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A Short Story

The Magic Shop

or

Time Travel In Einstein’s Universe

by

R.E. Prindle

 

     Possible universes indeed!  Does anyone think such things can possibly exist.  Just wishful projections of a religious consciousness.  That’t the way I see it but Dr. Anton, a man of science, no less, says he has his doubts.

     Well, we were walking down the street the other day when we noticed a slight shimmer in the atmosphere ahead of us.  We had already walked through it before we had time to even wonder what it was.  There was a slight tingle as we passed through but as nothing else seemed to change, the street was no different, while when we looked back we recognized each landmark where it had always been before; traffic, the people, there seemed to be no difference although it did seem as though we were looking back through a mirror into a parallel universe.

     We had already discussed it as some prank of the atmosphere when passing along a wall I noticed what seemed to be a sparkle emitting from a standard Portland cement wall.  Holding Dr. Anton back for a moment I stepped up to investigate.  As I drew nearer a quaint old fashioned shop door appeared from nowhere.  It wasn’t there before.  The sparkle I had seen was coming from a red neon sign above the green door which read “The Magic Shop.’

       When Anton came closer the same door became apparent to him.  He drew my attention to a red splash on the lintel of the door which he said was sheep’s blood but I swear it just looked like red paint to me.

     I knew that, as a hundred years earlier when this same door had appeared in London, if we were the right sort we would be able to pass over.  And, dear Reader, we did.  You look like the right sort so why don’t you pass over with us into the Magic Shop.

     The door had one of those old fashioned bells above it that tinkled as we entered.  The door swung shut and then through the window we saw a man outside rush for the door but we only heard a thud as he hit the wall.  He wasn’t the right sort, we were.

     There was an elfin like man behind the counter who smiled quietly at us but only inclined his head to the right.  When he did so you could look through the hole where his nose and chin touched.  If you had good aim you could have thrown a golf ball through with nothing but a whiff of air to account for its passage.  As the indicated direction was straight in front of us we turned from him to see a golden arch with this legend above it:  This Way To The Things That Were.

     There were rows of busts beside and above the shimmering pulsating arch.  I was used to seeing pseudo antique busts of Caesar, Milton, Athene and the like but these were extremely lifelike busts of people for which I thought there could be only a minimal demand.  In fact, I thought, anyone with such a stock of goods must necessarily go bust, pronto.  No pun intended.  I mean, who’s ever going to buy a bust of Edgar Rice Burroughs, H.G. Wells was there, Carl Jung, Sigmund Freud, Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Allan Poe, Fennimore Cooper and H. Rider Haggard; I was staggered by the last because I didn’t know anyone who could recognize him except this guy George I know.  And that guy’s into deep strange.

     Just as a lark I said hello to Edgar Rice Burroughs.  I was stunned when he said “Hello Warbaby’ back to me.  I staggered back in amazement managing to utter:  How’s things?  I was absolutely stunned when the Great ERB smiled back and said:  ‘I like the things you’ve been writing about me, Doug.’  I was about to salute Bertie Wells just to see what he would answer back when Dr. Anton noticed that the clerk was motioning us to move along by pushing the backs of his fingers at us.

     What cheek, I thought.  I’m a free born All-American Boy, nobody tells me what to do.

     My god, I thought, on the split screen of my mind, those aren’t plaster busts those are real heads.  I was really talking to Edgar Rice Burroughs the inventor of the Gridley Wave, or at least, the inventor of Gridley.

     I was trying to expostulate to Dr. Anton, I expostulate rather well, grabbing hold of his shoulder pad as he grabbed my belt pulling me through the arch.  First time I’ve ever seen him intimidated by a clerk who, by the way, shouted cheerily:  Mind that first step.

     All three of us must have missed it because after a short tumble we found ourselves sitting on a brightly lit concrete floor.

     I and you, Reader, were slow in getting our wits about us.  By the time our heads stopped spinning we got up off the floor to find Dr. Anton looking around him.

     Warbaby, do you know where we are?  He asked while I was still dazed, so I mumbled out not exactly.  It’s as bright as it is because of those kleig lights.  Anton said wonderingly.  I think we’re on a Hollywood sound stage.  Must be a thirties period piece,  I answered looking around at the people I thought were playing stagehands.

     No, Anton said, I think this is the thirties.  Remember that sign above the golden arch that said:  Things That Were?

     Aw, come on, Anton.  You’re not going to try to make me believe that we’ve traveled through time and space are you?  Well, he said, look over there at that portly little round man.  Yeah, I said, you mean that actor made up to look like H.G. Wells?  Dr. Anton gave me one of those impatient looks of his as though he were talking to an idiot.  I can tell you quite frankly, he wasn’t.  That’s not an actor made up as H.G. Wells, that is H.G. Wells.

     Why sure, Anton, I said thinking he wasn’t goint to catch me out.  No. He said. I think I know when and where we are now.  This is Hollywood in 1935.  I believe we’re on the soundstage for the movie ‘Things To Come.’  Oh yeah, I smiled brushing a fleck of dust from my dungarees.  Dungarees?  I wasn’t wearing dungrees when we entered the Magic Shop.  I don’t even own a pair.  I went to scratch my head in perplexity but found it covered by one of those British motoring caps.  Another thing I don’t own.

     When I looked over at Drl Anton he was wearing nearly the same thing except he had one of those stupid little blue Russian Revolutionary caps on his head.  And it really wasn’t his head; it was someone else’s.  So was his body.  Say, this was developing into a mystery.  Anton, is that you?  I asked looking back at Reader who was standing patiently by with one of those big metal cases on either side of his legs.

     Yes, it’s me, Warbaby, but I’m not alone, nor are you or Reader.  You see, I’ve just discovered, there’s a reason that no time traveler has ever been seen.  Apart from the fact that time travel doesn’t exist I sneered.  No, that’s not it.  But in any particular past time all the space has already been taken up.  Nothing can be altered or changed because as the Greek philosopher said:  What is is and cannot not be .  Whis is not, is not and cannot not be.  Nothing can be altered or changed in a completed time period because there is no room for any new matter.

     Well, I said archly, then how are we where we can’t be?  This may seem strange, Anton said, which I thought required no further comment, but I’ve just discovered what thousands perhaps milions already know.  We can exist here because of an almost undetectable thin membraneous vacuum around the brain.  As we all know nature abhors a vacuum so there is this one small interstice of time and space that can be filled without displacing reality.  Get it?

     You’re the scientist, I said, laughing up my sleeve.

     This may account for unaccountable aberrant actions by otherwise consistent people.  Anton said wonderingly.  They had this time traveller sharing space in their head.  Their mind waves must have clashed, you know, like static on the radio.

     Here I said snidely that that probably accounts for why Edgar Rice Burroughs invented the Gridley Wave; to keep his mind clear.  Even then when the power wasn’t on he thought he was mad and two different people.  Perhaps you have something there, Anton, I chuckled.  You know I think something is ridiculous when I chuckle.

     I suspect your psychology practice is going to boom when you get back Anton and start doubling your billing by charging one person for two different minds.  I think you may have hold of something of value here if you know how to exploit it.

     Talk about making a living, Anton said disregarding my sarcasm in the wonder of the moment, see who that is in the Director’s skull?  Who?  That’s ;your old friend J. Richard Gott.  Dick Gott here in 1935 in this studio?  What a coincidence.  Well, yeah, you could call it a coincidence but do you see who he brought in the skull of that gorgeous starlet standing by his chair?  That’s his great-great-grandmother at twenty.  Knock out isn’t she?     I didn’t know that was possible, Warbaby.  Shoot, anything’s possible in one of Einstein’s universes, I said.  You ain’t seen nothing yet.  It’s all mirrors and mathematics.  Give these guys a postulate and they’ll come up with the numbers to prove it out.  You know Gott.  I suspect he climbed up a superstring in our time, swung from string to string like Tarzan, slid down that superstring to go back and pick up his GG Grandmom, picked her up back whenever then climbed back up the superstring to move over to 1935 then slid down with her here.  That Gott, he’s already himself as his own mom and dad.  He had to slide down a number os superstrings to pull that off.  I don’t know which one he slid down to get his GG Grandma but I imagine if he gets her pregnant he’s going to have to create a whole new genre of relationships to explain it.  Try to trace your ancestry from that one.

     It hurts my host’s head to think about it.  They won’t work it out in this universe Anton but this place is madder than a superstring of Edgar Rice Burroughses.  How’s that?  Well, take a look Anton, everybody here is somebody else.  Everyone here has a time traveler wrapped around his brain.  Try to disentangle that one.

     I must be right then, that must be why no one has ever seen a time traveler.  It’s not that they’re just like you and me but they are you and me.  I mean, we look just like these stagehands we’re in like Gott looks like Menzies.

     Hmmm.  A thought occurs to me Warbaby.  What if time travelers were wrapped around our brains when we left the present to enter 1935?  We would be triple deckers, Anton.  We may have trapped out TTs in a sort of time warp where they can never go backward or forward until we return to where they got off the inter-sidereal time-loop.  Look at what H.G. Wells started.  If we don’t get back there’ll probable be a couple unused superstrings stranded in time and space.  Perhaps stranded in the interstice where time and space join.  Like one of those oil fields in Texas.

     Reader, pick up those boxes we’re being directed over to camera three.  This is a better place too, Anton, we’ve got a better view of Wells.  Look at that old lecher fondling the folds of that starlet’s gown.  Look at him, just at bust level.  I don’t blame him though.  She’s no Kali Bwana but she can stand next to my fire any time she wants.

     Warbaby!  Warbaby look! Follow Wells’ line of vision to over behind camera number one.  Oh my god!  That’s Edgar Rice Burroughs.  Quick Anton, freeze the frame.  How do you do that?  Just squint your eyes.  I recognize the Einstein of 1905 as your fellow traveler.  Squint quick.  Albert Einstein of 1905 is wrapped around my brain?  No kidding?  I can just barely see him and I don’t know how you picked him up but that’s him.  Look, everyone is frozen in place.  Time has had a stop.  Well, we all knew that time must have a stop sometime but this is just a pause Anton.  It’s like we moved the frame out of context to a parallel universe.  Everything is moving along as it was before so the future won’t be thrown out of kilter by a few minutes. It’s like we have shifted to a different memory bank in the archival universe.  When the pause is ended we’ll just drop back in this 1935 scene and universe where we stepped out.

     Boy, to go back in time seventy years to remove a moment of time from milieu and drop it back in again.  Sometimes I think I must be dreaming.  It could be, Anton, it could be.

     You see, Anton, even in an Einstein universe I think we’ve got a problem here.  Yes?  What?  Well, Anton, if this is as you say, the set of ‘Things To Come’, then the bad news is that the movie was filmed in England and not in Hollywood.  We know that Burroughs was never in England so how can boths Wells and Burroughs be on the same ‘Things To Come’ soundstage in Hollywood?  Hm, Mr. Scientist?

     Time travel hasn’t been fully explained, Warbaby.  I suppose not, Anton, but how can two places thousands of miles apart be in the same place at once.  Speak, oh Master, your humble student listens.

     I’t s not as difficult as it may sound, humble student.  I believe what we’re in here is a photo-mirage of inter-sidereal time.  I believe two images have been super-imposed with bits entangled and disentangled differently so as to produce a melange effect.  You have the seeming impossibility of a British set on a Hollywood soundstage with Wells and Burroughs together.

     Yes, we do have that seeming impossibility.  Just to make a good story better, Anton, now that the frame is frozen and we can form images a little better, do you realize that there are three different Einsteins on the set?  Look, you’ve got the Menzies/Gott/Einstein, then over there that actress and actor holding hands is wrapped with a 1954 Einstein and a 1960 Marilyn Monroe.  Her brain is wrapped with a post-mortem Victor Mature.  The old buzzard found a way to make it with him and her without anyone knowing. A regular sandwich.   First he moved ahead in time and space to make the date then they both came back to this set of ‘Things To Come.’  Must be one of his favorite movies.  After the movie’s over he will drop her off in 1960 then drive home to 1954.  How does that account for Victor Mature?  Mature must have been an inter-sidereal hitchhiker who was stranded while hitching and then died back on earth so he truly had no body on his bond.  And then he got lucky and how, hey?  Then there’s a 1943 model Einstein watching quietly from the skull of a bit player.  He must just have been curious.  If all three get together they can compare notes on how they developed his theories.  This is terrific although I’ve forgotten whether I’m Warbaby and you’re Polarion or vice versa.

     I haven’t.  You’re Warbaby and I’m Anton and that is Reader.

     Well, I’m getting dizzy even if you aren’t Anton.  I didn’t thing Wells and Burroughs had ever met yet as you see here they are.

     They still haven’t me Warbaby and they never will.  I’ll tell you what I think has happened.  We know that Wells, hated may not be the right word, resented Burroughs, um, doing variations on some of his stories.  Monster Men might as well be the Island Of Dr. Moreau.  The Mars series reverses the situation in ‘The War Of The Worlds’.  Not only that but Burroughs criticized some of Wells’ ideas from The Time Machine in Tarzan And The Jewels Of Opar.

     Burroughs on the other hand who began writing twenty years after Wells must have had his mind blown by that fantastic spate of sci-fi stories by Wells from 1895 to 1905 or fantasias as they were then called.  That stuff can stil bowl you over, especially if you’re under twenty-five and as spacy as we are now.  Burroughs had to revere the master.

     It must be that Wells knew Einstein so he got him to disentangle the noumenon of the London studio from England and reentangle it here.  Then Burroughs must have been notified that Wells was in town and came on down to take a  look at him.

     Just look.  Wells has that look of detestation in his eyes while Burroughs combines a haughty grandeur with the look of a puppy dog wanting to get in his master’s lap.

     You’ve studied up on this Warbaby.  What’s the story?  It’s simple enough, Anton.  Wells was, of course, famous when the Great War started while Burroughs had only begun to reach for fame so Wells had no idea of his work until after the War perhaps by 1921 perhaps when someone pointed out Burrughs novels to him.

     There was certainly no copyright infringement by ERB, nothing that was plagiarism but Wells thought, or rather, he didn’t realize that he had created at least one new genre in literature, that of science fiction, as well as futuristic or speculative fiction.  Since you’ve called on me to wax learned, Anton, Herman Hesse thought up something he called the Glass Bead Game about 1943.  The Glass Bead Game involved writing stories placing yourself in a different time and character.  Guys like Wells and Burroughs had mastered the art decades earlier.  Anyway Wells  chose to be angry with ERB.  In 1923 he wrote a story called Men Like Gods in which he invented a Burroughs character and then killed him off.

     Burroughs responded in his fiction and the feud went on until 19- well, today, here, now.  These guys should have been great friends.  Just look at them, Anton, Burroughs has, is going to rather, sell hundreds of millions of books in every country on earth.  He has already created one of the great psychic projections of mankind in Tarzan.  At this very moment we’ve frozen in time he is the world’s best selling author.

     Wells there at sixty-nine has written a dozen novels that will be popular and influential when we get back to our present.

     Both men will have many works successfully translated to the screen.  Back home this one, Things To Come, will be given four and a half stars by reviewers.

     We are literally looking at two intellectual giants of the twentieth century.  Two men of incredible talent revolving around each other like like two great planets in space, perhaps chasing each other around a ‘donut’ atmosphere as Burroughs would have it.

     See if you can get your Einstein to snap a picture of this which will appear on your camera back home when we get back.  Can he do that?  Sure, get the 1905 model of Einstein to do it, mirrors and mathematics, no problem.  Darn, Warbaby, when we passed the time warp it must have discharged my battery.  I don’t have any power.  Well, just send us an inter-sidereal email.  Anton.  My machine’s turned off.  What do you mean your computer’s turned off, Anton, nobody turns off their computer?  I’ve been getting too many bad jokes, Warbaby, I want to discourage them.  Use yours.

     Einstein’s brain wrap is on yours, not mine.  They won’t be able to work out the mathematics of brain transfers for another decade beyond home yet.  We’ll have him drop this still back into the moving picture and get on with our lives.

     Ooh, H.G. got a little flesh with his index finger just then.  Funny what an attraction those things are for us.  Those are real, too, no implants yet.

     There goes Burroughs Warbaby.  Looks kinda hurt.

     Yeah, back to Tarzana, probably traveling along the Gridley Ware.  I wonder what Wells thinks of a guy like Burroughs who has practically created his own parallel universe in the California sun and lives in it, no less.  Imagine a guy buying enough land for a town, subdividing it and then calling it after his own literary creation.  Levitt, created Levittown, Warbaby.

     Not the same thing Anton.  Jimmy Jones created Jonestown in the jungle too which was a much weirder story than Tarzana and still not the same thing.

     Oops, where are we going?  Lunch time, Warbaby, everybody off to the lunch box.  Good, we’ll be able to sit around and get all the good gossip.

     Whoo! Where are we Anton?  Back in the Magic Shop, Warbaby.  There won’t be any gossip for us.  Where’s the clerk pointing now?  I think he’s showing us the back door, Warbaby.  We may be the right sort but I think we’ve overstayed our welcome.

     Here we are back in the street, Warbaby.  I think this is regular old 2008.  I think we’re on the real side of the membrane too, can’t see your Einstein anymore.  Well, that was quite an adventure.  Yeah, too bad we couldn’t get that picture.  You know the battery may have been cleared when we passed through the shimmer.  Too bad.  If we could have claimed we found that picture in a drawer that would have been worth a little and proved something as true that never happened and in living color too.  History, huh?

     Well, Reader, it was nice of you to come along but we have to part now.  I hope you had an enjoyable interlude.  Watch out!  Don’t trip over that superstring.

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