[READING] [V & A Shipping] Chapter 7
Joey’s mind reeled in disbelief. Had this woman, Elsa, just confessed to helping the two people closest to her kill themselves or to their murders? Could it be that she was insane and trying to cleanse her conscious before she died herself? Joey couldn’t do anything except sit with his mouth agape, dumbfounded.
“I’m not sure why I’m telling you all this, but it does feel good to tell someone.”
Joey shook his head. She narrowed her eyes and a thin-lipped smile crossed her face. Her voice quieted to a whisper.
“You don’t believe me. You think I killed them.”
Joey, who’d just taken a sip of his tea, gagged on the hot liquid. He shakily put the cup down.
“Ma’am, I’m not sure…”
“Oh I couldn’t have killed either one of them if I tried.” She sat back with her cup and took a long whiff of the steam. “This was my husband’s favorite.”
“Please, call me Elsa. I already feel old enough without you calling me ‘Ma’am’.”
Joey eyed Elsa and waited. She smiled and it would have been a pretty smile had she teeth in her head. She seemed to be trying to win his trust for some reason.
“I don’t know what to make of this. It’s all quite strange.”
“Do you want to see it?”
“Why, the machine, of course.”
“Wait a minute. You mean there’s really a machine?”
“Certainly. It’s out in the garage. It’s been there just sitting, waiting, ever since Victor used it last.”
She couldn’t be serious. She just couldn’t. A machine to send people into space. Where did these people end up? If you didn’t go into space with at least something like a space suit you’re be sure to end up dead. Elsa, as dear and kind as she seemed, had to be insane.
“I think I should be going.” Joey stood.
Elsa’s shoulders slumped and it looked to be an effort to put her cup back on its saucer. She sniffled and used the handkerchief to dry her eyes again. Why’d she have to do that? Why couldn’t he just leave? All he wanted to do right now was to go home and sleep until his body didn’t hurt anymore.
“Where are you going to go?”
“And after that where will you go?”
“To school like I always do.”
“And is that really what you want out of your life?”
“What else is there?”
“There’s the machine.”
Elsa had stopped crying and fixed Joey with a cold stare. Joey got a chill. She was offering him something. He was sure that’s what she was doing. She was offering the only thing she had. But to what end? Joey would have to wait because if there really was a machine and he could just have a chance to look at it perhaps everything would be different. He could come here instead of to school and study the machine. Wouldn’t that be the best? He could reverse engineer the machine to see how it worked. He could get the machine into the hands of NASA and maybe even get a job working there. He could revolutionize the space industry. He could be a hero.
“Yes!” He swallowed hard. Had he sounded too eager? What if she really was just a crazy old woman who was trying to lure him into the garage so she could kill him? Why would she have bandaged him then? This was a once in a lifetime opportunity. He had to go for it. He just had to.
“Let me find my keys and we’ll go have a look see.”
Elsa got up slowly. Joey also got up. He wanted to help her but his body was still not responding as quickly as he would have liked and even when it did pain would rocket through his limbs albeit not as intensely since she’d given him that minty liquid.
She shuffled across the kitchen and fetched the keys from a wooden box that hung on the wall by the back door. Although the key looked brand new there was something about its style that hinted it was significantly older than it appeared.
Joey opened the back door from the kitchen and held Elsa’s arm as they went down the back steps. They both took the steps gingerly and one at a time. As soon as they were down, a light on the garage came on. Joey was momentarily startled as he hadn’t suspected there would be any light in the back yard.
Much like the inside of the house the back yard was in meticulous condition with a trimmed hedge dividing the yard from the driveway and rows of flowers in the flowerbed. It was something that Joey suspected would have been on one of those old shows his parents would have watched like Father Knows Best or Leave it to Beaver.
“I try to get out here every day and do a little something. Makes me feel like I’m still worth my salt.”
Joey politely chuckled.
Elsa’s aged hand had a little trouble getting the key into the lock. Joey wanted to help her, but didn’t. He tried to show some restraint. He tried to imagine what the machine was going to look like. He tried to picture all the wires and tubes and hoses. Did it have a launch pad or a pod or large computer console? Why couldn’t she just get the door open? Why didn’t she hurry up?
At long last the key slid in and she started to turn it in the lock and stopped. She let out a long breath.
“I don’t think I can go in there.”
She didn’t turn and look at him. “I just can’t do this. I lost my only son and my husband to this machine.”
“You don’t know, maybe they’re lost? Maybe there’s something about this machine that we can figure out together. Something to bring them back.”
“I’m sorry, this wasn’t a good idea.”
Elsa turned the key back but before she could pull it free Joey put his hand on hers to stop her.
“We have to at least try, don’t we?”
Elsa turned and looked up at Joey. “Yes. I think we do have to try.”
She unlocked the door and opened it. The hinges squeaked loudly as she pushed it open. Before she stepped into the room she reached in and flipped on the lights. Joey’s imagination exploded when he saw everything covered with white sheets and dust; everything that was, save one piece of equipment.
The one piece that wasn’t covered was a tall cylinder with a mirror-like finish. It reflected the light in every direction. There was a hair-thin line that made the outline of an oval on the front of the machine.
“There it is.”
“Yes, there it is.” Joey’s eyes were wide with wonder as he looked at it. Because everything else was presently covered he didn’t want to ask permission to remove anything, not just yet anyway.
He followed her into the garage. There was only a walkway up to the machine and it looked as though the rest of the room was filled with this machine. It could have just been a trick of all the sheets draped over everything. There was a single set of faint footprints that led up to the machine. Elsa didn’t appear to notice these. Joey assumed they belonged to Victor.
“Joey, I have to ask you something. Please don’t think me a crazy old woman.”
That was asking for a lot at this point, but Joey still had to give her the benefit of the doubt as the machine was here. “Ask.”
“If you should ever decide to, well, to use this machine, and if by the off chance you ever see my Victor or my Hector, could you ask them to come home, even if only for a short time.”
Okay, Joey was now certain that she was completely insane. There was no way that he was going to be using this machine ever. Not until he could figure out what it did and how it worked. He could spend years here studying all the equipment hidden under those sheets, calling to him to lift their shrouds and discover them, to reveal them to the world. That’s what he wanted. But he had to humor Elsa or he’d never get the chance.
“Yes, Elsa, I will.”
They stopped in front of the machine. On the side of the oval door was the silhouette of a button. Joey pushed it. With a gasp of escaping air the door popped out and slid to the side. It didn’t appear to have any hinges and wasn’t attached to anything. It just floated to the side.
“Must be magnetic.”
Cautiously Joey poked his head inside. It was white. Pure white and smelled faintly of a woman’s perfume. It smelled like his mother’s perfume. Joey wrinkled his nose.
“What do you think of it?”
“I think it’s wonderful.” Joey took a step inside. The inside, just like the outside, was perfectly smooth. No seams, no creases, not even a tool mark to show that it was machined.
Joey stepped fully inside and felt the walls. They were warm to the touch. He had thought that being metal and being outside they’d be cold. He turned all the way around and looked out the doorway at Elsa. She was smiling.
“You look so much like Victor did the day…” She trailed off and again dabbed at her eyes with the handkerchief. Joey gave her an encouraging smile. He was too enamored with the new toy to do anything else or even to say anything.
There was a button on the inside of the door just like the one on the outside. Joey’s finger hovered over it for a moment. Did he dare? What would happen? It had been thirty years since this machine had been used. Could it possibly still work? Joey doubted it. Though there was that fleeting moment of doubt as he remembered that the door had opened.
Joey pushed the button.
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