There’s a ruckus in the kitchen, so I run in there, and I stop for a second, watching the refrigerator hop around. Not a lot of time to wonder about it. The salad dressing bottles and mayonnaise jars make a jingling sound, blasting against each other, even through the insulated doors and rubber sealing.
Then the door swings open while I’m standing there looking at it, wearing sleepy pants and a handmade Ecuadorian hat. I cock my head at it, shirtless, frowning, wriggling my toes against the linoleum.
It’s a little guy unfolding, in the fridge. Not a midget or a dwarf, or a lephrechaun, just a fairly little guy wearing a helmet and a glittery unitard, his legs snapped away neatly over one hunched shoulder. Like I had Yoga for dinner last night, and there’s a Yoga dude leftover.
A couple of metal refrigerator shelves have kind of melted around him; they emit frosty vapors and a faint, high-pitched hum.
He lurches out of it, his feet – enclosed in the unitard like pajamas for little kids – make a soft patting sound, as they hit the floor – and I get him by the top of the head, digging my thumb in between his helmet and his scalp, and hold him away from me at arms length.
It startles him; he kicks his legs and makes a high-pitched humming sound, so okay that sound was coming from him not the refrigerator shelves.
Here it is eleven o’clock in the afternoon, broad daylight. There was Crock Pot full of chili in there, and sitting in the fridge for a day is a part of cooking it. Maybe I’m the only white dude in the whole world knows that.
Either the little white guy in my fridge doesn’t know it, or he doesn’t care. I look down at the broken pot, the chili in the bottom of the fridge thinking, I’m going to have to scoop that out of there, heat it back up. That’s too much chili to put down the drain.
The little guy tries to pull my arm away from his head, but his helmet’s pretty tight. With my thumb wedged in there, it’s not hard to keep my grip.
Finally he gives up, dropping his arms to his sides, and he asks, “Are you Tom Chalfant?”
“I sure am. Whatcha doing in my fridge?”
I help him get to his feet, and he says, “I’m from the future, and I have to talk to you. It’s a matter of pan-dimensional security.”
Gotta laugh at that. I use words, laughing so clearly. “Ha, ha, ha. Heh. Listen, what’s going on?”
“I only have five minutes!” He says.
“You’re from the future and you only have five minutes? Why didn’t you just show up an hour ago?”
Though I would have been asleep then – one of those days.
He says, “We can send information back in time really easily. It’s an energy pulse. But matter has to be converted to energy. My molecules are going to lose their cohesion – I’ll literally melt in five minutes, evaporate then into mist and sand.”
“That fridge costs a thousand dollars.”
“We’ve been emailing you!” He tells me, suddenly grabbing my arm and popping my thumb out from under his helmet. “We’ve emailed you a thousand times!”
“From the future?”
“Yes! It’s easy to email back in time. Instead of bouncing your signal off a satellite, you shoot it into space at the place Earth was whenever you want the email to arrive. And then you send the signal at faster than the speed of light. We’ve tried emailing you a thousand times!”
“You selling Viagra?”
“What? No! I need to show you something. Where’s your computer?”
It’s in the living room, so I point him that way, and when he turns around, I see that there’s a working clock curved around the surface of the helmet. Pretty cool.
He looks at his watch and says, “I’ve got to get a message to the future – that’s even easier. Let them know I’ve located you. It’s your daughter, Tom. She’s gone insane.”
I’m trying to figure out which one he’s talking about, over here, and that’s not narrowing it down too much.
“She’s enslaved the human race,” the time traveler goes on. “Rules the whole world from an orbital crystal palace full of horsies and puppy dogs. Mandatory puppy dogs, down on the surface. You get caught on the streets without your puppy dog, you can get vaporized.”
Okay, so sounds like the youngest. It’s always something with that one.
The time traveler starts typing on my computer while I watch the curved clock on the back of his helmet. He says, “How do I get online?”
“Well, first, you pay the cable bill,” I tell him. But that’ll take more than your five minutes, even assuming you’ve got a hundred bucks, which I don’t.”
He throws his hands in the air and turns to give me a desperate stare. “You were the only one who could talk to her, the only one in the world who could open diplomatic relations with her. The whole world was defenseless against her. But you insisted on going up to the palace alone to work out the treaty, and you never returned.”
“If you’ve got a laptop, I think the Muslim family across the street has an open Wifi connection, and they’re pretty cool about it.”
“I need your cel phone. It’s crucial that I report your location. We isolated the refrigerator because you used your credit card to buy it, but we didn’t know where it was. Most of the Internet is gone in the future, it’s just iCarly and Farmville and the fracking Sims. We’ve sent four other agents, and none of them has returned. If I don’t report your location…”
“Okay, relax, my phone is right over there.”
And then as he turns to look for it, I pick up a twenty pound barbell from the floor by the wall, and when he’s turning back to say, what phone, I don’t see any phone, that’s when I cave in his forehead with the barbell.
He makes a horrible mess, all over the computer and the desk, as he collapses, but if the last four guys were any indication, all he’s going to do is evaporate into mist and sand.
Ellen comes out of her room and says, “Another one?”
“Another one, cupcake,” I tell her. “Why don’t you get dad the vacuum, and let’s get these windows open. I think this guy might be the last of them.”
It’s a funny thing about people, how they can figure out the most complicated things like time travel, but then not realize that maybe I like orbital crystal palaces and puppy dogs, and that the girl had to get her evil nature somewhere.
“Just keep an eye on him for a couple of minutes,” I tell her, motioning at the at crumbled time traveler, his body already starting to sizzle and hiss. “I’m going to run into the kitchen, see if I can salvage that chili.”