To a fashion, the United States government’s first ever experiment for time travel moving forward, had actually worked. “Exact precision, needs tweaking by the technicians.” The pilot had recorded later in his log. “Admittedly,” he’d reflected, “I could have ended up on an atoll in the Pacific Ocean, or inside a mountain of rock, or on a busy and fast moving freeway.” Such nightmarish scenarios avoided proved endless, when given proper consideration.
According to the read-out on the auto guidance i-device strapped to his wrist, providence had played him in with a lucky hand. Albeit cramped-up inside a small, walk-in maintenance cupboard with his foot wedged inside a plastic bucket, it transpired that Lieutenant Commander John Eagle, of the Florida-based US Special Secret Projects Unit, had rematerialised in a club named Iggy’s. The location: 1967 Fairview Avenue, Middletown, England. His mind and body, as far as he could tell, had survived the journey fully intact.
He listened awhile, frozen, the heady scent of bleach flared his nostrils outwards. He could hear music, voices, conversations, cocktails shaken with ice. Backed by a beat, a synthesiser etched out a repetitive riff made up of only a handful of notes, while the murmuring of an impending bass drop added tension to the atmosphere.
Of his location, he knew where. But, what about the when? He held in a button on the side of the i-device. After two seconds, nonsensical gobbledegook flashed across the small screen.
Extricating himself from the cupboard, John Eagle entered a corridor. Using the increase in music volume as a guide, he navigated through a network of passageways, until reaching a door with an illuminated sign, which read:
“THIS WAY . . . “
Opening the door ajar, the music significantly loudened. He peeped inside, his gaze falling upon an ecstatic throng of people dancing amidst different coloured flashing lights and balloons filled with helium gas. At the back of the dance hall, he could make out a small bar, worked by a fresh-faced young man drying glasses. Taking a breath, John slipped inside, jigging through the crowd slowly and self-consciously. He noted how his jumpsuit did not appear to arouse suspicion or seem ostentatious within the dance environment. A barstool appeared in his sights, quickly becoming the target of his new, short term objective.
“Hey mister, what can I get you?” The bartender washed his hands under a tap and smiled warmly as he dried them on a paper hand towel.
“A triple vodka, one cube of ice.” John Eagle replied automatically. “Could I set up a tab please?”
The bartender eyed his customer up and down and grabbed a glass. “Yes you can, what’s the name?”
“Eagle. John, Simon, Ulysses, Sebastián Eagle. What may I call you?” The directness of the question wrong-footed the young man for a second, as he scribbled the sequence of names onto a reporter’s pad of paper.
“How, um, are you spelling Ulysses?” He asked.
“The same as everyone else,” John huffed, “U-L-Y, S-S, E-S.”
“What a truly lovely name sir. Naturally, I have heard of it before, but not until now have I written it down. It’s kinda strange, the spelling, versus the sound.” The barman stared at the letters, rocking his head from left to right several times. “You asked my name, it’s Bertrand; everyone here just calls me Bert.”
“Alright Bert, I have a question for you which may appear strange.” John took a small sip of the vodka, causing him to wince momentarily. “I, um, I’ve been out of the country for a few weeks and I’ve completely lost track of the days. I wonder, could you tell me the current date please, in full?”
Before Bert could answer, two, short-haired young men approached the bar and requested beverages bearing exotic names John had never heard of. As they waited for the drinks to be prepared, they began cuddling each other and snogging passionately, using tongues. At one point, they leant against John, threatening to unseat him. After they’d left, John repositioned himself upon the barstool, mentally dusting himself off.
“Looks like they’re having fun!” He said, his voice pitched low and constant, trying his best to sound unabashed. He noticed Bert seemed preoccupied with thoughts. “Are you okay, Bert?”
“You’re a time traveller, aren’t you?” Bert folded his arms across his chest.
“What makes you say that?” John sucked the ice cube into his mouth from the glass, cautiously crunching the frozen molecules between his teeth.
“That question, it’s not very subtle, is it? Out of the country for a few weeks, lost track of time, tell me the full current date. I mean, it’s not very convincing. Why wouldn’t you just check your watch?”
John had a quick decision to make: should he carry on with the charade, cutting the conversation short and finding another way to establish his place in time? Or, subsume the handsome fellow into his small circle of trust?
“Okay Bert, my i-device suffered damage while travelling through the time field vortex,” John opted for the latter option, “and now it’s broken.”
“Can I have a look?” Bert held John’s wrist and concentrated, looking closely at the mechanism. “I’m going to reboot it.” He said, pressing and holding-in a small button for several seconds.
Both men watched as the screen flashed once, then shutdown and reopened. A few seconds later, after the screen icons had settled, Bert pressed another button twice, read the information and gently turned Johns’ wrist so that he could see it for himself.
“According to the data, you’ve travelled one year into the future and furthermore, I recognise who you are. You made the news a year ago.”
“I did, I made the news?” John Eagle’s eyes widened large. While processing what he’d just been told, a group of fashionably dressed men approached the bar and ordered drinks. They smelled nice. One of the group briefly assessed John and gave him a subtle wink, to which John politely acknowledged with a smile, in return. After they had been served drinks and left, John reconnected with Bert. “You, er, you were saying?”
“Yes,” Bert washed and dried his hands, “I’m not exactly sure of the conclusion, you know how the news moves on so fast. But, I believe they think they lost you. Like, for good.”
“Lost me?” A salty drip of sweat broke free, migrating down the front of John’s forehead, disappearing into his left eye, causing him to squint slightly. “How do you mean, can you explain?”
“Here.” Bert handed John a floral patterned paper serviette, which John unfolded and wiped across his forehead.
“Thank you, Bert.”
“Well, from what I can remember, a time travel experiment had gone badly wrong, a big explosion happened in a lab in Florida, at a secret installation place. News got out that a pilot had been lost. Soon after, a scandal followed when it came to light that the scientists involved in the project had been funnelling government grants away, to off-shore bank accounts, all the while cutting corners on health and safety considerations.”
“Bastards!” John leapt into the air and slammed a tightly clenched fist onto the counter.
“Due to this, the team disbanded and the project got closed down, that’s all I know. Of course, you know what this means, don’t you John Ulysses?”
“I can never go back to my own time!” John answered, his face impassive, as he considered the consequences. Bert covered John’s fist with his hand, offering comfort.
“John, are you married?” Bert inquired.
“Yes,” replied John, “twenty-six years, the twins are in high school, they’ll be taking their final exams this year, ready for college.”
“Was your marriage okay?” Bert gently squeezed John’s hand, which had relaxed and flattened out from the fist shape.
“Was my marriage okay?” John looked down at Bert’s hand, clean, well-manicured, soft and supple, despite the regular washing. “Er, yes, well, I guess so, we keep separate bedrooms, it’s by agreement. Christabelle snores, I am a light sleeper and we both enjoy our privacy, too. We had our blip, a few years back, there was a brief affair. I, we, got over it, we’re a unit. W-why do you ask, Bert?”
“Well, I’m just saying, you’re at a point now, where you can resurface into society pretty much whenever you want to. For now, while everyone thinks your dead, you have an opportunity to explore life unimpeded by social norms and restraints you were familiar with while alive.”
“Y-yes, I suppose I have.” John drew in a quick breath.
“Fate has transported you a year forward in time,” Bert continued, “halfway around the world to a private members gay club. We’ve got lots of facilities on site, not just this dance floor, which by-the-way, doubles up as a performance space for poetry, jazz nights and cabaret. We’ve also got a gym, a café and, something I hoped you might be interested in visiting with me, a spa. Your wife need never know!”
John Eagle considered Bert’s statement. Perhaps he could use some time to take stock and reflect on his life. It was true, things hadn’t been brilliant at home for some time, nor at work – especially after taking into account what he knew now, regarding the scientific team at the lab. In all his years, he’d never once instigated a dalliance. Maybe, the handsome young man was right.
“Bert,” John stood up from the barstool, pulling the front of his time travel suit straight, “I would love to accompany you to the club’s spa, nothing would give me greater pleasure.”
“Brilliant!” Said Bert. “Look, my shift is coming to an end, a colleague will be relieving me in about twenty minutes.”
“Excellent,” said John, “I’ll pop outside and find a hot dog stand, I feel a hunger like I’ve never known before. I’ll be back soon, I promise.”
“Okay,” Bert began earnestly tidying up behind the bar, re-screwing caps and driving corks back into bottles with aplomb, “I’ll meet you outside the disco at eight o’clock.”
© Brinkinfield 2020 All Rights Reserved
Part of the Ekphrasis Project (story inspired by a collage)