Prompt: A love story between a man and a greasy grilled cheese.
It was really an accomplishment that they had made the tour that dull. There were only six facilities like it in all the world, yet the guide couldn’t widen her eyes long enough to communicate that with any enthusiasm.
Steven E. was at the back of the group. His nose was buried in the brochure; he eyed the map like it was the blueprints of his prison. Where do they keep the wheels? If I stay on this snooze-fest we’ll only ever see them through a glass panel thicker than a tractor tire.
Steven slowed and separated from the group. He was in his mid-thirties, so he already stuck out. Everybody else in the group had been children coming with their school or the elderly come to try and catch a glimpse of their… peaceful… future. That was the nature of time usually; it only caught the eyes of the young and the old. People like Steven were in the gooey warm middle. Everything for them was ongoing, be it debt, success, illness, or board games.
The hall quieted. He dropped the brochure and watched it glide across the tile floor. Enough of this museum stuff; it was time to get what he came for, time to get his heart back. He ran a hand through his wavy blonde hair as he examined his options. Three locked doors. An exhibit talking about the spooling method of time observance.
He didn’t need to read it; basically everybody knew at that point. We had the technology to observe the past. We even had the power to pull things out of it, to let them live again. Obviously that couldn’t get into the wrong hands. The government ran this facility, keeping the public satisfied with guided tours, letting them pay hundreds of dollars to observe one of the moments in a lost loved one’s life. I bet they have a filter so you never see anybody on the can, he thought.
His mission was simple: retrieve Clark. They’d only been married five years when he was killed in a random traffic collision. It wasn’t fair. The technology existed to bring him back, but everyone was barred. Supposedly. Steven E. had his suspicions about that. Some people in the world, powerful people, didn’t mourn as much as they should have.
Krack! He plowed through one of the locked doors with his shoulder. An alarm went off. He didn’t have long, so he ran, blowing past a few employees he knew he could take in a fight. It didn’t matter; they had nothing to defend. Anything brought back from the spools had to stay within range of them or it would dissipate once more. He wasn’t capable of stealing anything. He knew that, but the fissure in his heart insisted on the plan anyway. They could share a few moments before he was locked up and Clark was tossed back into the fibers of the past.
The wheels of time, also called the spools, were in their own special chamber. The walls were brightly painted so the whole experience would be a bit happier for the temporal tourists watching through the glass. Steven found himself in front of the slowly spinning machines just as the tour group reached them as well. They hammered on the glass, trying to convince him to let them in.
If they wanted in they had to earn it like he had. The spools were great circles of metal and on them were cables of light and energy: the recorded past wrapped around them. Steven had no gloves for handling them, but he grabbed at the bottom of a spool anyway and pulled down a line. It draped between his arms like a feather boa.
Each person was best at seeing their own past in the jumble of lights and images. Steven saw himself at the funeral, drunk and knocking things over. He saw himself on the couch with Clark, tossing kettle corn into each other’s mouths. Do I even remember that movie? No. It starred Clark, just like all this. Just like my life.
He reached a hand into the energy’s flow and tried to pull it in a specific direction. The images were still a jumble. People were banging and shouting behind him. The guards would be there any moment. He spotted something. A superb memory. Steven and Clark were in the kitchen. Steven sat at the counter, in the middle of the night, and waited patiently for his husband to finish. He could smell the bubbling cheese, hear it. All of this, all this pampering, over one stomach growl that woke them both. Clark made quite the grilled cheese, especially when your bare feet were on the tile and its gooey center would be your only warmth.
Steven’s hand wrapped around something warm. Clark’s wrist. It had to be; he’d aimed for it. Steven pulled with all his might and tumbled backward. He fell against the glass and skidded to the ground. Too light. He’d pulled something out of the past, but it wasn’t a person. His shirt? The spatula? Steven held it up and focused his whirling fuzzy vision. The sandwich. He held a grilled cheese fresh from the skillet, grease int the bread’s nooks reflecting the lights overhead.
The wheels of time shut down, the energy lines being sucked around them like a noodle until they vanished into the wall. He was too late. They’d taken his chance. Clark was gone. All he had was the sandwich, their passion expressed in its cheese, which ran down one of his wrists, almost burning him.
Fine. I will love you then, sandwich. You’re a part of him. You’re his work. You’re proof that we had nothing but love.He ran his nose by its crispy surface, smelling the grill lines. Smelling the steam, the slight rust of Clark’s favorite pan. He couldn’t stop himself from salivating.
Take a bite, the sandwich said. Steven’s mouth snapped shut. He eyed the grilled cheese warily. Go on. I love you. I want you to have it. Could it be? He hadn’t gotten just the sandwich. He’d snagged a little of something else: Clark’s voice. Somewhere in the cheese pockets, as they bubbled and popped, there was the soul of his lost husband. The echo of it at least. I know it’s your favorite.
“You’re my favorite!” he yelled at the sandwich as he stroked its crust lovingly, like it was a frightened rabbit. The tour group stopped banging. Had he gone mad? Perhaps it was good they weren’t allowed to touch the spools. Steven was forced to look away from his cherished cheddar when he heard flat feet pounding towards him and the jangling of keys. Guards. There was no time.
Eat me! Clark’s voice rang in Steven’s ear, sounding truly desperate. Despite the danger, his mind was still mostly the smell of it, the cheesy steam flowing down the cool sides of his brain. He never could say no. Steven took a bite. Flavor exploded in his mouth and ran down the back of his throat. Another bite. Another. It felt so familiar, more like sharing a kiss with a certain someone than actually eating. Steven scarfed it down in a matter of moments, the hot lump hitting his stomach all at once, just as the guards pulled him to his feet.
There was grease all across his face and a giant smile as well. They took him away, but he laughed all the way back to the tour route.
What’s so funny?
“I can still hear you!” Steven shouted rapturously. “I get to keep your voice!
You get more than that. I’ll make sure the cheese is always with you. It’ll always be warm, it’ll always be in your heart. Artery-clogging, Clark joked. Just the way you like it.
Author’s Note: This flash fiction story was written based on a prompt provided by Whoopsie during a livestream. I hereby transfer all story rights to them, with the caveat that it remain posted on this blog. If you would like your own story, stop by twitch.tv/blainearcade during one of my streams and I’ll write it for you live!