“Ah-ha! There you are, Gottfredson, come in, come in, you’re late enough as it is.” Dr. Edgar Euphonium gripped my arm tightly and yanked me into his laboratory. I removed my pocket watch just in time to see the minute hand land on the twelve.
“No, I’m just in time, you said to meet you at four o’clock. Here I am and it is just now four.” I prided myself on my punctuality, so I was a little offended by the doctor’s insinuation. He scoffed as he dragged me hurriedly through the lab.
“Floyd, my boy, whether you’re late, or on time, or even five minutes early is pointless, because you see, time is relative. At least it is with my latest invention.” He stopped and removed his opaque goggles, which, incidentally, I could never understand how he could see through. I however, could see through him. He was trying to coax me into guessing what his latest invention was. With Dr. Euphonium, it was always a guessing game; he couldn’t just come out and tell me what it was. Sure, I enjoyed the U.N. Cola, which allowed the drinker to burp in seven hundred languages, and the x-ray ear muffs had proven useful when we found that bunny trapped in the walls. But this was frustratingly infantile. I was the kid here, why was he playing the games? He was grinning from ear to ear, waiting for me to take the bait. Resistance was futile.
“I’ll bite,” I said, “what is your latest invention?” He immediately ran to the back of his lab, past the illuminated jars of lightning and long tables of oohing sentient cheese to a tall, thin object covered by a quilt.
“Behold!” he shouted, gesturing to the object. His bright red hair always seemed to stand up when he made these sorts of proclamations, and the combination of his skinny six foot frame and long white lab coat made him look like a living exclamation point. “I give you my latest invention,” he said, dramatically removing the quilt.
“It’s a grandfather clock,” I said, since it was clearly just that.
“It’s a time machine,” Dr. Euphonium corrected me.
“Right, a grandfather clock. It tells time.” If this was a joke, I wasn’t laughing. The doctor had called me away from a fresh pot of coffee and a new stack of library books on notorious flightless birds, benevolently haunted caves and the bowling scores of Renaissance painters. Yeah, I know, I’m a weird kid, but I find this stuff fascinating. All my classmates call me Old Man, on account of the fact that I wear a corduroy blazer, tweed pants and a deerstalker and I’d rather drink coffee and read old books than play kickball or video games. Dr. Euphonium gets me, though, which is why I usually come running when he calls me with news of his latest invention. They rarely performed properly, but they were at least entertaining.
“Floyd,” he said, putting an arm around me, “don’t be a mooncalf. This is more than a mere grandfather clock. It not only tells time and is in its own way grandfatherly, it can travel forward, backward, over, under, between, betwixt, around and through time! My boy, it baffles science! I should know, for I am both baffled and a scientist. I invented it with these be-rubber gloved hands, and I could not tell you why it actually works, but by gum, it works like a well-oiled machine. A well-oiled time machine, in fact.”
He could tell I was skeptical, so he opened the cabinet, and where there would normally be a pendulum there was nothing. The walls, however, were lined with fluorescent tubes that flashed red and blue intermittently. “Okay, I’m intrigued,” I said. “How does it work?” Dr. Euphonium grinned broadly and raised his eyebrows. His smiles could be disconcertingly toothy, like an enthused shark.
“Why tell you, when I can show you!” he said. He grabbed hold of my arm again and shoved me into the cabinet. I struggled against his grip.
“You want me to climb in there and be zapped back in time all by myself?”
“Of course not, Gottfredson. Scooch over.” And with that, he crammed himself into the grandfather clock with me. My face was squashed against two of the lights, and my cheek felt like it was getting singed. I adjusted myself as best I could as the doctor tried shutting the door. On the fifth try it latched. I was now much closer to Dr. Euphonium than I was comfortable with, and discovered he smelled primarily of sweat, motor oil and lemon zest. At least the lemon zest was pleasant.
“Look up, Floyd, look up!” I tried, but to do so involved maneuvering my head around his elbow, which jutted outward like a bent tree branch. My deerstalker made it difficult to see as well, but eventually I situated myself so I could look up.
“Huh,” I said. “There’s a calculator in the ceiling.”
“No, no, no! Well, yes. It was a calculator. Now, it’s the main control panel of the time machine. Just punch in a date and whoosh! Now, I’ll just input the coordinates and we’ll be- oof!” Dr. Euphonium was struggling to free his arm to reach the calculator, excuse me, the main control panel of the time machine. Consequently, he was jamming his elbow into my ear. Shifting his body weight to the left he was able to wriggle his other arm free, which flailed upward and slapped the control panel violently. Instantly, the clock began to rumble and shake, and the fluorescent lights were flashing much quicker and brighter. “Oops,” he mumbled.
The lights were flashing faster and faster now, and as I shut my eyes I could feel the clock shoot upward. I braced myself for impact with the lab’s roof, but no crash came. We just shot upwards like a rocket. Even though the quarters were so cramped, I could feel myself moving up and down, almost like I was spinning. Finally, the clock settled and stopped moving completely. When I opened my eyes, the lights were dark and I was upside down. Dr. Euphonium had somehow remained in his original position, but his face was distressingly gob-smacked. “Uh,” he said, “I don’t know where we are, exactly.”
“What does the calculator say?” I asked.
“Six point three three three three three three three three three three three three.”
I hesitated a moment before asking, “Is that an actual year?”
“Ah-ha! Excellent question, my boy! That I do not know the answer to.”
“You mean, we could be someplace outside of time?” I asked, trying not to panic.
“Not outside of time, just around it. More to the side, really. I’d guess the upper-left quadrant. Obviously, we won’t know anything until we take a look, will we?” And with that, he flung the cabinet door open.
I, of course, was the first to stumble out. The ground was smooth and black, like obsidian. It stretched out as far as I could see, unblemished and untouched by any landscape. There were glowing green discs floating in elevated intervals every so often. Above, the sky was pale pink, like dusk, except at the horizon where a luminous red square appeared to be slowly sinking into the ground. All in all, it looked very much like an ancient and cheap computer game.
“Hmm,” I heard Dr. Euphonium say at my side. He had a puzzled expression on his face. “Not nearly as impressive as one would have hoped. Still, the time machine works. Let’s get to exploring, shall we?”
I prepared to protest, but it was no use. He was already heading off into the horizon. I sighed and trotted behind him. By the time I caught up, Dr. Euphonium had reached the end of the world. “Hmm,” he said in the same tone. “It just sort of ends.” The ground did indeed stop, and underneath the red square sun sank into inky blackness. He pulled a pair of high-powered binoculars from his lab coat and looked downward. “Hmm,” he said, this time a little more curiously. “What on Earth is that?”
I looked down, but I could see nothing but black. Not even the glowing square illuminated the depths. But Dr. Euphonium could see something. He whistled twice. “What is it?” I asked.
“Something is moving down there, but I can’t quite get a good look at it. Perhaps I can get its attention.” He pulled out a nickel and dropped it into the black. It whooshed downward, but the sound of its descent began to get louder and louder. There was a loud clink behind us and we both whirled back to see the nickel, now fifteen feet tall, roll down a set of the glowing green discs and continue rolling away, just barely missing a collision with the time machine. I watched it roll further and further away until it disappeared. “That was unexpected,” the doctor said. “I wouldn’t have anticipAAAAAAAAAAAH!”
I turned quickly and saw what had startled him so. A creature with what appeared to be a flamingo head, falcon wings and the torso and tentacles of a giant squid was floating in front of us. “So that’s what that was,” Dr. Euphonium said. “And me without my camera. I always forget my camera. I know exactly where it is, too.”
The creature regarded us curiously, with a cocked head, and then shot out an enormous tongue, snatching the deerstalker right off my head.
“Hey!” I said. That was my favorite hat! At least Mom would be pleased, she hated that thing. The creature burped as it swallowed the hat whole and made a gagging face. Apparently the deerstalker was not tasty in the slightest. It eyed me angrily and bared its sharp teeth.
“Floyd, now might be a good time to run,” Dr. Euphonium said. I didn’t respond, just took off toward the clock. Dr. Euphonium quickly outpaced me and flung the cabinet door open. How does he do that, I thought. All he eats is junk food! Meanwhile, the creature was reaching its long tentacles out at me, and every so often grabbing hold of my shoulder or ankle. I was able to squirm out of their grasp, and soon leapt into the cabinet. Dr. Euphonium hopped in after me. He freed his arm carefully and input the date to take us home, while the clock was buffeted by the creature’s poundings.
“Ah-ha!” he shouted as the lights in the cabinet began flashing incessantly again. We rocketed upward and I felt myself floating once more. This time, the trip was much quicker and we settled and stopped within seconds. “Whew!” the doctor gasped. “What fun!”
“What fun?!?” I shouted. “We were nearly killed by some mutant squidbird, we just about destroyed the time machine, and we would’ve been stranded to the left side of time!” I was fuming. All I had wanted was a pot of coffee and my library books, maybe a donut or two. I stomped out of the lab past the table of tsking sentient cheeses. Dr. Euphonium chuckled.
“See you next week?” he shouted. “My latest invention should be done by then.”
“See you next week,” I shouted back, slamming the lab door behind me.
I had to see it, didn’t I?