Harry pulled open one half of the sliding doors to the small warehouse and stood aside as a rather old and rusty VW Transporter sputtered past him, coming to a coughing halt after a few yards. He could hear how Mikey tried to start the engine again, making it whine and grind and cough some more without turning over. After a few minutes of torturing the old car he gave up, and climbed out of the driver's seat.
Harry had closed the door, and was standing with his hands on his hips and a very sour expression on his face. He looked the van over.
"Is this the best you can do?" he said with distaste. "A whole night's work - and this is what you come home with?"
Mikey looked at the van. "Well... yes. But it was a very slow night, Harry. And anyway it was parked in a pretty posh parking garage... I thought it..."
Harry cut him off with a hard slap to the back of his head. "IDIOT. Shut up."
He sighed. Damn that Mikey. He was so stupid. Never could get anything right. A whole night had he been waiting here in the warehouse while Mikey was out looking for stuff. Watching crappy sit-coms on the small tv set, eating burritos and nachos, and drinking lukewarm beer... And the idiot comes back with a rusty old van that'd probably fall apart at the seams the minute they tried to pry open the hood or open the back door.
"It was from the garage under the shopping centre right next to that big hotel...", Mikey said, unperturbed by the slap. He was used to it. Harry didn't mean it, he thought to himself. They had been buddies since forever, and Harry had always looked out for him. True, Mikey did most of the work... sometimes he felt like he did all of it, but Harry always reminded him who was the brains behind their little enterprise. And Mikey knew that he himself wasn't nearly clever enough to be the brains behind anything, so...
Harry walked around the car to the back end. There was a big padlock and a chain securing the back doors, but the padlock looked like something that had not been opened for years. The way the chain wound around the handles and even down to the bumper indicated that its mission was more of a 'holding doors shut so they don't pop open and spill cargo onto the streets' than a 'keeping door locked to keep people out'.
The side door was locked too, but Mikey climbed over the seats and opened it from the inside. He beamed at Harry.
"Look," he said. "There's all kinds of stuff back here. Tools and stuff. That's going to fetch a few quid when we sell it. And there's a big... box of some kind."
Harry climbed into the car and looked around. There were indeed boxes of tools and technical stuff stacked neatly along the sides of the van. Looked expensive. Harry nodded to himself. That looked good.
Most of the space in the car was, however, taken up by a big box. It looked a lot like a portable loo, or maybe a phone booth, lying on its side. Harry sniffed the air cautiously. At least it didn't smell like a loo. Under it were a few rugs, probably to protect it from being scratched. The whole box was secured to the bottom and side of the car with ropes.
"Let's get all this stuff out," he said. "So's we can look at it. Some of it is bound to be worth something."
As it turned out the chains around the back doors were easy to lift off. They were merely securing the door shut during driving. Mikey and Harry manhandled the big box out first of all, and placed it by one of the work benches. It was roughly six feet tall, and three feet wide, made of aluminium or something like it. There was a door or a large hatch on one side, with a hand written note stuck onto it.
"What the fuck does this say? It's some foreign muck language. Japanese or Chinese or some crap."
Harry squinted at the note. "警告。冷卻系統故障中!
"Looks like something a kid would doodle", Mikey said. "What's inside?"
The hatch opened on well oiled hinges, and the men peered inside. A small light lit up a few seconds after the door had been opened, much like the light in a refrigerator, illuminating the interior: a tattered seat and a myriad of little levers and buttons, displays and scales. It looked like any little boy's dream of how a space ship was supposed to look like.
"Bloody hell..."; Mikey pulled his head out of the weird contraption; "It looks like something that's gonna spell trouble, it does!"
Harry reached inside and came out with a notebook that had been lying on the seat.
"Holy mother of cows", he said. "Will ya look at this?!"
On the front of the notebook it said, in large signs: "時間機器指南", and, in handwriting just below: "Time Machine Manual".
"Noooo...!" Mikey exclaimed. "No way. That's too weird."
"Yeah. But it looks very... legit, somehow."
He leafed through the notebook with a calculating expression on his face. Somewhere in his scheming but basic thought patterns a bright spot appeared. It had a big pound sign on it. He knew that, if it really worked, what he had before him was the most valuable thing he had ever laid hands on. He just had to figure out why and how.
The next morning Mikey came in late. Harry was waiting for him, time machine notebook in hand. Usually he would have given Mikey a real hard time for being late, but this time he merely beat him over the head with the book.
"IDIOT!", he said. "And don't tell me you had to go shopping for that red headed life support system for a pair of knockers you call a girlfriend!"
Harry hit him again for good measure before turning his attention to the Box. Mikey thought guiltily about the silver bracelet he had in his pocket. He had actually bought it before going to the warehouse. It was his and Angelica's anniversary in a couple of days, and he wanted to be prepared. Harry didn't go for that kind of thing; his own girlfriend, Janet, was a too nice girl, and it had made Mikey very upset on those occasions when she had come over to Angelica's place with tell-tale bruises and eyes, puffy from crying. Sometimes, Mikey thought, it was very hard not to get angry with Harry.
"I've been thinking," Harry said, rapping on the box with his knuckles. "And I've come up with a plan. First of all... you gotta test this thing."
Mikey almost swallowed his gum.
"Well... It's probably not for real, this box. But if it is... "; Harry looked Mikey square in the eyes; "... we can go forwards in time and get the lottery numbers for tonight. There's 22 million quid at stake! We'll be millionaires big time, dude!"
"Well, yeah, but why do I have to..."
"Because I'm the one who's figured the whole thing out. All through this notebook there are handwritten notes in plain English. I now know how to operate the box, so all we need is a small test trip to see if it's all a bunch of crap. Or if it's legit."
"22 mill..." Mikey repeated slowly. "That's lot of dough."
"I know. So get inside and sit down!"
Mikey knew better than to argue. He quickly decided that the box probably didn't work, and so he wasn't really risking anything. If he began to argue with Harry, though, he most certainly did risk a black eye. Minutes later he was sitting in the worn seat while Harry leaned across his legs, pressing buttons and turning knobs while consulting the pictures in the notebook.
"I'll send you... back in time, I think. Like five minutes. And I can time it so's you remain there for five minutes. And then you come back here."
Mikey nodded. His mouth suddenly felt very dry. He gripped the armrests on the chair as Harry pulled back and looked the controls over a last time.
"Looks all right", he said. "Have a nice trip. As soon as I close the hatch you press the green button there."
With that he slammed the hatch shut. Mikey saw the handle turn, and heard the bolts slide into the frame. The lamp went out, but he could see hundreds of little lights blink and twirl all around him. The green button was glowing faintly, ominously, just by his knee. Slowly he moved his hand towards the button.
"DID YOU PRESS IT YET?" he heard Harry yell from the outside. The sound made him flinch, and his hand hit the button.
"Argh", he said quietly, as the green glow faded and went out. The glittering lights seemed to go mad; twirling and dancing, blinking and singing, until he had to close his eyes. His hands held the armrests in a tight grip, and he pressed his shoulders against the back of the chair. There was a weird sound in the cabin, almost like wind howling in the distance, and it made him dizzy.
After some time the sound faded and the lights slowed down. Mikey opened one eye. He was still sitting in the chair in the box. Nothing had happened. He began to relax. Maybe it was all just a hoax. A joke. He settled back and looked around at the lights, now blinking slowly and prettily. He thought about the bracelet in his pocket, and how he was going to take Angelica out to a posh restaurant on the following Saturday. Three years now. Amazing, really... Mikey smiled in the dark, and let his thoughts wander through pleasant memories of Angelica.
All of a sudden the lights went mad again, and there was a sound like a storm coming through the box. Mikey shrieked and reached for the handle. He wasn't going to stay in there any longer. The handle turned with ease, and he almost tumbled out at Harry's feet.
"So", he asked eagerly. "What happened?"
"Well... there was some noise and blinking lights..."
"What did you see when you opened the hatch?"
"Um... I didn't open the hatch. You didn't say I should open the hatch. I just sat in the machine."
A few seconds later Mikey was sitting inside the box again, clutching his nose. Harry was furiously punching the buttons and turning knobs again while swearing.
"GodDAMN it you are so stupid I can't beLIEVE it. This time open the hatch and go outside!"
"By dose, Harry! Did you have to pudch by dose?!"
"No no, I'm sorry. I should've just KICKED YOUR SORRY ARSE! Now shut UP! I'm sending you back back five minutes again, for five minutes... And this time DO IT RIGHT!"
He slammed the door again. "Now PUSH the BLOODY BUTTON!", he yelled from outside.
Mikey pushed the glowing green button and watched how it dimmed, while the other lights began swirling and twirling. It didn't spook him as much this time around. He was much more concerned about his nose which hurt quite a bit. He was going to get one of his best shirts ruined now by dripping blood onto it. Damn that Harry sometimes...
Soon the sounds and the blinking died down again, and Mikey reached out for the handle. It turned willingly enough, and the door opened. Outside Harry stood, looking at his wrist watch.
"I don't think it worked", Mikey said while climbing out. "It just makes noises, and the lights blink like crazy."
Harry didn't even look at him. Mikey wiped his nose again with the hem of his shirt. "Come on, Harry...", he said. "It's not like it's my fault."
Harry still didn't answer, but at least he didn't look angry any longer. Mikey shrugged and turned around to look at the box. Apart from looking a bit odd, as if he was seeing double -probably because of his aching nose - the box just sat there and did nothing. Harry was staring intensely at it, glancing at his watch now and then. Mikey opened his mouth to say something but just then... then the door burst open and... he came tumbling out! Harry's face lit up.
"So? What happened?"
"Well... there was some noise and blinking lights...", Mikey heard himself say.
"What did you see when you opened the hatch?"
"Um... I didn't open the hatch. You didn't say I should open the hatch. I just sat in the machine." Did he really sound like that?
"Ah...", Mikey thought as he saw himself get hit in the face. "It was a backhand. Good swing to it too. Damn... I look so... pathetic."
Mikey took a few steps backwards and felt how the warehouse slowly and gently began to spin around him. He watched himself get almost thrown back into the machine while Harry ranted and cursed at him. The hatch slammed shut again, and Harry's angry "Now PUSH the BLOODY BUTTON!" echoed between the walls.
"I am going to faint, I think", Mikey thought, and sat down on the floor. "Or be sick or something. Bloody hell... I need to get back into that machine so's I can get back. Or forward. Or..."
He made to get up, but before he got to his feet everything disappeared. Like someone had taken a big piece of cloth and wiped everything out. For a split second Mikey felt he was in a weightless state. No senses worked. There was nothing. At. All. For just a split second. And then he was back in the chair, in the machine. The lights were slowing down and the wooshing sound fading. Once more Mikey exited the machine, tumbling out at Harry's feet, but this time he didn't stay put. He ran like he wasn't going to stop, ever - and he actually screamed a bit too.
Harry caught up with him after only three blocks, and guided him back to the warehouse; no slapping or yelling, though. He knew his Mikey, and now he also knew that the box really worked. Things were going to be so good! He kept patting Mikey's back, telling him he was a good sort, urging him to talk about what he had seen and heard. It took some time before Mikey became coherent again, but his short tale almost made Harry dance with joy.
"I HATED it", Mikey kept saying. "I hated it. It was bloody CREEPY!"
"Yes, yes... You just need to do another trip, and then I'll do it."
"I don't WANT to go again!"
"Awww... C'mon Mikey. Please...?"
Mikey shut his mouth in the middle of a protest. Harry very rarely said "please". But when he did it was best to give in. For some reason he got really nasty if you didn't comply once he had said "please".
"I'll send you forward this time, and for a bit longer. Actually I'll try to send you forward to this evening. You can see if you can get the lottery numbers from somewhere... Now you know what'll happen it won't be as bad."
Mikey opened and shut his muth a couple of times, but he knew he had lost. It was so hard to say no to Harry, for a number of reasons.
"Okay. In that case I'll go home to Angelica's place and get the numbers from the telly. She always watches that show where they draw the numbers, and she writes them down in her notebook."
"Perfect. Go over there, nick the notebook, come back here, and we're fucking rich!"
Mikey thought about the money, and tried to feel elated, but the image of himself getting back handed by Harry kept getting in the way.
"Yeah... It'll take me ten minutes to get home to Angie's, and another ten minutes to get the numbers I guess. The show is at seven. Make sure you get the time right, Harry, and let's go."
Harry shot him a glance, slightly surprised by a new firmness in Mikey's voice, but shrugged it off. A few minutes later he had punched in the dates and times needed for the trip, and Mikey got ready to get in. As an afterthought he ripped the chinese looking note from the hatch an stuffed it into his pocket. If he couldn't get the notebook he could at least write the numbers down himself on the back of the note.
"Ready?" Harry asked when he got into the chair. Mikey nodded. "As ready as I'll ever be, I guess. Let's do this!"
When Mikey opened the hatch, after letting the lights settle down again, the warehouse was almost completely dark, and Harry didn't seem to be around. Mikey looked at the illuminated face of his wrist watch to see how long time he had. The show Angelica always watched was on at seven pm. The hands of the clock showed that he had twelve minutes to get to her place before it started.
"And then they don't show the numbers right away", he thought. "So I have time enough, I think."
He mustered all his courage and got out of the machine, which was becoming almost uncomfortably warm, and marched right out of the dark warehouse. The doors were closed, and when he tried to grab the handle, his hand went right through the door. After a deep breath he plunged straight at the door - and found himself standing on the other side, feet in the big puddle of rainwater that seemed to always be there, regardless of the weather. His shoes didn't get wet.
"Aha. So I cannot touch anything it seems. Walking through doors is cool enough. That way I won't have to ring the doorbell at Angelica's."
Walking the streets was an eerie experience. Mikey reasoned that if he had been any smarter than he was, he would have been terrified. As it was, he was mildly spooked, and felt very relieved when he ducked through the door to Angelica's apartment complex. While climbing the stairs his thoughts absent mindedly touched upon the fact that he could walk through doors, but his feet still seemed to meet the floor without passing through it. Luckily for Mikey those thoughts were no match for the thoughts that sang happy songs about the other fact: the fact that Mikey just then made up his mind to propose to Angelica once they got all this nice money.
Smiling he entered Angelica's apartment by walking through the door.
To be continued...