“Yeouch. I really need a better plan.” I felt my back and chest, and there didn’t appear to be any gaping wounds.
Corrine and I were going up the steps to the ballroom. Other party goers were moving about, and the troops were hanging in the background, dressed in their gold and black. Pretty fancy for dead guys and gals.
I grabbed my wife’s hands and stopped her from moving. She looked amazing in her red dress and diamonds, her normally straight black hair curling around her chin. She smiled.
“I love you,” I told her, “I just want you to know that. I might not have said it enough lately. And you look beautiful.”
She tilted her head in that way she had and said, “Thanks.”
“Let’s skip this shindig and go find a bleacher somewhere to make love under.”
She laughed. “We have to go.”
“I know, I know, your boss is there.” She started up the stairs again and got us into the line. “But wouldn’t you rather just have a quiet evening in? Maybe in the Bahamas? Somewhere not New York City on New Year’s Eve.”
We handed our invitation to the man and entered the ballroom.
“Seriously, let’s go somewhere else.” I tried to pull her away.
“No, Charles.”
“Did you just call me Charles?”
She looked confused but regrouped quickly, “No. If you’d let me finish. Charles needs me to be here. He said so.”
“Yeah, right, so Professor Almstedt can tell you how wonderful you are for figuring out how to stop time.” That got her attention.
“Were you ever going to tell me? Or just let me figure it out after I’d died a few times.”
“What? Are you all right?”
“No. Definitely not.”
She pulled us out of the flow of traffic. Charles, spotting us, waved. Corrine waved back and then looked closely at me.
“You’re serious. What happens here, tonight?”
“We come in, join your friends, a guy gives me a note for Almstedt which we pass on to the Professor, who then gives a nice speech about time travel. Then he launches the temporal thingys and time stops. The troops, who by the way are dead men walking, riffle through everyone’s belongings and then I get hit on the head.” She looked stunned.
“Oh, in the next version I get shot in the back. So you tell me – why can’t we ditch this event?”
She gave me a hug and said “I’m so sorry.”
“What is going on? Can you at least tell me that?”
Corrine dragged us over to Charles and we made our greetings as if nothing had changed.
“So, what’s on the agenda tonight?” I asked, “Are we stopping time and going for a joyride?” Everyone in the group gave me the evil eye. Corrine laughed nervously and said, “Let’s get some food. Charles…”
She directed me to the food line.
“Did you just call me Charles again.”
“What? No. What is your deal with Charles?”
“That’s my question, sister.”
She looked flustered. “It’s not what it seems. Charles is,” she paused and I waited.
“Psst. Hey buddy,” the man in the red velvet suit said.
“Hold that thought,” I told my wife and stepped away to get my note.
“Give this to Almstedt.” I took the note and with my other hand, grabbed his shoulder.
“Hey, let go.”
“No no, my friend. You’ve got some explaining to do.”
He looked around, panic making his already homely face more crinkled.
“I have to get out of here.”
“Right, before time stops. Sorry – if have to stay so you do you.” Corrine drifted over to my side to watch.
“Just give the note to Almstedt. It will be okay.”
“We gave it to the professor. He dismissed it,” I said.
Corrine said, “What’s in the note?” The man gave her a startled glance and then saluted, breaking my hold.
Corrine looked him up and down, like a captain inspecting a soldier. He straightened his shoulders and stood at attention.
“I asked you a question,” she said sternly.
I went to open the folded paper and he dropped his soldier stance and reached over to stop me. “No, no, don’t look at it. It’s for Charles Almstedt’s eyes only.”
“Charles?” Corrine and I said together.
“But his last name is Brown,” I added.
“No it’s not. What? Wait. Brown, Brown,” he tapped his chin and then shook his head. “Show it to him anyway. I gotta run.”
And with that, he dodged out through the crowd of people.
Corrine and I exchanged looks. She shrugged, and we cut back into line to get our food.
“Do you have sunglasses for me?”
Looking at the buffet, she handed over a pair from her clutch purse. I tucked them into my breast pocket as casually as I could.
Plates in hand, we returned to our table just as Professor Reginald Almstedt got on the microphone.
“Charles,” I said, handing him the note and sitting next to my wife. He glanced at the note and then gave me a “what the hell?” look.
“Time has been a problem,” Almstedt was saying.
“Why did you give me a child’s drawing of a clown?” Charles hissed at me, leaning across Corrine to do so.
“Huh?” Corrine said. He showed us the paper. It had a drawing of a somewhat angry looking clown on it.
“It’s a joke. A New Year’s joke. Let’s just clown around. Ha ha.” Corrine looked at me and raised her eyebrow. I shrugged. Charles tucked the note in to his pocket and pointedly turned his attention back to the professor. Everyone at the table put their glasses on. I hurried to do the same.
“In front of you, on each table as the centerpiece, you will notice a small black box with a miniature twirling gizmo similar to a globe. All of them should start spinning now.” At his now, he pushed a remote that he’d had hidden in his hands. The gizmo did twirl and a red LED lit up on the box.
“These gizmos, I call them temporal nodes, emit a field the faster they turn. Once they reach a certain velocity, they will link and connect to the main node,” Professor Almstedt gestured to the parabolic dish to his left. “And time as you know it will stop.”
The black and gold dressed folks lined up around the room, surrounding the tables and looking less and less festive and more and more like a security squad.
The temporal node gizmo on our table was spinning so fast that it was a blur.
“Screw that,” I said and grabbed the temporal node on our table and stopping it’s spin.
Corrine screamed, “Henry, no!”
I watched, horror stricken, as my hand and arm started to turn into little swirling particles of white light.