Angelica's flat wasn't very big or luxurious, but Mikey liked it. It was very different from the little room he rented above a bicycle repair shop, in that it had both a real bathroom and a kitchen. Mikey's had none of those installations.
"But with all the money we can go ahead and buy a really nice place", he thought. "Somewhere... pretty."
He could hear Angelica singing along to some tune on the tv in the living room. Mikey tried sneaking along the hallway, but the minute he started thinking about how he put his feet, his feet seemed to forget where the floor was. His toes sank into the floorboards every time he put his foot down, and concentrating only made it worse. Mikey closed his eyes.
"Urgh!" he thought and hurried on into the livingroom. And stopped dead.
Angelica was not expecting company, it seemed. She was dancing around in her underwear, doing a little jig in front of the television set while she fiddled with some flowers in a vase.
"Oh my...", Mikey said out loud, and covered his eyes. "Oh my."
Peeking between his fingers he noted that she was wearing the knickers he had bought her. The ones with Hello Kitty print. And the matching bra.
Staring at her, appreciatively, while she undressed for him was one thing, Mikey realised, as he frantically tried to not look at the jigging Angelica. Spying on her like this while she had no idea she was being watched was something different altogether. Different and embarrassing.
Luckily the theme music for the lottery show interrupted the dancing, and Angelica dropped down on the couch. Mikey hurriedly found the scrap of paper he had brought, and dug out his trusted pencil stub. He felt like sitting down on the floor, but he didn't have the nerve to do so, scared that it'd result in him slowly sinking through the carpet and floor, down to the flat below. He really just wanted to get the numbers and get out of there. The whole situation - quite apart from the fact that he was invisibly present in the future - with being in his girlfriend's apartment without her knowing it was getting to him.
He stood patiently through the presentations and bad musical acts, all the time expecting to feel the dizzying tug from the past. He remembered it as being very creepy, and though he really wanted to get this over with and get back to his own, real time... he didn't want to go through the travelling part.
The lottery numbers were drawn by whirring numbered balls around in big glass boxes. One by one the numbers appeared on the screen, and Mikey wrote them down. He almost wished he had brought along the old clipboard from the warehouse; balancing on one unstable leg while using his other leg to steady the scrap of paper - all the while trying to not notice that his foot was slowly disappearing down into the carpet was unnerving, to say the least.
When the last number had been drawn and duly noted Mikey was sweating profusely. He shoved the pencil into his jacket pocket, and carefully folded the paper twice before tucking it away.
"And now," he thought, "I'd quite like to get back again."
Angelica curled up on the couch and pulled a blanket over her while reaching for the book on the coffee table. Always one for reading and finding out stuff she was. She was way too smart for him really, but Mikey had long ago decided that she was probably smart enough to know, so he never said anything. Outside the window it was getting darker. Checking his wrist watch he discovered that it was almost a quarter to eight. He had been there for more than 45 minutes!
"I said ten minutes! Not forty five. Ten! Something has gone wrong."
Panicking when you are in a very alien environment - which isn't really real - is a bad thing. It can result in all kinds of unwanted stuff happening due to loss of calm and rationale. One thing Mikey's panic resulted in was a loss of traction or friction. Meaning that even though his legs were going through the moves involved in running, he didn't really go anywhere. If Angelica had been able to see or hear him, she would have witnessed a madly flailing and screaming Mikey slowly floating by, a few inches above her living room floor, towards the door.
Luckily she couldn't see him, though, and by the time he reached the doorway his field of vision blurred and whited out. Seconds later he was sitting, screaming, in the chair in the machine.
He flung the hatch open and jumped out, still flailing and cursing, succeeding in catching Harry a solid wallop on the ear when he got too close.
"Shut the fuck UP!"
Mikey's feet almost left the floor as Harry grabbed a hold of his shirt to keep him still. But he quickly let go.
"Damn! You're soaked. What the hell have you been doing?"
Mikey looked down his blood and sweat-soaked shirt. It felt very cold and clammy against his skin, and he shivered.
"I'll tell ya one thing, Harry," he almost yelled as he shed his jacket and threw it on the floor. "I'm not going anywhere near that fucking machine again! Ever!"
Harry watched the upset Mikey pull a fresh t-shirt out of the overnight bag both of them had around, just in case they suddenly had to take a few days away from the public eye. He was clearly scared half shitless, and though Harry rarely took any heed of what Mikey did or did not want he knew that any attempt to make him take another trip now would be doomed to fail. Still, no worries if only...
"The numbers, Mikey," he said. "Did you get the lottery numbers?"
Mikey gestured to his jacket on the floor. "In the pocket. The piece of paper."
There was silence while he put on the dry t-shirt and smooothed down his hair. Harry rummaged through the jacket. The pencil stub fell to the floor and rolled a few feet. The silence grew deeper. Finally it dawned on Mikey that Harry wasn't finding any scrap of paper in any of the pockets.
"Oh, er," he said. "There may be... a hole in one of the..."
"Look in your trouser pockets," Harry said, calmly. Mikey did. And then shook his head.
A few minutes later Mikey was running for the door while Harry was yelling something incomprehensible behind him. Words like "incompetent" and "fucking stupid arsehole" followed him outside as he splashed through the puddle.
"I'LL BLOODY WELL DO IT MYSELF," Harry bellowed. "WHY the HELL I ever thought you could do it is beyOND me!"
Mikey stopped and turned around, clutching his shirt before him like one would clutch a cross in the face of a vampire.
"Don't you dare try to get the numbers from my girlfriend!" he shouted. "I don't want you ogling her, you... FUCKWIT!"
And then he ran.
Mikey stopped running before he got to Angelica's place, and climbed the stairs sedately, cherishing the fact that he could actually stomp his feet without them sinking through the steps. While he waited for Angelica to answer the door he thought about how it had felt to just walk through it. Like walking through a mist. He hadn't liked it one bit.
Angelica let him in, and while she chattered on about something or other he looked at her, thinking about how he had decided to propose to her once they became rich. They weren't rich now. If Harry did get the money on his own, he'd probably give Mikey some, but nothing that'd buy them a house, or make him able to support a family. On the other hand... did it matter all that much, really?
"We're good, aren't we?" he blurted out. Angelica looked intently at him, and then she nodded. "We sure are, love. Why so?"
"Well, I thought that we, um, maybe oughta get married. I'd kinda like that."
Twenty minutes later Mikey was lying in Angelica's bed, under orders to take a nice nap while she got the laundry and the shopping done. Not only had she said yes to marrying him; she was also picking up some nice porkchops for supper, and a bottle of wine for later. The future looked pretty bright, all things considered.
Mikey woke up to the sound of cutlery and dishes being moved about. It was a nice sound. The smell of coffee dragged him out of bed and into the kitchen where Angelica was busy making some toast. Janet was sitting on a chair, her eyes puffy but dry. She had a nasty cut to the lip and was holding an icepack against her cheek. She nodded and gave him a little smile. Angelica kissed him, surprisingly affectionate.
"That's for being a sweetheart", she said. "And I got all my chores done, so the rest of the day we can just relax. You are staying, aren't you?"
"I am", he said, firmly, "not going anywhere at all."
Just then the phone rang. Angelica went to answer. "It's Harry", she said when she came back, her voice very neutral. Janet sighed deeply, a slightly quavering sigh. Mikey sighed too and went to get the call.
"This machine is AWESOME!", Harry almost shouted in his ear. "I have been taking test trips, and I have found out stuff. Like my worthless so-called girlfriend is chatting up strangers at the supermarket. She didn't see that coming, lemme tell ya. And now I'm going to get the numbers you couldn't get, you sorry sod."
Mikey opened his mouth, and shut it again.
"Any way: if Janet comes whining to Angelica tell her to pick up a bottle of good gin on her way home later. Tell her to be home by seven. That's when I get FUCKING rich and blow this joint. And that means ALL of you suckers!"
"Harry", Mikey said. "Go to hell."
He put down the receiver and cut off Harry's furious bellowing. "So, what about that coffee...?"
Angelica stared at him with something akin to admiration. It made him feel warm and fuzzy inside all of a sudden. He grinned. "I'm hungry."
"Yeah... I'd better go home, I guess"; Janet got to her feet. Mikey gave her Harry's message, and felt a right heel when he watched her leave. But at least he had told Harry to go to hell. That had been very nice, although he suspected he'd regret it later.
He was sipping his third cup of coffee, about an hour later, when he spotted something on the counter by the fridge.
"Angelica, sweetie... Where did you get that note?" he said, his voice surprisingly calm.
Angelica retrieved the piece of paper and handed it to him. "In the breast pocket of that shirt you had with you. I took it with me to the laundromat."
Mikey held the tattered scrap of paper gingerly between shaking fingers. The numbers he had written on it in a scant hour were there, a bit smudged, but readable. He turned the paper over. Something was written underneath the Chinese symbols.
"'Warning'", he read. "'Cooling system breakdown. Do not use.' Why does it say that? Did you write that?"
Angelica lit up. "That was so funny, baby. That little old chinese lady, you know, at the newsagent, she told me that was what it said. So I wrote it down. I was thinking I'd use the signs for decorating my lampshades, and so it's nice to know what it means."
"Well, I thought the numbers looked like lottery numbers, so I played them. Saved me coming up with some on my own."
"Did you now? Well, I'll be..."
He put the note down on the table. Then he picked it up again. And put it back down and picked it up. "I have to call Harry", he said.
Janet answered the phone at Harry's, saying he wasn't home yet, so Mikey tried the phone in the warehouse. No answer. He had to warn Harry about the machine overheating. No telling what would happen. Harry might be an arse, but whether he liked it or not they were bonded from years of hanging out.
"I gotta run off for a bit, baby", he said to Angelica. "I'll be back soon. When I get back we can pop down to the pub if you want."
"Okay. I'll get changed by the time you come back." She blew him a kiss as he ran out the door. The time was six thirty, pm...
He thought hard while walking. Harry ought to have been home by now. There was no reason for him not to have been home, unless he had dropped in at the pub.
"Probably", he thought. "He dropped by for a few, and is on his way home now. No reason to think anything has actually happened to him..."
For some reason he wasn't sure if he was relieved by that thought or not.
In a matter of ten minutes he was at the warehouse. The place was as dark as he remembered it had been. Dark and quiet. He stepped over the puddle and tried the door. It was locked, as always. He unlocked it and went inside, flipping the light switch. Nothing happened. He flipped it a couple of times, but the light stayed off.
There was a flashlight by the fusebox in the nearest corner of the room, and he managed to find it with only minor mishaps, one of which had him hitting his knee on something very hard and sharp. Turning on the flashlight he checked the fuses. All seemed to be blown, and there were no spare ones lying anywhere close. Cursing under his breath he made it back across the floor towards the machine by the yellow, wavering light of the flashlight.
It sat there, the machine, dark and still. Mikey could feel the heat emanating from it from yards away. The hatch was not quite closed, and something was hanging out. Mikey ventured closer though he really didn't want to.
It was definitely a hand hanging out of the hatch. And it wasn't moving. Mikey dropped the flashlight and it broke on the floor with a sharp crack and a tinkle of glass.
"Smells a bit like cooked mutton", he thought, and felt the bile rise in the back of his throat. He reasoned that he ought to feel something: grief, horror, panic... But all he could think of was the smell of cooked meat.
The watch on his arm said thirteen minutes to seven, and Mikey stared at it, unable to comprehend why that particular point in time should feel so ominous. And then he shuddered, as if a ghost had just breathed down his neck.
There was no sound, no movement, nothing. Perhaps a slight change in the texture of the air... Mikey would never have described it as such, though. He just knew that there had been something. He stood completely still for several minutes, trying to feel scared. Or sorry for Harry. But he didn't. In the end he shrugged and went about the task of painstakingly, and by candle light, collecting all of his belongings and stuffing them into the overnight bag.
Outside it was starting to rain. Mikey looked at his watch again. Almost eight o'clock. He thought about the blokes down at the pub, and how they'd be asking about Harry. He didn't really want that just now.
"A fancy restaurant", he thought, as he walked through the wet streets. "I think I'll take Angelica for an engagement dinner at some posh restaurant. Chances are we can afford it, after all."
And then he felt bad for a few minutes for being so callous. But on the other hand he knew he was nowhere near bright enough to think too long or too deep about what had happened that day, and that was a nice thought.