A man in a light corduroy shirt with chocolate brown corduroy elbow patches walked to the front door of Mrs. Roseanne Schlepperman’s house. Four evenly spaced knocks announced his arrival. Enough moments passed for the man’s eyes to dance to the tree in the front yard where it looked like a group of small birds were about to begin a romp. He shuddered away in reminiscence. The door opened to his blushed cheeks.
“Yes?” Mrs. Roseanne Schlepperman stood wide in the doorway. She was in some senses, a woman of many tastes.
“Mrs. Schlepperman, I presume? My name is Peter Brownberry. I am here about the time machine.” The man stood as a clothed skeleton without an inch of muscle or fat or form to show beneath his drapes of cloth.
“Yes, yes. Let me show you, please come in.” Mrs. Schlepperman waddled up the stairs and led Peter to a room with nothing else but a time machine inside it. The walls were covered in old paint at least a decade old. The floor was dusty and there was an odd smell to the room. A texture that somehow found its way straight to the roof of your mouth. The closest thing Peter could later describe it to was like tasting a knife wrapped in a cherry-flavored condom.
“Ah, I see.” Peter looked at the machine with intent to show that he knew much more about it than he actually did.
“Well? What are you going to do about it?” Mrs. Schlepperman’s mouth twitched to a metronome.
“I see that it is in fact broken.” Peter couldn’t see anything wrong. In fact, it looked brand new. “Unfortunately, I will be unable to fix this for you. I am here for you to sign some papers.”
“I’m not signing any goddamn papers until you fix this thing. My husband paid a fortune for this piece of junk and now we’re stuck with it. Do you know how valuable a broken time machine is?”
“I haven’t checked the market lately, but I assume…”
“It’s not worth shit. Now, when are you going to fix this?” Peter looked to the cracked floors and felt the staleness of the room seep into his face.
“Mrs. Schlepperman, may I call you Mrs. S?”
“No, you may not.”
“Okay, Mrs. Schlepperman, I am here representing the Dingle Dingle and Dangle firm covering the insurance for this time machine. I am here to make a report and send that information on to my superiors where they can process it.”
“So, you’re an insurance adjuster.” Her eyelids almost closed shut.
“Mrs. Schlepperman, of course. I represent the firm that represents the firm that insures your time machine.”
“Why is there a firm that represents…what are you here for exactly?”
“Mrs. Schlepperman, I am here because the insurance on your time machine is from the year 2246. It is currently the year 2130. Now I’m sure you understand.”
“No, I surely do not.”
“May we move to the living room?” She turned her head and walked out the door. The sides of her neck were the red of hellfire. Peter followed her down the stairs, then to the living room. She sat on what looked like a giant bean bag wrapped in the fur of a polar bear. Her chin melded with the top of her chest. Peter sat on the gilt wooden stool across from her.
“Try me again.”
“Of course, ma’am.”
“Mrs. Schlepperman, yes.” He smiled only on the outside. He grabbed a small folded piece of paper from his inside coat pocket and unfolded it. “I see that you purchased your machine in the summer of last year.”
“Quite a piece of junk if you ask me. Only lasting a few months.”
“I’m sorry you have had this inconvenience, Mrs. Schlepperman. I was explaining that your machine was purchased last year but your insurance policy was through an independent company to the manufacturer and was purchased in the year of 2262. This is actually quite common in time machine sales. The insurance is from the future because they can offer better rates than our current competitors. This should make sense.”
As she nodded her jowls jiggled.
“The difficulty in this is that since time travel is expensive, they cannot afford to arrive on site at each incident, which is why I am here.”
“I understand. So I need to sign some papers and then they will send someone here to fix the time machine.”
Peter exhaled loudly.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Schlepperman, but I don’t think I’m making myself clear. Your policy indicates that you chose the ‘carry in’ option over the ‘home repair’ option which saved you twelve dollars and eighty-three cents. This means that you must physically take your machine to the insurance adjuster.”
“But it’s broke. I can’t go in the future.”
“It’s something we hear a lot unfortunately. We at the firm never really understand why people don’t get the ‘home service’ option as its almost impossible for someone to return the machine.”
Mrs. Schlepperman rubbed the fur of her bean bag chair and looked to the staircase.
“You said ‘almost impossible’?”
“I did. I happen to have the card of a time machine future transport service. It’s reasonably priced at sixteen thousand dollars.”
“That’s almost half what the machine is worth!” She stood up and the loose parts of her body continued to move long after she did.
“All I can say is my work in the industry has given me an inside road to some pretty strong ties and this is one of them. Most of the other transport services are in the upper thirty thousands.”
“That seems unreasonable.”
“No more unreasonable than owning a time machine to begin with, I suppose.”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“I am sorry, ma’am.”
“I apologize, Mrs. Schlepperman. I personally have just never figured out why it is that people buy time machines. Would you indulge me while you sign these papers?” He handed her some unfolded forms and handed her a bright orange pen. Dingle Dingle and Dangle embossed the edges of the papers. She took the pen and papers and began speaking.
“Well, it was always my husband’s dream to see the Roman Coliseum in its heyday. He talked about it with the neighbors but we never really thought we could afford one until Joe and Helen purchased one with a great interest rate so we put a little money down and bought one. Just like everything else in this house. And the house itself in fact.”
“What was that?”
“Oh I’m sorry, sometimes I repeat words under my breath. A strange tick.”
“So my husband had a couple trial runs in the late 1990s to test the range and it went okay. He said the decade left something to be desired. Eventually he made it back to 1300s but said everything left a lot to be desired and when he was about to go for the big trip the machine broke. We were just trying to pursue dreams. Didn’t work out. I suppose it will though. Bankruptcy is pretty streamlined these days. This will be our fourth time in the past five years. Imagine that.”
“Imagine that.” Peter stared into the flesh sac of her face and said, “That is pretty reasonable if you ask me. It is a shame that things didn’t work out the way they needed to. However, I’m sure after this quick trip, things will work out.”
“I think so too.” She opened her purse and pulled out a checkbook.
“I haven’t seen one of those in, I’ve never seen one of those.” Peter said.
“I like to live old-fashioned sometimes. They are good, I promise. My bank makes an exception for me, being a big spender and all.”
“A gold member, I’m assuming?”
Peter’s eyes widened.
“How much was that transport service again? Sixteen thousand?”
“Sixty thousand, Mrs. Schlepperman.”
“Ah, sometimes my ears and mind fight themselves into nonsense.” She scribbled numbers and letters on paper and handed it to Peter. He grabbed the signed papers and check, and folded them into his coat pockets.
“Thank you, ma’am, forgive me, Mrs. Schlepperman. I appreciate your understanding in these inconvenient situations.”
“Not a problem. When can I expect the transport?”
Peter Brownberry closed the door behind him and stood in the sunlight. He unfolded the check from his inside coat pocket and held it to the light. He could see the watermark and the beautiful script that ensured him more money than he had ever conned before. Enough to leave this place and start a new life. With the help of Mrs. Schlepperman, that stupid woman. He looked again at the number six and the six zeros following it. He read “Time Machine Transport” in the memo. The signature read, “Go Fuck Yourself” in perfect copperplate script.
Jake Zawlacki currently lives in the Kyrgyz Republic, where he studies the health impact of traditional cradle board techniques. He has been published in 101 Words, Zeroflash, The Fable, Aphelion, and Litro. You can follow his research and read about his strange life at https://jzawlacki.com.