Sunday, 6 July 2014

Time Trippers: Chapter 7A


The history of my time travel story can be found at this post. You can also read the first part of Chapter 1. You'll notice my writing takes a while to get going - I have a post cued for later this week comparing my style to Season 1 of "Agents of SHIELD".

I plan to get back into this story over the summer. To tidy up the mess that is the cast members' senior year, and to send them into post-secondary. We'll see if I get there. In the meantime, I asked Twitter and Facebook if a "lighthearted" or "serious" chapter from the first book would be preferred. The former won out, 4-1. So, here is something I wrote in 1999, updated in 2012, and illustrated this afternoon. In a sense, it's my tribute episode to certain time travel inspirations.



"So exactly how much of your jewellery was taken?"
The hotel manager listened with half an ear as the officer questioned Ms. Peabody.  Perfect, this was just perfect.  A theft, not only in this budding rural community, but at his new hotel!  What more could possibly go wrong with his day?  As if in reply, a bright flash off to the side caught his attention.  He turned to look across the lobby, whereby he saw two teenagers, a boy and a girl. They were standing somewhere he was sure no one had been moments ago.  Moreover, they were dressed rather curiously, like fashion rejects from... well, he had no idea.  The pink shirt that the girl was wearing for instance, it didn’t resemble anything he could think of from this decade.  Or for that matter, from back in the forties either.  He rubbed his eyes in confusion, wondering if he was hallucinating.
"Officer!" the manager then heard Ms. Peabody call out.  "Look there!  That's the person who robbed me!"  The manager watched as his guest pointed over towards the blonde teenager who had just arrived.  "Arrest that girl!"
"Oh boy," responded the girl in question.

"Look, don't mind us, just passing through," Carrie continued swiftly as she realized everyone at the hotel check-in counter was currently staring at her.
"Arrest her!  Now!" the woman reiterated.
"I really can't stay," Carrie insisted.  She grabbed Frank and retreated hastily, up a couple steps and through the hotel entrance, located rather fortuitously behind them.
"What on earth...?" Frank said, still attempting to get his bearings even as Carrie pulled him outside.
"Very, very poor choice of time period, Frank," Carrie explained testily.  "You'd better reactivate the machine and get us out of here, pronto!"
Frank blinked.  "But our location is still geographically unknown," he protested.  "One of the purposes behind using a coin from '55 was to check the spatial..."
"Frank!" Carrie interjected, dragging her companion down the sidewalk, away from the hotel entrance.  At least it was growing dark outside, which should help to obscure them.  "Someone is inexplicably after my hide here!  Time to make a quick exit!"
"Carrie, I haven't even reset the machine to..."
"Frank!!" Carrie repeated, shaking him to emphasize her point. "We... go... NOW!"  Down the street, two men emerged from the hotel, one of them the law enforcement officer.
"We go now," Frank finally affirmed, trying not to drop the time machine.  Carrie released him and he set it down onto the sidewalk, fumbling for one of the present day coins in his pocket.  There was a shout from down the street as they were spotted.
"Got it," Frank said, slipping the coin into the time machine.  He grabbed the activation lever.  "Pull on three.  One..."
"Twothree," Carrie finished.  She and Frank yanked down on the lever.  Carrie then braced herself for the sensation of the void sucking at her, followed by another time displacement.  But nothing happened.
"Uh, again?" Frank said.  They let the lever rise back up into position then pulled down on it once more.  Still nothing.
Carrie exhaled between pursed lips.  "Someone is going to pay dearly for this," she vowed.
The law enforcement officer cleared his throat from behind them.  "I think the two of you had better come back to the hotel to answer a few questions," he declared.

Ms. Peabody's eyes narrowed when the officer and hotel manager escorted the two teenagers back into the lobby.  "You should never have come back to me, dearie," she said smugly to Carrie.  "That wasn't very smart."
"I don't know what you're talking about, I've never been here before," Carrie retorted.
"All right, all right, settle down now," the officer soothed.  He turned to the teenagers.  "Suppose you two start by telling us exactly what you're doing here."
Frank exchanged a glance with Carrie.  "Yeah, uh... well, our affairs are always in a state of flux," he began slowly.
"We just arrived in town," Carrie interrupted. "My... uncle is staying here.  At least that's what we thought, but when you started shouting at us we wondered if maybe we hadn't received the wrong set of directions.  So we went back out to try and get our bearings.  I don't suppose either of you have ever heard of the Clayton Hotel?"
"This is the Clayton," affirmed the officer.
"It IS?" Carrie said, genuinely surprised.
"You're Mr. Clayton!" Frank realized, turning to the manager.
"Do I know either of you?" the manager retorted.
"Uh, no," Frank admitted.  "It's just, well..."
"We thought my uncle might have mentioned us," Carrie interrupted again.  "I'm Carrie, this is Frank."
"Never heard of you.  Just who is your uncle anyway?" Mr. Clayton challenged.
"Euh, his name is..." She exchanged a brief glance with Frank. "Marty McFly.  He should have checked in here on November fourteenth."
"It's November twelfth," Mr. Clayton pointed out.
Carrie rolled her eyes – this time faking her reaction, as she’d been well aware of that fact, having seen the readout on the time machine. "Really?"  She slugged Frank in the arm.  "You got those dates wrong AGAIN!  Why do I even bother traveling anywhere with you?"
Frank rubbed his arm with a grimace.  "Maybe because without me, you'd have no idea how to get where you wanted to go?"
"Hold it," the officer interrupted in a no-nonsense tone of voice.  He turned to Carrie.  "Regardless of the situation with your uncle, can you confirm your whereabouts as of about 4pm today?"
"Yes, I was... on a train, heading for town," Carrie stated.
Ms. Peabody sniffed, shooting a glare at Carrie.  "Oh, ignore this girl's babbling.  She obviously just came back here to gloat after hiding my jewellery somewhere!  Don't let the little wench get away with it!"
Carrie's eyes snapped back to the woman.  "I'm sorry, WHAT did you just call me?!"  Ms. Peabody took a step back in surprise.
"Ms. Peabody, please," the officer said sharply.  "Right now all we have is your word against hers.  Carrie... McFly, was it?  Can you give me the name of someone able to verify your story?"
"Sure, call my father," Carrie asserted.  "He can be reached at 911-1999."
The officer turned to the manager.  "I'd prefer to clear this situation up now, if I can.  May I use your phone?"  Mr. Clayton nodded and the officer proceeded into the back office.
"Okay, one down and the others are now off their guard," Carrie whispered to Frank.  "Get ready to run."
"What?!" Frank hissed back.  "We can't just..."
"Hey, wait!" Carrie gasped, pointing behind everyone.  "Guys, what the hell's that?"  As the others turned, she grabbed Frank's arm and bolted back for the door.

Some time later, Carrie found herself blowing errant strands of hair back off her face.  "Great, I lost my hairband during that mad dash," she sighed.
"Your hairband?  You're worried about your hairband?!" Frank said dazedly.  "Carrie... we're fugitives!  You've just turned us into fugitives from the law!"
"Oh please, Frank, don't get so melodramatic," Carrie retorted.  She peered around the trunk of the tree, verifying that their pursuers had either given up, or managed to go in the wrong direction.  The darkness and shrubbery had definitely been helpful for concealing them.  "We're not fugitives," Carrie continued, turning back.  "We didn't do anything wrong.  Obviously I'm not the person they're looking for.  I haven't even been born yet!"
"That's not the point!" Frank accused.  "Besides, for all we know, some future you time traveled back to earlier today and ripped off that missing jewellery.  Meaning you ARE the person they're looking for."
"Oh please," Carrie scoffed.  "What possible motive could I have?  Anyway, even then it's not me they're looking for.  It's some future me."
Frank pressed a hand to his forehead.  Carrie was going to get them both killed one day, wasn't she.  "You know, for some reason I don't remember you being this spirited the last time the two of us time traveled together."
Carrie shrugged.  "Two years ago for you, last week for me.  I'm finding all this easier to deal with, now that I have a better sense of what's going on," she observed. “For that matter, I remember you being a lot better at improvisation."
"I work better within a framework," Frank retorted.  “Plus I never really got involved in theatre because I decided to research time travel instead.”
“Ah.”  Carrie swept some hair back over her shoulders.  "Speaking of such... what’s going on with the time machine?  Why didn't it work??"
"That, I don't know," Frank admitted, taking the device back from Carrie and giving it a look.  "It was one of my two 1955 pennies we used to get here, maybe the machine has some trouble with... no, because the penny I used yesterday worked all right..."
"Hold on, yesterday?  You've been taking time trips without telling me??" Carrie interjected in annoyance.  "I don't remember saying you could do that."
Frank sighed and put the time machine down.  "I made a few trips earlier this week in order to gather more data, yes.  You DO want to figure out how this thing works, don't you?  Besides, you couldn't have come, you were constantly busy after school."
"I was not," Carrie countered.  "I just had cheerleading and track practices.  Also, I've got this thing called a 'social life'.  Ever heard of one?"
Frank sighed again.  "At any rate," he continued, "I managed to stay in town for each test.  Which is part of the reason I called you over today, or rather, present day Saturday.  To see if the spatial relocation was only a factor if there were two travelers."
"And we took a trip two days back to Thursday, established we were in the ravine out back of my house, then tried a much larger leap here to 1955, yadda yadda," Carrie said.  She folded her arms and leaned back against the tree trunk behind her.  "I notice we're still in town even now.  Or in what will BE the town anyway.  If we orient according to the Clayton building, I saw some parallels between what's here and what will end up being here.  Admittedly with a lot more undeveloped forest.  It’s more like a village than a town."
"Yes," Frank agreed slowly.  He frowned.  "Now if only I could figure out why we're always staying in the same area now..."
"Frank?  The broken machine?" Carrie prompted.
"Oh, right," Frank realized.  He frowned.  "Well, offhand I can't think of a reason for it not to have worked.  I guess I'll take a look inside."
Carrie rolled her eyes.  "You know, at the risk of sounding trite, you have had that device in your possession for almost a week now.  Yet you're still conducting experiments and really don't seem to have a clue.  I didn't authorize a trip to '55 only to be stuck here for all eternity!  That is... be stuck in '55 until '56... you know what I mean."
"Authorize?" Frank countered.  "What authorize?  And I told you there was some risk involved in this manner of research!"
"Well... I thought maybe you knew more than you were letting on," Carrie admitted.  "I mean look, how do I know you're not stalling?  Maybe you're hoping that the longer you play dumb with the time machine, the better the chances are of me changing my mind about saving my mama!"
Frank let out a breath.  "Yes, yes, that's exactly it," he said, his patience wearing thin.  "Damn it Carrie, this thing has circuits and chips I've never seen before.  It's a quantum leap forward in technology!  Even with two years to think about it, a week hasn't been enough to identify much beyond what I did that very first time two years ago.  These experiments are the only way for me to learn more.  Or they would be if you didn't consistently turn them into a disaster!"  Frank swept his hand out in a final gesture, knocking it hard against a limb of the tree.  "Ow!"  He bit back a curse, cradling his hand.
"Hey, don't blame me!" Carrie retorted.  "I'm just... trying to keep you motivated."  She paused.  She really wasn't helping much, was she.  "Uh, your hand okay?" Carrie ventured, moving towards Frank.  He pulled away, simultaneously shrugging off the backpack he'd had with him since their arrival.
"I'm fine," Frank mumbled, flexing his fingers.  "At least we have provisions this time, including tools and a flashlight.  So let's try one more coin, maybe the last one didn't work due to a fluke.  If the next one doesn't work either, hold the flashlight and I'll see if I can find the problem."

The second coin did fail, leaving Carrie to shine the flashlight down into the machine while Frank peered around inside.  Several minutes passed by in silence.
"Well, the air certainly seems a lot more natural and clean in comparison with our year," Carrie finally piped up tentatively.
"Uh huh," Frank responded, not looking up from his work.
There was another extended silence.  "I wonder," Carrie began again.  "My double here... or, well, the person who took that Ms. Peabody's jewellery... do you think they could have been an ancestor of mine?"
"I don't know.  Did your ancestors live in this area in '55?"
Carrie furrowed her brow.  "My parents hadn't even been born yet," she reflected.  "Maybe my grandparents... though none of them have ever told stories about being a thief."
Frank shrugged.  "Can't think it's the sort of thing one tells grandkids, really."
"Mmmmm."  Another pause.  "But you know, now that I think about it, whoever it was might be in even more trouble now, given how I ran away," Carrie realized.  "I reacted instinctively... you don't think I've changed history, do you?  Wait, strike that, of course not, you think the past and the future are already mapped out.  However, if changing the past IS possible, I might have changed something, right?"
"Anything's possible I guess," Frank said.  "But not much we can do about that now."
"Unless we change things back," Carrie pointed out.
"Potentially making the situation worse," Frank retaliated easily.  "Carrie, we don't know anything about what's going on in this time period."
"Well, yes," Carrie agreed in an irked tone.  "Though I must say, I got the feeling that Ms. Peabody knew who I was.  Or at least, thought that she did.  What do you think?"
"I wasn't paying much attention to her," Frank concluded.  He moved to close the time machine back up.  "Anyway, that's that."
"Oh, figure out the problem?"
Frank nodded.  "It looks like the machine is, for lack of a better word, recharging.  Everything is operational, some parts simply aren't receiving power.  I can only conclude that they will once the assembly cools down, meaning business as usual if we wait it out a few hours.  I took the opportunity to reset the thing for the present."
"Meaning we're temporarily stuck here in the past?!"
"Yes, but not for long," Frank assured.  "If I had to guess, I'd say the problem was the distance of the jump - we have traveled back something like half a century, after all.  For all we know the machine acted like this when we jumped that time to the airport too, seeing as we never tried activating it again very soon after arrival."
"I see," Carrie remarked dryly.  There was another brief pause.  "Well then, looks like I have some time to relocate my hairband."
Frank blinked, not sure he had heard her correctly.  "I beg your pardon?"
"Well, what do you suggest, that we spend two hours sitting here staring at the damn device?  I'd rather be doing something productive.  Anyway, I liked that hairband."
"Carrie, have you forgotten that there are people out there looking for us?"
"I'll be careful!" Carrie asserted.  "And really, where's the harm in checking?  Mind if I take the flashlight?"  And without really waiting for an answer, she turned to leave.

Frank opened his mouth to protest, but then closed it and just shook his head.  She might as well go versus them staying here and arguing.  Honestly, the girl could be so... so... stubborn and self-absorbed!  It was one of the main reasons Frank hadn't spoken to her yet about that phone call he'd received last week - the one warning him about Julie.  Frank knew little about Julie aside from the fact that she was a "rich socialite" who was also Carrie's friend.  But the latter could indicate Carrie had a bit of a blind spot towards her.  So Frank had decided it was better to keep the Julie concerns to himself for the moment.
Indeed, it was only in the last few days that he'd realized how much Julie might be a cause for concern, given the way she acted, not to mention how she had apparently tried to get him in trouble in chemistry class last week.  The phone tip had been rather fortuitous.  However, he still didn't know who had called.  Did it signify that some higher powers were observing them?  Did that in turn mean that Frank and Carrie's safety was being looked after?  Not something Frank really wanted to count on.  Which was ironically a good reason for bringing Carrie along when time traveling.
The three or four trips Frank had taken on his own earlier in the week had been poorly executed, particularly the one when he'd ended up at the school.  He was not adept at making quick adjustments to new situations.  Carrie, on the other hand, could think well under pressure, and even seemed to have an unusual rapport with time itself.  That story she had given about the uncle in the hotel... well, Frank doubted he'd have been able to fake his way through that conversation with half of the girl's finesse, movie references notwithstanding.  But then again, he might not have had to if they hadn't fingered her as a thief, right?
"Can't travel with her, can't travel without her," Frank concluded, sitting down at the base of the tree and staring up into the sky.

Carrie shone the light into the underbrush, looking for any sign of blue while simultaneously listening for anything around her that was out of the ordinary.  Her mind, though, was on other things entirely.  Namely the situation they'd been dropped into.  Had she had a brush with a long-lost relative of sorts?  Frank's unproven theories aside, had she affected history?  Carrie couldn't think of anything in her present that felt out of place... but then, based on prior experience, she'd likely be remembering any changes as the original history already.  It was very tempting to sneak back into town and satisfy her curiosity about the situation, but even Carrie had to admit the potential danger was too great.
She sighed.  This whole time travel business was really starting to affect her life.  Perhaps it would be best not to think about it, but Carrie was finding that she couldn't help it anymore.  How might her actions end up affecting the timeline?  Particularly where her mother was concerned?  Such thoughts had driven Carrie to distraction more than once in the past week, often necessitating an apology to whomever she’d been talking to.  Which had actually caught some classmates off guard, almost as if they'd expected to share the blame for her inattentiveness.  She didn’t always lash out though, did she?  Her brow furrowed.  There was also that date she’d had with Bill the other night.  The guy had turned out to be a lot duller than she would have anticipated.  Just how well did she really know the people around her anyway?
A hint of blue caught the blonde's eye and she pushed those unsettling thoughts out of her head.  That must it, her favourite hairband.  She approached the item in question and stooped down to retrieve it.  Which was when something hit her from behind, causing her to collapse to the ground.  Dazed but not out, Carrie rolled over in order to see who or what had just attacked her.  The shock of seeing a mirror image of herself, standing there wielding a tree branch, was enough to allow the assailant to get in another swing.  The world exploded in a field of stars before fading to black.

Chapter 7B will be posted next Sunday. If you think this is terrible (or great), please let me know why in the comments. If you want to read more, I have a pdf, just get in touch with me (@mathtans). Thanks for getting this far!


  1. I know you've been looking for feedback, so here is my 60-second take on writing craft in this excerpt.

    Strong points: Excellent job at creating character through dialogue and voice, particularly Frank; active plot drives the narrative forward; ending of this excerpt creates strong narrative tension.

    Needs some work: POV shifts, both between characters and moving between close-third and editorial omniscient, creates distance and reduces narrative tension; second half of the excerpt is heavily expository drags down the story.

    1. Thanks, I appreciate the response! I'm starting to feel like I am very much a character writer. The dialogue thing is interesting though, seeing as I've never considered that a strength. As far as the ending goes, as written in 1999 it was intended to be a mid-Chapter "commercial break", if you will, to keep people from tuning out after the (in my mind) necessary info dump.

      Point of View. Yeah, it's been recently brought to my attention that I am NOT good at this... it's like I want to be inside the characters' heads, getting at their motivations - yet at the same time, I want to be able to describe things in broad strokes. I don't think I can do things both ways. I wonder whether my first person writing efforts come across as any better owing to the need to remain in a single head... definitely something to work on at least. Thanks again.

    2. "I don't think I can do things both ways."

      You actually can if you set it up omniscient point of view, but I think this is one of the harder POVs to write in successfully. The bigger question, however, is what is the right POV for this story?

      Oh, and give yourself credit for dialogue. I know many writers who find it very difficult and avoid writing it, but good dialogue has a way bringing the work to life.

    3. That's a good point. Beyond first-second-third I don't tend to delve into the nuances of POV, and I can see how some stories are better served through that choice. So much overhead before putting pencil to paper sometimes!
      As for dialogue, I believe mine to be very utilitarian. If it doesn't further the character or the plot, I much prefer to tool around inside a single character's head. No idea if that's how it's perceived, or if it's actually coming across like that.

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