The Great Substack Story Challenge is a round-robin story being written by 13 fiction writers. If you are new to the story, you can find the first chapter by clicking the center link below.
< Previous Chapter | First Chapter | Next Chapter >
Joey put down his phone. His head was spinning.
You can’t really make calls from Limbo, can you? This dame is definitely not what she appears, he thought. And apparently, Maureen is not either. Or Sam.
Joey’s whole reality seemed to be in question. He glanced at his case board again and came up with bupkis. But even a two-bit gumshoe knows that when you are stumped, you stick to the facts.
What do I know for sure, Joey thought. Only that everyone is lying to me. Or I am going insane. Or maybe both.
Joey decided the only thing to do was to grill Sam and Maureen about what they knew. He didn’t know where to find Sam, as he apparently wasn’t a police officer after all. So he decided to check the church where his AA meetings were held.
Joey walked in and headed for the basement stairs when he was met by Pastor King.
“Can I help you, Son,” the pastor asked.
“I doubt it, Padre. I ain’t here about the big guy; I am looking for Maureen, the AA lead. Let me guess, no one is working here by that name.”
“Maureen does hold AA meetings here. But she isn’t here today. Would you like to talk to me? I’m a good listener.”
“Thanks, Padre, but I really need to talk to Maureen.”
“She has a meeting tomorrow at 8:00. Perhaps you can attend and talk to her then. Are you sure you don’t want to talk now?”
“I’m sure. Thanks.”
Joey turned and beat feet out of the church.
Now what? He thought. His growling stomach gave him the answer. Well, I know how to eat lunch, he thought. He pulled out his iPhone to see what there was to eat in the area and saw the cracked screen. Might as well get this fixed, he thought. I can eat at the Mall while they replace the glass.
Joey hailed a cab.
“Where to, buddy,” the cabbie asked.
“To the Mall.”
“The one with the Apple store.”
“You got it.”
Joey started revisiting the past day’s events in his mind when the cabbie interrupted.
“You buying a new phone?”
“No. Getting mine fixed. I slammed it down and cracked the glass.”
“Been there,” the cabbie said.
Joey had just got back to thinking when the cabbie interrupted again.
“You got the new Substack app?”
“It’s an app that lets you read newsletters on your iPhone or iPad. I love it. There are a lot of excellent fiction writers on Substack. Some of them are funny, too. There is this one newsletter called Mar…”
“Listen, Mac. I got a lot on my mind right now. You mind cutting the chatter,” Joey snapped. “And I hate fiction.”
Joey didn’t really hate fiction. He just wanted the cabbie to shut his yapper.
“Alright. Not another word,” the cabbie said.
Joey made his way to the Apple store and dropped his phone off to be repaired. He had an hour to kill, so he went to the food court. As he ate his burger and fries, he glanced up and saw a bird sitting in the rafters. It was not uncommon for birds to get inside malls, but this one seemed to be watching him. He got up, threw his half-eaten burger in the trash can, and walked out of the food court.
Joey strolled around the Mall, occasionally turning and looking up to see if the bird was following him. If it was, he didn’t see it. He began questioning his sanity again.
Joey picked up his iPhone and headed out of the Mall. Now that he was sober, Joey had started appreciating the iPhone. He particularly liked how everything automatically synced with the new iMac he bought to replace the cheap PC that was always giving him problems and getting viruses. I get it now, he thought.
Joey had just stepped out of Mall when a black SUV pulled up right in front of him and stopped. The passenger window slid down, and the driver, a sharp-dressed man who looked to be in his 40s, said, “Need a ride?”
“Yeah, right. What kind of chucklehead do you think I am? I ain’t getting in no car with a complete stranger.”
“What if I said I know all about Crystal Bacon?”
Joey opened the door and got in.
As they pulled away, Joey said, “Alright, Buster, spill.”
“I’m Rob Steward. This is going to be hard to believe.”
“Nothing is going to be hard to believe after the week I’ve had,” Joey replied.
“Crystal Bacon is not who you think she is.”
“No joke, Sherlock.”
“And she is not my wife. She is a time bandit. She goes back in time to different eras and opens investment accounts. Then comes back to her time and cashes in as the surviving relative. We have been chasing her for years.”
“Who is we?” Joey asked
“Me and Sam.”
“Yeah, he’s my partner. We are time guardians.”
“Time guardians patrol the timeline looking for travelers.”
“Wait, you’re telling me you’re a time cop?”
“Sort of. Time travel was outlawed in 2157 when it was deemed too dangerous. But laws don’t stop everyone. Like Crystal Bacon.”
“But time travel is impossible.”
“Every age think they know indisputable scientific facts. Until new discoveries are made, and science changes. I can assure you time travel is possible.”
“Excuse me if I don’t take your word for it. This all sounds cockeyed to me.”
“That is completely understandable. It is a lot to process.”
“Suppose I do believe you. And I ain’t saying I do. Why did Bacon knock on my door?”
“She hires a private investigator to track me down in every time she visits. I am sure she wants to kill me before I can take her in. But this is not her usual MO. She usually gives the PI a photo of me and says I am her husband who ran away.
“She didn’t give me no photo, just a couple of blank checks. Oh, wait! She texted me his information.”
Joey pulled out his iPhone, then realization hit him. “That got chewed up when I got a new phone. I’m such a dope.”
“Hardly. Ms. Bacon is very good at what she does.”
“What about Maureen?”
“Maureen is a new development. We have been keeping an eye on her. We think she may be involved with Ms. Bacon somehow.”
They pulled up at Joey’s building.
“Here we are,” Rob said.
“Let’s go up to your office. I want to show you something.”
Once inside the office, Rob looked at the case board. “You really don’t have a clue, do you?”
“This ain’t no normal cheating spouse case.”
“That’s true. Pull your chair over here.”
“Time travel can be disorienting. I want you to sit down.”
“Hold on a minute, Ace. Are you saying we are going to time travel?”
“You want to see if time travel is real? This will prove it.”
“Where’s the time machine?”
“We don’t use machines. Here, hold this.”
Rob handed Joey a small disk. It was smooth and completely black, like polished stone.
“A time disc. It’s how we travel through time.”
“This little thing is a time machine.”
“Isn’t your iPhone a computer, phone, camera, game machine, mailbox, and instant access to all the information in the world? It’s not very big.”
“Alright. Point made. What do I have to do?”
“Just hold it. I am the only one who can activate it.”
Joey sat in his chair and held the disc.
“The transfer can be pretty intense; you may want to close your eyes,” Rob said.
“I’ll risk it.”
“As you wish. Three, two, one.”
Joey felt a sensation he had never experienced. The only way he could describe it was like flying through space. A second later, it stopped.
“Look around,” Rob said. “Look at your desk. What do you see?”
“A stapler. A desk calendar. A bottle of whiskey. A lamp,” Joey replied.
“No iMac, no tea cup?”
“No.” Joey looked perplexed.
“Look out the window. What do you see?”
Joey walked over to the window and looked out.
“I don’t believe it,” Joey said.
The city street was lined with cars from the 1940s, and all the people walking were dressed in suits and dresses.
“In case you’re wondering, it’s 1947.”
Joey rubbed his eyes and stared out the window. It was too elaborate to be a trick. Time travel must be real.
“Why did you bring me here?” Joey asked.
“Because this is your original time, Joey. This is where you belong.”
Continues on Martiniere Stories.
< Previous Chapter | First Chapter | Next Chapter >
Find out more about The Great Substack Story Challenge.
This was great. Loved introduction of the time cops, the amount of revelations we got about what's been going on, and more importantly that ending! Can't wait to see where the next entry takes all of this. Could have done without the advertising but you brought it back around pretty well at the end there so I'll give it a pass lol. Another phenomenal entry!
I liked this, especially the ending!
I’m also all for no more stories (or less stories) putting in iPhone references as I think they’re a bit clumsy. Super pumped for time travel in the story now we can open her up and let her fly!