“Yes,” I said to Corrine, “Tell me about my entry.”
Corrine looked out the door at the park where the van sat and then at the book in her hands. She handed it to me.
“You don’t have an entry, Henry.”
“What? Why not?”
“I don’t know.”
I paged through the almanac to Wainwright. There was no entry. I tried Henry, there was no entry for that either. Only Henry Ford, developer of the first affordable automobile and O. Henry, the writer.
I handed the book to Coltrane, who stood just outside of the van, smoking. “Are you in there?”
He nodded, “Yep, under sucker.” Corrine wrinkled her forehead at that. I refused to get tangled up in his problems, which I suspected were many.
I jumped out of the van and stretched. It was a balmy afternoon that had the feel of summer to it, including mosquitoes and humidity.
“What now?”
“Now,” Coltrane said, offering a hand to help Corrine out, and then closing and locking the van, “We find out why you’re not in the book.”
“But you already know why he’s not in the book,” Corrine said, guessing I suspected.
Coltrane started to walk toward a baseball diamond and we rushed to keep up. Off to the left, a lovey-dovey couple got out of a 1999 Oldsmobile Cutlass. The guy couldn’t seem to keep his hands off the girl. Her happy giggle made me smile.
“You got me. I do know. But here’s the tricky part. He shouldn’t have been there this evening – in 2015, I mean. So what happened in 2000 that made him a) still living and b) married to you, Captain?”
I stopped. “I’m dead? Really?”
He smiled at me and offered his cigarette. I declined.
Corrine stepped in front of him and poked him in the chest. “Listen, Mr. You need to start explaining things or so help me, God, I’ll beat them out of you.”
Coltrane held up his hands in surrender and backed up a step.
“Listen, Captain, really. I mean no disrespect. If we were in the right time line, you’d know. I keep expecting you to translate in.”
“What?” It was like every other word out of his mouth was in a foreign language.
The sound of screeching tires interrupted what, if anything, Coltrane was going to say. We watched a cherry apple red muscle car swing around the corner in the parking lot, barely miss the van, and then crumple into the Oldsmobile. Off to one side, the girl who had giggled so happily screamed bloody murder.
Corrine and I ran over to help. The driver of the car stumbled out amidst the clanking of bottles and went to look at the damage to the cars. The driver of the Oldsmobile had, evidently, gone to get something – a blanket my mind told me – out of the trunk just as the muscle car crashed into it. He was so mangled it was hard to tell where he left off and the cars began.
I found Corrine in my arms. She turned her face to my shoulder, shuddering. I swallowed a few times.
“Are you okay, miss?” I asked. She didn’t seem to hear me.
“She can’t hear or see you, Henry.” Coltrane said from behind us.
Corrine looked for a moment and then buried her face in my shoulder again. I kissed her hair and tried to give what comfort I could.
“That’s us, isn’t it?” she whispered.
I nodded, unable to look away.
The girl, hysterical, started beating on the driver, who fell over in his scramble to get away. Finally, she flopped down on the curb, pulling her knees in tight and sobbing silently.
Corrine was crying too.
I turned us to Coltrane, who was flipping through the almanac, unconcerned.
“How do we fix this?”
“I think the better question is, should we fix this? You died, in this time, just now, Henry. So you never asked Corrine to marry you and you never had kids or your career or made widgets or whatever it is you do in 2015. So ask yourself – how does changing this in some way allow you to help us,” He pointed to Corrine and himself, “stop the invasion? I have to tell you, when I first spotted you at the party and gave you the bio-psychic-social paper to give to Professor Almstedt, I thought that was the answer. Your presence and whatever Almstedt saw on the paper would be the thing to stop the invasion.”
“It didn’t,” Corrine said, stepping away from my hold.
“Oh, Captain. Good, you’re back.”
“What, wait? You’re the Captain now?” I looked from Coltrane to Corrine.
“Yes, we’re one at the moment.”
I sat down on the curb next to the 2000 Corrine, who was shredding a piece of grass, humming to herself. My head was pounding.
“Would someone please just explain from the beginning?”
Coltrane pulled out a hip flask and took a sip and then waggled it at me.
“Oh God yes.” I took a long pull and passed it to Corrine, who took a swig, looked at the cars, and look another.
“Let’s go somewhere else. The fire department will be here in a moment and it gets icky.”
“More icky.” She corrected softly and pulled me to my feet.
We retreated to the bleachers. Hearing the sirens coming, I sat so that we couldn’t see the wreck.
Corrine stood and paced. After a moment, she put her hands on either side of my face and looked me in the eye.
“I loved you, Henry. I never stopped. Your death gave me the impetus to develop time travel. I want you to know that.”
It felt like she punched me in the guts. She loved me. Past tense. Her interaction with her ‘boss’ Charles earlier took on a sickening twist.
“Thanks, I think.”
She shook her head and released me.
“In 2036 at midnight on New Year’s Eve, the United Nations will stop the rotation of the earth in a last ditch attempt to rid the human race of the invaders. My department has about 36 rt hours left to figure out how to stop that – because basically everyone is going to die. There’s lots of politics behind it,” she said in response to the face I must have made.
“You’re telling me,” Coltrane muttered.
Floundering, I tried to get a grasp on what she was saying. “Rt?”
“Real time hours. It’s… Never mind that. So if we can stop the invasion we can stop the UN’s plan on killing everyone to keep us out of the invader’s hands.”
“What happens when we fall into the invader’s hands?”
“Remember those gold and black goons?”
“The dead-yet-moving ones?”
“Yeah. That’s what happens. The invasion starts on New Year’s Eve 2015. The world will end in 2036. In the meantime, the human race is used as slave labor and guinea pigs for alien experiments and amusement. The earth’s resources are sucked dry. The ice caps are removed and sent out into space and fresh water is basically a thing of the past. It’s really really sucky.”
“You’ve got that right.” Coltrane took another hit off of his flask and passed it to me. It was bourbon but any cushion at this point was good.
“Let me summarize my understanding for the court, if I may. Aliens invade and ruin the earth and the future’s answer to it is time travel?” I shook my head, mystified.
Corrine shrugged. “It’s technology they don’t have. Nukes – been there done that. Australia even more of a desert than it was before. Tokyo is glowing. The space race,” she started but Coltrane interrupted her by cursing loudly.
“Captain, you know that’s a load of horse manure. ‘We can’t go into space, they’re already up there.’ Bullshit. We should be taking the fight to them.”
“Enough. Coltrane, I mean it. We each have jobs here. Let’s do them.”
They stared at each other, Corrine with her hands on her hips and Coltrane with his arms crossed.
“Meaning?” I said after a moment.
Corrine sat down next to me, deflated.
“What are the jobs you are supposed to be doing?”
Corrine looked at me and blinked.
“What are you talking about, Henry?”
The Captain had stepped out.