space texts of time travel and what might be. The older ones were at times shimmering machines like old space craft that shuddered or hurtled back or forward, some with great reward , others with cautionary messages of the “butterfly effect” and how one misstep, one trampled blade of grass of past could ruin causation and past to present to future in things changed. This fascinated him. The newer spaces were more places to walk in places of past recreated and go on dates, make out, buy things in some apps that came from a store somewhere days later, a realistic replica of say a bottle of booze, a gun, an article of clothing. Timothy at 17 was not supposed to use the apps with purchase options, but like most of his friends he found a way.
Timothy saw a greasy haired older man emerge from the bathroom and its heavy wooden door as the first wave of nausea hit. He was not just hungry but it was that flu going around, it had to be. He heaved a few times then was back out on the street looking for a snack to sustain him. He grabbed a burger and a coke at the spot at the corner that nobody ever seemed to actually eat at that had been around for as long as he could remember. The place with the mirrors was a restaurant carved out of a bookstore carved out of a house, carved out a last bit of orange groves, it was a resting spot for idle wealthy people from the southern hills and young people between shifts at jobs in the neighborhood.
The dry lightning was quite a tease as the drought was entering its seventh year and water was so scarce that people had been stealing from neighbors as though not another drop of rain was to fall. The clouds were charcoal smears with that odd lightning already a distant memory even moments later as Timothy walked past the shop selling fruit in little jars at prices far too high and the shop that squeezed juice like it was diamonds from coal. Timothy was nearing the spot. The heat radiated even in shade as it had all winter long , storms dying offshore , summer-like heat waves crouched ever in wait.
The rumor was that some kind of tear just kind of happened. The days of voices answering questions on ‘smart” phones had long died. The glasses and pins on clothes and the optional bits on fingertips were awkward at first years back, but like all new things it just became itself and something part of a dull afternoon with clouds not dropping rain as much as the stores, the cars and the sidewalk.
Time travel to most people it seemed to Timothy had become an imagined space now or just something to ignore without glimmer as so much was available now. Search engines were faster and more intuitive than ever, dating apps made it possible to share food and drinks in real time intuited from a video chat, searching was how most questions were answered, data was everywhere unlike the rains. Timothy told his mother he was going to go for a walk but he was going to that mall, that alley, that thing he had heard so much about. He could use some old things for a paper he had due soon for reference, he had that itch to maybe grab something just to take it too like the time he felt tired of things going fine and ok and dull edged and stole from his neighbor’s garage then later put it right back, it was just a lawn cutting bot, the man never even used it anymore, he had better ones.
Timothy neared the aging mall and saw 3 different elderly people running with containers of water with labels he had never seen before. He walked closer and saw some young teens running full speed with the simplest and heaviest television he had ever seen. He rounded the corner past the abandoned north parking lot with the doors to the dead mega store and could swear he saw a woman that looked like his mom running with a bunch of newspapers. Who the hell reads newspapers any more? He thought almost shouting inside. The mega store’s corpse was long empty so where were these people coming from? Why running? Wait was that a baby dolphin? They..are extinct.. They are passing it back and forth, the poor thing is blinking gently, calmly letting them.
Timothy walked faster as more people passed him carrying things in full sprint or some in brazen stroll. Their arrogance was alarming but not so much as it seemed more and more clear to Timothy that people had lost humility and concern for others like so much shed fingernail clippings if even that. Cars would burn with people filming, roller coasters left people trapped to be filmed by crowds, not helped. This had been the case for years. The screen in the last few years had been in fact freed from the hand held devices and with its positives had only blown more air into the narcissism of self as the whole of data ran at one’s command and will and in the sight of only one set of eyes. The theorists spoke of this shiny future to come, the death of the “meanderthal”, the self centered texting zombie on smart phone, that this death of the object will kill the cult of object and disconnect of focus and awareness in one blow. It failed as so much futurism does of course, dried grape to raisin in the sun, gleam until in the light of day to die into something else. Some call this progress.
Timothy saw someone he knew quite well and who he was surprised to see heading his way with objects from 1955 clearly plucked and in his hands. He was his dad’s friend who was a youth counselor.
“Mr….Kwerry? Timothy asked almost timidly, stunned.
“Uh…oh…yes…you see me I see” the tall older man said with a clear tremble in his voice as caught.
“So…you went over..” Timothy trailed off…unsure what to say now.
“Yep…please don’t judge..we needed a novelty gift for our son..this television is so …” he now trailed off.
“Ah..I see Mr Kwerry…uhm…non digital…so old to be beyond vintage and brand new..” Timothy said.
“Yes. And there is water there. Lots of it. Bring a bucket or bottle.” the man said with a serious look now.
Timothy had no other words. This was the reality of it. He was almost there.
Timothy came to an alley behind the mall. There were foul odors of decay, rotting garbage, human waste and something he could not put a name to. There was a small alley with old oil stains and a few abandoned loading bays for stores long gone from the mall and commerce. The sky was still the odd dark and light of almost rain, the sun now shining dimly as though through a child’s pencil drawing. He thought of how social media had eaten itself a few years before. It finally was just bots, advertisers and the same 50 posts fed in by advertisers cloaked as news when I left. The antisocial nature was leading people to sadness, depression, choked also by algorithms for optimum data mining and monetizing. It just ate itself. People had come to doubt themselves as likes dried away, as that endorphin rush became rarer to come by. Nobody called each other and then nobody talked on social media, then it was like the world was a giant Google search, a land of results, people as swarms of numbers and their contexts where once were organs. Stolen medical records is the gold of this time. Faces may as well be not our skin but our pass codes and preferences. So sad.
Timothy saw it. An ugly open wound colored on its edges along the wall. It was drooping on one end , clearly damaged and in need or maybe even in some kind of pain as it looked so like skin appearing in the air. People came running in and out of it stealing toasters, bicycles, buckets full of water, newspapers, looting this poor creature or rare physics of time and space. This was the portal to the past. This was time travel. It was a sad sight. “1955 is on the other side!” some man shouted holding dishes as he broke into sprint after crawling out of the wound. “They have water!” shouted an older man with hands full with two buckets full of the past’s drinking water.
The thing drooped even more as a group of younger people rushed in at once laughing gleefully shouting out what they wanted to grab this time. It almost looked for a second to Timothy like a sad drooping eye, patient and loyal to a face he could not see. 1955 was clearly just more information, things to look for, find, own, use, take. The dream of physics was in a dirty alley. The great dream of mathematics and fiction alike was being killed by being overused to take things. Timothy watched a family emerge grim faced with meals still on plates clearly stolen from a past dinner of some now forever lost great importance; their lack of expression made it clear they had been doing this for a while now and it was stuff, nothing more, a search result.
Timothy stepped closer and could see light from another day. There were a few puffy low clouds in another’s afternoon. There were cars driving, their occupants surely now long dead, but running errands , following paths of days in this other decade , a rupture leaking open their minutia so innocent seen through a sad, ugly gash. As Timothy drew closer a man pushed him to jump in. He grumbled “I need shoes and I am going to grab some.” Timothy then saw the corner shoe store and the man running in this betrayed naked past and stealing a pair from the window and running back. The wound shuddered sadly, clearly slumped a bit more on that one corner.
I am going home Timothy thought.
He turned and went back to drought and the dead corpse of social media, to ugly politics, to clouds that brought no rain. The past is open for exploration, a sort of magic and it is now reduced to a dying sad wound in the air. We should be ashamed. We are not.
Timothy went home to dinner like any other day. He saw a neighbor next door turn on a very new and old television, another eat outside in a new old chair. A few days later the wound closed as though never being. A young dolphin long extinct died on a busy corner by no water or beach.
No one said a word.