A catch up post from May
This week the prompt wasn’t so much a prompt as an idea. Suppose time travel is real. You think the Parthenon is a busy tourist attraction as a ruin? What about seeing it when the Greeks were using it? The world population must quadruple on days like July 4th, 1776 and July 16, 1969. So what must that be like for the people living there. The days leading up to a significant event, when all of a sudden weirdos start coming around who want to shake your hand and have you sign something. You haven’t done anything yet, right? But maybe you have?
The Time Traveler’s Mistake
Do not look at the workbench,’ I thought, shifting from foot to foot, my skirts rustling, bustle creaking. Everything sounded loud in my tiny shop. ‘You managed to cover it in time. Everything is fine.’
“Please elaborate, Miss Engelthorpe.” The mechanical agent’s tinny voice interrupted my obsession.
The Time Bureau badge bolted to its chest caught the gaslight. “You stated that the tourists were from the future. Please elaborate, Miss Englethorpe.”
“Mrs.” I had a wife. Once. My fingers itched to touch the lock of her hair in my pendant. ‘The work is hidden. Do not look.’
The mechanical was designed to show neither impatience nor censure. “Please elaborate, Mrs. Engelthorpe.”
Tourists. Right. “They did not know a shilling from two-and-six. I could see them calculating the change. And they laughed at the telegraph box.”
I waved a hand over to the wall, where the box hung among the cuckoo clocks. It had only been installed last month, after the time tourists had increased to three a week. I had painted the dull cabinet a cheerful blue, but left the label, “Time Bureau Public Call Box,” alone. Future tourists always laughed at my telegraph box.
The mechanical’s human partner spoke up from behind me, “Did they buy anything in particular, Miss Engelthorpe?”
I turned. “They bought a watch, Agent Jones.” The workbench was just in view. “And please, it is Mrs. Engelthorpe.”
‘One glance. Just to make sure.’ I forced my eyes to stay on the time agent.
Agent Jones was a tall man, with long, elegant fingers and quick eyes. His clothes did not suit the way he moved, bespoke wrapped in ready-to-wear. He walked along the back wall toward my workbench, looking at the freestanding grandfather clocks. They had been Jenny’s favorite to build, with the intricate clockwork and imagination required. He was almost at the bench.
‘Do not look.’ But my eyes were sliding away.
“Was their interest in the watches or the widowed watchmaker, madame?” Jones smiled engagingly, turning to rest right up against my workbench.
I froze. His hand rested a hair’s breadth away from the cover, fingers tapping on the cloth itself. Somehow I kept my eyes on his face. Please let him blame my nervousness on his smile, not his hand.
“I do not take your meaning, sir.”
“Madam, your wares are beautiful, but unremarkable. Your shop, while charming, lies not in London proper. And yet, the tourists flock here from the future. I theorize you, Madam, are the attraction.”
I had to check. Yet, even as my gaze shifted, Agent Jones whipped the cover away. A watch lay spread over the surface. Every piece had symbols etched in gold, tiny and perfect, the work of months. It was an exact match to the one carried by every time agent, the only way to travel in time. Everything I needed. I could not breathe.
Jones’s voice was deadly soft. “Ah. You do know that chronomachina are forbidden, do you not, Mrs. Engelthorpe?”