The Grisly Ghosts of Gruesome Time – Chapter 6
The Great Substack Story Challenge
The Great Substack Story Challenge is a round-robin story being written by 13 fiction writers. If you are new to the story, you can find the first chapter by clicking the center link below.
After Maureen hung up, Joey rubbed his eyes. It was getting to be too much. He grabbed the whiskey and had just uncorked it when he remembered the drawer.
Inside was a thick folder stuffed with pages and pages of writing on legal pad paper and a handful of black and white photos. Maureen. Crystal. Sam. Rob. John the banker, who claimed Crystal was his wife. And there was a photo of himself.
He started reading. After a couple of pages, he realized it was a draft of a cheesy gumshoe detective novel. He might have tossed it aside had he not recognized the names. Someone had written a novel about what Joey was experiencing right at this moment!
Just as he reached the part where he was reading about himself being in his office in 1947 and discovering the novel, the door to his office swung open.
Maureen, her dark hair pinned up in immaculate victory curls, rushed in. “Where have you been?”
Joey rolled his eyes at her dramatic entrance. “Here, toots, where else would I be?”
She pointed to the desk. “Where did this come from?”
Given the time he had spent in AA, he thought she was going to reach for the whiskey bottle, but instead, she grabbed the manuscript from his hands.
Joey scowled. He didn’t understand what it was, but he also didn’t want to let her have it. When she didn’t relent, he loosened his grip. “It was in my desk.” He leaned forward. “How could someone know everything I’ve done the past few days?”
She flipped through it, shaking her head. “There’s no time to explain. We need to catch up with Rob and Sam.” She slapped the folder back on the desk. “Come on,” she added. “We need to hurry. Rob thinks he knows where John is, and we need to reach him before Crystal finds him.”
“No, wait a goddamn second,” Joey replied. He was tired of being pushed around. “I’m not going anywhere until you clear a few things up.” He got to his feet. “I’ll accept that I’ve traveled back in time, but what is all this about aliens and you being a so-called ‘Multiverse Marshall’?”
She gave him a long hard stare. “What on earth are you talking about?”
Joey flailed his arms. “You said that on the phone!”
“When was that?” Now she looked uncertain. “I didn’t call you.”
“Yeah, you did, like 15 minutes ago!” He had recognized her soft, sultry tones.
“What?” Maureen made a face, her mouth twisted up in confusion. “Oh, I bet that was Crystal! She’s using crazy conspiracy theories to confuse you and turn you against the rest of us.” She walked to the door and held it, waving for him to leave. “We don’t have time for this now.”
Joey made a face. “I don’t know what you’ve gotten me mixed up in, but I just want to go back to my own time and get back to my business. I have other clients, you know.” It wasn’t true—he hadn’t had a paying client in months—but then again, Crystal hadn’t paid him either.
“Is that how it’s going to be, then?” Her hands were on her hips. “You’re refusing to help us?”
“Why shouldn’t I?” Joey’s head was swimming, and he took a swig of whiskey right from the bottle. After he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, he added, “Crystal was the one who hired me, after all.”
Maureen shook her head. “And to think Sam said you were a good guy.”
She might as well have punched him in the gut. “Sam’s involved in this?”
“I’d say so. He’s our squad leader. He said that you always were up for an adventure and we could rely on you. But if you don’t want to help him, that’s fine.”
Sam had been his buddy since, well, forever. “Fine,” he grumbled, and slipped the manuscript into a leather satchel beside his chair. After pausing a moment, he capped the whiskey and put it in the bag as well. “Just tell me what I need to do.”
“They’re going to meet us here.” Maureen had led him to the street corner just outside his office.
As he leaned against a bus stop, he immediately began wilting in the heat. As perspiration ran down his back, he removed his tie and stuffed it into a pocket, and pulled off his jacket.
Then he paused a moment to take in the scenery. Whizzing past were cars he had only seen in 1940s movies—but now they were bright and colorful. He stared at the curvy coupes, jolly wood-body Pontiacs, and even a couple of early Volkswagen Beetles. But it was the cherry red Packard One Eighty with the top down that caught his eye—and it wasn’t the car itself, but the dame with the cascading platinum hair and sparkle of gems.
“Maureen, look! It’s Crystal!”
She swiveled and swore under her breath. From her tweed jacket, she pulled out a cell phone. “Rob, she’s here, in a car.” There was a pause. “He is? It looks like she doesn’t know. We’ll be right there.” She looked up at Joey. “Change of plans. They located John. We’re going to go find the rest of the team.”
Joey was still staring at the phone. Unlike everything else they carried and wore, it still had the mark of the future. “Why didn’t the phone transform with time travel?”
Maureen shrugged. “Something about titanium, but I’m not that technical. Come on, we need to go.” She reached for his hand.
It had been a while since he had held a gal’s hand, but he had only seconds to appreciate how soft her hand was before everything blurred and he felt that flying sensation again. He pinched his eyes closed and clenched his teeth.
Then he heard Maureen cursing. “Damn, Joey, you nearly broke my hand!”
Joey opened one eye. The sun seemed higher in the sky, and the air felt cooler. He opened the other. “Did we travel again?”
Maureen was shaking her hand as if it had cramped. “What do you think?” Her hair was long, and loose, with braids at her temples. “Welcome to 1970.”
He glanced around. Somehow, they were still outside his office building, but now the street just ahead of them was crowded with people carrying signs on sticks. Stop the killing, one read. US go home, said another. And then, Get out of Vietnam. “You brought us to an anti-war protest?” he said, shouting to be heard over the chanting.
“Yeah, Rob said he thinks John’s trying to hide in the crowd. You know John, right?”
“He’s my banker.”
“Right. Keep an eye out for him.” She glanced around and nodded for him to follow. “And for Crystal.”
“What do I do if I find them?”
“Leave that to me, Joey.”
He nodded. It wasn’t every day that he left things to a dame like Maureen, but she was a fiery one, and tough as nails. He wasn’t happy to be dragged along like someone’s pet, but he’d trust her to know what to do.
They pressed through the crowd. Joey felt a bit foolish in his bell-bottom jeans and apple-green shirt, so he tugged his jacket closed. He felt for the leather satchel and realized it had transformed into a fabric shoulder bag with a macrame strap. He pulled out the bottle of whiskey and took another swig, and then stretched the strap over his head to wear it cross-body so he wouldn’t lose it.
Someone tugged at his sleeve. “Mind sharing some of that?” This dame was short, with a pixie haircut and round blue sunglasses. Kinda cute. She pointed to the bottle.
“Uh sure,” he said, handing it to her as he looked for Maureen. The crowd had closed in around him and he couldn’t see her now. He grabbed the bottle back. “I gotta go.”
Joey shoved his way through the press of people. “Maureen!” he shouted, trying to be heard over the din. “Maureen!”
There was no sign of her.
Panic swelled in his chest and his heartbeat roared in his ears. If he lost her, he’d be stuck here. “Maureen!” he cried out again, and stumbled forward. Surely after all the effort she and the others had put into enlisting him, she wouldn’t lose him now.
He kept shoving past men and women holding signs, getting lots of dirty looks. It was claustrophobic being trapped in what seemed like thousands of people. And the chanting was deafening.
And still, he hadn’t found Maureen. The crowd had seemingly swallowed her up.
But that didn’t matter. He found someone else.
Even with the beard and black-rimmed glasses, Joey would know John anywhere.
[To be continued next Thursday on Necessary Fiction]
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Text © 2022 by Jackie Dana.
Header image by Erica Drayton.