“It had rained all night, yet, there was no rainbow. Well, there was no sun either… but still. I was saddened by the outcome of the storm. It was just sky and clouds and emptiness. I got off the bus, feeling empty as well, like the lack of rainbows had affected me personally.”
It had rained all night, yet, there was no rainbow.
Well, there was no sun either… but still. I was saddened by the outcome of the storm. It was just sky and clouds and emptiness.
I got off the bus, feeling empty as well, like the lack of rainbows had affected me personally.
Most kids wouldn’t care about something as trivial as light in the sky, but I was not most kids. I felt unfulfilled due to this — what shall we call it? — fate, karma, or just weather. Either way, I was not happy. And school wasn’t gonna change that.
I went up the stairs of the school, seeing all the kids you see in high school. They were, like, beyond stereotypes at this point; they were more like lists of characteristics. I said, “Hi” to my friend Windy in the hall on my way to first period (which, by the way, I was acing), and he waved back.
He smiled at me before some kids snatched his book and binder and started to mess with him. The kids turned Windy’s wheelchair round and round and yelled, “Freak!” louder than the fire alarm. I kept walking. Poor Windy. I sometimes wish they would just leave him alone.
The feeling I felt on the bus returned like a bag of nails to the balls as I again felt empty — wishing I could help him, but knowing I’d actually get hurt if I tried.
I dragged myself through my morning classes. Knowing literally all the answers did not help. I was aching for lunch, though not really aching because I knew soon I would ache for the end of the day.
After fifth period came to a close, I helped push Windy’s chair to the cafeteria. He grabbed a school newspaper from a stack on the table by the door. I didn’t. Now, our paper, The Trenton Community High Gazette, is a real big deal (though, it’s total sensationalist phony crap; they make everything into a big deal… it’s kinda funny the print is in yellow, so they are, like, literally yellow journalism… )
As we rolled up to the lunch counter, I looked over Windy’s shoulder, seeing how engrossed he appeared to be in the tabloid. I tried to see the front page, or part of it, because Windy blocked it before I could see or read the headline.
I asked, “Hey, Windy, so what’s the front page news? Is there plastic in the mashed potatoes again — ?”
“Moon, I-I-I — this is very bad… ”
“Geez, what is up your Levi’s? You look like you just got buried alive. Dude, why don’t we discuss this over a healthy dose of gruel?”
“Moon, the front page is — um… ”
“Spit it out, Winslow. We haven’t got all year… ”
“It’s about YOU!!!” Windy shouted.
Me? I never do anything interesting! I just sit around all day and complain about things all the time like Garfield.
Windy handed the paper to me. “You and your folks, actually. Just know it’s not the end of the world.”
I skimmed the headline. This was the end of the world.
There was silence. The whole cafeteria froze and stared. I dropped the paper, seemingly in slow motion. The silence continued for another minute. One kid started laughing. The entire cafeteria followed suit. This was not happening.
“Fucker!!!” They all stopped laughing at that. I burst into tears and ran, grabbing another copy of the newspaper out of some girl’s hands on my way to the exit, getting the grubby, yellow ink on my fingers.
In the stairwell, I looked at the photo on the front page. It was of my mom and dad and me as an infant. This was the end of all things. My parents were butt naked covered in tulips, a guitar strap on my father acting as the only saving grace to his decency. I read the headline again: “MOON SHARRIF’S A HIPPIE!!! RARE PHOTOGRAPH UNCOVERED OF HIM AS INFANT WITH FULLY NUDE HIPPIE PARENTS!” Below, in smaller type, were the words: “Read full article by Brad Gently on page 7.”
Brad is my sister’s — I mean, my foster sister’s — boyfriend. If she had something to do with this, oh, she was going to get it.
This photograph; God only knows how it got out of the basement. Annie must have snuck it out and given it to Brad, who works for the paper. The photo was in an album that our parents had always forbidden us from touching. Probably due to the fact that they’re yuppies now, and their hippiedom is far behind them. But, it was long-lived and apparently extreme according to some family friends. Like, our Aunt Margaret said that one summer they slept in an abandoned van for a month and lived on nothing but bean sprouts. They also went to naturalist conventions every year for a decade. In fact, I was born at one of them in 1968. They yuppied-up only recently.
I already knew they used to be hippies. That’s not news. I just don’t want the whole school to know. Now, they’ll be calling me crap like “flower child” and “peace and love” in the halls. Also, it’s a nude photo. Does it get more embarrassing? A little censorship wouldn’t have hurt.
Surprisingly, today’s tabloid escapade is the second most embarrassing thing that my family’s gotten into. Judas Shariff, my grandfather, is famous in South Trenton for his legendary scientific endeavors, especially those that got him tossed into the psych ward five years before I was born. He died a few years ago. My parents tell me not to talk about him.
I heard wheels.
Windy opened the door to the stairwell and called out, “Moon?!”
“I’m fine,” I responded. “What are we going to do? I mean, what should I do?”
“They’re talking crap about you,” Windy said. “More than usual. I would have stood up for you, but you know I can’t.”
We both cracked up.
“Seriously, Windy. How’m I gonna fix this? Isn’t there some way we can go back and make none of this have happened at all?”
“You mean like a time machine?”
Windy and I looked around. “Who’s there?!” I yelled.
I recognized that grizzled voice. Was he eavesdropping on us? I turned to Windy.
“Freakman,” we both said at the same time.
I heard muffled jazz music and snapping as Mr. Freakman came up the stairs from the basement level. We did our secret handshake, and he turned off his Walkman.
Mr. Freakman said, “Yo, kiddo, I saw that groovy photo of your folks in their natural state all over the school. And you don’t like that, do ya?”
I put my hands on my hips. “Do you like Reagan?” I asked him, with a smug look on my face.
“No. Um, no, I do not. I really don’t think you can go back in time. The fact is, this is a pretty gnarly state. This is the way things are. Not worth wigging out over, man.”
“Yeah, Moon, the first step to moving on is accepting the way things are,” Windy offered.
“Would you guys listen to yourselves? You sound like Hallmark cards. This is not some teen drama where things get better in the end. We’ve got to build a time machine.”
They both stared at me.
“And I think I know how.”
There was a long pause.
“Really?” Windy scoffed. He had doubt in his eyes. Then he crossed his arms and asked, “Okay, Tesla, how do you plan on doing this exactly? Time travel has yet to be invented. At all! Not even by history’s top engineers! Let alone you, Moon — you, the kid who is failing biology — how could you possibly… ?”
“Winslow Casablanca, my dear friend, I do have a bit of an ego. I can’t deny it. But I’m not so arrogant that I’d think I could build a time machine of all things without some kind of guide. If I was having delusions of such grandeur, don’t you think I would be in the loony bin also — ”
“So you have a guide?” Windy asked. He really needed to stop interrupting me.
“Yeah, my grandfather tried to invent one. He was nuts.”
Freakman said, “Way out,” as he looked at his watch, and then he turned to me. “Kid, gotta get back to work. Keep me posted about this whole time machine, and let’s do the time warp again.” He turned his Walkman back on and snapped his way downstairs.
The door behind Windy flung open. A girl with short, black hair, wearing a blue turtleneck, burst in. “Windy, I’ve been looking for you everywhere!” she wheezed. “We need a replacement pianist for The Sound of Music rehearsals.” She noticed me. “Hey, you’re that kid who took my newspaper. Windy, do you know him?”
“Yeah, Lucy, this is my good friend, Moon. Moon, Lucy. Lucy, Moon,” Windy replied.
“Moon? Moon Shariff?” She burst into bombastic laughter. I could tell she wasn’t even trying to contain herself.
I turned to Windy. “I’m gonna build that time machine. I’m gonna follow those instructions precisely. And you’re gonna help me. By Monday it’s gonna be Thursday again.”
When I got home, no one was there but my cat, Ginsberg. I headed straight for the basement and discovered the blueprints hidden in the forbidden photo album where Annie had found the naked photo. I called my friends and asked them to meet me at Ralph’s, the electronics place near the spork in the road. We could get all the nuts and bolts there.
Monday arrived. And apparently Windy was right because we were greeted in the morning by pointing fingers and the words “Peace” and “Love” spray-painted on my locker. After classes had ended, we gathered in the basement near the boiler room. Mr. Freakman joined us and lit up when he saw the time machine in my hands. It was made out of my kitchen phone and the parts we bought at Ralph’s.
He gleamed and said, “You did that out of your phone? Your grandfather… I wish I could meet him… I really wish I could meet him. I’ll open up the slop closet now for our ‘secret operation.’”
“Yeah,” I said. “OK, guys, here’s the plan one last time. We go back to Thursday, intercept Annie in my house with the photo, bribe her not to do it, don’t wake up my parents, and then come back to the present.”
Freakman turned off the lights in the closet and closed the door.
I said, loudly, “Ready, guys?” I reached to touch it and felt Freakman’s hand on the dial. “What are you doing — ?”
The scene turned to black. I woke up what felt like a few hours later. I screeched, “FREAKMAN, WHAT DID YOU DO?!” I felt for the light switch, turned it on, and looked at Freakman. His hand was still on the dial. Windy and Lucy were huddled in the corner. We all looked at Freakman.
I said very slowly, “Freakman, move your hand.” He didn’t. “Now,” I said.
He moved it. I squirmed to the dial. I felt like I did when I saw the newspaper headline. Completely overcome with anxiety. I looked around the closet to find something to confirm the date. If it had worked, was it Thursday? Crap, I didn’t think this through. It was a time machine. It could be any time. I spotted a calendar and snatched it off the wall. I looked for the day when the X’s had stopped. I could not believe my eyes.
Freakman was more insane than my grandfather. Why did he send us to 1964?! We burst out of the closet. I stood up, turned to Freakman, and was prepared to give it to him. “Why’d you do that? Why’d you have to go and ruin our whole plan?” I asked.
Freakman looked very pleased with himself. He smiled and said, “You know they say the best way to learn about something is to experience it firsthand.”
“Are you referring to the newspaper?!” I hollered.
“You bet I am. Come on, kids, don’t you want to see the outside?”
Windy piped up, “You guys are forgetting something.” He turned to me, looking at me like I was an absolute moron. “Did you forget that you told me at least a thousand times over the weekend that the time machine could not travel more than five years at a time? We’re in the sixties. If that’s true, Moon, we’re stuck here.”
Lucy said, “Wait, we’re stuck in the sixties? I’ll get to see Barbra Streisand on Broadway!”
“Well, Freakman,” I said. “This is a fine mess you got us into. I’m not living the rest of my life as a flower child.”
“You were going to do that anyway — ” Windy added.
“SHUT UP,” I bellowed. I realized that we were making way too much noise and had to get out of the building. I took my school books out of my backpack and put the broken time machine in their place. We had to carry Windy up the stairs because there was no ramp from the basement, and then go back for the wheelchair, but we made it outside.
I noticed that the school building looked the same, but everything around it looked like something out of American Graffiti. The cars were longer, and the hairstyles were crazy. Windy spoke up, “I have an idea, guys.”
“What?” I asked.
“If it’s ‘Build a time machine and go back to Thursday to avoid embarrassment but we end up in the sixties,’ I don’t want to hear it,” Lucy said.
“No, Lucy, better,” Windy responded. “Moon, didn’t your grandfather live around here?”
“He used to,” I said. “By 1964, he was already in Bellevue.”
Windy said, “So, I guess we’re going to New York now.”
“Wait, are you suggesting that we ask him to fix it?”
Freakman said, “Wow, I’m finally going to get to meet my hero. You guys are the best.”
We hopped a Greyhound bus to New York City. It looked like it looks in all the old postcards in the tourist shops. Cleaner than New York today. We walked across town to Bellevue Hospital and checked in as visitors — which we technically were — to padded room number 187. A doctor took out a ring of skeleton keys and opened seven different bulky locks. He told us to be careful.
I approached my grandfather. He was huddled in the corner. This was it. He was breathing heavily, and I decided to speak up.
“Judas,” I whispered.
“Are you another doctor?” he asked.
“No,” I said. I didn’t know how I was going to tell him this.
“Who are you? You’re not supposed to come in here without a lab coat.”
I was taking too long. Also, if I messed with this too much, I wasn’t going to be born. I needed to suck it up, and just say it.
I screamed, “Judas Shariff, I am your grandson from the future. This is not a dream. Your time machine works. I know it’s a lot to take in, but you need to fix the machine so that we can get back to the present and so that we can, you know, not be stuck here.”
There was silence. Understandably.
Mr. Freakman broke it, of course. “Can I have your autograph?” He held out a shriveled piece of paper.
I gave the machine to my grandfather. He looked me in the eye. I had never had so much hope riding on one answer.
“Give me two days,” he said. “But come back in lab coats.”
We spent the time to kill in a shady motel in Greenwich Village. Freakman went to places like Folk City and coffee houses, while we tried to do our homework in Washington Square Park. We met some cool people there, like this guy who could put his foot behind his head. He was doing it for money.
Freakman met us in the park and introduced us to this man who looked a lot like Freakman. Considering the turn of events so far, we weren’t actually surprised to hear that he was Freakman, only younger.
We came back to Bellevue in lab coats, completely prepared for everything to go back to normal. Some patient called me “Doc,” which actually felt pretty good. We entered the padded room, and he actually had finished it. God knows where he got the parts, but we didn’t have time for questions. I hugged and kissed Judas goodbye, and he told me to remember him.
We raced back to the Greyhound station, and hopped the bus back to South Trenton. We snuck into the high school and carried Windy down the stairs in the chair.
Back in the slop closet, I asked, “Freakman. Do you want to do the honors?”
Freakman thought for a second. “You know, kids, I’ve made a lot of good decisions in my time. Never have I been presented with an opportunity so ripe like this one. I’m not goin’ back.”
Lucy said, “Okay, suit yourself. C’mon, Moon — ”
“No, wait,” I said. “Who’s going to be our mentor? Luke Skywalker never would have gotten anywhere without Obi-Wan Kenobi!”
“Remember what happened to him?” Freakman reminded me. “Look, kid, you’re never going to get anywhere in life if you hold onto the past. Move on. I’m just a janitor. The sixties hold so much opportunity for me to start over. And you can start over without me.” I started to cry.
He closed the door. Lucy turned on the time machine. The portal started to open. I reopened the door. “Wait, Freakman!” I yelled. “Don’t hug yourself! You’ll blow up all of space and time!”
“Okay,” he said sweetly, smiling. “I’ll try.”
The scene turned to white. I would now live the rest of my life worried that he might hug his younger self. As if I didn’t have enough anxiety.
– The End –
Well written. Thanks for sharing this with me