Monday, December 13, 2010
Jack unwrapped his candy cane and stuck it in his mouth. He didn't even like them much, but Jeb had insisted. Dirty dishes covered the table. They had been sitting at the table for a long time. Much longer than Jack had thought possible, but Jeb covered that first.
Up to this point, Jeb had done most of the talking. He told Jack everything he knew about the Doorway. What to do, and more importantly, what not to do. How to use the Doorway and be safe.
Jeb's advice on that was simple: don't use it.
"How did your brother die?" Jack asked.
Jeb bit off a large piece of candy cane and chewed it up. It hurt Jack's teeth just watching it.
"We had been using the Doorway for three or four years at that point. We were overconfident. No, that's putting it too nicely. We were cocky. We thought we could do absolutely anything. And we never thought of the consequences," Jeb said. He paused for a moment, collecting his thoughts. "Matt loved science fiction when we were kids. He used to watch everything he could - spaceships, robots, aliens. Movies, television, and books - he spent all his free time in his head. In the future. He wanted to be Buck Rogers for real."
"What happens when you go to the future and there's no future there?" Jeb asked. "I told Matt there were risks about going to the future. I mean, who knows what things will look like 100 years in the future? How about 200 years? Or 500 years? I told him over and over, take it easy, don't push it, just take small steps. But he couldn't do it. He wanted to be Buck Rogers."
"How far in the future did he go?"
"He had this magazine," Jeb said. "It was a short story about the year 3000. In the story, the entire world had evolved. It was a utopia. People didn't even work, they just played. There was a full-page illustration with the story. It showed a waterfall, a lake, grass and trees, and a bunch of half-dressed women lounging around. Quite the attraction for a teenage boy."
Jack put down his candy cane. His stomach didn't feel very good.
"He never came back," Jeb said.
"Maybe it really was a utopia," Jack said. "Maybe that's why he never came back."
"Yeah, I tried to tell myself that for a long time. But after a week, a month, a year...well, I gave up on that. I think no matter how amazing it was, he would have come back to tell me. He would have come back to have me join him. He's dead."
"I'm sorry," Jack said. "And I'm sorry to have to ask you this stuff, but it could be important to me."
"To save those girls," Jeb said.
"Yeah, to save those girls."
Jack stood up and walked over to the Doorway, looking at the spices. He had never heard of cardamom in his life. He unscrewed the cap and sniffed it. It was strong - sort of a cross between ginger and mint. Jack couldn't imagine what you'd make with it.
"How did your other friends die?" Jack said softly.
"They went back too many times. You know how going to the past upsets your stomach?"
"Well, it upsets your stomach because it's eating away at you. I have no idea how it works, but our two friends, Ryan and Roddy, they were brothers, would go back all the time. They loved going to the 1920's. The Roaring 20's. They'd dress up here, and then go back and party all night long. Then come back, go to school for a week, and do it again the next weekend. Pretty soon, they were having stomach pains all the time, even when they were back here in their own time. Their parents took them to a doctor to try to figure out what was going on. The first doctor didn't even want to guess, so they went to another. Then they went to a specialist. Finally, some doctor said you've got some kind of cancer we haven't seen before. It wasn't cancer, of course, but the doctors couldn't figure out what it was for sure."
Jeb got up and stood beside Jack, staring at the Doorway as well.
"The doctors didn't know what was causing it, but they could see the end result coming," Jeb said. "They told Ryan and Roddy to make peace with whichever God they liked the best, cause they would both be seeing him soon enough."
Jack thought about Clarice. He thought about how many times she said she'd been back, trying to make money for her Father. He thought about the twins, who were making the same trips to the past now.
"How many times do you think they went back, before they got the cancer?" Jack asked.
"I don't know, three years? Definitely not more than four," Jeb said. "I don't think you need to worry about yourself. You should be all right."
"Yeah," Jack said. "I'm not worried about me."