Flash Fiction Friday posted a prompt that was impossible to say no to (especially the photo), so here is my interpretation of it. Actually, I haven’t used it quite the way it was supposed to be, as the time machine hasn’t been disclosed in this tale. And it went waaaaay over the word count.
This story is actually the second written about these characters and world. I enjoy them and look forward to writing more about them. Gosh knows, there is a lot more about them.
Oh, please forgive the grammatical errors. I will clean it up. Along with a million other errors and edits…
Time For Nothing
“Feel better now?”
The words came out sounding flat as John pushed the door open with a grey nose.
“Immensely. It was about time.” Smith caught the door with his horn before it swung back in his face. “And that was quite nice of you to hold the door open for me, I can always count on you.” With a shake of his head, he walked out of the dimly lit tavern, letting the door slide off his long body as he went.
“Indeed you can, buddy! So glad you finally got that – it’s only taken you, like, an eternity to see it?” John shuffled ahead of Smith, his feet dragging in the sand.
“Don’t call me ‘buddy’. That, I am definitely not.”
“Well if I called you ‘idiot’, you’d kick me.”
They walked, late-afternoon thirst quenched, side by side. But not too closely.
Schlump-clump – schlump-clump, schlump-clump – schlump-clump…
“And stop dragging your feet, for eternity’s sake…” Smith let out a long-suffering sigh.
John stopped in his tracks, and stared at his friend, his long, curved horn pointing accusingly.
“I thought you said you felt better! You are being inseperable— instoppable— regretable— oh what the hell is that word you throw at me all the time… never mind, pain in the ass! That works for me. You are being a Pain In The Ass.”
“Insufferable. That is the word, you cretin. And I DO feel better. I cannot help it if you annoy me. Why you ended up with four legs is beyond me, you had a difficult enough time with only two.” Smith padded along in measured rhythm, his own four hooves creating little noise. Just enough.
“In your dreams, straight boy. I shuffle, you poke. That’s why the girls come to me first, cuz I gots rhythm.” It was with a certain measure of pride that John shook his unkempt mane, his forelock curls capriciously around his ribbed horn. Then without thinking (as he was wont to do), he stopped a moment and began tapping a hoof. The greenish sand muffled most of the sound, but it was enough to get John’s ball rolling. His mane waved with the infectious movement of his head and long neck. He gave a glance in his companion’s direction and was more than satisfied with the horrified look Smith was wearing.
And it isn’t easy for a unicorn to look horrified.
“No. No no no! You dance, I’m gone. I will not be within a moon’s distance of some four-legged schlemp who thinks he can… dance! Two legs, okay, three… well, that’s pushing it, but it can be done. Four? Forget it. It was nice knowing you. Good luck on the next cycle, you will need it. May your death be painless.”
And with that, Smith made good on his word and precisely walked away from the Bossa Nova moves of John.
Waves of orange and mauve light undulated in the subdued sky as Smith let his horn point the way. Since his horn was as crooked as his pedestrian friend’s, he fully expected his route to be rather circuitous. Quite alright. When travelling through existence, one was supposed to get out of the vehicle and experience, not just rush through at high velocity.
Under the pulsing lights, rock formations created a very rough, dark horizon. A lonely, dark horizon. There was very little difference between night and day on this small planet, little more than a moon orbiting yet another moon, all orbiting a planet with not the largest sun in this galaxy. One reason why Smith knew that John enjoyed it here – the night life lasted virtually all day.
Smith regretted that thought as he heard a very distinct shuffling sound. Rhythmic, of course. He made a point of not turning his head.
Schlump-clump – schlump-clump, schlump-clump – schlump-clump… John stayed a schlump-clump behind Smith, not saying a word.
Thump thump thump thump… Smith continued on as if he knew where he was going.
Two unicorns, creating a path that shouldn’t have happened. And yet it did.
“Your stomach is growling,” John pointed out helpfully.
“You don’t say.”
“Oh, but I do! And look, your favorite kind of restaurant is not far from here.” In fact, there were a new family of lights popping into existence as they strode on.
Smith would not comment.
“It’s a slow-food restaurant! And we’re sure to have a nice table, hardly anybody goes to those places.”
Smith sighed. He was hungry. “Fine.”
On they went, in silence.
“You know what?”
“Billy-Bob told me the other day that Blue is giving it up. Had enough.”
Smith turned to face his friend, surprise on his face, much to John’s immense delight.
“Why would he try to do that? I’m not sure he even can…” Smith shook his head, puzzled.
“Well, you know, I don’t know, but Billy-Bob said he lost Faith.”
Oh no. Smith lost his appetite.
“What do you mean, lost her? Misplaced her, or…?”
“Or. She died.” John replied quietly.
The lights approached, looking warm and welcoming in the cool expanse, despite the light show above.
“How did it happen? It took forever for Blue to have a child, he must be devastated… Why didn’t you tell me before?” Smith took on a slightly impatient tone.
“You didn’t ask.”
“Oh for crying out loud… I’d slap you if I didn’t have hooves…” Mind you, Smith thought to himself, maybe it would work better with hooves…
John seemed to feel his companion’s thought and let a few feet of space come between them.
The large sign was in front of them now. The Thirsty Boot had a bright red boot perched above the doorway in. Sitting in the middle of the sandy space of not-much-of-anything, it seemed rather out of place. Nonetheless, there was a certain amount of noise coming from inside.
“I thought you said nobody would be here,” Smith muttered.
“Gee, looks like I was wrong…” John replied with a happy grin.
“Do they allow horns? We had to pay extra at that tavern of yours because of our horns.”
“It wasn’t my tavern, and they let fins in, look—” John pointed to an exiting customer, slinky in soft, grey skin on a very water-dynamic body with large fins, “So they can’t say no to us.”
A reasonably dressed attendant greeted them as they entered.
“Bar or restaurant?”
“Restaurant.” Smith’s stomach had regained its appetite and very nearly answered the question itself.
“Just the two of you? Can I have your names please? You will need to wait just a few moments while we prepare a table.”
“Oh, so you want that side of the room? Would you like curtains and candles as well?” The glint in the attendant’s eye was a bit to glinty for Smith’s taste.
For John’s as well for once, apparently.
“Can I kill him?”
For once, Smith was very tempted to say yes. But that would not be proper.
“So you don’t want curtains?” the attendant looked disappointed.
“Mention those damn curtains again and I’ll let my friend here skewer you. Understood?” The attendant was gone.
“Your ‘friend’? You’ve never called me that before… In two hundred and forty-two years, three weeks and one day – unless you count that dalliance in the Al’thian middle Ages. Now those were ‘dark times’…”
“Shut up. Just continue on with Billy-Bob’s story while we wait. What happened?”
“Well, it was Billy’s sister’s cousin second removed who—”
“Just get on with it! Good God man!”
“Funny you should mention God, you see, because it seems the vacuum cleaner that started the problem.”
Smith wore would could have been a blank look. John thought it was rather intense for a blank look, though…
“Cynthia had brought the thing to be fixed! You know how humans have a thing for charlatans, no matter what timeline one runs to, there they are. As crooked as the horn on your face, my mom used to say. And she would know, she married one—
“But yes, anyway.” John cleared his throat.
Having reached their table, on that side of the room (but with no curtains), the two unicorns settled in the roomy alcove, their rumps near the roughly hewn stone wall. The ceiling above them had, in several areas throughout the Boot, a domed, glass viewing spot where Thirsty Boot customers of various sorts and species paused, through which the darkening sky of the moon’s moon could be admired. Admired because with the dark, came the light of a million galaxies. Even Smith had to let his dark, side-set eyes linger on the view. John didn’t miss the glossy look that fell on his friend’s face as he looked out the high window, a look that said he remembered. The existence he had yet to experience, that he could never forget.
“Anyway,” John continued, hoping to at least distract the only other unicorn – in this particular moment in time – in the entire universe.
“Yes, the magician? No, charlatan?” Smith shook his dark mane. “What era was he in? He was such a messy time-traveller. He would never pick up his paradoxes, no matter how many times I told him to keep things straight! The time I spent, cleaning up after him. But please, carry on. And do drink your beer before it is flat.”
“Well, you know, Gadgets On Demand was that company we squashed in the twenty-sixth century, Standard Reality time.”
“Oh yes,” Smith sipped and nodded, “I remember them. A particularly tenacious group. They had also tried setting up shop in the Crab Nebula. Best lesson they ever learned, don’t mess with Crabs.”
A woman with silver skin arrived at the table with two plates, speaking in a flute-like voice.
“Alfalfa Sprouts, Sautéed in Garlic, on the house. Pédro said it has been too long since you two have graced the establishment!” She then leaned past John, who did his best not to oogle, to whisper in Smith’s long ear, “And he wants to talk to you later. Something about Probabilites…”
The silver lady stood back up and glared at John.
“Put your eyes back in! We’re not even the same species at the moment!” And the waitress strode off, not bothering to wait for the answer she knew would come.
John had missed the wide look in Smith’s face at the mention of probabilities, but didn’t miss the kick he got from under table.
“Stop being a donkey and get on with it.”
“That was mean.” The caramel unicorn frowned until it hurt. “I’m not sure Billy-Bob told me what era it was, but anyway, Cynthia had always hated that vacuum cleaner. It was one of those things that sounded like the dog was dying when it was turned on and never pulled properly.
So she had brought it in to Gadgets On Demand for repair, and had asked Faith to go get it for her that Tuesday in May.” John slurped his beer and took a mouthful of Alfalfa. “Mmmm, tastes like summer. Could use a little more— Um yes, so you know, Blue was never around, always on a business trip in one time or another, and he had never told Cynthia what he really was.”
“What? I was not aware of that…! Why would he not tell her?”
“Well, you know, he thought it would be too complicated, too hard, too… too much. So Cynthia, on her own most of the time, relied often on Faith to help her, Cynthia worked with the public, you know, and that’s a hell of a job.”
“I am sure our table waitress could attest to that.” Smith remarked dryly.
“Sooo, Cynthia was stuck at work that day when GOD called. Of course she blew a fuse when GOD told her how much the repairs would cost, but needed that vacuum. Time travellers don’t make much of a salary, and Cynthia’s job was minimum wage, so a new machine was out of the question.
“So Faith was the one who had to get the vacuum. It seems though, that she had a hard time fitting the thing into the trunk of the family car. You know those Clever cars they had at the time, nothing but a pill-box with wheels.” John sniffed at the thought.
“They were very cleverly thought out, I’ll have you know.” Smith pushed his glass with his nose. “Humans should have come up with that idea sooner, and later as well, it would have saved them several headaches.”
“Can’t have fun in a vehicle like that. Impossible. Remember two cycles ago? Those solar-powered two wheelers? Now that was fun. Twice the speed of light, traction on any planet, and they folded up for storage! I can’t wait till they make them for unicorns. But anyway. So Faith was on her way home with the vacuum more or less in the trunk.
“From what I understand, in this era they were on battery power, not that ridiculous fuel they came up with later. And the Dolphins ran that industry, I think… Anyway, there was a small group of Wolverines that were being integrated into that society, and it was actually working out. But of course you know, in any group, there is always some idiot who thinks things are all wrong, and he can do better, and…
“And so to make a long story short, Faith had trouble with her batteries and had stopped at a charge station, and there was a small group of Wolverines hanging around in the shop. According to Billy’s sister’s cousin twice removed, Faith could be a tad pushy, and one of the Wolverines didn’t take kindly to it. Wolvies do take up a lot of space, in Faith’s defence, but they are one species you want to be patient with, unless you have plans to experience the next reality early. Which apparently Faith did, because that is where she is now.”
Smith winced. “Oh. It must have been painful…”
“Nothing left but a kneecap, two molars, and half a litre of blood. The station owner was not happy. Blood stains.”
“When did Blue find out?”
“A week later. A note from Cynthia at their house, saying that was the end of it. He was destroyed. There was nothing he could do about his daughter’s death… she directly affected Blue’s own timeline so he was powerless to fiddle with it. And Cynthia, even though she was clueless about who he was, had always hated the fact that he was just never there. That, and he was one of those people who would never pick up his socks.”
“Poor Blue. He was messy with his time, but he was a good guy, his heart was in the right place. Did he have two of those things? No, that’s right, just one. It was the Octopeds who had two hearts.” Smith left a small pile of sprouts on his plate and pushed it away. “How long ago was this? Is Blue still there?”
“Billy wasn’t sure about the exact time slice, but he thought it was near the back of the pile. Are you game for dessert?” John’s long tongue caressed bulby lips at the thought of something sweet.
Smith shifted his weight thoughtfully, looking at his companion. Which made his companion uncomfortable.
“What? I didn’t do anything but think…! About Black Forest Cake… Oh my, it has been an eternity since I had a piece!”
“That is where he is! I am sure of it… He used to go there all the time when he was older. The trouble he got into, my goodness, even you could not keep up with him. We must go visit Blue. Things could go badly if he is left alone too long. Come along, John. We have things to do.”
“But… I want cake. Smith, please, it has been so long!”
“And it will be even longer. Pick up your tail and follow me. We don’t have a lot of time.”
With a long face, well… even longer than it already was, John trailed Smith out of the Thirsty Boot, away from the comforting sounds of beer glasses and dessert plates.
Schlump-clump – schlump-clump, schlump-clump – schlump-clump…