Putting his back to Cara and Trevor, Wes poured an extra spoonful of sugar into this thermos.
“I saw that, Wes,” said Cara.
“Saw what, Mom?” Trevor’s swinging feet bumped against the kitchen’s island.
“Nothing, little man.” Wes capped the thermos. “Finish your cereal or we’re leaving without you.”
“Trevor,” said Cara and Wes in unison.
Wes caught his wife’s soft blue eyes and the reprimand for the extra sugar scoop dulled beneath her weary smile. The gleam of something else equally dimmed when down the hallway, knocks thumped on the front door.
Wes cocked an eyebrow. “You’re expecting company?”
“Ha. Ha,” said Cara.
The knocks sounded again, their blows making the pictures lining the wall rattle.
After a swift exchange of worried glances, Wes set the thermos beside Trevor’s bowl and headed for the door. The peephole revealed a bearded face and a frown accentuated by the grim stranger’s receding hairline. His leather jacket had been zipped, the snug fit highlighting a toned frame. With a pair of sharp blue eyes, he glanced to the driveway and the garage. His jaw firmed, and yanking one of his hands from his pocket, he reached for the knocker again.
Wes flipped the lock but left the chain in place, opening the door ajar before the stranger’s callus knuckles or the brass landed. “Can I help you?”
Stuffing his hand into his pocket, the stranger shuffled in his thick-soled boots, his black jeans rustling. “Weston Marshall?”
“I need to speak with you.”
Wes scowled over the chain. “What are we doing now?”
“No.” The stranger tipped his head and Wes sensed his gaze lurking into the kitchen where he heard Cara hustling Trevor into his coat. Wes interrupted the line of sight with a side step, bringing the stranger’s attention back to his face. “It’d be better if we could speak alone.”
“Who is it, Wes?”
“Please.” The stranger’s furrows deepened and his body tensed. “It’s important.”
Despite the extra half-foot and thirty pounds, the rigidity in the stranger felt more like panic than a threat. Something in the stance, his blue eyes, or the softly spoken request snared a sense of empathy inside Wes’ being. He spoke over his shoulder without shifting his gaze.
“I’m just stepping out for a second, Cara.”
“You’re going to make us late.”
“Hooray,” shouted Trevor.
“It’s just for a second, little man.” Slipping across the threshold, Wes closed the door behind him. He crossed his arms, making his tie and dress shirt crinkle. “You have two minutes.”
“Time is inconsequential.”
Wes bristled. “Names aren’t. How do you know who I am?”
The stranger opened his mouth but the first reply seemed to get lost in his beard. Like a fish seeking air, his lips flapped. “My name is We…Webber and I’m a family friend.”
“Well, We-ebber, what do you want?”
“I need to show you something.”
Wes held out his hand.
“Not here.” Webber descended one of the stoop’s steps. “It’s in your car.”
Inside his coat pockets, Webber’s hands balled into fists, the leather groaning. “Indulge me.”
Wes firmed his stance. “I am already.”
“I must have one minute left don’t I?”
Wes checked his watch. The hands on the face seemed stuck sixty seconds before their usual departure time. Shaking out his wrist, he met the same imploring blue and with a sigh, gestured at the car. “Fine. Lead on.”
He followed Webber who took the long way around the pruned lawn and up the driveway to their evergreen sedan. The shadow of the garage draped them, and under its chilly shade, Webber withdrew his hands from his pockets. He shoved his jacket’s right sleeve up revealing a thick band of glittering lights, a digital clock with space for milliseconds, and darker panels with a set of inert buttons, like a nine-key missing its lower half.
“What the hell is that?”
“My…watch.” Webber started twisting dials and pressing buttons.
“That’s not a watch.” Wes held up his wrist. “This is a watch.”
“Not where I come from.”
Wes crossed his arms again. “And where exactly do you come from? Exactly whose friend are you?”
“Not where, when and I’m… I’m a friend of someone who doesn’t exist yet.”
“You’re not making any sense.” Wes took a step backwards.
Webber sighed and, finishing whatever he had been doing with his not-a-watch, looked up, the pained look gleaming in his eyes. “I’m from the future.”
“And you’re getting off my property before I call the cops.”
Wes tried for another backwards step but Webber caught him by the arm, keeping them side by side. A ripple raced across Wes’ body and goose bumps covered his skin. Beyond Webber, he spied the Havers’ SUV stopping midway from reversing out of their driveway and their neighbor, Wendy Pollet, freezing as she locked her front door. Gusts that had been teasing the maples along the street ceased blowing and the autumnal leaves stilled. They didn’t droop like they might have if the wind had simply died, but remained lifted, twisted, bent, or falling in midair.
“What in the world.”
“Sorry.” Webber’s grip remained tight. “It was the only way I could make you see.”
Wes swiveled around, glanced at the cinched fingers around his bicep and then their owner. “What have you done?”
“Put you in a chrono—” Webber shook his head. “Think of it like a time bubble. You’re outside of normal time, like me.”
“This is crazy.”
“No, this is the future. We can do this in the future. It’s more for space travel and suspension, but those are inconsequential details.”
Wes used his other hand to motion at the still life around them. “You call this inconsequential?”
“You’ll fall back when I let go—”
“Then let go.” Wes pulled his arm but Webber’s grip transitioned into something more like a manacle than a hand.
“I will, but I can’t yet, not until I show you what you need to see.”
Wes tugged his arm but Webber’s hold remained unyielding.
Tearing his gaze away, Wes scanned across the frozen landscape of his neighborhood. He couldn’t deny the facts before him, and returning to Webber’s imploring eyes, he found himself nodding.
With a relieved sigh, Webber pointed his not-a-watch at the hood of the sedan and the dark green metal sheet vanished. Engine components appeared and, with a glimmer, the entire system replicated itself in a hovering hologram, complete with front axles and tires.
Wes’ arm went slack and he whistled. “Damn.”
“You see that?” A section went red on an important looking belt.
“Sure, I see it.”
“It’s going to break.”
Wes leaned closer into the projected image and squinted. “How can you tell?”
“Because it’s happened already.”
Wes straightened and scowled at Webber, but the frozen billow in their neighbor’s Halloween sign kept him mute. Webber answered the silent question anyway.
“How I know doesn’t matter. It will. It’ll happen this morning, on your way to drop Cara and Trevor off at school, before you head to work.” He pointed at the red blip. “That thing is going to snap and the three of you are going to get into an accident, a bad accident.
Webber’s face paled and Wes suddenly didn’t want to hear the answer. Gulping down a parched throat, he diverted his concerns.
“Is anyone else hurt?”
Wes looked at the hologram. “It looks fine.”
“Are you willing to risk I’m wrong?”
Webber shook his wrist and the image vanished. Another ripple coursed over Wes’ skin when the other man relinquished his hold. Leaves sagged or plunged, Wendy Potter locked her door, and the Havers made it out of their driveway and along the block. A stiff wind gust as if to compensate for the momentary lull, making the Halloween sign snap and ripping a fresh rake-load of leaves from the nearest trees.
Wes peered at Webber and the not-a-watch peeking out from his sleeve.
“Your family’s in danger if they get into that car, Weston.”
Wes rubbed his bicep. “And I’m supposed to believe you came all the way from some space-traveling future to tell me this?”
“It’s the truth, but not the one I really need you to believe.”
“Say I did, why stop a car accident? Why not stop, I don’t know, the Kennedy Assassination or Hitler or something.”
Webber exhaled a long, weighty breath. “It’s not that simple or that…authorized. You start messing with the timeline and everything can break down, like plucking a single strand from a sweater. Mess with the wrong one and everything unravels. Some bad things, horrible things, happen for a reason, they inspire better things, push people to be greater than they thought possible. They serve to tighten the weave. Other times….”
He glanced at the car.
“Today’s the start of a chain that unmakes so much of the world. Makes it into something you wouldn’t recognize. Class warfare. Space travel not for the glory of exploration but the export of criminals and private conquest. Medical experimentation. Unheard of poverty. Wasted resources. Environmental degradation.”
Webber looked up from the sedan, and Wes balked under his haunted gaze.
“It’s a simple request, Weston: Don’t drive this car until you get it checked out by a mechanic. Believe what you want about me, but if it’s only for the love of your family, your children, do this.”
The plea sunk into Wes’ gut and milled around with his morning’s toast. “Okay. For them.”
Webber’s broad shoulders sloped. “Thank you.”
The front door creaked. “Wes?!”
He swiveled and found Cara zippering her periwinkle fleece while Trevor raced through the fresh blanket of leaves on the front lawn.
Wes waved a halting hand. “Change of plans.”
“Car’s busted. Can you call your mom?”
Cara gaped. “You’re kidding me.”
“We’re going to be late.”
Wes shrugged. “But we’ll get there.”
Rolling her eyes, Cara stormed into her purse and began dialing.
“You know you could have popped the—” Wes stopped short when he swiveled and found himself standing before the sedan alone. He glanced around the car, along the alleyway leading to the backyard, and peeked over the hedges lining this property.
“Whatcha looking for Dad?”
Trevor, holding an armload of leaves, stood in the middle of the driveway. A furrow deepened the blue of his eyes into something almost familiar.
“A…friend, little man.”
Trevor glanced around. “Maybe they went home.”
“I think they did.”
“I want to stay home too.”
“Not today. When Grandma gets here you’re going to school.”
“She’s not here yet.” Trevor pitched the leaves up and showered himself in scarlet and bright yellows before dashing for another load.
Wes watched him playing, and then glanced at Cara, her hand on her hip as she no doubt argued over some trivial detail that had nothing to do with the forthcoming ride. She’d be in a huff once she hung up, and Trevor would not doubt be a leafy mess, but Wes didn’t care. For the moment, they were safe. They were alive. They were together.