Aphelion Issue 281, Volume 27
March 2023
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The Bar

by Andrew Massey

In the end you won't like me I suppose, it don't bother me now anyhow. I've just stopped caring. I mean, that's what got us in the position we are in now anyway, so it's old news to me. Anyway, you're buying the drinks so I guess I owe you a good story or two. Story? Yeah, right, a story, it's not real, just remind yourself. Jack Daniels neat, thanks.

You'd recognise where I'm from but at the same time it'd be unfamiliar. The streets are safe and clean, people doing the usual things, but they have time and a bit of patience with each other. It's a big city, just like this, but it feels small town if you know what I mean, and not in a busy body sense, just small town. When I went to work I'd leave the front door unlocked and windows open and not have to worry, it'd all be there when I got back, and I could send the kids to school without worrying what sort of sick freak was following them. Internet? Yeah, same but different, no porn just information, and no spammers, you'd need some time to get used to that. Jokes were everywhere, everyone likes to laugh, and I was a bit of joker but my real passion was stories, tales, things that people said that I could tell to others. I made my living writing for the papers but I also loved it, so I was luckier than most with that, it paid the bills and kept me happy. The two seemed to go together and they used to call me Mr. Happy in the office, can you believe that? Me, Mr. Happy. Yeah, time sure changes things and my glass needs a refill.

So one quiet day I'm out looking for the next article and I see him, sitting in the park, hunched on a bench and leaning forward, hands wrapped around his knees and rocking slowly back and forth. It was unusual, the guy was in his sixties I'd have guessed and was obviously distressed which didn't happen that often around there. Huh? No, everyone didn't go round with stupid grins on their faces, it was just that no-one ever stayed sad for long, there was always someone or something to pick them up, like I said, the city was small town, as was every other place. So I go over to him, sit down and ask him what's going on, real gently like, and he lifts his head up and smiles weakly at me and I can see that he is distressed, but he seems happy all the same.

I'm dying he tells me, but I've done it before I go and that's all that matters. I should've let it go then and there but it wasn't the way things were done, I had to pry, had to ask, and when I did it seemed to make him happier. He simply pointed at his feet to a small tin lying on the ground. Thirty years I put into that, he said, thirty years and it worked, thirty years of putting up with all the idiots and know it alls and I did it, and they don't even understand that I did it he said, and it doesn't matter cause I'm dying now, heart failure and I can feel it coming on and there's nothing can be done, and he tells me not to look so sad as he's done it and it's been worth it. By that point he was going pasty coloured, and I flipped out the comset to call the ambulance but he... oh, comset, yeah, it's like a mobile phone but it does some other things as well, no I don't think Phone Zone has one, not in this place anyway... anyhow, he tells me not to bother, and asks if I could do him a favour and keep a secret. Yeah, anything I said, and that's not an offer I'd make now, but that was a different place and time. Yeah, Jack Daniels, thanks.

So he tells me he has this great secret, that the box at his feet is the ultimate machine he could build, that it is a sort of time machine-dimension jumper thing. He hands it to me and it's small, weighs about 2 kilos and has a small screen on it, and then goes on into an explanation that I could only nod and smile to as I didn't understand more than one word in ten and god knows I've tried to remember it all, hypnosis, drugs, even torture... Yeah, I got scars. I'll show you later maybe but I don't think it'll be safe... but I can't recall anything except what he finished with. He looked at me with eyes that were lit up like candles and tells me that with that box you can go back and change things and branch off another universe in the multiverse, like making a photocopy of one place that then goes on with life but with the change you made in place. So it's different than the first but the first still exists. Crazy? Yeah, I thought so too, but I tell you he wasn't and I got the proof, have I got proof. The downside he said was that it was only good for two shots and he had been worried that if he stuffed up the first time he wouldn't know how to fix things up with the last shot, but he'd hit the nail right on the head first up and now he could die in peace. Except he was worried about the box.

So I say to him, and he looks like he was about to go at any second, that I'd fix it for him if he wanted. He looks at me and says he thinks he can trust me, gives me the box and tells me to put it in a high temperature smelter where it will melt and disappear, not to let anyone use it, and not soon after he dies on me, still with the smile on his face, leaving me with the box.

I took it home and didn't dispose of it straight away, I had bible study that afternoon… yeah, bible study. Don't laugh, I used to go twice a week and if you keep laughing I'll forget who's buying the drinks and get nasty… Yeah, no offence taken … so I go off to bible study and the larrikin side gets hold of me afterwards and as I'm walking home I have an idea, not a bright one but an idea anyway. So I get home, look at the box and flip the only switch I can see and bingo, it's on and active. Figured out how to use it in about ten seconds, same principle as the NeoNavPod that... oh, sorry, you don't have them do you, let's say it was as easy as using a mobile phone, all simple and laid out... and in an instant I was back there, looking at the two of them and quite surprised, I'll tell you. It's one thing to believe, it's another to see. So anyway, I'm there so I start speaking to the girl, quite an attractive thing and not at all embarrassed even though she's stark naked. I mean, what's to be embarrassed about when you look that good, and I'm surprised when I find out we can understand each other, you know, I thought that might be a problem. The guy simply says hello and that he thought there was only the two of them around but he must be mistaken, and then goes off to do I don't know what. Double this time, on the rocks and then I gotta go.

So I'm feeling good and the larrikin is getting the better of me so I do what I do and in about twenty minutes I've done it and I'm back and the box is finished, it's just smoking gently, but I'm not really back. I'm in this place and not that place, and I can't get back. I mean, I recognize this place, and it is close to that place, but I don't like it and I'm responsible for it, and can't fix it or change it, you know. This place is everything that place wasn't, and it's not nice. It's not right, and it's not fixable. Well, yeah, nice talking to you too, buddy, and I hope your mother does as well, but it don't matter, does it. Yeah, well, I can yell just as loud, but don't try it on with me and how the hell was I supposed to know one friggin' apple could make such a difference anyway?


2016 Andrew Massey

Bio: Mr. Massey is a pen pusher by day and lives in Brisbane, Australia with his wife and a deranged cat. His last Aphelion appearance was My Brother's Keeper.

E-mail: Andrew Massey

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