Alex and Roger have ventured through the wormhole opened by their science project, but their initial exploration of 2017 hasn’t gone as planned. While looking for a phone book, they stumbled into a marijuana dispensary and were detained by store security for possessing fake licenses.
1:48 p.m. on October 14th, 2017.
Alex and Roger sit shoulder-to-shoulder despite the ample size of the stained and cracked brown leather couch. It’s the dead-eyed glare from the security guard that seems to crush them together. With the couch, a desk, a water cooler, a squat black safe, and the guard, the small back room of the dispensary feels cramped and oppressive.
“Don’t move,” the guard growls, and tromps through the door that leads to the main part of the shop. As soon as the door clicks closed, Alex bolts over to press his ear against it.
“What are you doing?” Roger hisses. “He said don’t move.”
There is a long pause as Alex strains to make out the security guard’s voice through the door. It’s a one-sided conversation. Apparently the guard is making a phone call. And even only hearing half of what’s said, Alex doesn’t like the gist of the discussion.
“What’s happening?” Roger asks.
“He’s calling the police.”
“The police?” Roger’s voice has gotten squeaky. “What are we going to tell them? They won’t believe we came from 1987. And if they throw us in jail, the wormhole will close and we’ll be trapped here forever!”
“Yeah. We need to get out of here.”
Roger scrambles to the back door. But it’s barred with a security bolt affixed with a padlock. “Who padlocks their doors?” Roger cries.
“Someone who needs to keep people locked up,” Alex says, clambering up onto the desk. There’s a single, small window high on the wall above the desk, possibly big enough for them to wriggle through. But unfortunately it’s blocked with security bars. Alex looks down at Roger and shakes his head.
Sweat is beading on Roger’s forehead. “What are we going to do?”
“Stay frosty,” Alex says… and then spots a police car pulling up at the curb outside. “Uh oh.”
“The cops are here.”
Roger hops from foot to foot. “Oh no. Oh no. We’re totally hosed!”
WHAM! – the boys jump as something strikes the rear door from the outside. The padlock rattles and bounces from the force of the blow. Roger scrambles back into the middle of the room.
WHAM! – Alex hops down from the desk as the door trembles. The boys back up against the interior door.
CRASH! – the exterior door jamb splinters – the bolt breaks free from the wood.
THUMP – the door is kicked open by–
The bald man from the storage facility. His chest heaves, his eyes bulge... and a fire axe dangles from his hand.
Somewhere nearby a little girl unleashes a scream pitched just below the range that only dogs can hear – and then Alex realizes it’s not a little girl at all, it’s Roger. And a moment later, Alex realizes he’s also screaming in that same pitch.
The bald man shouts over them: “Run, you idiots.”
Alex and Roger don’t need to be told twice. They spin around and pull at the handle of the interior door – which is, of course, locked.
“Not that way!” the bald men cries. “This way!” He stands aside, gesturing toward the back alley with the axe.
Roger and Alex look at each other. They don’t know what’s going on, but that open door is the only path that doesn’t lead immediately into big trouble.
They bolt through the door into a back alley – just as the security guard throws open the interior door. “Hey! Stop!” the guard yells.
Alex and Roger don’t stop. Alex ventures a look back over his shoulder and sees the bald man step into the guard’s path, giving Alex and Roger more time to escape. And then one of the police officers emerges holding the same kind of odd gun that Alex saw the bearded man use earlier. There’s a crackle, and the bald man falls to the ground, twitching and spitting, the axe clattering on the asphalt. Alex and Roger lunge out of the alley, around the corner.
By this time both boys are gasping for breath, but they don’t stop. They run down the block, around another corner – the sidewalk here is more crowded with pedestrians. Alex has begun to see spots, and a sharp pain pulses in the lower left section of his rib cage. He collapses on a bus stop bench, Roger plopping down beside him.
When he can speak again, Alex gasps, “Who was that guy with the axe? Why did he help us?”
“I don’t know,” Roger replies. “But 2017 is totally mental. Can we just go home?”
“I haven’t found out anything about Jennifer or my future yet.”
“We’ve been here less than an hour and we almost got thrown in jail.”
“I admit we haven’t gotten off to the best start. Let’s at least go to the mall and get a stock market book. We deserve some reward for inventing a time machine!”
“...I guess...” Roger says.
“Good. And then we’ll find out if Jennifer went to the dance with me.” Alex gets to his feet, ignoring Roger’s glare.
* * *
2:40 p.m. on October 14th, 2017.
The mall has undergone a minor makeover at some point in the last thirty years, with new tile and clear panels in place of the old brass railings on the upper levels, but it still looks worn out. The music on the sound system is kind of rockin', though. The mall played bland musak back in Alex's time.
As Alex and Roger walk down the main hallway, Alex observes the shoppers. “Everybody’s totally fat!” he whispers to Roger. “And what happened to fashion? They’re all just wearing jeans and T-shirts. Where’s the pastel? The lace? The skinny ties? The parachute pants?”
Roger shrugs. “I think it’s kinda rad. Everyone looks so comfortable.”
“And where are the teenagers?” It looks to Alex like all the patrons are his mom’s age… or older. “It’s like the mall isn’t cool anymore.”
Roger spots the multiplex box office. “Hey, let’s see what kind of movies they have in the future!”
The first poster, though, looks oddly familiar to Alex. “Wow. Dirty Dancing is still playing. After thirty years. I told you it was supposed to be good.”
“No this is a remake,” Roger says. “See, starring Miley Cyrus.”
“I guess she must be America’s sweetheart in 2017.” Alex looks at the next poster: Predator vs. Robocop. “Predator and Robocop are back, too... and they’re fighting.”
“I’d buy that for a dollar!” Roger laughs. “But I would’ve thought they’d have come up with some new characters after thirty years. Do you think all Hollywood does in the future is make sequels and remakes of movies from the eighties?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Alex says. “Who would want that? Look, here’s an original one,” Alex points to a poster for Humperdink’s Revenge.
“No, that looks like a sequel to The Princess Bride.”
“Bogus.” Alex shakes his head. “Come on, I’m in the mood for an Orange Julius.”
Except when they reach the food court, the Orange Julius stand is no longer there. Instead, there’s a place advertising sushi – the Japanese raw fish that Molly Ringwald ate in Breakfast Club. Alex had a hard time believing that was a real thing when he saw the movie, but apparently it’s gotten popular in the future. In fact, it appears none of the food court stands he’s used to have survived. Alex surveys the unfamiliar offerings: Mongolian Barbecue, Greek, Ethiopian. Band Aid must have worked if there’s enough food in Ethiopia now to send some to America. “It’s like the food court has become the United Nations.”
“Do you think they teleport the food in from around the world?” Roger asks, excited.
Alex notices the sign over the closest stand. “What country is ‘Vegan’?”
“Maybe we’ve colonized another planet!”
Alex is dubious about that. “But S’barro was great. In fact, I could go for a slice of pizza right now.”
“The Vegan place has pizza.”
Alex steps up to the vegan stand. The guy behind the counter is in his twenties, clothed in a loose-fitting tunic with Indian style embroidery. “What bodily sustenance may I provide?” he asks with a blissful smile. Alex scans the menu board. The pizza toppings list certainly seems like a foreign language.
“I’m not sure,” Alex replies. “What’s ‘Topperoni’?”
“We blend smoked tofu and nut extract into a spicy treat.”
“Uh huh. Uh huh. And ‘Soysauge?’”
“That’s my favorite! Legume and soy lectin with unprocessed peppers.”
Roger is more excited by this explanation than Alex. “It’s like sci-fi food! What’s kale made of?”
The clerk frowns. “All of our greens are organic, man.”
Roger blanches. He leans close and whispers into Alex’s ear, “Don’t get the kale. I think it might be made of people.”
Alex had no intention of getting something called kale anyway. “I guess I’ll have a slice of the Soysauge.”
“And the largest size Coke you have,” Roger adds.
“We only carry one size beverage.”
“Really?” Roger replies. “I guess I better get two. I’m pretty thirsty.”
“Or you can just refill the cup.” The clerk points to a soda dispenser that is oddly located in the middle of the dining area with the napkins and plastic utensils.
“You mean when I’m finished I can get more? How many times?”
“As often as you want.”
Roger whispers to Alex again, “The future is awesome!”
Roger takes the cup from the clerk and heads for the dispenser. Alex pays for their snack – which is almost fourteen dollars, more than half the money he has. He learned about inflation in civics, of course, but that’s triple what he would have expected. Apparently Reagnomics did not work out as promised.
The slice of pizza the clerk gives him looks normal enough, and it’s gigantic, draping over the edges of the paper plate. Alex joins Roger at the table he’s found.
“Look at the size of that slice!” Roger exclaims.
“Yeah,” Alex says. “This explains why everyone’s so fat.”
Alex takes a bite of pizza – and scrunches his nose up. It tastes like cardboard covered in garlic and tomato. “Or not. Vegan must be Italian for awful.”
“Too bad. At least we get free Coke refills!” Roger sucks his drink dry and heads for the soda dispenser again.
* * *
Twenty minutes later Alex and Roger walk back into the central hall of the mall. Well, Alex walks. Roger bounces around, high on caffeine and sugar. “I’ll have to be careful when I buy stocks because I don’t want to cause a company to be overvalued and inadvertently create a crash that wouldn’t have happened so I’ll start slow and only invest a little at a time which is okay because my allowance is only $20 and I still need to buy Cheetos and oh man I think I drank too much Coke – hey the arcade became a coffee shop!” Roger points to what used to be the arcade – and is now a coffee place called Starbucks, like the Battlestar Galactica character.
“No arcade?!” Alex cries. “What’s the point of a mall without an arcade? All you could do is... shop.”
They continue up the escalator and down to the Radio Shack and Waldenbooks. Or rather to where those stores used to be. A place called Coffee Bean has replaced Radio Shack, and a Tully’s occupies the former Waldenbooks storefront. “More coffee shops,” Roger observes. “Why do people in the future drink so much coffee?”
“They probably need caffeine to counteract all the pot they smoke.”
Roger darts up to a woman in the Coffee Bean who’s wearing tight pants and a tank top, some kind of rubber mat rolled up and slung over her shoulder in a strap. Alex wonders if she’s a gymnast. “Excuse me,” Roger says, “can you tell me where the nearest bookstore is?”
“Um, I don’t know,” the woman replies. “I think they all closed down.”
“All of them? Then where do you buy books?”
“Doesn’t it take a long time to get books from the Amazon?”
“They have overnight delivery.”
Roger reconvenes with Alex. “What are we going to do? We don’t have time to wait for an overnight delivery from Brazil!”
Alex is getting creeped out by what’s become of the mall. But he’s developed an alternate plan. “Let’s go to the school library. They should have a book on stock market history. And, they’ll have our yearbook. There’ll be pictures from homecoming. Maybe one will show whether Jennifer went to the dance with me.”
“Okay,” Roger shouts, and claps his hands together. He darts off down the mall. Alex jogs to catch up, wondering if unlimited drink refills is really such a great advancement.
Go to Chapter 8