Titus Flannegin's Amazing Machine
The machine was ready. Titus Flannegin had spent thirty-six years on the theories that supported his incredible invention, ten to acquire the patents, and four raising funds for the equipment. By looking at the machine no one would have guessed that a man had spent fifty years of his life and sold several large properties to produce it. Titus Flannegin's machine was a cube at the base with curling metal pieces and colored wires that crisscrossed each other nonsensically. Two dials protruded like lollipops on either side of it and connected to meters at the base. It emitted tiny waves of invisible energy that were pinpricks of a somethingness, but besides that it could have been mistaken in any junk pile as an odd child's toy. No matter the meanness of its shape, Flannegin's machine had finally done what it was built to do. It had summoned a man from the past.
The man stood tall in a rusted porcelain tub, surrounded by Titus Flannegin's test subjects. Brigham's butterfly had been extinct for a hundred years when Flannegin first brought one into his shim-shoddy lab on that historic and chilly November afternoon. When it was discovered he could indeed summon creatures from any moment in the past, Titus Flannegin did not alter the nature of his tests to summon from farther back in time, but instead he tested with bigger and more complex animals.
Everything else had died. Mice, birds, salamanders, crickets, that unlucky orangutan—nothing survived the cell scramble. Brigham's butterfly seemed the only biological thing hardy enough to remain intact during the transition process. And so he kept bringing them to remind himself that what he set out to do was possible. He brought more and more and more, until his entire house—which was merely a lab, kitchen, and utilities—was nursery to over two hundred of the extinct insects.
But the man lived.
The man in the tub was dressed all in black, with an old fashioned coat and theatrical cape. He had been on the verge of decision-making just before he was captured in a twist of incomprehensible fate. The bird mask from his last act in The Circus of Travails was still planted on his face, covering his dark eyes and disguising his comical nose. He was going to flee the circus. He had fled to the circus only a year prior, and now he would flee from it. Before his belongings were packed, before the determination had quite settled in his mind, the haphazard backdrop of his tent faded out and he was standing before a mirror that hung on a battered door.
Butterflies in unfamiliar blue and black patterns flitted around his head. The faucet leaked. Floorboards whined as something stirred beyond the door, yet the man stood still—mortified.
It was no burst of light or clanging of bells that announced his arrival to Titus Flannegin. In fact, his coming was realized purely by accident. In an early morning mishap on the way to retrieve his slippers, Flannegin's foot was entangled with one of the machine's wires. An incident unlucky for his smarting foot, but invaluable to his experiments. When at last he'd freed himself from the contraption, the offending wire had managed to contort in such a way that its previous use was made void. Titus smacked it in a loss of temper—he had not yet had his dandelion tea—and the machine went off.
"One more butterfly for the bathroom," he mumbled as he pushed himself off the ground, scratching a sparse collection of hairs that still clung to his speckled head.
And yet that was not quite the end of it.
Titus felt the presence of another person. The same way one feels a breath on their neck, or eyes that peer over your shoulder. His intentions with the bathroom were not to discover his marvelous accident, but to lock himself in and then…
After that he hadn't a thought beyond. There was no telephone there, no way to call for aid or assistance of any kind. What was there was a very wide window; wide enough for a man of his stature to just fit through in a hunch and with any luck find a way to climb down to the street.
Titus couldn't remember the last time he'd walked down the street. He supposed there were people down there, and possibly pets squirming on leashes, trees maybe, at the park. He might see bread in the shop windows where Kadley brought him food from, peer at cobblestones and poke his cane at naughty children. But no one would know him. To everyone he was a stranger with unlucky clothing and no warrant to make friends. Kadley was losing her memory too. Any morning now she'd wake up and join the strangers who walked down the street and ignored their neighbors. But that's what he had wanted; a quiet neighborhood in town that let him alone with his experiments.
When he reached the bathroom, there stood the man and all that Titus had worked for; straight, grim and tall in the wretched tub. He was young and full of hope. The embodiment of everything Titus missed in his life. The man in the tub could find a woman and start a family. He could still reconcile with loved ones, still remember the chords to a lullaby, and walk down the street without a stoop.
But all that is meaningless now to the man who built the machine. Titus is dead—struck down from the shock of his own impossible success.
He'd swung the door open in a panic he couldn't explain while his old heart thumped and his eyes bulged. His brain had barely enough time to process the sight before he'd slumped on the floor and left his mortal body behind.
Titus Flannegin the younger let his gaze drift down to the lonely man he'd become. The man with a box and two hundred butterflies. The man who stole fifty of his best years and spent them running or hiding.
His eyes grew misty and he sighed.
I hurt my own brain with this one. I think what happened was he began building this machine for some reason I didn't figure out. Maybe to play God because he was an arrogant young upstart. But then creating the machine stole thirty-six years of his life and that made him weary and he decided to complete it in order to give himself those years back. But young Titus Flannegin hasn't actually invented the machine, so he only knows he was about to leave the circus to invent stuff. I wonder what he'll do now that he's young again… No, really, I wonder. Because Titus didn't tell me yet. :P
Done for Mara's lovely challenge. Contest: maranwetelrunya dot wordpress dot com/weekly-writing-challenge. Image: flickr dot com /photosmidnight-digital /4098251757/.