Another recent short story, originally published as ‘Tea Time’ over at Ricochet.com (I almost wish I’d thought to call this ‘Tee-Time’ to begin with (for reasons that will become apparent when you see the sequels), but que sera sera …
Things aren’t made the way they used to be. Take time: time used to have a much nicer quality than it does today. And light: when was the last time you got proper light? And something seemed to have happened to all the spaces, like they’d been … sort of shrunk down and actual space taken out of them … So it really wasn’t his fault when he stopped time.
He was trying to build time machine, okay? Never mind why. He had his reasons. He hadn’t meant to rip a hole in the fabric of causality. He just wanted to go back and make things right. Instead of just having them seem to go more and more wrong. And now there was a gaping lapis-edged void twinkling with stars and infinite blackness facing him from across the workshop, and he couldn’t get to the kettle or the sink. Never travel through time without a cup of tea – he thought he’d read that somewhere. Or else the thought had occurred to him in one of those times in the wee small hours, when the world is all your own. The other thing, of course, was that there was … like a “time ghost” blocking his way.
She was beautiful. Not just ordinarily beautiful, but beautiful in the way that lines of blue light flowed through the air like the most perfect sketch of a person, etched in time. She echoed with life.
‘Don’t even think about it,’ she said, stepping in front of the rip. ‘This rift is not stable. It needs to heal and disappear. Then time will resume, and it will be as if it never happened.’
‘Who are you?’ he asked.
The time-ghost smiled. ‘Not a bad question to ask, in the circumstances. I am a might-have-been, an if-only, a shadow of a memory – a spirit of being.’
He looked at her, disbelieving. ‘But—’
‘Oh, I’m as human as the next man,’ she said, glancing at him as if she was beginning to enjoy herself. ‘And who knows,’ she added with a twinkle, ‘we might even have known each other at some point in time and space, through the byways of being. Somewhere, anyway. You have another question?’
‘Um, would you like a cup of tea?’
The spirit nodded with satisfaction. ‘Ah, another very good question.’
‘It’s just – can you … sort of reach the kettle and the teabags? I can’t without crossing the rift.’
‘I believe I can,’ she said with a smile. ‘We shall have a cup of tea,’ she said moving about among the tea things, ‘since you so graciously offered.’
He was a little unsure if she was making fun of him. She turned towards him amid the tinkling of spoons and cups. ‘And we shall talk of many things. Of life and time, and might-have-beens.’
He didn’t quite know what to say to that.
‘Now, tell me,’ she said floating closer and handing him a gently steaming cup and saucer. ‘Why do you seek to travel the temporal plane? Why do you risk everything?’
There was a long silence.
She looked up from her cup. Then she nodded and reached up a finger to brush away a tear.
He felt the ghostlike touch under his eye and a tingling frisson like a perfect moment.
‘I think I begin to understand,’ she said. She patted his hand. ‘Drink up, before it gets cold. Never underestimate the importance of a good cup of tea to the process of time-travel.’
He looked up sharply.
She had her cup held over her face, but he got the feeling there was an inscrutable smile twitching across her features.
The teacups were on the sideboard. The spirit was looking brighter. She was glancing back at the rift and then at him. She appeared to reach a decision.
‘Here,’ she said, ‘take my hand, and we’ll walk awhile. The repairman probably won’t get round to this rift for a while. And who knows, maybe we’ll even bump into a few people along the way.’
He looked at her. ‘Do I have to come back afterwards?’
She glanced back. ‘We can talk about it. Can I borrow a scarf? The infinite void gets a bit chilly round about now.’
He lent her his scarf. The faded wool seemed to suit the time-spirit. The outlines of light in the air seemed to fill out a bit when she put it on, gaining solidity and colour. ‘Ready?’ she said.
They drew back the way she explained to him, took a leaping dancing step towards the rift, and disappeared in a twinkle like a pair of stars fluttering in the air for a moment.
One happy moment.
You take them where you can get them.