Inspired by Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge of the halycon days of July 2012.
I was finding it increasingly difficult to make conversation, and we were only a half-hour into the date. Rod hadn’t responded to any of my prompts about work, family, favourite books and movies, current affairs, or the weather. And he was lukewarm when I tried to fill in the growing chasms of silence with information about myself.
Plus, he insisted we skip entrees and kept eating all the complimentary breadsticks.
“I have to admit, I’ve never been on a blind date before,” I finally blurted out.
“Really?” Rod said in a murmur, his eyes on his fifth breadstick in his grip.
“Yep,” I replied, relieved that if I sounded like an idiot, at least he wouldn’t notice. “Actually, Monica has been harassing me for weeks until I agreed to tonight. She said you were perfect for me.” I peeked over the table hopefully, waiting for this douchebag’s perfection to finally break through and enrich me with true love.
“I think I’ve been on thousands,” Rod smirked. “Never done any online dating though. That’s just for losers.”
“Really?” I said, amused at the irony of him saying that. “I’ve never tried online dating either, but I think it’s brave to put yourself out there; in, like, an ad for yourself.” I paused, struck by an idea, then asked: “Like, if you were to write an online ad for yourself, how would it go?”
Finally, I had grabbed his attention. Rod leant back in his chair, hemming as he thought, a stub of breadstick hanging from his mouth like a cigar. Eventually he leant forward across the table, depositing the stub of breadstick back into the basket.
“It would say: Rakishly good-looking entrepreneur seeks young companion with robust sense of humour and original hair colour,” His eyes flicked upwards with a critical glint to my bright red locks. “Must be honest, humble, giving, well-read, and able to construct a sentence without involving a swear word. Looks not overly important, but absolutely must love time travel.” He grinned at me, apparently pleased with his answer, and reached for yet another breadstick.
“I’m sorry, what was that last one?” I said, trying my best to make my tone conversational. “Must love…?”
“Time travel,” Rod stated with a mouthful of breadstick, totally serious. “Absolutely.”
“You mean, like, have more than just a passing interest in the scientific theory of time travel? Or just like, have an ongoing obsession with, like, time travel fiction?”
“Overuse of the word ‘like’ would also be on my list, I think,” Rod mused, not paying attention to my confusion.
“Well, I’m afraid I’ve never read any books about time travel,” I said, mentally calculating how long until it was polite to leave. “I’m more of an Austen and Bronte girl myself.”
“I don’t mean time travel fiction,” Rod replied, lowering his gnawed breadstick. There was an edge of impatience to his voice, as if he was speaking to a small child. “I mean, actual, factual, real-life time travel.”
There was an extended awkward pause as Rod stared me, now seemingly absorbed in making me understand. In the end, I could only splutter:
“But – time travel doesn’t exist.”
Rod rolled his eyes. “And here I’d assumed you were an educated girl. Of course time travel exists – what kind of an entrepreneur do you think I am?”
“Are you telling me,” I said, alarm bells suddenly screeching in my head, “that you invented time travel?”
“Oh no!” Rod guffawed. “D’you think I’d have to go on blind dates or scrounge around for investors if I was the inventor of time travel?” I breathed a too-soon sigh of relief. “Oh no, I’m just a time travel conductor.”
“A conductor,” I parroted back at him. The alarm bells were getting louder.
“Yeah, you know. Like how a train conductor drives trains. I conduct time travel journeys.”
“Right.” The alarm bells were now joined by flashing red lights and policemen telling me to evacuate the building.
But now I couldn’t get Rod to shut up, and I couldn’t escape his gaze to sent an emergency text to Monica. “Yeah, for those who can afford it, which is not many at all in this country. I’m not one of those by-the-book government drones running time trips for NASA or ASIO. I’m a private operator. Independent and very proud, thank you.”
“So you have a time travel… machine?” I asked.
“Sort of. There’s a whole set up, with a platform and shields and the teleportation matter remote… well, it’s incredibly complicated technology that’s probably too difficult to explain to a layman,” Rod held up his wine glass at me, before taking a swig. “But I can take up to five people with me at a time. No pun intended!”
I forced out what I hoped sounded like several seconds of genuine laughter. “So you can just… travel through all of time and space?”
“Not space, just time,” he corrected me. “I can move back and forth throughout time, but the landing zone is always the same. We’re hoping the next OS upgrade can expand that though.”
“So you couldn’t go back to the 1930s and like, kill Hitler or something,” I said. “Unless you caught a steam boat from Australia to Germany.”
Rod rolled his eyes and sighed. “I’ve had to give so many refunds to customers who wanted to do that. Why is killing Hitler the thing everybody wants to do when they find out about time travel?”
I couldn’t believe I had to seriously answer this. “Because Hitler was a mass-murdering psychopath who caused a World War.”
“You can’t alter the timeline! That’s the number one rule of time travel!” Rod half-shouted at me, causing nearby tables to stop chatting and stare. He looked about at the shocked faces surrounding him, and leant back in his seat with his wine glass, regaining his composure. I had the sudden overwhelming need for wine as well, and downed my glass.
“It’s okay,” he said quietly. “You’ll understand one day.”
“Oh, will I now?” I replied, my voice soaking in sav blanc and sarcasm. “Are you going to take me on a ‘journey’ on our next date?”
“No, not until our fourth date,” he said with the eerily serious tone of a true believer. “I offer to take you during the date before, you think going ‘home’ with me after the third date is too much of a cliché.”
“We make as far as four dates?” I laughed meanly, but Rod merely stared at me with a faraway look in his eye.
“Oh pumpkin,” he smiled. “We make it much longer than that. You even become my assistant after we get married.”
For some reason, the baby name “pumpkin” is the final straw – I can’t play along anymore. I stand up, clutching my handbag, and throw two twentys on the table.
“That’s for dinner. I am totally and completely outta here,” I announce. “Never contact me again.”
“See you in fifteen days at that tapas place on William,” Rod nonchalantly called over his shoulder as I stormed out of the restaurant.
I was still fuming as I walked back to my car. I was never going to speak to Monica again! How could she possibly believe that that madman was “perfect for me”?
Seriously. Time travel – real? And he of all people was one of the special few selected to control it? Ha!
Next thing he’d be telling me aliens don’t exist, and aren’t stealing my newspaper every morning in a cunning attempt to up brush on international current affairs before infiltrating Earth as the next candidate for President of Russia!
What a moron, right?