Friday, May 15, 2020

The Ferris Wheel

“Damn it.”

“Carl Abby, you shouldn’t swear.” Lucy removed her hat with the fabric flowers and lace and set it on the seat beside them. She hiked up her skirt so Carl could see her legs. Carl liked that.

“I’m sorry, love. I'm upset that we’re stuck. I should have waited for all the kinks to be worked out, instead of getting tickets for opening day.” Tears welled in Carl’s eyes. He took out a handkerchief and wiped them. “But we don’t have time to wait.” He shook his head and cried more. “We don’t have time. So here we are, stuck on top of George Ferris’ wheel for God knows how long.”

Lucy took Carl’s hand in hers and slid closer. The wooden car jostled. “It’s okay, love. I don’t mind being stuck here, as long as we’re together.”

Carl tried to force a smile. “I want every moment of every day you have left to be special. I don’t want it to be wasted on a broken machine.”

“It’s not wasted. I’m happy.” Lucy waved her arm in a semicircle. “Look at this magnificent view. I’ve never seen anything like it.” She pointed west. “Look over there, love. Do you see that steamboat on the lake?” She pointed to the other side. “And over there, streetcars! I’ve never seen a view as wondrous as this.”

Carl’s cheeks sagged. His eyes misted and his lips turned downward.

She squeezed Carl’s hand. “The doctors don’t know everything. I might live another whole month, maybe even a year or more. But we’ll make every moment special, regardless of whether we’re stuck on a big wheel or holding each other in bed. I promise you memories to last the rest of your life. My love and joy will be with you forever.”

Grand Seiko SBGR077
Their Ferris wheel car jerked forward a few inches and then stopped again. A blanket of dark covered them. Carl pulled out his Waltham pocket watch from his jacket and clicked open the cover: 2:05 p.m. Plenty of light left in the day. So why was it suddenly dark? A flash in front of them answered his question: Thunderstorm. Carl understood enough about electricity to know that being atop a steel structure during an electrical storm was exactly the worst thing. “Lucy, there’s—”

“I know. I see it.” She cupped her hands over her ears. “I hear it, too.”

“I think this is God’s doing,” blurted Carl “He wants us to perish together so we can be everlasting in his embrace. God knows I can’t live without you and he is answering my prayers. He’s always looking out for us, even if it appears otherwise.”

Their wooden car vibrated as the thundercloud grew closer. Lightning zigzagged across the sky, transforming the glowing clouds into demons. The approaching gusts swung their car back and forth, the joints that connected the car to the steel wheel squeaking so loudly they could be heard over the thunder. Moving inextricably toward Lucy and Carl, a vortex of leaves raced upward, carrying more lightning with it.

Lucy and Carl were gripping each other tightly when a bolt of lightning struck the metal directly above them. The Edison bulbs flashed on, then off, then shone as bright as suns before exploding. The wind carried the glass upward and away from Lucy and Carl, sparing them from the deadly shrapnel,  pushing their car to a nearly horizontal position and then back to the vertical faster than Lucy and Carl could tumble.

The lightning sought out every metallic object it could find. It energized the steel around their car, jumped the wood, and struck Carl’s pocket watch. Carl snatched his Waltham out of his pocket and watched it shimmer and spin like a top in his hand as if it were possessed.

The smell of smoldering wood filled their car.

Another, stronger gust hurled the car to the edge of its safety, this time knocking Lucy and Carl unconscious.

Their Ferris wheel car was circling down, following its normal path, when they opened their eyes. Carl put his hands on Lucy’s arms and examined her. “Are you okay, my love? Does anything hurt?”

Waves of relief cascaded through his body when he saw she wasn’t bleeding and appeared fine — except for the part of her that wasn’t. Carl held back the tears of a thousand emotions. She wouldn’t die today, but she would die soon, when the cancer finished consuming her. But they wouldn’t die together because that was God’s will. What plans were in store for them, Carl didn’t know.

“Look!” Lucy shouted. “What is that?” She pointed to something in the sky.

Carl couldn’t describe it, but it was unlike anything he’d seen before, or even imagined. An enormous silver bird with immobile wings. The bird raced across a crisp blue sky. The storm was gone.

“Look down!”

Carl did as Lucy said.

“Do you see those people? What are they wearing? Who are they?” Lucy’s eyes went wide as the Ferris wheel carried them closer to the people on the ground.

Carl felt a strange metallic band materialize on his wrist. He lifted his arm to his eyes. The band was silver with a watch dial on top. A pocket watch. But on his wrist? He touched his jacket pocket and quickly scanned the Ferris wheel car. His Waltham was missing. In its place was the most curious timepiece, imprinted with the words “Grand Seiko” on the dial. He’d sort this out later. The most important thing was that Lucy wasn’t injured.

The first words Lucy and Carl heard when their car’s door opened were spoken by a woman: “Harvey, you really screwed up this time.”

The man Carl took to be Harvey replied, “How could I have known?”

“I think you knew,” Sawako said. “I think you were hoping something like this would happen.” She waved her hand up and down in front of Lucy and Carl as if she were painting their portraits. “Do you think this is right? Do you think you’ve done a good deed? Because I don’t.”

Harvey harrumphed. “2026 is a better year for them than the late 1800s. It’s like bringing a stray cat indoors. At first the cat hates it, but it quickly discovers the benefits of a warm, soft bed, not having to chase mice for its meals—”

Carl stiffened his back. “Excuse me. What are you talking about? We have a warm, soft bed. We don’t eat mice.”

Sawako looked up as she did some quick math. “See, Harv. Your experiment snatched two decent people from 1893 where they were enjoying their lives and brought them into a world they’ll find difficult or impossible to adjust to. This is a nightmare and you are the maker of bad dreams.”

Harvey bent forward in an attempt to give Sawako a kiss, but she parried before his lips could land on hers. “Listen,” he said. “If Grand Seiko’s going to advertise that their anti-magnetic watch can resist 100,000 gauss, somebody’s got to test that claim. And that somebody’s me.” He tapped his chest with his forefinger. “And you know what? Like all things Grand Seiko, the anti-magnetism was understated. I noticed no effect until 186,000 gauss. That’s when the Grand Seiko started speeding up.”

“So why did you dial the machine up to 1 million?”

The world's first Ferris Wheel at the World's Columbian
 Exposition in Chicago in 1893
“Why not?”

“Excuse me,” Lucy interrupted. “Would somebody please explain what’s happening? Where are we? Everything looks wrong.”

Sawako approached her. She took a deep breath. “It’s no longer 1893. This is the year 2026.” Sawako jabbed a finger Harvey’s way. “My friend here, Harvey Mistake—”

Harvey glared. “Miscovich.”

“This so-called physicist was performing an experiment that he knew could affect space-time.” She stomped her foot. “He didn’t fill out the form noting the experiment’s risks completely and honestly.”

Harvey pursed his lips and frowned. “There was no question on the Experiment Documentation Request about possible effects on space-time—”

“The question was, ‘List all possible dangers this experiment might cause.”

“That refers to biological or explosive, not time travel.”

“Could you just tell us what happened,” Lucy said, her voice rattling with confusion. “Are you saying we have traveled forward in time 133 years?”

Harvey nodded. “That’s exactly right.”

“I still don’t understand. How did you know to meet us here?” Lucy pivoted all the way around and surveyed the amusement park. “This Ferris wheel, it’s not the same. The steel is shiny, not gray. Clothes, amusement booths, strollers, balloons, it’s all the more colorful. Lots of smells are missing. Where are the horses? This isn’t the World's Columbian Exposition, either.”

Carl wobbled. Havey grabbed him before he fell to the ground. “I feel dizzy,” said Carl.

“I’m sure. You just traveled over a century. Go slow with everything.” Havey retrieved a bottle of water from his shoulder bag and handed it to Carl. Carl puzzled over the bottle, tilting it through a range of angles, until Harvey took the bottle back and twisted the cap open for him.

Sawako turned to Lucy. “The Grand Seiko Harvey was experimenting with in the Cryogen Superconducting Magnet vanished. Carl’s watch materialized in its place. We examined the Waltham, discovered it was manufactured in the 1890s, and figured out who you were through the inscription, “Lucy and Carl Abby, forever together.” A little googling, a little genealogy research at City Hall, a little deduction—”

“Googling?”

“That's hard to explain. Let’s just say we were able to find you in history, that you were on the list of guests for the first Ferris wheel ride in Chicago. This new wheel was built on the site of the George Ferris’ original wheel. We did some calculations and came up with an educated guess you’d be arriving today.” Sawako shot Harvey an annoyed look. “That part worked right.” He stuck his tongue out at her.

“I have a question,” Carl said.

“What is it?” said Harvey.

Carl’s voice cracked, his words halting. “My Lucy has thyroid cancer and the doctors say —”

Harvey raised his hand, interrupting Carl. “I’ll answer your question before you even ask. Yes, we’ve cured thyroid cancer. Lucy will be fine.”

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