"The past is malleable."
That was what he told me. I, of course, politely refrained from laughing in his face.
Poor kid, I remember thinking. He's such a nerd. No wonder he can't make friends.
"Sure thing, kid," I said, ruffling his hair because I knew it annoyed him. "Whatever you say."
I can still recall the way he wrinkled his nose and stared up at me with such indignation, and said, "One day, Raven, I'll take you by surprise."
I guess he took everyone by surprise. No one would ever take him seriously, the little nine-year-old dork, with his massive glasses and his serious face. He kept telling everyone that he'd be a famous inventor one day, and had all sorts of old junk scattered throughout his bedroom that he'd claim was one of his "projects", and his mother was never allowed to touch anything, not even to clean.
In hindsight, I guess I should have seen it coming. There was no way I could have, of course, but I should have. I should have taken that damn kid seriously.
It all began to hit the fan in the summer. Next summer or last summer? Don't even ask. Because I can't answer that. I was at his house - not for him, of course. My best friend was his sister, and I spent as much time there as I did at my own home. Kind of like having two houses, except in my house there was a hideous mutt and in her house there was him. Timothy.
Outside the sun seemed to pour down on the Earth, like water. It was sweltering. Jean, my best friend, was grabbing an egg from the fridge. She wanted to see if she could get it to fry on the pavement outside - that's how hot it was.
I always envied Jean, with her long tanned legs she was not shy of showing off in the summer, something I could never bring myself to do. So who knows, maybe it wasn't all that hot that day, I was wearing my jeans and a shirt. But it was still hotter than usual, and Timothy seemed to be in an unnaturally good mood for someone who, like me, despised extreme temperatures.
"Hey brainiac," Jean said to him as she shut the fridge door, the egg in her hand. "Is it possible to fry an egg on concrete?"
I distinctly remember the way Timothy squinted at her and said, "Theoretically," because he did that to Jean a lot. She tended to ask a lot of weird questions. It's something I kind of miss.
"Would I be able to today?"
"I have a feeling you're going to try no matter what I tell you, so why bother asking?"
"Jeez, fine. Be that way. I'll just do it."
She stalked out of the kitchen and then Timothy and I were alone. While I wasn't keen on baking in the sun outside with Jean to find out if an egg would fry in the sun or not, I did kind of want to know. Luckily Timothy was in that weirdly good mood, the reason for which I was soon to find out, and was more polite to me than he was to his sister.
"In order for an egg to become firm, it has to denature, then coagulate, and that only happens if the temperature you're cooking it at remains hot enough for the entire process, at least 70 degrees Celsius. A hot footpath usually only gets up to about 63 degrees Celsius in the sun, and today isn't hot enough. So no, the egg won't fry on the footpath."
"Cool," I said. I'd made a ten dollar bet with Jean on it, and I knew Timothy would be right. He was always right.
"I was wondering," he said to me out of the blue as he poured himself a glass of apple juice.
That right there is where I should have interrupted him and left. But I didn't.
"I have a new invention, and there's a small problem. I'm the only one who can work it, but I need someone willing to test it for me."
And again, another place I could have left. I could have politely declined and gone to see how Jean's egg was doing.
"It should be safe, if my calculations are correct."
I don't know how I could have been so dumb. I mean, really. Right there, a warning sign: it should be safe. And yet I still said...
"Yeah sure, whatever. Take me to it."
I do have to admit, however, it was an impressing sight. He'd actually dismantled his bed in his room so he could fit the whole thing in, it was that big. There was a blanket on a bean bag next to the door, probably his new bed until this got cleared up. Although, from the looks of it, he'd used bits of the bed as supports for parts of his machine.
"It's as finished as I can get it now without testing it," he said as he squeezed passed me into his room and walked up to a set of screens about the size of tablets. He tapped away on one in silence for a moment while I took the whole sight in.
It was a giant...you know, there's not really anything I can compare it to. It was a messy looking thing made of bits and pieces of both new and old junk. At the far left there was an empty chamber, big enough for a person if they crouched down a little. Connected to the chamber was a series of long thick metal rods, placed horizontally and all perfectly parallel to each other, as far as my eyes could tell. They all joined together at the right and connected to a massive cylinder, which thinking back I now think had a big fan inside. And the final piece was actually just a big metal box. Like, a huge metal box. That was what the control panel was on, which Timothy was playing with. Apparently inside that huge box was a motor.
"Where do you get the money for all this?" I asked in awe.
"That's not important," Timothy replied, turning to me. "This is the time machine I was telling you about. It's kind of the prototype, in this day and age, that is."
I was a little lost for words, and could only gape at him.
"It's like I said the other day when I was telling you about it: the past is malleable. Time is malleable. I've already tested it in a way, I know it works. I just need to test it with matter, but it needs to be something that can respond to me. A person."
He was waiting for my reply. I, however, was still back at the "what the hell am I looking at" phase, and just said to him, "You really made this?"
Timothy rolled his eyes. "Please try and keep up, Raven. I'm hoping we can have everything finished before Jean gets sick of watching an egg do nothing."
"What do you want me to do?"
The expression on his face was deadly serious. He looked me in the eye and said to me: "I want you to go back in time."
I probably shouldn't have laughed, but I just couldn't hold it in.The whole thing was ridiculous. Nine-year-old kids simply don't build time machines. The laughter spilled from my mouth like vomit and when I came to my senses there were real tears on my face. It was the last time I laughed in a long time.
Time, time, time.
I keep saying that word, but its meaning seems lost to me now.
I didn't believe it would work, not in the slightest. My knees and neck were bent awkwardly to accommodate my height in the chamber, and he closed me in, after handing me an old flip-top cellphone.
"I'll need you to tell me exactly what happens, okay?"
"Sure thing, kiddo."
One moment I was in the chamber. Then, after the roaring of the motor and fan and a bright flash of light, I was somewhere completely else. I was standing outside my school, but...everything was wrong. I could see the Mulligan's van parked outside their house. Only, they'd moved out months ago. And the Chinese restaurant that moved address was back in its old building. And I was just standing there, in the rain, getting soaked, as I realized that Timothy had actually invented a time machine.
And you better believe, he'd definitely taken me by surprise.
But, as life tends to go, things don't just get worse and then get better. Nope, they get worse, and worse, and then better for a little bit, and then back to worse again. I have had quite a few moments now where I said to myself, "Surely it can't get any worse than this."
Oh but how wrong I was. Things can always get worse. The first "worse" that I had was when the cellphone Timothy had given me started vibrating in my hand. I still remember the exact words of the text he'd sent through his machine: 'Having technical difficulties. Don't worry I'll fix it. Whatever you do, don't talk to your past self.'
I tried to reply to his text, I typed up all sorts of profanities to taint the boy's mind with, but apparently texting through time is a one-way street. And also, so it seems, is travelling through time.
Because it's been weeks. And I'm still here, stuck, until Timothy finds whatever it is he keeps calling the "speed of the dark". And I'm not the only trespasser of time...