Eclectic Voices

Fiction, Monologues, Plays & More

The Precious Present


By Mark Bate

Danny’s twelfth birthday was going really well until she had to kill a man in her kitchen. Ultimately, not the craziest thing that ever happened to her, but it was a first. It all started that morning when Danny woke up, got ready, and left for school. Nothing out of the ordinary at first; out of the house, down the street, left at the end of the block, and a shortcut between the competing rows of hedges that separated the Henderson’s backyard from the Donovan’s backyard. About halfway through those narrow foliaged corridors is where things started to take a twist.

That twist did not come from the Henderson’s overly caffeinated chihuahua bouncing along the back of his property line, or from the Donovan’s overly aggressive water sprinkler that spent most of its time watering the Henderson’s chihuahua. It came in the form of a light golden glint.

Warm and pleasant, the early morning sun split the shortcut just right, keeping annoying shadows at bay and providing ample safety from any potential danger or tripping hazard, which are not mutually exclusive. So it was on that morning of Danny’s birthday when the light from the great celestial orb at her back, hanging low on the horizon, shone off a metal object just enough to catch Danny’s eye. And by eye I mean her attention, not her actual eye. That would be gross.

Plucking the little golden surprise from the bushes proved to be harder than expected. First, it was nestled lovingly amid a very feisty holly bush, and for those of you who don’t know what those are, you should drop your keys in one sometime and try to fish them out. For Danny, those pointy devil leaves scratched, pricked, and otherwise put up a pretty good fight—reminiscent of a drunken porcupine with a vendetta (obviously another story for another time)—to protect the little golden treasure. Secondly, it was a lot heavier than it looked. A small gold-colored chicken egg should not feel like a Toyota four runner filled with sumo wrestlers fresh off an all-you-can-eat buffet at the Sizzler. Then again, the egg was not just gold in color but was actually covered in real gold, as far as Danny could tell, and while we’re at it, the shell was less a calcium carbonate crystal structure stabilized by a protein matrix—you know, like the eggshell of a normal chicken—but more a layered chainmail-like coating resembling Aquaman’s shirt, if it were gold and not orange. Thirdly, it was covered in tiny, for lack of a better word, insects. The motion reminded her of ants and she recoiled, not in disgust, but a desire not to be bitten.

Realizing the motion was odder than any insect she had ever witnessed, Danny removed her backpack and rummaged around for the magnifying glass she always kept tucked away in case of emergencies—like looking for her glasses she occasionally dropped, or starting a fire should she find herself lost in the woods and needed warmth or raw meat cooked, or in case she found a golden armored egg in a holly bush on her way to school the morning of her birthday. Being prepared was a good motto and if it’s good enough for the Boy Scouts of America, it was good enough for her. Using the magnifying glass, Danny was able to lean in and get a better look at what was swarming all over the little golden egg—but believing what she saw turned out to be a little more difficult. It was kind of like seeing your teacher out of a school setting for the first time—instead of professionally dressed and lecturing on the lifelong benefits of basic mathematics, you found yourself starring at someone who rolled out of bed into a pair of old sweatpants and using those lifelong benefits of basic mathematics to find the best price for a loaf a rye bread and a can of cheese whiz. Some things you never get out of your head.

Prepared to see almost anything, her mind whirled with fantastic possibilities. It could be a new species of alchemical ant that turns food into gold with its saliva or a secretion of some kind used to protect the egg. What she found instead, magnified through her lens, was a hive of tiny people staring up at her. Seeing people dressed in unspectacular everyday clothes with faces of equally unspectacular features was almost enough to take the wonder out of the fact they were roughly a millimeter tall.

It took Danny a second to recognize that the little people had all stopped moving, making them resemble a very large group of super tiny mannequins. Then a man, presumably young—it was very hard to tell—ran to a hatch in the surface of the egg leaving her to stare at the remaining little people who were, in turn, staring at her. She could not have imagined a more profoundly socially awkward situation if she had a team of scientists with mega computers working on it with a team of specially trained drunken monkeys with typewriters nonstop around the clock. What must have seemed like eternal minutes turned out to be merely uncomfortable seconds when the tiny door opened and the young man reappeared with an older—again pure speculation—man wearing a lab coat and goggles. It took a second for the older man to defog his goggles and untangle them from his even more tangled locks of crazy white hair. Danny thought he must be the brains of the outfit as he punched numbers or pushed buttons on a pad of some kind. In her defense, it was really tiny and hard to see even with the magnifying glass. In no time at all, a light began to glow on a portion of the egg’s surface, as if a tiny projector were popping on to play the smallest screening of Jaws, but instead of that, the image formed a virtual screen and keyboard of a size she could use comfortably. When she typed ‘hello’ the response she received on the screen was ‘hello’. Looking back at the itty bitty crowd, Danny saw the minuscule group waving very enthusiastically to her with itty smiles on bitty faces.

Danny went back to the keyboard and began communicating with the one she began to think of as Mini Doc Brown, and found out a few things she never knew, a few things she didn’t know she didn’t know, and some things she wish she hadn’t found out at all. As it turns out, the egg was actually a ship—well not a space ship as much as a time machine—and Mini Doc Brown turned out to be Dr. Francis Baumgarden from Trenton, New Jersey, and the teeny cast of what could be hundreds of thousands were people from the future who knew exactly who she was.

Not sure where to go from the introductions, Danny decided to press the issues of how and why. The how turned out to be a little too sciency for her taste and the why turned out to be less tastier than the science. So Dr. B was kind enough to give her layman’s CliffsNotes on time, space, and the ability to fold them to travel any-when you wanted to go. With that in mind, this is the when they wanted to go to meet her. As you might guess, they wanted her to know they were survivors of a dystopian future with much more suffering than you think you have now. The grass, it turns out, is not always greener—sometimes it’s stinky weeds. And since no one likes stinky weeds, the good Doc B and his merry band of resistance folk worked on the problem of how to travel back and change a point in their history. Danny was glad they didn’t go back to fix a point further back than her. She was vaguely aware of that altering her existence. Her own mortality not being what she wanted to contemplate on her twelfth birthday, Danny kept up with the conversation and moved on to the limitations of time travel that apparently shrink matter exponentially the further back in time you go—hence the diminutive trinket size of the refugees, as well as the ship itself. The ship’s shape was oval due to pressure factors she couldn’t completely understand and the gold color came from a tinting process resulting from a combination of the same pressure and heat. She wasn’t sure how all that worked either.

The part of the story she had no problem understanding was the horrific realization that a stranger, to her, was going to, this very afternoon, enter her home and kill her mother and little brother. Yesterday she would have been a lot more skeptical about that than she was now, having witnessed an ant-sized golden egg parade. More scientific explanations later, Danny came to understand that little Doc B found a way to bend time enough through a special lens to see a variation of multiverses spreading out from this significant event, several that turn horribly wrong with her brother Harry’s death, and a few that do very well based on her brother, same Harry’s, survival. To prove it, they used the projector to show her clips of the event and asked for her help to stop it.

Most people wouldn’t have hesitated and would have run straight into meeting the problem head on, but Danny hesitated long enough for the full weight of the situation to hit her like a water balloon full of concrete in the face. At a brand new start to her twelfth year, she was standing in an alley, dog barking, sprinkler sprinkling, and a golden egg timeship with its timestronauts waiting for her to help them stop a full grown man from entering her house and taking out her beloved mother and annoying yet quite lovable baby brother Harry the Savior of Humanity. That last part was probably the hardest part to come to grips with.

Seeing the tense expecting expression on Dr. Baumgarden’s face as he checked his watch, Danny checked her phone and saw that, having been totally absorbed in this experience, she had lost track of her own time. That combined with the thing he had explained earlier about this was a one-time, one-way trip for this collection of interdimensional do-gooders, she was left to act fast to take care of the problem—though it seemed like a choice she really had no choice of all.

Already being late for school and The Event looming larger by the second, Danny turned and ran before turning back and typing a brief but polite message about meeting them, thanking them for the help, and that she would be back after dealing with the calamity, if she was able. Dr. Baumgarden expressed their gratitude and presented her with a gift. The top of the egg retracted like a model aircraft hanger while a very small platform arose on which an even smaller gun awaited. Danny held onto the tiny weapon between her thumb and forefinger while the peewee crowd cheered loud enough for her to hear them unaided, then turned and ran for home with everything she had. Which, as it happens, was enough to arrive in time to see the lowlife degenerate from the egg projection entering her house through a side window.

Checking to make sure that she hadn’t dropped the tiny gun, Danny accidentally squeezed off a round and vaporized the top part of Mr. Lawson’s lemon tree, along with a sizable chunk of his roof, rain gutter, and probably the last of his nerves, of which he was always going on about. She made a note to herself that if everything turned out alright she would have to find a way to make it up to him, like planting him a new tree or baking him a pimento loaf, although she wasn’t sure what it was. But how could anyone turn down a free gift?

Without breaking stride, Danny took out her house key and hit the lock perfectly as she swung open the door, threw her backpack into the corner, kicked off her shoes, put them on the shoe shelf, took off her jacket, and neatly hung it up before snapping out of auto pilot and running straight to the kitchen, where the worst moment of her young life was about to take place.

Standing there before her was an unassuming balding man of average height wearing glasses and a lightly tinted green cardigan. The only really unusual thing about him was that he held one of her mother’s razor sharp cooking knives in one hand and her little brother in the other, while her mother lay unconscious on the floor. Hoping her expression was tough with a spritz of self confidence and not a reflection of the stranger’s mouth-agape choice, Danny boldly stepped forward into the kitchen to demand the release of her family when she tripped and fired off the surprisingly powerful tiny future gun—leaving a large hole in the kitchen ceiling, the trees on that side of the house, and, with almost surgical precision, the top half of the man, from his mid chest up, bringing a rather, what she thought of as, anticlimactic ending to the whole affair.

Now free, Harry dropped to the ground crying, probably because he was almost killed—and he still had a severed arm clinging to his shirt. The intruder’s lifeless remains toppled backward and bounced off the counter before plopping against the stove. No doubt they would have to get a new oven, move or start eating a lot of take out. Her mother lay motionless on the floor until she made a startled noise, like when you wake up from a nightmare, in the middle of Danny’s 911 call. It was a great relief and unexpectedly creepy at the same time. After the paramedics had arrived and her family was safe, Danny went back to that narrow shortcut where the watered chihuahua lived and found the golden egg laying just where she had left it.

Through some rather complicated conversations and sneaky wrangling of items from her father’s tool shed, Danny was able to transport the egg to a hiding place in her room. She collected different kinds of decorative eggs from that day on to help hide the colony of time travelers now living out their days on a shelf near her closet, where they remain today—generations later having served her and her brother Harry as advisors. The man, as it happens, was just some random sicko with a mild-mannered blend-in-anywhere face and a psyche about a black as a morning cup of coffee and twisted as a pretzel on steroids. These and many other terrible conditions along with cruelty and violence eventually were done away with by Harry’s gift for science and a good heart, not to mention a little help from the Egg Council and his Rambo-like sister. With their help a new and better world was built from the older broken one. And the future held no more outrageous birthdays…except for the one with the grudge-holding porcupine, of course.

_____________________________________________

Mark Bate is an entertainer who works and lives in Southern California. He started writing as a standup performer in the Midwest before moving to the LA area and making contributions to various sketch comedy shows and is happy to be a member of the Eclectic Voices. Currently a collection of short stories sits on his desk huddled between two film scripts, a stage play, and a pile of notes for a novel.

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One comment on “The Precious Present

  1. fionnegan
    April 18, 2017

    That was delightful!

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This entry was posted on April 3, 2017 by in Fiction and tagged , , , .
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