There’s No Place Like No Place
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.
Filed under: Jabberwocky 17