Short Stories

Take it back



Just ten minutes from now and I’ll be seventy years ago, Neville Jones told himself.

Back when things were good, when things made a bit more sense and there was a bit more order and structure to things. He wiped his hands on his oil-stained blue overalls, a keep-sake relic from his happier days at the power station, decommissioned, concreted and knocked down back in the late 90s. Just a pair of overalls and a carriage clock with the PowerCorp logo – that was the reward for 25 years graft and voluntary redundancy.
Fucking leftie government.

Mind you, you can never keep a good engineer down. Older he might be, out of step with all the trash of the modern age, but mock these older engineers at your peril. With age comes experience, and knowledge. His country might have forgotten him, but he hadn’t forgotten his country.

Neville afforded himself a satisfied smile (tight-lipped, so as not to drop his perilously ash-heavy cigarette) as he gave the spanner a last twist. Oh no, you could never keep a good engineer down. Especially one with a workshop as well-maintained and kitted out as his. ‘Neville’s Island’ was what Teresa had called it. The name of a play she’d seen, or somesuch. He couldn’t remember for sure. Teresa loved her plays and books and all that guff. Neville never really cared for it that much really. He’d enjoyed some of the flashier musicals, birds gyrating in lycra or waitress uniforms, all lithe with jiggling tits and red lips and big white smiles, but most of it left him cold, especially the plays. He’d fallen asleep during an Alan Bennett and two Ayckbourns, and was relieved when she started to take Margaret with her on her show nights out instead.

Neville was happier taking solace in war films – all the classics. Many was the time Trees had pecked him goodnight on the cheek before heading up for bed, leaving him in his armchair enjoying a can of beer and a late night re-run of Reach For The Sky. Great stuff. Good times. Glory days. Times long gone now, and Teresa with them, but times he was about to take back, re-live and prolong. This time.

It had taken Neville the best part of three years to resurrect his old, long-abandoned project, look at his blueprints and plans all over again and get everything running, but, according to his own predictions, this time it would work. This time he would be right and could prove all those who doubted him wrong.

There had been sacrifices, of course. His old dad had been right. If you want something enough, you need to work for it. And to work for it, you need to make sacrifices. That’s what he’d said. No-one knew that better than his Dad, and all the other Tommies who’d put the boot in during World War Two. He glanced up from his workbench, took his bedraggled fag from his lips and stubbed it out underfoot on the concrete floor. Amongst the grubby shelves filled with re-labelled jam-jars of assorted screws, bolts and old drill bits, a faint reflected glow shone from his father’s war medal, pinned to green baize alongside a black-and-white photo of a young, handsome and smiling man in army uniform. A sunny day in a British backyard and a medal with the King’s head minted into it beneath a striped ribbon, all framed in a small brass and glass frame that Neville had himself made, in this very workshop no less, years ago now.

Sacrifice. He’d had to sacrifice half the workings of his old Triumph Dolomite, for starters. Fifth cig of the morning now lit and in his mouth, he took down his trusty Stanley 2.5mm Phillips-head screwdriver from its home on the magnetic wall-mounting, secured as it was into the solid Victorian brickwork, and started putting a piece of the protective stainless-steel casing back into place. Yes, and what a lovely car she’d been. Coventry’s finest, all gleaming cream and brown. Picnics. Trips to the coast. The Peak District. The Power Station. The weekly shop. Never once had she let them down (apart from that best-forgotten Bank Holiday trip to Abersoch – he’d always sworn the engine had started to give him gyp the moment they crossed the border into bloody Wales. Fucking Welsh…), but now she was about to carry out her ultimate purpose. Seven or eight minutes from now, give or take. Just seven or eight minutes more of this diseased society, of lazy goodfornothings with no respect for the past. No more being dictated to by ze Germans. No more bloody smashed avocados or defaced statues. No more life without Trees.

It looked the part. He’d painted it bright red, a nod to his beloved football team and their European glory-days of the 1970s, with a white go-faster stripe down the side. Not that it would make it go any faster of course, but then it wouldn’t need to, would it? The fastest thing the world had ever known. Able to leap ten decades in two seconds. Oh yeah. Just you wait and see, you moaning snowflake bastards. He was going to make his mark on history and get what needed to be done, done.

They just hadn’t known that it was him they needed to turn to. A normal man of the people.

The Dolomite’s walnut dash, mounted on a solid steel column at the front of the vehicle and now fully reconditioned and re-purposed beyond belief, gleamed and whirred into life as he pulled the red choke, sending a shiver of excitement thrumming through Neville’s chest. The white needle of the former petrol gauge flicked deliriously to the right, and a low-level, bass-heavy thrum confirmed that the shale gas engine was active, the uranium power cell alive. Yes, there was PowerCorp to thank for that too – not that they knew about the illicitly-procured rod shavings, of course.

Nor did the borough council yet know about the radioactive residue now flowing into Bronze Brook at the foot of his neatly-mown garden, the already shagged-out village mallard afloat amongst the reeds and now quacking his last in surprise. Let them deal with it all. He’d steadfastly paid his taxes year in, year out anyhow – so let them put the money to something worthwhile. None of those poxy mosques here thank you very much. Clean out the brook instead, and get a few more benches up in the square by the war memorial while you’re at it. Chances were that once his brave endeavour worked to plan, they wouldn’t ever need to worry about it anyway. It would all never have happened in the first place! He sighed and drew deeply from what remained of his cigarette, flicked the filter tip down to his steel toe-capped feet and side-footed it first time into the grate of the drain in the dipped corner of the floor. He’d still got the skills.

Neville took a step back to admire his work. Three years locked away, a labour of love – now gloriously alive in front of him and ready to change everything. The culmination of his hard work, his indefatigable efforts, locked away in his workshop away from everyone. His little empire of fixings and lubricants. Nobody had asked him to do this. They hadn’t needed to. But it had needed doing. It was necessary, Neville reminded himself, and they’d all be grateful to him eventually. This is what they had all wanted, wasn’t it? And even those who claimed they didn’t. Ha! As if. Those moaning, brainwashed sods, with their scientific ‘experts’ and fake news journalists. Fucking meddlers. They’d soon have their minds changed.

They just hadn’t known that it was him they needed to turn to. A normal man of the people. They’d expected the bloody politicians to get it done for them, but where was the sense in that? Politics was broken. He’d told Trees it was coming, all those years ago. He’d seen the changes. Too many bloody liberal leaderships, with all those from outside the country taking all the jobs and snarling up the health system. It was always going to end up a mess, but he’d kept his cool. He’d kept his marbles, kept his focus, kept hold of his beliefs, kept the keys to his Dolomite. And now was the time to take it all back.

Neville felt in the breast pocket of his overalls for his crumpled Bensons. One left. That was all he needed anyway. It was coming with him, and he was going to relax and enjoy it as he took in the journey. Test runs had shown him that the travel time could be anything up to a minute, and he hadn’t exactly worked out the rhyme or reason of that, but she’d always come back to the launch point, right here in the workshop where she’d been born. There wasn’t going to be anyone telling him to stub his final cigarette out. No killjoys to say he shouldn’t smoke while driving. Blow that for a game of soldiers. Besides, when he arrived he was going to indulge his habit all the more. Who cared if it eventually finished him off? Margaret had smoked like a chimney and was 84 when her lungs gave out, a good two decades after her stroke. 84 not out. That was the kind of innings he was after.

So. Only a few steps now remained. With reverence, Neville unbuttoned the press-studs of his overalls to reveal his father’s best crisp white shirt with collar studs and navy tie beneath. As he stepped out, slipping his feet from his boots, he folded the overalls neatly and placed them on the worktop to his right. He was going to leave his workshop looking neat and tidy. From three shelves above the pitted worktop, on a wooden hanger, floated a double-breasted pinstripe suit jacket that matched the trousers he’d worn beneath his workwear. There was one suit that he could never bring himself to take to the charity shop in the year after his father’s death, and this was it. His ‘de-mob’ suit. He was going back and was going to look the part. Back to an age of Empire and greatness that, this time, would remain impervious all thanks to his ingenuity.

Standing back up to full height and biting thoughtfully on his top lip Neville hesitated, looking at the killing device in his hand.

Tying up the laces on his stylish black shoes, he then reached in to check his pockets and yes, there it was. His wallet stuffed full with a sizeable share of antique ten-shilling notes that had sat undiscovered in a shoebox under the floorboards until Neville re-wired the house in 1979. It was like destiny, he’d reasoned with himself. His own pops had left the money there for this metaphorically rainy day, for when he and his country needed it most. Even he’d known what was coming, even then. Money was going to be no object. He had more than what he needed to feed himself and make his plan a success. And yes, to keep himself in decent fags for as long as he wished. Craven A’s! Bloody hell.

Satisfied that he was suitably financed for the trip, Neville bent down past the humming control bank and reached tentatively under the mock-leather seat. Yes. It was there. The metal felt forebodingly cold in his hands, unusually alien to a man who had spent the best part of his lifetime tinkering with alloys and metallic parts. Guns weren’t his thing, and this was the only bit of the trip that gave him a deep sense of unease. Standing back up to full height and biting thoughtfully on his top lip Neville hesitated, looking at the killing device in his hand, feeling the solid weight.

This was the part of the journey he felt least confident with. He knew exactly what had to be done, who the bullets were meant for, and when. He’d read, re-read and noted. He was no mug when it came to working these things out, he re-assured himself. But this was the bit where, if he was going to bring about the change he and the majority of his country wanted, he would have to be resolute and not give in. Where he was going to have to act. Where he was going to have to do something he’d never done before. He was going to have to take a life, to set things back on course. The right course. He shuddered. Maybe, maybe he didn’t have to do this after all. Maybe he could stay, put up with things as they were and live out his own life, quietly.

Maybe.

But no. It was time. Sacrifice, he thought to himself. Sometimes you just had to do the horrible, dirty jobs for the resulting benefits. Benefits for all. They would thank him, his kind of people, his kind of country, for years to come. Neville Jones. A name in history.

He swallowed, and put the revolver back beneath the seat. It was time. Time to go. No turning back. Leave meant leave.

He reached down beside the dash with its rows of lights and dials, each one throbbing and calling out their readiness to him.

Raising the cigarette to his lips and lighting it, Neville pocketed his lighter and settled himself into the comfortable, welcoming and familiar embrace of the specially re-upholstered driving seat (only £25 from an enthusiast selling his old Triumph parts! The internet was good for something at least, he mused) and felt his confidence return. He reached down beside the dash with its rows of lights and dials, each one throbbing and calling out their readiness to him, to where he’d attached and connected the cassette player. He pressed the play button with a satisfying click, sat back and took a deep breath.

As he turned the key, the rumbling throb of the engines pulsed heavily through the entire gleaming, polished machine and right through Neville himself. They were as one. From powerful speakers mounted behind him, Mark Knopfler’s opening riff to ‘Money For Nothing’ spoke out to the workshop, rattling the rows and rows of glass jars. Neville took one long drag on his cigarette before gradually lifting a lever located to his left, where the handbrake had once lived.

Immediately, the walls of his beloved workshop began to shimmer and fold, wavering as if seen in the distance above a hot tarmac road. From the centre of the re-worked wooden Dolomite dashboard, the clock hands began to turn backwards across the golden clock face delicately removed from his 25-year-old carriage clock, working their way relentlessly backwards over the PowerCorp logo.

Neville gasped, as the casing of the machine around him started to vibrate noisily and glow a faint white while the surrounding workshop walls around him began to shrink into the distance. It was as if the workshop were now a tiny point at the end of long, swirling tunnel that was gradually receding from him, but as he looked below he could still see the familiar concrete floor, the fag ends, the drain. But it was all warping, receding, falling away into the swirl of light. As he was looking below to the floor he noticed his hands were glowing with the same phosphorescence as the machine itself. They were conjoined, man and machine travelling backwards together towards a destiny that he would write. A better destiny. A re-lighting of old flames. Past glories. A truly Great Britain.

As Mark Knopfler and the rest of Dire Straits launched into the middle eight, the swirl of bright white light around Neville and the re-worked Triumph Dolomite became a fiery combination of wonderful colour. Neville breathed in a deep lungful of nicotine-infused smoke, and put his foot down.

Unfortunately for Neville, he’d made a massively disastrous miscalculation with regards to the figures. He’d got the formulas required for successful time-travel all wrong, and instead of materialising in the Midlands of England of 1949 AD, he had instead catapulted himself back to the stone age of approximately 12,429 BC, the Triumph Dolomite appearing suddenly in a rocky cave in what would one day become Belgium.

Shaking and blinking, his cigarette falling from his lips, Neville stood up, trying to work out what the hell had gone wrong. Once again, this was unfortunate as one of the residents of the cave, a chief of the local tribe known as Farg who had an unnecessarily violent aversion to outsiders (and, as it now turned out, the music of Dire Straits) clubbed Neville around the back of the head with a fatal swipe, smashing his brain and all his dreams to an instant and messy pulp. Sixty seconds later, the first gun in history was heard in Europe, as the greedy Farg rummaged beneath the seat and shot himself in the foot.

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