By the time Floyd returned, the fruit of the courtyard’s apple tree had rotted beneath a layer of brown leaves.
He stepped from the chamber in a cloud of steam and storm of coughs. The glass door closed behind him. It never got any easier, and always played havoc with his lungs. The price of genius. A small price, at that. What other men wouldn’t give to live his life. The life of dreams. He only needed to solve the machine’s lack of pause functionality.
Floyd’s walking stick clacked on the lab’s smooth floor. Not that he ever had any trouble with walking. But, if you visited the Victorians, you had damn well better fit in. He pushed his stovepipe hat further up onto his head. “Gina?” His voice echoed through the shadowed room. “Honey? I’m home!” He smiled and frowned at the motionless lab, the stale air of the place rich in his nostrils.
The motors hummed and pulsed. The pipes bubbled and shuddered. Gears ground and clanked. No other sounds in the laboratory. Steam continued to spill from the crack beneath the door. It flowed out into the lab, pooled around his legs like an ocean mist. The only movement his eyes could detect.
Floyd stepped from the neon glow of the chamber. His shoes sliced through the steam. Eddies of the mist coiled away in miniature tornados. The cloud of vapour dulled his footsteps, softened the click of his heels. “Gina, hon, you wouldn’t believe what Dickens told me about his—”
His words died in his throat.
On the lab bench nearest the chamber, a sheet of white paper lay pinned beneath a stopwatch. His name leapt out at him, and a snake coiled in the frozen depths of his stomach. Floyd hooked the stick over the table’s edge and slid the sheaf from under the watch.
I’ve gone back to my mother’s place. Please don’t contact me, I need time to think. And, in the end, time is all I have. Isn’t that what you always used to say?
You have an addiction, Floyd. It’s high time that you faced up to that. No more denial. If I were to stay, I’d just be enabling you. You and that infernal machine. I take back every encouraging word I ever said. It’s not a gateway to new possibilities, it’s only a coffin with more knobs and dials.
Each time you step from that tomb, you’re older and older — but you never seem to learn. Neither did I, either. For so long. Well, no more. I may have more grey hairs than when we first sketched the blueprints for your doom, but at least I can say that I’m wiser. Finally.
What we had has faded over time. The spark that once burned so bright is now barely even a glow, let alone a flame. You know that better than me. I think you realised that faster than I did. There had to have been a reason you spent so much time out there, hasn’t there? I guess I just didn’t want to see it, but time makes the truth plain to see.
We’ve fallen out of love, Floyd.
And we’ve fallen out of time.
Floyd read the note once, twice, three times.
“Gina?” He called out to the empty room, even though he knew there’d be no response. “Gina?” An ache in his chest throbbed with every judder of his heart — an inmate who slams his head against the bars of his cell. Beads of sweat sprung up across his palms. All the moisture evaporated from his mouth. A dry click at the back of his throat. “Gina?”
And we’ve fallen out of time.
His hands trembled, the paper wavered. The page — brittle and frail — felt as though it might crumble beneath his grasp. And the surface seemed dirty and oily. Floyd rubbed his fingers together and frowned. “What—?”
Years’ worth of dust.
Gina’s note sailed to the floor with a swish. Fell as a leaf falls from the skeletal branch of a tree in mid-Autumn. It spun and twirled to the ground, a handwritten sycamore seed. It settled to the floor with a whisper, disappeared beneath a cloud of vapour.
“How long was I gone?”
His words did not echo through the lab, did not reverberate off the walls, did not bounce back to his ears. The syllables dropped dead, stones tossed into a pond. Small and quiet, the timid squeak of a frightened mouse.
On legs that threatened buckle at any second, Floyd turned to face his creation.
His time machine.
A cool metallic sheen, interspersed with panes of perfect glass. The shut door curved around the neon glow from within. Wires and tubes and cables sprouted out the top, sparse hairs on the head of the soon-to-be bald.
Floyd squinted at his reflection in the glass. Distorted and widened by the curvature, but still recognisable as him.
His hair had greyed and thinned. The stubble that dotted his cheeks — akin to salt and pepper. The bits beneath his eyes sagged and wrinkled, like discarded teabags. Now that his eyes adjusted to the gloom of the lab, Floyd looked down at the mottled skin of his hand. Wrinkled and grey. Dotted with liver spots. It trembled with the frailty of age.
“How long was I gone?” The whine of his voice reached a thin falsetto, no longer the muscular intonations of a young man. The reedy pitch of a man knocking on the door of his twilight years.
He’d spent so much time in other times, he’d forgotten to live in his own.
“Gina? Gina where are y—”
He stumbled when he lurched for the door and collapsed to the floor. He fell with a cry, and crumpled into a heap — nothing but skin, bones, and a Victorian coat. In his attempts to get back up again, the gnarled roots of his hands curled around the shaft of the stick. He realised, now, that he did need it. How could he have ever thought otherwise?
Floyd got to his feet, unsteady and uncertain. How precious his time had been. How valuable. And, like a fool, he’d parted with it without so much as a backwards glance. Floyd ran his index finger across the surface of the bench, right to left. Even in the lab’s low light, his finger cut a visible trail. The colour of the speckled table shone, bright and white beneath the clean path.
A layer of filth.
Thick and grey.
Floyd stared at the dirt at the end of his finger.
How he’d take it all back if he could.
He blew the clot of dust from the tip.
Friday, September 3, 2021
Written for the September 2021 #BlogBattle — ‘Precious’