Prose Header

It’s Reigning Time

by David Siegel Bernstein

I sneezed, opened my eyes, and found myself surrounded by vinyl-sided Colonials standing at attention in rows stretching to the horizon. This wasn’t what I had expected. What did I expect?

Thank God I didn’t have far to walk. I could see the address of my destination. I approached a tacky, dandelion-colored house and rang the doorbell. The heavy chartreuse door slowly creaked open and a voice with a matching rusty timbre said, “Yes? Who’s there?”

“Hello, my name is Frank Jones. I’m here to see Mr. Percival Wellington Biggles.”

The door opened wider and a woman — who in no way matched the voice I’d just heard — stood there. She was as sultry as she was ageless, meaning she was hot and I couldn’t guess her age. She stepped onto the veranda and extended her hand. “Frank Jones, you say?” Her voice was now smooth velvet. “What an odd name. I’m Ms. Perriweather Altuna McGurkin. Please call me Ms. McGurkin.”

Her hand was as soft as silk. Not the cheap stuff you get at a Macy’s, but the classy stuff — Neiman Marcus quality. After I released her she asked, “How did you find this development?”

“I... I just did.”

“Well, you shouldn’t have. It was that Map, wasn’t it?” She shook her head. “Never mind. You’re here now.” She called into the house and a moment later an extremely attractive man, also of indeterminate age, stepped out.

I took a deep breath. “Are you Percival Wellington Biggles?”

He sized me up before gesturing toward a bench. “No need to be formal, call me Mr. Biggles.” He took a seat on the cedar swing across from me.

“I’m Frank Jones.”

“I’m sorry. What were your parents thinking with a name like that?”

My heart sank a little when Ms. McGurkin joined him on the swing. I sat straighter and directed my gaze at Mr. Biggles. I wasn’t here for romance. “Do you know why I’m here?”

“I suspect because you’re a fool. Do I win a prize for getting it right?”

Ms. McGurkin cleared her throat. “Be polite, Mr. Biggles.” To me she said, “Yes, he knows why.”

“It wasn’t all bad, just a lot of misinterpretation,” Mr. Biggles grunted.

She patted the back of his hand. “Of course, Dear.”

Yes, it was bad. “You’re 2013!”

Mr. Biggles shrugged. “You’ve lived through worse Years than me. Go bitch to them.”

“You know he can’t.” Ms. McGurkin said. “The Map can only lead to the birth Year.” She looked at me again. “I’m only here because I happened to be over for a visit.”

He crossed his arms and spit on a nearby evergreen shrub. “Damn Map — always escaping.”

“Frank Jones,” she said. “Don’t be hard on him.”

“Just call me Frank.”

Her nose crinkled. “You want to be called that?”

“There’s nothing wrong with my name.”

She smiled wistfully. “If you say so. Anyway, people like you think they’re the center of the universe, but it’s all so much more complicated. There’s ideology, religion and — ” She elbowed Mr. Biggles. “What’s that fiction Mrs. Colbert from 34B is always saying we should add?”

“Free will.”

They both laughed.

I leaned back on the bench and stared at them. These Yesteryears are giggling like a New Year’s Day baby in early February. “What’s so funny about global warming or the oceans turning into acid?”

Mr. Biggles flashed a smile. “Don’t blame me. Blame the French. Everyone else does.”

After a swift hit to his shoulder from Ms. McGurkin — not a gentle slap between partners indicating an inside joke or some impolite social faux pas, but a full-on closed fist, make sure you use knuckles, kind of hit — he said, “She doesn’t approve of any French jokes. As it turns out, France was the center of the universe during her reign.”

He began rubbing the location of a future bruise. “Look, I didn’t cause global warming. You need to introduce your baby sister to the Map. Her Year really racked up the carbon count.”

How does he know I have a sister? “You still have plenty to answer for — like the Orange County Famine, which left Disneyland a ghost town.”

“Other things happened during my reign too, like scientists in Canada discovering what dark matter and dark energy really were. The world got a good laugh out of that.”

“That doesn’t balance the scales,” I said. “How about the Calico Feline flu pandemic wiping out an entire town in Idaho?”

Mr. Biggles sighed. “That’s because during a prior Year, humans gave the virus to the cats. The Calicos just mutated it and coughed it back up like a hairball. It’s not my fault.”

“You were responsible for the Icelandic Jihad.”

“And for the Chinese making the first manned Mars landing,” Mr. Biggles shot back. “They found protozoa! That was amazing.” He was so pleased with himself he held up his hand for a high-five.

I crossed my arms over my chest. “You are also responsible for the third reunion of New Kids on the Block.”

“That’s a low blow.”

“The remake of Show Girls and the iMAX re-imagined Gilligan’s Island were surprise hits,” said Ms. McGurkin.

We both glared at her.

She shrugged. “Just saying. That’s all. I thought this was a game.”

“Look, Son,” Mr. Biggles said. “I’m starting to think you’re a glass-half-empty sort of guy. You’re the type who, when he sees a pitcher of refreshing lemonade, you know it’s out there, but you avoid it like New Coke and go around bitching about how thirsty you are.”

“I’m not your son.”

“I can call you Son if I want. You were born during my reign. And despite your odd name, you appear to have survived into adulthood, so things couldn’t have been too bad. So quit whining. You were given plenty of opportunities for success, all of which you avoided as a Star Trek blogger avoids dating.”

He doesn’t know anything.

“Yes I do,” Mr. Biggles said evenly.

“You can read my mind?”

“Of course... although it’s a bit more complicated than that.”

I looked at Ms. McGurkin. “You too?”

“No, not me. Only him. You see, a Year knows everything about whatever or whoever was created during their reign.”

I hesitated considering. “So you knew I’d be coming here?”

“As I said, it’s complicated. As far as I knew, until you rang my doorbell, you were a successful oceanographer who went on to marry Megan Fox. The Map changed your fate, causing my memories to be edited to match your new reality.”

“So my life wasn’t supposed to suck?”

“No. But the pre-draft is fading so it’s getting hard for me get a handle on what might have been.” He got up from the swing, sending Ms. McGurkin into a pendulum arc. “If you want to see sad — I mean, so-help-me-God, non-ersatz, agonizing, morose sad — then look there.”

I turned to look where his middle finger was pointing. Down the block, sitting on a rotting rocking chair staring at a dead patch of grass was a man with the coldest, grayest, emptiest eyes I’d ever seen, never mind that I knew I shouldn’t have been able to see them from this distance. He was performing such a slow rocking motion that creeping ivy had snaked its way around his legs.

“That is 1932. And across the back yard are the 1940s — don’t get me started on that crowd.”

I pushed myself up. Coming here had been a mistake. “Show me the way out of this suburban purgatory.”

Ms. McGurkin and Mr. Biggles exchanged glances. Ms. McGurkin said, “Oh, you can’t leave, Dear. Didn’t the Map explain?”

I shook my head. We’d only spent a single long and steamy night together. There hadn’t been the need for many words. The next morning she’d explained who she was and that I could meet the Year of my birth. I agreed and the next thing I knew, I was surrounded by vinyl-sided Colonials.

“The Map is a trickster,” Mr. Biggles said. “It can roll Itself out as a he or she, depending on the victim’s tastes. She backtracked through the Years until she found the lowest point in your life. Then she seduced you. She made you regret being born.”

“Why do that?”

“To fill Its hunger and sustain Itself,” Ms. McGurkin answered. “Now you have to stay here forever. Well not here exactly — this subdivision is reserved for the early 21st century — but I’m sure you’ll find a nice place in the next millennium. I hear stucco ranch is popular there.”

Mr. Biggles said, “Of course, you’ll have to earn your keep. The Map wants that. I believe the next opening for work is 2102. Good luck. I’m sure you’ll make a fine Year.”

Mr. Biggles and Ms. McGurkin went back into the house and I began my journey up the endless highway to the... to my... to me. I am the future.

Copyright © 2010 by David Siegel Bernstein

to Challenge 378...

Home Page