TRANSCRIPT: This story is written by Zoe Mikel-Stites. She wrote for Gateways this past fall, and in general writes short stories that are sci fi/fantasy in nature. She also writes articles and website copy. The majority of her writing lives on her website and patreon page. Her non fiction writing can also be found on fashionablyfemme.me, the most recent being the article “What is bisexual culture” As a writer Zoe is interested in the way that humanity deals with itself, from an outside lens. By looking at humanity through its cracks and through a fantastical mirror, she gets to investigate our pitfalls and triumphs, both personal and as a society. This is “Reclaiming”.
When the microwave hit the pavement in the alley fifteen stories below my apartment window, the sound of metal and glass confirmed the conclusion of my other experiments in the ongoing research of “how many of Sam’s belongings will fly when tossed out our (now my) apartment window?” It had joined the commemorative plates from the holiday trip last year, several framed photos from our first few dates, two external hard drives, and a collection of insanely ugly angel figurines in the pursuit of science. Izzy poked their head out of the walk in closet in the bedroom.
“What was that?”
“Microwave.” I said, leaning out the window slightly to observe the wreckage below.
“I’d say it got an 8 on style, but a 2 on the landing.”
Izzy snorted, then disappeared back into the closet. A few seconds later a wave of Sam’s button down shirts came flying past the open bedroom door, accompanied by a bellowed “BEGONE SATAN!” I chuckled. Izzy appeared again and marched triumphantly up to the counter where they grabbed a bottle of water and draped themselves over the granite. “Okay, that’s all Sam’s shit out of the closet. Did you get everything else out here?” “Yeah” I said “Thanks. And thank you for watching Scud next week and for taking all this – “ I gestured to small mountain of detritus that belonged to my now ex “-to wherever you’re taking it.” I rubbed my face and sighed. “Hey it’s no problem. Besides, I love Scud and I haven’t gotten one on one puppy time in a while. Plus this trip is going to be good for you.” I nodded. Calling the time travel agency to cancel our “romantic couples trip across the ages” had stung, especially when I found out it was non refundable. I almost burst out crying on the video call when the agent had told me that. But he had informed me I could change it to an upgraded, one person, long term travel contract where I could travel anywhere and anywhen I wanted, with no blackout dates and no wait time. Excessive? Sure. Did I care? Nah. It had all been on Sam’s credit card.
Two days after my microwave experiments I was sitting in a painfully white waiting room with stylishly pre-formed white plastic chairs that made me miss the comfort of concrete benches. Finally, some time after the left side of my ass had to sleep, the wall flashed my name in friendly blue letters above the doorway as a previously hidden panel slid aside to reveal a softly lit hallway and an automated voice invited me to go to intake room four, where I would meet my travel companion momentarily. I was still trying to figure out what exactly “companion” meant when I opened the door to a carpeted, comfortable room decorated in deep reds and blacks, with overstuffed chairs. Sitting in the left hand chair was one of the most attractive men I’ve ever seen. He beamed at me and stood gracefully, holding out his hand. I’m sure I said something smooth and charming like “Hi” and he invited me to sit with him. His name was Calitrex Version8902, or Cal, and he was my personal lifetime guide through time and space. It took me a moment to realize that he himself was the time machine. Technology, man. One day we’re trying to not get spliced with flies, the next we have James Bond as a personal escort to the history of the world.
Cal was half a head taller than me, with hair so perfectly mussed that it had to be intentional, and blue-grey eyes that were brought out perfectly by the deep blue three piece suit he wore.Maybe this trip wasn’t going to be so bad afterall. Then he asked me where I was going. I knew this was a formality since the itinerary was already set, and the question was most likely included in his program to make him seem more human. I rattled off the list of places and times that Sam had planned. Renaissance in Italy and France, early 21st century England for a concert, Hawaii at any time that there wasn’t a volcano exploding, and a few others. “So,” he asked, “where do you want to start?”
I told him and he nodded, then asked me to close my eyes and hold out my hands. This seemed a little odd, but I knew that the machine interfaces often worked through fingerprinting identification, and physical contact was required for continuity of transit. His fingers closed gently over mine. Just as I had closed my eyes there was a rushing sound, and suddenly I was falling backwards, out of my chair, for what felt like forever. My chest was tight and I couldn’t pull in a breath, and I was suddenly very sure that this was how I died. Then suddenly I wasn’t falling any more. I gasped in warm air and my eyes flew open. I was standing on a street corner with Cal still holding my hands, surrounded by sunshine and Italy.
“Renaissance. Florence, Italy.” He said with a smile. My jaw fell open. It was beautiful. The street and scenery were overwhelming, everyone moved around us, their clothes just so, their — wait, their clothes. I glanced down at my jeans and band t-shirt.
“Uh, question. Won’t they notice that we’re dressed a little. . . . differently?” I asked. “As long as you keep interaction to a minimum, which I’ll remind you are required to do in order to preserve the integrity of the timeline, then no. People are very good at ignoring the extraordinary.” He adeed. Then he held out his arm and I hooked my hand through the crook of his elbow and we began to walk. Florence was undeniably stunning. So was france. England was charming, and America was interesting, but around every corner, in every alley, in every bite of food, in the undertones of every painting-worthy vista, was the reminder that this was all Sam’s idea. Sam’s favorite cities, favorite historical event, painter, meal. Sam was everywhere across time and space. After the last stop on our list – a Spicegirls concert in the late 20th century – Cal finally asked me a question over coffee and overpriced pastries.
“All of these places, why did you choose them?”
I blinked at him. “I didn’t.” I responded flatly. “Sam did.”
“But Sam — “
“Is my ex, I know.” I said with a sigh. He smiled politely. “I was going to say is not here.” We sipped and ate in silence for a while. When we had paid, he held out his hands across the table and I let him hold mine. I closed my eyes and waited expectantly. When nothing happened, I cracked an eyelid open to find Cal looking down at our fingers. “May I make a suggestion?” He asked “Uh, sure.” “The next time you take a trip, select ‘customized itinerary’ from my menu.” He ran his thumb along the back of my knuckles. It was a kind, gentle and surprisingly human motion. I nodded, then said “oh-okay. Thank you for the suggestion.” He nodded, still not looking up. “Close your eyes please.”
A couple of months later I took another trip, but this time I followed Cal’s suggestion and let his computer system select our itinerary. I waited in the same too hard white chair and met him in the same comfortable intake room with overstuffed furniture. He smiled when he saw me. So did I, but only with my mouth.
“Ready?” He asked, holding out his hands. “Not at all.” I responded as I took them and closed my eyes. There was the now familiar rush and falling sensation. When I opened my eyes I was standing in front of a tall brick building that was covered in ivy. There was a chill in the air, and the breeze carried the smell of rose blossoms and damp earth. It wasn’t until I saw the stained glass window high above the massive oak doors that I realized it was the library that I had wanted to visit since I had first heard about it in college. My jaw dropped open and Cal smiled again. “This is at its peak, when it held more volumes of scientific and theological texts than anywhere else in the world.” He said. My heart didn’t know which direction to jump. Over the next few hours I wandered through the library’s stacks, trailing my fingers over book spines and inhaling history that wafted off of real paper and ink pages, not flashing letters on tablet screens. It felt like coming home to somewhere I’d never been. Then Cal said it was time to go and we fell through time again, this time landing on a beach with crystal clear water. I immediately knew where we were. I had learned to surf here, had discovered meditation, and more than a few drugs. I lay on the sand and soaked myself in the sun that had brought me so close to myself. Our next stop was shakespeare performing at the Globe Theater in a time when ruff collars were still in style, then the discovery of the polio vaccine, and the list went on. When we finally landed in the overstuffed chairs again, I stayed, eyes closed, not letting go of Cal’s hands. I really hoped I was imagining the feeling of tears running down my face. He ran his thumb softly across the back of my hand.
“All of those places” I said, eyes still closed. “How?”
“When the initial reservation was made, both parties were asked for a list of times and locations they wished to visit. Later, the itinerary was altered and a large number of choices removed. I thought you may want to see some of the places on your list.” I opened my eyes, vision blurry. He looked up at me, and then back down. “I’m sorry if I upset you. I shouldn’t have asserted my independent planning protocol.” “No, no no. It’s not that. Those places, they all meant so much to me. I’d forgotten how much. Thank you.” He squeezed my hands. “You’re welcome.” On my way home I stopped by the library and picked up a book at random, not even bothering to check the title. It was something I used to love to do that had gotten me out of more than a few reading ruts, but had stopped doing because Sam – I froze mid stride. This was the first time since the beginning of my trip that I had thought about Sam. I glanced at the spine of the book under my arm. “Ancient Mayan Life”. That could be a fun adventure. Sam would have hated it. I grinned and added a new stop to the itinerary for my next trip with Cal.
Kat Evans has been acting in Chicago since 2006. She has worked with :City Lit, Black Button Eyes, Promethean, Savoyaires and the Hypocrites. She also lends her voice to the podcasts Our Fair City, Starlight Radio Dreams and Toxic Bag