Time Machine and Counterfeiters: on line Science Fiction
As soon as he mentioned a haunted house everybody groaned. You'd think that would be enough for him to leave it alone. Not old Charley. "I know what you are all thinking," he says, looking at us in that serious way of his, “but it isn't the usual bull story about a haunted house. The time machine and counterfeiters made things complicate, you see.
“This house had gotten a reputation for about thirty years and all kinds of stories about people seeing strange appearances there. People who went in would disappear and then show up in all kinds of strange ways. It seemed to start with a college professor who used to rent the place. One day he disappeared. Renters would leave--telling me that they saw a little gray haired man pacing the room and fiddling around with some strange machine. A couple of times I had people that I never saw before come to me with the same story and then show up a few weeks or months later to rent the place like they never saw it before. Pretty soon word got around there was something spooky about the place.
“Well, you guys all know what it's like to have a listing like that. It's bad for the whole business. Pretty soon people are afraid of your other houses and you can't rent or sell anything. Then people think there's something wrong with you and you got to do something about it or go batty.”
“There was only one thing to do, of course. I had to move in myself and try to collar this spooky professor.” Our groans at this point went unheard.
“So I moved in, along with a young follow who sold houses for me--- name of Harry, as I recall. Not that I was scared of the ghost, but you should have a witness in a case like this.
“When we got there we started rummaging through the closets and all, just to see if we might find some clues. Except for some old clothes, the only thing we found was some weird contraption. I can't really describe it. It seemed to be all kinds of shapes at once. We also found a loose-leaf binder, full of notes and math formulas and I tried to make something of those while Harry tried to figure out that confounded contraption.
“Well Harry just looked at that thing. He looked and he looked and he looked. ‘That guy must have been some kind of a nut---a real kook.’ Then he shrugged his shoulders and slumped into his chair.
“Of coarse, I was still looking at the notes and believe me---I'm no slob when it comes to math--the ideas might have been crazy but the guy who wrote those formulas knew what he was about. Still, when I read in there that this professor was trying to build a time machine, I was ready to go along with Harry. It was a nutty idea.
'That's about as far as I got with figuring the notes. We sat up half the night fiddling with dials and trying to see how that machine worked. We were getting pretty tired and then all of a sudden, Harry's face got kind of chalky. He jumped and pointed at the door. The machine crashed to the floor and started --- something. All the wires seemed to be twisting around and disappearing. There was a hazy, unreal quality about the whole area between the machine and the door. Then I saw this old guy just turning around from the hall closet. Harry disappeared.
“Professor HR Smith, MA, Ph.D., was a small, quiet sort of man who certainly wasn't used to finding his rooms occupied by counterfeiters. Of coarse they weren't exactly his rooms when he found them there, but then he couldn't be expected to realize that --- considering the circumstances and all. Actually from the time he came home from the library and the time he found the counterfeiters was a little over three years To Smith it was only the time it took him to hang his coat and umbrella in the hall closet.
“They only met in passing, Prof. Smith and these producers of second-rate currency. It seems to be the nature of the time process. It's kind of like the principle of displacement. You know that if you put an object in water it has to replace some of the water that's already there and the water has to go someplace also, Skip the details--they get too complicated anyhow. The real point is that if you take an object from one place in time and put it in another you create a kind of vacuum in the place you took it from. You've got to shove something out of the now place to make room for the new object. Everything gets pushed around a bit until equilibrium is found again.
“The Prof.'s notebook had some formulas to show how much and how. The main thing I got from them was that everything would have to become equal again.
He puffed on the cigar while we all stirred restlessly. Taking the cigar from his mouth, he said, “As you'll recall, Harry and I were in the room, almost dozing, when we saw this strange little mankind of shimmer into view. Harry was sitting by that contraption and when he saw Prof. Smith come out of nowhere, it kind of shook him up. Just before that he’d been fiddling with the machine and he must have had it set a some critical point. When he saw the Prof. appear, he jumped up and knocked the machine off the bench.
"Smith, by the way, appeared to be talking to us. (Actually he’d been talking to the counterfeiters and Harry and I kind of took their place, (from his point of view) I was just telling him that it was nice of him to drop in, when Harry disappeared.
"I hardly had time to be surprised by Harry's sudden disappearance, when the Prof. disappeared too. So there I was, alone in that room. Harry was gone and I didn't even have the ghost to show for it.”
“Where did they all disappear to?” Someone asked.
'What about the counterfeiters?” I asked.
"That's just what I was getting to, Charley continued. 'Remember, I told you that when an object travels through time it has to displace something else. Well, when the Prof. jumped all those years and popped in on the counterfeiters, he had to displace them. Of coarse they couldn't all go back to where he started out from, so they all got plopped down about six months apart somewhere between where (or is it when) Prof. Smith first walked into his house and disappeared. When they disappeared, they created some kind of turbulence or something and the Prof. made another jump forward. When he showed up at the time Harry and I were in the house, he displaced Harry.
“Charley stumped out his cigar and stared into the middle of the room think I'd better tell you about the Prof. first," he said, "Despite the fact that he was the cause of it all, he seems to play the smallest part. You see, when Prof. Smith came home from the library, he had no idea that somebody in the future would tinker with his machine. That was natural because he didn't know he was going to disappear and leave the machine around where someone could tinker with it. So at the time he was hopping through time, he didn't know what was going on.
“Once he got going on this time theory of his he got completely wrapped up in it and didn't publish a thing for two years --- that's why nobody paid much attention when he disappeared.’
“The short, thin man, known as Jack, looked around him and found that he was alone.”
‘Where’d they go?’ he said aloud.
“He had been just talking with his fellow counterfeiters, and suddenly they were gone, as was the press and other equipment. He looked around. The room seemed about the same to him. Jack was not one to notice that the furniture wasn’t quite as beat up, the walls a slightly different shade of blue or that there was linoleum on the floor instead of tile. In other words that it was he that had left and not his buddies. Since he didn’t know he had left, it didn’t occur to him to wonder where he was.
“Jack suddenly felt hungry and started to look for some food. Two cans of beans and no can opener. There is a grocery store about three blocks away he recalled. Searching his pockets he found a fistful of brand new twenty-dollar bills. He looked at the picture of Andrew Jackson with pride. He had taken him months of practice to master an imitation of the new government bill.
“Two hours later Jack found himself having fingerprints and pictures taken at the local police station. ‘You guys get dumber and dumber every day,’ the police detective was saying. How did you ever expect to pass off such phony currency? My ten year old could make more real money than that. You might as well have tried passing Monopoly money. That picture of Jackson is three time as big as on a real bill.”
Copyright 2012 Don Hoglund
© 2012 Don A. Hoglund