There's No Place Like No Place

Jeff Sam­son

He was a small, qui­et boy sit­ting at the edge of the play­ground, watch­ing the oth­er chil­dren through the com­fort of the chain-link fence between, watch­ing them laugh­ing and play­ing on the mon­key bars and carousels. Method­i­cal­ly he fol­lowed them, their every move, their lit­tle hands fum­bling at met­al rings, sneak­ers sink­ing beneath and burst­ing forth from the lake of peb­bles shift­ing under­foot. He lis­tened to their singsong rhymes and taunts, their shrieks and howls as they corkscrewed down alu­minum slides and spun in tire swings as twist­ed chains unwound. And mes­mer­ized, he prayed they wouldn’t see him, wouldn’t turn their calls his way and ask him if he’d like to join.

The pas­sen­ger opened his eyes and the mem­o­ry slipped from his mind, wiped away clean by the wink­ing lights and snowy screens and wind­milling nee­dles that lined the timeship’s walls. He brushed the mist of breath from his win­dow, and gazed again at the bril­liant thing beyond.

He stared through the glass of a Sper­ry ball tur­ret, avulsed from the corpse of a B‑17. From a parched leather buck­et seat still bear­ing the imprint of Chevy’s crossed rac­ing flags, he gripped the con­trol col­umn, which jut­ted from a three hun­dred and six­ty degree dash­board of repur­posed flight instru­ments, nee­dle gauges, com­put­er proces­sors, and dis­plays. It was all housed in a res­ur­rect­ed Tilt-A-Whirl car. All held togeth­er with spot welds and duct tape.

His ship was motion­less, a mote adrift in a uni­verse of black, the even, lib­er­at­ing black of nothingness—the shape­less, silent noth­ing­ness that exist­ed out­side of time where noth­ing else exist­ed but him.

Through the black before his eyes coursed time, an inter­minably long thread span­ning the infi­nite, glow­ing hot white and pale blue, writhing and crack­ling like an elec­tri­cal arc climb­ing a Jacob’s lad­der in some mad scientist’s secret lab­o­ra­to­ry. It stretched out to his port and star­board, undu­lat­ing, coil­ing, rip­pling, too long to gauge with feet or miles or par­secs, too lim­it­less to mea­sure with any­thing but itself.

And at the fringe of time, the glow­ing skin of time that kissed obliv­ion as it heaved and twist­ed in its spec­tral dance, were count­less mov­ing things. Shapes swim­ming beneath the blaz­ing fab­ric that gave time its form. Fig­ures swelling up, peek­ing through the sur­face in brief reveal, and sub­merg­ing with the stout and steady rise and fall of whale backs through waves.

It was every­thing in time, the trav­el­ers of time, col­ored in the radi­ant mono­chro­mat­ic hues of time, the glo­ri­ous core of white and cusp of blue through which they coursed and wove. It was all in time, and out of time, the was, the is, the will be all at once, so clear­ly out of time and space, and yet so odd­ly harmonized.

He turned away, his eyes on fire, and closed them hard to find the echo of it all, the mark of time, burn­ing in the soft black of his eye­lids. He held them shut until the azure glow ebbed to grey, until against that qui­et tone the mem­o­ries came again, their images flick­er­ing into solid­i­ty, sta­t­ic pho­tographs that strobed and stut­tered out of sync, then stead­ied into sequence in a flu­id swirl of col­or and movement.

He was a young man lost in flash­ing lights and thrum­ming bass, stand­ing still at the edge of a floor alive, a writhing, puls­ing, breath­ing thing. His back firm against the safe­ty of the wall, it was all he could do to shake his head at the glow­ing young god­dess clasp­ing one hand of his in both of hers, tug­ging, pout­ing, then at last sur­ren­der­ing, let­ting go to dis­ap­pear into the undu­lat­ing sea of silken limbs and scar­let lips. Leav­ing him awash in sweat, heart rac­ing, ears throb­bing with the rhyth­mic rush of blood, drown­ing out the dri­ving music in a vio­lent, mount­ing cadence. And wish­ing he could stay and dis­ap­pear, could see and be unseen.

His eyes now calm, he opened them slow and shook his head, jar­ring the mem­o­ry clear of his mind’s eye. And deeply he breathed and dared to look again.

Shim­mer­ing past in light­ning shades there surged a cen­tu­ry of legionar­ies in galeas and breast­plates of leather and bronze, glad­ii sheathed, pila upright, shield over­lap­ping shield. They marched in time, their san­dals clap­ping out a dis­ci­plined cadence on a stretch of super­high­way, a lane of dump trucks, back­hoes and bull­doz­ers crawl­ing along at their left, a herd of bra­chiosaur lum­ber­ing forth at their right, cran­ing their leath­ery necks up at the Guadalupe Caracaras and Black Hawks cir­cling the hot air bal­loons above.

There were forests of sequoias ris­ing proud, reflect­ed in the glass shells of the sky­scrap­ers among them, their leafy tops tick­ling the bel­lies of strange, sound­less ships with hulls so big they glit­tered like sleep­less cities glimpsed from the win­dows of red­eye flights. There were rivers rush­ing under water­wheels, snaking through towns whose tran­sit sys­tems rode on air, wind­ing through a maze of pyra­mids and shop­ping malls to wet the legs of mastodons before bleed­ing into a bustling gulf rimmed in port cranes and pill­box­es, where triremes stretched their oars along­side junks and hov­er­craft, and Cro-Magnons sharp­ened stone-tipped spears beside old men teach­ing their grand­kids to tie tri­lene knots.

He turned away to rest his eyes, the pain still fierce, but not so fierce as before. He wait­ed for the calm to come, and just the same, his past flood­ed in.

He was an old man now, rais­ing a glass of rye to his lips with a liv­er-spot­ted hand, look­ing out the win­dow of his cab­in set high on a hill at the fringe of the city. He fol­lowed the mauve and pur­ple glow of the sky to where the build­ings rose, their black mir­rored skin speck­led with lights as if they were tall win­dows reveal­ing the star­ry skies of uni­vers­es beyond. He stood there, sip­ping, sigh­ing, aching to observe the life that teemed with­in its sub­ways and streets and brown­stones and side­walk cafes. Yearn­ing for the day when his ship would fly, would take him away, far away from it all, so impos­si­bly far as to be infin­i­tes­i­mal­ly close yet ever unknown—a watch­ful fly on every wall.

And open­ing his eyes once more, he wished he could erase it all. Could rob his mem­o­ries of col­or and shape. Cut from his face the eye­lid can­vas­es on which they breathed. Gouge out the places in his brain that gave them wings and teeth and hands to drag him back to life with­in the world he left.

But he knew in time they’d waste away while he remained. That in time the pain that racked his open eyes would dull, leav­ing him to gaze upon and for eter­ni­ty. That out of time, all in good time, his eyes would know the home his heart had found, in the instant he arrived.

Jeff Sam­son brews Irish stout when he’s not writ­ing sci­ence fic­tion and often drinks it when he is. He lives in New Jer­sey with his wife and baby girl, and no cats.

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