Somewhere around the spring of that school year Chet and I had a meeting of the minds. We consulted with the bigwigs and after talking to ourselves we decided our new bestest bud was entitled to know our little secret.
Now, I don’t believe this directly led to the second bump in our Rifter saga, but it sure followed quickly on the heels of our revealing our dirty little secret. Moments after we told Claire about the Rifters one magically appeared in front of her. I would have to remember to congratulate myself in the future for such perfect timing.
Late spring lends to warm weather, so the three of us skipped our Thursday and Friday classes and jumped in Chet’s old jalopy. Now that brings back memories. That kid was rich enough we could have been jumping into a Ferrari or a Shelby, or at least some beautifully restored 442 or GTO. But no, Chet gets himself a taste of freedom, blows a raspberry at his mom and buys a cobbled together hunk of junk. I mean this car looked like an 1706 Chevy ate half a dozen vintage cars and ralphed something unspeakable on the side of the road. Chet bought that regurgitation. Chet loved his jalopy, and he managed to somehow keep it on the road just to spite his mother. Somehow I wouldn’t be surprised if she had reached out to her people and had a hit put out on that car. Oh, the shame.
Well, we jumped in that jalopy and headed for his family cabin on a lake outside Keene, New Hampshire. We settled in and quickly showed Claire the ins and outs of the Rifters. We’d amassed quit a few little tricks over the course of the school year. Well, Claire had her Rifter for about ten minutes before she showed us something new. She clicked in and sprinted towards the edge of the lake. I thought for sure she was going to break the thing taking it into the water with her, but she tossed it on her towel just as she reached the water’s edge. As soon as she lost contact with the Rifter she met the snap-back into real time. My eyes popped. Imagine a horizontal dive launching thirty or forty yards into the lake. It took her a couple minutes to swim back to shore, more because it’s hard to swim and laugh at the same time than anything else.
After she showed us how we all took turns flinging ourselves recklessly out into the cold spring waters. I don’t think anyone saw us. Even if they did there’s no way they could have had the slightest idea what we were up to.
Spring evenings were still cool. So we used the late afternoon sun to warm ourselves like a bunch of lizards. Grabbing our towels we moved up from the waters edge to the patio, where the stones still held the sun’s warmth. Chet called the place the cabin, but it was more along the lines of one of those rustic mansions. Money, it sure warps your perspective on things like camping and the woods.
Chet grabbed some wood from a neatly stacked pile. Tossing the wood in a haphazard pile, he got a good fire going in the patio’s hearth. While the fire carried warmth over into the twilight we took turns snagging showers in the solitary bathroom the “cabin” afforded. One bathroom in a 2500 square foot house, maybe it was camping.
Dusk slowly deepened. Our gracious host took the last of the showers and as he disappeared, towel tossed over his shoulder, I fired up the charcoal in the grill. Claire remained seated in a sturdy Adirondack chair, watching the sun drop beyond the hills on the far side of the lake. Stillness and lethargy dominated the air as I sank into the seat next to her and allowed the heat of the fire to warm my skin.
“We have come for the Rifters,” a deep voice echoed from the shadowed woods at the lawn’s edge, shattering the tranquil mood instantly.
Claire and I exchanged a look.
“Private property, bud,” I said, forcing a laugh. “I’m not sure what you’re talking about, but I don’t think any of us are interested in buying.”
“We are the true Rifters, you are in possession of our property,” a large man said as he stepped out into the dusky light of the lawn. He was dressed in a green flannel shirt and a pair of work-worn jeans. If I had seen him at the local Seven-E, I wouldn’t have picked him out from the next person, unless to think he was a little tall. Two others, both in flannels and jeans as well, stepped from the woods behind him.
“You guys just rob a Tractor Supply Depot?” I asked, this time the laugh was real. Seriously, these guys looked like they had dropped out of the sky naked and hopped into the first store they came along to buy the exact same outfit. I think one of them still had that size sticker on the butt of his jeans. The only real bit of individuality these guys could come up with was they managed to pick different colored flannels.
“You have stolen from us technology to which you have no right.”
“How could have stolen anything from you? I’ve never seen you before in my life,” I said. “Have you seen these guys, Claire?”
These guys were really starting to give me the willies. Something about the way they were standing there staring at us. They made me think of clones from a campy sci-fi flick. Somehow I was surprised they weren’t talking to us in unison.
“Never seen them before, either,” Claire said with a shake of her head.
“That is true,” the man said with a quirky, mysteriousness. “You have not seen us, yet.”
“So we’ll see you in the future?”
I regretted the words as soon as they left my mouth. It was one of those moments I wish my internal censor had been operating instead of taking a nap.
“Yes,” the man said, a slow, knowing grin was spreading across his face.
“Idiot,” Claire muttered under her breath. I knew what was going through her head and I cringed a little. Nervous laugh on my part.
“So you mean, you were planning on coming down here to meet us?” I asked, hoping to shift the attention away from my blunder.
“Yes,” he replied, that awful look plastered on his face. “In the future you will steal the Rifters from us. We only seek to regain what has been lost.”
“Still doesn’t ring a bell,” I said, desperately trying to cover my lapse. “If what you’re saying is true wouldn’t your future immediately have changed and these Rifters, as you call them would never have belonged to you?”
I knew something was up. He had called them Rifters. Chet and I came up with that name in the here and now. If he had called them that he had to be lying.
“No,” the man said sharply. “A parallel timeline was forced into existence when you stole the Rifters from us, but my future remains the same.”
He said it again; definitely lying.
“Guy, now you just sound like you escaped from the asylum,” I said with a laugh and I could see something tweak in his demeanor. “Why would I ever believe a story like that?”
Stall, it was the only thing I could think to do. I’m not sure why I needed to stall. It’s not like I expected the air-cav to come to my rescue, but it was all my brain kept chanting over and over at me. Maybe Claire could get away. If she could get help and I could keep this dude rambling long enough maybe, just maybe, we could get out of this. If not, at least she would be out of harms way.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get that luxury. A blast of blue light smashed through the grill, scattering charcoal and glowing bits of metal all over the side of the cabin. It was a rather convincing argument as to their port of departure. I have trouble with confrontation, though, unless that confrontation involves my girl or my grill.
“That was my grill, man,” I shouted. “Who do you think you are, just smashing up a man’s grill like that?”
“Tell me now and we will leave you to live your lives. A nanosecond more of this dumb play and I will make you regret the decision,” he pointed a small gun that had lain hidden in the palm of his hand directly at Claire. “I will give you a moment to think, but be wise and make the correct decision.”
The man smiled again, this time more of a grimace. Out of the corner of my eye Claire silently cringed in on herself. She looked like she was trying to squeeze between the slats of her chair.
At that moment, when I was wildly trying to come with some sort of plan, the need was taken from me. With a flash of motion Chet materialized in front of the man with a heavy kitchen pot braced in his arms. I really wish I could have seen Chet’s face when he made is kamikaze run, but unfortunately all Claire and I got was a flash of white backside. He was braced for one crazy collision and in all honesty, I think Chet may have killed the man. Wrapped for the briefest moment in a towel, he let the force of the snap-back unleash the fury of physics on the guy. Hello, heavy pot, meet chest. My buddy carries of lot of potential energy in a regular state. You mix that with the Rifters and you have a recipe for pot-in-chest stew. I may be exaggerating, but that guy never stood a chance.
Chet leveled the guy, shook his head to clear it from the impact and Rifted again before either of the other two men could respond. He Rifted, unfortunately, his towel didn’t make the trip. It was almost comical. He popped into existence for just a second and the only way you would know he’d been there was a guy laying on his back and a towel gently fluttering to the ground.
Chet may be a lot of things, but dumb isn’t one of them. Our Rifters magically appeared in our hands and we escaped without a second thought.
The confrontation was over almost before it began. Once we had our Rifters we made short work of the other two future flannelists. Actually, Claire and I didn’t do a thing. Chet, with a look of righteous fury blazing in his eyes, took the other two down without hesitation. To this day I will never forget the flash of naked whiteness raining heaven’s wrath down on those poor, unsuspecting goons.
We had just finished dragging the three unconscious loads over to the patio, and while Chet was getting some clothes back on, Claire and I hosed down the smoldering fragments of grill embedded in the wooden side of the cabin. I would leave it to Chet to explain that one to his parents. They must have thought we threw some crazy parties. If only they knew.
As we stood there wondering what the heck had happened three more figures appeared from the woods. My finger went right to the trigger on my Rifter. I think we all stayed like that for a minute and then for some reason we all seemed to relax at the same time. There was something vaguely familiar about the three figures; like seeing someone familiar, but not being able to place their face. There were two men and a woman, all closer to fifty than forty.
“Really,” the shorter of the two men called out with a lopsided grin plastered on his face, like he was part of some big practical joke only he knew about. “Don’t you recognize me, Mikey?”
“Nobody calls me Mikey,” I growled.
Then it struck me. I was looking into my own eyes. Well, my eyes separated by thirty or so years. I had to admit, I didn’t look too bad as a fifty-year-old. If I had to put a number on it, I would have guessed mid thirties, but seeing the future Chet and myself, I knew this simply couldn’t be. Or could it? We did have time traveling ability, right?
“What brings you to our time?” Chet said, stirring me out of my thoughts.
“These three,” Claire said, her voice just as musical in the future as now, or now as in the future; I’m not really sure. “They wanted to steal the Rifters from you and give them to themselves so they could change the future.”
“So why did you give them to us if you knew there was this sort of danger?” I asked.
“We figured it would be the safest place for them. We were only slightly wrong,” future-Chet said, nodding to himself. “You guarded them pretty well.”
“Pretty well,” now-Chet snorted as he looked over the recumbent forms on the patio. “I’d say a touch better than pretty well.”
“Unfortunately,” future-Chet said, ignoring himself. “Events beyond our control are compelling us to return the Rifters to our own time.”
“But I just got mine,” complained Claire.
“Let this be a bit of a teaser,” the elder Claire said with a soft warm smile. “Get to work on these and know that eventually you’ll create them. Never doubt what you can do. Unlike most people, you’ve seen a piece of your future.”
We all three perked up at that.
“There’ll be some setbacks,” elder Claire continued. “I don’t want you to get the wrong idea and think life’s a cake walk. Just make sure you do two things, keep pushing forward and always look to each other for support. You can’t go wrong if you stick to it.
“Mike,” she said, taking my hand. “You will never fail if you keep trying. We’ve just given you the smallest taste of what you can someday accomplish.”
They left, just like that, taking the thugs and the Rifters in the blink of an eye. No goodbyes were said, but I can still feel Claire’s hand in mine. We only saw ourselves like that once more, and that was several decades later. It was weird on the other side. Weird, but great in that ‘I shouldn’t be doing this’ sort of way.
Eventually we would change the worlds, but it took a while; actually, a long while and a whole lot of sweat. In the meantime, the knowledge that our creative spirits would bind us together and drive us to greatness provided the consolation we needed to create, discover, and seek our futures.