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THE OLD MAN AND THE SAFE • by Peter Wood

“Ernest Hemingway could have been the twentieth century’s greatest writer, but a drunken matador shot him in Pamplona, Spain in 1926. Things would have been a hell of a lot different if he had lived.” Jake limped across the living room of the teetering doublewide he shared with his wife, Brett. He tried not to think something else in history he wished was different — his 2001 drunk driving accident, ten years ago. He picked a paperback off the beat-up coffee table and tossed it to Bill, his brother. “He was writing this.”

Bill examined the dog-eared book. “Fiesta?”

Jake ran his fingers through his long stringy hair. “It was half finished when he died.” Half-finished, like his Hemingway thesis at North Carolina State.

Brett had been listening from the kitchen. She laughed. “Nothing in that book, but drunks playing cards.”

Jake suppressed a sarcastic response. She was making a thinly veiled reference to him. “It’s about Americans in Europe after World War One, looking for meaning. His spare style shows Hemingway was a newspaperman.”

Bill thumbed through the pages. “You see any downside to going back and saving Hemingway from some bar fight?”

“You going to that fancy lab of yours to fix things?” Bill had headed Duke University’s top secret government lab for five years.

“We shoot sub atomic particles back in time, chief.” Bill sipped his diet Cheerwine. “Not people.”

“Sounds dangerous,” Jake snorted.

Bill shook his head. “Some think we’re changing things. Like our little experiments may have killed Hemingway by mistake. Maybe he was supposed to live.” He winked at Jake.  ‘Guess that means we have to save him, right, chief?”

Jake considered getting another beer. “If you save Hemingway, maybe he writes some great books. He drove an ambulance in WWI, you know.” He chugged his beer. “Damned shame he died.”

“Speaking of history, you should tell Bill about that safe at work.” Brett said.

Jake winced. Brett loved riding him about his dead end bartending job at the Sea Wolf, a popular bar in Raleigh’s trendy warehouse district. He could have bought the property for a song a decade ago and be rich. He sure wouldn’t have named the place after some mediocre Jack London novel.. “They found an old safe in the crawl space. Been there for years.”

Bill downed his soda. “Let’s check it out, chief.”

Jake rolled his eyes.

“Take him down there, honey,” Brett chirped.

“Fine, I’ll go down to the damned  bar,” Jake snapped. He wished he and Brett didn’t argue so much. He had dim memories from before the accident of  laughing with her and enjoying being at home. But what was done was done.

***

Jake stooped to fit under the five-foot ceiling. He brushed aside cobwebs and steadied himself on the uneven dirt floor. The four beers he’d consumed didn’t help his balance. “This is it.”

Bill flicked caked dirt off the battered safe. “Wonder what’s in here?”

Jake brushed a cockroach off his pants. “Who the hell cares?”

Bill swept the room with a flashlight. “How old you figure this building is?”

“Seventy or eighty years.” He wondered who was bartending upstairs. Maybe he could bum a couple of drinks and make the trip down here worthwhile.

Bill’s eyes glistened from the flashlight’s beam. “Imagine being here in the forties.” He paused. “You could meet your man, Hemingway.”

“I told you. He died in 1926.”

“Oh, that’s right.” Bill yawned. “Early day tomorrow. Got something to try out in the lab.”

***

Jake sipped his iced tea. He hadn’t  touched alcohol since 2001, ten years ago. “You working on your thesis today?” he asked Bill. They were having lunch at Hemingway’s, Jake’s bar.

“I’m taking a break,” Bill said.

Jake sighed. Bill had stayed with him and Brett for months. Jake didn’t mind. Their three-story house had room. Bill just wasn’t exactly rushing to leave Duke’s Physics Department, and his longstanding internship at the University’s particle accelerator lab was hardly a career.

Still, Jake felt a debt to his brother. Bill had convinced him to buy the bar a decade ago that strange week when he’d stuck to Jake like glue, even insisting on doing all the driving. He spent so much time helping Jake dry out that Bill almost got kicked out of the Ph.D. program.

“How’s that book coming?” Bill asked.

Jake smiled. He was a tenured professor with several dozen literary articles on Hemingway’s four novels under his belt. Now he was writing a biography that might go mainstream. “Almost done.” He stood up. “Hey, we found a safe under the bar last week.”

Bill and Jake walked into Jake’s office. The rusty black safe was about waist high. Faded graffiti said “Kilroy was here”.

The brothers pried the door open with a crowbar and peered inside. They saw nothing, but a manila envelope coated with dust.

It was addressed to Jake.

A smeared postmark showed an indecipherable date from 1945. “This doesn’t make any sense,” Jake muttered. He tore open the envelope and pulled out a book. “The Sun Also Rises. First Edition. Hard to believe Hemingway wanted to call it Fiesta.”

Bill giggled. “Maybe there’s an inscription.’

Jake flipped to the title page and read what was scrawled there. “Jake, I owe your brother, Bill, a huge debt for helping me in Pamplona. Still not sure how he disarmed that matador. As promised, I have named the three main characters after you, Brett and Bill.”

Bill smiled. “That should help with that biography, chief.”

Jake stared at Hemingway’s signature. “I’ll have to revise.”

“You ever heard of Ray Bradbury?”

“Huh?”

“Writer who died in a car crash in the 50s. Probably never should have learned to drive.”

The book hung limp at Jake’s side. “Never heard of him.”

Bill laughed. “Well, I’d better get back to the lab. We’re shooting sub atomic particles back in time.”


Peter Wood is an attorney in Raleigh, North Carolina. He has had stories published in Ray Gun Revival, Bull Spec, Stupefying Stories and Every Day Fiction. He loves living in the South and considers this story to be part of a new genre, Southern Fried Science Fiction. He wishes he could write as well as Ernest Hemingway and thinks that “The Sun Also Rises” is one of the greatest novels.


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THE OLD MAN AND THE SAFE • by Peter Wood, 3.8 out of 5 based on 33 ratings
Posted on February 26, 2013 in Science Fiction, Stories
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  • http://www.chaucers-uncle.weebly.com Paul A. Freeman

    Is it Monday again? A fun, time-slipping rollercoaster ride.

    Reminds me, I should have a read of that other Hemmingway classic, ‘Goodbye Weaponry’!

  • http://www.rustlingreed.com/blog Jeff Smith

    An enjoyable read. Took me some time to get there, but igot there eventually.

  • http://www.chaoticterrain.com Meredith Eugene Hunt

    Gotta love them intellectual rednecks!

  • Roli Bhushan-Malhotra

    Lovely!

  • steve preuss

    I love that you assume your readers are literate. Southern Fried Science Fiction Rules!

  • Pete Wood

    Thanks for reading!

  • http://www.jmiklos.com Johanna Miklos

    Loved this! Now, I can honestly say that there is a Southern Fried something I like.

  • http://danabugseyeview.blogspot.com The Bug

    I love it!

  • Joe Wheeler

    Great short story, keep up the good work!

  • http://astheheroflies.wordpress.com/ Gretchen Bassier

    I love time-travel stories AND Hemingway, so your story really hit the spot! The brotherly love angle was well-done, too. Nice work!

  • Pingback: Podcast EDF122: The Old Man and the Safe • by Peter Wood • read by Folly Blaine | Every Day Fiction - The once a day flash fiction magazine.

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