Freddie’s Mum didn’t believe him when he tried to tell her what he had found.
“Freddie, you can’t have found a portal,” she said, indignantly.
“But Mum, I really have! And it goes to the future! Well…one possible future, anyway…going forwards in time is a pretty tricky business.”
“And where exactly is the opening of this portal supposed to be?” she asked.
“It’s in our washing machine,” he replied, smiling. “But only when it’s on the spin cycle.”
Shirley gazed down at her wonderful little boy.
He’d always had a special interest in things of a scientific nature. He’d worn black for an entire week after Stephen Hawking died, and constantly said, “The planet has lost the greatest theoretical physicist since Einstein.”
He often spoke about quantum mechanics and how he was sure that time travel was possible through something called an Einstein-Rosen bridge.
However, she had to admit this was the first time he had ever suggested he had actually found one. It seemed unlikely to her, especially since it was supposedly inside one of her most humble of kitchen appliances.
“How does it work?” she decided to enquire, not wanting to hurt his feelings.
“I’m not sure yet. I think a micro-wormhole must have formed inside the mechanism and now the spin cycle activates it and makes it grow big enough to let people through.”
She looked at his face and could not help but be swept along by his beaming smile and excited eyes.
“So, you’ve been through it already, have you?” she asked, a little sternly.
“Yes, of course! Otherwise, how would I know where it went? You can’t just look through a wormhole to the other side, you know!”
Shirley couldn’t help herself and chuckled at this latest science lesson from her ten-year-old.
She thought of how proud his dad would’ve been of him. Phil had died fighting in Afghanistan when Freddie was only one, before they had really had a chance to get to know each other. Phil had loved astronomy, astrophysics and aerospace. He had always wanted to be an astronaut himself as a child, but the armed services had called him more strongly.
He would have loved his son’s sense of excitement and adventure. Life without him was hard but at least they had captured a little of his essence together inside their lovely boy.
She wondered to herself, what would Phil have done right now?
She instantly knew the answer.
“Right then,” she said, “we best get some provisions together, if you’re going to take me with you on the next time trip.”
Freddie almost exploded with excitement and rushed to his mum, who enveloped him lovingly in her arms.
Mother and son stood ready with their backpacks, facing the washing machine.
“The spin cycle is it?” Shirley asked Freddie, with a glint in her eye.
“Yes, I think any of the spin cycles should do it — except maybe the wool one, as that’s a bit too short and doesn’t get up to full speed. I think we need it to get up to the full two thousand RPM, to ensure that the wormhole gets enough energy to fully open.”
“Righto,” she said, smiling, as she set the dial for spin and pressed the on button.
As the two of them stood side-by-side, watching the drum rotating increasingly faster, Shirley thought about Phil again and wished with all her heart that he could be there with them. It was moments like these she missed him the most.
She was just thinking of the last time they had all been together before he left for that last tour, when she realised she could see a light forming deep inside the washing machine.
“What’s that, Freddie?” she asked.
“That’s the wormhole starting to widen, Mum. It won’t be long now, best get ready to jump!”
Astonished, she watched as the dull glimmer grew in size and brightness, until it was as big as the drum. Then it grew some more. And then some more, until it was the size of the whole appliance.
The light being emitted from it was almost blinding now, and the sound from the machine had become quite painful to hear.
“Okay, Mum!” shouted Freddie, “I think this is it! We need to jump now!”
With that, he grabbed her hand and moved towards the churning wormhole.
Shirley’s feet appeared to be stuck to the kitchen tiles, as if she was wearing magnetic boots. She realised she was terrified at this turn of events.
The portal was real! She had thought she was just indulging a fantasy.
“Mum! Now!” urged Freddie.
It took every ounce of her being to do it, but she managed to get her body to move and she jumped into the portal with Freddie.
There was a blinding flash and a searing heat.
Everything seemed to stop for a few seconds.
And then, they were through.
The pair of them collapsed on the floor, in a heap.
After a time, Shirley opened one eye and could see Freddie’s Avengers backpack. She became transfixed by a plume of steam that was rising from it.
Well, it looks like we’re alive, she thought. But where are we?
She sat up to take a look around. She could see they were in another kitchen, by another washing machine.
Did we come through one washing machine into another? she wondered.
There was a calendar visible on the fridge opposite her. She stared at it for a while before realising why she found it so disturbing. The year showing on the calendar was 2025.
They had travelled six years into the future. Freddie had been right.
While she was still ruminating over that discovery, Shirley heard a noise from elsewhere in the house.
“What on earth was that racket?!” a voice shouted. “I think we ought to go and investigate, Rosie — come on!”
Freddie was stirred by this and sat up.
“Mum!” he whispered, urgently, “we can’t be discovered! The ramifications to this timeline could be disastrous!”
Shirley’s experience in time travel was highly limited, she had to admit, but even she knew that it might be a bad thing for them to be found out.
“What do we do?” she whispered, conspiratorially, to her apparent partner in crime.
“Er…leave it to me,” he said, as he stood up and marched bravely out of the kitchen, to confront the owner of the disembodied voice.
Once again, Shirley was left amazed at her son’s bravery and resourcefulness.
“Hello!” she heard him say to their potential captors, “We appear to be lost and had to spend the night in your house — I do hope that’s okay?”
“Well…good morning young man!” was the kind response. “That’s fine by me, of course, but what can you tell me about the commotion I just heard? You might have noticed it — it sounded like a truck drove through the house?”
There was a brief silence before Freddie spoke up again.
“Ah, yes…that,” was his uncertain reply.
Shirley was sure she could hear her son’s mind working to come up with a suitable answer to that question.
“I’m slightly embarrassed to say,” he began, “that I got scared in the night and so I climbed into your washing machine but managed to get myself locked into it in the process. That commotion you heard was a mixture of me freaking out inside the machine and Mum trying to get me out of it, in a bit of a panic.”
Shirley was impressed. So, it seemed, was their unwitting host.
“Ah, I see. Well, no problem then. At least you managed to get out safely before the machine washed and dried you. Did you say your mum was here? Do you think I could say a quick hello?”
“Yes, of course,” she heard Freddie reply and, before she had a chance to even get off the floor, a beautiful chocolate brown Labrador came bounding around the corner and ran straight into her arms for a hug.
What a lovely dog! she thought. Is this Rosie, I wonder?
“Ah, I see she likes you,” the man was saying, “she’s usually quite shy and retiring around new people, she must sense a friendly…” The man froze mid-sentence as he came around the corner himself, into the kitchen.
As Shirley looked up at him, whilst continuing to fuss his dog, she saw he was staring open-mouthed at her.
“Hello?” she said, nervously. “Sorry to have intruded.”
“Shirley?” he said, almost inaudibly.
Now it was her turn to freeze at the sound of her own name.
She rose slowly from her spot on the kitchen floor with the dog and approached the man. The sunlight streaming in the large window over the sink had obscured her view of his face somewhat but now she could see him clearly.
She almost fainted when she realised that she recognised those strong, handsome features.
“Phil?” she said, his name coming out of her mouth in a strangled whisper.
“Oh my god…Shirley…how are you here?”
He came to her and swept her up in his arms. She threw herself around him and gripped him tightly. It felt so good to be held by him again.
After a while, she glanced down at Freddie, who looked utterly perplexed at the scene before him.
“Freddie,” she said, at last, “this is your Dad!”
Phil had tears in his eyes as he released Shirley sufficiently to be able to look at his son.
“Freddie…is that really you? You’ve grown so much!”
“Dad? But…how are you here?” Freddie’s eyes were wide with amazement.
“I live here, Son, same as I always did. It was the two of you who left me here on my own. Well, at least until I got Rosie here.”
“No, no,” replied Shirley, shaking her head, “you left us! We thought you were killed in action on that second tour in Afghanistan!”
“No, not at all! I came back from that tour to the news that the two of you had both died in an horrific car crash!”
After a little while, looking thoroughly confused, the freshly reunited couple turned slowly to look at Freddie.
He was smiling. He knew exactly what had happened.
“It’s the portal!” he said, as he ran to them both. “It’s brought us all back together by creating a wormhole to connect our two time streams! In this time stream, we died. In ours, you died.”
Freddie flung his arms around his parents and buried his face into their bodies.
“Portal? You used a portal to cross from your time stream to mine? Did you say, the washing machine?” asked Phil, still not quite grasping what was going on.
Suddenly, Freddie flung himself away from them. “Dad, you can come back through the portal with us!”
“Sure! Like Mum said, you’re only missing in action in our timeline…remember? In this timeline, we died. In our timeline, you’re only missing. I mean, we buried you, of course, but we didn’t find a body! So…you could just…find us again, couldn’t you?”
There was a pause while Phil considered Freddie’s proposal.
“Well…I think you might be right, son. The Top Brass are going to want a hell of a debrief. I might have to tell a few white lies. But…why not? I have nothing much here really, other than Rosie. I’d rather be with you both than be alone here. I mean, would that be okay with you Shirley? Would it be alright if Rosie came with me?”
“That would be just perfect,” said Shirley, beaming, as she reached for the dog again.
“Yes! Yes! That would be awesome!” said Freddie, unable to contain his excitement.
Without saying anything further, the three of them, with Rosie by their side, turned to face the washing machine, as Freddie set it for the spin cycle.
And then they went back home.