While working on their science project, Alex and Roger have accidentally opened a portal to 2017. Alex has convinced Roger to go into the future with him so that Alex can find out if Jennifer will say yes if he asks her to the homecoming dance.
1:15 p.m. on October 14th, 2017.
Stepping through the time portal makes Alex’s skin tingle briefly, and it takes a few moments for his eyes to adjust to the dimmer light on the other side, but otherwise it’s not much different than stepping through a doorway. He does a quick survey, remembering his Dungeons and Dragons strategy for entering unfamiliar rooms. This room is about ten feet square. The floor is made of cement, and the walls are dull aluminum. The wall behind the science project is a large roll-up door, like a garage door. The only illumination is the light spilling through the time portal from the rec room and thin lines of diffuse sunlight at the edges of the roll-up door. The science project, Playboy magazine, and padlock are the only objects in the room.
Roger steps through the portal. After ascertaining that Alex is not suffocating from some kind of toxic atmosphere, he releases his breath in a long exhale. “Where are we?”
“We must have put the time machine in storage after we got back to 1987.” Alex examines the future version of their device. It’s coated in a thin layer of pale dust, and the colors in the mural he painted on the base have faded, but it has suffered little deterioration otherwise. There is no visible power source… apparently once opened, the field really did become self-sustaining.
“Okay,” Roger says, “we need to be back here in ten hours to avoid getting trapped in the future. I’ll set an alarm for eight hours to be safe.” He pokes at the tiny buttons on his calculator watch. It may not be as stylish as Alex’s Swatch, but Alex has to admit that Roger’s is more practical.
Alex picks up the padlock and slip of paper. The padlock is the kind that requires a key – which is currently protruding from the lock. He unfolds the paper, revealing a single sentence: “Lock the door behind you!”
Roger looks over Alex’s shoulder. “Do you think one of us left that note?”
“I guess. I suppose we’d remember that we were coming here.”
“I wonder why we didn’t come to meet ourselves.”
“Maybe future us are too busy with our awesome lives.” Alex shoves the note into his pocket. “Well, we’re not going to get any answers standing around in an empty room. Let’s see what the future holds!”
Alex slides the door up, the metallic clank-clank-clank echoing through the small space. He steps out, blinking in the bright sunlight. Roger starts to follow, then goes back for the Playboy. Nice of their older selves to have left them a present. The girl on the cover looks like a pretty punk rocker, her hair cropped short and died pink, with tattoos scattered across her arms and even a small tattoo under one eye. It’s quite a different look from the feather-haired, gauzy ladies Roger has seen peeking out from the off-limits magazine rack at the drug store, but beauty standards change, he supposes. And besides, Roger doesn’t have the luxury of being picky when it comes to the rare opportunity to see a naked lady.
The storage unit is near the center of a paved driveway running between two long, low buildings containing a series of identical roll-up doors. Alex squints up at the clear, blue sky. The sun is high. “It’s daytime here.”
Roger has his face buried in the Playboy. “The wormhole didn’t transport us thirty years into the future to the exact minute. That would’ve been weird.”
“Yeah. That would’ve been weird.” Alex rolls his eyes.
“What’s weird is none of these women have any bush at all.”
Alex attention is drawn by a faint shout to his left. A high chain-link fence surrounds the storage facility. At the end of the drive, about two hundred feet away, a skinny bald man is trying to get into a locked gate. The bald man waves frantically, calls out: “Hey! Let me in.”
But before Alex can respond, a heavyset man with a bushy beard emerges from the bushes behind the bald man and shoots him with some kind of silent gun. The bald man twitches, jerks, and falls to the ground.
The bearded man drags the bald man into the bushes.
Alex nudges Roger. “Did you see...?”
But Roger is busy flipping through the Playboy. “Maybe radiation made their hair fall out. But what kind of radiation only affects pubic hair? I don’t want to lose my pubic hair.”
Alex decides against telling Roger about the two men. Roger has a bit of a nervous personality and would probably interpret the scenario as indicating they’d entered some kind of violent dystopia. Then he might not want to help Alex find out what happened with Jennifer and homecoming. Besides, there’s probably some perfectly harmless explanation. Still, Alex wishes they’d thought to bring some kind of weapons.
The men haven’t returned, so Alex slides the storage unit door closed. He clicks the padlock through the handle and hands the key to Roger. “Put this in the backpack.”
“Uh huh.” Roger complies without looking away from the centerfold.
Alex pulls Roger to the right, away from the gate and the two men somewhere in the brush. “And put the Playboy in there, too. We should stay alert until we find out what the future is like.” Roger complies again, though a little more reluctantly.
In order to get out of the storage facility, Alex and Roger have to go through a small lobby building. They easily slip past the dozing attendant and emerge on the sidewalk of a sleepy industrial block.
A bicyclist zooms by, clad in Spandex and a teardrop shaped helmet like the Tour de France racers Alex has seen on television. His legs and arms are bare, glistening with sweat.
Alex pulls off his safety goggles. “The locals aren’t dressed for acid rain. I guess we don’t need these.”
“I don’t know,” Roger says. “They’re all wearing helmets.” He points across the street to where two kids riding scooters are also wearing helmets.
“Maybe it’s because things fall off the flying cars,” Alex suggests.
They both look up.
“I don’t see any flying cars,” Roger says.
A car turns on to the street and glides past the boys. It’s streamlined like an aircraft, the bumpers flowing into the body in a smooth line, but it’s riding on four tires just like every other car Alex has ever seen. He squints toward the end of the block, toward the major street from which the car turned. Other cars pass – all riding on four wheels. “Seriously? No flying cars?” Alex scowls. “The future is a gyp.”
A middle-aged woman emerges from a nearby building and strides toward them, talking loudly. But her words don’t make sense. “I told you, you should have unfriended him,” she says. “And block him on Twitter.”
“Excuse me?” Alex asks.
“Otherwise, he’s just going to troll you,” the woman continues, staring past him. Alex looks over his shoulder, but there’s nobody back there, and certainly no trolls. He notices the woman has some kind of hearing aid in one ear, with a thin wire running down into her pocket.
“Are you talking to me?” Alex asks, louder.
Finally the woman meets his eyes, but only to give him a dirty look. “Delete every photo you’ve tagged him in.”
Alex doesn’t know what to make of that. The woman brushes by him, continuing up the street and around the corner.
“She sounded mentally ill,” Roger says.
Alex nods. “Must not have worn her helmet.”
“Maybe people’s skulls are thinner in the future.”
“Yeah, ‘cuz of the reduced ozone layer or something. Okay, I need to find Jennifer’s address. I need a phone book. Do you see a pay phone?” He and Roger scan the block.
“Maybe that place will have one,” Roger suggests, pointing at a store across the street. The sign reads “Good Buds” and features a large green cross. Maybe some kind of veterinarian or thrift store, Alex thinks.
* * *
A little bell tinkles as they enter. The air has a faint dank scent, and a funky rap song plays softly over unseen speakers. A neatly dressed clerk with long hair pulled into an odd bun on the top of his head looks up from his stool behind the display case. And then something growls, low and close, to Alex’s right–
And a zombie with half a face lunges at him!
Alex screams, his hands fluttering up by his cheeks – but the zombie suddenly vanishes, only to be replaced by a Chinese guy swinging a shovel. The shovel takes off the zombie’s head.
Alex sighs. It’s just a movie.
A movie being projected on a flat screen on the wall. Except, Alex realizes, it’s not being projected. The screen is some kind of super-thin television with lifelike resolution.
“Is that a TV?” Alex whispers. He brushes the screen with his fingertips. “It’s so clear.”
The zombie show goes to a black-and-white lingerie commercial. Skinny, long-legged women in tiny lace underwear strut in various outdoor locations.
“TV’s gotten better in the future,” Roger observes.
“Hey man, I think maybe you guys have had enough already,” the clerk calls out.
Alex pulls himself away from the amazing, futuristic television and gives the clerk a winning smile. “Hi. Do you know where we could find a pay phone?”
“A museum maybe?”
Alex isn’t quite sure what to make of that answer. “Well, could we use your phone book?”
The clerk squints at Alex. “You mean like a paper phone book?”
“Yes. A phone book. With names and addresses and numbers in it.”
“Dude, I don’t think they even make phone books anymore.”
“So how do you look up someone’s address?”
“Why don’t you just go online?”
“Online. On the Internet.”
Apparently looking up an address is much more difficult in the future. “How do I get to the Internet?”
“Most people use their phone.”
Alex is starting to get exasperated. “Are you high or something?”
“Uh, look where I work.”
The boys look around. The store is clean, walls painted a pale purple with no decoration. Pillars display large jars filled with some kind of dried plant material. “What is this place?” Roger asks.
“A dispensary,” the Clerk replies.
“What do you dispense?”
“Edibles, loose, tinctures – everything.”
Alex has been studying the contents of the display case. It contains various kinds of snacks – cookies, brownies, lollipops. And many are labeled with a familiar seven-pronged leaf symbol. “This is pot! Pot is legal now?”
“Depends,” the clerk says. “Show me your I.D.”
Alex fishes his drivers’ license out of his wallet, wondering what else might be legal in the future.
“Date of birth 1969?” the clerk asks, and suddenly Alex realizes maybe he shouldn’t have been so quick to present his license. “Little tip, boys: If you’re going to make fake I.D.’s, don’t make yourself in your forties.”
“Oh yeah, duh,” Alex says, trying for the winning smile again. “We’re such spazzes. Sorry about that....”
He reaches for his license but the clerk snatches it away. “Willie!” the clerk shouts.
And seemingly out of nowhere, a giant man in a security guard uniform is right behind Alex and Roger. He clamps one hand painfully onto each of their shoulders. “Come with me, boys.”
Go to Chapter 7