They left their vehicles in perfect view of the security camera.  The group of four huddled briefly in the crosswalk, and clutched their invitations.

  1. No other people besides those indicated are allowed on the premises.

  2. Leave all bags, purses, cameras, and other electronic equipment in vehicle.

  3. Admittance is at 8 p.m. only.

  4. Follow the red line.

    Like nervous sheep, they moved along the freshly painted strip until they halted at the main gate. The bars were wrought iron and pointed like spears.

     How many times had they driven past it? Countless.

    How many times had they seen it move?  Never.   

    They stepped forward to a console for examination.  A black hood peeled open to reveal a shiny green orb, and its light slid over their bodies coldly, voyeuristically.  They waited in painful silence until tumblers spun and the gate opened. 

     Once inside, they were relieved at the sight of a garden, a wild, bursting cornucopia of rare and exotic flowers.  A snaking road wound through the pleasance and curtailed at the front door of the mansion, the mansion that had spawned so many rumors.

    As was foretold, an attendant greeted them promptly to serve as an escort.  He looked more like a soldier than a security guard.  He wore a set of navy fatigues and brandished a heavy sidearm and other strange equipment they could not identify.  He offered no smile and glanced at his watch before ordering them into his Jeep.  The foursome complied, and he drove them swiftly up the winding road.  When they reached the mansion’s front door, he glanced at his watch again and then quickly swiped a key card.

    The door swung silently open, and he ushered them into a large room that was empty save for an enormous clock that hung on the far wall.

     “He’s waiting for you upstairs.” 

    The guard pointed to a marble staircase, and without a word, they began the ascension.  When the last had cleared the final step, a hearty voice bellowed forth at them from the adjoining hallway.  “Come in now, don’t be shy!”

     The group entered through a large oval-headed doorway, and there sat Lester B. Barscol, world-famous inventor, with a glass of wine in his hand.  “Come, come now!  I apologize for all the precautions.”

      It was a sizeable chamber, decorated with medieval weaponry and family coats of arms dating back to the eleventh century.  A long wall-sized mirror covered the east end of the room, and the south wall was complemented with a picture window of identical proportions, which displayed a full view of the sprawling metropolis. 

     Lester set his glass down and made a half dancing motion over to greet them.  His clothes were unfashionable.  His haircut was cheap and ordinary.  “Marvin Bowry,” he exclaimed with an outstretched hand.  “My long-lost childhood friend.  We had many adventures in our neighborhood slaying imaginary dragons and playing pranks on the elderly.”

     Marvin smiled and looked at him with wonder.  “Good to see you, Lester, after all these years.”

    Lester turned next to a refined-looking couple who stood with their arms around one another.  “Mr. and Mrs. Chesmire, or should I say, the lovebirds.” He laughed and embraced them warmly.  “The two of you look more smitten with each other than the last time I saw you at Berkeley.  You always were an inspiration to me in the world of romance.”

     Mr. Chesmire grinned and kissed his wife on the cheek.  “You were pretty successful with the ladies yourself, as I recall.”

     “Yes,” Mrs. Chesmire added.  “We remember you entertaining quite a few back in your younger days.”

     “Quite true, quite true,” he replied with a twinge of embarrassment.  “But none had touched me more than Shelia Barnes, the one who got away.”

    Lester turned at last to a woman who stood apart from the others.  She was petite and proportionate, dressed in skin-tight slacks and a puffy green sweater.  A large diamond graced the ring finger of her left hand, and her straight ebony hair matched the sheen of dark and wondrous eyes.  “Shelia, you look as ravishing as ever,” he said as he softly kissed her hand.  “The one who got away.”

     She smiled politely and rested her hand at her side.  “Some would say that you got away yourself.  I never could get you to leave the basement of the Science Building.  What was it that you were so obsessed with back then—time travel?” 

    Lester offered a ghost of a smile.  “Indeed….  Please, everyone, have a toast with me.  This is a night well to remember!”  He pointed to four wine glasses on a table surrounded by chairs encased in red velvet.  “To the future!”  Lester raised his glass, and the others followed suit and tasted a crisp version of Château Mouton.  “To all of you, let me first offer my deepest gratitude and appreciation for joining me here this evening.  It has been decades since I’ve seen all of you.  I don’t get out much these days.”

    “Being a famous inventor is very time consuming, I suppose,” Shelia remarked playfully.

    “I tried contacting you a few years back, but I wasn’t successful,” Marvin added.

    Lester scratched his head unnaturally.  “Yes, well, as Shelia indicated, I’m very busy, and I apologize for the lapse of time in being in contact.  However, I have asked the four of you to join me this evening because you all hold a special place in my heart, and tonight will be the most important night of my career as a scientist and inventor, which also so happens to fall on my fiftieth birthday.”

    “It’s your birthday?” Mrs. Chesmire asked.  “Why, it didn’t say so on the invitation.”

    Shelia stood and threw up her arms.  “I suppose we should sing Happy Birthday to you.”

    “Nonsense!” Lester waved his arms defiantly.  “We have much more important matters to attend to, and time is precious.  Let me get straight to the point.  Is anyone here familiar with the Butterfly Effect?”

    Marvin looked around and spoke up when no one else offered a reply.  “Why, yes, the theory of how everything is connected in a vast web, and one thing happening will create a ripple effect that will cause a countless series of events to occur, which will then cause countless others.”

    “Excellently put,” Lester said before he took another drink.  “An old man is walking through the park on a beautiful summer’s day.  He sees a wallet fall out of a young man’s pocket.  Being a good Samaritan, he picks up the wallet and calls out to the young man.  The young man turns around just as a drunk driver comes barreling around the corner.  A fatal accident would have occurred if the young man had maintained his original course.  This same young man gets married five years later and has a son who grows up and develops a cure for a deadly disease, thus saving and changing the lives of millions of people.”   

    The foursome sat quietly and sipped their beverages.  Lester walked over to the picture window and turned his back to them.  For several moments he stared outward at the city that faded into the horizon.  “Shelia mentioned that I was obsessed with time travel, and she was right.  Time travel has been my obsession since my earliest days at the university, and this passion has not waned in the slightest.  What I’m about to show you is the crown jewel of all my accomplishments.  The sum of my previous inventions, which have brought me wealth and fame pale in comparison.”   

    Lester spun himself around and marched over to a square structure in the corner of the room that was covered with a green sheet.  His eyes became inflamed, and with a whip of his hand he pulled the sheet off to reveal a metal framework fastened securely to a glowing white tile board.  The top of the frame was surmounted with a double keypad and a series of colored bulbous fixtures.  “Witness the key to the future.  I call this the Time Treadle.”

    “What is that thing?” Marvin asked. 

    Lester began stroking the colored bulbs as if he were petting a fluffy feline.  “This, my friends, is the hand that will change time.  May I remind you that tonight is indeed a grim night.  We are on the brink of war.  Our president recently announced that invasion from China is inevitable.  Bloodshed will be on our doorstep in a matter of days.”

    The group nodded solemnly.

     "The results could be millions dead in The United States, possibly resulting in World War Three.” Lester gripped a corner of the metal framework tightly.

    The group remained silent, and Shelia cast her eyes downward.  “We know, of course we know.  Why bring this up at all, with …. ”

    “Because!” Lester exclaimed.  “What if we could transport something back in time, an important object, that could alter the course of history and prevent such a catastrophe?”

    They were struck dumb and stared at the device.

    “You mean that thing can transport something back in time?” Mr. Chesmire asked.

    “Precisely,” Lester replied.  “Transporting any object back in time will undoubtedly result in a butterfly effect, but the difference will be in its severity, either good or bad.  That is why I believe in taking a calculated risk with a certain object, at a certain place, at a certain time.  Let’s take the Industrial Revolution, for example.  Between the years of 1760 to 1840, several inventions changed our society completely.  Imagine when the first steam engine was put into use.  Think of how it sped up production, bolstered communication, and inspired creativity.  It is  such moments in our history that transform our world; they are Gems of Time.

    The group sat with their wine glasses poised and motionless. 

    “So,” Lester continued, “if we could place an object, an invention, per se, back a few years before it was invented, and it fell into the right hands, then perhaps the course of history could be altered for the betterment of humanity.”

    Mrs. Chesmire adjusted uncomfortably in her chair.  “Why only a few years back to place such an object?”

    “If you transport a technological device back too far, then civilization won’t be able to comprehend its purpose. A calculator would do no good to a caveman.”

    “We understand,” Mr. Chesmire said impatiently.  “But there is no way to determine if the butterfly effect from doing such a thing would be positive or negative.  Even with technology introduced at an earlier date, it could fall into the wrong hands, or even into the right hands, but the resulting ripple effect of decisions and behavior could lead us down a much darker path than humanity has known.  It may even destroy us completely.”

    “Quite true, quite true,” Lester replied.  “It would indeed be a serious gamble, but would it be a gamble you’d be willing to take if the world were already on a dark path with humanity threatened, such as the one that we are on right now?”

    Shelia cleared her throat and spoke to Lester in a nurturing tone.  “Well, if transporting an object is so unpredictable, then how about transporting yourself back so you can change things firsthand and have more control over the results?”

    “An excellent question, my dear Shelia,” he said with a gleam in his eye.  “I was hoping someone would ask. It is because of what I term L.C.C., or Linked Contemporary Consciousness.  Aside from the physical world, I firmly believe that a metaphysical link exists to each specific generation.  In other words, since we are all of this generation, then we support a consciousness that binds us to it. If I were to transport myself back to, say, the year 1588, then my consciousness would quickly become assimilated with the rest of humanity at that age.  I would soon forget that I was from the future, and I would begin to think and behave as if I naturally lived in the year 1588.  However, an inanimate object would remain in its perfect unaltered state.”

    Lester took a few steps closer to them.  “So the question remains!  Would you conduct this experiment and take this calculated risk, given the world’s precarious situation?”

    Marvin glanced back and forth at the others uncomfortably.  “I think we all would, but it just isn’t possible.  You can’t expect us to believe that that strange machine can transport something back in time.”

    Lester grinned impishly until his brows rose into wavy arches.  He strode proudly over to a large dresser and pulled out a sliding drawer.  He reached inside and retrieved a small object that fit into the palm of his hand.  “The pocket watch.  This particular invention, not unlike the one I am holding right now, was created in 1524 by the locksmith Peter Henlein, in Nuremburg, Germany.”

    Lester placed the watch on the center of the glowing tile board and began typing on both of the mounted keypads.  “I’m programming the Time Treadle to send the watch back one year earlier to Henlein’s laboratory.  Oh, how I would love to see his face when he finds this ticking and waiting for him!”

    Lester made a few final computations, and the colored bulbs began to flicker and swell with light.  He stepped aside, and then a hot white phosphorescence spurted from the tile board and filled the cavity of the framework.  A sound like a whip crack lashed out at them, and then the watch was gone.

    “It works!" he cried.

    A milky residue of light hung in the room, and they stared at it until it slowly dissipated. 

    “Where did the watch go?” asked Mrs. Chesmire.

    “Exactly where I told you it would go—to Mr. Henlein’s laboratory in 1523.”

    “Lester, you can’t possibly expect us to believe that’s what happened,” Mr. Chesmire snickered.

    “It’s true!” Lester fired back.  “Does anyone feel differently?  Well, do you?”

    “Feel any different?” Shelia asked.  “Why would we feel any different?”

   “Nevermind.”  Lester darted over to a desk and sat down in front of a laptop computer.  “I’m doing a search on the Chinese invasion to see if it still exists.”

    The foursome remained quiet while Lester drummed his fingers on the keyboard.  He then  lowered his head and clenched his fists.  “Damn it, it hasn’t changed.  Perhaps Mr. Henlein pulled apart the watch until he got confused.”

    Marvin stepped in to look at the screen.  “Or perhaps a young boy wandered into the lab first and smashed it to bits with a hammer,” he said with a giggle.

    “Listen,” Mr. Chesmire said carefully, “I’m not sure how you made the watch disappear.  It was a great magic trick, you know?” 

    Lester kept his head down and clenched his fists tighter.

    “Yes, Lester,” Shelia said softly.  “We really appreciate that you asked us to see you.  I think we’re all a little embarrassed that we came out tonight with the current national threat, but we had to come, with all the rumors and stories about you and this place.  You’ve really done well for yourself.  It was good to see you, Lester.”

    “Wait!” Lester leapt to his feet and ran over to block the doorway.  “I promise you it was no  trick.  Let me try again—just give me one more chance!”  He raced over to the dresser and pulled out the second drawer.  “The bifocals,” he said holding up a simple pair of eyeglasses.  “Invented by good ol’ Benjamin F. in the year 1784.”

    Lester ran over to the Time Treadle and placed the glasses on the glowing tile.  “Instead of sending them to him, they will appear at a rival inventor’s home in Philadelphia, 1782.” 

    As before, a blinding flash of light enveloped the framework of the time machine, and then the bifocals vanished.

    Through the afterglow of the white light, Lester strained to do a search on the computer.  He didn't notice that Google was called Foggle.  "Ah-ha!  There is no war!  In fact, China and the U.S. have recently increased trade relations."  Lester danced around the room absurdly and clapped his hands.  Shelia and Mr. and Mrs. Chesmire crowded around the screen.

    "Can this be true?" Shelia asked.  "Is this some kind of joke?"

    "No joke!" Lester replied proudly.  "Don't take my word for it—feel the truth … feel the truth and knowledge that you already possess!"

    Shelia's eyes dilated and began to quiver like two eggs in a bowl.  "You're right, I do … feel different …. "

    "I feel lightheaded, " Mrs. Chesmire uttered.

    "Perfectly normal," Lester offered. "It's L.C.C., Linked Contemporary Consciousness.  It would probably be a good idea for us to have a seat.  Get ready, in a few minutes your knowledge of the old world will be gone, replaced with the new."

    The group slowly moved over and sat back down on the red velvet chairs.  The following two minutes felt like they were pawing their way through a wool curtain.  A short laugh came from Mrs. Chesmire; a groan, from Shelia.  Soon, all became clear, and the memories of who they  had been began to fade.

     "You're right," Mrs. Chesmire said suddenly.  "I know new things, while others are melting away."

    "L.C.C., ” Lester whispered.  He began exploring the room as if he were an adventurer on foreign soil.  "That picture on the wall—it wasn't there before.  And look out the window, some of the buildings are different.  We have new skyscrapers, even."

    The guests moved to the picture window, and Mrs. Chesmire grabbed her husband by his shoulders.  "Look, dear!  We're wearing different clothes!  I don't remember this teal blouse … wait … yes, you bought it for me last Christmas!"

    Mr. Chesmire ran his fingers over the silky fabric on his wife's arm and chuckled.  "Why, yes, indeed I did!"

    The couple embraced, and after a moment Mrs. Chesmire remarked casually: "That was the year we finally took Timmy and Jan to Disneyworld.  I can't believe we were able to afford the trip."

    "Yes, Timmy and Jan were so excited, they .… "

    Mrs. Chesmire looked deeply into her husband's eyes and gripped her hands on his waist.  "Our children."

    Mr. Chesmire paused with a look of shock in his eyes, and then embraced his wife feverishly.  "Our children!  We have children!"

    Mrs. Chesmire buried her head into her husband's chest and sobbed.  "Oh, dear, the doctors  told us it wasn't possible."

    Mr. Chesmire stroked his wife's hair gently.  "Not in this timeline—it's different now."  He cocked his head upward and stared at the ceiling, as if he were searching for a sign of a divine presence.  "The memories are rising up in me, so sweetly … their births, when we brought them home from the hospital … their first day of school …."

    Mrs. Chesmire pulled him in closer and sobbed again.

    "The world has changed," Lester declared proudly.  He strode gracefully up to Shelia and squeezed her shoulders.  "I helped prevent a world war—not bad, huh?  I bet you might be wishing that you didn't let me get away."

    Shelia smiled and held up her left hand.  "Impressive, Lester, beyond description, but I'm happily married."

    He looked down at the shiny ring on her finger and nodded.  "Yes, of course."

    Shelia turned to the picture window and grunted.  "I'm a smoker again."

    Mr. Chesmire laughed.  "Yes, and I'm … hey, wait a minute … where's Marvin?"

    Lester whipped himself around.  "Marvin?  Marvin?"

    The guests searched intently about the room while Lester moved to a call panel on the wall.  "Security, please do a sweep of the premises for Marvin Jenkins Bowry, age fourty-nine, Caucasian male."

    A few seconds passed, and then a voice responded.  "There are no camera or sensor readings of such a person on the property, sir."

    The room fell silent and Lester cupped his hands to his head.

    "You don't think … you don't think that he …," Mrs. Chesmire said.

    "It's a distinct possibility," Lester replied.  "This comes with numerous risks, countless rewards and punishments."  His hands began to shake slightly, and he sat down at the computer.  He typed quickly and then lowered his head with a big sigh.  "He's alive and well.  He lives as an engineer in Australia.  Ha! I always hoped he'd use that degree of his."  Lester read the rest of his bio, and his eyes grew damp.

    "What is it?" Shelia asked.

    "It says here that he moved to Australia with his family at the age of seven.  I met him when he was nine.  This means that I never knew him."

    Shelia came over and put a hand on his shoulder.  "I'm sorry, Lester, at least you have some good memories of what once was."

    "I'm afraid not," Lester replied grimly.  "L.C.C.  Since we now have a new timeline, the memory of our friendship will begin to dissolve from my consciousness.  I can already feel it happening."  He stared longingly at the screen.  "Goodbye, Marvin, my childhood friend."

    "Who?" Mrs. Chesmire asked.

    Mr. Chesmire looked out the window and opened his arms.  "Well, if everything changes, then how can we still be here tonight in this room?  How did we get here?"

    "Not everything changes," Lester replied.  "No doubt we would do some things the same at the same time."

    Suddenly Mrs. Chesmire began to clutch herself and then doubled over.  "My stomach—it feels as if it's on fire."

    Shelia raced over to her.  "What is it?"

    "Don't be ridiculous," Mr. Chesmire snapped.  "We all know what it is … the final stages of the IHH virus."  Mr. Chesmire led his wife back to one of the chairs and sat her down gently.  "I can't believe I let you leave the house tonight, my poor love."

    "The IHH virus?" Shelia asked.

    "Just wait a minute and let it come to you, the new memory," Lester instructed.

    Shelia sat down, and her eyes moved again in the same odd rhythm.  "Of course."  She didn't dare say more.

    "Oct. 23rd, the day that changed the world forever," Lester stated.

    "The day the IHH virus was released," Mr. Chesmire said through clenched teeth.  "The chemical explosion in Columbia, Maryland.  Over two-thirds of the world is infected now."  He stormed over to Lester and grabbed him by the collar.  "Don't you see?  We now have a deadly disease to deal with instead of a war with … who was it?"

    "China, I think," Lester mumbled.

    "You've got to fix it, Lester!  Send something else back, maybe we can avert both."

    Lester looked at Mrs. Chesmire as she twitched painfully, and nodded.  "Yes, yes, of course."

    "Wait!" Shelia cried.  "Haven't you done enough?  There is no telling what could happen!"

    "The entire world will be infected within the next few months, we all know that.  What other choice do we have?"  Lester returned to the dresser and pulled out the third drawer.  He withdrew an odd-looking typewriter device.  "The teletype machine, invented by Ernst Kleinschmidt in 1916.  I'm sending it back to him in 1913."

    This time, they took much longer to regain themselves and become aware of their surroundings.  For several minutes they wandered about the room like lost children in the milky residue of the light.  Mrs. Chesmire found herself not clutching her stomach, but standing before the long wall mirror as she looked at her spongy, olive-drab skin.

    Mr. Chesmire stood at her side and ran his fingers over the thick ridge of bone that protruded from his forehead.

    "Lester …," Mrs. Chesmire said ghostly.  "What have you done?"  She turned to face the others, who all showed the same sickly pallor and deformity.

    "Oh, shut up, you contemptible wench," Mr. Chesmire snapped.  "You always were the one to bring up the negative side of things, ever since the day we were married."

    Shelia held up her hand to block her reflection.  "The war with Russia?"

    "Of course," Mr. Chesmire said.  "C'mon, now, we've been dealing with the after-effects of radiation for years—it's nothing new."

    Outside the picture window came a high-pitched howl.  The group stepped over to investigate, and below from the garden a creature stepped forth into the artificial light.  It was a four-legged mammal stripped of fur. Its ribs pricked outward from dead grey skin, and a lumpy horn sprouted from its forehead.

    "Damn dog mutants," Mr. Chesmire said.  "They're crawling all over the city these days, breeding in the old subways and abandoned buildings.  Little bastards.  I've shot four in my yard in the last month."

    Shelia covered her mouth and turned away with a tear that welled up in her left eye.  Her other tear duct was inoperable.  "I have to leave.  I need to be with my husband."

    "And we need to be with our children, Lester," Mrs. Chesmire added.

    "What?" Mr. Chesmire snickered.  "Children?  Now I know that you've truly gone batty, we have no children."  He laughed until a thick vein popped up on his ridged forehead. 

    Mrs. Chesmire buried her face in her hands.  "I'm confused, I'm so confused …. "  She pulled at her stringy hair compulsively.  "Front, forward, backward, front, forward, backward … reverse … FOR ME!  Front, forward, backward, front, forward, backward, reverse … FOR ME!"

    "What is wrong with her?" Shelia asked.

    "I don't know, but it's quite entertaining, isn't it?" Mr. Chesmire replied.

    "Front, forward, backward, front, forward, backward … reverse … FOR ME!"

    Shelia moved closer to the door.  "Wait," Lester said.  "You first need to be cleansed with a UV screen to protect you from the radiation outside."

    "Leave me be, Lester."

    "Shelia! Your wedding band, it's not there anymore.  Are you sure that your husband is even waiting for you?"

    Shelia examined her left ring finger.  The nail was yellow and cracked, and the space below the second knuckle was bare.  "Oh no … no, no, it can't be!"  Shelia raced over to the computer, which no longer was equipped with a keypad but enabled for voice commands.  "Computer, bio of James Presscott Ridgefield, married to Shelia Elizabeth Barnes."  She stared at the screen.  "Please be untrue …."  A few moments later she collapsed and began to wail uncontrollably.   

    Mr. Chesmire strolled over and looked at a bright tablet that illuminated the screen.  "An obituary.  James Presscott Ridgefield.  He died in an automobile accident eleven years ago.  Tough break."

    "You bastard .… "  Shelia slowly rose from the carpet and slapped Lester dead in the face.  "You bastard!"

    Lester winced smartly.  "I'm so sorry … I, you know it's—I  … we didn't know exactly what would happen … it could have happened to any of us." He leaned in and attempted to put his arm around her.

    "Don't touch me!  You took him from me!  My husband! My husband!"

    Mr. Chesmire chuckled and stepped in between them.  "Isn't it interesting, Lester, that each catastrophe was replaced with another? Perhaps this is fate.  Perhaps you are a genius who is a fool for trying to play God like this.  Quite a birthday to remember, eh? Gems of Time, indeed."

    Lester stomped his foot and shook his head frantically.  "No! No! This is not playing God, it's about science, science! Empiricism, cause and effect, stimulus and response! There are always calculated risks with any experiment—we agreed to this unanimously."  He lowered his voice and attempted to regain himself.  "As for fate, Shelia … perhaps this is our fate, you know?  Do you think … do you think that maybe this was meant for us? Even in a dark world such as this, we can share it together.  You can still have love, our love.  I've always loved you, Shelia.  That has never changed, despite any timeline."

    "You monster!"  Shelia backed up until she was flush against the wall.  "How dare you suggest that I could ever be with you—never!  After all that you've done!  If you really love me like you say that you do, then send something else back.  Do it!  I cannot bear to live in this world one minute longer!"  She dropped to the floor and beat her fists repeatedly on the carpet.  "Put something else in your damn machine!"

    Lester stood with his mouth agape and turned to Mr. Chesmire, who merely shrugged his shoulders.  "Might as well give it another whirl, ol' buddy."

    Mrs. Chesmire stared vacantly out the window.  "Front, forward, backward …. " 

    "How about that computer?" Mr. Chesmire suggested.  "Send that back in time.  I'm sure it would pack quite a wallop."

    Lester stared at the laptop for a few moments.  "Not that one.  There was no internet when computers were invented.  It would be useless.  Please excuse me a moment."

    Lester exited the room and then returned with a bulky computer monitor and keyboard.  "This is the original Apple computer invented by Steve Wozniak in Palo Alto, California, 1976.  It cost me a fortune to get it when they auctioned it off.  I'll send it back to him five years before he made it.  All he has to do is plug it in."  Lester placed it carefully on the glowing tile of the Time Treadle.  "Please, God, have mercy on us all."


   Shelia found herself at the front door.  She couldn't remember leaving Lester's chamber, but she knew she had to get out, had to escape.  As her hand rose to turn the knob, she heard something on the other side.  It was a scraping, coughing sound, soon joined by another, and yet another.

    Sensing the threat, she turned to ascend the staircase once more.  When she cleared the first step she realized that she did not walk, she slithered.  She saw the membranous trail of slime that marked where she had recently descended.  She tried to remember, but her brain worked differently.

    The steps were wider than before, cracked and ridden with filth.  She slithered upward until she turned to the entrance of Lester's chamber.  It was no longer an arched doorway but a perfect circle.  She entered.

    Lester lay sprawled on a bed next to the Time Treadle.  A new piece of machinery was on the tile board ready to be used, something Shelia had trouble recognizing.  He caressed the colored bulbs of the Time Treadle with long, bony green fingers.  His belly stuck outward like a captured balloon, and his misshapen head appeared to have a double skull.

    Shelia slithered in and viewed her full image in the wall mirror.  The bottom half of her body was a tail marked with sharp twitching flippers.  Multiple breasts stretched across her upper torso.  On her top left was a large breast swollen with rich fluid.  Each other breast was a size smaller than the one before it, with the last the shape of a rotted plum.

    Lester outstretched his bony fingers.  "Come to me."

    Shelia braced herself and met the dull flash of his eyes.  "Mr. and Mrs. Chesmire?"

    Lester laughed hoarsely and caressed the colored bulbs again.  "Mr. and Mrs. Chesmire have never been.  Don't let it concern you.  In a short time you will forget that you ever knew them."  He held out an index finger and curled it in slowly.  "Come to me."

    Shelia turned away and slithered over to the picture window on the south wall.  She gazed  at the crumbling buildings of the metropolis, some on fire, others with strange shapes in the windows.

   "Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday, dear Lester … happy birthday to you."

    With a great heave Shelia catapulted herself out the window.  The glass raked across her  flesh as she plummeted three stories to the lawn below.  From out of the shadows of the garden a pack of hybrid things rushed in to tear her apart and gorge upon her.

    Lester wailed in agony. In maddening desperation, he turned to the controls of the Time Treadle.  The memory then began to fade, like a painful wave that washed away to a dim and distant shore.  In less than a minute he felt the urge to laugh, for after all, there was no reason to be concerned.  He didn't know her name.





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