An inventor and his brother attempt to stop the hands of time in order to save their mother.
Written by Gregory Patrick Travers
Tom Needly stood by his mother’s hospital bed looking down on her frail figure wrapped in thin sheets of cotton. The room was quiet now that the hospital security had made those pesky reporters wait outside the building. Tom thought they acted like Vultures; all trying to get a pick at a wounded piece of meat.
Uncle Maury sat in the chair by the window. He cleared his throat loudly while he flipped through the channels on the in-room television bolted to the ceiling. He stopped at the local news and gave a raspy chuckle between wet coughs. “It’s us!” He said, pointing to the screen where local bronzed-skin newsman Terry Aiden stood at the entrance to the hospital dressed in one of his usual well-tailored suits, holding a long stemmed microphone. Behind him the rest of the vultures had gathered and they looked anxious, waiting for something—or someone, to arrive.
Todd Needly bowed his head and rubbed the bridge of his nose between his thumb and his index finger letting out a long, disgruntled sigh. “Turn it off,” he said.
His uncle appeared deaf to the request, his eyes still locked on the screen, his mouth hanging open in the form of a loose, childish grin. He put down the remote on the coffee table and lent back in his chair. As he did his gut drooped out from his worn “Green Bay Packers” t-shirt and settled over his belt buckle. He looked over to Todd and said, almost teasingly, “I bet they’re talking about your brother…” Then he reached back over to the coffee table with a cough and a grunt, picking up the remote and turning up the volume on the television to drown out the systematic beeps of his sister’s heart monitor. Todd resigned and joined his uncle by the television as Terry Aiden spoke into the camera.
“It has been four years since Alan Shaman, commonly known in the pharmaceutical world as ‘The Shaman’ went into hiding with the promise that when he returned he would have with him an invention so ground-breaking that it would, quote, ‘change the world forever’…”
Uncle Maury pointed to the picture of Alan they had framed on the screen. “You guys really look alike,” he said. He used his pinky finger to dig in his ear like a dog trying to scratch out a flea.
“Everyone says that…” muttered Todd. Their eye’s remained with Terry Aiden on the television as he continued on.
“Shaman is, of course, famous for his work done with corporate pharmaceutical giant PharmTech including, but not limited to the popular “Dat!”; a lovable hybrid of both the feline and canine genome. Shaman was also the engineer of the highly controversial sperm count accelerator “Spackletine”. Although the product highly increased the counts in low-sperm patients it was also responsible for a 10% autism rate which sparked outrage all over America by the families affected. Many people accused Shaman of “playing god”. But, despite the protests and the lawsuits, these scientific discoveries made Alan Shaman the first billionaire ever to come out of Normanview Falls—“
Click! The screen went black. Uncle Maury looked up to Todd who held the remote with a grip so tight the blood had rushed from his palm leaving it a ghostly pale white.
“I guess he’s not in a big rush to get his inheritance then,” Uncle Maury joked.
“I don’t know why he’s even coming back at all,” Todd sighed under his breath. He walked back to his mother and watched her as she slept. A silence hung in the room that seemed to intensify with every beep that came from her heart monitor.
“Holy shit!” cried Uncle Maury suddenly. Todd’s head sprang up to see Uncle Maury kneeling on his chair looking out the window down towards the hospital entrance, his hands and face pressed against the glass like a fifth grader on a school bus.
“What is it?” asked Todd, quickly coming to see what all the fuss was about.
Outside, the reporters gathered by the entrance began a mad-dash swarm over to a slowly approaching pearl white stretch limousine. From up on the ninth floor it looked more like ants swarming a sugar cube. Uncle Maury looked to his nephew and grinned from ear to ear. Todd jerked away at the sight of his uncle’s yellow stained teeth. “He’s baaaack,” sung Uncle Maury.
Todd hung his head and groaned.
Alan Shaman took the last sips of his 7 & 7 and placed his rock glass back on the side bar counter of the limousine. The leather seat crunched as he sat back against it. He looked out at the crowd of press trying unsuccessfully to get a glimpse inside the tinted windows and, with a grin, looked over to his driver and said, “Hey, James. You know what would be funny? You should roll down your window and have your dick hanging out so when they come rushing over they get smacked in the face with a creamy old penis!”
The driver’s eyes met Alan’s through the rear-view mirror with his usual solemn expression. “I don’t think so, sir…”
“Aw, c’mon! It’ll be funny!” coaxed Alan.
“I would still rather not, sir,” the driver repeated.
Alan groaned. “Fine! Have it your way. But I’m rolling up the privacy glass on the way home.”
Alan reached over to the door and pressed down on a button. The tinted window that separated the driver from the rest of the limo slowly buzzed upwards until the driver could no longer be seen. He grabbed his Ray Ban sunglasses sitting by the ice bucket and put them on. “Okay,” he sighed. “Let’s do this…”
As the back door to the limo swung open the mob of reporters came swarming over followed by their camera man and photographers trying to hurry the best they could while lugging their heavy hardware with them. “Mr. Shaman! Mr. Shaman!” They cried over the harsh clicks and whooshes of pictures being snapped. The flashes lit up the front steps of the hospital as if it were the red carpet at the Oscars.
Alan put on his widely publicized magazine cover smile as he moved through the crowd, up the steps to the hospital entrance. At the top of the steps he turned to them and said, “Thank you all for coming! It’s great to be back home.” His smile remained wide and stiff.
Paula Jean from the Normanview News called out, “Alan, where have you been?”
Donald Jacobs from Channel 8 yelled, “Is it true about the rumors that you have been collaborating with the military?”
Terry Aiden stood at the front of the pack, “Alan, can you tell us anything about the new invention you’ve been working on?”
Alan put his hands up, signaling the crowd for silence. The crowd obliged.
“Yes, it’s true!” said Alan. “It’s true that I have been collaborating with the government and, while the details of the project are still classified, I can tell you that this invention will forever change the world we live in. This invention will be my legacy!”
The crowd of reporters came back at him with an onslaught of inaudible barks and hollers as he entered the hospital. They chased him all the way to the front entrance where they were stopped by two security guards who looked almost frightened by the mob. After all, Normanview Falls was a small town and rarely saw such excitement within its borders.
Back in the hospital room Todd Needly’s head looked up to see his wife, Maggie, come rushing into the room holding little baby Thomas close to her breast. Behind her followed his thirteen year old daughter Julia who dragged her feet as she walked, a droopy pout hanging from her face.
“I’m so sorry,” Mrs. Needly said to her husband. She wrapped her free hand around his neck and stroked his hair lovingly. “I came as soon as I got your message. Is she okay?”
“The doctor says she’s stable for now,” answered Todd. He looked over to his daughter sulking by the bathroom, kicking up imaginary dust. “What’s the matter with Julia?”
His wife rolled her eyes. “She was supposed to go to the mall with Steve today, so she’s upset. Were we that selfish when we were kids?” She motioned to baby Thomas. “Can you take him?”
Little Thomas squirmed and whined as Mrs. Needly handed him off to his father but soon, with a little rocking, went back to the comfort of sucking on his pacifier. Mrs. Needly took off her trench coat and hung it on the coat rack. She pulled down on her sweater which had been slowly riding up her stomach while she was holding Thomas and gave herself a quick pat down to remove food, formula, or any other foreign objects that seem to magically appear among the company of small children. You wouldn’t know it by her tangled hair or the stress bags forming under her eyes but in high school, when her and Todd had started dating, Maggie was one of the most sought after prizes in all of Normanview Falls. Now it was her thirteen year old daughter, Julia, who was quickly growing into a beautiful young woman. Something that her father was less than ready to admit.
“Hey there, Maggie,” said Uncle Maury from his seat.
“Hey, Maury,” she returned, forcing a smile the best that she could. “I’m so sorry. Are you alright?”
Uncle Maury responded with an empathetic nod and turned his attention back outside the window. Suddenly his eyes became wide as, through the reflection in the glass, he saw a familiar figure enter the room. A grin spread across Uncle Maury’s face. He turned around from the window to see his billionaire nephew at the doorway. By this time the other members of the family had noticed his presence also.
Alan stared back at them behind his Ray Bans wearing the same magazine cover smile he gave the reporters outside. “Well, don’t all say hello at once…”
Todd lifted his eyes from where his mother lye and met eyes with his brother but only for a quick second before his eyes sank back downward. “Hey, Alan,” said Todd, his eyes locked on his mother. “It’s good to see you…”
“Take of those sunglasses,” said Uncle Maury. “You’re inside. It’s rude.”
Alan chuckled softly and removed his Ray Bans. “Good to see you, Maury. I see you haven’t changed.” He shifted his focus to Julia standing by the bathrooms with her arms crossed. He gave a small wave to which she returned with a quick smile, gone as soon as it arrived. “Wow,” said Alan, now looking over to Maggie. “Her fake smile is almost as good as yours.”
Maggie’s hair fell on her shoulders as she tilted her head and smiled, the grip on her husband’s arm seemingly tightening. “Good to see you again,” she said. “It’s been a long time.”
“I was wrong,” said Alan, his grin stretching upward. “Yours is still much more convincing.” But Maggie didn’t hear him or at least that is how she made it seem.
Alan’s eyes shifted to his mother under the covers of the hospital bed. Tubes stuck out of her arms connected to the multiple blinking, buzzing machines that surrounded her. His smile was gone now. He walked over to the bed and looked down at his mother. He couldn’t help but notice how much she had aged since they had last seen each other. It made his stomach turn just a bit. Four years was a long time to be away. He lifted up her hand, tied with a bulky pulse reader, and held it. It scared him a little. He felt that all it would take would be one hard squeeze and her frail bones would turn to dust. The skin sagged between her fingers like a bat wing, veins and spots made her skinny arms look like a road maps. It was not the same hand he used to hold as a child; the hand that would keep him safe when they crossed the street, the hand that would hand him presents on Christmas morning and smile as she watched him with a look of excitement on her face that would match, if not trump, his own. It was the same hand that smacked him in the face the first time he ever told her to fuck off. She had struck fear into him that day. But she was not scary anymore. She was sick. She was dying.
He watched as her chest struggled to expand and then collapsed. He met eyes with Todd at the other side of the bed and, for a moment, the confident facade and dropped from Alan’s face and he was just the little boy looking to his older brother for answers. Though he was hard pressed to admit it, Alan always envied Todd’s ability to stay calm when things went wrong. Todd gave him a reassuring nod. Though they had their fights, though they disagreed on practically everything—they were family.
“I need to talk to you,” said Alan to his brother. Uncle Maury’s and Maggie’s eyes darted in their direction. “…in the hallway,” he finished. Alan’s confident facade had returned.
Out in the hallway Alan pulled his brother to the confines of the water fountain. His eyes darted all around looking for any press that had managed to slip through security. Maybe they were impersonating visitors. Maybe they were impersonating doctors. But there was no one around, except for an old lady with a walker about a hundred meters away at the service desk. She didn’t seem to pose any harm.
Todd pulled himself from Alan’s grip. “What’s all this about?”
Alan looked at his brother, his eyes glimmered as he said, “I think I can save her.”
Alan nodded eagerly.
Todd laughed it off. “You’re not a doctor, Alan. You’re a circus pharmacist at best…”
Alan’s ears started get red, as they did when he was upset. “I’m going to forget you said that,” he said. “Especially when I tell you what I’ve been working on all these years.” His eyes widened as he indulged the dramatic pause and then, finally, he said, “Todd…I found a way to stop time.”
By this point Todd had dealt with just about enough. “What the hell are you talking about?” he asked. As quick as he did, he regretted it. When it came to Alan, Todd usually ended up sorry he encouraged him.
But Alan was not one to be deterred by skepticism. “Time is movement, right? There is twenty four hours in a day which is an equal division of the time it takes the earth to complete one full rotation. And a year is measured by the time it takes the earth to revolve around the sun. But what if you could stop the movement? If you could do that than you could stop time. You could remove yourself from the current of the universe and remain in that same moment—forever. And guess what?…”
Todd couldn’t help but bite. He always bit. “What?”
“We created a program…a system of satellites rather, that could do just that. Stop the hands of time!”
It was such an unbelievable proposal and yet, coming out of Alan’s mouth, Todd had a hard time doubting it. Still, he tried his best. “You can’t just stop time.”
Todd’s pessimistic attitude was nothing new to Alan. He was ready with a response before Todd’s contradiction had even left his lips. “Yes, we can. We did already. Once. For twenty-four hours.”
Todd’s curiosity once again got the better of him. “You did? And what happened?”
Alan bowed his head and bit his lip. “You, uh, remember those earthquakes and tsunami’s that fucked up Fukushima?”
Todd shook his head and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Are you saying you caused the nuclear disaster at Fukushima?”
Alan shrugged innocently. “Well, something has to be said for the poor planning of the Japanese. I mean, have you ever looked at Japan on a map? The last place you should be putting a nuclear power plant is on that little turd in the ocean.”
Todd let out a tense sigh. “Jesus Christ, Alan…”
Alan’s fingers beat against Todd’s chest. “But it works! Everyone on earth got one more day of life thanks to us.”
“And how many people had to die for that?” asked Todd.
Alan put his hand up apologetically. “Okay, yeah. There were some casualties. But Todd, we can save mom’s life! And none of us would ever age, or grow old, or even die!”
Todd stood silent. Despite his moral objections to the consequences of his brother’s actions, the thought of saving his mother from death could not be ignored. But there was something else. “You know how many nights I wished that I could stop my daughter from growing up? Julia used to adore me. Now she just puts up with me. Soon enough she’ll meet a guy, get married…she won’t need me anymore.”
“We can stop all that,” Alan said. “And save mom in the process.”
“So…How do we do this?” Todd asked. He was embarrassed for even humoring the idea.
“The control center is not too far from here. If we take the jet we can get back in twelve hours, tops.”
“Alright, fine!” Todd broke. “But we have to be quick.”
Todd stared out the window of Alan’s private jet looking down at the cotton candy clouds. It was calm and peaceful up there alone in the sky. People didn’t even exist from that height. A sharp jingle in his ear brought Todd back to reality. He darted his head away from a rock’s glass filled with two fingers of aged scotch and ice. Alan gave it one more little shake for good measure. Todd could not resist. He took the offering and sat back in his seat. He stirred the drink carefully in his hand. Smelling it. Savoring it. “Haven’t had one of these in a while,” he admitted.
“Seriously? It’s the drink of the Shamans. But I guess you’re not a Shaman anymore, huh?”
“I only took the Needly name because the press wouldn’t leave me alone. Not to mention the protesters showing up at our door. What about you? Are you even a Shaman anymore? We haven’t seen you around in over six Christmases and God knows how many Thanksgivings. We don’t even set a place for you anymore.”
Alan rolled his eyes. “Oh, please. What am I really missing anyway? Everyone sitting around twiddling their thumbs, relying on baby Thomas to do something cute to take attention off the fact that we have nothing to say to each other? Or Uncle Maury’s endless lectures on all the reasons I’m not a real man. Like, Jesus Christ, I’m a billionaire! I’m sorry I don’t know how to build a fucking birdhouse! I’m out here making real change in the world!”
Now it was Todd’s turn to roll his eyes. “Oh yeah, the Dat was a real important scientific discovery. Forget AIDS and cancer; let’s make a cat-dog.”
“It was important!” Alan shot back. “Cat people and Dog people have been at war for years! I created the bridge to peace!”
“Yeah, you’re a real Gandhi when it comes to pets,” Todd snickered, gulping the rest of his whiskey.
Alan’s ears started to get hot. “Yeah, well, only one of us has his own private jet, so…”
Todd slammed his rocks glass down into the cup holder. “That’s always what it comes down to doesn’t it? You have money and I don’t!”
Alan became defensive. “Hey, it’s not my fault you stayed in Normanview. You had all the same advantages that I did.”
“I stayed in Normanview to be close to my family! Because family means something to me!” He gave a short, broken laugh. “And what really gets me is I know you’re still mom’s favorite. And you were a horrible son to her. As a kid you gave her nothing but grief and as an adult you are practically non-existent. And she still talks about you like you’re this—this—this perfect guy! But you’re not perfect, Alan. Not even close.”
Alan gazed down at the quickly melting ice cubes in his glass. His eyes remained there as Todd waited for one of his usual smart ass replies…but there was nothing.
As the jet touched down Todd got a glimpse of the compound through the window. It was a cold steel octagon in the middle of the wavy grasslands. Besides the armed guard at the entrance-way, there was no one for miles and miles. He started to fidget, rubbing his knuckles and tapping his feet. “I don’t know about this Alan,” he said. By this time he was almost squirming in his seat.
Alan laughed like he had seen this before. “Will you relax?” he said. “It’s no problem.”
Todd let out a long sigh of relief. “So, I’m allowed in with you then.”
Alan laughed even harder. “No, not at all. This is federal top secret shit. They’ll kill you.”
They exited the jet, clanking down the steel steps. Todd’s eye’s remained fixed on the guard. The more he tried not to look, the more he ended up looking. He leaned into his brother and whispered to the back of his head. “So what the hell are we supposed to do?”
“Remember when we used to sneak into movies at the Cineplex on Winfield?”
Todd’s face scrunched up. “The ticket drop? Are you insane?”
Alan continued down the stairs, unmoved. “What’s the problem?” he asked. “I drop the ticket and you follow me in.”
Todd began to lecture him in a whisper, “That was a movie theater! This is a federal top-secret research lab!”
Alan couldn’t help but crack his famous cocky grin. “Tomato, tomato,” he said. “Besides you look just like me. These guys can’t tell the difference, they’re fucking jar-heads.”
“We do not look alike,” said Todd, offering up one final contradiction. They were on the final stretch now, there was no going back. The guard seemed to have his eyes locked on Todd. Does he know? Todd wondered. Can he hear my heart racing? Even when he looked away he could feel the guard’s eyes staring at him, burning a hole through his back. Alan swiped his card and was welcomed with the green light over the swipe pad. The doors parted open and he walked in. Todd looked to the guard. The guard looked back at Todd. In his peripherals Todd could see Alan’s access card lying among some pebbles and weeds.
“Excuse me, sir,” said the guard. His voice was commanding and sharp.
Todd gulped. “Um…yes?”
The guard took two steps forward and bent over. When he re-aligned he was holding Alan’s access card in his hands. He looked at the picture on the ID, then back at Todd. After what seemed to Todd like a year of silence the guard said, “You dropped your card, sir.” He handed it to Todd and returned to his post.
Todd nodded respectfully, trying to pass off his shaking legs as him just being cold. “Thank you,” he said, blowing into his fist and rubbing his hands together. He swiped the card and light went green. The door parted opened and Todd entered the fortress. There stood Alan, waiting for him, wearing that cocky grin like he knew there had been nothing to worry about the whole time. Just like he used to at the Cineplex.
The door closed behind them. Now they were in a long hallway; white, glaring. It was narrow and empty. Their steps echoed as they walked. They passed two doors on the way, both Alan ignored. But when they reached the third door he stopped and put his hand on the gold plated handle. As he gently pushed it open he said, “Welcome…to Jurassic Park.”
Inside the room were more white walls. In the center a long white table held up multiple radar screens and hubs with blinking buttons, switches and L.E.D. lights. At the foot of the table, at each end, there was a pedal. And above each pedal, just below the table’s ledge, there was a lever saluting upwards.
“So, it’s pretty easy,” said Alan. “We step on the foot pedal, pull down on the lever and boom, time stops.”
Todd took a deep breath, staring down the lever. “Okay,” he said. “Let’s do it.”
The two of them took their places at each end of the table. Alan stepped on his pedal
first. Todd followed. Alan then reached for his lever and that’s when Todd cried, “Wait! Stop!”
Alan took his hand off the lever. “What? What is it?”
Todd took his foot off the pedal. “We can’t do this,” he said. “It’s not right.”
Alan stepped off his pedal. “What are you talking about, man? We’re going to save mom’s life! I thought you were up for this? I thought you wanted to keep Julia your daughter for a little longer?”
“Julia will always be my daughter,” said Todd. “Sure, I wish she needed me a bit more and I wish she said “I love you” as much as she used to…but at what cost? You said the last time you used this thing you caused earthquakes and tsunami’s…You caused Fukushima!”
“Yeah, but that’s in Japan!” was Alan’s rebuttal. “We’ll be safe!”
“That’s not the point!” Todd exclaimed. “Just because it’s not you who is getting fucked over, doesn’t make it right! Japanese people have families too! They have mothers they care about too! What makes us more special than them? I don’t want to lose mom either, okay? But are we going to stop the whole world from turning just so we can have our way?”
“Yes!” shouted Alan.
“Why?!” shouted Todd.
“Because you’re right!” Alan yelled with a volume that climaxed their back and forth. The statement seem to knock the wind out of them both, for Alan admitting Todd was right was something that in all their years together had never taken place. When Alan spoke again he seemed weaker, exhausted even, from his admission. “You’re right,” he repeated. “I am a shitty son. I was never around, I never called…God, I don’t even know when’s mom birthday is. Whenever she would call me I would always be in a rush to get back to my work. Now it’s too late and I can’t take it back. That’s why I wanted to stop time, Todd. So I could spend some time with her. So I could give her back some of the love that she gave me.”
Todd had not seen tears fall from his brothers since he fell of his bike in the forest when they were just kids. But even after all the years that had passed Todd’s reaction didn’t change. He walked over to his little brother and brought him into his chest, hugging him. “You can’t change the past, Alan.” He said. “But there is still a family waiting for you in Normanview. That never changed, Alan. That never changed.”
Just then Todd’s cell phone began to vibrate in the breast pocket of his sports jacket. He let go of his brother and took it out. It was Maggie. He answered, “Hey, baby. What’s up?”
“Where the hell are you?” his wife asked frantically from the other end.
Todd took a look around at the radar screens and blinking hubs. “I don’t even know,” he replied.
“Well, you better hurry up and get your asses back here. Your mom just had another stroke. The doctor says she’s barely hanging on. Todd…she can be gone any minute.”
“We’re on our way,” said Todd. “Just hold on!” He hung up the phone and turned to Alan. “Mom had another stroke. She’s not expected to recover…”
Alan’s face become hot and his fists clenched. He spun around and punched the wall as hard as he could. “Fuck!”
The elevator doors had barely begun to open before Alan squeezed his way through and raced down the hallway of the hospital towards his mother’s room. Todd was there close behind him. At the end of the hallway the rest of the family waited; Uncle Maury, Julia and Maggie rocking little baby Thomas in her arms. And there was one more person: A man in a lab coat talking to Uncle Maury by the door to their mother’s room that was now closed. Alan’s heel squeaked against the floor as he came to a hard hockey stop. Maggie ran to her husband and threw her free arm around his neck. She sobbed into his chest.
“Where is she?” demanded Alan.
“Calm down, Alan,” said Uncle Maury. His tone was soft and nurturing. Alan knew something was very wrong.
“Where is she?!” he repeated, increasing his intensity. He was starting to shake now. The room was starting to spin. A hand came towards him; it belonged to the man in the lab coat. Alan swatted it away and pushed open the door to his mother’s room.
Inside the room was now silent. The machines had stopped buzzing, the lights had stopped blinking and the heart monitor had stopped beeping. In the corner of the room his mother laid in the bed, under the sheets. She looked up at the ceiling, her eyes closed in peaceful rest. He thought back to the Christmas mornings as a child when he would barge into her room and jump on her until she woke up and took him by the hand to the tree downstairs. But this time she wasn’t waking up. She was never waking up ever again. He dropped to her bedside and a stream of tears rolled freely down his cheeks, the bed sheet crinkled and creased in the locked grip of his fists. “I’m sorry, mom,” he cried. “I swear to God, I’m so sorry! I should have been here! I should have been with you!….I’m so sorry, ma…”
A hand on his shoulder pulled him up from his knees; it was the same hand that picked him up whenever he would fall off his bike as a kid. A hand that no amount of money, no amount of press and no amount of success had ever replaced the need for. He heard the calming voice of his big brother behind him, “It’s okay, Alan. It’s okay…”
After the funeral Todd gave Alan a ride back to the landing strip where his private jet was waiting.
“So you’re not upset that Julie is going to continue to get older? Y’know, ‘find someone’ and all that?” asked Alan.
“I think I can live with it,” said Todd. “I’m kind of excited actually. I have about a decade of scaring the shit out of a bunch of horny boys ahead of me. It won’t be so bad. What about you? What’s next for the famous Alan Shaman?”
“I have a few things left to take care of on this government contract,” said Alan. “But when it’s up I think I’m going to take a little break. I haven’t been home for Thanksgiving in ages…Think you could set a spot at the table for me this year?”
Todd smiled. “You sure? Even with Uncle Maury undervaluing your manhood?”
Alan returned a smirk. “Ah, he’s not so bad.”
Todd put his hand out. “So, I guess this is goodbye?”
Alan put his hand into his brother’s and shook it. “Let’s call it: see ya later.”