1st Place – August 2019

Time to Go

By JJ Rushmore

After a two-day stakeout, all I wanted was to go home. My boss, the head of the private investigation agency where I worked as an operative, had other plans. That sucked, because like I said, I really wanted to go home.
Two sweaty hours of napping on a plane plus a bumpy cab ride brought me to the French Quarter and The Three Joys.
It was a typical New Orleans jazz bar, with a gloomy interior and large open windows. Brassy music spilled out onto grimy sidewalk tables. French doors on the upper floors opened to balconies with wrought iron railings festooned with bougainvillea.
Hazy smoke and tired music enveloped me as I entered the place. The atmosphere reeked of stale beer and dead cigars, and I smelled like dirty laundry. The musicians played as if they had been on the stakeout with me, weary and exhausted.
I weaved my way to the bar and gave my name. The bartender wordlessly gestured to a staircase. At the top landing was a door, black with gold trim, reminiscent of the establishment’s business card. I knocked and entered.
The room was a large bedroom in 1890s decor. In one corner a mature woman bent over an old-timey brass bathtub as she fiddled with the taps. She straightened to reveal an outfit from a Victoria’s Secret runway. A garish red garter belt held up thigh-high mesh stockings. The garter belt contrasted with a black lace corset and matching panties. Stiletto heels elevated her higher than my six feet, while a silver tiara prevented a full head of dark Medusa curls from falling across her face.
I struggled to maintain my composure and held out my card. “Miss Joy? I’m—”
“—from Boston. Yes, I know.” She took the card and gestured to another door. “You may use the next room. I’ve drawn a bath and laid out clothes for you.”
“Sorry. I understood your situation was urgent, so I came straight from the airport. I apologize if…” I raised up my overnight bag. “I’ll go to my hotel and—”
“—No. Bathing here is necessary preparation for your mission. Please proceed to the other bedroom and do as I say.”
None of that made sense, but the boss told me to make her happy, so I obliged.
The second bedroom sported a canopied four-poster, and contained another bathtub identical to the one in the first bedroom. It was full, hot, and steaming.
I opened the French doors and stepped out onto the narrow balcony. On the street below throngs of tourists milled about as they bar-hopped into oblivion. Jazz tunes fought each other up and down the avenue. Strings of patio lights crisscrossed the street in counterfeit cheerfulness.
Returning to the bedroom, I undressed. Unsure of Miss Joy’s intentions, I half expected company, but the door remained closed.
I approached the bathtub dubiously. As I waved away the rising vapors, the surface shimmered with a luminous glow. Opalescent striations of silver, gold, and black floated on the surface and moved with the water’s heat. I dipped my hand in and swished around what appeared to be a floating film of iridescent bath oils.
I couldn’t see my hand beneath the surface. It tingled pleasantly, and I sensed a soothing warmth. My hand was remarkably dry when I removed it, but otherwise seemed unharmed. Encouraged, I stepped into the tub.
As I eased myself in, the tingling sensation increased but remained pleasant. The bathtub was full-sized, so I sat down and stretched out. The tub’s back raised up to shoulder height, and I rested my arms on the sides, and my neck on the back. I relaxed as never before. Tension released from every muscle, and I took a deep breath and slowly immersed myself into the restful liquid.
Darkness and silence descended as my head submerged, followed by a wavering yellow glow. Startled, I gasped and burst from beneath the surface, leaped from the tub, and searched for a towel.
But I didn’t need one. I was completely dry. And clean. No, not just clean—eerily spotless. My Marine Corps tattoos were gone, as were all the scars, moles, and blemishes I’d accumulated over 35 years.
My overnight bag had disappeared, so I donned the clothes Miss Joy had left me. The silk shirt had ruffles around the cuffs and neck. At first it made me look like a pirate, but after adding the black wool suit and red felt vest, it was more a costume for a riverboat gambler. Everything fit, including the boots.
The only room light came from kerosene lamps. The street below was strangely quiet. I stepped back onto the balcony.
The band music had stopped. Men on horseback clip-clopped below, while more horses pulled carriages. How quaint. Fun for the tourists.
Except they weren’t tourists. At least not the ones I had seen a few minutes ago. These people had all stepped off the movie lot for Gone With the Wind.
Or The Time Machine.
The patio lights were gone. Gas-powered streetlamps illuminated the cobblestone street. Men in top hats and women in gowns with bustles strolled along the boulevard in pairs, while stray dogs nipped at the horses’ heels.
Shaken, I stepped back inside and headed to the first bedroom. As I entered, I glimpsed Miss Joy as she stepped out of her tub and donned a diaphanous robe. The robe left little to the imagination.
“A gentleman would knock,” she said, as she brushed hair away from her face.
“A lady would warn him of an impending trip through time.”
She laughed. “Is that what you think? There’s no such thing as time travel. Not exactly.”
“Then how do you explain all this?” I swept a hand around the room, at the kerosene lanterns and gas-lit wall sconces that hadn’t been there on my first trip through.
“Sit down while I dress and I’ll explain.” She pointed to an upholstered chair and stepped behind a folding screen. The gossamer robe sailed in the air and draped over the screen’s top edge.
“Our planet is hurtling through the universe at 400 miles per second,” she began. “Time and space are inextricably intertwined.”
A foot and ankle appeared beyond one edge of the screen as she pulled on silk stockings. “One cannot travel in time unless one also travels in space, and vice-versa. If you want to travel just one hour forward or backward and arrive in the same place, you’d also have to travel over a million and a half miles in distance.” The other foot and ankle appeared and vanished. “It’s not possible to travel that far and that fast.”
“Okay then, where am I? Or should I ask, when am I?”
“You’re in N’awlins, cher. In a slightly different reality. Call it a parallel universe if it makes you feel better.” She stepped out from behind the screen, dressed how I imagined a turn-of-the-century cocktail waitress might appear. “That’s the best I can do.”
I wasn’t sure if she meant her explanation, or her attire. The first was less than satisfactory, the latter much the opposite. The red-and-black satin gown stopped at mid-thigh in the front, and trailed to the floor in the back. Her considerable bosom was on generous display.
I caught myself smoothing my ruffles in an act of unconscious preening. “And the bathtubs?”
“They’re graviton vessels. The brass confines the force particles, and the low elevation here puts us closer to the earth’s core, magnifying the effect.”
“I’ll take your word for it. Did Einstein know about this?”
“Ours did, the Einstein who lived here, although he never figured out relativity. Yours didn’t, but he did formulate that E=mc2 thing.”
“So why am I here?”
“Didn’t your boss explain? One of your fellow travelers came for a visit, but refuses to return to his own place-and-time. His presence is disrupting the space-time continuum. We need you to take him home before permanent damage occurs.”
 “What if I can’t?”
“Then our universes will diverge, and the portal will be lost.”
“Meaning…?”
“You and others like you will be stuck here forever. And visitors to your world would be stuck there. Our futures will be forever altered in ways we cannot predict.”
###
Miss Joy ushered me into a poker parlor on the ground floor. I scanned the room, my eyes stopping on a large red-headed man seated at the rear table.
“You should have told me,” I said.
“You might not have come,” she replied.
I sauntered to the rear poker table
“Hello, Frank,” I said.
The redhead I knew as my older brother looked up from his cards and smiled. “Johnny! Welcome to N’awlins!”
“Time to go, Frank.”
That’s when I shot him with Miss Joy’s derringer. It didn’t kill him, but it got his attention and made him more cooperative. It was the only way to get us home—and I really wanted to go home.

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