Category: Weird Science

The Lost Secret of Time Travel

It was an ordinary Thursday when Emily discovered the secret of time travel. She had been sitting by a window, watching the rain, when she noticed a red umbrella moving along the sidewalk below. In a moment, she was transported into a memory.

The umbrella was the same color as the red geraniums that her grandmother grew in pots along her window sill. Emily remembered sitting backwards on the living room couch to watch the rain out the window, with the red geraniums on the windowsill below, just at the edge of her vision. The memory was sharp and powerful, but seeing it in her mind was not the same as time travel.

And yet, Emily could remember her grandmother’s house as though she was there. Mentally, she could walk the rooms as they were, even though it had been at least a decade since her grandmother’s death. The rooms were not the same now. The house was not the same.

However, Emily could remember just how her grandmother’s house smelled. It didn’t take much thought to remember the taste of the raspberries in the bushes that were once behind the house and were no longer there. In her memories, everything was still just as it once was.

Emily sat up in her chair, confused. Surely she couldn’t remember something so completely and well if it no longer existed at all. Something so solid and real that she could close her eyes and it was there, as real as anything she could see with her eyes open, was surely something greater than any other more ephemeral thought.

If it existed in the past, and she could visit it in her memory, surely memories held the key to time travel. But how could you physically visit a memory? If you remembered it perfectly would you somehow be able to step inside the memory?

If you remembered the memory perfectly enough to feel like it was real, would it matter if you were physically there again or not? Emily frowned and drew a geranium on the budget proposal she was working on. Then she erased it.

If you were really, physically there in the memory, would you be replacing your younger self? If you changed something, would you be stuck there? What would happen to the future, if it was already there, the same as the past? Would it change too?

And what about other times? Once you learned the trick of traveling through time, assuming you didn’t get stuck, could you travel there too? Could you learn enough about a historical time to create a memory to visit?

Emily filled out the budget proposal. When it was time to present it, She stood at the front of the conference room, and the room began to shake. Everyone dove under the tables. There were cracking and creaking sounds from all sides. Somebody screamed.

Without any conscious effort, Emily suddenly recalled sitting at her breakfast table that morning. She was sitting at the table in her pajamas, eating oatmeal with a little milk and raspberry jam. Eyes wide open, Emily recalled every detail of that moment.

She could no longer hear the creaking or screaming. She could no longer see the conference room. She was there, in that moment, eating the last bite of oatmeal.

Strangely enough, when she got up to rinse her bowl, she was still there, sitting in her chair. She watched herself walk away to get ready for the day without looking back. Uncertain of what to do, Emily hid in the guest room until she heard the front door close.

It didn’t take much research to discover that it really was six hours earlier. She’d gone back in time. Or she was in a coma somewhere. She pinched her arm. It hurt.

She got dressed, picked up an old purse and gathered all the change from the jar. Then she went to the corner store. Everyone could see her. She could see and pick up things that she hadn’t seen in her memory.

Grabbing a few apples, she headed to the check out. On her way, there was a display of odds and ends. She picked up a red umbrella.

Hours later, she walked along the sidewalk, protected from the rain by that red umbrella. She knew that this was the time she’d looked out the window, but there were no other red umbrellas to be seen. She entered a cafe further along the street and watched for another half hour.

There were no other red umbrellas. Had she seen herself? Was that proof of her time travel? What would happen if she tried to change something else? What would happen if she traveled back even further? She looked at the red umbrella, folded closed like a flower bud, and thought of red geraniums.

Emily disappeared that day, in the middle of the terrible earthquake that leveled the office building where she worked. Authorities assumed she died during the collapse or during the fire that swept the area soon after. The secret of time travel was lost to the world yet again.

But Emily still knew it, whenever she was.

Future Not-Telling

When Dylan looked into the mirror as he brushed his teeth, it wasn’t his face looking back at him. Stumbling backwards, he reached for the doorknob and took a deep breath preparing to yell for help.

“Stop. I won’t hurt you. I’m you from the future.”

Dylan stopped and looked at the mirror. “You aren’t me. You’re old.”

The man in the mirror winced. “Ouch. I was a mean little kid. I’m not old.”

Shrugging, Dylan opened the medicine cabinet, swinging the mirror towards the wall. He tapped around the back looking for a power supply or some kind of electronics.

“Don’t you want to hear about the future?” The voice called out from the other side of the cabinet door.

Dylan closed the door again and faced the man in the mirror. “Like what?”

“Before we begin, I do want to point out that I’m not old.”

“You have a beard.”

The man rubbed at his beard and frowned. “Beards are cool in the future, you know.”

“It doesn’t look cool. It looks old.” Dylan was pretty sure after all that this was not him from the future. He wouldn’t ever have a beard, even if other people said it was cool. He opened the cabinet again to figure out how the trick was done. He knocked on the back of the mirror.

“Dylan, Dylan, Dylan,” the voice said. “Stop that. I can prove I’m you. I’ll tell you something no one else knows.”

Dylan swung the mirror back partway, still holding onto the edge of the door. “Like what?”

“Um. I don’t know. Oh, wait. You dream all the time that you can fly. You have nightmares about carnivorous flowers. You cheat when you play solitaire.”

“Whatever.” Dylan crossed his arms. “What do you want, anyways? It’s not like I’ll really become you anyways. Not now that I’ve seen how stupid I look with a beard.”

The man in the mirror stroked his beard again. “I told you, it’s cool. Wait and see.”

“So, why are you here? Do you need to warn me about something?”

“Hmmmm.” Old Dylan thought for a moment.

Dylan rolled his eyes. “Did you forget why you came here? Told you you’re old.”

Old Dylan pointed at him through the mirror. “That’s it. I’m not telling you anything. You get to suffer.”

“I thought I was you.”

“So?”

“So you’ll suffer too.”

Old Dylan smiled. “Yeah, but I’ve already lived through it.”

“But maybe you could tell me some stocks to invest in or something and we’d both be rich.”

“You’d just waste all the money before I could spend it,” Old Dylan said.

“That’s what you think.”

“I’m you too, so you think it too. Hah!” Old Dylan crossed his arms across his chest.

Dylan swung the cabinet door open and knocked on the back of the mirror.

“Knock it off, that’s annoying and loud.”

“You’re old, old, old, old, old old, old.”

“That’s it, I’m leaving.”

Dylan knocked on the back of the mirror a few more times. When he didn’t hear anything, he swung the mirror back in place. Old Dylan was gone.

Years in the future, when beards were actually cool, Dylan didn’t grow a beard. But he was interested in time travel. He studied it extensively, with the firm belief it would someday be possible. When he joined a team inventing a way to visit the past through mirrors, Dylan volunteered to be the first test subject.

He convinced them to allow him to check in on his younger self so that they could see the effects of visiting a past self firsthand. After a bit of reflection, he decided to grow a beard just for the occasion. He thought it would be best to complete the loop. Plus it would be funny.

“You can’t tell your younger self anything about the future, you know,” the lead researcher reminded him. “You signed an ethics agreement.”

“Don’t worry,” Dylan said. “I won’t tell me anything.”

Flashback Friday: Another New Invention

This story was first posted on June 20, 2017. I wrote three stories about Charles and Esther. This is the second one. I like all three, but this one is my favorite.

Charles grinned as he strode out of his laboratory. “Esther, I’ve done it again,” he said.

Esther looked up from her book. “Another new invention, Charles?” she asked.   “What does this one do?”

“This one is the best one yet. The world will never be the same,” Charles said. “Follow me as I reveal the answer to one of life’s greatest mysteries.”

Esther followed Charles out to the yard. It was evening and the hens had already gone to their coop to roost.   Charles opened the door with a flourish. The hens scolded him sleepily.

Charles pulled something out of his pocket. It looked like a flat microphone, or maybe a metal lollipop.   He held it in front of his mouth.   “Ok, ladies, I have a question,” he said.

The hens perked up and looked at him. It was disconcerting to see their silent unwavering attention. Charles smiled. “What is the most common flavor to you? What does everything taste like?”

He held out the microphone. Flappy, the most bossy of the chickens, leaned forward. “Corn. Everything tastes like corn,” she said.

Esther looked at Charles. “That’s amazing. A chicken translator. Ask it why it crossed the road.”

Charles frowned. “It’s a universal translator, and our chickens have never even seen the road.   Why would I ask them that?”

Esther laughed. “It’s a classic question. Just ask.”

“Fine.” Charles held up the translator.   “Why did you cross the road?”

He held out the translator and Flappy leaned forward again. “What’s a road?” she asked.

“Never mind,” Charles said. He looked at Esther. “See?”

Esther sighed. “How disappointing. I was sure they’d say to get to the other side. So, why were you asking about flavors?”

“I’m trying to discover the foundational taste. Everyone says everything tastes like chicken, but now we know that to chickens everything tastes like corn. What’s the next step?” Charles turned and strode away. Esther hurried to catch up.

Charles hurried to the kitchen and began opening and closing cupboards.   “What are you looking for?” Esther asked.

“Where do you keep the corn?” he asked.

“In the freezer,” Esther said.

Charles rummaged through the freezer and found a plastic bag filled with corn. “Aha!” he said. He held up his translator.

“They can’t talk to you,” Esther said.

“Why not?” Charles asked.

“They’re dead,” Esther said.

Charles dropped the bag of corn. He backed up looking horrified. “Do you mean to tell me that you’ve been feeding me dead things all this time?” he asked.

“You don’t really want to eat things that are still alive do you?” Esther asked.

“Good point,” Charles said. “You have the soul of a philosopher, Esther.” He picked up the corn, gave it a pat, and returned it to the freezer.   “So, where will I find living corn?”

“In a garden or field, I imagine,” she said.

“Esther, we’re going on a drive,” Charles said.

They drove around and finally found a field of corn just outside city limits.   It was nearly dark out. Esther sighed and followed Charles to the field.   “Charles, the corn will still be quite small,” she said. “Even if corn can talk, which I doubt, this corn may be too young.”

“Nonsense,” Charles said. “Help me look for an intelligent looking ear of corn.”

Esther pointed to a small ear nearby. “This one looks good,” she said.

Charles rushed over and held up the translator. “What is the most common flavor to you? What does everything taste like?” he asked.

After a moment, a small high-pitched voice replied, “What does taste mean?”

Charles smiled and put the translator back in his pocket. “There you have it, Esther. Corn is the foundational taste. I’d always wondered.” He started walking to the car. “I wonder what I should invent next.”

Flashback Friday: Mad Plans

This story was originally posted on May 12, 2017. I wrote several stories with these characters, but this was the first. I like writing mad scientist stories.

Bert was a proud mad scientist. He even managed to find a minion. Well, a paid employee anyway.   His employee, John, was a graduate student who hadn’t been able to find any other internship offers. He wasn’t a hunchback, but he was a lot taller than Bert and had to stoop over to avoid smashing his face into low-hanging light fixtures. It was close enough.

One day Bert was still cooking his lunch when John came in from his lunch break. John shook the rain off his umbrella and left it in the bucket by the door. Bert decided not to tell him it was a trashcan.   The banana peels at the bottom wouldn’t really harm the umbrella after all.

“Why does it always rain just around your house?”   John asked.

“It doesn’t always rain. Just at meal times,” Bert said.

“Do you have some sort of weather machine?”   John asked.

“Of course I do, how else would the storms be so regular?   What did they teach you at that school you went to?”

John slapped his hands on the kitchen table and leaned forward. “Really?   Did you really invent a weather machine?”

“I just told you I did.”

John leaned back and bounced a little on his heels.   “That’s amazing! You could take over the world!”

Bert snorted. “That’s ridiculous.”

“No it’s not. You could threaten countries with droughts or floods or the next ice age. You could take over everything,” John said.   “Isn’t that what mad scientists want?”

“You don’t know many mad scientists, do you?” Bert asked. He hummed and flipped the brussel sprouts.  Nearly done.

“Well, no. But I’ve seen some on TV,” John said.

“Mad scientists are generally scientists first and want more time to work on their favorite projects. Who wants to do paperwork or meet with politicians or deal with all those people and their uninteresting problems?” Bert said. “No thank you.”

John shifted from foot to foot. “Well, could I borrow it and take over the world?”

Bert sighed. “Sorry, it has a secret government patent. And I developed a wide range signal blocker to counter it for them too.   How do you think I had the money to pay for an intern?”

“Oh,” John said. He sat on one of the kitchen chairs with a thump. “That’s disappointing. So why do you need the storms?”

“I cook with lightning. Another good burst and my sprouts will be done.” Bert pulled a plate out of the cupboard. “It’s been a little slow today.”

“Why cook with lightning? Wouldn’t the stovetop be more precise?” John asked.

“There. Now you’re thinking like a scientist!” Bert said. “You would be correct. However, you are overlooking the benefits of this cooking method.”

“What benefits? Is it healthier?”

“Not that I know of,” Bert said. Just then, there was a bang and the house rattled. The cooker glowed and a bolt of light shot out and hit the brussel sprouts. One of them started shaking, and then sprouted little tendrils. It lifted itself on four of the tendrils and began to wobble around the stovetop.

“What is that?” John asked.

“The benefit,” Bert said. “Sometimes, the vegetables come to life.”

“So, are you building an army of living vegetables?” John asked.

Bert sighed. “What did I tell you about taking over the world?”

“You don’t want to?”

“I don’t want to,” Bert said. “Mostly they work outside in the garden. It makes them happy and gives me a steady supply of vegetables to eat.”

“Do they mind you eating them?” John asked.

“Not as long as they don’t see it.” Bert carefully scooped up the little sprout and took it out the back door.   He came back in a few minutes later and tipped the rest of the sprouts onto a plate. He opened a drawer and grabbed a fork. “I’m eating a late lunch, but your lunch break is over.   Back to the paperwork, John. It’s why I’m paying you.”

John trudged off the living room. “Why is there so much more paperwork on my desk?” he asked loudly.

“I got a lot of work done while I was waiting for the storm machine to heat up.   So, more work for you.” Bert cackled.

“That sounds more like a mad scientist from TV. Are you sure you don’t want to take over the world?”

“Oh, hush,” Bert said.

Grandpa Tells a Bug Story

Grandpa was babysitting while Mom and Dad went Christmas shopping. Carrie went too. Grandpa wouldn’t admit it, but he was probably slightly relieved. Carrie didn’t like being left with babysitters, not even Grandpa.

Jim was working on a report for school. “I have to write all about bugs. It’s kind of interesting.” He flipped through the pages. “They’re everywhere, you know. And they can do good and bad things, just like people.”

“Like what?” Neil closed the book he was reading.

Lynn snorted. “Everyone knows that insects can spread disease and eat crops or they can work as pollinators. Some insects eat other, more harmful insects.”

Grandpa nodded. “Yes, I remember when bugs were invented.”

“Insects weren’t invented.” Lynn rolled her eyes. “That implies that they’re machines, and they’re not.”

“Shhhhh.” Neil scowled. “It’s a grandpa story, and I want to hear the rest of it.”

Jim put down his pencil. “But who could have invented bugs? There are so many types.”

“That’s because they were invented by a committee. No one could agree on anything, and so they tried to do everything. But in their rush to be the first to complete the project, there were a lot of errors.” Grandpa shook his head. “That’s why people talk about errors as bugs sometimes. Some of those insects were so buggy it was terrible.”

“They shouldn’t have released them if they weren’t made right,” Neil said. Jim nodded.

“Yes, that was yet another mistake. The air holes on the holding tanks were much too big. So they all got away. The later committees that formed to fix the mistakes came up with crazier and crazier solutions, until they all finally gave up and let the bugs run wild.” Grandpa wiggled his fingers and waved his arms like bugs running away.

“What were some of the solutions?” Jim asked.

“Mosquitoes are really susceptible to viruses, you know.” Grandpa frowned. “I think it might be due to an error in their programming. They used to also have a terrible craving for cheese. They would raid cheese stores in giant swarms, carrying off wheels of brie and Camembert and cheddar. They would leave viruses in the cheeses they didn’t take, like feta, which is crumbly and hard to carry away.”

“So what did they do?”

“They left a trap for the mosquitoes. A gigantic pile of spoiled cheese. The mosquitoes all got food poisoning and haven’t eaten a bite of cheese since. Unfortunately, it made them angry. Now they bite people, and anything else that moves. I don’t know if they’ll ever stop being angry. It must be another error in their programming. Mosquitoes are just made of errors.” Grandpa sighed an shook his head sadly.

Neil laughed. “Tell us another one.”

“Spiders. They came up with spiders to catch flies. Some of the committee members thought it was working too slowly and developed poisonous spiders. I don’t need to tell you what a mistake that was.” Grandpa paused and the children shook their heads. “Exactly. Some of those spiders are worse than the flies. One of the committee members was particularly impatient and started swallowing the flies herself.”

“Spiders don’t swallow flies,” Lynn said. “They digest them first by…”

“But what happened to the lady that swallowed the flies?” Neil interrupted. “Did she die?”

Grandpa shrugged. “Not right away. She swallowed a spider to catch the flies…”

Jim laughed. “I heard this story. She kept swallowing bigger and bigger things, like cats and dogs and horses.”

Lynn rolled her eyes again. “Ignoring the impossibility of swallowing something as large as a cat, let alone a horse, once they were swallowed, they wouldn’t be alive anymore. She wouldn’t need to swallow anything else. The digestive juices in a person’s stomach…”

“So did she die?” Neil interrupted.

“Of course she did,” Jim said.

“It was a shame. If only she’d been a little less impatient,” Grandpa said sadly. “Insects aren’t all bad, you know. I really admire bees. They pollinate flowers, have a well-organized society, and produce honey. They are tiny little marvels of efficiency.”

“But they sting people.” Neil frowned. “That’s not very nice.”

“Bees only sting people to protect themselves and their homes,” Lynn said.

“Not like wasps. Those are the mean ones. They can just sting people for fun.” Jim turned to Grandpa. “Which came first, wasps or bees?”

Grandpa tapped his chin and thought for a moment. “Ah yes. They were in development at about the same time. The wasp team cut corners to finish first. It’s too bad. If the developers were more careful, maybe the wasps would have turned out better-behaved.”

Lynn sighed loudly. “You are all so silly. You do know that insects have been around for millions of years. Grandpa couldn’t have been around before insects were. That’s impossible.”

Neil shrugged. “No it’s not. Grandpa’s older than dirt. Dirt has to be older than insects, so Grandpa is too.”

Grandpa nodded. “That’s right. Did I ever tell you the story about how dirt was invented?”

Just then, they heard the front door open. Mom and Dad and baby Carrie were home. Grandpa stood up and picked up his jacket. “Oh well, maybe another time.”

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