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Friday, January 18, 2013

"Traveling the Dusty Road of Revenge" Short Story_Prompt Challenge

This is from the Jan. 13 prompt, reworked today (Jan. 18):

word count 1780

Let's Write in 2013 

January 13, 2013 Writing Prompt:

"A man is given the ability to go back in time and change one event in his life."

“Travelling the Dusty Road of Revenge”

Walter’s dingy once-white lab coat rucked up around his belt on the left side and bulged gently over his pot belly. A diligent research scientist, he was no great shakes in the manner of personal hygiene. Granted, he had not descended to the level of a homeless person with no access to showers, but Walter seldom noticed if his lab coat had a rip, or needed a good laundering. Most of the time he did not even remember to polish his wingtips, unless he had the scheduled semi-annual Meeting with the Investors. He could accomplish a daily shower, sometimes morning and night, and had managed that level of personal care since high school; and he remembered to shave--every couple of days. Other than that, his standard uniform was dark dress slacks from a suit, shirt and tie, and that dingy, now off-color, lab coat, in a shade no manufacturer of medical clothing would ever acknowledge.

It was nearly midnight, on a Friday, and Walter stood with his Google Pad in left hand, right hand oh-so-subtly adjusting the dial on the computer console before him. Lab procedures-and good common sense-dictated that neither of the researchers work with the time-lotron alone, but tonight, Walter was breaking that rule, and breaking it intentionally. Walter Mondon was traveling back in time.

The forty-three-year-old physicist wasn’t motivated by some selfless intent, some desire to eradicate a historical tragedy. He wasn’t reversing chronology in order to disengage John Wilkes Booth’s trigger finger moments before the assassination in 1865 of President Abraham Lincoln, nor to swerve the conquering hordes of Genghis Khan or Attila the Hun. Not for Walter Mondon the estimable desire to prevent terrorists from flying planes on September 11, 2001; nor to dissuade the “civilizing” wave of conquest by Alexander the Great. He wasn’t even traveling back in time to save President Garfield, nor President Kennedy; not to assassinate Hitler before he could arise to power. No: Walter’s intent was purely selfish, and purely ugly. Walter had revenge on his mind.

Born in 1970, Walter came into this world the classical nerd: gifted, logical, lacking a social skill set, but a technological whiz. Naturally his school years were fraught with isolation, loneliness, and ostracism; only the Chess Club members got along with him, and that’s not to say they enjoyed fraternizing with him. No one else, except his mom, a single parent, could or would associate with him, although a few of the teachers enjoyed him. The shop teacher, for example, called on Walter any time a piece of equipment needed calibration; the physics and chemistry teachers considered him a near genius, if a trifle reckless and even dangerous; the English and history teachers just threw up their hands at his speed-reading ability but still awarded him high marks. Walter was on track for valedictorian candidacy, pulling down straight A grades in every subject but Physical Ed, in which of course, typically, he was a klutz.

In May of his senior year, 1988, Walter received a totally unexpected phone call at home on a Tuesday evening. His mother had returned from her job in the city, but had gone out again to do her weekly grocery run, so Walter was home alone practicing physics experiments in the shed, which he had converted into his own little office. He and his mother lived in a small suburb in Northwestern Ohio; perhaps if Walter had been able to attend a technical high school such as in New York City or Chicago, his life might have had a more positive outcome. Walter heard the phone ringing, but ignored it, as he assumed it was for his mom. After she returned, the phone rang twice more, and the second time, she called out to him.

“Walter! Phone!”

Bewildered (no one had ever called him except for wrong numbers, jokesters from school, and the time the Chess Club faculty advisor had called to arrange bus transportation to an out-of-town regional match) but he was amenable and obedient, and so came into the house to answer it. The voice on the other hand knocked his logical brain out of its ball park.

“Walter? It’s Charleyne—Charleyne from school?”
“Uhh—sure, I know who you are.”
“Walter, I need a favour to ask you.”
“Uhh—sure, okay, if I can I guess.”
“I need an escort for the Senior Prom next weekend.”
Dead and utter silence ensued. Finally, Charleyne spoke again:
“Walter? Are you there?”
“Ummm, yes, here. Okay.”
“Great! Thanks! See you a week from Friday, I’ll drive!” and she hung up.

Once Walter’s brain had re-engaged in its logical mode, he informed his mother, who managed to restrain her excitement, and she suggested she could order a tuxedo for him from Chicago’s Marshall Field’s, through her position as buyer at the city department store, Barker & Sons.

Walter walked through the ensuing ten days in a cloud, unable to believe his sudden good fortune. He was going to the Senior Prom, with a girl who, if not in the upper tier of campus cuties, was still well-known, well-liked, a pretty girl known for her constant smile, good attitude, and generosity to her friends. Charleyne Parker was the kind of girl who always made others smile, simply by her good cheer.

On the night of the Senior Prom, Charleyne arrived in her dad’s BMW only ten minutes later than she had promised, and the drive to the high school gym was conducted in near silence, mostly because Walter, who lacked social skills, had no words to offer as small talk. Additionally, he was still in shock, and still believing that this entire situation was on the up-and-up. Dreams do die hard, even if one never knew before that the dream even existed.

Once at the gym, where the Prom was held, Walter paced around in a state of fog, sipping at a cup of undoctored punch while Charleyne cruised the gym, laughing and joking with her friends, occasionally stealing a sly corner-of-the-eye glance at Walter, whose shocked blur had temporarily eradicated the memory of the little prank he had played several weeks earlier, after the first announcements of Senior Prom had begun to riffle through the school halls. Walter, a mechanical as well as science genius, had rearranged the gym’s sprinkler system, all “in good fun,” and for practice, not really planning to ever use his alteration. The idea had come to him after reading a dog-eared paperback of “Carrie” he had picked up at a neighborhood yard sale. Walter had forgotten what he had done, until tonight.

After his second cup of too-sweet punch, he had left the gym on a restroom break, and when he returned, couldn’t find Charleyne anywhere; but he did notice, even in his exalted mental state, the snickering of her friends and hangers-on. Finally he became aware of the glances toward the fire exit door, propped open for the duration of the dance, and he found his feet impelled to head that way. Nothing seemed out of order when he reached the door, but he stepped outside and heard a girl’s loud laughter, the kind most folks would recognize as a girl under the influence of both alcohol and weed. It sounded familiar, but at first he couldn’t place it, unattuned as he was to society or to the feelings or signals of others. Behind him in the gym, the laughter there intensified, and rather than return, he walked to the side of the gym, and looked around. Over in a dark corner of the lot was a silver ’65 Mustang Cobra, shining in the moonlight; and leaning against it were a tall dark-haired young man in jeans and a black T-shirt whom Walter didn’t recognize, swigging from a silver flask—and hugging on Walter’s “date.” In shock, he stepped up so that the shrubbery hid him, and just then, Charleyne, laughing again, turned back toward the gym. He heard her say, “We sure fooled him—and my parents! They’ll never realize I met up with you, Jason!” as she followed that remark up with a lip-sucking kiss.

Walter froze—then turned and rushed out of the shrubbery and around the corner; he was not going to go back inside, oh no! Hurrying along the front wall of the gym, he entered the hall door on the opposite side, and sped down the corridor of offices toward the double gym doors. Just outside, he reached up and opened the glass over the fire alarm lever, yanking it. No siren issued—Walter had disconnected it; no signal was sent to the local Fire Department (also disengaged), but inside the vast gym first shrieks, then screams ensued, as the sprinkler system activated and poured down upon the promgoers: pig’s blood from a bladder Walter had earlier installed.

Walter listened for a while, while his heart shriveled even more and the evil seeds of selfishness grew inside his soul. Then he turned and paced back down the hall, exiting the building and passing behind it, to walk a short cut home. Walter, of course, was readily pegged as the culprit, and very early on Sunday his mother received a phone call from high school Principal Everidge. Walter’s grades were sufficiently high that he would be allowed to graduate—but it would be in absentia (his mother could pick up the diploma at the Superintendent’s Office downtown the week after graduation), and there would be no question of the valedictorian position—not for Walter. In return, the School Board waived charging his mother for repairs to the sprinkler system; they were just glad now to see him gone.

In September, Walter flew to California and enrolled in the Advanced Physics Program at Stanford, where he excelled—and kept his head down and his machinations to himself.

In 2000, Walter and a fellow Stanford alumni, Jeremy O’Ballon, founded the Physics Research Associates of Palo Alto LLC, and began garnering corporate and defense contracts. On the side, the two nerdish scientists began development of the “time-lotron,” a device to reverse chronology and quite literally, “travel back in time.” Jeremy held visions of defense applications, and anticipated a trillion-dollar payoff from the Department of Defense when it had been completed and tested. Walter had other plans. Walter was going back in time, all right, back to May of 1979, and Walter was going to ensure that Charleyne Parker and her scaggy “hood” boyfriend were in the gym, at just the right time; and this time—the bladder wouldn’t be loaded with pig’s blood, but with a lethal combination of human blood and hydrochloric acid. Walter was “going back” for revenge.

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