Here is this week’s story, first of 52 bad stories.
The Time Ranger’s Apprentice
“What is this stuff?” Joshua looked into the large white soaker tub, which was half full of a green, jello-like goo. He thought he could smell just the hint of coconut, like the aroma of Coppertone lotion at the beach.
“Wibbly-Wobbly Timey-Wimey stuff,” Arthur said. He picked up a back brush from the shelf and poked the goo in the tub.
“Dr. Who is a fictional character,” Joshua said.
“But still, you’ve seen the episode. Just because he’s fiction doesn’t mean that he didn’t get the science right.” Arthur looked around the luxurious bathroom. “We need to hurry though. What does the ‘scope say?”
Joshua pulled out his chronoscope and looked through the lens. “It’s not the same bathroom, it’s, it’s kind of a dark yellow and old looking.”
“Ah, Harvest Gold! A good thing, you will fit in just fine in the ’70’s.” Arthur pointed down “You’ll probably want to take off your shoes.”
Arthur paused a moment. “They look brand new . You’ll not want to ruin them in that gunk. In fact,” he said, resuming to remove his socks. “If I were you, I’d take off my socks, too. Then you can just hop in.”
“Me, in the tub? What will happen?”
Arthur waved his hands around. “I guess you will find out.” He pointed at a plumber’s tool kit next to the tub. “Maybe our tradesman is on the other side. All we know is that there is a buckle in time here. And our job is….”
“To keep it from becoming a tear.” Joshua said, repeating what he had heard every day in his Timestream classes. He decided that he would risk his bright white Converse and sat on the edge of the tub. “How far…”
“All the way in, go under. It’s the only way. This appears to be a very specific medium, our time traveler needed to be in this home in a specific year. But, I’ll be here running the horoscope in case this isn’t a point to point medium and I have to come get you.” Arthur pointed at the tub as he said it.
Joshua looked at the goo. His only experience traveling in time up until this very minute had been traveling to the Academy from Mr. Wallace’s Clock and Watch Repair. He had no idea what this was going to feel like or where he would end up, or who would be on the other side…”
“Let’s go boy, the buckle is getting bigger,” Arthur said, pushing Joshua on the shoulder.
Joshua slid into the goo. It was a bit cool, but not wet feeling. He felt like he was falling in the goo, deeper and deeper and started to panic, how could he breath. Then he felt like he was sitting on a solid surface. He got to his feet and realized he was standing in a standard American tub, with the goo only reaching his shins. He himself was not wet, nor did the goo stick to him. It was a smaller bathroom, with golden tile and fixtures. There was a set of wet foot steps on one of the brown throw rugs. He stepped over the side of the tub and heard a door slam. To his left was an open door, and across the hall, there was another door. He started towards the door. Then he stopped a moment. What would he do if that was the time traveler he heard fleeing?
“Ask what the hell he thinks he’s doing messing with the time stream?” Joshua said, smiling. “I know the drill, introduce myself as a Time Ranger and hope the home owner isn’t armed and ready to shoot any intruders. He remembered he did have a tool with him and pulled out a small rectangular device, the chrono-locater. Victoria, Texas, USA 1979, of all places. Rifles would be expected.
Joshua decided maybe he should just go out the window and try knocking on the front door, to be polite. He went to the small window and opened it. Luckily, it was the first floor. He stuck his head out the window, looked in both directions, then planned to gracefully flip out of the window, landing on his feet in a small garden.
But before Joshua could get to the window, he was stopped by a female voice, “You, there, stop! Did you come from the ooze too?”
He turned from the window and saw a thin redhead wearing a pair of tan coveralls with a stereotypical patch that had a name, Sam in script over the words Bruce Collins Quality Plumbing. The coveralls looked about two sizes too big for her frame and her bushy red hair was in a messy bun on top of her head, as if she had a cap on at some point. She was shaking. “Yeah, did you?” Joshua asked.
“I was in a reno we were working on, just installed a Perlato soaker tub and it filled up with that green goop. It’s a damn three thousand dollar tub, we couldn’t have the owner see it full of that shit. Boss tells me to try to drain it. I put my hand in and it’s weird, yanno? It doesn’t feel wet or goes. All of the sudden it sucks me in. Scared the crap outta me, but I stand up and I’m in this bathroom.”
Joshua nodded. “Was this what that room looked like before the reno?”
Sam shook her head, “No, it was 1990’s mauve, with flowered wallpaper. Like Laura Ashley vomited all over the walls.” She cocked her head and looked at Joshua. “And you have no idea who Laura Ashley is.”
“No,” Joshua said. “Maybe we should go outside, in case the people who live here are home.”
“I didn’t see anyone, I’ve explored a bit. Cute cat. Nice wine cellar. But no one home.” Sam put down the toilet lid and sat down. “So? Are you a plumbing apprentice too?”
Joshua stepped over to the tub and peered into the goo. There was no sign of Arthur. “In a way, yeah.” From his human relations class, he knew not to just start talking about the Academy, or his training with just anyone. Sometimes he wondered if his own family was aware of it.
“So Bruce called in someone else to help with the goop? I knew he was clueless about it. So what was – “ she looked at the small yellow porcelain tub, “-is it?”
Joshua couldn’t help himself. “Wibbly-Wobbly timey-wimey stuff.” Arthur would be proud.
Sam’s eyes got bigger, “So you are effing Doctor Who?”
“No, the doctor is a fictional character, but as my mentor says, just because the program was fiction doesn’t mean he got the science wrong. So, you have no idea how that goo got there? Arthus said that is is a specific time medium that someone was using to purposely travel to this room at this time.
Sam stood up, “Who are you and why should I tell you anything?”
“I’m Joshua Johnson, and I’m a Time Lehrling, which is like an apprentice, to a Time Ranger. Whoever put this goo in the tub has caused this buckle in the time stream, so if you weren’t the one who suddenly found the need to come to this house in 1979, I’m going to have to bring you to headquarters to keep you safe until we find …”
Sam suddenly shoved Joshua into the pedestal sink and ran out of the bathroom. Joshua heard the slam of a heavy door.
He rubbed the hip that had slammed into the sink. “Well that went well.” He wanted to believe what Sam said was true, that she had no idea what was going on, that she did just fall in, but he had this nagging feeling she was lying. Just the same feeling he had when his best friend growing up used his pocket watch that halted time to cheat on math tests.
Joshua walked out into the hallway. It was long and dark, but he saw some sunlight from what looked like a kitchen, so he started that way. As he passed a window, he saw Sam out on the front lawn, pacing back and forth. He found the front door and stepped out. “You ok?”
“My van, it’s gone! What I am going to do? My boss is going to kill me. This was my first solo job and not only could I not fix the tub, I’ve lost the van!” She sat in the grass and started to sob.
Joshua walked over and sat on the lawn next to her. “Take a deep breath and look around.”
Sam inhaled and turned her head side to side. “I don’t see the van.”
“What else do you not see?”
Sam stared across the street. “The houses are gone, and there is a cattle pasture over there. There was a house there when I got here this morning.”
“Right,” Joshua said. “This is not the same year as it was when you got here this morning. It’s 1979. The neighborhood is still under construction. Your van is probably still in the drive way in 2019, where you left it. “
Sam wiped her eyes. “I don’t believe it, the green shit really worked.” She stood up.
“You knew you were going to time travel?” Joshua said, standing up as well.
“No, I didn’t think it would work. But,” she started to walk to the front door. “This house, oh, it’s a long story.”
“Time is on my side,” Joshua said. “Look, if you don’t want my mentor Arthur hauling you in front of the Time Guardians, you better tell me what you were doing trying to travel in time.”
“It, it was my boyfriend’s idea. He is a wedding DJ. He was working at a wedding and there was a bottle of wine left near the table where his equipment was. He took the bottle over to the bartender and they opened it and drank it. No big deal, right?”
Joshua nodded. “But was it?”
“It was some expensive bottle of wine from 1974, the bride’s grandfather bought it in France and now it was worth 8,000 dollars.”
Joshua shook his head, “A bottle of wine can’t be worth that much.”
“It was what they call a rare vintage. Anyway,” Sam glanced at the house. “this is where the grandfather lived when he bought the wine. So if I grab the bottle and then slip back into the tub and go back to 2019, I can give the bottle to my boyfriend, who can then return it to the bride and say that it got lost in his equipment. All fixed, right?”
“It doesn’t work that way, Sam. If you take the bottle from this house, then the grandfather won’t have it in 2019 to give to the bride.”
Sam started to argue a moment, then closed her mouth. “I didn’t think of that.”
“What made you think of time traveling anyway? And how did you get that goo?” Joshua took a step closer to Sam.
“My boyfriend. He, he knows someone who sells, um products, to help with time travel.” Sam’s eyes started to water. “I’m in so much trouble, aren’t I? You said your mentor’s a time ranger, and that I caused a buckle? Is that a bad crime?”
“It’s kind of really bad, like a felony in regular law. Time law is very strict, because so many things are affected that people don’t think about.”
“Like the wine not being there for the grandfather to give away.”
“Right,” Joshua said. He thought a moment. “I have an idea though. If you help us get to the guy who sold your boyfriend the goo, we can at least keep you out of trouble yourself.”
“But my boyfriend, I don’t want him in trouble either.”
“You’ll have to talk him into helping then.” Joshua said. He held out his hand. “Come on, let’s go back to the tub, go back to 2019 and see what Arthur says. He’s a good guy, he can help you if you are honest with us.”
Sam nodded and walked past Joshua and into the house. She went straight to the small gold bathroom, stepped into the tub, and disappeared. Joshua paused a moment. She didn’t hesitate a bit, he thought, even though he would. He started to think this was not her first time journey.
“Ah, there you are,” Arthur said as Joshua emerged from the goo into the huge soaker tub Arthur was sitting on the edge of the tub. “Welcome back.”
Sam looked at Joshua, “How did you know that it will take us back to the right place?”
“Good question, my dear, “ Arthur said. “ It’s a two way medium. When whoever used it in 2019 poured it in the tub, it was already set to come to this year without changing locations in time. A fairly simple travel construct. Whoever set this up wanted to come to this particular place at this particular day.”
Joshua watched Sam. He scoffed, she knew it would bring her back to this room, this tub. He looked over at the plumbing tool bag, if there was something in there that would giver her away. He wondered about Sam’s boyfriend. Who would send someone they cared about on such a dangerous thing as time travel? There were so many things that could go wrong. At the Academy, time students were repeatedly warned to never travel alone, to never bring objects from one time period to another. Sam had broken rule one and was planning to break rule two. Joshua scratched his head. He had never even heard of time travel until he was at the academy.
“Joshua, why don’t you take our guest out to the front yard, while I clean this up”Arthur said.
Sam walked over to a tool box in the corner of the room. “Good, my tools are still here.” She picked them up and started walking out the door.
Joshua followed her. He wanted to get the source the goo, to prove to Arthur he was ready to be a full blown Time Ranger. But he needed help. He needed Sam’s help, he decided. “I was thinking, Sam, I think I know how we can help your boyfriend.”
“But we didn’t get the bottle. You said it was dangerous.”
“Carrying it back through time would be a problem. But what if we could go back to the night of the wedding reception and stop him from opening it that night?”
Sam’s eyes grew wide, “We could do that? Turk said that the goo isn’t very precise.”
“Turk? That’s who sold you this stuff?”
“I wan’t supposed to tell anyone, but yeah, it was some guy named Turk. He gave me the jar and told me it was 40 year chrono-gel, whatever that means.”
Joshua nodded. If he could find this Turk guy, he would be that much closer to being a Time Ranger and not just a lehrling. “Let’s go. We don’t have to wait for Arthur. We can travel back, save the wine, and then you and your boyfriend can tell me how I can get in touch with Turk.”
“I don’t think Turk would want to meet you. You’re kind of official, aren’t you?”
“Oh, no, I’m in training and there is still a chance I won’t be able to cut it. I’m an apprentice, not a Time Ranger.”
“Oh, like I am a plumbing apprentice. I see.” Sam asked.
“ But we need to go before Arthur gets out here and wants to take you to headquarters.”
“Where are we going?”
“To see an old friend and borrow something.”
Sam pointed at the dirty white panel van parked in the driveway. “I can drive.”
It was a ten minute ride in the Bruce Collins Quality Plumbing van to Wallaces’s Watch and Clock repair. Joshua let Sam into the small, cluttered shop.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many clocks in one room before,” Sam said, looking around.
Joshua went around the counter. “Hey Mr. Walden, it’s just me grabbing something,” he yelled to the work room behind the counter. He put a finger to his lips, and nodded to Sam.
She nodded back. Joshua found what he needed and then led Sam back to van. They got in.
“Where to next?” Sam asked.
Joshua pulled out a worn leather book, and a pocket watch. “We need to go to the wedding reception venue. Do you remember what time the wedding was?”
Sam started the van. “6 or 7 in the evening?”
Joshua looked at the digital clock on the van. “If you van is correct, we have just enough time to get there.”
Sam drove to the Women’s Club Event Center and entered the parking lot.
“Park over at the far side of the lot, so no one notices.”
“We are in a plumbing van at a fancy wedding, someone will notice.”
Joshua opened the planner.
Sam watched as he turned the pages. “What are you doing?”
“When was the reception?”
Joshua took the pencil that was in the planner and carefully started erasing the dates backwards. The sky would darken and lighten with each day that was erased.
Sam grabbed his arm, “What are you doing? What’s happening?”
Joshua laughed. “You jump in a tub and travel forty years, no sweat, but five days back in time and you panic?”
“It, it wasn’t so real.” Sam’s grip on Joshua’s arm was tight.
“Well, here we are, just an hour until the reception. Now we wait.”
“For what?” Sam asked.
“For your boyfriend to get here. You are going to go offer to help and then stop him from drinking the wine.” Joshua said. He held his pocket watch, insurance in case she did not do her part.
“What if he doesn’t listen and drinks it anyway?” Sam said.
“Is he really the type who would drink someone’s 8,000 dollar wine on purpose?”
“No, you’re right. He was so panicked, that’s why he found Turk.”
“How did he find Turk?”
“I, I don’t know exactly. We can ask after we get the wine safe.” Sam watched out the window. Soon, a truck and trailer, with “Golden Air Mobile DJ” on the side pulled to the back of the event center. Sam started to get out of the van.
“I’m coming with you, “ Joshua said.
Sam’s boyfriend, Clint, was unloading some speakers. He smiled, and looked glad to see Sam. “You brought help? I didn’t have to tell you Gary skipped out on me tonight.”
“This is Joshua,” Sam said. She stopped suddenly.
“Hi,” Joshua said. “I am interested in becoming a plumber and Sam was showing me the glamorous life of a plumber’s apprentice.”
Sam smiled. “We just finished a job and were passing the Women’s Club, so I thought I would say hi.”
Clint scratched his head. “I thought you were off today, that’s what you said when I left your apartment,” he looked at his watch and Joshua felt a flutter of panic. “Twenty minutes ago.”
“It was an emergency,” Sam said. “Clogged toilet at the city councilman’s house. You know how those people are.”
Clint grinned. “Yeah, I do their kid’s weddings. I know exactly how they are.”
They proceeded to help Clint unload and set up his speakers. An older gentleman came over and started to speak with Clint, and when he left, Joshua noticed he left a bottle of wine on Clint’s table. He nudged Sam, “Is that it?”
Sam smiled, “I think so.” She went over and got it. She showed Joshua the bottle. He didn’t understand much on the bottle, but the date, 1974 stood out to him. Sam hugged the bottle. “We did it! I’ll go put this on the gift table and all will be great, right?”
Joshua nodded. “Don’t forget to ask Clint about Turk.”
“Right.” Sam hurried off. Clint didn’t seem to notice the bottle at all.
Sam returned, went to say something to Clint, and then returned to Joshua. “I told him I had to take you back to the shop.”
Joshua felt a sense of accomplishment. He would take Sam back to Wallaces and then go to Headquarters, and she could tell Arthur how they saved the wedding wine and give the information about Turk. Sam would be free to go, and he would be well on his way to being a Ranger.
There was someone standing in the dark near the van. As they got closer, Joshua could see it was Arthur.
“Joshua, there you are. Did you get lost going to headquarters? I didn’t remember us moving it into the past four days.”
Joshua smiled. “Arthur! We, Sam and I , we fixed everything. She and her boyfriend had gotten the goo from this fellow Turk, and so we came here to…” He stopped a moment.
Arthur raised an eyebrow.
Sam looked at Joshua. “Goo? What goo? And what is a turk?”