A few weeks back, I was sitting at a keyboard trying to push some words into a new chapter for my third book in the Toronto Vampire Chronicles (Book 2 – Lycanthrope Rising released Oct. 1, 2017) and a prequel and sequel to Gravity Games for my Nathan Sherlock Foodie Thriller series. Nothing happened.
Whether it was writer’s block or my mind had other paths to wander, I let my fingers do the walking and came up with a bit of a departure from my dark fantasy/sci-fi thrillers.
Again, it’s a mashup of a bunch of stuff — Time travel, sci-fi, steam punk, YA, all tossed in. Let me know what you think of Chapter One. I call it Girl Out Of Time.
A glance at the Michael Kors wristwatch, a high school grad gift from mom and dad, made Leeza Keats wince.
Shit. 10:20. If I miss the 10:45 train, there’s not another until 2:30. I’ll be late, too late.
The slim 17-year-old with Jamaican roots had been a standout in track and considered a mad 10k dash.
Might have made it when I was in training but not now and especially not in heels and in my best Old Navy dress.
She leaned into the street and looked for a cab. A spectacular vintage Mercury Monterey with a wide chrome grill, glistening maroon body and tan hardtop cruised toward her. The words TIME TAXI glowed from its roof light.
Leeza’s hand brushed a curly black lock from her face and continued upward into a wave.
The sleek lines of the dark red hood seemed to come forever before stopping beside her. As she reached for the door handle, a thick fog enveloped the car.
“What the hell?”
“Steam dontcha know,” the immaculately groomed driver in a vintage top hat and matching vest said through the open passenger window. An accent that weirdly ricocheted between Polish and Chinese with echoes of the Bronx and Newfoundland.
“What of it?”
Leeza gave the puzzle an inward once over. I guess if we’re into self-driving electric cars, steam works, too. Anyway, I’m in a hurry.
“When to?” he asked.
She gave an internal shrug over the misuse of English as she climbed in. The driver embodied a paradox. On one side, he was of an unidentifiable mixed race, drove a cab, and seemed weak on the subtleties of the English language. A white suit of a cut and cloth that cried out designer original, hair trimmed and curved in magical perfection, and a super model’s complexion told another story.
He repeated: “When to?”
“Okay, but when?”
“Uh, as soon as possible. Actually, it’s touch and go whether I’ll make it. Get there in 20 minutes and there’s an extra 10 in it for you.”
The driver leaned into the dashboard and punched buttons like a speed typist on the console. Leeza drummed painted red nails on a knee.
“Come on. Come on. I have to be there in 20 minutes.”
“Just getting the pressure up. Dials moving pass 2,400psi. Once it hits 3,200 in about 20 seconds, we’ll be there.”
Twenty seconds? Dials? Pressure? Weird! More language miscues?
A slight humming grew louder. A high-pitched whistle sounded. A blast of heat hit Leeza, followed by a rattling, and the smell of barbeque.
“Hey, your car is on_”
Before she could push the word ‘fire’ from her mouth, a dense white cloud encased the cab.
Silence fell. Outside the vehicle, the scene switched from white to night but the blackest Leeza ever witnessed. No star peeked from the sky. No window or street lamp cast a glow. In the slight glimmer from the car’s dashboard, she saw the driver’s outline.
“Hey man, what’s . . .”
Again, circumstance clipped the end of her sentence, this time when blinding daylight streamed into the cab.
Did I black out? Did I hallucinate?
She stared at the smiling driver who twisted toward her.
“That’ll be 17.50 plus the 10 bonus.”
Leeza wondered what kind of scam the driver was pulling.
No way am I paying the guy anything let alone a bonus until he gets me to Union Station.
“Here we are, Union Station,” the driver said.
He turned an eye to his watch. “And as promised in 20 seconds.”
She glanced about. All the fizz in Leeza’s protest went flat. The car stood in the taxi lineup in front of Union Station.
“But how . . . ?”
“Like the sign on the cab says, Time Taxi. We’re new. Actually, we’re not quite new at least not yet.”
“What do you mean by that? Not yet?”
“Time Taxi won’t start up for another 25 years. You founded, or rather will found, the company in 2042 as part of your corporate empire.”
“Okay, I get it. I’m being pranked. Who’s behind it? Cristobel, Anwar, Corrine?”
“No prank, just a hand to help you make your meeting. The guy you meet will be known as the Tesla of the 21st Century two decades from now.”
“How do you know about my meeting?”
“Like I said, you told me. Now about the fare. You owe me 27.50.”
Leeza rummaged through her wallet, grabbed $30 and handed it to the driver.
“Uh – Canadian dollars?”
“I don’t accept Canadian dollars.”
“This is Toronto. What do expect American greenbacks?”
“You owe me 27.50 BS.”
“BS . . . As in bullshit?”
“No BS, Bitcoin Standard.”
“That’s the only currency I accept, only currency anybody accepts in my time.”
“How am I supposed to get Bitcoins?”
“There’s a Bitcoin machine in Union Station but you may not have enough for the transaction.”
“What do you mean?”
“By my calculations, you’ll need just shy of $82k Canadian for the fare.”
“Whoa, $82,000 to go 16 blocks?”
“And time shift a half hour,” the cabbie said.
“You know what they say.”
“No, what do they say?”
“Time is money.”
“I don’t have money. I just graduated from high school. I’m working as a go-fer to save for college,” Leeza said, exasperated.
“Don’t worry, just jerkin’ you around. I know you’re good for it 33 years from now. I’ll catch you then. I know you’ll remember. After all, you sent me.”
“I sent you? I don’t know you.”
“Hermes Fellowes at your service. You indeed did send me. At least your older self did. You trust me with all your mission critical stuff.”
“Because I’m your executive vice-president and your son-in-law.”
“Son-in-law? I don’t have a son-in-law. I don’t have a daughter. I’m not married. Hell, I haven’t had a boyfriend since Grade 10.”
“All in due time.”
“Why am I even talking to you about this. It’s nuts and you’re nuts if you think I’m falling for your scam, whatever it is.”
“Suit yourself. It’s your future you’re screwing with,” Hermes said.
“Even if you did come from the future, why should I trust you?”
“Like I said, because your older self sent me.”
“Why would I do that?”
“So you don’t blow off Lazlo.”
“Yep, Gustav Lazlo.”
“How do you know about Gustav Lazlo?”
“You must get a lot smarter in the next few decades,” Hermes said.
“I know about Lazlo because YOU sent me. Lazlo’s inventions are the kickoff of your wealth.”
“You mean, the guy with the steam turbine I’m supposed to meet in London will make me wealthy?”
“Yep, Lazlo. As I said, we call him the Tesla of the 21st Century.”
“Tesla died a pauper.”
“Yeah but he made Edison rich.”
“I’m not Edison.”
“No, you’re Leeza Keats, and by comparison to you, Edison was a pauper. By the way, you’re a lot kinder to your Tesla than old Thomas E. was to his,” Hermes said.
“Edison. We were just talking about him. You gotta do something about the ADHD.”
“I don’t have ADHD.”
“Not what your doctor says a couple decades from now.”
“Now stop that. You are not from the future and you don’t know anything about me.”
“Your favourite colour.”
“Blue’s a primary colour. Lots of people like blue.”
“Rocky, your favourite ice cream. I can keep going,” Hermes said.
“No you can’t because I have places to go and people to see.”
“Yeah, like Mr. Lazlo.”
“Without my help you will blow it and never become the world’s first gazillionaire.”
“There’s no such thing as a gazillionaire.”
“Not ever. Gazillion is a made up number. There’s no such thing.”
Leeza pulled on the handle but the door didn’t budge. Fear gripped her.
“C’mon, tell me what I owe and I’ll be gone. How about $35.”
“You’re not listening. If I don’t go with you, you’re going to miss it. In fact, Lazlo will miss it. I have to show it to you.”
“What’s to miss? He’s got a new-fangled steam turbine. He doesn’t trust email so my boss wants me to take a picture of the system and pick up a package that explains how it works.”
“There, you missed it. When you miss it, not only do you not become a gazillionaire but all the jobs and businesses that sprout from Lazlo’s invention end up in Montenegro. Canada goes into a depression and poof, we’re part of the Third World.”
“All this from a better steam turbine?”
“Not a better turbine but a mistake.”
“Now I’m confused.”
“Lazlo’s steam turbine generates tons of energy but no electricity. All that energy goes elsewhere.”
“What good is that?”
“Very good for your future. The energy concentrates dark matter into a super dense mass that punches a hole in space-time, creating a worm hole.”
“I thought worm holes warp space, not time.”
“That’s a good one!”
“I’ll bet you learned that from Star Wars, Millennium Falcon yada yada.”
“Uh, well yeah.”
“You shoulda watched Dr. Who instead. That show came close. However, we nixed the phone booth and went with Marty McFly for our travel module.”
“McFly, you know, the kid from Back to the Future.”
“What’s an old movie got anything to do with anything?”
“Old but a classic. None of the eyeball searing 9K video and jump out of your skin 4D floating image stuff. It’s got the warmth and authenticity of a disc with basic MPEG-2 compression.”
“Isn’t digital, digital? What’s wrong with er, 9K.”
“MPEG-2 gives you real drama, an artistic story.”
“What else would it be?”
“Everything after 7K, you change the story. Give Anne of Green Gables superpowers. Click on any piece of furniture or clothing to see the price tag. Make the hero run out of gas during a high-speed chase. That’s not entertainment. Back To The Future is pure art as long as it’s watched like I watch it on a classic, restored DVD player.”
“That’s nice but like I said, I’ve got to get going.”
“McFly and Doc Brown did get one thing wrong.”
“McFly? Doc Brown?”
“There’s the ADHD again. In Back To The Future, Marty McFly time travelled in a Delorean suped up by Doc Brown. The movie goofed. No way you can fit all the equipment for time travel into a tiny sportscar. You need something substantial like my ‘63 Mercury Monterey. I’ll explain how it works later.”
“Later? There is no later. I’ve got to get on the train to meet Mr. Lazlo.”
“I’ll take you.”
“And how much will that cost me?”
“A couple million in Canadian dollars. But that’s okay because . . .”
“Because I’m good for it 30 years in the future?”
“Wait a minute. If we leave now, and we plan to arrive in two hours — same time as the train — we won’t be time shifting, just travelling. Why a couple million?”
“Ah, the astute businessperson in you finally shows.
Daggers shoot from Leeza’s eyes.
“I’ll explain. It’s a matter of time and distance. The distance part costs less but the only way we can do it in this contraption is by opening a time space vortex. In real mileage terms, this baby has less than 1,000 km and probably will die at 2,000 km.”
“And that costs money.”
“Why can’t I just take a regular cab for a few hundred dollars.”
“You could but I don’t take cabs and you need me and Freddy.”
“Your business partner.”
“And do you keep Freddy in the trunk?”
“Hell no. That’s inhumane. What do you take me for?”
“I take you for a lot of things but sane isn’t one of them.”
“You never did have much of a sense of humour.”
“I’m not even going to respond to that. Okay, where do we pick up Freddy?”
“Oh, he’ll find us.”
“How’s that going to happen?”
Rap rap rap.
Leeza peered through the window at a teenaged panhandler with Rasta dreadlocks framing a dirt-smudged white face. A grab bag of multi-coloured rags served as clothing. He pressed a cardboard sign against the window.
‘PleaZe help. Haven’t eaten in 2 days.’
“Drive,” Leeza said.
“And leave Freddy?” Hermes said.
“That’s Freddy?” Leeza said mouth agape.
“You don’t notice the family resemblance?”
“Freddy’s my dad, Freddy Fellowes.”
“At least he will be after he meets my mom and they marry, about seven years from now.”
Rap rap rap.
“So let him in,” Hermes said.
Leeza rolled down the window. A perfume of fermented sweat, grease, rotted garbage, and urine wafted into the cab.
“Got some change man?”
“Get in Freddy,” Hermes said.
“How do you know my name?”
“Just get in Freddy,” the cabbie repeated.
“Man, like I ain’t that kind of guy. Not into any weird three-way.”
“Freddy, we don’t want your body. Just need you to come with us,” Hermes added.
“No kinky shit. I just need to buy a Happy Deal. Five bucks’ll do it.”
“We’ll give you $5 and buy you a Happy Deal if you come with us. One proviso. Leeza gets the scratch and win ticket.”
“No kinky shit?”
“No kinky shit,” the driver assured.
“It’s a deal. I get the Happy Deal. Leeza gets the scratch ticket.”
Hermes pressed a button. A puff of steam accompanied the opening of the rear passenger door.
“Don’t you want your dad to sit next to you?” Leeza asked in the nasal tone of someone holding her breath.
“No, you two have to get acquainted. That’s the way it is.”
“He stinks. I may vomit.” Leeza smooshed a tissue against her nostrils.
“I’m right here,” Freddy said. “You’re the one who wanted me to get in. Now you insult me.”
“Sorry.” Leeza lowered the tissue.
“Hey when do I get my Happy Deal?”
“When we get to London,” Leeza said.
“London? That’s seven hours on a direct flight plus a couple hours lining up. My passport may have expired,” Freddy said.
“Your passport expired?” Leeza’s eyes scanned the clouds.
“In my day, I was quite the citoyen du monde.”
“In your day? What are you 15? 16? Besides we’re not talking about London, England,” Leeza said.
“London, Connecticut? With traffic that’s even longer, nine hours if we’re lucky. Again my passport’s out-of-date. ”
“London, Ontario, just a couple hours down the 401,” Leeza said.
“Or by Time Taxi, 20 seconds,” said Hermes. “Like Einstein said, time and space don’t exist separately from matter.”
“Trés profound,” Freddy said. “I can wait 20 seconds for my Happy Deal.”
“Glad to hear it,” Leeza said.
“Say, if you can get to London England in 20 seconds, I’d prefer that. I’m willing to swop my Happy Deal for a ploughman’s lunch and a Guinness.”
“You’re a wonder of flexibility,” Leeza said. “Besides, you’re underage.”
“Tut, tut. The English are a civilized people. A 16-year-old may imbibe a Guinness provided an adult pays.”
Leeza’s mouth fell open but she decided not to go there. “Enough, let’s go see Mr. Lazlo.”
Hermes nodded and tapped the buttons on the console.
The car turned into a furnace and vibrated. The steam rose before the outside blinked dark.
“Hey man, I told you no kinky shit.”
– end Chapter 1 –