Free-Range Fiction: Collaborative Storytelling, Part II SPOILED BACON

I’ve been really pushing myself to do these exercise the Herr Wendig set out for us. It’s been helpful in getting the juices going and practicing character development, continuity, and plot arc. Those active in this challenge are trying hard to make sure everyone got a Part II to their start. Here’s my attempt to help WombatTony with their piece SPOILED BACON. Below in italics is the first part, and in regular text begins my section. Each part is just 1,000 words, so you can see it takes some time to get all the story elements in there. Enjoy. Comment. Thanks.

100_0870Cyrus silently cursed IKEA as the Allen wrench twisted through his fingers and fell to the ground again. Not that this creation was made of flimsy Swedish wood. This was the result of years of research, experimentation, and trial. But every time that damned L-shaped hex key spun too fast or too slow for the screw, he found himself using the furniture store’s name in vain.

“Straightedge and Phillips did fucking fine before those Aryan SOBs showed up in every neighborhood,” he exclaimed before wetting his raw fingers in his mouth.

 Three more rightie-tighties, accompanied by one more tiny-tool projectile, and he stepped back to look at his masterpiece.

The time machine. His time machine.

It didn’t look too impressive in the dingy motel room off of Interstate 64. No light came in through the thick curtains drawn over the window that they had probably hung in front of since 1950. The faint illumination came from an incandescent light bulb that might as well have still had Thomas Edison’s initials on it, peeking out from underneath a lamp shade made from that same curtain cloth.

But he had to be here in the 21st century. Because what Cyrus had created was a time machine, not a time and space machine, a fact which had become all too clear on his test run. He went back a week. What could go wrong? Until he missed materializing inside a late-model Buick by a manner of inches.

So it was back to the drawing board. Kept most of the time elements intact, but allowing for objects which might exist in that spot in the past. Cyrus didn’t expect to find any Buicks in 1676, but who knew how the riverbank had grown or moved over the last three-and-a-half centuries.

Regardless, Cyrus needed to be here in Virginia when he went back, because it would be a hell of a lot harder to get to Jamestown back then. No Interstates, no satellites to guide the GPS on his phone. To say nothing of the Native Americans. Or Indians, as he was going to have to get used to calling them.

As he left the dingy motel in the direction of the Historic Jamestown Settlement, his thought shifted from the where of his destination to the when. Seven years after Cyrus, the naïve college senior, proclaimed the election of Barack Obama signaled a new age in race relations, little had changed. They might have gotten worse. Trayvon Martin. Michael Brown. And on a more personal note to Cyrus, the constant skeptical glances, the “Affirmative Action” quips,  at a smart, college-educated black man.

Racism was embedded in America. The only way to change that was to go back to the source. His first thought had been stopping Lincoln’s assassination, but that might be too late. Would an extra three years of “be nice to the south” Reconstruction have made that much of a difference? Segregation and an intrinsic belief of inferiority of the former slaves would still reign.

So maybe he could go all the way to the beginning. Literally. The first black slave coming to America, right here in Jamestown, one year before the Pilgrims even arrived. But what good could he do then? Kill a few slave traders. Then what? The slaves he freed wouldn’t even survive the conditions, probably. And a few months later, the next ship would arrive.

So not too early in race relations, and not too late, he finally decided to split the difference and arrived like a racial Goldilocks and the just-right spot, precisely one hundred years before the hypocritical Declaration of Independence. Bacon’s Rebellion, the great schism between white indentured servants and black slaves. If those two groups could be kept together with common goals, the permanent racial divide might never emerge.

Standing over the back channel of the James River, Cyrus took one last breath of 21st century air and flipped the switch. The machine whirred and whooshed as it attempted to pierce the ether of time, like a 1994 modem making the painstaking connection to AOL. Cyrus wondered about what sight would greet him on the other side, in order to avoid focusing on the vertigo about to hit. Traveling across one week had been bad enough. How nauseating would three hundred years feel?

Then it came, much worse than before, and he no longer cared about what he would see. Only that he would survive.

As Cyrus fought to keep his breakfast and every other meal he had ever eaten down, another stray thought ran across his mind. A suppressed query. When he revamped the space element on the machine, had he re-checked the time component? Before the test run, he had configured and reconfigured every step with time as the only variable. He had triple-checked his math, dotted every imaginary i, crossed every theoretical t.

Had he done that this time? Had he rechecked the time components after fixing the spatial variable? As the world started to shift, as his body began to stretch and condense through time, his mind kept returning to the vague iron-left-on-at-home feeling that something had been overlooked.

Then the constriction of his abdomen stopped all tangential thoughts.

“Definitely gonna hurl.”

Cyrus lurched out of the time vortex onto all fours as heat spewed from his bowels onto the hard forest soil. Twice. A third time before he could even inhale. Stomach still convulsing, he focused on the hard-packed dirt still wobbling under spittle hanging from his mouth like taffy.  The world, reality itself, transitioned from a shake to a swoon as sobriety and sanity fought for control. 

After what could have been a minute or could have been a week – what is time, really? – Cyrus pulled his right hand off the ground to wipe his mouth. Then his forehead. He slowly raised his eyes off the vomit-splattered dirt to take in his surroundings.

“Shit,” he muttered. 

This was not 1676 Virginia.

 91818-004-CB4352C3Part II

No, it wasn’t Virginia. It wasn’t Kansas either. He didn’t even think he was on Planet Earth. He pulled the vital goggles away from his head and let them rest on his forehead. He blinked hard, there was dust in his eyes, his nose, his mouth. Slowly he was able to parse out that he was on something of a wide trail – not quite a road. The confusion in his brain was leaving, and more and more of his situation came into focus. He pushed himself up and stood upright. On either side of the road was a wide expanse of land that went seemingly on and on. He saw no trees, no animals, no buildings, and certainly no people. Also, when he’d left Virginia it was barely into Spring. Where he was now, the sun beat down hot, hard, and dangerous. Water. He needed water, especially after being sick. With this heat he would become dehydrated fast. There would be no spoiling Bacon’s Rebellion or any race relation correcting. He’d be dead. He decided to just head down this trail and see where it ended. He took the machine’s pack off his back. All the settings looked right. But, this land was not his beloved Virginia. Cyrus disconnected the vital lines from his eyes, ears, and mouth. He put everything neatly in stow in the pack and placed it back on his back. It just looked like he was a college student from 2015. In the middle of where, though?

He still felt a little woozy, every now and then his steps felt unsure, like he’d drank too much wine. Drink. Water. Need to keep moving. Time travel was not for sissies. None of what he was attempting was for sissies. As he walked, searching for water, he wondered where he had gone wrong. What hadn’t he accounted for, anticipated? It was that stupid Allen wrench’d gear, likely.

“Fucking Ikea.”

He reached a slight uphill part of the path and saw a few trees in the distance. He knew those kind of trees:  Umbrella Thorn. There was only one place where he could be:  Africa.

Damn. Still got the ‘space’ part of travelling time and space wrong.  

Cyrus’ thoughts raced, as did his heart. He concentrated on his breathing. Keep a cool head. Now to figure out what year it was. But first, water. He looked up in the sky to try to figure out what time it was. How long before dark, before he became prey to some of the Earth’s best predators? He hoped a few hours, because that tree in the distance needed water. There had to be water near that tree. Cyrus picked up his pace. His breathing became more rapid as his emotions churned. He slapped the side of his head. Stupid. No provisions. And no one knew what he was doing. He might get taken down by a pack of hyenas at this point and all of this would have been for naught.  

He could see a small tributary. It moved. It moved, which way? He looked up at the sun. He imagined it was moving West.  That meant it must be connected to another body of water.  Or headed that way. Africa. West. The Atlantic.

Cyrus knelt down at the edge of the stream. The stream was tepid, but it was still cooler than the air or that blasting sun. Although the tributary was small, it was wider than the path he’d just come from, but too narrow for Cyrus to think it a proper river. He washed the dirt from his hands. That dusty path was all over him now. He washed his face in the water. It was dangerous, maybe, to drink this water, Cyrus surmised; but, he had to stay hydrated. He could go without food. But he had to drink and get his fill. So, he did. It cooled not only his skin, his insides, but also his thoughts. He could do this. He had a mission. He would complete it.

A low growl came from behind Cyrus. He didn’t move quickly, but slowly turned his head enough that he could see what appeared to be some kind of dog behind him to the right. Next to his left hand was a rock, bigger than his fist, but still wieldable. Another growl as he moved his hand towards the rock, and then a bark. More barking and growling. Cyrus grasped the stone and in one swift movement, as if he was fielding a baseball and throwing it to first, whipped the stone at the dog. The stone caught the animal in the mid section and the dog ran off away from Cyrus. Cyrus stood up, and began heading downstream. In moments he noticed his footsteps had an echo. He spun around, only to be descended upon by two men. White men. British men.

“Get him!” the taller of the two yelled as his hands reached Cyrus’ shoulders and tackled him.

“Wait, wait! No!” Cyrus cried. The two men were both loaded down with ropes, knives, and pistols. Neither man was shaven, sporting days old beards. They were filthy. After his quick stream bath, Cyrus looked a thousand times cleaner. He was likely more educated, too.

“He speaks English!” the shorter man gasped.

“Doesn’t matter,” the taller one said as he bound Cyrus’ hands behind him. “That’s the ship load. Time to make preparations to get underway.” He roughly stood Cyrus up on his feet by his bound hands. The shorter one took hold of Cyrus as the taller one bound his mouth.

“Can’t have him yapping away,” he said.

“The doc may decide this one’s his anyway. He likes ‘em smarter,” the taller man shoved Cyrus forward, downstream.

Cyrus was glad they were headed downstream, that meant he’d been right in his calculations. Now it was time to calculate his escape.