The Non-Present

Today’s writing exercise: “Someone is transported to a Christmas in a past century.”

Talan stood in the chamber tapping his foot. He hated this. He should be capturing criminals, not wasting his time on this nonsense.

“Ready to go?”

Talan smiles and nods his head vigorously to the technician through the small portal window. This was really going to suck, he thought.

“Okay, in three… two… one…”

Talan held his breath as he was surrounded by light and his whole body was torn apart.

Air hits his lungs like fire and he opens his eyes. Lights stab at his eyes and he quickly closes them again and rubs them vigorously. He stands there and waits for his reassimilation to complete.

But it never does.

He lets out a heavy sigh. He has been on this kind of trip a few dozen times and he was still not used to it. Being temporally out of sync with space-time was more than a little disturbing. These surveillance and fact-finding assignments were a waste of his time. He has more time arrests than any three agents on the force, and here he was collecting background on a criminal to be used in his trial.

He sighs again. Background. Ancestors from over a hundred years ago. His great-great-great-grandfather made him do it. Ancestor evidence was bunk.

Talan’s senses normalized and he looks around the area. He spots the cabin a few hundred yards away, decked out in multi-colored lights. He looks confused for a moment then remembers the briefing. Some sort of holiday event. He walks towards the cabin to get this obvious stall finished quickly.

Talan stops at the front door and takes a breath. In addition to being unobservable to people in this time zone, being out of sync meant he can walk through matter. He has asked four different experts why he doesn’t also fall through to the Earth’s core. He received four different answers that didn’t mean anything.

Taking a breath he walks through the wall into the cabin.

Inside, he finds the small wooden structure is a single room. By the door are multiple pieces of dirty footwear. Scanning the area, all of the people are in one corner. They have settled around a large tree next to a stone area with a fire in it. The tree has small colored lights all over it. They have also hung small trinkets over it and circled it with colorful fuzzy rope strands.

Christmas tree, he remembers. There is a humanoid at the top of the tree wearing a white robe. He looks closer and spies what appears to be wings on the back. He’s not sure if the wings are supposed to be part of the robe or the person.

He shakes his head and looks around at the people.  There were three generations of a family here. There are colorful packages underneath the tree, and the younger ones are ripping them open one at a time.

He immediately spots the great-great-great-grandfather. Apparently he is supposed to give one of the children some violent toy that changes his life. Talan looks at the presents already opened. One boy has a large box with letters Train Set on it. Some form of older locomotion system, if his history is correct. Not sure how one would fit in that box, but that wasn’t relevant.

A young girl is playing with some plastic toys in odd shapes. She is rubbing them on her face and looking at herself in a mirror. While the plastic parts have no effect on her appearance, the girl is acting like they are making her more beautiful. The adults seem to be pretending this is the case.

The third boy is holding a brown oblong shape. He talks about wanting to go out and play “catch”. One of the adults says they will play this game tomorrow. Though there are more packages to be unwrapped. One suggests they gather around and sing. There is a musical instrument, the piano he remembers, on the other side of the fireplace pushed against the wall. One of the women sits in front of the piano and encourages the oldest man to join her.

He sits down next to her and the two begin playing on the piano. In unison, everyone begins singing. He has never heard songs from this era, but it’s a jovial song and everyone seems to be happy.

“Ho, ho, ho! Who wouldn’t go.
Ho, ho, ho! Who wouldn’t go,
Up on the housetop, click, click, click;
Down through the chimney with good Saint Nick.”

Tolan really hated these assignments.

They went on to play and sing four more songs. Between songs, one or more of the children would look back towards the packages under the tree. Then another song would start and they would join back in with great enthusiasm.

Then they declared the final song. The old man bumps the woman off the bench as this was his “big finale.” They begin another song, something about “Jingle Bells.” But everyone is practically screaming the words making them incoherent. The old man is standing up and dancing as he practically pounds away on the piano.

And then he stops. At first, the rest of the family doesn’t notice, but when the old man falls to the ground everything stops. Everybody starts rushing around. One person grabs a personal communication device and begins contacting someone. The woman who had been playing with him pushes the kids away saying “Give him some room.” The older woman, the man’s wife, clutches towards him, being held back by the woman.

The younger man, presumably the father of the children begins administering rudimentary first aid. He had seen this procedure of pressing the chest to force the heart to beat before. It was very ineffective.

The children and older woman are in tears as the younger man works tirelessly for twenty minutes. Then some people come in dressed in uniforms and take over for the man. He immediately gets up and heads over to the others and joins the group hug.

These new medics began working with older medical equipment. Given the old man’s age, Talan is pretty confident they won’t be able to save him with this equipment. His odds weren’t that great with modern equipment.

He looks back at the family. The youngest child isn’t crying. He is glaring angrily. This is it.

Talan hears a pinging. He looks down at his wrist and sees recall process has been initiated. So that was the “present.” A beloved family member dying on such a festive holiday. Some agents might have sympathy for him and testify favorably in court. It’s happened before.

Talan has sympathy for his twenty-two victims.