I’ll pick up your prescription after work tomorrow and drop it off about 5.
Neville was a slow texter, but also one who believed in correct punctuation. He re-read the message he’d typed, pressed ‘Send” and put the phone down on the countertop. At that moment the lights in his cramped kitchen dimmed. Then he heard a wooshing noise, like wind through trees, faintly at first but growing louder.
Glancing through the window, the blue sky was dotted with a just a few white clouds, and the sun was casting long shadows. It didn’t look windy. Then he decided the noise wasn’t coming from outside but from above. As he looked up at the off-white and slightly stained ceiling it grew louder. If he had turned on his TV it would have drowned out Netflix.
And just as suddenly, it stopped. The kitchen light came back on. But rather than silence, he could hear a man’s voice coming through from above. He appeared to be barking orders. Something about “Try harder,” and “Experiment”. That was odd, because in all the time he’d lived in his apartment he’d never heard a man upstairs before.
The screen lit up on his phone. Neville picked it up to see seven text messages waiting for his attention. The first one said “I wont be back from Scrabble Club until 6”. The subsequent six were increasingly terse versions of “Did you get my text?”
He typed back, “Yes mother, I’ll see you at 6.” Then he went back to preparing his salmon salad dinner, with a crisp Sauvignon Blanc on the side.
Two evenings later the curious incident was repeated, albeit with minor variations. It was after nine and Neville was deep into a Ken Burns documentary on Prohibition – good background for teaching his Seniors about the buildup to the Great Depression he thought – when the lights dimmed and the TV went off. Then the wind-like noise started coming through the ceiling again, softly at first but then increasing in volume.
Neville scowled upwards. This time though there was shouting, or maybe screaming was more accurate. Then the staccato ratta-tat-tat of a machine gun.
Neville leapt to his feet, adrenaline setting his heart racing. The light he’d been watching TV by grew bright again and his TV came back on. Then came the distinct booming of cannon fire, followed by explosions and screams.
“Are they deaf up there?” he asked out loud. More shouting, indistinct but sounding like orders or instructions being barked.
Muttering under his breath, Neville grabbed his keys, stepped into the hallway, and rode the elevator up to the ninth floor. Arriving at 917, he raised his hand to knock on the door, only to realize he could still hear shouts and screams. He shook his head and knocked.
No answer, but then the sounds faded away, as if the volume had been turned down. Always one to avoid a confrontation, Neville turned to walk away, only to hear the door open behind him.
He turned around to see the apartment’s occupant standing in the doorway. A slight woman in her late 30s, shoulder length blonde hair, frazzled and uncombed, glasses sliding down her nose, jeans and a black tee-shirt with E=mc2 emblazoned on the front.
“Did you want something?” she asked.
Neville took a step closer. “Well yes,” he began hesitantly. “I live underneath you, and well it’s about your TV.”
“My TV?” she frowned. I don’t own a TV.”
Now it was Neville who frowned. “Well I was hearing a lot of noise, gunshots, and I thought, I wondered…”
“Oh.” She said, pushing her glasses up her nose. “I’m sorry about that. I was um, I was watching a movie and you know how loud…”
Neville cut her off: “But you said you haven’t got a TV.”
“Did I? Well no, yes. Well I had the radio up loud. I’m very sorry, I won’t let it happen again.”
“I’d appreciate that.”
They looked at each other for a moment, before both spoke at once.
“Well I’m sorry to have bothered…”
“Well have a good …”
Neville stepped forward and held out his hand. “Neville Mathers.”
She took his hand limply in her and gave it a barely perceptible shake. “Annalie Jennings.”
“Well it was nice to meet you.”
“It was nice to meet you too,” she said, “And I’ll try to keep the noise down in future.”
The following Tuesday, Neville was sitting up in bed marking essays when it happened a third time. First the lamp on his nightstand grew dim and then the wind began to blow through Annalie’s apartment upstairs.
He put the papers down and looked up at the ceiling. As before, the wind sound grew louder, and then suddenly stopped. His lamp returned to full intensity and through the ceiling he could hear men’s voices.
They were arguing, but in a rational, debating manner rather than as if tempers were fraying. Listening carefully, Neville thought he could make out several distinct voices, all male, judging by their deep tones. That was strange, because until the previous incident he’d not noticed the apartment upstairs receiving male visitors before, and certainly not late in the evening.
He continued listening, trying to make out what they were debating. The language they were using was English, but it seemed strangely formal and outdated. There were lots of references to “esteemed gentlemen” and “landowners” and then “clauses” and “articles”. To Neville, steeped in US history, it sounded as though they were recreating the Constitutional Convention. And then the voices faded away.
Wednesday morning Neville was a few minutes late leaving his apartment. His mother had been texting again, this time about a Doctor’s appointment, and if he didn’t reply promptly she’d be badgering him all morning.
The elevator door opened and he stepped in. His attention was on his phone so he didn’t see Annalie standing at the back of the small space.
“It’s Neville isn’t it?”
He looked up quickly, eyes opening wide.
“Annalie! Good morning, how are you?”
“Fine thank you. I hope I haven’t disturbed you anymore.”
Neville thought for a moment, “Well um…”
“Oh I have! Oh I’m so sorry. I really try not, but I just can’t control…” her voice tapered off.
The bell dinged to say they’d reached the first floor and door slid open. Neville stood back against the wall to let Annalie exit first. Once out, she turned to wait for him.
They began speaking at the same time.
“The weird thing is,” Neville began.
“I don’t want to seem forward,” she said, then, “No, go on.”
Neville smiled. “Well this is going to sound silly, but last night it sounded like the Constitutional Convention was taking place in your apartment.”
Annalie’s jaw dropped slightly before she answered. “Oh! Well I’m not sure… goodness, how odd.”
“Ridiculous, I know, but history is my thing. Anyway,” he continued, “What did you want to say?”
“Well I just wondered if, seeing as we’re neighbors, you’d like to have coffee sometime.”
For a moment Neville thought his heart had stopped. “Well I, well yes, that would be great.” And moments later they had agreed a day and time to meet at the coffee shop around the corner from their building.
How was the date?
Neville knew it had been a mistake to mention it to his mother the moment he’d sent the text. But if he hadn’t she’d probably have fired off another salvo while they were sipping their lattes.
“It was good,” he typed back. Well she didn’t need to know all the details. “We’re having dinner tonight.”
Oh wow where r u taking her
Actually, she’s cooking.
At 7 prompt Neville knocked on the door of 917. He’d put a plaid sports coat on over a plain white shirt and black slacks. In his arms he was carrying a bouquet and a bottle of wine.
Annalie opened the door looking flustered, glasses halfway down her nose and a patterned apron covering a plain gray sheath dress. She looked him up and down, and he did the same to her.
“Come in,” she said, stepping back, “Sorry about the mess.”
Neville stepped in and looked around. The apartment was identical to his in layout, but whereas his was ordered with a specific mid-century décor going on – thrift shop furniture – hers looked more like the laboratory of a mad scientist.
Open shelving lined one wall, with books stacked in various places between disassembled electronic pieces, black and white plastic with small screens and wires sticking out. On the floor below the shelves sat a row of black boxes, each with a thick cable emerging from the side. There was more shelving on the other wall, but with a desk under a giant monitor and in front of it, a high-backed computer gaming chair.
Pushed up against the third wall, under the window, was a table with two place settings. But in the center of the room, in the place where most people might put a couch and coffee table, was something he’d never seen before.
Four posts stood at the corners of a square rubber mat approximately six foot across, and each post was about six feet high. Thick cables emerged from under rugs to run up the posts. At the top they disappeared into the backs of large cones, almost like those on the early, “His Master’s Voice” gramophones, and each cone pointed downwards and into the center of the square.
Annalie came over and relieved Neville of the gifts he’d brought. “I know it looks a bit weird. It’s a side project I’m working on.”
Neville followed her into the kitchen. “Something to do with your work at the University?” You said you’re in the Physics Department?”
“Why don’t you open the wine,” she said, handing him two glasses. “I think there’s a corkscrew in one of the drawers.”
She’d made a very passable Coq au Vin, and she made great conversation over dinner, but Neville couldn’t stop looking at the contraction dominating the small room. As he emptied the last of the wine into their glasses he had to ask.
“This, this thing… is it responsible for noises I hear sometimes?”
Annalie pushed her chair away from the table.
“Well yes, I’m afraid it is.”
Neville waited for her to elaborate but at that moment she seemed to prefer silence, so he pushed on.”
“Well what is it? Some kind of 3D TV?”
She raised her eyebrows in surprise. “Actually yes, kind of. I use it to watch things.”
“Well no.” She got up from the table and walked across to the desk. “It’s more of an um, a viewing window, a portal you might say.”
Neville shook his head. “But there’s no screen.”
“Well no, it’s three dimensional, like you said. Well four dimensional actually. It might be easier if I show you, but you must promise not to let it freak you out and you can’t tell anyone until I’m ready to talk about it publicly.”
Neville nodded, and Annalie slid into the chair. She turned on the computer and as it booted up, she pressed some buttons on a box at the side of the keyboard. Immediately, the lights in the room went dim and a low humming started.
“It’s charging the capacitors,” she explained, “It needs a lot of power.”
The humming grew louder, changing to a blowing wind sound Neville had heard before. She spoke louder now, to be heard over the sound of rushing air.
“You teach history. What historical event would you really like to have witnessed?”
Neville thought quickly. “Maybe the assignation of JFK?”
She nodded, “Okay, when was that, and where?”
Neville gave her the exact date, time and location and Annalie typed them into her computer. The wind sound was deafening now. “It’ll stop when I press this,” she shouted, her index finger hovering over the keyboard. “Ready?”
Neville nodded and Annalie jabbed the key. Instantly, the roaring wind sound stopped and a black cloud seemed to form in the middle of the room, at the focal point of the four loudspeaker horns. The cloud was dark and swirling, angry looking, and it grew steadily bigger.
After a few seconds it was a sphere filling the space defined by the four upright posts, and then it started to clear outwards from its interior.
Neville watched open-mouthed as he stared into the space at the center. He was looking down at a wide street from a tall building. People lined the sides and a convoy of cars was heading in one direction. Towards the center of the convoy was a black convertible, two people sat in the back waving.
Neville realized what he was watching, what he was about to see. “Pause it,” he said.
“I can’t,” Annalie replied, “It’s not a replay. It’s what’s happening.”
Neville turned his eyes from the familiar scene to Annalie. “What do you mean?”
A shot rang out, echoing off the nearby buildings. People screamed. Jackie climbed back over the trunk of the car to gather the fragments of her husband’s skull.
“I’ve opened, I know this sounds crazy, but I’ve opened a portal through space-time to that point and moment. We’re actually there.”
The black car raced away out of view. The cloud grew dark in its center again and then shrank back into nothingness.
Neville stared at Annalie, incredulous. “So you can go anywhere and see anything?”
She nodded. “I think so, yes. But not for long. I’m limited by the power I can store in the capacitors.”
“So when I thought I could hear the Constitutional Convention being debated?”
“September 7th, 1787. Well that’s the date I picked to look in. You know, Ben Franklin was so smart.”
“The machine gunning and screaming?”
“Gettysburg, July 2nd, 1863.”
“It lasted three days but…”
She finished his sentence, “You can only see for a limited time.” And added, “And the further away it is the more power it seems to take. My first viewing was Menlo Park laboratory in 1878.”
“Edison’s lab. I heard that too. Can they see you when you do this?”
“I don’t think so. But you’re the historian. Were there any reports of unusual phenomena around the time of the assassination? And wouldn’t Edison have said something?”
Neville stroked his chin slowly. “I don’t recall anything being said on any of those events. But what about seeing the future?”
“I’ve not tried that. As a scientist I’m concerned I wouldn’t be able to validate what it shows me.
“But you’re curious?”
“Well yes. But I wonder if that’s really a good thing to do. I mean, has the future already happened, and if we know what’s in it, aren’t we likely to change what we do to bring about a desired result?”
That conjecture awakened an argumentative streak in Neville and they talked long into the night. Neville was intrigued by the possibilities for verifying and perhaps correcting the historical record. He started to list places he wanted to go and things he wanted to see. Annalie found him interesting, with knowledge that complimented her expertise in physics.
Eventually, he rose to leave. “Maybe you’d let me cook dinner for you next weekend?”
Annalie nodded, “A week today? Sure.”
Once he’d gone Annalie sat back down at the chair in front of the desk. Fingers moving slowly over the keyboard, she entered a date and time exactly one week hence. Then she put in the address: her street and building, apartment 817.
Culled from blog.reedsy.com by Nigel Holmes