Desmond the Time Traveler–2009: This is a story I started for fun. It’s really not that well written, but it was all about the idea. It was inspired by my parents childhood in southern California. Like everything else, it never got finished. Here is the first little bit of it. It’s a time travel story for people who don’t like time travel stories. It focuses on the characters rather than the science.
Desmond could feel his heart pounding in his chest. He could also hear it. It’s an interesting thing being able to hear your own heart. You wouldn’t think that the heart made much of a sound except when the doctor let you listen to it through a stethoscope and the only reason it made a sound then was because a stethoscope is little more than a drum channeling sound through a tube to your ears. Of course your heart makes a sound when it’s beating against a drum, but otherwise you wouldn’t actually think your heart made a noise. That’s like saying a drumstick makes noise just resting in your hand. But the heart is not a drumstick, it’s a heart; an organ that provides blood that carries oxygen to the rest of your body. Blood, such a funny thing. The sound of the word blood made Desmond almost pass out. How many times had he been driving and heard the word blood from the radio, his wife, his daughter, or even though about the word blood and felt the need to pull over and take breath of fresh, roadside air. Even downtown he stopped once. He awkwardly pulled into a parking garage, got out of his car and couldn’t think straight because he was listening to talk radio and they just mentioned the idea that the heart of an overweight human being is literally wringing itself in order to send blood around the body just to survive. Blood. Wringing. That’s what you do to a dishcloth just before you hang it over the faucet after wiping down the sink. The downtown air was heavy that day. Los Angeles air really always is heavy, but that day he needed a walk. He walked five or six blocks until he was standing smack in between the Nokia Theater and Staples Center. He sat down right there. He had to get his bearings. He wasn’t even sure he’d ever told anyone that story before.
His heart again. Why was it so loud? The last thing he could remember was the courtroom. He’d gotten in a lot of trouble. He stole something, or did something. What was it? Thinking was especially difficult at that particular moment. Coffee. That’s what it was. He needed some coffee. He was still asleep, or at least he was drowsy. Hungover? He couldn’t remember drinking. Wait. Drinking. He had been drinking. A lot of drinking. When was that? Why was everything so confusing? He couldn’t wrap his mind around what he done last before falling asleep, or what he’d done last week. Weak. That’s for sure. He couldn’t move anything. Or at least he didn’t think he could move anything. Was he asleep still, or was he thinking he was sleep.
Ok, idiot, get up. Get your coffee and start thinking straight. C’mon, move it. I can’t move. He was still confused, but his thoughts were starting to make a little more sense, at least they were starting to become slightly more organized. Ok, get up. It’s not that hard. Right hand under chest and push. No. Let’s try the left. Nothing. What is wrong with me? This must be one of those twilight zone dreams. The kind where your brain is awake but your body isn’t ready to respond because it needs its coffee. Desmond rationalized to himself that he would just wait until his brain started firing to the rest of his body. Was that something he could force? Could he make his brain fire signals to the rest of his body? He didn’t think so, but it seemed logical enough that he could at least give it a try. He thought to himself, roll over, if you just roll over, you’ll wake up. Now… roll. Nothing. C’mon, body. Am I asking too much! He yelled at himself now, in his head of course. In his head he was sure he should be standing at this point and walking around. Going to wherever it was he usually went. He couldn’t really remember that either.
“What day is it? What time? Is it day time or night? It’s dark, it must be night. But what if my eyes are closed? Eyes. That’s it, my eyes, let’s start simpler. Standing up was advanced stuff right now.” The dialogue between him and himself would have been amusing if anyone could have been able to hear it. He knew it was amusing. He even managed a chuckle. Then he stopped thinking. It was different. The chuckle was real. That sounded different than the rest of the conversation. He could hear the chuckle, no, he could feel it in his chest, where his heart was. Yes, it was down there with only other real sound. Do it again, Des, c’mon. Laugh again. He couldn’t. He tried again and again, but couldn’t manage it. Think of something funny. What’s funny?
What Desmond didn’t realize about himself was that he was actually face down in a nearly bald patch of left field in a neighborhood sandlot. It would have been lucky for him if it had been earlier, as in still dark earlier. But just his luck, it was daytime, and not just day time, it was a Sunday morning kind of day time and staring down at his motionless body that had just chuckled was a group of ten young boys in avid wonderment at the man lying in the middle of their baseball field wearing a really nice looking blue pinstriped suit. None of the boys could remember seeing him there when they started their game. Sach had actually been in left field all morning since Luis was hitting everything Tom-Tom was throwing him. All to left. Maybe Sach hadn’t actually been going that far left. Luis liked to hit to left- center because he knew Sach was left handed and he was horrible at reaching across his body to make a catch with his right hand. It was a weakness that Sach had and Luis was willing to exploit it. They called Luis the dirty Mexican because he was so good at reading every boy’s fielding weakness and using it against them. They were all sure he was going to go pro, it was a foregone conclusion, but he wasn’t Mexican. His parents were from Bolivia. Sure he was born and raised in El Monte, and was used to riding the L.A. freeways in a faded green ’57 Chevy 150 to Dodger Stadium with his old man—so by all accounts he was just as American as any of them—but in sandlot baseball, once you’re branded, it’s for life.
But what about the guy in the suit? “Where’d he come from, Sach?” asked a fat kid in jean cut-offs and a ratty old Red Sox cap.
A skinny kid they called nugget, named for the gold tooth that graced his otherwise pearly smile, replied with sarcasm dripping down his gilded overbite. “I don’t know, Beans, why don’t you ask him, since he seems to be so alive right now?” Nugget shot a look at Beans and turned his seemingly authentic, actually used on the field, Yankees cap so that it faced backwards on his overgrown mop covered head.
“What’re you saying, he’s dead”, replied the boy affectionately called Beans. His nickname was given to him the first day, and quite possibly in the first minute he ever spent on this field. He walked up in his first week on the block after seeing kids playing ball in the lot. They were one short, so they put him at right field. On his way out to right, a fly was hit out. Kids started yelling at Beans—his real name was actually Thomas Papalla—to duck. Luis saw his lack of hustle and decided to initiate the kid. He hit Tom-tom’s fast ball—which wasn’t that fast—on an intercept course with Beans’ trajectory. Of course he stopped and turned his head at the exact wrong time by the any measure of fate. Fortunately for Beans, the ball missed his face by about three inches and connected with his throat. The outcome was like seeing Jackie Gleason get hit in the face by a prize fighter. It was a ballet akin to Swan Lake or the Nutcracker. Beans’ shiny Red Sox cap flew one way as the rest of his body gyrated and stumbled closer and closer to the ground until he hit it like a caribou in season. Of course the field was silent as the boys waited with baited breath for the inevitable jelly roll that would be the finale of this wonderment in human survival instinct. But when the end came it was far grander than even Wagner could have composed. When Beans’ fat lumpy, and completely limp, body smacked the ground, a sound cracked so loud from his backside that it could be heard at home plate. A fart of epic proportion lead to everyone in Baldwin Park calling him Beans. Beans, of course tells all the girls it’s because he’s from “Baston”, that it stands for Boston Baked Beans. He lays on the accent really heavy for the ladies.
“I don’t know, dummy. See if he’s breathing,” barked Nugget. Beans bent down near Desmond’s face. The smell of alcohol was so strong that he actually recoiled and gagged.
“If he ain’t dead, he’s close. That’s a wicked smell.” Beans held his nose. There was a collective groan of disgust as all the boys naturally leaned in to take a whiff.
“What the hell, I think he’s breathing?” Tom-Tom said pointing to the gentle rise of Desmond’s spine.
“He still smells dead” replied Beans waving his cap in front of his face.
“Step aside.” Luis pushed Beans and Nugget out of the way. He leaned near Desmond’s face. Luis was a muscular 15 year-old. He took off his Dodgers cap and handed it to Sach. “Don’t even breath on it, pud.” He shot at Sach before turning back to Desmond’s unhealthy looking body. Luis sniffed ever so slightly at first, then took a bigger whiff. He sat up and grabbed his cap from Sach. “He ain’t dead, ladies. That’s just B.O. and Jack. This hombre smells like my old man after a fight.” Luis’ dad was a middleweight boxer, and a bad one at that. He’d lost every fight but one, and that was because the tub he was fighting was so far out of his weight class that he had a heart attack in the middle of the third round.
Right hand and lift. C’mon, do it now. Desmond was still convinced he could will himself to his feet. His heart was pounding a little faster because of the effort he was putting into doing anything. Physiological response was a good thing. Then he started to doubt his senses. What if he couldn’t really hear his heart? How would he know if he was even alive? Is this what death is like? Trapped in one position in darkness for eternity? The anguish of that thought made the metronome that was his core start to beat in rapid patterns. Then there was something new. He could have sworn he heard something. Not pretend heard, or thought he heard, he actually heard something. What was it? Shut up, Desmond, listen for it again. It was vocal, or seemed vocal. It was a song, no; it was a tone. Then the ringing started. A ringing sound started softly in his left ear and grew louder. The sound began to change. It went from a ring to a whoosh; a subway train entering the station. Then pain. Pain in his face. His cheek. Was he hit by something? A book, it felt like he had been smacked in the face by a book. The sound of the train was now very loud, almost deafening. Then yelling. A voice yelling at him. He couldn’t make out the words. He wanted to get up more than anything and run. Run from the sound and voice and everything. Find a quiet place. He wanted to scream. He opened his mouth. But he couldn’t tell if it was his mouth or his mental mouth. Why? Stop, stop, stop STOP!!!!! Then suddenly a bright pop and flash, then… silence. Desmond opened his eyes, his actual eyes. He was confused by what he saw. Disembodied legs, no that was absurd. They were attached, but where were the rest of their people? Then the voice came, this time he understood it.
“Hey, cabron, you alive?” The voice had a familiar accent and seemed to be insulting him. Desmond thought to himself.
“Let’s try rolling over again”. He tried his arm. It moved. Hallelujah. He pushed against the ground and lifted one side of his body so that his center of gravity and the weight of his body would work to roll him to his back. Things now made more sense. From his back he could see that he was outside and it was warm and day time and there were kids. What the hell was going on? How did he get here? Where was here? His mind raced with questions. He blinked in the brightness of the azure sky.
What now? Stand up? No, rolling over was a chore so standing would be impossible. How about talking? Yeah, talking seemed like a good idea. Ok, go. Talk. Desmond opened his mouth to speak but stopped. He didn’t quite know what to say. Ask a question like ‘where are you?’ That’s a good start. Go, now, ask.
He formed his lips into a “whoo” sound. OK that’s a start, now make sound, speak. The sound was so hoarse that it was barely audible.”whee…”
The kids looked at each other. Desmond relaxed his head to start again.
What the hell was that, c’mon you’re a grown man. you have a college education. you speak three languages, can’t you get one word out in English? His own internal frustration was getting to him. He closed his eyes, raised his arm to his forehead and rested it across his brow. He took a deep breath. It was definitely nice to see that his body was still functioning, though he hadn’t tried any really complicated combinations of movements.
“Where am I?” The words finally found their way out. It was simple, but it was something. A voice came back at him. It was the same voice and accent and he knew the origin well. Had he somehow landed in some gang-ridden, god-forsaken barrio in east L.A.? This wasn’t going to be pretty. He had heard stories of gang beatings and even killings when a white wandered on to the wrong street.
“You’re at the park, man. Where’d you think you were?” The voice was definitely Latino.
Ok now it’s time to stand up. This is fight or flight time. You don’t have time to test it, just get up and start walking. Desmond put both hands on the ground and pushed as hard as he could. He was moving, faster than expected, but he was moving upward. Before he knew it, he was on his feet. Too fast, though. Head rush. He hunched over. It was in his stomach now. Terror gripped Desmond’s entire body. Every muscle flexed in anticipation of what couldn’t really be avoided. No stop! Not here. This gang will mock, laugh at, then kill you for puking on their turf.
The boys looked at each other. “What’s he doing whispered a small Asian kid called Brain, real name Brian.
“I think he’s going to heave.” whispered Tom-Tom back. “My Uncle Marty does the same thing when he’s been drinking too much. He hates to heave, but he does every time he drinks. It’s real gross. His hands get all balled up and his face turns red, and BAM! HE chucks all over the bathroom. My mom hates him for it.”
“Shut up, Tom-Tom!” shouted Beans.
Desmond could hear the conversation going on out of his right ear, but it was too late to not look like Uncle Marty. At least he could spare a blood vessel from bursting. Desmond relaxed his fists and let fly the inevitable. As the first wave flew in a putrid brown, chunky spray, the boys around Desmond parted like the Red Sea. There were groans and moans. One kid could be heard form the back, “breathe, Flat, Deep breath, don’t go making it two piles of puke on our field.”
“Luis stepped into the violated area, a bat in his hands. “You done, now?” You do realize that now Sach is gonna have to jump over your puke every time I hit it to Left?”
“I’m sorry. I’m leaving.” Desmond stood up for the first time and realized that the kids weren’t at all what he expected. They were mostly white kids. It was the big one that was the Latino. He seemed to be in charge. “I’m leaving”, Desmond restated as he started toward the edge of the field. The boys didn’t say much, just moved out of the way and watched him leave.
“That’s just weird.” said Beans. “You know, in Boston, there was this guy…”
“Shut up Beans”, came a collective roar from the group that seemed to snap them all out of their trance.
Sach was protesting having to play left. “I can’t even be near vomit, or I’ll vomit. I swear my skin gets all cold and everything.”
Fine, just shut up. Who want’s left, who’s not a sissy like Barbra over here?”
No one volunteered. Standing near the back of the crowd already farthest out toward left was Ron-Ron, an average sized kid with white blonde hair. He was muscular for twelve years old. All the guys had actually gone to his birthday party the week before.
Ron-Ron was watching the stranger walk down the sidewalk to the corner. “Hey Ron-Ron! You got left, cool?” Luis wasn’t really asking a question, but he knew Ron-Ron didn’t care about a little bit of puke.
“Ron-Ron! You awake?” Ron-Ron turned around to face Luis. “Left”. Luis waited for acknowledgment.
“Yeah, whatever, man. Left. fine.” Ron-Ron watched Desmond at the corner look up at the green street signs. Desmond reached into his pocket and pulled something out. He stared at it for a few seconds, then he held the thing above his head and started walking around like the thing in his hand was supposed to lead him somewhere. Ron-Ron watched until he heard the crack of the bat. He jerked his head toward the infield, looking just in time to see the ball smack into Sach’s glove at third base. Luis was still gunning for him.
C’mon, signal, where are you? How is it that there is no signal in the middle of a neighborhood? There’s no way every cell tower in L.A. is down. Desmond walked down the street a little way, then went back the other way. Maybe it was his phone. He took the battery out then put it back in. The phone started back up. Still no signal. He thought maybe his particular carrier was having a service hiccough. He put the phone back in his pocket and looked back at the group still playing ball. He was pretty sure he wasn’t in gangland. It looked like Pasadena or Arcadia or something.
Desmond thought for a minute. Kids have phones. I’ll ask one of them if I can use their phones. He looked around the park as he started his walk back to the baseball field. Not too clean, but at least there was a pool that actually had water in it and kids were playing. He kept his mind on getting information. He reached home plate.
‘Hey, kid.” Luis tried to stay focused on the pitch that was coming.
Sach was sweating and rubbing his fist in his glove.
“kid.” Luis put up his hand up to Tom-Tom and turned around dropping his bat to rest on his shoulder.
“Hey deadbeat.” Luis replied to Desmond with his eyebrows slanted into a menacing glare.
Desmond tried to ignore the hostility. “Do you have a phone?”
Luis looked at Desmond as though he were stupid. “yeah, I gotta phone, so what.”
“can I use it?”
Luis stared at Demosnd confused. You wanna go to my house and use the phone? Hell no. I ain’t taking some drunk home so he can case it.”
“No, a cell phone.”
“A cell phone, you know mobile, like this.” Desmond reached into his pocket to pull out his own phone when a serious possibility struck him.
All the boys were now quiet and watching the exchange. No one spoke for a good ten seconds.
“look, man, calm down. Alright, you need a phone? ok, hold on.” Desmond wasn’t paying any attention to Luis. His mind was suddenly traveling through time.
What was the last thing you can remember? how did you get in this field? Think you idiot, think! Desmond pulled his hand out of his coat pocket and caressed his temples with his index finger and thumb.
Luis was standing with his hands up talking to Desmond but Desmond wasn’t listening. It was in that moment that it had all come back to him.
“Holy…” he began to say then he reached into his back pocket. On the right side he found only his wallet. In the left side pocket he found what he was looking for; a piece of paper folded into small pieces. He unfolded it slowly. Luis was still talking at him with his hands up. Desmond had almost unfolded the whole paper when he realized how desperately he needed a newspaper. The paper had opened. It was a note; a note from the previous day. It had been left on his computer by a former business partner. He refolded the paper. As strange as the morning had been, Desmond realized that all of his memories of the last 24 hours were real. But if his assumption was correct, the last 24 hours didn’t mean a whole lot. In fact, the last 35 years didn’t mean a whole lot either.
“The church!” came Luis’ voice very forcefully this time. “Man, did you hear me? The church over there has a phone.” Luis pointed to a building just over in the north corner of the park. It was definitely a church. There were people walking in. Families dressed up in their Sunday best.
Phone was all Desmond could think. But who would he call? Did he even know anyone here? He had to find out where here was. And, oddly enough, Desmond realized that he was wrong. It wasn’t a Saturday. It was a Sunday.
“Hey, amigo, can you hear me? Just go over there and ask to use the phone.”
Desmond looked up to see Luis’ concerned expression. “Yes, phone. Where am I?” He asked Luis.
You’re in the Park, Baldwin Park Park.”
“Actually it’s called Morgan Park” cut in Beans.
“Shut Up Beans”
“Yeah, I’m just sayin’, my mom calls it Morgan Park.”
“I know, shut up!”
Desmond interrupted. “I’m in Baldwin Park?
“Yeah. BP. Where are you supposed to be?”
Luis didn’t know what to say to that. Pasadena was 15 miles away over a dozen roads and highways. Luis had actually only been to Pasadena once. It took forever to get there.
“What year is it?”
Now Luis was confused. “What year? It’s 1969, man.”
Desmond tried to refrain from showing his complete shock, but his eyes opened widely as he clenched his jaw. His heart rate went up and the sound was back, the blood pounding in his ears. Blood, the thought made him light headed, but the fact that he hadn’t actually been killed the night before was boggling to him.
“1969!” Desmond sounded exasperated. Luis just stared.
“Then how in the hell did I get to Baldwin Park?”
“I don’t know, man. Why don’t you call a cab to take you back?”
Realizing the magnitude of everything that had just been made aware to him, he looked at Luis and said, “that’s going to have to be one hell of a cab, kid.”
It was really all about what happened. Desmond walked away from the group of boys and headed toward a bench near the road. Think, Des. What actually happened last night, or whenever it was? There is no way you ended up here. It just doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t work through space, just time. Of course, it also should never have worked because there wasn’t anything to receive you here. You send from one, it goes to the other one. It’s simple. So what happened?
Desmond tried as hard as he could to recall the events of the last twenty four hours. He remembered the court room. He couldn’t forget that. He never should have been there. It was all a misunderstanding; or at least it was a major screw job because that jerk Hodges couldn’t stand that Desmond had succeeded with the grant committee.
They took everything from you. That’s right. They took it all: the license, the lab, the entire project. They were going to give it to Hodges. That smug piece of rat filth wasn’t smart enough to run the project on his own. He got his PhD on a fluke because of me. I knew his theory worked, but he didn’t have a clue. It wasn’t until I used it that he was finally able to publish. Damn that guy. I should have thrown him in and sent him back here. That son of a…
Desmond sat down on the bench in front of him. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the note he had already opened. It was a simple enough note from Hodges. Desmond unfolded the yellow paper. The adhesive on the back still held strong. The note read:
“You’re theory is flawed, it always was. That’s why I did it. You didn’t have the balls to take a risk.”
Hodges didn’t know what he was talking about. The math was right on the money, but that didn’t really matter. What mattered was getting back. Desmond had to get to the University. He stood and only just realized how weak he was. Whatever was in him from the night before—apart from the pint of Jack Daniels he’d consumed—was now laying out in left field. He needed food. He needed a drink. Desmond looked around for anything to eat. Over near the pool he spotted a snack stand. He decided to start there.
The stand was wooden with an open face like a concession stand you might see at a high school football game. It was painted white with a red trim across the front. Children in bathing suits were lined up waiting their turn. A Snickers bar is all Desmond wanted. Did they even have Snickers? He walked to the edge of the counter to peer inside and see what was available. A variety of candy and treats hung from the peg board wall and sat on wooden shelves. Many of them he had never seen before. Some were familiar like Candy Buttons and necklaces, Necco Wafers, Boston Baked Beans, and, to Desmond’s amazement, Mike and Ike candies. But things like Pumpkin Seeds, Mallow Cups and candy cigarettes were a new concept to him.
Desmond surveyed the line of children and their mothers. One lady in particular had been eying him closely. He didn’t really seem to notice her until he tried to get the sales girl’s attention.
“Excuse me,” came the woman’s voice. Desmond didn’t pay any attention. He raised his hand to gain some attention of his own.
“Do you have any Snickers?” Desmond asked. The girl raised a hand to Desmond as if to tell him to wait. She pulled off a foot long tape of candy buttons and handed it to a chubby dark haired girl in a blue bathing suit. The little girl wore bright blue glasses that looked like something from a comic strip.
Desmond suddenly felt something grab him. He turned to see what it was. A woman, maybe 30 years old was holding him by the arm. She had on a pair of dark sunglasses that were big enough to cover most of her face. She wore a green dress with orange flowers on it. Her blond hair was bobbed short and her mouth was coated in pink lipstick. Looped over her left arm was a yellow hand bag. A Blue towel could be seen peeking out the top. At her side was a boy that was maybe 7 years old. He had bleach blond hair and was gripping the handle of his mother’s bag staring up at Desmond with squinted eyes so as not to burn out his retinas from the glaring sun light.
Desmond looked down at the woman’s hand grasping his arm. This wasn’t a gentle squeeze as one may expect from a stranger trying to introduce one’s self. This was a harsh throttle like someone might do to a child they want to keep from causing trouble. Desmond was immediately defensive.
He pulled his arm from her grip with an upward jerk and looked at her giant insect like shades. “I’m sorry, do I know you?” he asked harshly. He didn’t like being touched. In fact, he didn’t like anyone being near him. This was a recent development in the last five or so years. He had developed a cold defensive demeanor and harsh nature. This is what caused his wife to leave him and take their daughter with her. It was all due to the fact that his work had gained him some notoriety and people had been coming to him for favors and help. Money. It was always about money. Money for this and money for that. Family, friends, independent groups, even coworkers were looking for handouts to help with their own research. No one really wanted to be his friend. They just wanted his money.
What came next was not what Desmond had expected. He was used to having the upper hand, to owning the situation, but the words that came from the woman’s mouth were a shock to his system. “No, sir, you don’t know me, and I don’t know you, but I do know that you had better get in line like the rest of us and make your purchase like the rest of us, or one of the many people now staring at you will flag down a policeman.”
The tone of her voice was so familiar to him. He had heard that same timbre from his own mother countless times as a child. He had even heard it from her recently as she lectured him like a little child about facing his responsibilities as a man. His mother had spent the last half decade being ashamed of him. He didn’t much care what she thought, though she was the only person who never asked him for anything.