They Had Flying Cars

A Sci-Fi Short Story written by Stephen Stuart

They Had Flying Cars

by Stephen Stuart

 

Pulled from 1930 an accidental time traveler gets a taste of the future.
 
Raised in New Jersey, Steve now lives in Arizona. His background is in computer hardware and software engineering. His goal is to write mainstream stories containing a single element of science fiction.
 
His short stories have appeared in the Mensa Bulletin, in Calliope (a Writers’ Group publication), and on Tall Tale TV. His latest, “Here’s Your Lunch, Human,” can be found at
 
 
In researching material for “They Had Flying Cars,” Steve recently spent 12 months living in the year 2019.
Other TTTV stories by Stephen Stuart https://talltaletv.com/tag/stephen-stuart/

 

Eddie never saw it coming. As he strolled home from work, dapper in his gray suit and hat, a brand-new 1930 Packard rolled up onto the sidewalk and knocked him down.

A well-dressed young woman clambered out of the car and rushed to his side. “Gee, mister, I’m awfully sorry,” she said. “Are you all right?”

He groaned as he tried to stand. “My leg. It’s busted.”

Are you sure?”

This ain’t my first time, sister. I know what it feels like.”

She was silent for a moment. “Oh, darn it all,” she said. “This could ruin everything.” She draped his arm over her shoulders and helped him stand. “Let’s get you fixed up.” Supporting his weight, she guided Eddie toward the space between two brick buildings.

He hopped alongside her on his good leg. “Say,” he grumbled, “what’s the idea of driving on the sidewalk, anyway?”

She maneuvered him into the alley. “It’s these dumb old cars. I didn’t know they would be so hard to steer.” She stopped and glanced over her shoulder. “This is a good place to jump.”

Jump? I’m not jumping anywhere. Get me to a doctor.”

She clasped his waist with one arm and put her other hand in her pocket. “Sorry I have to do this to you,” she said. A switch clicked, and the alley around them vanished.

#

They now stood on a square of red carpet in a cinder-block basement. Banks of machinery and pulsating lights lined the walls. Workers in gray coveralls approached, each wearing an employee badge labeled “Tyranco.”

Eddie tried to get his bearings. “What … what happened?”

A tall man with short gray hair stepped forward, raised a handheld device, and shined its light into their faces. He frowned at Eddie and pulled the trigger again. “What the hell, Ashley?” he said. “Who’s this guy? I’m not getting a reading.”

He needs medical attention,” Ashley said. “He has a broken leg.” She hung her head. “I kind of ran him over.”

Eddie winced in pain. “Excuse me, mister,” he said. “What am I doing here? Are we still in Newark? Let me talk to the man in charge.”

I’m Warren Flint, the supervisor for this department.”

Eddie held out his hand. “Eddie Bartz is the name—vacuum cleaners are my game. What kind of outfit are you running here?”

#

Flint switched languages from English to Futuranto. “Why is he talking like that?”

He’s from 1930,” Ashley murmured.

A twitch came to Flint’s eye. “You brought back a native? We can’t have that. He’s going to contaminate the timeline.”

I had no choice.” Ashley recounted the details of the sidewalk accident. “I couldn’t just leave him like this. It would’ve totally warped history.”

You may have already warped history, renting that car.”

Ashley took in her surroundings. “Well, has anything changed here?”

It would be hard to tell. We ourselves would be changed, along with everything else.”

Eddie wobbled as he balanced on one foot.

He seriously needs to sit down,” Ashley said.

Flint touched his Tyranco badge and said, “Send a wheelchair to the basement.” He handed a spare badge to Ashley. “Make sure he gets to Med Bay One without seeing anything. And be careful what you say to him. Don’t make this mess even worse.”

Eddie was losing patience. “Hey! You got any doctors here?”

Settle down, Mr. Bartz,” Flint said in English. “We’re going to fix your leg. Behave yourself and you’ll be as good as new.”

#

Ashley made sure Eddie was seated comfortably in the wheelchair before rolling him out to the corridor. In the polished-metal elevator, she pressed the button labeled 17.

Eddie gazed at her trim blue dress. “Nice outfit,” he said.

Oh, this? They told me it’s what women are wearing in the Depression.”

Hey, lay off that Depression’ talk, will you? Hoover says prosperity is just around the corner.”

Ashley patted his shoulder. “Easy, Eddie. This won’t take long.”

He grunted. “Do I have to call you Miss Ashley, or do you have a first name?”

Ashley is my first name.”

What kind of name is that for a girl?”

It just is, all right? It’s a common name here.”

The elevator opened onto a purple hallway marked “17A.” As Ashley pushed the wheelchair past office doors and delivery carts, busy workers detoured around them.

These guys all have tattoos,” Eddie said. “The girls, too. What is this, the Navy?”

It’s the style,” Ashley said. “It’s personal expression.”

What’s with all the crackpots talking to themselves?”

Ashley quickened her pace. “Hey, let’s hear about you. Your job. You make vacuum cleaners?”

I sell ’em.” Eddie relaxed in the chair and regaled her with his adventures in door-to-door sales. “For a big place like you’ve got here, see, you need the Electro-Huff Model 12. I could set you up with one tomorrow.”

I’m sure we already have one.… Whoops.” She stopped the wheelchair. “Be right back.” She trotted ahead to a hallway window and closed the blinds.

#

It took a few seconds for Eddie’s eyes to adjust to the bright lighting in the medical bay, a clean area smelling of rubbing alcohol. Small plastic devices rested on shelves and counter tops. A group of young interns whispered to each other as they watched the stranger roll in.

Rick, a physician assistant in a blue T-shirt, eased Eddie onto an examination table. “So, champ, how’s your day going?”

Eddie sized him up. “When do I see a real doctor?”

Relax. I’m the one gonna patch you up today.”

Doctors are too busy to see everybody,” Ashley said.

Eddie tried to sit up. “What kind of joint is this, anyway? Am I still in Newark?”

Yeah, sure, Newark,” Rick said. “Lie back.” With a steady motion, he passed an electric wand over Eddie’s body from head to toe, then studied the display on a machine.

Supervisor Flint came into the room and listened as Rick summarized the results. “Just the leg,” Flint said. “The other things are pre-existing conditions.”

Rick returned to the table. “Dude. You’re in luck. It’s a simple break.” He injected Eddie with a painkiller, then a dose of dark fluid. Fracture repair,” Rick explained.

Eddie’s leg tingled with microscopic activity. “Hey! What was in that? Bugs?”

It’s science,” Ashley said. “Don’t worry, we have the latest.”

Rick encased Eddie’s leg in pieces of molded gray plastic, closed the fasteners, and pressed a button. The cast lit up and beeped and tightened itself around the leg.

Eddie rubbed the smooth plastic. “Am I supposed to wear this thing for six months?”

Heh. Try ten minutes.” Rick moved him to a chair. “You want something to drink?”

Eddie brightened. “Now you’re talking. Unless you still care about Prohibition.”

Rick looked at Ashley. “Pro what?”

Ha!” Eddie rubbed his palms together. “Get me a beer.”

No, we’ve already interfered enough,” Flint said. “You can have a bottle of water.”

Aw, loosen up,” Eddie said. “I won’t call the feds on you.”

#

A metallic whisper came from Flint’s badge. “Dammit,” he said in Futuranto. “Mike just came back from 1881 Arizona. He got too close to the gunfight.”

Oh, no,” Ashley said. “Is he all right?”

He caught a bullet in the arm.” Flint clapped his hands. “Attention, everyone. Med Bay Two.”

Even without translation, Eddie sensed something was up. “Where are you going?”

Out for a minute,” Flint said. “Just sit here until we can get to you.”

Got any magazines for me to read?”

No.”

How about a newspaper?”

Hell no.”

Ashley set a spinner toy on the counter and showed Eddie how to use it. “You can fidget with this while we’re gone.”

The interns pried themselves away from their work station. As they left the room, Flint separated a sleepy-eyed fellow from the pack. “Stay here,” he told him, “and keep this guy out of trouble.”

Flint moved to the doorway and pointed at Eddie. “Now listen, Mr. Bartz. Don’t touch anything. Stay seated. If you stand up, your leg will fall off.” The door closed behind him.

#

Liar,” Eddie muttered. “Nobody around here is on the level.” His leg felt warm.

The intern hopped up onto the exam table and stretched out. “So, hey, 1930, huh?”

I hear you, brother,” Eddie said. “It’s been a tough year for all of us.”

The intern snored softly.

Eddie looked around the room. Now was his chance to assess the latest science, whatever that was. He rose and limped over to the work station, where a plastic typewriter keyboard lay on the desktop. Where was the paper was supposed to go? He pressed the keys at random until the screen beeped and turned blue and displayed a fierce paragraph in white letters.

No matter. Other contraptions needed his attention. He touched a wall button labeled “Room Vac.” From underneath a workbench, a small disc-shaped machine rolled out and skittered over to a corner to suck up a cellophane wrapper.

Eddie grinned with delight as he hobbled after the little machine. Oh, could he ever sell the heck out of a gadget like that.

Have a nice day,” the gadget said, and retreated before he could lay hands on it. It refused to come out for an encore performance.

The intern mumbled in his sleep. Eddie froze and waited until the snoring resumed.

On the far wall, a set of blinds covered a picture window with daylight showing around the edges. What was out there? Perhaps he could identify some landmarks. Eddie pulled the cord to see.

His jaw dropped. Outside the window lay a bustling metropolis. Flying automobiles filled the sky. Commuters wearing personal jet packs sailed above moving sidewalks. In the distance, elevated highways curved past skyscrapers marked “Tyranco Center” and “Tyranco Plaza.”

With a crash, the med bay door flew open. Flint stood in the doorway, his hands clenched in fists. “Bartz! Get away from there.”

The intern jerked awake and slid off the exam table.

Eddie pointed to the busy sky. “Flying cars! Rocket packs! When did we get those?

Don’t get excited.” Flint crossed the room and closed the blinds. “It’s just a movie.”

I have eyes, pal. It’s real. If that ain’t the year 2000, I don’t know what is.”

Flint glared at him. “Well, it ain’t 2000. It’s actually 2019.”

The future! I knew it.”

Sure, to you it’s the future. To me, it’s just another pain-in-the-ass Monday.”

Eddie peered between the window slats. “I don’t recognize anything.” The implications now sank in. “Oh, jeez. Am I stuck here?”

The medical people filed back into the room. Finding their work station out of order, the interns milled about and argued over how to fix it. Accusing eyes looked in Eddie’s direction.

Rick slapped him on the back. “Time’s up for your leg, boss. Let’s take off that cast.”

Staring ahead with vacant eyes, Eddie sat down. “2019. Everybody I know is dead. I’m dead.”

Don’t think of it that way,” Rick said. “Think of all your descendants living today. They must be doing great, flipping hamburgers and wiping tables.” He opened the fasteners and let the sections of the cast fall to the floor. “Better now? Get up and try out your leg.”

Eddie stood and danced a little jig. “Well, I’ll be … I feel swell.”

Good,” Flint said. “You’re done.” He touched his badge and summoned Ashley back to Med Bay One.

Eddie homed in on the badge. “Say, what’s this Ty-ran-co that owns all the buildings?”

Flint set his clipboard down on the table. “Listen, Bartz. We have a problem. You’re contaminated.”

What? What did you people do to me?”

I mean your mind. You just had to peek at things you weren’t supposed to see. It happens in our business all the time. You know how we handle it?”

Eddie shook his head. “Blindfold?”

We erase your memory.” Flint stepped back. “Go ahead, Rick.”

Rick pulled open a drawer and paused. “It’s not here. The thing. Doug must be using it.”

Flint ran his finger down the clipboard. “Where’s Doug?”

1865. He’s due back here on Wednesday.”

Unbelievable!” Flint kicked the table. “I can’t get five freaking minutes without something—” He stopped, shut his eyes tight, and stood still for a moment.

Eddie stared at him. “Cripes, mister.”

Recovering, Flint opened his eyes. “Well, Bartz, this is your lucky day. All I’m going to do is give you a little talk. Then we’ll send you home.”

Eddie heaved a sigh of relief. “All right. Let’s hear this talk.”

Back in 1930, what were you about to do before Ashley showed up?”

Buy a steak, go home for dinner.”

Yes. Go ahead and do that. If you don’t, you’ll wreck the future.”

Eddie cocked his head. “What’s that, now? What are you getting at?”

Flint took a deep breath. “Concentrate, Bartz. Focus.” He explained the theory of how a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil could cause an eventual tornado in Texas, and how trivial changes to the past could snowball into momentous changes to the future.

Eddie struggled to keep up. “You’re giving me a headache.”

You have a bright future. Don’t ruin it. Forget everything you saw today.”

#

Ashley appeared at the door. “Has anything changed?” she asked in Futuranto.

We’re done with your friend,” Flint said. “Now put him back where you found him.”

Is he—you know—ready?” Ashley pointed to her head.

He might give you some trouble. We can’t wipe his memory. And he knows that this is 2019.”

Oh, crap.”

Stay with him until you’re sure he has his act together.”

Ashley saluted. “Right.”

Flint switched back to English. “Heads up, Bartz. Your ride’s here.”

Eddie shook Rick’s hand. “So long, Doc.”

Later,” Rick said. “Have a Great Depression.”

#

Ashley escorted Eddie back down Hallway 17A on the way to the elevator. “I feel awful about the accident,” she said. “I wish I could make it up to you.”

Eddie seized the opportunity. Well, tell me about the stock market. It took a dive last year—1929, I mean. When does it come back up again?”

Now, Eddie, even if I knew, I’m not allowed to tell you. Didn’t Mr. Flint give you the talk?”

“Did he ever. Butterflies, my foot! What a bunch of baloney.”

No! It’s definitely a thing. Do like he says or you’ll totally mess up your future.”

Eddie laughed. “Is that how people talk in 2019?”

You know what I meant.”

Sure. You’re worried I’ll ruin 2019 for you.”

Well, yes,” Ashley said. “I like things fine the way they are. I like my job.”

Oh? And what’s your job?”

Ashley hesitated. “Let’s just call it History Maintenance.”

Eddie stopped and looked up and down the green hallway. “Wait a minute. Wasn’t this purple before?”

What? No, it’s always been this color.”

I could swear it was purple.”

Was it?” Ashley bit her fingernail. “Rats. We’d better send you home fast.”

#

Down in the basement again, she stepped back and inspected his tailored suit. “No souvenirs,” she said. “Give ‘em up.”

Protesting, he dug into his pocket and handed her the spinner toy.

Ashley hugged him from behind. The Tyranco machines revved up, a switch clicked, and the cinder-block room disappeared.

#

In local time, they’d been gone for only a second when they popped back into the 1930 Newark alley. Relieved to be home again, Eddie invited her to a speakeasy to celebrate.

I’d better not,” Ashley said. “I have to get back to work.” She glanced left and right. “Listen. About 2019—

Oh, yeah,” he said. “Flying cars and rocket packs.”

You saw that?” She stared into his eyes. “It was all a dream. It never happened.”

Fine,” he said, winking, “but what if I get plastered and tell it to the bartender?”

She sighed. “Please. Don’t change history. Be a good guy, and I’ll come back sometime for that drink.”

All right. I’ll behave. For you.”

Thank you, Eddie.” Ashley squeezed his arm. “I hope you sell a ton of vacuums tomorrow.” She climbed into the Packard and backed it off the sidewalk. With a wave of her hand she drove away.

#

At a newsstand a month later, Eddie Bartz was scanning the day’s headlines when a pulp magazine caught his attention. The cover of Astounding Future depicted a man using an anti-gravity device to float in the air. Eddie smirked at the drawing, knowing from experience that it was far off the mark. He paid for the magazine and sat down to chuckle at its wild predictions for the year 2000: pocket telephones, mattresses filled with water, operas on television. By the time he took a break from reading, 45 minutes had gone by.

Eddie was now too late to find a certain Mrs. Randolph at home that day, too late to sell her a vacuum cleaner. Without a new vacuum, her maid continued to rely on an old carpet sweeper, which led Mr. Randolph to complain to his wife about the housekeeping, and then about things in general. Their ensuing argument accounted for Mr. Randolph’s foul mood the next day when he canceled plans for a company merger, which meant the proposed entity “Tyranco” would never come into existence.

Over time Eddie took a sales manager position and married the boss’s secretary. Once in a while his thoughts drifted back to his visit to the 21st century. What was that gal’s name? Ashley. Why hadn’t she ever come back?

#

Under an empty sky in the now-settled version of 2019, Ashley parks her car behind the Midtown Pizzeria, ready to begin the dinnertime shift. She punches in and puts on a red apron. As she brings out a large pepperoni pizza to the family at Table 17, she can’t help feeling that something has changed.

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