From Chapter Zero:
Meeting Sally, a Girl from a Properly Engineered Future
“Hi! What’s your name?” the young man asked a small, prim, and proper little girl. She was at play in a park, apart from a group of others who looked and sounded very much like her.
Blonde bumpy pigtails spun outward and whipped the air when she heard the voice, which seemed to pop out of nowhere.
“Sally,” she answered, looking at the man’s face. It looked familiar, as if he was famous somehow. A woman was with him; she didn’t speak.
“No—your full name,” the young man requested curtly.
“Sally November Thirtieth Two Thousand Five Hundred And Nine.”
“Thanks, kid. Gotta go.”
“Where?” the little girl asked, quite innocently, even fondly—the man seemed like an old friend. She trusted him, as if his face was the very one on the statue in front of her school.
The man answered. “Back to my dorm room…uhhh…keep up the good work…” while wondering why he bothered to answer at all, notwithstanding polite habit. This girl and all those in this world meant nothing to him, and, he believed, most likely didn’t even really exist in the way, say, his dorm room existed. He would ask a physicist when he got the chance.
Then, he and the woman clasped hands and disappeared. Gone, removed, erased, as the girl watched and blinked at the nothingness left at the spot. Her eyes adjusted and saw again the trees of the playground beyond where the two had stood. The disappearing act looked fake, like the cartoons she watched each morning with her sister on one of eleven twelve-foot television screens in their house. There had even been a “vooooop!” sound, a lame one, and the girl realized that it came from the man’s own mouth. That sound, of course, was cut off as abruptly as the vision, and both only barely lingered in the little girl’s mind.
From Chapter Eight:
Instead of Sleeping: Some Time Travel
It seemed to Plunkett that Woby had just left when he burst back in through the dorm room door. This time there was nothing unnatural or inexplicable: through normal everyday cause and effect, and time passing at one-second-per-second, Woby had returned. It was early Saturday morning; Plunkett had fallen asleep on the couch with his notebook on his chest and his pen still wedged between his fingers.
Plunkett jumped up at the surprise and the noise and saw a tall but doughy figure come through the door.
It was Woby.
It was Woby.
His younger brother’s normal blobby and R-shaped outline was there in the door frame, and now moving toward the couch. The form in motion jiggled in a familiar way, and still looked ready for someone to keep long-stemmed flowers in; and it all still swished as if carrying more than enough water for any emergency.
But this person had short hair, and it was neatly parted to the side. And this person was dressed in pleated khaki pants and a golf shirt and had been carrying a suitcase, which now remained near the door. He had papers under his arm, an umbrella in hand. And this person’s face was mature, creased, and with fewer blemishes, and these in brown and not jelly-pink. He looked the age of a young college professor.
This person had a moustache.
Through it, came: “Okay, well that was interesting.”
Since it still walked like a Woby and talked like a Woby, Plunkett knew it was his shortly-lost brother. His mind was getting used to not ruling out the impossible, and caught on quickly.
“You used it!” he yelled.
“I couldn’t sleep,” Woby-man replied. “I think.”
“It was a while ago.”
“Why are you so old?” Plunkett said, body and temper rising like a pissed off dawn.
“Why is this so Wobing hard?” he said to the ceiling and any Lord who might be on the roof or even higher above it.
Woby wondered what his much younger older brother meant, and then didn’t wonder. “I missed you,” Woby said.
Plunkett tried to blink away flakes of remaining dreams as he stared at the other’s clean-shaven chin, less-angled still-chubby form, and even chubbier, even Wobier neck.
“Tell me everything that happened,” he said.
“I will. I can’t wait to tell you. There’s so much—”
Plunkett held up his hand rudely, not struggling with whether to treat his elders with respect in this instance. “Tell me only about time travel and what will help me do what we want, and whether the world is still okay. Big things. Not about your career in accounting, or whatever you did.”
“Ah, yes, that stuff. Don’t worry, you can still do your thing. But there are people I want you to meet. In fact, I met—”
Plunkett’s hand went back up, as did a yawn. “Tell me only what I ask. First: When you left here last night and went home, what happened then?”
“I couldn’t sleep…yes…I remembered to want to say that to you.”
“So you time-traveled instead of reading a book or something?” Plunkett yawned as aggressively as possible. “Did anyone see?”
From Chapter Zero:
A Younger, Forgettable Version of Oneself
“You can’t keep him. I agree that he is cute, and pathetic, and sad, and he needs help. But you can’t keep him.” A young man was addressing an older man, pointing out something that should have been obvious.
“But…” was the only response. For now.
The two were looking down at a little boy, who was wearing very large eyeglasses, had chocolate stains all over his lips and cheeks, and was squeaking to them that he wanted to stay with “my Unkie” and “Unkie’s funny friend.”
“That’s cute but you can’t, kid,” came the response. “Why is he squinting like that?” the young man asked the older one.
“Turns out his glasses are the wrong prescription.”
“Then take them off him! For god’s sake…”
This was done. But then they were quickly replaced.
The little guy giggled. “Me ugly,” he squeaked.
The young man spoke again. “Okay, it is sad, but really you have to put him back. It will be alright. In a few years. But!”—a new thought came—“don’t tell him his future, you both might go blind. Just tell him to go back and wait for the silver truck. It will come. All his dreams will come true if he waits for the silver truck.”
“Mom and Dad’s! Wow, that brings back memories, that big old SUV.”
The old man smiled, the young man did not. He never smiled when his brother smiled: not when they were kids, not yesterday when they were young men, and especially not today that they were forty or so years apart.
“Yeah whatever. He just needs to wait, like everyone else.”
“No one wants him. No one is nice to him.”
“Is that why you brought him here?”
“There are a lot of reasons….” The old man looked and sounded as exhausted as the infinity of time.
“None of them good. Go take a nap.”
Besides, the young man thought, a college dorm room is no place to keep a kid.
From Chapter Fifteen-N:
Learning what a Uroboros is, And its Limited Uses
Now in through the door, almost unnoticed, slithered a red and grey banded snake, a yard in length and the thickness of a garden hose. It would have gone totally unnoticed if it hadn’t wrapped itself around Plunkett’s thin leg and causing him to flinch from the knee down. This sent the snake flying across the foyer of the front door, revolving in the air, its sleek ends turning at different speeds like sped-up clock hands. It landed in the box of Grandpa’s clothes, silently, without the usual noise a snake makes when it lands in laundry.
Before Plunkett could decide not to approach the thing, it approached him. It rose majestically a foot straight up from the cardboard rim wearing Grandpa’s old red and charcoal striped trousers caught within the belt loops. The snake’s tongue searched and flicked, the whirring of Chatarra-the-Robot’s own data-hungry sensors the only other noise. And then down, in a loop, dove the diamond-shaped head, and its serpent’s body followed perfectly, leaving behind the old man pants.
To Plunkett’s relief, of its own accord it slithered toward the couch, passing too close for Torito-the-Dog’s liking, and the black beast shook with throaty maledictions.
Plunketto-the-Bullfighter was enjoying this, a wide smile on his face as he and Alchemista-the-Alchemist whispered to each other.
“What’s funny?” Plunkett asked, his annoyance sliding worm-like across his face.
But as Plunketto removed his black felt montera hat to answer, the snake did a very odd thing: Just before reaching the further couch, it stopped, and formed a circle, head to tail.
Then head proceeded to eat tail.
“Este,” the matador said, was what was funny.
The Asian woman stood with an oriental formality, it seemed to the westerners that she was preparing to make a long speech. Opening her eyes wide, she said, or, rather, Plunkett heard, “Long. Yin Yang.” And she sat back down.
“Shut up!” Plunkett said.
The snake was now in a tighter circle, six inches of its own length inside its mouth. The self-circumscribed creature then gagged and backed out of itself.
“Ewww,” Plunkett said, which the Asian woman repeated to his rising annoyance. “Give her a name,” Plunkett called to the matador while pointing at the little lady, “then tell her to shut up.” The name given was Flotadora. Flotadora shut her eyes.
Flormeleno, on the other hand, raised his hippie self from a cross-legged, barefoot, ripped-jeaned, beaded, bearded, vested, bare-chested state of far-out wonderment and stood at his place on the couch, afraid of the scaly living rope that was now moving into position next to him.
Once there, the snake, bright red and shiny grey and contrasting starkly and uglily to the drab brown couch, curled into a tight spiral, fantastically. It first reached almost perfectly, vertically up, and then wound tail to head downward in a coordinated, bedazzling corkscrew spin. Its head last and finally at center, it flashed ebony serpent eyes open in an intense gaze straight ahead and at nothing. It stayed that way, stiff and unreal.
This was a Uroboros, as Plunkett was to learn.
From Chapter Twenty:
They Say It’s Not a Party Until...
The dorm room was rockin’.
Despite: the lateness of the hour. Despite: the jet lag of all the guests who had arrived from vastly different time zones. Despite: the language barrier. Despite: numerous pairs of natural enemies in close proximity. And despite: the mental exhaustion of the two hosts, Plunkett and Alpha Woby—who in fact was alternately snoring and scream-waking in Plunkett’s bedroom—the festive air continued.
In fact, to any who might drop in—and a few did, the usual undergraduate dorm cronies who can sense a good time in their jawbones—the common room looked no different than the early stages of a rollicking, well-attended costume party.
The pygmies danced and sweated and danced, teaching steps to Flotadora, who was preternaturally light on her feet.
Spanish, large Plunketto was entertaining the group with contests of strength and endurance, for example War Tugging with Torito the Black Beast From The Junkyard Of Hades who now romped and yipped like a shiny new puppy. Alchemista refereed. More than one pillow was destroyed in their roughhousing, stuffing and small brown feathers coating the couches and floor. They say it isn’t a party until a matador spears a couch cushion within the jaws of a hellhound held in place by an alchemist.
From Chapter Twenty-One:
Vooping Around the Time-Space, or whatever, Continuum
Child Woby rose a small hand toward his Unkie, giving the box he had held. It was the one that came with the belt, the one that Plunkett now understood. Unkie opened it and turned it upside down to dump the junk out—apparently the boy had been playing with it, and out plummeted a bottlecap, a miniature toy dinosaur, and a few screws and wires, and eventually down floated some used tissues like parachuting soldiers of snot.
Plunkett patted Wobito on the head.
“Unkie Plunkie…” said the kid, and laughed and sniffed.
“Damn right,” Plunkett returned. “Are you ready?”
“For what?” said the boy, and tilted his head, looking ever the
“To make the noise!”
“And then you have to wash.”
“But now we can make the noise!”
“Yay!” Lil’ Woby sparkled again, as his Unkie shook his head at how easy it is to raise a child. Nancy smirked.
“Okay, when I say three…” Plunkett continued, readying himself, steadying himself.
“Voooooooop!” lilted Lil’ Woby’s voice, prematurely. His cheeks were inverted inward, his mouth crooked and asymmetrically adorable.
“No, little dufus, when I count to three…” But Lil’ Woby was smiling too hard so that Plunkett relented with a “Good job!” He then tapped the watch face once; it lit in green. He tapped is again, to yellow. With the third tap Plunkett thought to make the noise himself and did; but Lil’ Woby only heard “Vooo!” the remaining “o”s and hard ending “p” lost and gone following Uncle Brother Plunkett.
Left behind was a hole in the room that readily filled with spindrifts of new essence. Lil’ Woby sneezed and coughed at the same time, then farted, then cried.
From Chapter Fifteen-D:
Time-traveler Stowaways Arrive at the Dorm Room in No Particular Order
The quiet of Plunkett’s couch was disturbed by a noise in the hall.
“He can’t be that stupid.” Plunkett theorized aloud, thinking of Woby.
He quickly concluded that Woby was easily that stupid.
And that he may have, even in front of Ariel, used the belt.
The robot’s body kicked into motion, sensors first, and was soon fully alert and sounding like a 1990s-era fax machine. The small lady opened her eyes and shut them again. The Rottweiler lifted its fire hydrant of a head, a small army of rippling shoulder muscles twitching to attention as it did, its coat sparkling a feathery black. He was the most impressive of the new guests….
…until the bullfighter walked in, asking questions in Spanish. Plunkett had taken two years of Spanish and recognized the upside- down question mark in the man’s voice.
Plunkett of course could not be sure at first that the man was a bullfighter, an actual matador. He was sure dressed like one, but so what? Plunkett himself was dressed like a gravedigger and yet he has never touched a shovel. And you know what they say, Plunkett thought to himself, but could not come up with an appropriately wizened expression, so instead stared at the Spaniard’s tall, shiny, silver boots and their long, winding stairway of gold laces.
Until the new guest made it to the couch, puffed up his chest at the growling monster dog, and said “Toro!” Then the couch lit with lightning strikes of blue flame.
“Ay!” the man then said, with a new respect for his would-be foe.
Ever the good host, Plunkett remembered his middle-school Spanish classes, tests, and minimal efforts at homework. Addressing the large man—and his silly hat, his cool cape, his broad back— Plunkett thought hard, and successfully declared his own name.
Then pointed out that Maria went to the school, that the boys play soccer, that today was a sunny day, and that we eat in the kitchen.
The bullfighter did not take his eyes off the Rottweiler, however, calling him—indeed naming him—“Torito Azul.” And Torito Azul did not take its cement-mixer growl off the man.
Plunkett wondered, almost worried, about his little adopted brother, but the feeling soon passed.
From Chapter Fifteen-M:
Advice from a Mean-spirited, but Gloating and Out-of-tune Mentor
As if in answer, Aris actually started to dance and hum a tune, presumably of a traditional melody, but with oddly non-lyrical lyrics, presumably of his own making.
The Ultimate Tidal-Wave-Equation
Will seal the young girl’s doom,
Scientists: please all man your stations,
Here comes the Tsunom-nic-Boom
Aris ended, then spun and clicked his heels.
Ariel’s cheek was squished in the palm of her hand as it sup- ported her drooping head.
“Wake up, protégé! It is the last mile. You have to continue your session, your historic, earth-quaking interrogatory. Destinies await! Your patient awaits! Woby awaits! Look!”
Woby was indeed sitting up and calling for her.
“I’m coming, Woby, sorry.” Ariel answered.
“Go to him. And here is the last throw: Tell him to go get his younger self and bring him to the present. Metaphorically, of course.”
“Ok, wow, yes,” Ariel perked up enough to say while sipping leftover, cold coffee. It was certainly an interesting thought, and she intuited what the psychological ramifications might be, and how profound such an experience, when combined with the others, could be. Of course, she wished she had had more time to truly understand it—this was supposed to be her own research, after all—and perhaps even to have come up with the idea herself. But Aris was not to be gainsaid, so with new energy she aye-aye’d Aris, and went to Woby.
Aris removed to his position in the closet; on the way he softly sang,
Trapped in the QOV hyperplane
We’ll remove her spatial dimension
With her world a mere line,
Oh, won’t that be fine?
When we can track her exact position…
From Chapter Twenty-One:
Kicking a Robot in order to Feel Better
Losing time. How ironic.
Yet it was true, and the collective pressure to be the hero was biting at Plunkett’s skull and trying to kill him for food. Everyone in the dorm stared at him, and with looks that said it plainly: Plunkett was no Woby. The man hardly even time traveled, he relied on others. And now Woby needed help, and what had Plunkett done?
Why is everything my problem? Always? he thought. His brain swam with things that historically irritated him.
In fact, here is a list:
- A dead, bloated whale, skin stretched in the surf and ready to burst;
- An exploded pen in a pocket;
- The last few seconds of the sun;
- 4:30 a.m.;
- A cat eating a wasp;
He moved to the bedroom to curse aloud and alone, but was followed by Nancy and soon heard Lil’ Woby laughing at “Unkie,” and repeating some of the consonant-heavy words learned three seconds ago from Unkie’s funny, funny maniacal outburst. Plunkett pulled himself together. He kicked the robot from behind, in a part that might be considered a hamstring and in any case looked weak and vulnerable, while the thing slacked in the corner. It beeped and whirred, but the sounds sputtered, were discontinuous, broken, hurt.
Plunkett felt much, much better. Nancy upbraided him, but Plunkett felt much, much better.