The Business of Time Travel Tourism

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Chapter 4: The Old Man

June 20, 2014. Friday.

"You won't believe a thing I'm going to tell you," John said, gasping. "I was doing my questing, listening to the music, and then wham. A leg of my chair broke, and I fell. You can't imagine how surprised I was when I got up and found my old roommate staring at me, angry as never before. He had been away for a year or two, thought he had disappeared for good. For as long as I knew him, he had always been a kind-hearted person. But there he was, throwing threats, all enraged to see his money missing."

George did not like it one bit where this story was going. Real life problems were so boring and awkward.

John continued, "I'm sorry to let you down, but I need the 1k I gave you, or else he's going to break all my possessions. He said he would even break a couple of my bones if he felt like it. Don't know how I'd keep on living if my PC was destroyed." He fell to his knees and sobbed. "Please, Georgy, help me."

"Here." George threw the bag of silver to John in almost the same manner John had given him the money and said, "This is more than one thousand."

"Thank you, thank you." John opened the bag and, surprised by its contents, asked, "Where do I turn those into money?"

George knew a man who owned a pawnshop in the town, else he would not have accepted precious materials as a payment. "At Hill's pawnshop a block from you, towards the Zoo, they even have the rates put on the street."

"George, thank you so much. I don't have the words to express my gratitude."

"No problem."

What meant to be a beautiful moment of friendship was quickly messed up by John's question.

"Have you got more?"

"Huh? How much?"

"Something like ten thousand."

George's forehead wrinkled. "No. Why you ask?"

John hugged the bag and said, "I ate well during the year."

And indeed George noticed that John spoke the truth. Thick cheeks were hiding beneath his friend's oily hair and the bag lay comfortably on a small bump that was a well-concealed belly.

George never enjoyed talking about money and problems, and by all means he avoided conversations about money problems. So, he decided to escape the awkwardness.

"Now, John. If you excuse me, there are things waiting for me back at the house." He stood up.

"George do you have any job for me? I could run some errands if needed. You wouldn't have to pay much."

"I'll call you if anything comes up," George coldly replied before stepping into the house and shutting the door. For a minute, he peeked through the peephole and observed John walk away with his head bent down, then turned around and took a deep sigh. Real life problems were not the problems George was good at dealing with.

After getting to his room and putting the silver coin out of his pocket on the table, he noticed that the thing was interfering with the computer speakers, almost the same way his mobile did before ringing. Only the sound produced here was continuous and more annoying. It did not stop before George put the coin into a thick metal box in which he kept his savings.

******

The next morning was the most beautiful morning George ever had. He never heard birds chirp before, yet now they played a joyful tune everywhere he went. The sun shone brighter, the food tasted better, even mother's depressing note on the fridge, which George often avoided reading, was inspiring. Every day the words were different, but the meaning hidden inside them was always the same. The note said, 'Get a job, I did not raise my son to be a tramp.'

Dressed in white, with a newspaper in his hands, legs crossed, George sat on a chair in the cellar, waiting. The clock today did not bother him; the magic was real and it would come, be it a minute before nine or after, he was sure something was going to happen.

And something happened indeed.

A transparent hole in the ceiling opened up, its surface smooth and reflective as that of a mirror. A human figure fell out of it, flapping hands as if attempting to stop the fall, leaving ripples in the closing portal. George heard visitor's bones break and crack. Unsure if the person needed help, George chose to observe for a little longer. Trembling and moaning, the visitor got to his fours and then, with what looked as great effort, to his legs.

An old grizzled man stood before George. His long and bushy white beard covered most of the face. A small pointy nose and round eyes peeked over its top. Just like George, the old man was dressed in white, but the quality of his clothes was much higher. The soft, clean jacket and straight pants gave him an image of a true businessman.

Clenching his fist, the traveler victoriously said, "Oww yeah, I did it."

"What did you do, old man?" George asked, comfortably sitting on the chair.

"Hmph, now when you asked." The man paused. "I can't remember."

"Huh?"

"Could be because of a mistake I did, a thing I forgot back at my place." He narrowed the thick brows. "Wwe should let it go. I would fry my brain if I tried to remember."

The old man walked towards the stairs, but George stopped him with an extension of his hand. He said, "Now before you go, would you kindly tell me..."

"Yes?"

"Why did you come here?"

"For a blast to the past." An overly joyful expression on old man's face followed the words.

"You mean for a tour?"

"Yeah, kind of."

George found it strange that the old man spoke with a light-heartedness of youth because he appeared to be at least four times older than George.

The host asked, "Aren't you missing something?"

"Huh?"

"Did you know that there is a payment for my services?"

"Why should I pay for—" The geezer shook his head. "Well, listen, you greedy brat, just let me go out for a short while, will ya? I know my way around the place."

"Brat? Watch your mouth, old fart."

"Come on, don't start it. I'm good with words."

"Hmph." George crossed his hands.

The visitor did the same and asked, "So, may I go up?"

"If you promise not to get weird or run away. Then sure, knock yourself out." George waved his hand and kept on sitting until the traveler walked up. And when the door of the cellar closed, George decided to follow because the geezer appeared to be a least trustworthy person.

When George got to the corridor, he heard the back door closing. He followed the old man to the backyard and found him standing, looking thoughtfully at the apple trees.

George sneaked up behind him and asked, "What do you see?"

"Not your business. Get back inside, I want my moment."

'No respect,' George thought. He frowned and sat on the favorite and the only chair on the porch. For a long while the visitor stared at the trees, at the kennel, and then back at the trees. When he had enough, he stepped back and almost sat on George's knees.

George pushed him away saying, "Woah, hey. Watch yourself."

"God damn it," replied the old man, went to the house and taking his time brought a bulky, comfortable chair from mother's room.

They sat there in almost perfect calmness. Only birds chirped on the tree tops, aided by a rare snore coming from Jim sleeping on the dewed grass. The visitor hummed a strange, captivating tune and daydreamed.

After repeating the tune for a couple of times, the man attempted to impose at George's kindness, "A cup of coffee would be nice."

"If you know this place so well, why don't you go and make it yourself," George shot back, but decided to do the visitor's bidding after seeing him try to get up. "Just wait, I'll get it."

When George got back with the two cups, he saw the old man stroking Jim, pulling his ears. The man was clearly having too much fun. It was somewhat annoying. George shouted, "It will get cold!"

The old man returned and said, "Thanks. You know"— he pointed at Jim —"you should get a bigger chain."

"Where from, steal it from a ship?"

The two of them again sat in a long silence. The old man would sniff the coffee from time to time and take it in small sips, smiling. George would stare at the guest and find everything about him annoying, especially that air of smartassness and self-confidence around him. But since it was a beautiful day, and George was a positive man, he decided to stop being a douche, and initiated the conversation.

"So, when do you come from?"

"Not far away."

"How's everything there in the future?"

A long pause went by.

The guest mumbled, "Was better in the past."

"Not very talkative, are you?"

The old man did not reply. But after five more silent minutes passed, George attempted to rip a few more words out of the stranger. "Would you like to visit the mall, the zoo, the waterpark or anything else?"

"Please, would you shut up, or better, just go away."

So they sat there, saying nothing, George enduring the awkwardness and the old man enjoying the silence. There was an aura of greatness surrounding the mysterious person, who now gazed at a small spec scorching the sky, leaving a white trail behind, hiding under the clouds every now and then. An ant climbed up the bushy beard, ran a circle on his lips, and hid inside the moustache, yet the old man did not twitch. A truck on the street let out a noisy beep, then a neighbor screamed at the truck driver through an open window. It did not bother the old geezer least for a moment.

After he had daydreamed enough, the visitor rammed his thin trembling arms at the arms of the chair and with an immense effort and concentration pushed himself up, struggling to keep balance as he did. He straightened his clothes and put a hand on his belt. George now noticed that the belt was special, probably made of metal. The buckle was polished like a mirror. The old man used a finger to uncover the front of the shiny gadget. There a thick round button was revealed and the geezer was about to push it.

George gestured for the man to stop, "Wait, man. You come into my house, sit there on my lawn, drink my coffee. Least you could do is tell something about yourself." Eagerness for knowledge burned in George's eyes.

"You are young and dumb, but"— the old man scratched his head.—"listen... When you get through all the crap, and everything is said and done, and she asks you if you want her to stay for some tea and cookies. Say no, do yourself a favor, just say no." He tightened his hand on the belt and thought aloud, "Hope this works." After the push of the button, the space wrapped and swirled around him and the man disappeared.

"No cookies... Whatever you say." George shook his head.

******

George spent the free afternoon in his room doing what he was best at: killing time, getting away from the imperfect and boring world. But the peace lasted only for a half-day, a very short amount of time for a hermit such as George. A vicious knock on the door was what brought him out of the games world.

For a long minute George weighed the cons and pros of opening it and decided it was best to let the whirlwind in. The weekend was here and he did not want it to become gloomy and depressing. Because mother preferred to spend her free time at home, it was often the case that the two last days of a week would turn out to be the longest ones. Perhaps this time he could make them different. Perhaps this time he could make her leave him alone.

With high hopes and optimism George unlocked the door. The instant he pulled his hand away, it slammed open. Mother stood on the opposite side, grinning from ear to ear.

"How are you, sonny?"

"Fine," George said with a distaste in his mouth.

"You sure?"

"Yeah."

"What about the picture on the fridge."

"What picture?"

"The smile."

"Well..." He turned away to think of a proper answer.

"You can't imagine how happy I am to return home and find these surprises. You think it's funny? You think it's funny, eh? I try to put sense into you and you do this to me."

George smirked.

Mother's mood changed the instant she saw it. "The hell is wrong with you?! I just can't imagine what's going on in that weird head of yours! If you don't like something, then say it! You are grown up man for Christ's sake!"

George gently pushed his way through and sped downstairs to check what the old geezer had done. Indeed, on the fridge in the place covered by the magnetic board before, a smiley face was scratched with a shaking hand, words 'Your best weapon' ran below it.

'Damn weirdo,' George thought, but after looking at the smile for a bit longer and relating it with the words, he could not help but imitate the scratched picture and thank the old man for making the kitchen a brighter place. Even though the board was always going to cover the smile, it was enough to know that beneath the terrible and depressing words one could always find a bit of positivity.


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