Edit 9/23: Results are in, this story tied for second place.
Anyway, on Friday we were given three words (Auroras, Habitual, Cherished - any form of the words) and the above picture to include in our stories. We then had 60 hours to write a 2000 word or less story...mine came in at 1,999. Here's My story:
"Ben, I need you to drive me to Aurora," Frankie said, not realizing he was about to ruin both our lives with his request that fated day off from school.
"Hmm?" I'd been in the middle of pouring imitation maple syrup onto a stack of microwave pancakes. No one else was home, and I'd failed home ec. "I thought we were going to go see a horror movie tonight."
He attacked his own pancakes with a knife. "I don't mean tonight, I mean today. Now."
"I don't know..." Aurora was way up in Maine, and even worse you had to drive through Alfred with its ridiculous 25 mile in hour speed limit. My dad had fumed about that when we brought Julianne up to the U-Maine campus in Gorham. "It's awfully far."
"Aww, come on, Ben. I wouldn't ask if it wasn't important. It's not like I can drive myself," he pointed out. That was true, he was only fourteen.
"What the heck do you need all the way up there?" I asked, still not really considering whether or not I was actually going to make the trek. Frankie was a good friend, but we were talking about a trip of three and a half hours. Each way. I wouldn't admit it to him, but the thought of a long drive made me nervous because I'd only had my license nine months.
He wouldn't look at me, which was a bad sign. "I promised my grandpa Osgood that I'd get something for him there."
"Why would he ask you to do that? He ought to know you can't drive, so you'd have to rope someone else into it."
"Please?" Frankie was beginning to look a little desperate, and that worried me. Almost as if reading my mind, he said, "It's nothing illegal, but no one else is home today."
"Well great. I'm flattered that you asked because I'm home."
"Do you have anything better planned for the day?"
Not really. I was just glad to be out of school. The only reason I was talking to Frankie at nine in the morning was because he'd slept over the night before.
Against my better judgment, I found myself agreeing to the drive. "Maybe I should run it by my mom-"
"Don't. What's that saying, it's better to ask forgiveness than permission? She might say no."
That should have made me more cautious, but it didn't. Next thing I knew, we were piling into the 2000 Camry that was nominally my sister's, but really mine to use for the year because freshmen weren't supposed to have cars on campus.
"This thing really doesn't have a cd player?" Frankie asked, peering at the dashboard.
"Really. The radio's good, though." If it had really been my car, I'd of saved up for one.
A familiar voice began to coo as soon as he turned the radio on. "Give me faith. Give me joy, my boy, I will always-"
Frankie flicked the dial, and muttered, "Great, soccer Mom music." Over the next thirty seconds I heard parts of a dozen different songs, like an annoying game of Name That Tune. Eventually he stopped on something he didn't hate. "That's more like it." Frankie sang along with the guy rapping, "Late night sex, so wet, you're so tight..."
I cringed, imagining what Julianne would say if she heard those words coming out of the speakers of her car. She was majoring in Women's studies, and had lost her sense of humor.
The drive didn't seem to take as long as I thought it would, and I gradually came to realize that Frankie's habitual stream of talk was doing what he wanted: keeping me from asking what the hell we were doing. Eventually we stopped for gas (I made him pay) and there was a break in his chatter long enough for me to ask, "What exactly are we going to do in Aurora?"
"Uh, I told you, we need to get something," he said evasively.
"Yeah, I got that. What sort of something? And where?"
"It's in an impound lot."
"An impound lot?" I asked, growing alarmed. I'd seen movies that had junkyards in them, and they always seem to contain dogs with a taste for human flesh.
"Don't worry, Ben. My grandfather owns the lot. We won't get in any trouble."
"Is there a dog?" I asked, picturing one with teeth bared.
"Nah, he doesn't keep a dog."
"If this is his business, I don't see why he can't go and get whatever it is himself."
"He's not there right now."
"Oh yeah, where is he then?" I asked, feeling clever. What I didn't expect was what Frankie said next.
"Do you believe in time travel?"
I figured he was just changing the subject. I supposed that it didn't matter where his grandfather was, since we were almost to Aurora by that point anyway. "No, not really. I've read some stuff about how it's not really possible because of time paradoxes."
"But if it was real, when do you think you'd want to go in time?"
The idea of seeing myself in the future came to mind. Being forty, maybe, and seeing if my wife was hot, how many kids I had, and if Julianne ever became bearable to hang out with again. "A couple decades into the future, see how my life is turning out."
"There isn't a time in the past you'd like to revisit?"
"I don't know, maybe. There are a couple of Christmases when I was a kid that I wouldn't mind experiencing again. Why do you ask?" Even though I mostly had my eyes on the road, I could see his expression change. That desperation that had been on his face when he'd practically begged me to bring him up to Maine was back. "Are you all right, Man?"
"He's in 1956." Frankie said so quietly he was hard to hear.
"Whatever," I grumbled. "If you don't want to tell me what this secret mission is about, fine. But don't screw with me."
"I mean it," he insisted with an alarming intensity.
"When we get there, you'll see."
"What, are you going to show me his time machine?" I asked, starting to laugh. I stopped when I realized that I had accidentally hit on the right answer. "Oh God, don't tell me we've driven all this way so you can show me a fucking time machine."
For the longest time Frankie didn't say anything. Not for miles and miles. I thought about turning around the moment I realized that he had the crazy idea that his grandfather was able to time travel, but by that point Aurora was only ten or fifteen miles away.
Since Frankie wasn't talking, and I'm too prone to day dreaming – at least according to my dad, since he tells me to pay more attention every time we're in the car together – I let myself imagine what it'd be like if Frankie's grandfather really was in 1956 right then. I sort of knew what people dressed like back then, so I imagined him putting on a suit and stealing a hat from a hipster before getting into his fabulous machine. You know, so he'd blend in. I figured that all the women would look like Donna Reed, and everyone would whistle as they walked. The kids would be well scrubbed and wholesome, and you could pick out the bad guys by their slicked back hair and black leather jackets-
"There, up ahead." Frankie's voice sounded raspy, and I wished I'd bought a soda when we'd stopped for gas. His index finger pointed at a sign that said "Osgood's Salvage."
I pulled in, and there wasn't anyone around. "Where do we park?"
"Over by the office." So I did, and we were the only car there.
"So now what?" I asked, climbing out of the car. Peering into the yard, I realized that my sister's car looked a little out of place here. Most every other vehicle in the lot had been made before my parents were my age.
"We're looking for a car."
I followed him into the yard. "What sort of car? There are dozens here."
"It's the only one of its kind, he promised. It's a Hudson Hornet."
"A what?" I knew a fair amount about cars, but I'd never heard of that one before.
"A Hornet. They made 'em for a while during the fifties."
"Naturally. You said he hopped back to 1956, so that makes sense. Does he need a Dodge Charger to get to the late 60s?" I asked, thinking of old reruns I'd watched with my sister when we were little.
Frankie shook his head. "It doesn't work that way."
"Then how does it work?" I asked, trying to keep up with him as he walked by car after car. I had no idea what a Hornet looked like, so I was just looking for cars that might look like the old Chevy my aunt restored. Somehow, though, I didn't think it would be powder blue. Hornet sounded more like earth tones to me.
"Hey, there it is." Frankie said, point to a car a few hundred yards away. It stood next to an old VW microbus with yawning doors.
I grabbed his arm before he ran off. "If the car's here, and if it's his time machine, he can't be back in the 50s, can he?" I asked, hoping that he was going to laugh and tell me that the time machine thing had all been a big joke, and we were just supposed to take something out of the office here.
He went still. "If it's here, then he's back."
"Frankie, what are we supposed to take out of this 'time machine' exactly?"
Instead of answering, he pulled a sheet of paper out of his pocket. "Him. He left me this letter, saying to let him out today, October 18th, 2010."
"Out of the car?"
"Out of the trunk. That's where you sit when you time travel."
Frankie held something up. "He left me this key and this letter before he left six months ago."
"Great…" In another second or two we were standing at the rear of an unremarkable old car whose paint was coming off. Osgood's machine didn't look special. It was no Delorean, that was for sure.
I watched silently as Frankie unlocked the trunk, but I was standing back a ways so I couldn't see in at first, which is why I was surprised when he moaned "Oh no" and collapsed to his knees.
"Frankie?" I looked over the top of his lowered head. The inside of the trunk contained a whole mess of electronics. And a desiccated corpse curled on its side. "Is that…" I didn't finish. Of course it was grandpa Osgood.
"He must have gotten stuck in there," Frankie said before dry heaving. "No safety release thingie in old trunks."
I realized then that Frankie thought the dead man had been locked in the car for six months. That didn't make sense, though, not from what I'd learned at the museum and from watching CSI. It took a lot longer than that to make a mummy.
"It didn't work, oh God, poor Grandpa…" Frankie rocked back and forth, holding his head.
Looking past the body, I noticed two things in the trunk. The first was a newspaper, looking brand new, that said it was from October 1st, 1956. The other was a series of numbers that I eventually realized made up a date. The date was October 18th, 2000. He'd misdialed.
I dragged Frankie back to my car, and called the cops. It took hours before we could go home.
Officially the cause of death was listed as an accident, the basic assumption being he'd been trapped in there for six months. Which was fine, if you didn't think too hard about that misdialed date.
"She's not the kind of girl who likes to tell the world about the way she feels about herself. She takes a little time in making up her mind." - Garbage, The Trick is To Keep Breathing