And there I was again, starting to walk up the stairs to the ballroom to attend Professor Almstedt’s party to end all parties.
“Holy shit,” my wife said, tugging at my hand so I’d stop. I turned to her and put on my best mild-mannered good-humor-guy look.
She looked a little shocky, her pupils almost eclipsing the blue of her irises. I squeezed her hand and she squeezed back after a moment. Then it hit me. She must have died too. I took her in my arms, and kissed her hair as she buried her face in my shoulder.
“You died,” she whispered.
She looked at me.
“I died too.”
Her brow wrinkled for a moment. “That pisses me off.”
“Yep.” I smiled.
People dressed in their finery moved past us, and up the stairs to their doom. The troops took up station near the lobby doors and the hallway. I spotted the man in the red velvet slip in past one at the door and head in our direction. He spotted us a moment later and froze. Then he turned and ran.
Corrine and I sprinted after him, blowing past the troop who tried to motion us back. Outside, he got tangled in a group of people while he was looking over his shoulder at us. “Come on, I’ve got a short cut.” I lead her behind a potted plant and then down the sidewalk and then down the alley to the van.
The man in red velvet was just a moment behind us – looking over his shoulder at the street. He didn’t see us until it was too late. Corrine moved around behind him as he faced me.
“You’re not supposed to be here,” he said. “You should get back inside.”
I opened the sliding door of the van, which luckily wasn’t locked.
“Good idea,” I said as the explosion went off, “after you.”
He tried to back away, but Corrine put a hand on his shoulder. He jumped and gave her a harried look, and then climbed in. Corrine and I followed, sliding the door closed behind me.
“Wow,” she said.
I couldn’t get the word out.
Inside of the van was a house on the beach, complete with a deck looking out over the ocean. The man stepped over to a freestanding bar and got out some wine glasses.
“Like it? I find the sound of the ocean soothing.”
He poured each of us a drink from a box of Franzia wine.
“Sunset Blush is all I have in stock at the moment,” he told Corrine as he handed her a glass.
She blinked and said, “That’s fine. Thank you, Mr.?”
“Coltrane, Clive Coltrane. No relation to John Coltrane alas. Speaking off, let me put some tunes on.”
He went to a cabinet on the wall. Inside was an older stereo system, complete with a record player. He pulled out an album and put it on, turning the sound down. Cool jazz came from speakers in the wall. I realized they were still the van’s speakers.
Beyond the house accoutrements, the walls were metal and vinyl, and a blue-gray color. I walked over and touched it. Metal, and cool.
“Kinda mind blowing,” he said from beside me, handing me a glass.
I nodded and sipped.
“Your van is a TARDIS?”
“Oh man, I wish.”
He gestured for us to join him out on the deck. A cool breeze was coming off the ocean, and the sun was setting. We sat on the tropical patterned wicker furniture and Mr. Coltrane pulled out a tin box.
“Mind if I smoke?” he asked Corrine. She shrugged, looking overwhelmed. I know I was feeling overwhelmed.
He pulled some papers out and rolled a cigarette. He lit it, sucked in largely and waved it at Corrine. She wrinkled her nose and shook her head. He gestured to me, and I declined. “Helps smooth the edges,” he said after he exhaled toward the beach. “Where was I? Oh yeah, the van. It only does two dimensions – the interior and of course the world we left – but it doesn’t do space, which is a pity. I think the resistance would get a lot more done in space. So – just a time machine.”
“Just a time machine,” Corrine said.
He laughed, and we laughed too. This was turning in to the weirdest day on record. Coltrane stopped laughing a moment later, wiping his eyes with a dirty looking handkerchief. “And you made it happen, Captain. You are amazing.”
Corrine drained her wine.
“Why do you call her captain?” I looked at Corrine and she shrugged.
The van suddenly shook.
“Oh – gotta move us. Just a sec.”
Coltrane ran back into the house. A moment later, I heard the sound of a V-8 starting, followed by a quick drop in cabin pressure. Corrine held her ears and shot me a look of panic. Things stabilized a moment later and Coltrane returned with a large heavy looking leather-bound book in his hands.
“This is an almanac. In it is the record of the invasion and the resistance’s efforts to quell that invasion, including the invention of time travel and possession.”
“Possession?” I wasn’t sure if he was talking about possessing drugs, or the “nine tenths of the law” quote, or the demonic type.
“Temporal possession. I’ll explain that in a bit. Here, Captain,” He handed her the book, “look yourself up.”
She laid the book on her lap and shrugging, turned to the W’s.
“You’ll be under Klemenski,” he added.
“Why would my wife be under her maiden name?”
Coltrane answered that with “Here, let me get you two a refill.”