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Story 1

Chris Bauer

Chris Bauer started writing mid-life as an unemployed oil company executive. Since then, he has accumulated thirty-seven paid fiction publishing credits with paper and electronic publishers. He is currently working on a novel, "Blood Lust".

He is a member of St. Louis' Writers under the Arch and the Literary Group of the St. Louis Artists Guild.

Chris Bauer is an admirer of Chandler, Kafka, and the "Twilight Zone".

For more information. visit his Facebook page, "Chris Bauer Stories".

Summer is a magic time when you are young -- or young at heart. Throw in a rocketship, a time machine and some mysterious government agents, and you have the recipe for some great summer reading.


The When of Gadgets


Chris Bauer

The scent of wood smoke and barbecue lingered as the summer evening cooled, and darkened the day. Great Grandpa Bill gazed up at the sky.  Before the developers built the shopping mall, the stars scattered across the sky gleamed like rhinestones on black velvet. Back then, the moon resembled a polished silver dollar. Now the moon was a pale white disk. He could barely find the Big Dipper through the haze of all the lights.

Michael, the five-year-old grandson of the son-he-didn’t-get-along-with, shared Bill’s porch swing.

A thought unrolled in Great Grandpa’s mind like plans on a drafting table. “I’m going to build a rocket ship,” he announced, as much to himself as to Michael.

After his head injury, Great Grandpa’s mind filled with plans and drawings, all done on onion-skin paper in fine pencil with hand-printed explanations. Fifty years earlier he had designed rocket engines for a living with a slide rule and T-square and the bible-thick engineer’s handbook.

These new mental schematics and plans gave him a sense of purpose again. He would be the project manager, chief engineer, draftsman, machinist, and assembly crew.

“Can I fly the rocket ship sometime?” asked Michael.

“No, I don’t think so,” said Great Grandpa Bill. “But tell you what. Let’s go look at some of my gadgets.”

He had built a second garage attached to the original, complete with heating/air conditioning and a double-wide overhead door. “Dad, are you sure?” asked the son-he-didn’t-get-along-with. At the time, even Great Grandpa had wondered why the double-wide garage had been important, but now that he was building the rocket ship, he understood.

He punched in the opening code--Ruth’s birthday--God how he missed her--and the door rumbled upward.  The lights flickered, hummed, and filled the room with mock sunlight.

Three dimensional mazes of electrical wire, circuit boxes, vacuum tubes, and brass gears filled a wide workbench.

He pulled a chair from against the wall and invited Michael to climb up and take a look.

“Cool,” he said. “What do they do?”

“I’m not sure,” said Great Grandpa. He knew for certain they were part of a greater work.  Maybe it was the damned time machine.

But he was reluctant to start that project. With a time-machine he’d be obligated to go back and make the world a better place. He just didn’t have that much energy anymore.

He would have to go back and save his buddies at Guadalcanal, stop his little sister’s death from mumps. Every day, he’d tell his wife Ruth how much he loved her. He’d be more patient with his sons, especially the son-he-didn’t-get-along-with.

He heard a small voice outside of his reverie. “Grea’ Gran’pa?”

“Just thinking. Do you want to see a special trick? But you can’t tell anybody. Promise?”


He pulled his newest creation, a spider web of soldered wiring and brass disks in a metal bird cage to the front of the work bench. He slid a scrap of copper wire inside and flicked the switch.  The wire rippled like a mirage, and disappeared, just like the steel screw had yesterday.

“Where’d it go?” asked Michael.

“I’m not sure,” said Great Grandpa slowly. His mind was still occupied with reasons to avoid building the time machine.

A boy Michael’s age ran beneath the garage door, brandishing a disposable flashlight. “Mike! Get yours from Uncle Paul!  We’re playing tag!”

“Can I go?” Michael asked Great Grandpa Bill.

“Go ahead. But remember our secret.”

“Thanks for showing me your stuff,” called Michael. He leapt from the chair and disappeared into the summer night.

It’s OK, thought Great Grandpa, looking out the door. If his knees didn’t hurt all the time, he’d be running with them.

The steel screw from yesterday appeared on the chair behind him.

*    *    *

Sheet after sheet of plans unrolled on the drafting table in his mind, and projects came and went.  The son-he-didn’t-get-along-with visited every weekend to keep an eye on him, bringing leftovers as an excuse.  Great Grandpa had survived Guadalcanal, a Jap bullet, Iwo Jima and malaria. He didn’t need somebody checking up on him, but it was nice to have a meal he didn’t have to cook.

Summer slipped into autumn bringing warm days and chilly nights, the time of year when the fingertips of Summer and Winter touched. Trees turned gold and red and orange, rustling in the same breeze that carried the scent of dying flowers and changing seasons.

Great Grandpa’s neighbors called the police.

When the police came, they called the bomb squad.  The bomb squad called the FBI.

In the back yard stood the rocket ship with pointed nose, portholes, and sleek fins--a perfect rendition from the cover of a 1950’s pulp magazine.

The neighbors were evacuated and herded behind police barricades. Great Grandpa stood in front of his house with a cluster of official-looking men in dark suits.

A man sporting a G.I. haircut and a tiny radio stuck in his ear was in charge. “That thing is loaded with explosive chemicals. It will go easier if you tell us how to disarm it,” he said.

Great Grandpa waved his arms. “It’s a rocket ship, you damned fool.  All that stuff is fuel.”

His son-he-didn’t-get-along-with, pushed through the crowd of neighbors and police, and introduced himself.

“This is a serious matter,” said the man in charge to the son. “Explain it to him.”

“Damned right it’s serious,” warned Great Grandpa. “It could take off without me.”

“Dad,” began his son, “Be reasonable.”

“I spent my whole life building rockets for other men to ride. Now it’s my turn.”

Great Grandpa sensed rather than heard the egg timer’s mechanical ding and the spark from the auto battery igniting the engine.

The roar from the engine bounced off the houses and flowed down the street. The neighbors shouted or stood open mouthed, craning their necks to watch the rocket ship rise over the rooftops and straight into the sky, silver fins flashing in the sunlight.

The man in charge spoke into his walkie-talkie, then demanded “What’s the target?”

“Target?” said Great Grandpa. “Without me steering it’ll hit the moon.”

The man in charge scowled and stared into the sky, his eyes following the thin, white streak of exhaust. The roar lingered as a whisper.

Great Grandpa Bill could hear the sounds of automobiles on the nearby street and the neighbors’ excited conversations.  The breeze carried a whiff of burning grass. A fire engine’s siren wailed in the distance.

“We’re taking him into custody,” the man in charge said to the closest uniformed policeman. He took out a set of handcuffs from the back of his belt.

“Wait until Channel Two News gets ahold of this,” said the son, thinking quickly. “He was a Marine in World War II. Got a medal. He’s eighty-nine years old, for Christ’s sake.”

“This is a matter of national security.” The man in charge placed his hand on Great Grandpa’s arm.

“I’ll go with him. And no handcuffs.”

“You’re a good son,” said Great Grandpa Bill.

The man in charge glanced at the crowd. They should have confiscated the cell phones. Now, whatever he did would be viewed by the world in minutes.

The man in charge shook his head at the uniformed policeman. “No cuffs.”

“You can follow us to the station,” he said to the son.

The men in suits escorted Great Grandpa to a black sedan, and they slid inside.  The driver turned the sedan around with tires squealing and drove toward downtown.

Great Grandpa relaxed in the back seat.  It was a nice sedan, with a smooth engine, soft ride and even still had the new-car smell. He watched the scenery for a few moments, thinking.

He absent mindedly put his hand to his shirt pocket and noticed the piece of paper. “Build the time machine before the rocket ship,” it said in his handwriting, but he didn’t remember writing the note.



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