Enchanted Spark

Writing Inspirations
Congratulations to our June Winner W. Klein!


THE MYSTERIES OF THE UNIVERSE by W.Klein

The stars and stripes fluttered proudly in their patriotic vigor, but Jeremy Richardson felt rather less enthusiastic.  What had this supposedly great nation given him, after all, besides pain and sorrow?  It seemed to the lanky seventeen-year-old that it had taken far more than it had given.
   
"Jeremy?" his mother leaned in and whispered through her black veil.  "Are you okay?"
   
Okay?  How could anything possibly be okay?  Michael was gone.  He'd never have a big brother again.  Ever.  All because
Michael had felt some noble urge to go serve his country, leaving him here, alone, in nowheresville, empty-handed and solely responsible for his frail and sickly, mother.  Not to mention the mortgage.
   
"I'm fine, mom."  What a lie.
   
The minister spoke the benediction, and three rifle volleys reverberated through the treeless cemetery.  Jeremy flinched at each one, and his mom let out a sob that made it feel like his chest, too, was being blown apart by shrapnel and debris.
   
After the funeral, the receiving line stretched on and on.  Jeremy shook hands and accepted hugs and condolences robotically.  Each face blended into the next, exasperated by the fact that so many wore military uniforms.  One by one they saluted him and talked about how kind and generous and brave his brother had been, as if Jeremy didn't know the kind of person his brother was.
   
From the time they were kids, Michael had been the one that everyone admired.  He got good grades, and even when he and his friends got caught throwing snowballs at Old Man Thatcher, he'd been first to admit to the deed and, by way of apology, offer to shovel Thatcher's sidewalk the rest of the winter for free.  That Michael Richardson, people would say, he's a good kid. 
   
And now that good kid was buried six feet under in a military cemetery fifty miles from the Virginia hicksville they called home.
   
Jeremy was so consumed with misery that when a uniformed soldier reached out both hands to forcefully clasp his, Jeremy jumped and drew back.  The man held him tight.  He had dark, persistent eyes that zoomed in on Jeremy's, making him feel like he was staring down the business end of a rifle.
   
"Jeremy, right?" The man's voice was low and insistent.  It cracked, ever so slightly when he spoke.
   
Jeremy just nodded.  The man pushed a slip of paper into his hand.
   
"Michael told me to give you this," he whispered as he leaned in more closely, "if anything were to happen to him."
   
Jeremy stared down at it, mesmerized by the way the folds aligned precisely with the light blue lines in a perfect geometric square, exactly two inches wide, just as Michael had done with every note they passed since he was six years old.
   
"But--" Jeremy looked up, but the man had disappeared.
   
The rest of the day blurred together, with the long drive back home and a reception afterward, and more long-faced relatives sticking around, sipping tea and filling the silences into the late hours of the night.  Midnight had come and gone before Jeremy could retreat to his room and read the message.
   
"Meet me at JFK.  Atlantis.  May 4.  11:45p.m.  Don't tell anyone."
   
JFK.  Not the airport, Jeremy knew.  When they were young, back before their mother became too ill to travel, she had let them decide where to go on vacation.  Every year Michael voted for the same destination: the Kennedy Space Center.
   
Jeremy crumpled up the paper and threw it across the room to the wastebasket.  It missed, of course.  Michael would have sunk it.
   
Tears prickled Jeremy's eyes and he pushed himself up from the bed and stalked over to the trash can to retrieve the paper, his final link to his brother.  He picked it up gently and smoothed it out, now sorry that he had been so careless with it.  He'd have to press it under some thick books to flatten it out completely.
   
His room was in disarray, as usual, but there, on his desk, sat a neglected algebra textbook, thick enough with unsolved problems to serve his purposes.  He flicked on his desk lamp, a quirky fiber optic ball with a black light bulb that Michael had gotten him for Christmas one year.  It didn't provide a lot of light for studying, but then again, it wasn't like Jeremy did a lot of studying anyways.
   
Much to his surprise, when he set the scrap of paper on the desk, the black light shone on it and revealed a hidden message inked invisibly behind the pencil markings: blocky letters DMC in an '80s-era font.
   
"Delorean Motor Company?"
   
Jeremy's hand shook and he dropped the note.  No, it was impossible.  Yet, if he understood his brother's hidden message right, he might still have some chance of seeing him one last time, maybe even giving him a warning...
   
Jeremy checked the calendar, then the clock.  He had twenty-four hours to get from upstate Virginia to mid-Florida.  He pulled out his cell phone and calculated the travel time on a map app.  Twelve hours.  Looking around frantically, he grabbed his school bag and dumped out the books, discarded Cheetos bags, and pencil shavings.  Then he filled it up with a few Little Debbies from under his bed, a change of clothes, and the entire box of cash he'd made mowing lawns this spring.  He didn't bother counting it.
   
At the last minute, he remembered to write his mom a note and leave it on the fridge.  He hated to lie to her, but she wouldn't believe him if he told her.  Jeremy wasn't even sure he believed it, but he had to know for sure.  On the way out the door, he spotted that day's newspaper, with his brother's obituary on the front.  He hesitated, then folded it up and shoved it in his bag.

***
   
Late the next afternoon, Jeremy woke to an elbow in his ribs.
   
"Hey, kid.  We're here."
   
Jeremy blinked into the bright sunlight and tried to orient himself.  He wiped some drool from the corner of his mouth, hoping the cute girl across the aisle hadn't noticed.  Furtively, he glanced over, but she wasn't seated there anymore.  Must have gotten off earlier.
   
The man next to him was a tall, thin guy with a week-old beard and clothes that hadn't been washed in just as long.  They'd been sitting together since Richmond, so long that he'd grown accustomed to the man's funky scent and the way he clicked his tongue as he talked.
   
"We're at the space center?" Jeremy asked, squinting out the window.
   
"Yup."  Click-click.  "Your stop."  Click-click.
   
"Thanks."  Jeremy nodded and scooped up his bag.  He'd have a few hours to kill looking around at the rockets and displays, and finding a place to hide when the security guards ushered everyone else out at closing time.  His stomach rumbled.  First, a snack.
   
The rest of the afternoon passed with aching slowness.  The last time he'd been here Jeremy had been twelve, Michael fourteen.  Michael had insisted on reading every single plaque and display out loud.  Turned out, not many of the displays had been updated in the past five years.  Jeremy could almost hear his brother's voice babbling on about propulsion and rocket fuel and the dehydrated ice cream in the gift shop.
   
Jeremy's eyes watered, and he wiped them with his sleeve.  His loud sniffle drew the attention of a gray-haired couple standing nearby.  "Allergies," he explained.
   
Taking a page from a book Michael had read to him when they were kids, Jeremy entered the bathroom five minutes before closing time.  He sat on the tank with his feet propped on the seat and waited.  The security guard didn't even check the bathroom; he just reached in with one arm and flipped the light off.  Jeremy waited in the dark, rereading Michael's note by the light of his cell phone screen and playing Angry Birds until 11:30pm.  Then, he quietly stepped down from the toilet and left the bathroom.
   
The Kennedy Space Center seemed less friendly in the dark.  Bright red EXIT lights cast distorted shadows on the displays.  Jeremy walked swiftly to the enormous hanger that housed the display of the space shuttle Atlantis, arriving long before 11:45.  He hunkered down beneath it and stared up at its dark panels, still streaked by the heat of reentry.  His mind wandered to the vastness of the universe, to all of its still-unexplained mysteries.  No wonder Michael had wanted to meet him here.
   
"Pondering the mysteries of the universe?"
   
Jeremy stood up quickly.  There in front of him stood his brother.  The brother whom, just yesterday, he had committed to the earth.  "What?"
   
"I asked if you were pondering the mysteries of the universe."
   
"What?  No.. I mean... How?  What are you doing here?"
   
By the glow of an emergency floodlight, Jeremy saw his brother's face screw up in a pained smile.  "So I don't make it back, huh?"
   
"I'm here to warn you!"  Jeremy said.  He grabbed his brother's arm and pushed the newspaper into his hand, jabbing a shaky finger at the obituary.
   
"Not how it works, little brother," Michael said, gently pulling his arm from Jeremy's grip.  "I told Devon to give you the note if something happened to me.  He did, so that means something already did happen to me."  He stared down at the paper.  "Seems it has."
   
"But--!"
   
"To be frank, I was kind of hoping I wouldn't find you here tonight," he said with a shrug.   He refolded the paper and shoved it in his back pocket. "But, I couldn't go without saying goodbye, and at this point, it doesn't really matter if you know."
   
"About the time travel, you mean?  So it's true?  You're here, what, from the past?"
   
"Yup.  March 1."
   
"Today's May 4, so you're from about two months in the past.  But, how?  I thought you were an engineer in the Marines."
   
"We're working together with NASA on a special project, codename DMC.  One of those sort of 'if I tell you, I'd have to kill you' sort of things, but since I'm already dead --"
   
"Don't say that!"
   
Michael shrugged.  "Why not?  It's true.  Something must have gone wrong on one of the test missions.  Tell me, when do I die?"
   
"We were told April 15 that it had happened the day before."
   
"Makes sense.  We're traveling out further each time they send us.  I think mid-April is when I'm scheduled to go a hundred years into the future.  No one's ever been that far in before, so we have no idea what we'll find there."
   
"But now that you know, you won't go, right?"
   
Michael shot him an incredulous look.  "You're kidding, right?"
   
"Michael, you die."
   
Michael sighed.  "Everyone dies sometime, little brother.  I knew when I volunteered that there were risks involved.  Think of these guys," he gestured to the various spacecraft all around them.  "Do you think they didn't know that some of them would die in the pursuit of knowledge about the universe?"
   
"But, Michael," Jeremy said, shaking his head.  "You know for sure."
   
"Do I?"  He raised an eyebrow.  "Did you see the body?"
   
Jeremy frowned.  The body in the morgue had been an awful, charred mess.  It barely looked human.  They IDed it as Michael by the dog tags.  "Are you saying that wasn't you?"
   
"It's possible.  If I were to have gotten stuck in a future era, they'd have to come up with something to tell you, wouldn't they?"
   
They stood silently for a moment, simply staring at one another.
   
"So, now what?  You're just going to go off to some future and leave mom and me here alone?"
   
Michael shifted uncomfortably.  "I'm sorry, little brother.  What's done is done.  If I stay here, then Devon doesn't give you that note and you don't come and we don't have this conversation at all.  You can't change the past."
   
Jeremy cursed and kicked at a metal barricade, sending it clattering to the ground.  He slumped down to the floor and buried his head in his hands.  "How could you do this to me?  To mom?  I'm going to have to drop out of school, or we'll lose the house, and --"
   
"Hey, now," Michael knelt down beside him.  "You're going to be fine.  I know it."
   
"Yeah?  How?"
   
"Because I know you.  You're one of the best people I know.  Like, that time when we were little, and me and my friends were picking on you because you refused to throw snowballs at Mr. Thatcher?  It wasn't until after we got caught that I realized how much smarter, how much braver you were to stand up to us and say no.  I felt terrible for being such an awful example for you.  That's why I offered to shovel his walk all winter.  That's why I worked so hard to get good grades.  That's why I joined the military.  I wanted to be a big brother you could be proud of."
   
Then, before his eyes, his brother began to fade, becoming as transparent as a ghost.
   
"Ooops... time's up.  Tell mom I love her."
   
"Michael--!"  How could he tell him, in those few precious moments of time, how much he admired and loved him, how much he looked up to him, how much he would miss him?
   
Jeremy grabbed at Michael's arm, but it passed through thin air, as if he had never been there.  Jeremy sat underneath the Atlantis and sobbed, knowing his brother was now truly gone.

***
   
If Jeremy's mom had noticed his absence, she didn't show it.  The next days passed with an aching emptiness, punctuated only by exasperated sighs and the clinking of silverware on Tupperware dishes brought by neighbors.
   
"His box came today," Jeremy's mother announced one morning, tossing the package on the kitchen table.  "You can open it.  I can't bear to."
   
"Mom," Jeremy said, "it's okay.  We're going to be alright."  He crossed over to her and pulled her fragile body into a warm embrace.
   
"Oh, Jeremy," she sobbed.  "I hope you're right."
   
When she pulled away, he forced a shaky smile, and -- though he could see how it pained her -- she returned one of her own.
   
"Go ahead."  She gestured to the box once more.  "I'll go start lunch."
   
Jeremy watched her leave, and then pulled out his pocket knife.  The cardboard box contained very little -- a few articles of clothing, and a copy of H.G. Wells' The Time Machine.  Jeremy grinned. 
   
Grabbing a soda pop, he headed out to the porch, where he sat down on an armchair and opened the book.  An envelope fluttered out from its pages and slipped underneath the chair.  Jeremy snatched it from the floor.  Leaning forward in his chair, he tore it open and out dropped three pieces of paper. 
   
A note.  A newspaper clipping with his brother's obituary.  A lottery ticket.
   
"What?"  Michael had always been so practical; why had he bought a lottery ticket?  It was a very un-Michael thing to do.  Then, Jeremy flipped over the newspaper clipping.  The lottery numbers for that date.  They matched exactly.  Jeremy scrambled to open the note and quickly read over the unfamiliar handwriting.
  
 "Jeremy Richardson," it said.  "Your brother was a great friend of mine, which is why, when I figured out what he was doing, I didn't turn him in or keep the ticket for myself.  I used his money, and he told me when to buy it and what numbers to use, so I guess legitimately it's his, and therefore now yours.  He wanted you to use it for school and to make sure your mom is taken care of, but he said that I didn't need me to tell you that, because he knew you'd do the right thing with it anyway.  The message he did want me to give you, though, was this:
  
 'Same time, same place, in 25 years.  Can't wait to see you.


***

W. Klein has had an interest in writing since the first grade, when she wrote a screenplay for "The Wizard of Oz" for her class to perform.  She lives a quiet life in West Michigan with her husband and two sons, and loves nothing more than curling up with a cup of tea and a good book.

7 comments | Add a New Comment
1. Shari | June 30, 2013 at 06:19 PM EDT

I loved this story. All about time travel and possibilities.

very well written.

2. Holly Jennings | June 30, 2013 at 06:39 PM EDT

Beautiful story. Absolutely loved it.

3. Jon Mast | June 30, 2013 at 10:16 PM EDT

Spectacular story. I love the last note -- \"25 years.\"

The way the two brothers view each other ring so true. Each looking up to the other, never knowing what the other thought. Great story!

4. Deb | July 02, 2013 at 06:27 AM EDT

Great job! Wonderful story!

5. Jeannette Benge | July 02, 2013 at 11:47 AM EDT

Such a great story!!! Had to stop a couple of times because of tears, having two boys myself with the oldest in the Army!

6. Terry | July 02, 2013 at 12:59 PM EDT

Great Job Wendy! I like it.

7. Melinda | July 02, 2013 at 05:42 PM EDT

Sorry it took me so long to approve some of these comments. I was having problems logging in as the administrator. Seems to be working now, and I'm so glad you took the time to comment on her story!

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