The Present Miles Gray has a wonderful life that he has refused to recognize. One day, he receives a present from a friend that is strange and peculiar. Unable to resist the present, Miles goes on a journey that he never could have imagined and that will change his life forever. (Approximately 6,800 words)
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Copyright © 2011 B.C. Young
Miles Gray loved and hated many things in life. On this particular day, his mood leaned more towards the side of “hating many things” for a number of reasons.
His job as the supervisor at a meat packaging plant called Hornewigg’s Quality Meats, left much to be desired in his life. Sure, the pay was good, it allowed him to live a pleasant life of pleasure, and he’d probably never be let go, but it didn’t change the fact that the job could be monotonous. There are only so many times you can hear that the jerky cutter was jammed, the smoker isn’t smoking, or the label applying machine won’t apply the labels before your mind cuts off all thought and is moving as if it is programmed—much like a robot.
Miles found himself now, at the end of his day, grateful that he was leaving. The weekend, a time he loved, was ahead of him, and he would worry about work on the upcoming, hated Monday. All he wanted was some peace and quiet, time to relax, and a happy weekend would be ahead of him.
But Miles hated the drive home. And by hated it should be noted that he loathed it. Hornewigg’s Quality Meats was located just about a one hour drive from his home. It took him from the bustling town ofLansfieldto the remotest part of the state. The first part of the drive consisted of heavy traffic, plenty of stoplights, and the occasional automobile accident delays. The second part of the drive became much like his job—a long, boring, drab ride through the country. The land was flat, grassy, and yellow. He passed plenty of farms with horses, cows, and sheep. And there just wasn’t much to enjoy. Even though the speed limit was forty-five miles per hour during this stretch, he always drove it close to seventy. He was willing to take the risk of a speeding ticket, if it meant getting home within one hour rather than one and a half.
As he did every Friday before getting home from work, he stopped at a local bakery call YumYum. They were only five minutes from his home, and a dozen doughnuts every weekend was Miles’s treat to himself for making it through the work week. (He didn’t actually eat all of the doughnuts—his wife and kids would always help out with that.) YumYum’s doughnuts were definitely the best a person can buy and did not compare to any other bakery. The particular doughnut Miles always enjoyed and loved was the Buttermilk Stick. It was the perfect doughnut to warm up on Saturday morning, sit on his front porch, and eat with a hot cup of coffee.
After buying his doughnuts, Miles enjoyed the last five minutes of his drive. The vehicle had the aroma of the doughnuts filling it, and every time, Miles would give in to eating one of the doughnuts as he drove. More often than not, the Sour Cream doughnut accompanied him on the last leg of his journey home. He’d eat it slowly, making sure it lasted the entire five minutes to the point before he was walking through the door of his home. He often thought how he wished life would stick him in that moment with no return. It’d be a wonderful place.
Miles’s home was located on what was once a forty-five acre farm that was now reduced to ten acres because the farm owner had decided to sell off portions of his property to homebuilders. Instead of large fields of corn, it was mostly a field of homes, and the remaining space had some milk cows and a farmer’s market on it called Bunny’s.
As Miles pulled up to the his home—a two-story house with cream colored siding and maroon shutters on all the windows—he felt relief to be home, but dread filled him as he wondered what task his wife would need him to do over the weekend, or what games his kids would want to play. They weren’t necessarily bad things, it was just that he wished he could have some peace and quiet once and a while—some time to himself to do what he wanted.
Carrying the box of doughnuts, his work lunch container, and his empty coffee mug from the morning, Miles walked through the door. At first, the house was eerily quiet. But that only lasted around five seconds because Miles heard the sound of one of his kid’s footsteps approaching from the kitchen on his left.
“Daddy!” his daughter, Emily, cried out as she ran towards him. She was four years old and full of life. She ran fast enough that her blond hair blew back behind her. Once she reached him, she wrapped her arms around his leg and hugged him.
“Hey, Em,” he said.
“We’re gonna play house tonight. Mommy got me a new doll to use,” Emily said happily, her head rocking from side to side
The dreaded ‘house’ play, Miles thought. He was exhausted and just wanted to sit in front of the television. But his daughter had other plans for him.
“Hi, Dad,” his eight year old son, Matthew, said. His greeting was a lot less enthusiastic than Emily’s, but Miles didn’t mind.
“Hi, Matty,” Miles said. “How was school?”
“Can I have a doughnut?” Emily asked.
“After dinner,” he said. Every time he brought them home, she’d ask him and he’d say the same thing.
“Good,” Matthew said. “Are we still going to fix my bike tonight?”
Miles had completely forgotten. Matthew’s bike had gotten a flat tire, and he told Matthew they would go out and get a new inner tube for it. Another roadblock to a relaxing evening.
“Yeah, of course,” Miles said, his tone betraying his real feelings.
“Great,” Matthew said, his eyes squinting closed as he smiled and he walked out of the room with Emily following him.
Kyle walked into the kitchen and set everything he was carrying on the counter.
“Don’t do that,” his wife, Rhoda, said from behind him. “You set that lunch box on the floor at your work, in the car, and who knows where else. I’m cookin’ dinner on that counter.”
“Sorry,” he said. He picked the lunch container up and was at a loss for a moment as to where he should set it. He finally settled on putting it on top of the refrigerator. Then he walked over to his wife of fifteen years, admired her long dark hair and brown eyes, and gave her a kiss on the cheek. “How was your day?”
“Good,” she said as she busily began cutting carrots into a bowl.
“Whatch’ya makin’?” he asked.
“Cabbage soup with kielbasa.”
“Sounds good.” Although, Miles couldn’t deny that it didn’t sound too appetizing to him. His statement was only partially true, as he didn’t mind the kielbasa.
“Oh, Ted’s coming over shortly. He said he wanted to give you something for helping him out with his car last week.”
“That’s nice of him. I told him I wasn’t expecting anything, though.”
Ted Holl was one of Miles’s good friends. A week earlier, his car, an old, tan, Buick LaSabre, had broken down—anti-freeze leak—and Miles told him he could probably fix it. Sometimes things sound easier than they are, but after seven hours of work, Miles found the problem, bought a cheap ten dollar part, and sealed up the leak. Ted insisted on paying Miles for his trouble, but Miles adamantly refused. He was just doing a favor for a friend.
“That reminds me, the bathroom sink is still leaking. We have to fix that this weekend. Do you have any idea what our water bill will be if we just let it go?”
Great! Miles thought. There’s the task and there goes the weekend. He figured the task could take him anywhere from three to five hours. Miles just wanted to get away.
As he was thinking that and about to object to his wife’s request, he heard the doorbell ring. Ted wasn’t a moment too late to prevent a potential argument from starting.
“That was quick,” Miles said.
“Don’t be long. Dinner will be ready in fifteen minutes.” Rhoda said sounding slightly irritated that Ted was stopping by the house.
As he walked to the front door, he noticed his kids weren’t around. They must have heard what Mom was making and made a run for it, he thought. More power to them.
Miles opened the door, and sure enough, Ted stood there in front of him. Miles always thought Ted looked goofy with his dark, tight curls in his hair, thin framed glasses with thick lenses, and a smile that was always crooked.
Ted held a red box with an even darker red ribbon tied around it in a bow—obviously the present for repayment for fixing his car. The colors matched the t-shirt he was wearing so well that Miles wondered if he did it on purpose. But the blue jeans told him it probably was just coincidence.
“Hey, Teddy. Rhoda just told me you were stopping by.”
“I got something for you,” Ted said as he walked into the house. “You got a minute.”
They went into the living room. It was a nice room for a conversation being that there were two couches, both dark brown leather, that faced each other with a coffee table in the center. Miles sat on the one couch, Ted sat on the other, and Ted placed the present on the coffee table in front of them both.
“I know you’re eating dinner soon. Rhoda told me on the phone. But I wanted to give you this,” Ted said.
“Hey, I told you not to worry about it.”
“I wanted to—‘1’. ‘B’—I didn’t pay for this thing anyway.” Ted always did that when he listed an order of two items. He mentioned the first item with a number, the second with a letter.
“What? Is it something you made?” Miles asked.
“No. I’m not sure who made it, but whoever did must’ve been pretty smart.”
“So, if you didn’t buy it and you didn’t make it, where’d you get it from?”
“Someone gave it to me as a gift, just today in fact. But I don’t have a use for it anymore, and I thought you would like it.”
Miles wondered what was happening. His friend offers him a present that he received from someone else the same day? It made the present seem disingenuous and the act rude.
“Don’t worry. This is how it’s done. Once you’re finished with it, you’ll give it to someone else,” Ted said as if he was reading Miles’s questioning mind. “Go ahead. Open it.”
“All right,” Miles said.
Miles reached his hand out to grab the dark red ribbon. He pulled on it and it untied easily, falling away from the box. He then grabbed the lid and took it off of the box. When he looked inside, he saw a silver metal box with a hard, clear plastic shell surrounding it. He lifted the box out of the gift box, noting that it was much lighter than he expected, and set it on the coffee table.
For a few seconds, he stared at the box. Is this a joke? Miles thought. It was just a box within a box. Nothing special about that. He noticed the hard plastic shell had a latch and hinges. It appeared that he could open it and lift the top half off the silver metal box.
“What is this? A gag gift?” Miles.
“This is the present,” Ted said. “When I received it, I thought it was a joke, too. I don’t want to tell you any more, because it’s my understanding that you need to discover everything on your own.”
“You’re a strange duck,” Miles said to Ted.
“I said something similar to the person who gave the present to me. But once you get it, you’ll see that it won’t be long before someone is calling you weird.”
Miles looked into Ted’s eyes to see if there was any sign of humor. He found joy in his eyes and seriousness, but he couldn’t determine Ted’s motives. Then, his eyes were pulled away from Ted to the silver metal box. He could have sworn he saw it disappear and reappear out of the corner of his eye. But he must have been mistaken.
“So what’s it do?” Miles asked as he lifted away the top portion of the hard plastic shell. “It’s just a silver box.”
“Careful!” Ted exclaimed. “Don’t touch the silver until you’re ready.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“I mean exactly what I said. Do not touch the silver until you’re ready.”
Now it was time for Miles to call Ted’s bluff. If Ted thought being cryptic and telling him not to touch the box would make Miles not touch it, he was sorely mistaken. Miles decided to do exactly opposite of what Ted told him.
“Well,” Miles said shrugging his shoulders, “I’m ready.”
“Suit yourself,” Ted said. “Just be sure you put both hands on it to complete the flow.”
Miles reached out his hands, and he noted that he actually felt nervous. But why feel nervous, it was only a silver metal box. He would touch it just like he touches anything else. He wasn’t sure why the anticipation was affecting him, because nothing was going to happen. Nothing could happen. It’s just a silver metal box. Just as he was about to touch the box, it faded slightly from view, becoming almost transparent, and then it reappeared again.
“Whoa!” Miles exclaimed. He was not expecting that.
“Don’t worry,” Ted reassured him. “It’s completely safe.”
Miles started to have second thoughts. He’d never seen anything like that before. If not for Ted’s attempt to make him comfortable, he may have just walked away right there.
But he didn’t walk away. He found himself more curious and again reached out his hand. First, the right hand. When he touched it, he felt a slight vibration from the box that traveled up his arm. Then, he placed his left hand on the box. As soon as it touched the silver, the world before him started to fade from view. The living room, coffee table, couches, Ted, all appeared to be turning transparent and the world around him became a solid shad of gray. It was the oddest sensation he ever felt.
After ten seconds, he decided to let go of the box. Once he did, the gray view in front of his eyes began to go away. But there was a problem with the view now in front of him. While it looked like his home, the decorations and furniture were different. And Ted was no longer sitting in front of him. It would be impossible for him to do so, because the couch wasn’t even there. Instead, it was replaced with a tall shelf that held many pictures. He also noticed that the gift packaging was no place to be seen either.
“You got me again!” he heard Ted’s voice say from behind him. Ted came walking into the room. “I guess you were off by a few minutes. I wasn’t expecting you until seven.”
What? Miles thought. As he thought it, he realized there was something different about Ted. He no longer wore glasses, and his dark hair was mostly gray. His face contained wrinkles that were not there only minutes earlier. He looked old. Miles found himself speechless because he couldn’t talk for some reason, and he didn’t understand what was happening.
“I know. I had a hard time, too, when I first touched the box,” Ted said as he sat down next to Miles.
“What’s going on?” Miles was finally able to ask.
“Well, there’s no light way to put it. It’s May thirteenth, twenty-forty-one—thirty years since you first touched the box.”
“What?” Miles asked—.
“The box. When you touched it, it moves you through time. At first, I thought it was random. But, well, you’ll see.”
If not for the fact that his home looked so different and Ted looked so old, he would have thought the best practical joke of all time was being played on him. But he knew it couldn’t be the case.
“Here,” Ted said, “I got you your favorite doughnuts. The ones from YumYum.”
As if on cue, a small cart arrived in the room with a box of doughnuts on it. Miles had to admit the trick was pretty neat and he figured the cart was some sort of robot. It’s not too far fetched of an idea. After all, they have those robot vacuums now-a-days—or those-a-days, whichever it was, he thought. His mind had a hard time wrapping around the whole idea that he had time traveled and he found himself getting very confused when he tried to sort it all out in his brain.
Miles was surprised that the doughnut box hadn’t changed much in thirty years. It was just a thick paper box with the YumYum logo, a baker taking a bite out of a doughnut, on it. He was about to open the lid, when the baker on the box began moving and talking.
“You’ll love ‘da doughnuts,” the YumYum baker said. Then the image was still and silent again.
After making sure the baker was done talking, he opened the box, and it was filled with his favorite doughnut, the Buttermilk Stick. But something was wrong with them.
“What’s up with these?” he asked Miles. “They’re like half the size of usual.”
“Yeah. And they cost triple the amount, too,” Ted said and laughed. “Things change a lot in thirty years.”
It suddenly hit Miles hard that he hadn’t seen his wife and kids. Thirty years had passed. His wife would be in her early sixties, and his kids might even have kids of their own.
“Rhoda. The kids,” Miles said concerned. “Where are they?”
“They’re not here.”
“Because you insisted that at every moment you arrive they not be there. You only wanted me greeting you.”
Miles wondered why he would give those kinds of instructions, and he wondered when he gave those instructions.
“So, you’re saying I told you to do these things?” Miles said.
“All right then,” Miles said, ready to prevent this problem in the future. “I’ll follow the rules I supposedly set, but after this conversation, anything I say goes. If I see you ten years from now, I get to see my family and whatever else I want.”
“No problem,” Ted said with his crooked smile. His wide eyes told him he wouldn’t betray the promise.
“Oh, shoot! I was supposed to help Matty fix his bike. What happened if I wasn’t there?”