I sat down on the end of my bed and considered my situation. It wasn’t good. I felt like I was on the verge of a freakout. I had to get a grip on myself.
If I couldn’t understand or fix the situation, I could at least make myself a little more comfortable. I’d start by getting the nostril-hair-curling stink out of the room. I jumped up from the bed and stripped it. Then I piled up the dirty clothes that were strewn all over the room. I carted the smelly pile downstairs and crammed it into the washing machine.
Back in my room, I threw the windows wide open. It was still chilly, but not freezing, and it helped clear the musty air. I did another sweep of the room and came up with a bunch of dirty dishes. Still, it was pretty stinky. I sniffed my pits. Ah-ha! The source of the stink was me. Who knows when the last time this body was bathed? As I recall, hygiene hadn’t been a priority for me when I was thirteen. I sniffed my pits again and headed for the bathroom.
I stripped down and took a good look in the bathroom mirror – really, the first good look at myself since I’d awoken in history class. It was a bizarre experience, watching my face – but seemingly also someone else’s face – in the bathroom mirror. Once again, it reminded me of some of my more memorable psychedelic experiences. As any acidhead can attest, looking at one’s face in the mirror while tripping can be both fascinating and frightening.
A quick inventory: a head of red hair – and a hell of a lot more of it than the last time I looked in the mirror. A spray of freckles, over a standard pale Gaelic complexion. The freckles were currently outnumbered by a moderate-sized crop of zits. I ran my hand over my face, and it came away greasy. Just a little regular soap and water would go a long way towards taming those bastards. I could at least do that much for myself now – if for no other reason than to keep my bedroom from reeking like a chimp cage.
I took a step back and looked at my body, again fighting that trippy sense of what I was seeing being mine/not-mine. Pale skin, more freckles, smooth skin. No tattoos that I had started accumulating in the 90’s, then abruptly stopped getting once the first ones started to get blurry. Skin was smooth, muscle tone not bad. I had a bit of a gut, but not bad at all – especially compared to my 50-year-old’s beer belly. I was young, smooth and svelte. I thought that a little exercise would speed up the elimination of the rest of my childhood pudge.
I keep scanning: beneath the almost-unnoticeable belly, a limp pecker in a nest of gingery pubes. As if it had a mind of its own (and I eventually came to think that it did), it began to stiffen the moment I turned my attention to it. Oh yes, adolescent hormones! Crazy chemicals coursing through my bloodstream that would made me act like an utter idiot for years. “L’il Scotty” continued to stiffen under the scrutiny, small but defiantly proud. I could almost feel the blood draining from my brain. There was nothing more annoying and embarrassing than a persistent adolescent hard-on. It was uncomfortable and embarrassing, and it was a problem that would pop up with no discernable provocation.
Well, there was an easy way to rectify the situation. I turned on the shower and stepped in, and took care of the Matter at Hand. It was like firing a 12-gauge shotgun with a hair trigger. Two or three strokes and I went off – BAM! The force of it knocked me back half a step. I shook my head as soaped myself down. Damn, it’s easy to forget how confusing and off-kilter adolescent sexuality is – mainly because adult sexuality is confusing and off-kilter, too. Just in a different way.
I toweled off and went back to my room. My wardrobe choices were limited. The Izod shirt was probably the best of the lot, but it had that stank so I’d tossed it in the laundry hamper. There were a couple of button-down shirts in the closet for when Mom decided to drag David and me to church. Otherwise, I was mostly dealing with second-hand t-shirts and pants that were perpetually too short. In the end, I found another pair of jeans that came almost down to my ankles and a clean t-shirt with the inscription “Be Alert! The World Needs More Lerts!” I looked like a dork wearing them, but suspected I would look pretty dorky even if I was wearing a tailored Armani suit. Thirteen-year-old boys just can’t help but look dorky.
I flopped down on the bed and tried to think. I had no idea what was happening, and certainly no idea of what to do to get back to my own time. The only option I really had was to suck it up and figure out the best way to deal with it.
The thought of being stuck here and having to relive the last four decades of my life was terrifying, and I could feel panic creeping in around the edges of my consciousness. With effort, I pushed it away.
Okay, I was clearly in a sucky situation, but it was not without advantages. Foremost was the fact that I had retained the skills and memories I had acquired over the decades. There had to be a way to exploit this for my immediate advantage.
In movies where the protagonist goes back in time, they’re always able to use their knowledge of future events to make money. Most often, they are able to win bets placed on sporting events where they already knew the outcome. The problem with that was that I knew doodley-squat about sports. Sure, I might be able to pre-emptively recollect who would win an upcoming Super Bowl or World Series, but I couldn’t be absolutely certain. I just never gave the first third of a fuck about sports.
I might have more luck with politics, but that seemed like a poor way to make winning bets. I’d really only be able to do that every four years – maybe every two.
Then there was the problem of finding someone to take these bets. I could hardly call up a bookie in Vegas or Atlantic City. If push came to shove, I could probably find a willing bookie in Fester, a grody industrial town in the western part of the county. If there was ever a town where a thirteen-year-old could make large bets with no questions asked, it was Fester, Pennsylvania.
Besides, it takes money to make money, and I had no money with which to make these hypothetical bets, anyway. Mom provided a five-buck-a-week allowance, and that was it. I was too young to get a work permit. There was a paper route in the neighborhood, but it was currently held by a high-school kid named Freddie Schmidt, who was an asshole on par with Brock Crutcher. This was a problem I’d have to give some more thought to.
I heard footsteps clumping onto the front porch, then hammering on the front door.
“Hey, Scott!” David yelled up from the living room. “Geekman and Slobbin are here!” It was Paul and Lee. As I was fleeing from school yesterday, Lee had said something about playing Dungeons and Dragons.
Muffled, I heard Paul say, “I heard that, you two-legged gonad!”
“What’s a gonad?”
I hustled down the stairs. Actually, I had little interest right now in playing D & D, but I was glad my friends were over. I had an overwhelming desire to get the hell out of the house. It was starting to feel as if I would be trapped in my childhood house forever unless I got outside and stretched my legs a little. Besides, now that I was feeling slightly more comfortable with my situation, I wanted to go out and explore.
I thundered down the stairs, again amazed at my own speed and agility. I brushed past David and crashed through the front door onto the porch where Lee and Paul were waiting.
“Say what you want about the jerk,” said Paul. “Our man Scott does know how to make an entrance.”
“How about it?” asked Lee. “Ready to take on some Orcs?” He hefted the Army surplus knapsack he used to carry his extensive D & D gear.
“Uh, not now,” I said. “I really…”
“Aw, c’mon, man!” said Lee. “I was up ‘til nearly midnight working out this new dungeon! You’re gonna love it! It totally kicks ass!”
“No doubt,” I said. “Can we do it later, though? I really just gotta get out of the house, know what I mean?”
“Oh, yeah, sure,” said Lee. He ought to know; he lived in a duplex similar to ours, but his family was twice the size.
“OK, I can dig it,” said Paul. “I’m not sure I wanna be hangin’ out with your dingus little brother, anyway.” He said this loud enough for David to hear him. David responded with a loud raspberry.
“So waddaya wanna do?” asked Lee.
“Let’s go to the Mall,” I said. In Weaverville, there was only one capital-M Mall – the Kerian Plaza Mall. It was the oldest and largest in Kerian County. There were newer, smaller ones cropping up all over the place – hell, even Fester had one now – but Kerian Plaza would always be the Mall.
“OK, great,” said Paul. “Can your mom give us a ride?”
“Naw, she’s at work,” I said. “Let’s just take the bus.”
“The BUS?!” they said in unison.
“You gotta be kidding,” said Paul. “The bus is for poor people and Puerto Ricans!”
I hadn’t realized how radical this idea was. Back in Seattle, I was used to taking public transportation everywhere. I had quickly gotten rid of my trusty Honda Civic once I’d realized how good the city’s public transportation system was.
“How are we gonna take the bus?” asked Paul.
“We go down to a bus stop, and wait for one to come by,” I said. “Then we get on and pay our fare. Duh.”
“Which one do we take?” asked Lee.
“Not sure,” I said. “I’m sure we can find it on the web…” this last part came out before I even had a chance to think about it. While it was undoubtedly already in existence, the World Wide Web was at least a decade away from any sort of public recognition.
“The web?” said Lee. “What the hell are you talking about? You think Spiderman’s gonna swing down and give us a bus schedule or somethin’?”
“Uh, the Yellow Pages, I mean,” I said lamely.
“Look,” said Paul. “I don’t know what this web stuff is about, but how hard can it be to catch a fuckin’ city bus? We just hump it down to Deere Street and get on a bus that’s heading in the right direction. It’s gotta go pretty close to the Mall, at least. Weaverville’s not that big.”
“All right,” I said. “Let’s get outta here.”
It took us twenty minutes to find a bus stop, but the next bus came along in just a few minutes. Fare was a measly thirty-five cents. Of course, it took us straight to the Mall.
“Damn, that was a good idea,” said Paul. “Maybe you’re not nuts after all, even if Spiderman didn’t come swingin’ down to help you.”
“Yeah,” said Lee. “What was all that ‘web’ stuff anyway.”
“I dunno,” I said. “I guess I was thinkin’ about comic books.”
“Oh, yeah!” said Lee. “The May issues are sure to be out now! Good idea, Scott-man!” All three of us were comic book nerds, but Lee took it to an all-new level. He was the comic book nerd to beat all comic book nerds.
“Let’s do it,” I said, and we headed for the entrance of the Mall.
As I stepped through the entrance, I was pummeled by sights and sounds of the early Regan-era mall. These resulted in strong – but conflicting – emotions: unexpectedly fierce nostalgia vied with a resigned disgust. There were the feelings of camaraderie and simplicity that I had associated with the Mall in my feckless youth. However, there was now also a feeling of disgust generated by the crass commercialism and superficial status-seeking that made me eventually avoid malls entirely.
Overall, it was like stepping into a museum of bad taste. Everyone seemed to have dressed as their favorite cliché. I had lived through the 80’s once already, plus two or three retro-80s fads in the subsequent decades. Eighties fashion had ended up persisting for much longer than it had a right to. Still, it was interesting seeing it back in its full original flower.
The guys looked like guys who hung out at malls at any place and time: douchebags. It was just the details that were different. There were a lot of flipped-up collars, a couple of skinny ties. The hairstyles ran towards the part-in-the-middle blow-dried look, with a smattering of perm-on-top/gelled-on-the-sides styles. Most of the guys were wearing either Members Only or denim jackets. Almost all of them had three or four small buttons with band logos on them.
The women’s styles blew me away. Their makeup seemed to have been applied with an industrial spray-gun. There was enough hairspray in evidence to punch a new hole in the ozone layer. Two looks predominated: Preppy Handbook and the Joan Jett/Pat Benatar look. There were a lot of bright primary colors in clashing schemes, a lot of loose billowy tops paired with gangrene-tight jeans.
Seeing the women cruising the mall brought back more of those conflicting emotions: lust, intimidation and contempt. I remember lusting after the Mall Girls who wouldn’t even make eye contact. On the other hand, they now looked lame and dated in their MTV fashions. The frustrating adolescent pussy-hunt was not something that I had ever missed.
“Where to first?” I asked.
“Comics!” said Lee and Paul in unison.
We trooped down to the Atomic Comics store near the rear entrance. It was a straight up comic book store, with very little else. No racks of figures, no shelves of games, no overpriced toys – just box after box of comic books lined up on battered wooden tables underneath rows of sizzling fluorescent lights. I was hit with another wave of nostalgia – this one almost entirely positive. I had spent many hours (and much allowance money) happily pawing through the boxes in this store. The dry, spicy scent of old newsprint was like a balm to my beleaguered psyche.
At the front counter was Chet, the owner of Atomic Comics. Chet was in his early thirties, balding, overweight and sarcastic in the extreme. As we entered, Chet glanced up briefly from the copy of Fangoria he was reading, hoisted the corner of his lip a few millimeters in a lackadaisical sneer, and went back to his magazine. We spread out through the store, rooting through the boxes. Paul and I headed towards the Marvel titles, while Lee – always the rebel – gravitated towards the DC section.
I idly flicked through the box of the Amazing Spiderman issues, marveling at how different things were. The new titles were only 60 cents. Compare that to the average cost of $3.99 in “my” time of 2019. I did the math in my head; it worked out to an inflation rate of like 650%.
It occurred to me that this might be a chance to put my geek knowledge to profitable use. I didn’t know doodly-squat about sports, but I knew plenty about comic books. The problem was that the payoff was decades in the future; it wouldn’t be able to help me out in the short term like a well-informed sports bet. Still, half a loaf and all…
I began pawing through the Spiderman books and hit paydirt almost immediately. Amazing Spiderman #129; the first appearance of the Punisher. The book looked to be in pretty good shape, considering that it was eight years old. Near mint, easy. This issue would go for at least $2,500 at a 2019 comic book shop. Current price: one dollar and eighty cents.
Wait – did I even have enough to buy it? I scrabbled for my nylon wallet and ripped open the Velcro flap. My current net worth was six dollars and fifteen cents. Well, it would have to do for now. Maybe I could find a few more bargains.
I spent about an hour combing the boxes and managed to scare up a couple of good ones, although not as good as the Spiderman. I took my treasurers to Chet, who rang them up, barely looking up from his magazine.
Lee bought a handful of Batman issues. This initiated ten minutes of a well-traveled but intense discussion about the relative merits of Marvel versus DC. This even prompted Chet to put down his magazine and chime in. “You punks are clueless as usual,” he said. “The real future of the comics industry is in independent publishing. Soon, DC and Marvel will be history. You ignorant peons.” He waved dismissively and went back to his magazine.
“Forget it,” I said. “Let’s go check out the music store.”
They shrugged and followed as I trooped down the concourse to the Laser Wolf Records. I pulled up short by a Gino Vannelli standee at the front of the store. Because it was a record store. Bins and bins of vinyl. Singles! And LPs! Full-size, with big covers where you could actually see the artwork. A small rack along the back wall held a selection of cassettes. And in a cut-out bin by the cash register…
“Eight tracks!” I exclaimed. “Holy shit!”
“Yeah, eight-tracks are pretty much shit,” sniffed Lee. “Jeez, those things suck. Didja ever hear one where it changes tracks in the middle of a song? Shit, my brother had one in his old Pinto, and he had this Ozzy eight-track, and it skipped right in the middle of this totally rippin’ guitar solo. Drove me nuts.”
“Well, they’re on their way out,” said Paul. “Good riddance.”
“No CDs,” I muttered, thinking that the name of the store would be a lot more relevant in a few years when CDs really hit.
“Looks plenty seedy to me,” said Paul. “Any place that has a life-sized cutout of Gino Fuckin’ Vannelli at the entrance qualifies as seedy in my book.”
“Well, I guess he sells records,” said Lee. “Chicks really dig his soulful voice and his greasy perm.”
“Ohhh, Gino!” cried Paul in a cracked falsetto. “You make me go all gooey inside!”
Lee mimed holding a mic, and dropped his voice to a gravelly croon. “Hey, ladies, I’m Gino Vannelli, and I’d like to sing you one from my latest album. Hope you like it. It’s called ‘Life is Hard When You Have a Boner.’”
This cracked all of us up, big time. Paul was doubled over laughing. The college-aged clerk behind the register shot us a suspicious look, then went back to hitting on the high school cuties who were paying for a Hall and Oates single. This prompted another now vs. then emotional reaction. The first time around, I would have been intimidated and impressed by his ability to chat up the young girlies. Now, it just seemed creepy and pathetic.
We wandered around the store for a while. For some reason, I was drawn to the Steely Dan section. I flipped through the LPs until I came up with a copy of “Katy Lied.” There was something about this album that touched a nerve way back in my brain, but I couldn’t figure out why. Certainly, the cover wasn’t particularly compelling; it was just an out-of-focus picture of a bug in a bush. I flipped it over and began scanning the track listing when Paul came up.
“Steely Dan?” he said derisively. “Watchoo want with that boring crap?”
“Hey,” I began, trying to come up with a suitable defense of a band that I wasn’t able to appreciate until I was well into my thirties. Fortunately, Lee came rushing up and cur the conversation short.
“Holy shit, check it out, guys!” he said. “The new Quiet Twisted Iron Goat is out!” He pointed to a free-standing display that featured the metal band’s latest offering, titled “Horn of Ages.” The cover featured a heavily-muscled man with a goat’s head blowing a huge golden horn while a bevy of bikini-clad women swooned at his feet.
Lee rushed over, and I tagged along behind. I was very familiar with the album. I had gotten a copy as a Christmas gift, and had played it incessantly almost all the way through the end of high school. It was one of many albums I had loved in my adolescence and then dropped like a hot brick once I had gotten to college.
Lee yanked out his wallet and began desperately thumbing through a meager wad of singles. “Oh, man, I had forgotten this was coming out,” he said. “Shit, I don’t have enough. Fuckin’ record companies jacked the prices up.”
The price sticker in the corner read $9.98. That seemed pretty high, all things considered. That would probably work out to eighteen or twenty bucks in my time. Or you could just download a bootleg version for free.
“Hey guys, can you float me a few bucks so I can pick this up?” asked Lee. “I really wanna check it out!”
“Shit no,” said Paul. “You still owe me three bucks from when we went to Wendy’s last week.”
“How ‘bout you, Scotty? You’re a big Goat Head. Help a brother out, huh?”
“How much you need?” I asked.
“Like, two fifty.”
“I only have like a buck sixty left. You can have it if you want.”
“Cool, man. Come on, Paul. Now I only need a buck. Not even that. Ninety cents. Whaddaya say?”
“Nothing doing,” said Paul. “’Neither a borrower nor a lender be.’”
“You tightwad! Sheez!”
“Ah, don’t feel too bad,” I said. “It’s not that great. It doesn’t really hold up, y’know?”
“What are you talkin’ about?” asked Lee. “You’ve heard it?”
I realized that I’d stuck my foot in it now. I wasn’t sure how long the record had been out, but as a putative Goat Head, I certainly would have made a big deal about having heard it. I said, “Well, WOPP has been playing that one track a whole bunch.” Which was true; the local rock station had a track called “Get Yer Goat” in heavy rotation.
“What’s wrong with you?” asked Lee. “That ‘Get Yer Goat’ song fuckin’ rocks!”
“Besides,” added Paul, “the ones they play on the radio are never the best ones on the record. There are probably a whole bunch that kick ass!”
“Yeah, probably,” I said lamely. It didn’t seem prudent to continue the discussion. On the store’s sound system, Olivia Newton-John’s “Let’s Get Physical” came pulsing out. “Let’s split,” I said. “Before this song makes me physically sick.”
“Yeah, let’s hit up the arcade,” said Lee. “Since Tightwad Paul won’t lend me any money, I got a few quarters to spare.”
“Ain’t my fault you don’t have any money,” said Paul.
The two bickered the whole way down to the Zapp Zone arcade. I was starting to feel less enthusiastic about this particular trip down memory lane. Paul and Lee were not providing the emotional support I had hoped for. Well, fuck it, I thought. I’ll play a few games of Donkey Kong and head home.
Up ahead in the crowd, I saw the man with the plaid porkpie hat. Even in a mall full of eye-aching fashion color schemes, that hat stood out. I made a quick sprint to try to catch up, but the hat and its owner had disappeared. I turned back and headed towards the arcade.
The Zapp Zone was one of the most popular spots at the mall. There was a small open area with a fountain and a few wooden benches just outside the entrance. This attracted the usual lot of skeezy jean-jacket stoners who bopped between playing video games and copping smokes by the fountain. In a few years, I would be a regular part of that group, but as an eighth-grader, they had intimidated me.
Inside were kids blowing their allowance and paper route money on the stand-up consoles. In the back corner was a change machine and a cramped attendant’s booth. Incarcerated within was a surly-looking young woman with a Marlboro dangling from her lower lip. I wandered the rows gawking at the games I hadn’t seen in years: Gorf, Galaga, Joust, Q*bert, Rampage. In the corner, Lee and Paul were going head to head on Track & Field, pounding on the console and laughing.
I searched around and found my game: Donkey Kong. Over the course of very many quarters, I had mastered this game. David and I had a bit of a rivalry, although I usually beat him silly. I pulled a quarter out of my pocket and plugged it into the game, hit the 1 Player button and got ready to rock.
I got Mario going, and made it to the top of the level in short order. Once again, I was amazed at how much muscle memory had stuck with me over the years. I breezed effortlessly through the first several levels.
Then I started to slow down. I could probably keep going, at least for a few more levels, but I didn’t want to. The game was boring and the graphics were crude; I could have downloaded a more exciting game on my smartphone for free. Besides, a quarter for this game seemed kinda expensive in a time when a gallon of gas cost a little bit more than a dollar.
Also, the whole mall was starting to get to me. The initial trip down memory lane was kinda cool, but the novelty had worn off. Now I remembered why I had stop hanging around at the mall shortly after I had gotten my learner’s permit. Hell, I had pretty much avoided going to any mall anywhere for most of my adult life.
I stepped back and let Mario get run over by a barrel.
“Hey, what’s wrong?” asked Lee from over my shoulder. He and Paul were standing behind me, watching. “You were doing good!”
“Ah, this game sucks,” I said. “They all do. These graphics are lame as hell.” I rubbed my eyes. My head began to pound. The noise and the lights of the arcade were really getting to me.
“Whaddaya mean?” demanded Paul. “This is cutting-edge shit, man. You seen anything better? Hell, no!”
The vise around my skull tightened. I didn’t really feel like having this discussion. “Shit, this is nothing,” I muttered, and began walking towards the fountain.
Paul and Lee followed behind. “What the hell’s been wrong with you?” Paul demanded.
“Yeah,” said Lee. “You’ve been acting really strange, man. What’s going on?”
“I’ll tell you what’s going on,” said Paul. “He’s lost his fuckin’ mind. Didja get hold of some bad acid?”
This was so similar to Davy’s accusations that I was on “the pot” that I burst out laughing. Besides, Paul wouldn’t know bad acid from battery acid. I had a momentary vision of Paul in a tie-dye, having a bum trip in a Grateful Dead show parking lot, and started laughing harder.
“Jesus!” said Lee. “He’s hysterical!”
“Yeah, he’s high-sided, all right,” agreed Paul. “Better get the men in the white coats with the butterfly nets.”
The tone of this comment was so condescending that I snapped. Over the last day, I had been through bullshit that no one had ever had to contend with. I spent most of that time on the edge of panic. I had hoped that my friends would help me deal with this weirdness, but instead they were making it worse.
“Yeah, thanks for nothing, assholes!” I shouted. “You think I’m crazy? Well, try this on for crazy: I’m from the fuckin’ future, can you dig it? I lived my whole fuckin’ life up to fifty years old, then I want to bed and woke up back here in fuckin’ Weaverville in nineteen eighty-fuckin’-two. With you two assholes for company! Thanks for helpin’ me out! ‘Preciate it!”
“C’mon, Lee,” said Paul darkly. “I know when we’re not wanted. Let’s get out of here before some of his craziness rub off on us!”
They stalked away. A pack of headbangers hanging out by the fountain guffawed at the outburst and went back to bumming smokes off of each other. Further down the concourse, I could see the man with the plaid porkpie hat. It was definitely the same guy I had seen in the cemetery: a short, middle-aged Asian man with a round face. He looked me straight in the eye, smiled, and again disappeared into the crowd.
What the fuck was up with this guy? Seeing him again knotted up my stomach, as though something bad was about to happen. For some reason, my mind went back to the Steely Dan album I had been checking out earlier. I debated whether or not to go after him, but decided I didn’t have the energy.
Steering clear of the headbangers, I plopped down dejectedly by the fountain. A voice to my right said, “Is what you said really true? About being from the future?”
I whipped my head around to see a girl sitting not far away. She was wearing a West German army surplus jacket, a black watch cap and glasses with thick black frames. Her name was Missy McSween, and she was my age, but a year behind me in school.
“Shit,” I said. “I don’t even know anymore.”
“It’s possible,” she said airily, as if she were considering the likelihood of picking up a frozen yogurt on her way to the Gap. “’There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.’”
“Yeah, it’s Shakespeare,” she said. She curled her lip slightly, as if to say what else would you expect from a mall rat?
Actually, I knew the quote; I just never expected to hear Hamlet quoted in the Kerian Plaza Mall. And especially not by a member of the McSween clan.
The McSweens lived in a cluster of mobile homes and RVs in a park over by the tire factory. Even back in eighth grade, I knew that families like the McSweens were at the bottom of the social totem pole. In retrospect, my family’s circumstances didn’t put us too much higher than the McSweens. However, I had been taught that anyone who lived within sniffing distance of the tire plant were definitely Low Class.
As a result of this, I had never known Missy McSween back Before, nor had I known any of her siblings. Her two sisters had both gotten knocked up and left school before they were past 9th grade. I was pretty sure that she had at least one older brother who was in jail. All of the rest had evaporated from public school shortly after their sixteenth birthdays.
“You didn’t answer my question,” she said.
“About being from the future.”
I sighed. I didn’t want to unburden myself to Missy McSween, but on the other hand, why not? It was evident now that my family and my best friends were going to provide very limited emotional support. Why not tell her? Even if she blabbed it, everyone would probably think that she’d been into her Da’s pot whiskey.
With this generous realization, I went ahead and told her the whole story, from going to bed in Seattle in 2019 and waking up back in Weaverville in 1982. About dealing with school and dealing with home and then coming to the mall and dealing with my dumb-ass friends.
“Wow,” said Missy. “That’s wild. So, like, who’s president in your time?”
“Ugh. You don’t wanna know. He’s rich, dumb and mean. Bigly.”
“His name’s Bigly? Sounds like a real jerk.” She wrinkled her nose. It had a spray of freckles across it. “Has there been a woman president yet?” she asked.
“No, but the last guy was a black guy. He was pretty good, too.”
“That’s so wild! I can’t wait to see the look on my Da’s face when that happens! He’ll flip!”
“Wait,” I said. “You believe me? Why would you believe me?”
“Well, I don’t know that I do believe you,” she said. “But I’m sure that you believe what you’re saying. Besides, compared to some of the stories my Gran tells, that’s pretty tame. She’s from the Old Country, and knows about a lot of weird stuff.”
“What kind of stuff?”
“Oh, faeries and pixies and little people.”
“Oh, like leprechauns and crap,” I said.
She frowned. “Yeah, but it’s not like that Lucky Charms cartoon character stuff. Folks are scared of Little People back there. They have some really gnarly powers – they can bend space and time. You don’t want to piss them off in any way because they can really fuck with you bad.”
The visual image of the Lucky Charms leprechaun getting all badass popped to mind. I laughed again. Missy frowned, and I held my hand up. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m not laughing at you – especially not after the crazy-ass story I just laid on you. I’m just, I dunno, a little giddy about finally finding someone who doesn’t think I’ve gone completely apeshit.”
“It’s cool,” she said. She reached into her oversized surplus jacket and brought out a Timex with a cracked face. “I gotta go,” she said, and stood up. “My brother’s picking me up, and he’ll leave me if I’m late.”
A momentary panic tightened around my throat. I didn’t want her to go. I didn’t realize how much I missed having someone to talk to, someone who might be able to provide some insight about just what the hell had happened to me. “Wait!” I said. “When can I talk to you again?”
She giggled and cut her eyes to the floor. “Well, I’ll be going to the Skate-o-Bowl tonight.”
“I could meet you there,” I suggested. I really wanted to talk some more.
She giggled again and blushed. “OK. It’s a date. Look, I gotta go now, my brother…”
She turned and made a dash for the mall entrance. I sat and scratched my head. I had celebrated my fiftieth birthday scarcely a week ago, and I had just made a date with a thirteen-year-old. I felt a little gross. I decided to go home, maybe take a shower.
I kept an eye out for Paul and Lee on my way to the bus stop, but they were gone. I couldn’t find my transfer, so I had to spend another thirty-five cents on bus fare. It started raining almost as soon as I got off and stopped as soon as I got home. It was just another wonderful afternoon in 1982 Weaverville.
When I got home, the house was empty. This was a huge relief – I just wanted to chill out after my mall adventure. I went up to my bedroom and flopped down on the bed, and listened to my heart pound. Eventually, it slowed down, and I started to doze off.
Eventually, I heard the door open and close, and Mom and David came chattering into the house. “Scott,” my mom called. “Are you here?”
“We got Baskin-Robbins!” David called out. “Better come get yours before it melts!”
That sounded good to me. I hadn’t eaten since the morning, and my stomach was growling. Given our family’s financial situation, a trip to Baskin-Robbins was a major event. I got up and clattered down the stairs to collect a cup of half-melted rum raisin.
“Thanks, Mom!” I said.
“How was your trip to the mall?” she asked.
“I dunno. It was okay, I guess. I didn’t hang out there too long. Paul and Lee were being jerks.”
“I’m sure you boys will work it out,” she said, and polished off the last of her ice cream cone.
“Hey, can I get a ride to the Skate-o-Bowl tonight?” I asked.
“Watchoo wanna go roller skating for?” asked David around a mouthful of mint chocolate chip. “I thought you hated it.”
“Um, I’m meeting somebody.”
“Wait, I thought you boys were on the outs,” Mom said.
“It’s not Lee and Paul. It’s a girl.”
Mom’s eyes widened. David began dancing around, singing, “Scottie’s got a girlfriend, Scottie’s got a girlfriend!”
I turned to him and snarled, “I’m gonna give you a kick in a place that will guarantee that you’ll never have a girlfriend!”
“Scott Carson Gray!” exclaimed Mom. “I can’t believe you’d say such a thing to your brother!”
“Hey, he started it,” I pointed out. “So, can you give me a ride or not?”
“I guess that depends on whether or not you remember the magic word.”
“Sure,” she said. “I’d be glad to give you a ride to your date.”
“It’s not a date,” I said. I still felt creepy about the age thing.
“Okay, it’s not a date,” she agreed. “What’s her name?”
“Missy,” I said reluctantly.
“Does she have a last name?”
Her faced darkened. “Not one of those McSweens?” she said. “The ones that live in the trailers? The ones with all the boys in jail? I don’t like the idea of you dating one of those people.”
“It’s not a date,” I repeated. “Besides, Missy’s cool. Haven’t you always said that a person should be judged by their character, and not other stuff like skin color or religion and stuff. Right?”
“Don’t tell me what I said!” she snapped. “I don’t like the idea of you associating with trashy Irish hoodlums. She just wants to get her hands on your personal area. Next thing you know, she’s pregnant, and you’re standing at the altar with a shotgun in your back!”
“My ‘personal area’?” I had to suppress a laugh. “What’s that?”
“You know what I’m talking about,” she said tersely. “Don’t play dumb with me.”
I was getting sick of this, but knew that there was no way I could win this argument with mere reason. I knew my Mom and I knew when I was in a no-win situation. I decided that deceit was the best approach. “Fine,” I said. “If it’s that big of a deal to you, then forget it. It’s not a big deal to me. I told you it wasn’t a date.”
“Then what was it?” she demanded.
“It was nothing, obviously. I’m going to my room.”
“You’ll thank me later!” she said behind me.
I flopped down on my bed, pissed. Why did Mom have to be such a bitch about this? I knew that she’d never been fond of Irish or Italians, but this level of hostility was a surprise. It must have been her uptight Polish parents.
Fortunately, I’d been able to sneak out of the house since I was about eight. Right beside my bedroom window was a firmly-anchored downspout. It was an easy matter to use it to climb down the outside wall. Problem was, I was pretty sure I didn’t have the upper-body strength to climb back up. Well, screw it – I would try to sneak back in the front door. If I got caught, I got caught. This wasn’t Romeo and Juliet; I just wanted to talk to someone.