By Joseph L Rockmen
“Terrific work on Manson and Bundy’s birthdays everyone. I received the numbers from corporate. With 3,000 travelers serviced, we exceeded our quarterly goals!” Mrs. York announced at the morning meeting to a round of applause. The smell of fresh-brewed coffee masked the body odor that lingered in the crowded office. “Remember this week we are conducting annual performance reviews. All recent hires must stop by my office before closing today.”
Pete had been working at Time Travels for three months, but before this, he served in the Army for ten years. He traveled the world managing supply requisitions for military installations. He felt stronger back then, taller too, and always had a fresh haircut and clean shave. Lately, he couldn’t even tie his shoes without gritting his teeth, his waist size seemed to be racing to keep up with his age, and he hadn’t washed his mess of hair in a week. Now, Pete sat in his orthopedic chair and coordinated events for the rich to travel through time.
He couldn’t complain, or at least he shouldn’t. Many other veterans had it worse than he did, and things had been improving since he got this job. So, what if the work is different?
“Hear that? Maybe we’ll get a bonus or something,” said Dennis as his unpolished shoes scuffed across the linoleum floor. “Nothing like death or the life of a monster to bring in travelers. Know what I mean?”
“The rich love death and we deliver it to them. I learned that on the first day of training,” Pete mocked as he placed his coffee mug on his desk and logged into his account.
After thirty minutes of sorting through his email, Pete received an event notification. New Event: Incoming. New Hope Medical Center. 6:00 hours. Incoming? No, it’s always outgoing. Nothing happens here that the travelers would want to watch.
He rolled his chair back expecting to see Dennis pleased with Pete almost falling for his prank, but he wasn’t there. A crowd had gathered around the display board. Over their heads, the board read: New Hope Medical Center. 5:59. 400 travelers. Mrs. York was making a statement about the importance of the next six hours for the prestige of the office, but Pete couldn’t listen.
The board began to blur, and he felt prickles spreading all over his body. Explosions. Gunshots. Screams. He grasped for his trashcan, but it slipped out of his hands. Bent over in his chair, he began taking deep breaths. Inhale I am safe. Exhale I am in control. “I am safe. I am in control,” he whispered. What if it’s a mass shooter? Or a viral outbreak? The rich love death.
Dennis clapped a hand on Pete’s back. “Christmas came early, my friend.”
“What did Mrs. York say? Do you know what’s happening?” asked Pete.
“Just the time and place. You know how it is, man. No questions. Set up the equipment and then get some fat commission checks.”
1,000 travelers. 2,000 travelers. He pushed past Dennis and towards Mrs. York’s office.
“Not now Mr. Estee, we will start your performance file later. We need everyone working on this incoming event,” Mrs. York said without pause. Her glasses reflected the computer screen, and where her eyes should have been Pete saw zeroes.
“Ma’am. This is about the event. Shouldn’t we alert somebody? I mean, this is our hospital. What if something bad is about to happen?”
“I know this is still new to you,” she looked into his distant eyes, “it is an opportunity for you to prove you can handle this job, to be a part of history.”
Does she not care about the innocent people at the hospital? Does she even care about me? Am I just another number to her? “Please, ma’am. I live nearby the hospital, and my wife is at home. She’s nine months pregnant.”
“Enough!” Mrs. York rose from her desk and dismissed him, “I expect more from somebody with your experience. Do your job. We have less than six hours to execute this event and it will go smoothly, understood?”
Pete returned to his desk and slumped into his chair until he was studying the foam-white drop ceiling. He recalled one to his left that had a yellow stain on it. Maintenance had replaced it with a new one, though, and now Pete’s eyes wandered for something recognizable. It took the better part of a year for me to find this job. We need the income, and God knows we need the healthcare package. I’m still a soldier. I know how to follow orders.
The office exploded into a roar. A thunderous pop rung in Pete’s ears. In an instant, he was halfway around the world and in a different time. It felt like his heart leaped from his chest, and he braced himself onto his desk to secure it. He reeked of sweat as if he just came off a combat patrol. Pink and green confetti rained down around him.
“Had those saved from the Fourth of July party. Knew they’d come in handy before the year was over,” said Dennis as Pete relaxed his hands and swept the streamers away. “We did it, man. We broke the record. We beat Hitler!”
Pete scanned the office. Coworkers were rejoicing, Mrs. York was giving a toast, and the board was displaying 10,000 travelers. Do these people actually think THEY defeated Hitler? His knees started to tremble, and his eyes were filling with tears. I can’t let anyone see me like this. He fumbled his arms into his jacket and staggered to his car. I have five hours to get Sarah and myself to safety.
The cold cut down to his bones and pale white plumes of snow whipped passed his eyes. They didn’t get snow this early in winter most years, so the city had not prepared. Pete maneuvered his car around heaps of grey snow and patches of ice that laid in wait for an unknowing traveler. I have driven in much worse conditions and under more stress. I’ll be okay.
“Sarah? Why didn’t you answer your phone? We need to leave now,” Pete called out as he tracked snow through the doorway.
Sarah sat up on the couch and fixed her stretchy pants and over-sized shirt, “Babe, what are you doing home so early?”
He took two stairs at a time and returned with their hospital bags under his arms. “Come on. We’re going to my parents’ house.”
She stretched her arms and back and let out a deep yawn. “Did something happen at work? I knew you shouldn’t have rushed into this job.”
“I’m fine. It’s not safe here. We need to get out of the city.”
“But we shouldn’t be driving in this storm, and I shouldn’t go far from the hospital”
He knelt in front of Sarah and began putting snow boots on her feet. “There’s an event, at the hospital, in four hours.”
The windshield froze over by the time Sarah was ready. Rush hour traffic left the city gridlocked, so Pete white-knuckled through backroads. He tensed at every truck barreling by, and only looked away from the road to check the time on the dashboard.
“Did you call your parents and let them know we’re coming?” asked Sarah.
No, I didn’t want them to worry.
“I’ll call them,” she said. “They have been concerned about you lately.”
They shouldn’t be.
“Your parents just want you to be happy. They think you need to get out more.”
“Pete! Can you at least answer?”
Pete looked to pacify her, “Sorry, I’m tr—”
He didn’t see the black ice covering the turn and sped over it. Sarah screamed and Pete braced his hands behind his neck while their car spun and flipped. Rollover, rollover, rollover! He remembered yelling. Ambush, 3 o’clock! Push through! Push through! He made out on the radio. Help us! Help us! It’s burning! He heard someone screaming. I couldn’t save them. He pulled on his seat belt and tried to wrestle free, but he was stuck. He faded away until there was nothing but darkness. Explosions. Gunshots. Screams. The rich love death.
Pete’s face was throbbing when he came to. Someone was screaming to the right of him. He could sense someone’s eyes on him. “Mr. Estee,” the man said, “you’re at New Hope Medical Center. You were in a car accident. Please, try not to move. I’m Dr. Powell. Your injuries are minimal, but you might feel some pain. Mrs. Estee is okay, but the stress of the accident has caused her to go into labor.”
New Hope Medical Center? We can’t be here! We need to get out of here. How much time do I have? Pete opened his mouth and the cracks around his lips tasted of blood. He wanted to say something, but he was in too much pain. He tried to push himself out of bed but fell to splitting pains in his back. “Do not try to get up,” the doctor said, “Mrs. Estee is in the bed to your right. Your son will be here with us soon,” Pete looked to his right and spotted an analog clock on the wall. The time was near four o’clock. I only have a few minutes. I’m too late.
He fought onto his right side so he could see Sarah. It will all be over soon. Whatever the event is. It’s hopeless. I’m sorry. He gazed at his wife and listened to the hallway for sounds of danger. A nurse assisted him onto his back. “Would you like to meet your son?” she asked.
My son. He heard a cooing baby. The nurse brought over the baby boy and placed him in Pete’s arms. He felt weak and helpless, and a tear broke free from his eye for the first time in many years. He looked down at his son, and up at the clock. He realized then, and wondered, who are you?
Category: Fiction, Short Story, SNHU Creative Writing