Oh, This Thing Works.

From “Time Looter” by Michael Bunker and Forbes West, published in 2017.

CASEY ATLAS was an amateur magician. Technically. He’d only learned some principles of magic so he could pick pockets. Sleight of hand was his superpower. The rest of it he didn’t care about. Basically he was good at picking pockets. It was one of the few things he’d ever bothered to do well. Casey was also tall, good looking, ignorant, immature, spoiled, lazy, occasionally vicious, mind-blowingly shallow and one of the first people ever to go back in time on August 29th, 2016 at 12:08 A.M.

But that feat was still future.

For now Casey loitered on the street corner next to the McDonalds in Seal Beach at around 11:45 at night, waiting for a white van to pick him up and take him to his boat. The Uptown Girl was a present given to him by his late father as a means of buying the son’s silence in a sensitive business matter. That was the kind of relationship Casey had with his father. Not exactly a Father/Son picnic three-legged-race kind of thing. But the old man was dead now and Casey couldn’t care less.

Standing on that corner in Seal Beach, Casey stared at his new iPhone, surfing Tinder for girls to hook up with. Local girls preferably. No success again, but, like the iPhone in his hand, he could always buy another girl if he needed one bad enough. No need to go the free route if you don’t need to.

Casey was waiting for Dooley and Max, the geekiest geeks to ever geek in the history of geekdom. They weren’t friends of his but they’d asked him when he was sitting at the Forty Niner restaurant if they could use his boat. He’d said no. Of course.

They asked him again the next day during a break in their advanced Physics class at Cal State Long Beach where they were all students. They asked him again at lunch at Subway while he was chewing on a BLT covered in Sriracha hot sauce and alternately sipping a giant Coca Cola half mixed with Sprite and a Strawberry shake. And again, he said no, of course.

He said no because Dooley and Max were geeks and what the hell use could they have with a boat. He also said no because they were geeks and he didn’t like them.

He said no, initially, brusquely, screaming at them like he was their drill sergeant, commanding them to leave his presence. But they kept asking. Then they promised to pay him a thousand dollars and he said yes, of course.

Casey smiled. The money would be good for Vegas and strippers, and based on that alone it would be silly to deny them. After all they were geeks and they needed help from a guy like him. It would be silly to turn them down. Just silly, really.

When he heard their lucrative financial offer, Casey grabbed Max Knell, the tall one with the black hair and thick glasses who seemed to him to be the product of a scarecrow mating with a ghost, by the throat.

“One thousand dollars?” he said. He had Max by the throat with one hand and with the other he sipped his milk shake. He glared at Max but after a second or two his attention was distracted by a pair of girls in volleyball uniforms walking by. Max wiggled free from his grasp.

“Yes sir. One thousand dollars. Please. Really… please. We’ll pick you up and everything. We just need to use your boat for maybe a couple of hours.”

“Interesting,” Casey said.

“You do know how to sail a boat?” Max Knell asked and Casey Atlas shrugged.

“Would I own a boat I couldn’t operate, Urkel?”

“I guess not,” Max said.

Casey grinned. “In cash, bro. I don’t think I have the patience otherwise. And yes. I guess. Ok, you can use my boat. But bring beer. And Doritos. And salsa. That’s non-negotiable.”

Dooley Young, the smaller one who was stocky and hairy and looked like a young loan shark from Queens except for the way he talked, spoke up.

“Oh yeah. Definitely. I have a thousand, no problem. All cash. All for you. We just need to use your boat for one night. Tonight. It’s for science.”

Casey shrugged again and switched to his mixed soda, sipping that noisily.

Max smiled but rubbed his throat.

“Alright then. You are dismissed. You may go. And you may see me on a street corner at night. Where the McDonalds and the Taco Bell are off of Pacific Coast Highway. I’ll be there at 11:45. Promptly. If you are one minute late I’ll come over to your house and get that cash from you for my trouble and still not do a damn thing you want.” Casey waved a hand dismissively at them like he’d seen a Roman emperor do in a movie. His soda was drained so he sucked on his milk shake as they stared, bleary eyed at him.

“I said you may go now,” Casey said. The two geeks retreated from the scene, glancing at each other and then back at Casey.

Casey sighed. He thought about how he’d have to stay up that night just to accompany them. It’d be boring standing around waiting for these two nerdy losers outside the fast food restaurants in Seal Beach to do some experiment nobody would ever care about. Still, it was a thousand bucks and he imagined the fun he’d have once he got to Vegas with the money.

The van pulled up outside the McDonalds and Dooley Young, from the passenger side seat, gave him a brown paper bag. Nacho Cheese Doritos, four tall boys of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, and salsa. “That’s minimally acceptable,” Casey said, climbing into the back seat of the van.

“What’s this experiment about?” Casey asked, immediately popping one of the tall boys and drinking from it.

“You can’t drink from an open container in a vehicle while I’m driving,” Max Knell said.

“Then don’t get pulled over, jerky. Don’t be such a wuss. It’s not even five minutes. The McDonalds to the Marina is five minutes, you goober.” Casey drank the entire tall boy and then tossed it against the side wall of the van where it bounced off with a loud clang and almost hit him in the head. It rolled on the floor of the van like a dead soldier bounced around by an earthquake. He popped another one and suds and foam came out of the top. He blew the foam and smiled before taking a long swig. Dooley looked to Max with apprehension.

“Perhaps this was a mistake. We should have waited,” Dooley said under his breath so only Max could hear him.

Max shook his head. “We don’t have a deep bench for this, Dooley, and we have to act now.”

Casey interrupted by yelling toward the front of the van. “Yeah. In the future no PBR you dorks. Pabst Blue Ribbon is for hipsters in San Francisco who think it’s funny because poor people drink it. Dumbasses. Next time get me a classy beer like Busch or something.” Casey started to chug the next beer in the bag. “When you turn into the marina, it’s the seventh slip. Uptown Girl is there.”

Max turned into the Marina just as Sammy Hagar’s I Can’t Drive 55 started to play through the radio. Casey shouted “woohoo!” and started to slam the roof of the van in time with the music just as they parked.

“Alright! That’s music! I want to listen to that. Keep it on, bitch! That’s my jam!”

Dooley and Max stepped out of the van, leaving Casey to thump the ceiling and scream the lyrics with Sammy Hagar. Their eyes met as the van rocked back and forth and Casey’s bellowing could be heard over the music. There was a coordinated sigh from the two geek friends as they watched under the warm night sky. Seagulls cried overhead, as if to protest what was going on below. Dooley and Max watched and waited as Casey enjoyed his lonely moment of drinking inside the van.

Dooley shook his head. “What are we doing? Our project is momentous. It could be the biggest thing since electricity. This could change the course of history! And this guy’s a vicious imbecile. And this is who we bring in on it? He shows up drunk to class and asks if Forrest Gump was real? In a physics class! He’s in a physics class, for Buddha’s sake. A PhD. course, and he doesn’t know if Forrest Gump is a documentary or not?”

Max shrugged. “Like I said, we don’t have a deep bench. You know anyone else with a boat? Somebody who — ”

Just then, through the window of the van they saw Casey push forward and shut off the engine. He stepped out of the van, bag in hand, and tossed the keys to Max Knell.

“Sammy Hagar, bitches. Legend among legends. He didn’t screw around with the likes of you two clowns. He just said it like it is. Said ‘I can’t drive 55’ and you know what? The whole world took notice. That song changed the world. Now you can drive like 65 or 70 in some places. Maybe 120 in Montana but who gives a shit, you know? But it’s all because of Sammy. And what do we have now? Beiber? That Kelly Perry? Forget it, bro. We lost good music once Springsteen outed himself as gay,” Casey said.

“I don’t think — ”

“Shut up with your thinking, nerd,” Casey said as he began to strut toward the main walk that led through the Long Beach Marina. “No one is paying you to think. I’m the thinker until we get on that boat, you dig?”

Dooley and Max stared at each other, then Max shrugged and they followed Casey down the ramp toward the marina slips, past the yachts, sailboats, pleasure craft, and little fishing vessels that bobbed up and down in the waters of the bay.

“Thanks for letting us use your boat, Casey,” Max said. “It’s vital to our experiment.”

Casey stopped, turning to the two geeks. “Where’s your shit?” he said. “You have no shit with you and we’re about to get on my boat. What’s the deal here? What gives? Wait. You planning to steal my boat? You guys a couple of wackos?” He belched, then sipped his Pabst.

“We have it. Actually. Our materials,” Max said, speaking softly, barely discernible over the breeze blowing over the waters of the marina. Saltiness tinged with the scents of seaweed and fish and the timelessness of the bay filled the air. Max pointed to his strange and bulky looking iWatch. “It’s all in here.”

Casey grabbed his wrist and looked at it. “I’ve seen it. It’s an iWatch. Sort of odd looking one. That’s it? That’s the experiment? You need a boat to test a stupid watch? What?”

“What, what?” Dooley said, as Max looked uncomfortable.

“What is it? What do you do? What’s the experiment? What’s the deal? Lasers? Weight loss? Low-Carb mind control?”

Max removed Casey’s hand from his wrist gently. “It’s, well, there’s no way to say it. Not here. Get us to your boat.”

Casey sipped his beer and stared. A moment passed. Then another. Casey belched. “Boat that way. Got more beer, too, but I’m telling you now I want to do a Taco Bell run after this.” He belched again, long nd hard, sending a gust of beer-smelling breath towards Dooley and Max who winced.

Casey led the way down the platform to his boat, the Uptown Girl. He stepped on board and opened the glass doors. Dooley and Max stood dockside while Casey managed to get the power on inside the boat. After some grunts and curse words the lights came on and Casey said, lifting his beer as if making a toast, “Welcome aboard the Fucktown Girl. Know what I mean? Ah, probably not, you guys are just jokes.”

Casey popped another beer and held it in one hand while he steered the boat out into open water. The running lights were the only illumination on the mostly moonless night and Max and Dooley found the almost total darkness and quiet to be eerie. Spooky even.

They were far out now and the lights of Long Beach were a series of yellow and white dots and streaks just along the horizon. The sliver of moon was low over the bay and did little in the way of providing light. Casey slowed the boat, cruising it to a stop, and then he reached toward the cabin and turned on some lights before dimming them so they didn’t shine too brightly.

“Too much light and the Coast Guard comes sniffing around like they own the place,” Casey shouted from the bridge.

Dooley and Max looked at their iWatches and made adjustments by typing into their displays. Casey, now four or five beers deep, climbed down from the flying bridge of the Uptown Girl.

“Okay. So the thousand bucks, chumps. I’m out here. We’re out here. Quid Pro Whatever. Mano-a-mano. What’s the deal, my friends?” Casey turned up the beer, killing the can, then crushed the dead soldier and threw it overboard.

Dooley took a breath but Max interrupted him before he could lecture Casey about littering.

“Mr. Atlas, I have a question for you, and believe me, it leads to the point about the thousand bucks,” Max said.

“A question? What I got to do with questions? You said bring you out here. You’re here. Only question I got is where is my dough? Don’t make me throw you overboard.”

“Just one question first,” Max said, pushing his glasses back onto his head. “And the question is this. If you could go anywhere in time. Any TIME in time, where would you go?”

Casey stared. “You shittin’ me? We playin’ Jeopardy out here on the high fuckin’ seas? You asking me nonsense questions rather than digging out my scratch?”

“Actually,” Dooley said, “in Jeopardy you provide the question to an answer given to you by Alex Trebek.”

“Jiminy Christmas,” Casey said. “Look what I have here. Two simples with retard written on their foreheads. So here’s the answer, you two dipshits. Who am I gonna throw off this boat and laugh at while they sink?”

Dooley winced. “Well, that’s really a question not an answer. You see, in Jeopardy — ”

“What is it with this guy?” Casey said to Max while pointing at Dooley.

“He gets easily sidetracked,” Max said.

“Well you better get him back… center… back on the… center tracked… shit, you better get him back on the point which is where is my fuckin’ money?”

“It’s just a simple question, Mr. Atlas,” Max said. “And I think you’ll find it directly on point. So just tell me… if you could go anywhere in time, where would you go?”

“Shit,” Casey said. “So I have to play your game. Ok. Sure, uh, hmmm, wow, conundrums, huh, well, I’d like to save Reagan from being shot. By Hinckley.”

Dooley looked impressed. “Um, wow. That’s good, I guess. People got hurt. Badly. Okay, and why?”

Casey stared out at the dark black sea around them and sipped his beer. “That’s two questions, dipshit, but I’ll play. Well, Jodie Foster was a real piece of ass then and I don’t think she was like, gay at that point yet, and if I said, hey, I’m from the future, and then I curb stomp Hinckley, I think she’d be like, you know, more impressed with me for my deed. Because apparently she was into guys doing great deeds, like saving Presidents, and shooting Presidents and whatnot, you know, that sort of thing.”

Dooley blinked hard and shook his head. “Wow. That is a stunningly ignorant — ”

Max cut Dooley off again. “Well, let’s say we could make that happen?”

“You mean that I could bang Jodie Foster?”Casey grabbed a beer from the cooler on the deck. As Max and Dooley stared in amazement, Casey pulled out his pocket knife, poked a hole in the bottom of the can then popped the top so the whole beer shotgunned down his throat in seconds. He smiled, burped, then tossed the can over the side.

“Would you stop — ”

“Maybe,” Max said, nodding solemnly. “Or just, you know, go back in time. That part. We have the means. Maybe. No promises about the Jodi Foster thing.”

Casey stared at the two geeks. “Oh. Oh okay, sure. Yeah. Go back in time. Sure thing that. You know, I knew you guys were smart. Even if you’re both dumb dipshits. And this sounds like genius talk. Wowza. And how? How we gonna get to Jodi? Where’s the DeLorean, Marty? You know I have a DeLorean? Shouldn’t you have asked to borrow the DeLorean instead of the boat?”

Dooley shifted his sneakered feet.

“That’s pretend, you see? That’s a pretend show, with the DeLorean. Last Thursday, in a very controlled experiment, we put Max’s cat on an inner tube in a wading pool. With a wristwatch on it, and also this iWatch.” Dooley pointed to the iWatch on his freckled wrist.

“You put a cat on an inner tube? And made them — made this cat wear two watches?” Casey whispered. He looked angry. “Cats hate that. They don’t like to wear watches. They very specifically do not like to wear watches, you know? And they ain’t water beings. They come from the Sahara. Google it. But watches? That’s just uncomfortable for a cat. They got no concept of time at all. They’re free beings, man. Free dryland beings. Worthy of our respect and honor.”

Max spoke up next. “My cat Mr. Meow — ”

“Mr. Meow?” Casey said with a smirk. “Okay. I don’t like this cat torture story, but continue… Mr. Meow went on a raft with that iWatch.”

“And we sent him forward in time three full minutes. We checked his watch. One minute passed from the time he disappeared in the inner tube to when he reappeared five minutes later.”

Casey stared at Dooley and Max, saying nothing. Dooley and Max looked pleased with themselves — they had finally shared the secret they’d been holding in for the last few days. The boat bobbed up and down in the low waves.

“That’s really something,” Casey said. He scratched his chin as if he were trying to do the math.

“Right? Isn’t it?” Dooley and Max said.

Casey frowned. “That’s messed up is what it is. Mr. Meow had no say in that. And you call yourselves liberals? There’s a thing called consent you know. Cats don’t like water. They don’t like watches, and they don’t like being sent on time trips without their consent.”

Max and Dooley looked at each other and then back at Casey.

Casey shook his head. “Ok, before this pisses me off even more… so you have a time machine. That’s really the point. You had me at that without that other shit. A time machine.”

“Yes. A very precise one,” Max said. “We tried the experiment again with Mr. Meow-”

Casey sat down on one of the deck chairs near the stern with a huff. He took out a pack of American Spirits, popped out a stick, and lit the cigarette with his gold lighter. “Yes, let’s hear your tale of putting your pet through needless trauma. Jesus, I mean, that’s low, think of that poor cat, fiddling through time and you two jerkoffs just happy he didn’t explode, or-”

“We figured out some things from our experiments. And Mr. Meow is fine, by the way. He’s just fine. Licked himself all over like nothing happened. But we figured out that the time travel works better if the subject or subjects are floating on water. We also figured out that to go into the past… at least significantly into the past, the subject needs something from that time period. The machine doesn’t really work properly otherwise. As far as we know.” Dooley reached into his pants pocket as he spoke and pulled out a small pink paper ticket stub and handed it to Casey. Casey, puffing smoke, looked it over.

Return of the Jedi. 8:00pm. Friday. Bay Theater,” Casey said.“So you have a time machine. You needed my boat for some reason — ”

“Water is the conductor,” Dooley said.

Max smiled. “And if we have an item from the past… well, that ticket is for the Bay Theater for the premiere of Return of the Jedi, 1983. If the machine is on a floating platform, and we have some item that is connected to that point in time, well — ”

Max spoke up. “You’re gonna see some serious shit.”

Casey shrugged. “Return of the Jedi? The premiere of a so-so movie, at a theater that’s not really the main premiere site, the red carpet site, and that’s your first time travel experiment?”

Casey walked into the cabin of the Uptown Girl.

Max looked to Dooley and whispered, “We can just turn it on ourselves at this point. We don’t need some jock idiot weirdo — ”

Before Max could finish, Casey returned with a framed picture in his hand. It was small version of a movie poster with Jodie Foster’s face on it. Her signature was on the picture as well.“This is a signed picture of Jodie Foster’s movie, O’Hara’s Wife. January, 1984 it came out. You can see she signed it 1.2.1984. She made it out to my Mom, god or whoever rest her bitch soul. I want to go to then. To 1984. You asked me when I want to go and that’s when I want to go. Jodi was at her peak in ’84 and not gay yet and I can probably console her into sleeping with me.”

Dooley and Max shuffled their feet a little. They looked at one another then back at Casey. Max spoke up first. “Listen, sir, when this is over, you see, we’ll have to write a thesis paper so we can get credit for the invention and so that it can be scientifically analyzed. It’s gonna be the biggest thing ever. And scientists are geeks, man. And… well… we think, you know, that it might be better if we said that we went back to the premier of Return of the Jedi. It just sounds better than ‘we went back to let our friend try to seduce Jodi Foster.’”

Dooley cut in. “Oh yeah. I mean, this is history making, Mr. Atlas. Return of the Jedi sounds like — ”

Casey started to bray with laughter, honking like a donkey. “I’m just messing with you guys. Me going back and trying to sleep with Jodie Foster…She has a whole lifestyle that — Jeez-Louise you know, I respect, and she came out of the closet and she don’t want no man. Shit. You nerds. You fall for anything. Yeah, let’s flip the switch on this son of a bitch and let’s see some Star Trek.”

Dooley and Max stared at him.

Casey was still laughing. “You thought I wanted Return of the Jodi! That’s some serious lol right there. Like you thought I was going to turn her un-gay.” He laughed so hard he almost fell over.

The sound of foghorns in the distance scored the soundtrack to their lives at that particular moment.

Casey looked back at the nerds. “What? Star Trek, right?”

Dooley and Max just stared.

Star Wars. Right. Star Wars. The one with the little Chewbaccas, right?”

Dooley and Max glowered at him and shook their heads.

“Shit, I’m just messing with you guys. Lighten up. I’ve trolled you like five times in the last half hour.”

Max gritted his teeth and took a deep breath. “Ok, so here’s the deal. We take you with us and we don’t owe you the thousand bucks.”

“What? Wait a minute!” Casey said.

“That’s the deal. We said we’d pay you a grand for driving us out here, and we will. That was the deal. Dooley has the money and he’ll be glad to pay you. But if you want to go with us to 1983, you are part of the experiment and, you know, ethics say we shouldn’t pay you.”

“Ethics, huh?”

“Yeah,” Max said.

There was dead silence for a ten count. Max and Dooley looked nervous as they waited.

“Ok, screw the grand. Let’s do this. But I’m telling you, if it fails and we don’t time travel or we end up in some dungeon in the 1200s in France or something, I want my money.”

“Deal,” Max said as he began working on his watch. He removed it and then pulled a weird looking glove contraption from underneath his shirt. Dooley pulled one out too and, removing his watch, began to fit the watch into the glove.

“What the hell is that?” Casey said.

“Power Glove. Nintendo, circa 1989. We didn’t want to show you this part until you were on board.”

“I love the Power Glove,” Dooley said. “It’s so bad.”

Max nodded. “Everything else is child’s play.”

“That’s some nerdy shit, right there,” Casey said. “You guys are freaks.”

“If by ‘nerdy’ you mean ‘cool,’ then yeah,” Max said. “But it has a purpose. We couldn’t pack enough power into just the watch without making it unwieldy, so… Voila, the Power… Time… Glove. Power Glove Time. Time Power Glove.”

“The Time Power Glove,” Dooley said, nodding.

Dooley and Max slipped on their gloves and nodded to one another.

“Oh shit,” Casey said. “I don’t know if I believe you clowns or not, but this is exciting. This is better than a movie with Shayla Demetrio. Seriously. And she’ll touch your junk during the film.”

“We’re in position here. It all looks good. Now, I’m setting the field to grab everything around us,” Max said.

Dooley nodded.

“So nothing bad happened to Mr. Meow, right?” Casey said. “I mean no strange lumps or vampirism or lust for dick or anything? He didn’t come back as Mrs. Meow, right?”

Dooley took out his cellphone with his ungloved hand and with a slide of his thumb opened up the voice recorder utility.

“Audio notes,” Dooley said. “It’s August 29th, 2016 at — wait, sorry. August 29th, 2016, 12:08 A.M. This is Dooley Young, physics student at California State Long Beach, and — ”He stopped, staring at Casey who was drinking yet another cold beer he’d fished out of the depths of the cooler.

“You believe us?” Dooley said. “Because you’re not acting like you believe us.”

Casey turned his head, furrowing his brows. “Yes. Oh, yes. I mean, come on, you guys are smart. I mean, with your smart watches and super time gloves and whatnot.”

“Power Gloves,” Dooley said.

“Time Power Gloves,” Max said.

“Right,” Casey said. “And I think you guys are on the ball here. This looks sciency as hell right now. I mean, I think you guys are nerds and perma-virgins, but come on, if it was anyone else saying we have a time machine and we just tested it on our cat and it worked and now we want to do it on ourselves via our shitty Power Gloves, of course I’d be skeptical. But it doesn’t really matter what I think. I’m an explorer. I’m intrepid. I’m like that lady teacher who went on the Space Shuttle. Like my favorite comedian says, Columbus took a chance, so screw it. Right? Besides, what could go wrong? It don’t work… I got a fresh thousand bucks, beer, and we got Doritos in the bag over there, and you guys promised Taco Bell. I got a story I’ll never tire of telling. I mean, it’s all win-win for Casey Atlas here. So come on. Let’s go time travel the shit out of this.”

Dooley and Max shrugged.

“And I am with Max Knell and Casey Atlas,” Dooley said into his phone, “also fellow students of the program. As stated earlier, we have successfully managed to use time travel with a designated feline volunteer, one Mister Meow. Now we will attempt to use time travel for ourselves, and to go back to the year 1983. So, without further — ”

“Let’s get this party started!” Casey howled.

Max walked up to him and took him by the wrist with his Power Gloved hand. “Hold on tight. Lock your hand on my wrist. Our calculations make it that by contact with the carrier or carriers of the device, we can carry you through time. We need you to hold onto the rail there, too — ”

“It’s a fiberglass boat,” Casey said.

“Doesn’t matter. Mr. Meow was on a rubber floaty. It’ll work. This is science. You just hold on for the ride.”

Dooley typed something into his iWatch fitted snuggly in the Power Glove. Green laser lights began to scan the ticket stub he held in the other hand for a moment, then faded. He pointed to a metal railing that ran up the side of the boat, up into the flying bridge.

“The boat should go with us. Max will hold my hand as well. I’ll initiate the sequence on our phones. The sequence is a post-positronic YK neutrino-flux created by a small fission reaction when you take a series of graphene tubing — ”

Casey mock snored and grabbed the railing. “Let’s go see Return of the Jedi and then get tacos after, bitch!”

Despite the sarcasm and goofing around, Max felt Casey’s wrist slick with sweat. He was nervous, too. But by that point they were all sweating and a bit scared. Dooley initiated the sequence on his phone and a voice counting down from five could be heard over the wind and the creaking of the Uptown Girl

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Forbes West

Forbes West

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Forbes West is a published writer/producer and is the co-host of Free The Bear! Podcast.