This is a very short version of the 365 Story, and probably does not really capture the story very well. The Long version is just below.
Charlie Hopewell is stealing a street light that he ran over. It contains the pieces he needed to finish the machine. He is old, but when the machine is finished he will be able to change it. With the machine he will be able to help his wife, Irene, who has Alzheimer’s. He travels home, musing on the events that led to this. The instructions for the machine came to him via a strange letter arriving in the mail, as well as how to obtain the Ebers Papyrus, an ancient Egyptian medical papyrus. One object was stranger than that though – a photo that talked, and not just talked. It had conversations with him. The people in the photo told him what to do and how to test the machine. Feeling guilty about stealing the light, he goes back only to see them. They seem to be getting there quicker and quicker. If they found him, then it would all be worth nothing. Getting out of there quickly, he soon enough finds himself staring at his basement laboratory. The machine is down there and almost complete. With these bits, he may get it finished. With anticipation, he remembered the good old times before Irene’s disease wrecked her body. She knows that he is avoiding her, but understands and wants him to finish the machine as well. Picking up the photo, he calls for Cliff, the ‘person’ on the other side of the photo. Once he had asked Cliff for his real name and received Quidf-al-swzforb-azxef as an answer. He did not ask any questions after that and just understands a photo like that is not human. The last pieces go in. It is done finally. The machine looked ungainly, but still looked like a machine. As he considered flicking the on switch, a flash caught his eye. The Ebers Papyrus was glowing and separating. Hieroglyphs whipped around the room hitting the walls and ceiling. Some remained, but not in their original position, arranging themselves in a new order. Charlie just thought it meant more work to work out what they said now. Cliff tells him that he has done everything right.
The Long Version contains Parts 1 to 9 and will be updated with new parts as we go. (The 365 Story started with JMishra suggesting the first three elements, being Charlie Hopewell, a broken stop light and a pickup truck.)
The broken stop light continued to flash its deranged sequence even though he had just run over it. Now as it lay on the ground with a newly acquired 45 degree bend, Charlie Hopewell went over to examine the damage.
As he reached the bent piece of metal, the first thing he did was to kick in the light covering. It took a couple of goes but eventually it conceded. Pulling away the remnants of the plastic, he could see the light globe. Yes, he thought, that would be perfect. That will fit very well.
That globe would also have all the right wiring too, he knew. He shambled over to the old pickup truck to retrieve an old hacksaw left in the back. Everything was old about Charlie – his body, his tools, and even his red pickup truck.
But I will change that, thought Charlie. Maybe this will be enough now and I can get it finished. It sure feels like enough.
After removing all the wires from the interior of the pole and an hour of hacking through the metal, Charlie had six large chunks of metal beside him. That will do it, he mumbled.
He drove the pickup truck closer to the debris of what was once a stop light, looked around to make sure no one was looking, hefted it all in the back of the truck and drove home a happy man.
(With thanks to Tshang of 365Vets for basement laboratory, wife Irene (who has Alzeimers) and the Ebers Papyrus, Napthali of Craig Motor for rebuilding the stop light and Jackie Paulson of Post A Day Challenge for photos that talk in Part 2!)
Home, Charlie mused, home. That used to be such a wonderful place before Irene got sick. It had not taken long for the Alzeimers to ruin her body and their marriage. 35 years of wedded bliss and now a year of sickness. Unfair, he mumbled, just dang unfair.
But that is when the plan started to come together. It all happened almost at once. That strange letter with the instructions on how to build the device, and where to find that bit of ancient Egyptian paper. The letter said that its name was the Ebers Papyrus, and that it was meant to be locked away in a museum in Germany but that was wrong, so wrong. All he had to do was send away a self-addressed envelope and, within a week, it arrived by courier to his front door. He could tell that was very old.
But the strangest one was the photo that talked. He could not help thinking of the Harry Potter movies when he needed to use the photo, but that was where the resemblance stopped. The people in the photo knew things, told him things that would never have known without it. They told him what stuff he needed, how to build it and where to build it.
Driving into the driveway, Charlie left the pickup truck idling. After each successive burglary, stealing, knicking, he felt more and more guilty. This time it got the better of him, so he reversed out of the driveway back to the scene of his latest crime.
But they were there. He could see the glow of them way before he got too close. They were there, and if he got any closer they would know it was him again. Charlie had started to suspect that they knew it was him anyway. If they found him now, it would ruin everything. The plan was almost complete now.
Slipping into reverse and planting his foot on the accelerator, the truck zig-zagged backwards down the street before he could spin it around and throw it into first gear. Hopefully, he had been far enough away that they did not hear him.
Before too long, he was back in his driveway, sweating and watching the street for followers. Irene knew when he sat in the car that there may have been trouble, so she stayed upstairs.
But it was downstairs where he needed to go. The basement had been converted, over time, into a laboratory. The photo people told him what he needed to do and how the experiments should go. Each time a new part of the machine was integrated, the photo people asked for more test to be run.
This should be the last set of tests before he could fix everything. Change it back to when life was good.
(Thanks to CWithNuEyes for the additional elements of cliff and collections for Part 3.)
If it was possible to change it back that much. Every day Charlie doubted it, but he pushed on regardless. Something would change. Something had to. A sigh escaped from him when he thought of all the work he had put into this so far. Each day longer that it took, the sicker Irene got and the more the creatures got closer to finding him.
The door of the basement laboratory squealed open, and already Irene was rushing down the stairs. ‘Is everything alright, honey? Did they see you?’
‘Hey love, everything is good. They were there very quickly after I left. I think they know more than I expect. It is not going to be good soon. They almost smell me now. Even with my collection of wards and talismans, they know me. They shouldn’t. That’s what they said,’ as he pointed towards the photo and its mysterious people that talked.
Dropping the protection necklace, he picked the photo. ‘Cliff, you there. Cliff, talk to me. I have the last piece.’
(Part 4 was made up by me.)
Irene knew that Charlie would need to talk to the photo people. Before he could ask her to leave, she had already started to make her way upstairs. Whilst Charlie did not seem to have a problem talking to them, Irene got the strangest feeling out of them. Like it rubbed her soul the wrong way. It left virtually paralysed when they spoke. Just as she was going to close the door, she turned to Charlie. He gave her a slight nod, letting her know that all was okay.
The photo remained opaque but arguing and other noises could be heard behind that blackness. It was like calling for somebody when you have the phone in your hand and it’s not for you. ‘Hey, Cliff, there’s a phone call for you’ kind of thing, thought Charlie, but all in some noise that was not from Earth. Finally, it brightened and the thing called Cliff shuffled forward. After some strange hand movement that reminded Charlie of a salute, it talked.
The words were garbled, but after a nanosecond they cleared. He had always assumed there was a language convertor in the photo, as those initial words never sounded like English. Charlie had been in the war as a younger man and had seen lot of different places and, in his recollection, there was no language that sounded like that. It was full of mud, tweeps and twirps. Almost like an African language but still far more stranger.
Hello, Charles. How may I help you today?
Cliff looked at Charlie as Charlie looked at Cliff. In the few months they had known each other, building the machine, Charlie had thought Cliff did not look quite real. The skin on his face never sat right; seemed to wrinkle in the wrong way. The man’s mouth moved wrong for the words he spoke. Even when he had seen Cliff walk around the big, empty room on the other side of the photo, the leg movements were never quite real. Much like some forced action that had been learnt very quickly and not quite mastered.
(Part 5 was made up by me.)
Once Charlie asked Cliff what his real name was. There was a delay from the photo person until it came out. Maybe the translator had had trouble converting it into English sounds. From what Charlie could hear, it sounded like Quidf-al-swzforb-azxef, which Charlie quickly shortened to just Cliff. The photo person did not seem offended by that, but then nothing Charlie had said to him so far had offended him. On the odd occasion, Charlie had even tried, but all with no luck.
From that brief conversation, Charlie had declined to ask him where he was from. There were some things that a person should not know, thought Charlie, and this was one of them. If it helped Irene, then it would all be worth the effort.
Charlie had still not answered Cliff, but Cliff did not seem bothered by this and continued to wait. If he was human he would have asked again, thought Charlie. But maybe I am just looking for things to be wrong.
But that was the only real answer for a photo that talks. It had to be from somewhere with advanced technology, which meant it was not from Earth. That seemed like a logical train of thought to him. The illogical question which continued to nag him was simple – why him?
The never-ending stare finally broke Charlie. He answered, I got the globe. What you said, it should be the right size. The papyrus is also here. So all I need to know is what to do, where it all goes and how to feed the papyrus into it all.
That is very good work, Charles. Can you show me the globe?
Charlie held it up to the photo, and he could see Cliff inspecting it almost as though he had hold of it himself. Strange clicks and clacks came from him, but soon enough nodding ensued.
Yes, very good. You have done well, my friend, mumbled Cliff.
(Part 6 written by me.)
A chill ran down Charlie’s spine every time the photo person used those words – my friend. There was an eeriness about them that turned Charlie’s stomach, but he nodded a reply and held his mouth tight. They felt just wrong, just plain wrong, coming out of this creature.
The globe is needed to be placed in the groove we left after the retrieval of the frame, spoke Cliff.
There it was again. That strange way of talking. Sentences that do not quite work and no understanding how to say things. It was like getting one of those telemarketing calls from overseas where English is not their native language. Everything that comes out does make sense but only after considering it for a second. Cliff did a lot of that. Lots of extra words for no reason. In this day and age, the English language seems to be getting truncated more and more, but Cliff adds words. That just isn’t right!
Yeah, I remember the groove. What about the extra wiring?
Given the quality and quantity of said such wiring, I am of a mind to ask you to be replacing some of the more inferior bits of external wiring to be better suited for the purpose of this experiment. It is to be making the machine better for its said purpose, should it become operational in the short term. If, after replacing said such wiring on the external frame, that we have some of this wiring left, and then I may be asking you, if you could, to be replacing some of the internal wiring on the inside as well. Is this acceptable to you?
Um, yeah, okay.
If you are ready to be continued then I will download the schematics to you.
This bit still freaked Charlie out. Early on, he had been told of the method of imparting instructions. It was not in the way of diagrams or through spoken commands from the photo interface. Charlie needed to put his finger on the photo and instantaneously they were in his head, ready to be used. They even felt like they were his original thoughts. His brain and finger tingled after doing it though. Itched like a proverbial bitch for an hour or so after it.
(Part 7 written by me.)
Excitement filled him as he contemplated the completion of the machine. Work on it had taken a few furious months of stealing, pilfering and borrowing, and then building it until the wee hours of each day.
Most of the time, Charlie did not mind the hard work. During his career as a welder, he had worked hard, trying to keep their collective heads above water. Welding was never a glamourous profession but one he had enjoyed every day he had done it. He knew that he could have made more money doing almost anything else, but Irene was always there and always supported his decision.
There was something ultimately exciting in the act of welding; of making two pieces into one; that fascinated him. It made shapes that were unique and became something different, something useful, something beautiful in its functionality.
He nejoyed his work so much so that he created weld-art in his spare time. Irene had named it that. For him, it was a way to unleash the inner creative in him without looking like some big pansy man in front of his mates – all workers doing jobs like tree cutting, mechanical work or farming. He did not need to damage his reputation by saying he was an artist. So Irene had done it, and his mates accepted it. One or two of them had even said they liked it.
Irene loved it all, and was proud of him, refusing to sell any piece even though there had been some very generous offers from time to time. So they stayed broke but had an enjoyment in their love for each other and life they had made for themselves.
That was until the spectre of disease intruded into their happy, little world. Irene’s descent had been as quick as it had been devestating. Building the machine meant Charlie could avoid, and almost forget about the Alzeimers.
(Part 8 written by me with the Ebers papyrus making a re-appearance.)
In that instant, all the joy from the manual labour was dispelled. Guilt slunk in and punched him square in the guts. To forget about his sick wife was not fair on her, and even though he argued with himself that he was doing this for her, he also knew he was avoiding her.
The sooner I get this flipping (Irene had never liked swearing) machine fixed and running, then the sooner I can get Irene fixed. Then I can forgive myself for neglecting her.
By instinct, Irene was there behind him, waiting patiently. Whenever she surprised him klie this, she always brought something good with her. This time it was her lemonade – one of his personal favourites. Kissing her hard on the forehead, he took the glass and drank heartily, almost finishing it.
I know that you are doing this for me, hon. I know it’s hard to see me like this. But it will over soon and we can go back to the way we used to be. I don’t blame you. Get the machine done. Then all will be good, whispered Irene.
A tear formed in his eye, which he brusquely brushed away. Well, back to it then, he replied.
Yes, hon. Back to it.
And then, just like that, it was finished. As the final re-wiring and solder spot set, he stepped back to survey his handy work. The machine looked ungainly, complicated and complex, but the On switch still looked like an On switch. Charlie thought about flipping it to see if all his hard work had amounted to anything, but he knew Cliff would want to test the device first.
A flash caught his eye. It was the Ebers Papyrus – glowing and hovering ever so slightly off the table. Moving over to it, he stared at it but could not bring himself to touch it. The hieroglyphics were now floating above the paper as well, creating a 3D effect. As he watched, the hieroglyphs starting to move until they created a little whirlpool.
(Part 9 written by me.)
Pages then separated from the rest of the thick papyrus. The whirlpool grew faster and faster and, all of a sudden, hierglyphs were flying around the room. Some hit the walls sliding down it whilst others hit the ceiling sounding like pancakes hitting the floor. Splat, splat, splat.
Some remained, but not in their original position. They re-arranged themselves to create a new structure of hierglyphs. This created a problem of its own, as Charlie had found a translation of the whole papyrus on the internet. He had not studied ancient Egyptian but had a gut feeling that he may need to.
More bloody delays, he growled. Now I’ll need to work out what happened here. Great, just great.
Charles, is everything okay with you?
And that just makes my day better, Charlie thought as he turned his attention to the photo. Cliff, how are you today?
That is of very little consequence. Could you be doing me the favour of explaining your situation to me please?
Well, yeah, okay. The dang pages of that Egyptian paper just exploded everywhere for no reason. It just sort of went crazy and there are hieroglyphs all over my basement! Like little bit of papers scattered everywhere.
He picked one up to show Cliff. It felt strange, different, and not at all like paper or ink. Alien, he thought, more stinkin’ alien in my life. As he stared back at the photo, he saw something unexpected. Cliff was looking excited, geniunely excited.
Charles, pick me up and take me to the Ebers Papyrus right now please.
Well, there ain’t that much left anymore. It’s sorta disintigrated itself. Must only be a couple of pages left really, and all the shapes are out of order now.
Charles, take me to the Papyrus now please if you will.
Hold on to your britches and don’t blame me. I didn’t do nothing.
The case may be, Charles, that you have done everything. You may have done everything very right.