Prose Header

Project Gateway

by S. Michael Leier

Part 1 appears
in this issue.

Walter began to relax and breathe easier, knowing that someone wasn’t going to grab him at any moment. He looked at his torn shirt, went to the closet, and found a shirt and pants. “Luckily these clothes are close to my size,” he thought.

After changing, he went back to the kitchen, opened a side door, and was surprised to see a car parked inside. It was a black 1950 Chevy with the keys in it. “It’s almost like destiny wants me to succeed,” Walter said, smiling.

He opened the garage door and looked out into the quiet neighborhood. It was dark outside. “I wonder what time it is,” thought Walter as he got into the car, started it, backed out of the garage.

He quickly closed the garage door and then headed down the road not knowing where he was, but was intent on getting to Texas as fast as he could.

He stopped at a small gas station and an attendant rushed to the car smiling. “Yes sir, fill her up?” the attendant asked.

“Sure, that will be fine,” said Walter realizing that he had money, but it was future money. “I hope he doesn’t look at these bills too close.”

After a few minutes, the gas station attendant had filled the tank, washed the windows, checked the air in the tires, topped off the oil, and then returned to the window.

“Okay, the tank was already full so I just topped it off. It comes to 55 cents,” he said as he wiped his hands with a small rag. “Here’s a dollar, go ahead and keep the change,” Walter said nervously, as he watched the man place the dollar into his pocket without looking at it. “By the way what town is this?”

“You’re in beautiful Lovington, New Mexico.”

“New Mexico!” Walter said shocked. “I guess that makes sense with the Roswell crash, area 51 and all.”

“Roswell?” said the attendant. “That’s just northwest of here, but I didn’t hear of any crash.”

“Uh, never mind. How do I get to Texas from here?”

“Just take highway 82 that will get you to Brownsfield. If you want I have a map inside.”

“Sure,” said Walter and the man ran to the station a came out with a map. “How much I owe you?”

The attendant laughed, “For a map? Maps are free, who ever heard of charging for a map? You’re not from around here, are you?”

“Not really I’m from... far away,” said Walter. “Very far away.”

Walter started the car and drove away heading east for Texas. He stopped long enough to look at the map and found Benbrook in the northeast corner of Texas in Tarrant County, near Fort Worth. It took him the rest night and the most of the next day to get to the town. When he finally arrived, it was nearly 3:00 pm.

He stopped near a gas station to refuel and checked a phone book to get the address for Oswald. He searched the book, but found no listing. He then called the operator, but again there was no listing for Oswald.

“I should have known,” he said, aggravated. “Not everybody had phones in 1950.” Frustrated, he paid the attendant and started to walk back to his car when he heard something that made Walter turn suddenly.

“Lee Harvey, you be careful up there,” a female voice called out from a park across the road.

“It can’t be,” he said astonished. Walter ran across the busy street to the park where several young kids were playing. A young woman sat on a bench watching a skinny boy as he climbed a metal tower shaped like a rocket ship.

Walter walked up to the seated woman, “Is that your son?” he asked.

“Yes, that’s my Lee,” she answered.

“That wouldn’t be Lee Oswald would it?”

“Why, yes. Do you know my son?” she asked as she looked closer at Walter.

“Let’s say we share some history,” said Walter with a slight grin.

He turned his attention back to the gangly boy who was almost to the top of the rocket when Lee’s foot slipped and he started to fall.

“LEE!” shouted the woman as she leapt from the bench to grab him, but Walter reacted quickly and grabbed the woman before she could get to the boy. Lee landed on the hard dirt with a loud thud and the sickening sound of something breaking.

“Oh my God!” the woman cried out as she pushed away from Walter and rushed to the screaming boy.

Walter just stared at the scene of a mother trying to comfort her son. He felt as though his heart had fallen into his stomach and a wave of nausea washed through him. Feeling as though he was about to be sick he turned his head away from the horrid site and ran back to his car.

As he sat behind the wheel, he pounded his fist relentlessly in anger at what he had done. He knew in his mind that it had to be done to save his father, but the thought of hurting a child, even one who would be an assassin, ripped at his very soul.

“Are you alright?” the attendant asked through the window.

Walter looked up at him with red swollen eyes. “I’ll find out,” he answered as he started the car and drove away heading back to New Mexico.

The whole trip back, Walter relived that horrible moment over and over in his mind. The sound of the boy falling, his mother screaming, and the terrible sound of Oswald hitting the ground. He stopped only once to refuel and had to leave quickly when the attendant looked confusedly at the money from the future.

When Walter returned to the house in Lovington New Mexico, he quickly put the car back into the garage and went straight for the basement.

“Now to get back home,” he said as he began to turn on the equipment. He thought back to the machine’s blueprint that he had found in the folder and within a short time had most of the mechanisms figured out.

“All right... if I did it correctly, these settings should send me back to 2006, just a few minutes after I left. I wouldn’t want to run into myself; that would be too weird.”

He flipped a handle on the wall sending power to the large wall of computers and heard a low hum as the tubes and the metal cage began to glow. Quickly he got into the machine and once again felt a force trying to lift him off the ground. A swirling wind grabbed at him and it felt as though every molecule in his body was vibrating. Suddenly with a brilliant flash, Walter was gone.

* * *

Shadows from the morning sun stretched across a cluttered carpet in a small Alexandria Virginia apartment. A pigeon sat on an open window ledge quietly grooming itself while the sounds of commuters heading for work filled the air. A slight breeze blew through the room and the bird stopped moving as it tilted its head to look inside the room. It began to flutter violently as the air became electrified and the wind grew into a swirling storm.

A light flashed as a sudden burst of electricity ripped through the room and the bird lay dead in the window. In the center of the small room, within a metal cage stood Walter Branigan. He inhaled deeply as air rushed back into his lungs.

“I’m back,” he coughed. Walter looked at a clock hung on the opposite wall. “According to the clock I was only gone ten minutes. Amazing.” He stepped from the machine, picked up a newspaper, and read the shocking headline.

“JFK Dies at the Age of 82...”

“My God it worked!” he exclaimed as he slumped back into an overstuffed chair. He sat there for several minutes recalling what he had been through in last couple of days. He remembered finding the secret file at the Pentagon and then building the machine using the file’s blue prints. He remembered going back to the original machine in 1950, finding Lee Harvey Oswald and stopping his mother from saving him from a crippling fall. A part of him cringed at the thought as guilt still nagged at him for doing so.

Slowly he opened his eyes and leaped for the phone. He feverishly dialed the number. “Hello Mom,” he said anxiously. “Is... is Dad there?” He almost dropped the receiver when a male voice came on the line.

“Hello, son,” the elder Mr. Branigan spoke. “Why are you calling this early? Don’t tell me you need money again. Don’t you think it’s about time that...”

His father continued his speech about responsibility, but Walter wasn’t listening to the words. All he heard was the sound of his father’s voice and the hard thump as his heart nearly leaped out of his chest.

“Dad, I don’t need money,” Walter interrupted. “I just called to... well all I wanted to hear was... Dad I just wanted to call and say I love you.”

No sound came from the other end for a long pause and then, “Son, are you okay? Is everything all right, because if you need...”

“Everything fine... just wonderful,” said Walter as he beamed with happiness. “Look I’m going to take some time off work next week and come visit if it’s all right.”

“Sure,” his father replied. “Walter, are you sure everything is all right?”

“Perfect,” answered Walter. “Gotta go. I’ll see you next week.” Walter reluctantly hung up the phone and then looked at the clock on the opposite side of the room.

“I’d better hurry. I have just enough time to change and get to work. If I don’t show up, they might get suspicious. Besides it wouldn’t look good to come in late especially after working there for only six months.”

When Walter arrived at his floor in the Pentagon, the smile was still broad on his face and he noticed that others were looking at him in a funny way. He didn’t care this had been the best day of his life and nothing was going to ruin it for him.

He went straight for his desk, but before he could sit down, Bill Cole, his one and only friend at work, stepped through the door. “Well it happened,” said Bill with a stoic expression. “They finally did it.”

“Did what?” asked Walter still smiling ear to ear.

“You know the blockade,” answered Bill annoyed. “Get your head out of the clouds. We’re on full alert status around here.”

“Right... the blockade,” said Walter confused.

“We’ve got an emergency meeting with the director in one hour. This could be the big one, bring lots of paper. Oh and I’ve seen this before: they’ll probably want a copy of everyone’s updated last will and testament on file. Just thought I’d give you a heads-up just in case. Gotta go, see you at ten, and wipe that silly grin off your face. People will start to talk.” Bill quickly left the room leaving Walter a bit dazed.

“What is going on?” Walter asked himself as he took out the paper he read earlier. He looked below the JFK article and saw the world news headline.

“China Breaks off Talks. U.S. to Respond Quickly- AP Washington, DC”

“What the hell...” Walter continued to read.

China has once again refused to dismantle its nuclear arsenal as the United States recalls its diplomats from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing... When asked a spokesperson for the Pentagon refused to answer questions as to rumors of an armada of ships that have stationed themselves just off the coast of China in the Pacific...”

Walter threw down the newspaper and rushed down the busy hallway to Bill’s office, bursting through the door.

“What the hell is going on?” asked Walter breathing heavily.

“I told you...” answered Bill confused.

“Look Bill,” said Walter as he sat down in a chair. “I know this is going to sound crazy, but please tell me what has been going on with China.”

“You know as well as I...” Bill started.

“I’m serious, Bill,” Walter interrupted as sweat began to form on his brow. “Pretend that I know nothing. Fill me in.”

“Okay,” said Bill as he saw a seriousness in Sam’s face that he hadn’t seen before. “As you know... I mean the U.S. hasn’t had a very good relationship with China since Robert Kennedy snubbed them back in the early seventies when they invited him...”

“Wait a minute,” Walter burst out. “Nixon went to China in the seventies to develop diplomatic relations.”

“Nixon who?” asked Bill, confused. “You don’t mean Vice-President Nixon? Hell, he got out of politics after Bobby Kennedy beat him in the 1968 election. Bobby would have never sanctioned relations with China with his strong stance against Communist expansion.

“We’ve had diplomatic sanctions against them for years and now it seems to be coming to a head. We’ve got twenty ships patrolling the Pacific just off China’s coast blocking their trade routes to the Pacific Rim nations and isolating them from any USSR help.

“From what I understand, the director is going to tell us that they are coordinating a mass evacuation all along the west coast and Hawaii for fear of China following through with its nuclear threat, but I don’t understand... You know all this, so why...”

“Oh my God, this can’t be happening,” said Walter as he slumped into his chair. “I don’t believe it. I was thinking of only myself. It never occurred to me that something like this could happen.”

“Okay, now what are you talking about?” asked Bill.

Walter sat up and looked at Bill for moment before he took a deep breath. “I’ve got to go,” said Walter as he leaped up from the chair.

“What do you mean, you got to go? We have a meeting in 40 minutes, you can’t just...”

“I have to go. I can’t explain it, but trust me, I’ve got to go.”

Walter quickly went back to his office, gathered his things, went to his car, and barreled out of the parking lot. His mind seemed to be spinning as he sped down the highway. He pounded on the dash of his car as the realization of what he had done flooded through him.

The anger built inside him as he came to only one conclusion; he must go back and undo what he had done, but if he did, it meant losing his father again. He struggled within himself, screaming in his car as tears flowed down his cheeks. He arrived outside his apartment complex and he sat for what seemed like hours.

“If I change this, my father dies,” the anger in his voice echoed. “Maybe this crisis will blow over. I mean, these countries are always trying to bluff the other for control. China might back down or we might... No, I can’t take that chance, it could mean the death off millions. I know what I have to do.” Walter looked up at his window and sighing deeply he got out of his car.

The equipment was still in working order, which surprised Walter, considering the jolt of power that surged through it. He methodically reprogrammed the computer and checked each connection.

“I guess it’s ready,” said Walter as he turned slowly and looked over at the phone. He thought about calling his father one last time, but decided that it would be too hard to talk to him knowing that he was going to lose his father again. “At least I got to tell him what I’ve waited all my life to say. At least I have that.”

Walter keyed a command into the computer, stepped into the machine, and with a blinding flash was gone.

Once again, Walter arrived in 1950 in the basement of a small house in New Mexico. He changed his clothes, got into the car that he had left in the garage, and headed back to Benbrook Texas. He knew what he had to do and he fought to stop any other thoughts from entering his mind. He focused on his objective and even when he stopped for gas, he didn’t speak to anyone.

Finally, he arrived at the park in Benbrook where he had encountered an eleven-year old boy’s mother. He stood back for several moments as he watched the small boy that had been so much of his focus slowly climb up a metal structure on the playground shaped like a rocket. He saw the boy’s mother look away for just a moment as the boy reached for the last rung and his foot slipped. Walter rushed forward as the boy began to tumble down. He got to him just in time and caught the young boy in his arms.

“LEE!” screamed his mother as she ran to them. “are you all right? Lee Harvey, how many times must I tell you not to climb so far?” The desperation in her voice was overshadowed with her relief. She looked up at Walter who was standing beside the two of them staring with red swollen eyes. “Thank you so much for saving my son. I could never repay you for what you have done.”

“That’s okay,” said Walter as he wiped the tear that was forming. He then looked at the small skinny boy. “Young man you’ve got a lot of guts.”

“Really?” said Lee.

“Absolutely,” replied Walter. “You should think of joining the military when you grow up. I think you’d make a fine Marine.”

Copyright © 2006 by S. Michael Leier

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