Chapter 9: Trouble in Spades
3.27.2002 Edited by , every Sunday.
It was dark by the time Bjorn reached Albuquerque. He was all but nodding off at the wheel; the twinkling city lights repeatedly blotted out by the heavy lift and fall of his eyelids. He cruised down the main drag, stomach grumbling with a vigour that didn’t seem to change, regardless of the era it was in.
Just as Bjorn was contemplating the idea of simply pulling over and snoozing in the back of the Chevy, a brightly-lit motel came up on his right. “Svengali Motel,” read a blue-white-and-red sign. The long, low building was made of puke-pink stone, each door painted an ostentatious shade of green. There were few cars in the lot, and a piece of cardboard stuck to the hotelier’s window announced “SIX VACANCIES”.
Bjorn steered into the lot and parked. He wearily sat back in his bucket seat, breathing in the cool air and not a few mosquitoes. Coughing, he massaged the back of his neck and collected his bearings.
“Albuquerque. 1959.” He mused, “A technofuturist car.” With that, he squinted at the car’s dashboard, particularly the Chevrolet logo in the center of the steering wheel, which had so propitiously fired out a death-ray in place of honking sound. Above the raised, boxy icon, the word ‘PUSH’ was traced into the leather. Bjorn leaned forward – never one to ignore the instructions of a machine, – averted his eyes, and pushed. With the sound of well-oiled machinery, the dash rotated in on itself, once again revealing the bizarre array of computer gadgetry, this time without an accompanying coyote-frying laser-beam.
“So that’s how you do it,” Bjorn said.
He touched the pockets of his jacket and trousers, pulling the contents out and spreading them on his lap.
There was the gun he had collected from the unconscious ‘alien’ in Roswell; Bjorn’s wallet, with VISA, driver’s license, and $25.16 in cash from 1918; the plump bag of multicoloured time-travel pills, snatched from McNoHart in the debacle that started this whole thing; a bottle of aspirin (containing two aspirin); and the three capsules Bjorn had yet to test, the morning of his disappearance from 2008.
“Too many pills,” said Bjorn. He left the time-travelers where they were, but dumped out the aspirins, replacing them with the dark-blue, yellow and purple capsules. He now had his bag of ‘melted crayon’ temporal-transit pills, and a small bottle containing three mystery capsules. He slid everything back into his pockets.
Bjorn turned and looked over at the bag Hector had given him. It sat part open on the seat beside him, an antique pistol peeking out. He reached over and picked up the wad of 1959 money, adding it to his wallet. Then he grabbed the newspaper.
“SOLDIERS AND DIPLOMATS CELEBRATE SURRENDER OF LEE’S ARMY,” read the headline, “Victorious Lincoln to proudly attend production of ‘Our American Cousin’ in Washington this evening.”
Bjorn shrugged and tossed the Times back into the bag. Then he leaned over for the mysterious garden spade.
As his hands touched the metal implement and lifted it over towards him, Bjorn caught a sudden, wild motion on the control panel before him. Where previously there had been two mirror images of Vancouver, now one of the digital representations was much, much altered. Above the glowing word ‘Current’ was now a completely annihilated cityscape, where piles of rubble lay still under a stormy sky. The ‘Control’ image looked as sunny and shiny as ever.
Bjorn’s eyes bulged from his head. Gulping, he replaced the spade from where he had taken it. Instantly, the ‘Current’ Vancouver snapped back to normal. Bjorn looked shiftily around. He grabbed and put back the spade several times, watching with childish glee as the picture changed from urban sprawl to post-apocalyptic landscape. Finally, he stopped his shenanigans and let the spade lie in the bag. Vancouver looked good-as-new.
“I think I’ll leave that spade where it is,” said Bjorn, as if making an executive decision unmarked by outside pressures. He took the pistol, however, and fitted it into the glove compartment. Satisfied that everything was in order, he touched the ‘PUSH’ button again, and watched the computer get-up fold in on itself. Bjorn quietly hoped that the occasional momentary activation of the controls would not attract his enemies’ attention.
He climbed out of the car, stretched, and trudged in to the motel’s office. Temporarily assuaged by the focus of the preceding reorganization, Bjorn’s fatigue now returned in full force. He leaned on the motel’s counter, and was only vaguely coherent as he requested a room.
“Here you are, sir,” said the man behind the counter. Bjorn was amused by the fellow’s large, floppy hat, replete with a fluffy feather. It matched the rest of the man’s puffy medieval costume.
“A convention in town?” murmured Bjorn.
“Pardon me, sir?”
“Some sort of renaissance fair, huh?” Bjorn yawned.
The man swallowed. “Oh- Oh, yes sir. Certainly.” He smiled a thin, pink smile.
“Right. Thanks mister, er…” Bjorn’s gaze drifted down to a wooden nametag. “- mister Svengali.”
“My pleasure,” said Mr. Svengali, “I’ll see you soon.”
Bjorn smiled languorously and nodded. “Good night.”
His room was spare and dim. A small table lamp threw a golden pool onto the floor, but as Bjorn stripped off his clothes, it was in semi-darkness. Finally he clicked off the light and lay, cold, under his covers. His muscles ached, and he let his eyes fall closed.
The occasional car surged by outside and there were cicadas in the grasses beyond the window. As the rumbling urban sounds mixed with pastoral serenity, Bjorn felt an overwhelming sense of loneliness. He was somewhere strange, carrying more weapons than he ever had before, chased and harried by a murderous group. He was miles and years away from any semblance of home, he was in a room that smelled of mildew, on a bed that creaked, and there was no one he could call for help, or even for a drink. Bjorn was alone, and not for the first time, he longed for someone to love.
By Sean Micheals